Productivity while travelling

Peter Martin in The Age yesterday, on driverless cars:

Imagine studying, reading books, watching TV, sleeping or (legally) playing with your mobile phone on the way to work. Whichever way you look at it, the freed-up time will boost productivity.

Sounds great!

Wait a minute, thousands of us do that stuff every day by catching public transport to work.

Being productive on the train 1Being productive on the train 2

Even when it’s crowded and you’re standing, it’s generally possible to steady yourself with one hand and play with a mobile phone with the other.

Oh, and pardon me for being a little cynical, but I suspect the technology has a way to go yet given reports that it still relies largely on highly detailed mapping data rather than actually being able to “see” what’s in front of it:

But the maps have problems, starting with the fact that the car can’t travel a single inch without one. Since maps are one of the engineering foundations of the Google car, before the company’s vision for ubiquitous self-driving cars can be realized, all 4 million miles of U.S. public roads will be need to be mapped, plus driveways, off-road trails, and everywhere else you’d ever want to take the car. So far, only a few thousand miles of road have gotten the treatment, most of them around the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. The company frequently says that its car has driven more than 700,000 miles safely, but those are the same few thousand mapped miles, driven over and over again.

The article also notes the risk of maps being out of date, of not being able to “see” a temporary traffic light because it’s not mapped.

Of course, computing power is improving by leaps and bounds all the time, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath on this.

Nor should we assume that driverless cars will solve traffic problems (especially if having delivered you, they drive home again to a parking space) or pollution problems (which are down to the nature of the engine and its fuel).

And anyway, has anybody actually tried to work in a moving driverless car? Are they really smooth, or — even if you’re able to take your eyes off the road — is travel sickness a risk?

I have to admit, I can’t read for long on a bus — and I know I can’t read for long in a car when I’m a passenger — I’d imagine it’d be an issue in a driverless car.

The ABC Shops to close

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My first recollection of the ABC Shop in Melbourne was a small space in their then Lonsdale Street radio HQ, which was where the County Court is now — on the corner of Queen Street.

I think it’s where I got the 1983 Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special book (a local reprint of a UK Radio Times publication), as well as the Doctor Who Technical Manual (in hardback no less) – both still in our family.

Later on they were in the Galleria (in bottom of the gigantic State Bank, later Commonwealth Bank building at Elizabeth/Bourke Streets), and at times I bought Monty Python VHS tapes, DAAS Book (which I got autographed at the shop by the Doug Anthonys… since sold on eBay) and lots more Doctor Who merchandise, of course. This includes a bunch of laminated posters of paintings from renowned franchise artist Andrew Skilleter, one that also marked the 20th anniversary story (The Five Doctors) — which eldest son Isaac has since had autographed by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison — at an ABC Shop, of course.

Doctor Who 20th anniversary poster

Since then the Melbourne CBD shop has moved to the GPO, then more recently to Emporium. And meanwhile they’ve popped up in most big shopping centres.

We still love browsing, and occasionally buying there. The selection of DVDs is more focussed than somewhere like JB Hifi, and the range of other merchandise is good. (Have you seen the amount of Doctor Who stuff that’s available nowadays?!)

Admittedly I browse more than I buy, but purchasable gems still abound… in March I found this excellent documentary:

So it’s sad to hear all ABC Shops will be closing in the next year or two.

I’ll miss them.

Online will continue, but it won’t be the same.

PS. Trivia: before the recent crop of Doctor Who pop-up shops, there used to be a BBC Shop. Okay, it wasn’t a standalone shop, but a dedicated section of Thomas’s Music on the ground floor of the Southern Cross hotel building.

The next timetable – delayed but hopefully still on the way

Today’s Age highlights the Metro timetable changes that were planned to be implemented with the RRL opening last month.

As many would know, the introduction of Regional Rail Link was meant to be accompanied by a big timetable change on Metro to take advantage of the extra capacity unlocked, particularly on the Sunbury, Williamstown and Werribee lines.

Despite the moves towards “Metronisation” (a term the government and/or Metro appear to have coined to describe the gradual change to dedicated lines, simplified stopping patterns and more frequent services), the rail network still has numerous inter-dependencies.

This means many of the proposed changes were tied together, and it appears when the government got cagey about one of the changes, the whole upgrade unravelled, which is why the only Metro change when RRL opened was one lousy service each way on the Werribee line.

At this stage, it appears the rest of the changes are postponed until the end of the year, and I hope they all still happen, because it turns out there are some great upgrades in the package.

Notably this is not the only delay to Metro timetable changes that has occurred recently — there are improvements that have been proposed, but held back under the Coalition, as well as under Labor.

Trains near Footscray station

What was planned?

Here’s a summary of the timetable changes planned for 2015 — as well as changes originally proposed to have happened during 2013 and 2014 which were postponed.

This is based on my reading of information I’ve obtained. Any errors or omissions are mine.

Sandringham — Peak: upgrade to every 6-7 mins (currently 7-8)

Frankston — Peak: expresses and stopping trains each every 7-8 mins (currently 9ish). Weekday evenings: every 10 mins until 9pm.

The biggest change on this politically sensitive line would be no more Frankston Loop trains at all. This would mean trains will run via Flinders Street and Southern Cross and then through to Newport, as currently happens most of the time on weekdays.

It would affect weekend and peak (currently every second peak train runs via the Loop). This is what The Age says the government got nervous about. This will have obvious impacts as many Loop station passengers will change onto other trains at Richmond. Will that station, and those other trains cope?

In peak I usually catch these trains to and from Flagstaff Station. But I’m usually headed for Bourke Street — it’s only slightly further to walk from Flinders Street Station, so that’s what I’ll do, and I hope everybody else considers their options carefully rather than automatically still use the same station even when it involves a change of trains that makes it a longer journey than just walking an extra block or catching a tram. Werribee passengers got used to it; we could too. Ditto Sandringham, Glen Waverley AM peak, Alamein PM peak, Frankston peak express users…

The pay-off is more trains overall. The only nagging question I have is… will they use that space freed up in the Caulfield Loop? It appears not yet, not until a later timetable change to boost the Dandenong line. So why do it now? It seems to be tied to the Werribee line upgrade, as Frankston trains will mostly through-route to that line.

Glen Waverley — Peak: every 6-7 mins. Weekday interpeak: every 10 mins (currently 15). Weekday evenings: every 10 mins until 9pm. No more Loop trains weekday PM — see above.

Alamein/Belgrave/Lilydale — Peak: every 10 mins each to Belgrave, Lilydale, and Ringwood/Box Hill. Weekday interpeak and weekday evenings: until 9pm every 10 mins to Ringwood (currently 15-20), alternating to Belgrave and Lilydale, every 20 mins to Alamein.

Note, this is a reduction in service for Alamein during interpeak periods, but an upgrade in the evening.

Upfield — Peak: the source I have says every 11/22 mins, which I assume means 11 between the city and Coburg, as beyond that the single track makes more than 3 trains per hour difficult. (This is similar to operations during the Commonwealth Games, when extra trains ran to Coburg.)

Craigieburn — Peak: every 11 minutes via the Loop, and every 11 minutes direct via Southern Cross and Flinders Street, so every 5-6 minutes combined — (currently uneven, about every 6-12 minutes, with a small number of direct trains).

Sunbury — Peak: every 11 mins to Sunbury (currently 12), plus extra services to Watergardens.

Off-peak on the Sunbury line there was to have been a doubling of frequencies in 2016, every 10 minutes to Watergardens, 20 to Sunbury, but it’s unclear if this change was meant to tie in with RRL, which was originally expected in 2016.

Note the peak pattern here: Upfield/Craigieburn/Sunbury all share the Northern Loop, and would be on an 11 minute peak cycle… mind you, the direct Craigieburn trains would also share tracks with the Werribee/Williamstown lines in peak.

Werribee — Peak: every 7-8 mins (currently about 10-12) — a big boost taking advantage of the fact that Geelong trains are no longer on the line.

Altona Loop — Weekday interpeak: every 20 minutes all the way to Flinders St (currently shuttles to Newport)

Williamstown — Weekend daytime: every 20 mins (currently shuttles), making a combined Werribee/Williamstown service every 10 mins as far as Newport.

Spreading the peak: Although the grisly detail (such as actual timetables) isn’t available, there is also talk of spreading the peak over a longer period, so in some cases the highest frequency remains about the same, but it’s provided over a longer time span, encouraging more people where possible to travel outside the “peak of the peak” busiest times.

Train exits City Loop approaching Richmond

Good? Bad? Indifferent?

Overall good, though a couple of notes of caution.

The Loop changes would be painful for some, but the pay-off (as usual) is more frequent services, roughly a 20% peak boost on some lines, up to 50% in the evenings (from two trains per hour to three) and further moves towards ten minute services all-day everyday.

And this is the key to running more trains: you can’t have all the lines converging on the four track City Loopthose tracks are pretty much full. To make better use of the substantial track capacity in the CBD, some lines have to go direct into Flinders Street and Southern Cross.

Better separation of services should also help reliability, though there may be longer dwell times at interchange stations such as Richmond and Caulfield.

They’ve already started upgrading Richmond to provide more weather cover for interchanging passengers. Granted, the shelters above the ramps make it look like a jail, but given the centre and eastern end subways are often congested, at least people will be encouraged to use the subway at the city end, even if it’s raining — since widening the centre subway is a huge project that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

No doubt the timetable is tied into a myriad of other less obvious changes which move the rail system towards the “5 group railway” as Metro calls it, designed to improve reliability and frequency. For instance the reduction in seating on many trains would also be a factor here, providing more standing space for those short hops in and out and around of the Loop — though even the new layout lacks handholds to encourage people to move down the aisles.

Better separation and more consistent operation also means the lines can more clearly shown on the new rail map, improving the overall legibility of the network.

And I don’t think you’ll find any Altona Loop people who would be disappointed to see the end of interpeak shuttles.

We know the train fleet has been increasing in size. I wonder just how many trains sit idle at peak hour while people are packed into the services that are running?

I’ll be affected by the removal of peak Frankston trains out of the Loop. And perhaps this should have been held over until a big boost on the Dandenong line. But that could be years away, and I can see the big picture. I can work with it.

Overall this package of changes is good for the rail network, and helps move us ahead towards more frequent services overall. We need the extra services this provides. So yes, there’ll be some inconvenience, but hopefully the government will get the upgrades to Richmond in place, and publicly explain the changes, how they benefit people, how those impacted can work with it — then push ahead and do it.

Photos from July 2005

Another in my series of photos from ten years ago: July 2005.

A snowman at Lake Mountain — in fact I blogged about this day trip at the time. Hmm, haven’t been to the snow in a few years now.
Snowman at Lake Mountain

Centre Place, Melbourne. I think I snapped this with an eye to a new banner for my old web site. Unfortunately I don’t think I have any pics from the then-unremarkable northern end, where street art has since taken over.
Centre Place, Melbourne, July 2005

New Who, as the Doctor Who revival from 2005 has become known, had started a few months earlier, and these chalk artists had obviously got into the spirit, following up on their earlier classic Doctor art. More of their pavement art is on their web site.
Melbourne by the Yarra - Doctor Who art, July 2005

City skyline. In some ways not changed a lot I suspect.
Melbourne, Yarra river, July 2005

Visually awful, make a lot of noise

Abbott and Hockey dislike the aesthetics of windfarms, describing them as “visually awful” and “making a lot of noise”. Funny, I think the same about motorways.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course.

But motorways certainly have problems with noise, with pollution causing health problems, and with the space they take up for what they do, and cause dispersed travel patterns rather than assisting the centralised dense city cores needed to grow economies based primarily on information workers and the “knowledge economy”. They also often cost more than the benefits they produce, and almost any mobility benefits for individuals are limited to those who can drive — and peak-hour congestion/time benefits are short-lived.

The PM wouldn’t see it this way of course, but then he has a blinkered view, an irrational dislike for alternatives such as public transport. (He does cycle, but only for sport, not for transport.)

Joe Hockey is calling for a mature debate about the budget. Fair enough.

Perhaps he and the PM could participate in a mature debate in other important areas, including power generation and transport — assessing the options on their economic and environmental merit, rather than subjective attributes such as aesthetics.