Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Coaches Lead the Baltic Inter-City Transit

Coaches are the most developed and popular mode of intercity public transport in Baltic States despite the lack of highways and expressways (especially in Latvia and Estonia). The recent public order change in Latvia show that coaches are pushing trains out of business. A number of trains were substituted with coaches in Riga – Liepaja, Ventspils, Renge, Gulbene routes - booth main and secondary city pairs. The trains have too big passenger capacity (or too less frequency), the intensive freight transit has notably slowed down passenger trains and reduced free rail capacity. Also the costumer service is outdated – no new train sets, no separate-level stations, no high platforms, no multimodal opportunities, no rain shelters at stations and so on. As the governments of the Baltic States allows train-coach competition (unlike France and Germany) coaches has logically proved to be the most economical choice in almost all examined Baltic city pairs. This analysis showed the power of coaches and I start to doubt if my earlier proposed Rail Baltica Domestic plan will ever be competitive with inter-city coaches. Diagram below shows the coach connections between twenty biggest cities in the Baltic States.

The busiest route is Riga – Jelgava with 77 one-way runs on the day analysed (March 26th). Latvia have more cities in Western par so Eastern part seems to be undeveloped, but in reality Eastern part have many smaller towns and more developed rail network. In Lithuania coach routes are dense and frequent between Vilnius, Kaunas, Siauliai, Panevezys, Alytus, Marijampole. Similar situation is in Estonia – the main city pars are well cowered. The only state where trains significantly influence coach network is Latvia: Riga to Daugavpils and Rezekne is served by trains trice and twice daily and the coach departures are not as frequent as it could be. The international routes involve Riga in almost all cases. Booth Rezekne and Daugavpils have just one-weekly coach service to Vilnius with is not showed on the map (runs on Saturtdays).

Possible Drop in Ticket Prices

The bar chart shows kilometer price on analysed routes (average by country on runs with pricing information available). The route length between cities was chosen by routing tool in GIS site and no additional entries in town centers adjacent to the main road and other route modifications are taken into account. The results are clear – Latvia have the cheapest domestic coach ticket prices while Lithuania the highest. I am not well informed about subsidy systems in Estonia and Lithuania but one thing is unclear – why the uncontrolled international services are cheaper then Lithuanian domestic services. Latvian domestic coach routes are government regulated and subsidased ant the ticket prices are kept low.

In a few months a new Eurolines brand – Simple Express – is to start Riga – Kaunas (with connection to Warsaw) and Riga - Tallinn routes at incredibly low ticket prices – €7 or €8  to Kaunas and €10.5 to Tallinn. Simple express service is cheaper than Latvian heavily subsidized domestic service and almost twice as cheaper than Lithuanian domestic service. The way Simple Express can provide so cheap fares is still unclear, but – if it is sustainable – this move will cut fares on international routes and maybe will make the governments to deregulate the domestic markets in order to benefit from real competition.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Proposed Rumbula Residental Area: the Transportation Problems

The most recent european10 architect competition in Riga was dedicated to Rumbula district. The idea of transforming the abandoned military airfield and allotment gardens to modern residential neighborhoods has been included in development papers for years but nothing has been done yet. Despite the wonderful waterfront Rumbula is not attracting developers – let’s see what is wrong and what can be done with that.

Biggest Problem - Distance to the Center
Rumbula development site is about 10km from the Old Town (city hall) with is big distance in case of Riga. Residential areas like Bolderāja, Vecmilgrāvis and Jugla are located about the same distance from the center and only one – Daugavgrīva are located even further. All of named districts are considered to be inconvenient for commuting, the estate prices are lower and all of them (at least initially) were providing notable number of jobs (sea-port, manufacturing etc).
There are a number of possible development areas which are suitable for public and private residential development closer or at the same distance to the CBD so Rumbula have to withstand competition. As mentioned earlier the main advantage of the site is river Daugava. Also A6 highway to Daugavpils and other cities may be used as an advantage.

Main Strategy - Good Connectivity
Theory says that travel time is more important than the covered distance thus fast connections should be the focus in site preparation. Other strategy could be making self-sufficient community with small or no need to commute but arrival of labor-consuming and well paid business is less predictable than arrival of dwellers and can actually turn the district to a ghetto with low property prices.
The core of all transportation strategy I propose is fast public transportation branch from station Gaisma to the primary hub of district – station Jaunrubula and secondary hub – station Lidlauks. The link may be realized as city rail derived from suburban rail service or bus rapid transit line derived from trolley-bus line number 15 running along the existing rail. The line would link Rumbula to the CBD, airport, Akropole shopping and some secondary business districts – Skanste and Spilve.
The existing high standard tram line number 7 which ends at Dole can be prolonged to station Jaunrumbula trough station Zoom. It would also be possible to continue tram service to station Lidlauks if connectivity with rail/BRT system is provided.

As the riverfront will be the pedestrian area, connections between stations Jaunrumbula and Lidlauks and the riverside must be created. In case of station Jaunrumbula – a wide pedestrian street with retail on booth sides must become the mayor attraction of the neighborhoods. On the other side of river Daugava Nature Park Doles sala is located - ferry connection from Rumbula to recreation areas in Doles sala would bring extra attractiveness to Rumbula.
Already now car-based manufacturing, offices and retail is based along the highway so no need to change that. The district will see more commerce if the local streets and car access is brought up to date.
If all of this is realized Rumbula will became truly attractive place for living, working of recreation. To pay for the entire infrastructure needed the neighborhood must be urbanized very densely. The main question is still open: isn’t there cheaper development site somewhere in the city with better transport and are there so many costumers willing to pay for living/working near the river?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Riga to London fare watch

Right now two airlines offers direct Riga – London service: airBaltic (Gatwick) and Ryanair (Stansted). FR operates twice daily (morning and evening) flights; airBaltic makes daily midday flight and additional evening flight on selected days during summer. Wizzair will start three weekly Luton flights in end of March so bringing some fresh air in the market.

Here is a graph of available ticket prices in March, April and September:

Wizzair is cleverly using the drop in Latvian advertising sector by putting their pink posters with cute flight attendants on virtually every free billboard in the town. Also promotional pricing with average March&April fares of €27 for Riga – London and €33 for London – Riga creates big public attention.

Average available fares on March and April for BT is €66 (RIX-LGW) and €76 (LGW-RIX); for FR €69 (RIX – STN) and €60 (STN – RIX). The very similar fare levels for FR and BT breaks the popular stereotype of Ryanair being the cheapest and airBaltic the most expensive. In London – Riga section the airport fares seems to make the actual difference between BT an FR (as all depart from one airport in Riga but different airports in London area).
In September the ticket prices for BT and W6 flights are actually higher than in April. airBaltic and Ryanair now put bigger accent on monthly sales with cheap tickets for close travel dates rather than traditional cheep fares for distant dates. For budget travelers it means that “book well in advance” tactics must be changed to “keep your bags packed and hope that your destination will be in the next sale list”.