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Chain reaction

Connections can be the most difficult aspect of travel but this is set to change says David Crawford

Interchanges are set to move higher up the European transport policy agenda. Their role in improving intermodal mobility is highlighted in future EC spending plans and in two EU-funded research projects which have just reached their conclusion.

The results of CARISMA-Transport, or concerted action for the interconnection of transport systems in the member states [of the EU] in association with the European Commission, will produce significant new opportunities for the deployment of intelligent transport systems (ITS).

Speaking at the recent final London conference of CARISMA-Transport, Marcel Rommerts, of the EC's Transport and Energy Directorate-General, revealed new thinking at European Transport Minister level on the TransEuropean Networks (TENs) linking key centres along 70,000km of major roads and ultimately, 70,000km of modern rail track. Eight years after the EU's 1992 Maastricht Treaty set out their fundamental strategy, funding guidelines are being extended to allow major urban interchange and terminal (including rail) schemes to benefit.

By 2003/4, Rommerts forecasts a more developed TEN concept, emphasising door-to-door travel (and delivery, for freight traffic) and recognising that travellers' needs do not necessarily end where the TENS do. As ITS City Pioneers which set the scene for the parallel CARIRMA-Telematics, (co-ordinated architectures for the introduction of networks for sustainable mobility with telematics applications) points out: 'In many cases, whichever mode is used for the long-distance leg of the journey, it is the initial and final stages which are the most difficult for the traveller.

'There is scope for greatly improving connections between modes, through interchange points and the integration of information and ticketing systems to give travellers a 'seamless journey'.' Both are due to be given a higher priority in future TEN and local transport planning.

CARISMATransport defines an interchange as: 'Any passenger facility where transport services are in sufficiently close proximity that transfer between them or to another mode is practicable and cost effective, or could be made so'. It can therefore be anything from a single bus/tram/metro stop to a major international interconnection such as the Gare Lille Europe TGV Nord Station in France or Frankfurt Airport Station in Germany - two out of five locations chosen for in-depth study by the project.

Even the simplest, single-mode, open-air stops are candidates for ITS-based enhancement as parts of integrated transport chains connecting with business or shopping centres or the TEN network for onward travel. In the UK, for example, the London Bus Initiative is implementing a programme of improved waiting conditions, with hundreds of shelters being cabled for lighting and the installation of real-time service arrival displays.

Coupled with toughly-enforced segregated bus lanes, this is seen as the most effective way of wooing more passengers onto a mode which currently enjoys both spare capacity and the ability to increase service levels without major infrastructural investment. More attractive bus services also offer newly-elected London Mayor Ken Livingstone his only practicable short term method of improving public transport sufficiently to justify making London the world's largest deployment to date of congestion charging by 2002.

Door-to-door extensions of the kind being emphasised in EC thinking are also proving highly feasible with the creation of 'virtual interchanges' for a basic kind of demand-responsive transport (a sector with huge growth potential in filling gaps in scheduled services). In outer London suburbs, for example, a pilot scheme enables passengers to pre-book minicabs to and from their nearest Underground stop where connecting bus services are inadequate.

The initiative mirrors the Lille Metropolitan Authority's (LMCU) taxi-onrequest service, which provides a 'taxi telephone' post in outlying village centres and guarantees a set fare to the nearest metro station. Intending passengers can, therefore, use public transport all the way from homes in the city's rural outskirts to the showpiece Lille Europe TGV Nord metro/ mainline interchange, and from there onwards to Paris, Brussels or London - on the feeder principle of the original branch railway networks.

The LMCU is also currently developing a network of 20 purpose-designed and strategically-located public transport interchanges and park and rides to a standard specification, in one of the most ambitious programmes of its kind currently under way in Europe. The specification requires not only passenger comfort and real-time travel information but the capability to manage, and offer passengers alternatives in the event of, service disruptions - a significant ex tension of convent iona l informational demands and a stimulating new challenge for the ITS industry.

At the top end of the scale, Frankfurt Airport's new EuroCity Express Station offers a highly sophisticated example of an interchange planned and technology-supported to influence traveller behaviour in three separate modes - and deal in advance with predicted capacity problems.

Jointly developed by Deutsche Bahn German Railways and publicly-owned airport operator FAG, it is designed to discourage car use by restricting parking.

It also encourage travellers to use public transport from Central Frankfurt - or high-speed trains (HSTs) providing direct services from as many as 25 major German cities. These are, in effect, turned into feeders for a single national and international air hub.

The long-distance HST services are being heavily promoted by national carrier Lufthansa and other airlines through attractively priced 'Rail and Fly' tickets.

They also form the basis of a formal agreement between Lufthansa and Deutsche Bahn to encourage short-distance passengers to use rail rather than local flights - so clearing aircraft seats and runway space for international flights. This is a particularly important consideration, given that Frankfurt Airport is currently approaching capacity and located in an area where expansion proposals are faced with opposition on environmental grounds. Here imaginative interchange planning can be a powerful policy tool for altering travel behaviour and balancing the use of available transport modes for the wider benefit of travellers.

The whole operation is being supported by smartcard ticketing and a network of specially-developed mobility service centres. The idea is that these can be accessed by telephone, fax or the internet for information on airport flight schedules, road traffic conditions and public transport connections and allow travellers to buy tickets by credit card.

Improved travel information (along with smartcard ticketing) was one of the major growth areas for ITS highlighted by transport consultant John Miles speaking at the CARISMA-Transport conference. Miles, a team member in the CARISMA-Telematics project, stressed the need for systems which can manage information along a journey involving the use of a sequence of interchanges.

Such systems can ensure, for example, that passengers are pre-alerted to any disruption along their journey - from a minor delay to a major accident, on the lines of the congestion warning systems already available for road users (another current EC concern). It should be seen as an integral part of the specification for the truly intelligent interchange of the future.

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