Thursday, September 23, 2010

airBaltic Oulu Base – New Gateway to the Arctic

Though airBaltic’s intention to open a base in one of Finland’s regional airports was known already for several months – the official announcement came today - Oulu has been chosen over Tampere and Turku. Opening is going to happen in 2012, when Oulu terminal capacity will be increased. This decision is hardly explainable from point-to-point strategy as Southern Finland is more populous, the competition is still limited (especially from Turku) and flight times to Western European destinations are shorter. Furthermore - Tallinn and Vilnius base examples demonstrated – all other point-to-point bases for airBaltic has been a target for cuts if not working so well as from Riga. So is there any way how Oulu base can become a complementing not competing base in BT’s network?
The unique market - Arctic
RIX is in perfect location for serving Southern Finland, but the airports of Northern Finland are too far and with too less traffic to Western and Southern Europe. But the demand for Arctic and sub-Arctic routes can be high enough to sustain daily or double-daily flights if traffic from Oulu and other Finnish cities is added. Here is my vision how to make it work: 
The far north towns are proposed to be served with overnight flights arriving in Oulu at early morning. In Oulu passengers could change to:
1. Direct flight to Riga and further to any destination in Europe;
2. Any flight proceeding to towns in Southern Finland;
3. Other direct flights – for instance Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, Copenhagen, St. Petersburg.
Most of planes continue travel southwards with one-stop flight to Riga in order to provide link between Oulu and mayor Finnish cities and to pick up passengers for Riga hub departures starting at 10:00AM. Once arrived in Riga planes participate in daytime flights to destinations in Europe. As the Oulu-based planes most probably will be turboprops, they must serve the closest destinations from Riga – cities in Central Europe. Northwards journey starts shortly before 3:00PM and goes exactly the opposite way as the morning travel.

I see such advantages in this complex routing:
1. High aircraft utilization;
2. The widest possible market to towns in Arctic – important as the population is low;
3. Key markets using this routing: Arctic to Southern Finland via Oulu, Arctic to Riga and other mayor daytime destinations via Oulu; Southern Finland via Riga to Europe; Central Europe to nighttime destinations in N, E Europe and Asia via Riga;
4. Planes in utilization at Riga during the busiest daytime hours.
And such disadvantages:
1. Delay strategy is needed – being late is some segments may cause missed connections and delayed onward flights. But as booth Riga and Oulu are going to be bases, replacement capacities can be provided.
2. Tricky maintenance scheduling;
3. Arctic to South, West, Central Europe markets served with two transfers – one in Oulu, second in Riga. Situation can be improved by adding some direct flight to Arctic towns from Riga or offering more direct flights from Oulu to destinations in Europe.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Riga urban and suburban mass transit consolidation

Riga city public transport has always been - and in foreseeable future will be - a ground-transport based as no massive underground projects are on horizon. The system consists of 9 tram, 20 trolleybus and about 54 bus routes and involves about a thousand vehicles, but on the other hand it suffers of strict mode distinction, route overlapping, too frequent stops and lack of interchange opportunities; the stops lacks amenities and even basic service information. Inspired from success of Bus Rapit Transit systems (BRT) in several cities I revised the transit route system in Riga and came to a core route proposal:

Routes are numbered G1 to G11 with terminal stations A, B or C (say a trolleybus with code G4C on it is heading to Pļavnieki). The new routes are based on these existing ones:
G1 – trams 6 and 7;
G2 – trams 4 and 11;
G3 – bus 3 with modifications on the right bank;
G4 – trolleybus 22 and 25;
G5 – tram, part of route 5;
G6 – trolleybus 14;
G7 – bus 53;
G8 – trolleybus 3 and 19;
G9 – trolleybus 23;
G10 – buses 2, 11, 22 and 24;
G11 – a new bus route. 

The main idea is to create a metro-like network (in witch transfers are extensively used) from transit lines that already exist. This in most cases means leaving a single, strong transport line from center to each district (unlike the current two or three) and providing vast interchange opportunities at several stations. Vehicles on the remaining lines would run with very short intervals (even less than 60s in peak hours) so making the system very attractive. Exclusive transport lanes may be required but the system may also work on usual city streets together with other traffic. At least in initial stages the introduction of such a system would be focused on branding, stop spacing, stop improvements and creation of line hierarchy rather than increasing the driving speeds.
As only the main districts would be covered by this network, feeders and some local routes also must be created to provide public transport in  less populous neighborhoods.

Suburban trains to do what they are supposed to
Right now suburban trains and the few regional trains in the city make frequent stops at small, poorly equipped stations not providing transfer opportunities and focusing just on the surrounding market. In order to make the train market wider I propose calling just at few but high-quality interchange station that serve the whole city. Instead of terminating at Riga central station the trains must continue the journey to other stations in the city to serve even more passengers. Here is the route-scheme for the reorganized system:
The colored lines are frequent suburban services (20-40 min intervals), black ones - all regional services (40-120min intervals). Currently Zemitāni-Pētersala and Imanta-RIX sections are non-existent but both are highly possible to be built. Until these rail links are getting built trains could terminate at Zemitāni and Torņakalns instead.

This plan don’t requires an excessively large funds but concentrates on making hierarchy (starting from local feeder buses, than to core routes, up to suburban, regional, intercity trains, coaches and planes) but it requires lot of political will and understanding. If such a consolidation would go hand-in-hand with exclusive bus lanes on streets or even separate level roads for public transport, Riga would have fast, modern and rather cheap public transport network with fully sufficient capacity.