Brisbane bound

Day two of my quick trip to Brisbane.

Memo to myself: when in Queensland in summer, make sure the blinds/curtains are closed properly before going to bed.

Given no daylight savings in the Sunshine State, you can expect the sunshine to come through the window at about 5am. I found myself awake at about 5:20, and it wasn’t particularly easy to get back to sleep.

When I eventually got up, it was time to head north to Brisbane.

Thomas Drive bridge, Surfers Paradise, morning peak hour

After the buffet breakfast ($12.50 if pre-booked, that’s reasonable — unlike some hotels that will sting you $20), I checked-out of the hotel. Google Maps gave which gave me two choices: the first was to walk a couple of blocks, wait a while, catch a bus to Nerang station, then train to Brisbane.

Or I could catch the tram a few stops, catch a different bus to Nerang station, then the same train. I took this option. It’s slightly slower but (thanks to the buses and trains only running half-hourly — but timed to meet) avoided waiting around for the bus — and I could see/cover more ground as I travelled.

Platform at Nerang Station

Nerang Station display

Queensland Rail: Quiet carriage

That all went smoothly and as the train pulled in, the signage on the carriages remembered me two things about Queensland Rail’s services: free WiFi (on some trains?) and Quiet Carriages.

I found a good spot in a Quiet carriage. This was going to be a good trip. I fired up the laptop, connected to the WiFi and got to work catching up on emails, while glancing at the scenery.

After a few stops a lady and her chatty granddaughter sat right behind me — the granddaughter wanted to go to the next carriage, but the lady insisted sitting in this one, despite the presence of an errant Coke bottle, which she moved to another seat in the next carriage.

Whether she was aware of the quiet carriage I don’t know. Or perhaps she thought her granddaughter’s near-constant exclamations came within the definition of Quiet. Who knows. (“Look, another train!” “We’re going faster than that truck!” “Look at all the dead people!” — thankfully we were passing a cemetery; it wasn’t a zombie attack.)

No matter, I’m not a local, I don’t know what’s etiquette for the Quiet Carriage, so I persevered. Then the WiFi ran out. Turns out they only let you use a measly 20 megabytes. Oh well, you know, #FirstWorldProblems

At some point I decided I wanted to shoot some video of the passing scenery, and that it would be better without the girl’s commentary track, so I moved into the next carriage, which was quieter even though it wasn’t a Quiet Carriage.

We rolled into Brisbane and I hopped off at Fortitude Valley station and made my way up Brunswick Street.

Mind the font
Warning at a Brisbane railway station

Fortitude Valley station. note the gap at most doorways, and the hump to assist with wheelchairs.
Fortitude Valley railway station - note the gap at most doorways, and the hump to assist with wheelchairs

The area had the air of being just the wrong side of the grungy/dodgy continuum, but after negotiating a five way intersection with pedestrian lights that you could grow old waiting for, I found the hotel easily enough, not far from the station. (Looking at the map now, it seems to have been The Wrong Side Of The Tracks.)

Despite it being only 11:30, my hotel room was ready. Nicer but smaller room, not as impressive a view. I then went off to find my uncle, which took some time thanks to my confusion about which square we’d agreed to meet in. (Note to self: St George’s Square is not the same as Brisbane Square.)

We had a bite to eat then caught a bus along the busway to University of Queensland, then walked around the lake to find my Dad’s memorial bench.

Brisbane bus way underground station

Birdlife at University of Queensland

Dad's bench, University of Queensland

It seemed more shady than when I was last there; perhaps they’ve planted an extra tree or two. I’d gone prepared to wash bird poo away, but it was spotless, if perhaps in need of a little varnish (on the wood) and Brasso (on the plaque).

We sat on the bench and chewed the fat for quite a while, watching the swans and other birdlife on and around the lake.

Peak hour had rolled around by the time we caught the bus back. I hopped off in the City; my uncle stayed on the bus as it would take him close to home.

I wandered around the CBD for a bit, before heading back to the hotel for a cup of tea.

I’d pondered catching up with Robert (from local PTUA-equivalent Rail Back On Track) and/or exploring the new Moreton Bay rail link, but the day was racing away, and instead I went back to Fortitude Valley station and hopped on a train.

Daniel at Bowen Hills station

I ended up at Eagle Junction where I sat on a bench and munched some fish and chips and slurped down a ginger beer, before heading back, with a stop-off for a selfie at the excellently named Bowen Hills station — named after Sir George Ferguson Bowen, who at various times was governor of Queensland, New Zealand, Victoria, Mauritius, and Hong Kong. (Bowen Street at RMIT in Melbourne is also named after him.)

Back to the hotel, trying not to stare at the dodgy types hanging around at the front of Fortitude Valley station (some of them were now drunk, walking out into the middle of the road to goad the car drivers). A little TV and I started packing. I had an early start to head home in the morning.

(This post backdated to the day it occurred. Posted on 20th January.)

Gunzelling on the Gold Coast

The plan was to head up to Queensland for a couple of days. For a short break, but also to visit my Dad’s memorial bench at UQ, and see my uncle Frank.

I devised a plan to fly into the Gold Coast so that (given nobody else was coming) I could have a look at the Gold Coast Tram Light Rail, which was built after my last visit in 2011. And as a bonus, my sons were flying back from their holiday on Tuesday, so I could meet them at Melbourne Airport on the way home.

Given the offspring would be flying in all the way from the USA, probably tired, and I’d be going to the airport from Footscray, I thought I’d drive, so booked the long term car park.

A couple of days before departure, the Airport web site sent me an email inviting me to upgrade to undercover parking at T4 for an additional $20. Given the weather forecast for the Tuesday was hot, I considered this, and tried clicking the link to see if it gave any more details. It… didn’t work. Okay, never mind then.

Come Sunday morning I found myself driving around the long term car park, hunting for a space. Given it’s the cheaper, less convenient option, it was remarkably full. This, according to their slogan, without a hint of irony, is “Parking to be proud of”.

Melbourne Airport parking

Eventually I found a space not too far from the northern end, and rather than wait for the shuttle bus, walked to T3 (Virgin) to check-in.

(Memo to self: the farther ahead you book airport parking, the cheaper it is: one day it was quoting $35 for 2-3 days, a few days later it wanted $50. When you nominate your in and out times, they’ll actually give you an hour’s grace either side of that. And the prebooked rates are tiered the same way as walk-up rates; more than 48 hours and you’re paying for up to 72 hours. Which makes me wonder if I’d gone say six hours over my nominated time, but under 72 hours, would it have charged me extra, or not?)

Possibly foolishly I booked in one of my bags – they were both pretty small, but I do like not having to carry too much stuff around the airport.

Unlike the car park, the flight wasn’t entirely full; I managed to score three seats to myself.

The complimentary small rye roll with cheese was nothing lovely to look at, but tasted okay, and it was all I’d be getting for free on Virgin. I bought an egg and chive sandwich to complement it, since it was lunchtime. (The flight attendant did offer me another rye roll.)

Despite dire warnings (via email and text) of delays around Coolangatta, the flight was on time all the way, though as usual my ears did their thing on the way down. I wasn’t the only one – it seemed like all the babies on the flight were also having a bad time.

At Melbourne, some rows had boarded via the pier, others had the option to board via the tarmac. I like to think of it as the rock star option. At Gold Coast Airport, it was all via the tarmac. It’s not a big airport – it reminds me of Hobart but busier, and while Melbourne is sometimes called a car park with an airport attached, Gold Coast was more like a food court with an airport attached.

Gold Coast Airport

Gold Coast Airport

Gold Coast 777 bus from the airport

I picked up my luggage and headed for the bus stop, which was easy to find — straight out of the terminal, follow the signs, about 50 metres. This is in stark contrast to the PTV bus stop at Melbourne Airport, which is a hike to a bus terminal way down past terminal 4 in the “transport hub”.

In fact, Translink have quite obviously put some thought and effort into their airport route overall.

The bus route is number 777, so the number is easy to remember thanks to the mental association with the Boeing 777. (Did it used to be route 747? I don’t know.)

It’s a limited stops route running from the airport to the southernmost terminus of the light rail, so if you’re a bewildered tourist, you’ll have no trouble navigating this. No danger of missing your stop. And it runs every 15 minutes every day of the week, until after 11pm.

Evidently the 777 gets pretty busy; our bus was pretty big, with special luggage space, with only about ten people aboard. But I saw double-deckers on the same route.

The 777 connects to the new Gold Coast Light Rail, opened in 2014.

There had also been warnings of disruptions on the tram. Earlier in the day one tram had been derailed when hit by a fire truck, causing long delays — happily the service had resumed by the time I got there.

The tram took me to Cavill Avenue in Surfers Paradise, and I went and found my hotel and checked-in.

It was a very nice room. Very nice view across the river.

Alas, no WiFi! In 2017! If you want in-room Internet, it’s wired, and $10 a day. This seemed to make the smoke detector sad.

Sad smoke alarm

Gold Coast, view along Nerang River

They only have free WiFi in the hotel lobby, which I suppose might be a way of socialising with your fellow guests… if everyone wasn’t so intently staring at their screens.

M couldn’t come on this trip, so after settling in, I headed out for some tram joyriding. Seriously, I saw some things this new(ish) system can definitely teach Melbourne. Lots more about this later.

I got back to Surfers Paradise and walked around for a bit. It was drizzly though warm, and most people had vacated the beach.

Eat your junk food between the flags
Surfers Paradise Beach on a wet day

Looked around Timezone, pondering playing a few games, then discovered the minimum you can load on a new card is $20… yeah no thanks. (Shame, I have an old card from 2011, possibly with some credit on it, that I’d left behind at home.)

Ducked into an underground Woolworths to get a couple of things. Amazingly busy, as they often are in tourist areas. I noticed there’s also a Coles and another Woolworths in close proximity.

The drizzle had given way to full blown rain by this point, though apparently Brisbane had around 80 mm. Out with the umbrella and I walked back to the hotel for a cup of tea to watch the sunset and listen to a nearby club with a cover band belting out greatest hits, including a set closer of an extended elaborate version of Paul Kelly’s Dumb Things.

Tea by the Nerang River

Surfers Paradise

The rain stopped and I was hungry. Google reviews indicated a good pasta and pizza restaurant nearby called Salt Meats Cheese, which did me a very quick very tasty prosciutto and rocket pizza.

After that a further walk around along the main street, Surfers Paradise Boulevard. It was still pretty busy out. I assume there’s a lot of CCTV – on some traffic light poles I found warning signs that the council is busy filming you.

Gold Coast CCTV

Outside the Wax Museum, Gold Coast

Back to the hotel. I grabbed a complimentary copy of the Courier Mail in reception, and relaxed for a bit and flicked through the paper.

Getting ready for bed I spied a cockroach crawling up high on the wall. Eugh. Sigh. Oh well, I whacked it with the complimentary newspaper and it dropped off the wall dead, fortuitously straight into the rubbish bin below. No big deal, but the usual thing with the creepy crawlies is that if there’s one, there’s probably more lurking. I mentioned it the next morning when checking-out.

To finish this post, here’s the view along the Nerang River — as spectacular as night as it is during the day.

Gold Coast, view along Nerang River

(This post backdated to the day it occurred. Posted on 18th January.)

Some thoughts on road pricing

(One of those posts which I feel like could do with some more polish, but haven’t had time. I know the comments will help boost its worth.)

At what point will we have road pricing?

Here are some thoughts.

The current situation doesn’t make sense

The current mix of toll roads and free roads in Melbourne doesn’t really make sense.

For instance depending on trip source and destination, outside peak times it can be almost as fast to drive via King Street (free) as the Bolte Bridge ($2.97).

Ditto Kings Way/Queens Road/Dandenong Road (free) compared to the Burnley Tunnel and Citylink to the Monash Freeway (an eye-watering $7.72).

Ideally you want longer-distance/through trips on the motorways, but if the time advantage often isn’t there, there’s no incentive to use the tollways.

What we have now is not a holistic approach; it’s not trying to achieve any particular traffic flow outcome. Instead, the toll fees are based on trying to recoup investment costs on a specific part of the network, from 20 years ago.

The equivalent might be to build a new suburban train line and charge huge fares for that, while neighbouring lines were the regular $4.10 fare. It makes no sense in the context of the overall network.

Fuel taxes might eventually disappear

Fuel taxes now are based on the assumption that cars are powered by fossil fuels. While they don’t pay for the costs of roads, it’s better to have that revenue than not.

If electric cars take over, that revenue stream will disappear.

“Make public transport better first”

Often people will say you can’t impose road pricing or a congestion tax without first improving public transport. Fair point.

But what does Success look like? What criteria do you use?

Some train lines have doubled in frequency in the past 20 years. Some (at some times) have quadrupled in frequency. … Some are much the same.

The CBD has mass transit in all directions, with many (out to Footscray, Clifton Hill, Burnley and as far as Ringwood at times, Dandenong and Frankston) providing trains every 10 minutes, 7 days a week. But people still need to be able to get onto trains; car parks will never be big enough, and outer-suburban connecting buses are mostly inadequate.

It certainly needs to get better, but at some point you’re going to have to say it’s not an excuse anymore.

Perhaps the opening of the metro rail tunnel in 2026 should be accompanied by a big boost in timetables for trains and connecting buses, becoming a catalyst for CBD road pricing?

The London example

The London congestion charge is a reminder that road pricing can be flexible, and is not absolute.

It’s a whopping £11.50 per day (slightly less if you set up “auto pay”), but importantly, it only applies on weekdays, and only from 7am to 6pm.

There are numerous exclusions for local residents, taxis, motorbikes and others.

Much of the money gets spent on public transport and other transport modes. The history of it shows it’s been a big success.

CBD traffic, Lonsdale and William Streets

Could it work here?

Melbourne already has a “Congestion Levy”, applied to long stay/commuter car parking in Melbourne CBD and some inner suburbs. This is a disincentive to car commuters, but doesn’t affect through-traffic.

Partly due to a lack of traffic rule enforcement, CBD traffic is becoming an impediment to pedestrians/public transport users and to cyclists, but overall congestion also badly affects public transport and freight vehicles.

Assuming there wouldn’t be the political will or the technology yet to have a complete road pricing scheme, could you set up eTag readers at strategic points to charge vehicles coming into the CBD? Do enough vehicles already have eTags? Or is simple number plate recognition better?

Where would you put the boundary? You might want to include Docklands. It might make sense to make a zone consistent with Free Tram Zone, but it might also make sense to try and include other very congested inner-city areas. (Consistent with the FTZ might just encourage more people to drive through busy roads to reach the free trams.)

Different prices at different times would be appropriate. Maximum charge at peak commuting times. Minimum or no charge in the middle of the night.

Of course even the most obvious congestion pricing scheme is a political hot potato. So don’t hold your breath.

Thoughts?

Old photos from January 2007

Continuing my series posting ten year old photos.

Brighton, near Middle Brighton station. Obviously this bus shelter had been re-used, from somewhere on Victoria Parade I’m guessing. It looks like the same bus shelter is still there, but the tram route numbers may have been removed.
Bus stop, January 2007

Recently, motorists failing to keep intersections clear has been bugging me, but from this photo, it’s clearly not a new problem.
Blocking the intersection, January 2007

On the trains, it was common for some services to be removed from the timetable for a few weeks after Christmas. However, in January 2007 the Siemens brake crisis was just ramping up — I think the following photos may have been a result of both of those — numerous trains were cancelled on some lines.

A reasonable request: Don’t shoot the messenger:
Train service reductions, January 2007

The result on-board. The second photo (initially posted by me) went on to be widely used by news media in the years that followed. Some of those people look pretty grumpy — hopefully at the situation rather than me trying to get it publicised and fixed. (Note:
Crowded train, January 2007
Crowded train, January 2007

I have no idea whose house this is, or why I took this photo. Possibly for inspiration for my own bathroom renovation (which I’ll get around to eventually, I promise). Maybe one of my friends (who I guess I don’t visit very often) can identify it!
Someone's bathroom, January 2007

Going to the Zoo

A couple of weeks ago it was highlighted that, not for the first time, Melbourne Zoo is seeking an additional one thousand public car spaces.

It seems they want to turn Royal Park into Royal Car Park.

For an organisation dedicated to animals, you’d think they’d understand the importance of the natural environment. They seem pretty keen to cover the Park in concrete and asphalt.

Okay, so they’d like to make it easier for more people to get to the Zoo. But bringing them by car, to a prized park in the inner-city, should be the least preferred option.

While the Zoo is served by a train line and two tram lines, they leave a lot to be desired. So rather than pave paradise, there are numerous things that could help people get there without driving.

Zoo parking is some of the cheapest in Melbourne

Car parking at the Zoo is ridiculously cheap. As highlighted in The Age’s article, it’s only $2 for up to five hours, making it some of the cheapest paid parking anywhere in inner Melbourne.

Apparently on no less than 93 days per year the car park reaches capacity.

By comparison at some other zoos around Australia:

  • Sydney Taronga Zoo: $18
  • Adelaide Zoo: Limited metered street parking, or a special $10 per day (weekends only) offer
  • Perth Zoo: From $2.40 per hour, or $5.50 per day
  • National Zoo, Canberra seems to be the only one where parking is free… but then, it does seem to be outside Canberra’s built-up area, so presumably land is plentiful.

Increasing the $2 parking fee is not unreasonable (remembering admission is $32.50). It could reduce demand, make other modes more cost-competitive, help bring down the admission price, or fund improvements.

Royal Park Station

The train line is one the least frequent in Melbourne

The Upfield line only runs about every 20 minutes, including peak hours.

On Sunday mornings before 10am it’s only every 40 minutes. Given the Zoo opens at 9am, this is hopeless, especially given most suburban visitors will be connecting from other lines. Long waits for connections is a great way to ensure the train doesn’t get repeat customers.

How about running the trains more frequently? The single track at the northern end of the line is an issue, but it can be done at least as far out as Coburg. Trains every 10 minutes on this line has been done before – as recently as 2006 for the Commonwealth Games, to help get people to and from venues at… Royal Park.

(A peak-hour upgrade to have trains every 11 minutes as far as Coburg was at one stage planned for 2015. This was postponed, and it’s unclear when it will happen.)

Signage

Step off a train at Royal Park platform 2 (from the city), and exit the station. Where’s the Zoo?

Royal Park Station

You can’t actually see it, and the only wayfinding sign present doesn’t point you towards it.

Royal Park Station signage

If you counter-intuitively look at the other side of this sign, then there’s an arrow pointing you in the right direction.

When I was there looking around, I actually saw people off the train looking for the Zoo, and was able to help them.

Surely we can do better than this.

Now get across the road

If you can find the way, from the station to the Zoo entrance is only a short walk. But you have to cross a road.

There’s not much traffic, but I saw families head across without looking. One group realised halfway across that a vehicle was coming, and stopped in the middle of the road to let it pass.

Melbourne Zoo, Royal Park Station

The very least they could do is put a crossing here to make it easier and safer. Ideally a zebra crossing, but that might cause issues due to the boom gates being so close; it might have to be a signalised crossing synchronised with the level crossing. If so, it should have a very quick response time.

While people using the train get no help to cross the road, in contrast there are zebra crossings further along the same road… to help people coming from the car parks. I mean, come on.

Melbourne Zoo car park

The trams

Route 55 passes right by the Zoo. Route 19 passes nearby on Royal Parade, though it’s a bit of a walk from the stop — about 600 metres.

Just like in the hospital precinct, both tram services lack accessibility, important for those with mobility aids/wheelchairs, but also prams.

Route 19 has low-floor trams, but no platform stops nearby.

Route 55 has platform stops adjacent to the Zoo, but runs all high-floor trams. The plan to merge routes 8 and 55 should fix this by providing at least some low-floor trams onto route 55, though there are as-yet no platform stops along that route within the CBD.

The bus

Local bus route 505 runs via the Zoo, between Moonee Ponds and Melbourne University. But it’s very infrequent; only every 40-60 minutes on weekdays; every 60 minutes on weekends, so it’s not very useful.

The stops aren’t ideally-placed; the one closest to the Zoo entrance is by the railway station (so suffers similar access issues to the station), the other stop which is actually called “Melbourne Zoo” is poorly placed for both Zoo entrances.

Ticketing

Given you might be trying to attract occasional users travelling in family groups, it might also pay to have some kind of joint ticketing deal, or group travel offer, with public transport users able to pay for Zoo entry at their local station and bypass the admission queues. This type of arrangement helps attract people heading to the Royal Show, for instance.

Melbourne Zoo - Royal Park station

Real-time information

The only real-time information in the vicinity is in the railway station. At the exit to platform one there’s a display telling you… how long until the next tram.

This is part of a program to assist connections between trains and trams. In principle it’s a great idea, though in this case, I wonder if the potential for connections from inbound trains to trams is a bit limited.

Anyway, putting Passenger Information Displays in the station for train departures would be an obvious upgrade (and one that has been done at many stations around the network recently).

Given the technology now exists to provide real-time information for all public transport modes, can they rig up a screen near the exit telling you how much time until the next trains, trams or buses? If it’s a long wait, you could choose to wander around for a bit longer. (Disclaimer: it’s been a while since I’ve been inside the Zoo. They might already have it… But somehow I doubt it. Also, despite PTV claiming all metropolitan buses are included, it appears bus 505 doesn’t have it yet.)

Make it easier

So let’s summarise: if the Zoo wants to make it easier for people to get there, there are things they can work with appropriate authorities to improve the non-car modes, rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars per space to cover more of the park in asphalt.

First, the easy stuff:

  • Change the car park pricing to reflect demand
  • Put signage at the station so bewildered visitors can easily find the Zoo entrance
  • Install a crossing to make it easier and safer to get from the station to the Zoo
  • Real-time information screens at the station and at the Zoo exit

Other changes are more tricky, but there’s a huge pay-off if the system is easier to use. (And again, remember: even if you don’t value parkland, building a thousand car spots could easily cost tens of millions of dollars.)

  • Lobby the state government to improve train services. An upgrade of Sunday morning services to at least every 20 minutes is a must, but so too is improving the peak and all-day service to every 10 minutes. (The roll-out plan for this has stalled, but when achieved would mean it is super-easy to get from most places on the train network to the Zoo with a minimum of waiting.)
  • Likewise, lobby the government to improve tram services and provide accessible stops and trams, especially on route 55 but also on route 19.
  • More buses on route 505 won’t really help people coming from the CBD and elsewhere on the PT network (the route doesn’t actually connect with any trains except at Royal Park, but could improve connectivity from some local suburbs, and changes could be considered as part of bus route reform in the area.

Maybe the Zoo is already lobbying for these changes, but it’s not obvious. Every time information about their efforts comes out, it’s all to do with roads and cars.

Admittedly I haven’t looked at cycling options.

What other changes would improve things for Zoo visitors and staff so they don’t have to drive?