Double decker bus for Melbourne

Melbourne’s getting a new double decker bus.

It’s been on display at a trade show at Jeff’s Shed (that’s the Melbourne Exhibition Centre for those not in the know), and a PTV contact passed these photos on…

Melbourne double decker bus - exterior
Melbourne double decker bus - exterior

Inside, as you’d expect, the low ceiling makes it seem a little more cramped than single deck buses. But from memory of riding them in the UK, this isn’t generally seen as a problem.

Apparently there’s a digital display somewhere downstairs indicating how many seats are available upstairs.

Melbourne double decker bus - interior downstairs
Melbourne double decker bus - stairs
Melbourne double decker bus - upstairs

The bus will be run by bus operator CDC, with the PTV branding, in the Werribee/Wyndham Vale area. I’m told by locals that some bus routes regularly get overcrowded around there. While routes in the area are being re-organised in June as part of the Regional Rail Link opening, you can bet there’ll be plenty of passenger demand thanks to the huge urban growth there.

This is good to see. Many cities around the world use them, and some routes (the university shuttles spring to mind) could do with higher-capacity buses.

Sure, they can’t run everywhere — low bridges in some parts of town would limit where they can be used. But existing tourist double deckers run in some parts of Melbourne, so there’s no reason they can’t be used on public routes.

Of course, you’d never want to see service frequencies reduced to counter the capacity boost. And increasing frequencies is obviously the preferable way to relieve crowding, but on frequent routes, bigger buses make sense.

In contrast with the argument against double decker trains, dwell times at stops don’t limit throughput on busy routes, because buses can overtake each other — though they might slow down the travel time.

This is not the first time double decker buses have run in Melbourne. They were common in the 1940s, as a replacement for cable trams in Bourke Street until the electric lines opened in the 1950s. I found this lovely photo of one, below, and it turns out there were others as early as the 1910s.

Melbourne Metropolitan Tramways Board bus 240 (Source: State Library / Lyle Fowler)
(Source: Lyle Fowler/Harold Paynting Collection, State Library of Victoria. )

The new bus has got some attention. Something a bit different, but more practical than monorails or ferries.

It’ll be interesting to see it in action, and to see if people like it and the government orders more.

Also notable in buses this week: a bunch more routes now have realtime information available, covering all Smartbuses and (it seems) all Transdev Melbourne routes. This expansion coincided with the launch of PTV’s new realtime API, allowing app developers to use the information to develop their own apps. Neato.

I’m told all buses have the relevant equipment fitted, and more realtime information will rollout pretty quickly to the rest of the suburban bus network. Trams obviously already have Tram Tracker, and trains… well, that’s trickier, they’re still working on it.

Ten years ago: Arise Lord Vader

Here’s another in my series of ten year old photos.

Arise Lord Vader — episode 3 got a lot of promotion. Or, as I joked at the time: Connex was aligned with the Dark Side.
Arise Lord Vader - Flinders Street station, May 2005

The Dungeon: platform 13 at Flinders Street. The screens have been replaced with a flat model, and an escalator was installed to the concourse, but I’m not sure it’s changed that much otherwise.
Platform 13, Flinders Street Station, May 2005

M and I must have been out on a dog walk and found this sign. Edgewater (then under construction, now a thriving infill suburb) is in that abyss somewhere.
Edgewater, May 2005

Also on the dog walk. Evidently the residents of Rippon Street were very proud of their second prize from 16 years earlier. Google Streetview shows the sign was still there in March 2014.
Near Vic Uni Footscray Park, May 2005

It was ten years ago this month that we had the funeral for Tram Stop 7 (on Collins Street and Russell Street) — since merged with the Exhibition Street stop in favour of a mid-block tram stop. I think it was the first time the “one stop per block in the CBD” rule started to be diminished — these days it’s near-impossible to know where the closest stop is to Street X. It got plenty of media interest. Naturally to this day you see trams stop there for the traffic lights, but unable to pick up or drop off passengers. (More pictures)
Funeral for a tram stop, May 2005

My desk back then. Old computer (bought earlier that month), old fat screen, old bulky printer. Copy of Train Simulator on the desk. Blue Linksys router in the background — WiFi antennae up, I don’t even recall if I used WiFi for anything back then.
My desk, May 2005

Where are the ads?

Before you read too much of this post, play the video and (assuming you haven’t seen it before), see how long it takes you to work out what it’s an ad for.

Gosh, isn’t it optimistic! And I’m finding it really catchy.

Even the bloke at the end seems pretty happy, perhaps with good reason.

That ad seems a bit long for television; perhaps it was in cinemas, or perhaps it was online only — though it seems there was a shorter version for TV.

These TV ads accompany it:

…and this in particular I like, as it manages to capture a key reason of why the product is so important:

(There’s one more I wasn’t so keen on… if you want to see it, it’s here.)

Meanwhile, I’ve just finished reading Mark Ovenden’s excellent book London Underground By Design.

Both the Washington DC ads above and the book show examples of rail authorities that are aware of the importance of promoting their new rail lines.

Piccadilly line extension promotion - from Mark Ovenden's book London Underground By Design

Today it’s a month until Regional Rail Link opens on 21st of June, and there’s been no promotion of it at all.

So far I’ve seen no posters, no ads, nothing online (the official project web site doesn’t even seem to indicate the precise date; it only says “June”), and recent media stories about it (not since the ones advising that the opening was delayed).

I’m told even the new rail map, which would have highlighted the new line to Metro users, has been delayed until later in the year. This is a real shame — it would have been a perfect way to promote the new stations to existing users, including those who might currently be driving from nearby suburbs to the overcrowded Werribee line.

Way to get people excited and interested in the first new major suburban rail line to open in 80 years!

Let’s hope local residents hear about it opening. At least they’ve seen construction going on.

But wait a minute, I hear you say, why does the rest of Melbourne need to know about this? I don’t live anywhere near Tarneit and Wyndham Vale; how will it help me?

As former Western Australian transport minister Alannah MacTiernan pointed out in a presentation in 2013, when the new Mandurah line opened in Perth, it actually resulted in patronage growth right across the Perth rail system.

My guess is it’s a mix of the benefits of the new line serving destinations previously difficult to reach, and the halo effect — oh, look at that, a new rail line just opened — it looks so modern — I haven’t caught a train in ages, but maybe I should take another look and see if my local trains are any good… oh, they’re more frequent than they used to be… I’ll give it a go.

In this short video about the creation of the Washington DC ads, they note (at about the 3 minute mark) that the campaign increased overall awareness of Metro, and helped contribute to very strong patronage on the new line when it opened last year.

Most of us don’t look as happy as the people in the first ad when riding trains.

But I think the “Good times are ahead” message resonates because it reminds us of something important — better public transport means better access to jobs and education and other opportunities — whether or not you can drive — and an option for getting out of the traffic. I can say with some certainty that my life is better thanks to good access to PT.

So too the Regional Rail Link will be of huge benefit to the residents of Wyndham Vale and Tarneit — and the frequency boost expected on the rest of the Geelong line and on the neighbouring lines thanks to freed up capacity will also help many others.

In Victoria, we seem to have an awful lot of trouble promoting the good things about public transport.

There’s certainly political promotion — this week I’ve received two sets of flyers about the forthcoming level crossing grade separations; at the station, AND in the mail… and let’s not forget ridiculous ads for non-existent infrastructure like last year’s promotions of the proposed airport line — designed not so much to promote the line, as to influence your vote.

But there has been virtually no promotion of the new RRL line, the trains that now run every ten minutes, the fare cuts in January, or the realtime mobile Smartbus information.

With the huge investment now going into the system to produce these upgrades, it’s time PTV and the government started better promoting projects as they are completed, to ensure people know about the benefits, and the return is maximised by getting more passengers on board.

Public transport in the media is so often dominated by bad news — crowding, delays, breakdowns — the good news stories need to be told as well.

  • Washington Metro ads found via Marcus Wong and commenter wxtre
  • The appallingly catchy tune is Melbourne band Architecture In Helsinki. I once saw them in support of Belle And Sebastian and was thoroughly unimpressed. Perhaps they were having a bad night.

Post delivery by tram

For some time – since well before the introduction of the Free Tram Zone – I’ve seen uniformed Australia Post employees with small delivery carts on board trams in central Melbourne.

Post by tram

At first I wondered if this was a good use of space on a tram, given how crowded they can get.

But I think it’s arguable that it’s Australia Post being smart about moving (at least some) letters and parcels around a busy urban environment, quickly and cheaply and without taking up the road space that the usual van fleet would take.

Similarly, long distance travellers with wheeled luggage often seem more inclined to use public transport than catch a taxi — Gordon Price described this as “the only significant new mode of transportation to develop so far this century.”

(Note: I’ve seen Post employees stand back and wait for a less crowded tram, rather than trying to squeeze on with a cart, so it’s not like they’re being totally unreasonable about it.)

Now it turns out Amazon is doing something similar in New York City on the subway.

Once upon a time many cities had freight trams. Perhaps this is the 21st century version of that.

And perhaps it’s yet more evidence that the wheels of commerce can adapt to not requiring motor vehicles to survive and thrive.

Post delivery by tram

Real time information now available for buses

PTV announced on Thursday that online realtime departure information is now available for some bus routes: specifically, Smartbus routes, which have long had realtime information displays at major stops.

Ironically as I post this, it seems to be down… but when working, it’s a small but welcome step forward in the quest to get more realtime information available to the public — via apps or web sites, so you can check your phone or your computer to see how far away your service is.

Smartbus: real time departure information

It follows the introduction of Tram Tracker way back in 2006, initially available by phone — premium SMS, at 55 cents a pop. Remember, this was before the launch of the iPhone — some phones had got basic web access in about 2001, but at the time, very few people knew how to use it.

Tram Tracker went onto the web in 2007, followed by apps for iPhone and Android (the initial one being unofficial) a couple of years later.

Tram Tracker, by the way, isn’t quite realtime. It uses the “Automatic Vehicle Monitoring” system originally introduced in the 1970s, which records the trams passing specific points along the routes, can track them to an extent between those points, and then interpolates the time at each stop based on that data. Generally it’s pretty close to accurate, but occasionally a disruption between the points can throw it out.

Bus tracking

The new bus tracking is, it seems, linked to the GPS devices inside the Smartbuses which trigger automated announcements and displays for the next stop. From what I’ve seen so far it’s reasonably accurate. (More accurate, it seems, than the hopeless equipment that was installed with Myki which often can’t tell the difference between Melbourne’s two vast zones.)

In the PTV app, and on the web site, it appears the realtime information is distinguished by it being a minutes countdown instead of a fixed time. I think they could have done better on this — it’s not exactly crystal clear.

A myriad of information

Along with service information now provided via apps, Twitter and the web, passengers are starting to get a better picture of how services are running on any given day. There’s actually a myriad of information out there.

Timetables Planned disruptions Service status Realtime departures
Trains tick Stations
tick Web
tick Apps (PTV/Train Trapper)
tick Stations
tick Web
tick Apps (PTV/Metro)
tick Twitter
tick Some stations
tick Web
tick Apps (PTV/Metro)
tick Twitter
tick Stations (displays, green button)
Trams tick Stops
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Stops
tick Web
tick Apps (PTV/TramTracker)
tick Twitter
tick Some stops
tick Web
tick Apps (PTV/TramTracker)
tick Twitter
tick Some stops
tick Web
tick Apps
SmartBus tick Stops
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Twitter (Transdev/Ventura)
tick Some stops
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Twitter
tick Some stops
tick Web
tick PTV App
Other buses tick Stops
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Some on Twitter
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Some on Twitter
Not yet
V/Line tick Stations
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Stations
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Twitter
tick Some stations
tick Web
tick PTV App
tick Twitter
tick Some stations (displays)

(Any corrections? Leave a comment below. I haven’t included information available by phone, eg voice. If you know the right phone number and are willing to navigate menus and wait on hold, you can get this sort of info. And on vehicles and at stations, announcements are sometimes made, though these can be sporadic.)

There’s a heap of different online/app ways to get all this information, and it’s fair to say that they’ve really got their act together in the past few years (despite some now-resolved hiccups with Metro’s Twitter feed, and their withdrawal of SMS alerts).

The PTV app and web site seems to have it all, but the individual operators offer more tailored views into the same information.

Hopefully in due course we’ll get realtime departure information available more widely. The biggest gap now is trains and non-Smartbuses — they’re working on both, but they can’t even reliably get realtime train information onto the bus stop signs just outside the stations, so I’m not holding my breath.

Bentleigh Smartbus sign: apology 2

As time goes on, for frequent routes, I suspect departure countdowns and service status will become more important than timetables. It’s already the case with many tram users — they check Tram Tracker to see how many minutes away the tram is; not the timetable.

This in turn may see authorities start to operate services in such a way as to maintain a regular service, rather than trying to meet specific times: if a service is cancelled, shift the others forward or back by a few minutes to even up the headways. As this (unofficial) London bus timetable says: “This route is classed as high frequency, and as such controllers will endeavour to provide an even service rather than necessarily adhering exactly to the times shown.”

In some cities they don’t publish full timetables, just frequency guides. Timetables will remain important for the less frequent routes, of course — any gaps greater than about 10 minutes, and people are likely to want to plan around that.

As for system information, the ultimate goal would be pulling all the data together in realtime, to help advise you where to go (journey planning) and update you with any changes along the way (the train you’re on is late, so you’ll miss the bus connection; stay on one more stop and get an alternative bus route departing a few minutes later which also drops you where you want to go).

Plus of course we need a coherent reliable frequent network so you need to adapt your travel plans less often — it just works, and you can easily and quickly get from A to B every time, as easily as getting in your car.