Night Network: opportunities to make it better

Night Network has been running as a trial since the start of 2016, and solved some key problems:

  • The old NightRider buses were insufficient: often crowded, and had a route structure completely different from daytime, so (despite the crowding) most people didn’t know how it worked
  • Nightrider also provided no service in many areas that have excellent daytime services, so some of the people most likely to use public transport didn’t have late services.
  • Sunday trains started too late.

Night Network kind of solved these issues, and with 35,000 extra trips every weekend, is getting people on board. But it isn’t perfect, and the cost has been huge, at around $80 million per year.

The PTUA put out this material highlighting some problems and things that could be done to improve it:

PTUA calls for Night Network to stay – but must be made more efficient

This got some coverage in the Herald Sun: Trains lying idle during Melbourne’s 24-hour public transport scheme (Pay wall)

The study into the timetables came about when it was pointed out to me that on some lines, the trains spend a lot of time sitting at the terminus. I wanted to find out how long.

The Working Timetable, if you can get hold of it (it’s not currently online), shows which service the train goes to after reaching the end of the line.

This made it fairly easy — except that the Belgrave and Lilydale lines do a complicated dance, with trains running from the city alternately to each, with shuttles filling in the gaps. It results in uneven frequencies (non-clockface times) in the evenings and on the Night Services. It could be fixed by running one of the branches from Ringwood as a shuttle, as happens on the Cranbourne, Alamein and Williamstown lines.

Train at night

Anyway, the results showed that yes, on some lines the trains spend an enormous amount of time sitting idle. Perhaps inevitable for the shuttles, but Sandringham trains spend as much time stopped as they do running; some Belgrave trains wait for an amazing 62 minutes before heading off again, and you’ll find trains sitting waiting at Craigieburn, Upfield and Hurstbridge for more than 40 minutes each hour.

A big part of the problem is that the policy during the trial is for hourly trains. The idle time is far higher during hourly operation than before midnight with half-hourly services.

Perhaps secondary is that the timetable may have been written in a hurry to get it implemented by the start of 2016.

The Night Bus services still have the problem of a route structure that is completely different from day time — unlike the trains and trams (the half-dozen routes that run all night) which provide 24-hour service on weekends, which is much easier to understand.

So as the PTUA material indicates, it makes a lot of sense to refine the whole Night Network when the trial ends in mid-2017, to make it more efficient and economically sustainable, make it more useful for passengers, and make it permanent:

The aim should be a Night Network which provides:

  • train services on the busiest lines on Friday and Saturday nights, running at least every half-hour;
  • coordinated connecting rail buses or parallel trams on sections where patronage does not warrant all-night train services; and
  • 24-hour tram and bus routes filling in network gaps where no trains run.

  • The PTUA is also calling for rail bus services to run along train routes on weekday mornings, meaning 24/7 service along Melbourne’s rail corridors, a service that has run in Sydney since the 1980s.

Read more

Cheltenham and Mentone: rail going under road

Last year, rail under (trench) and rail over (skyrail) options were presented for Cheltenham and Mentone. On Monday the government announced both would be rail under.

As expected, the Park Road crossing in Cheltenham (just a stone’s throw from the Charman Road crossing) is being grade separated as well. Latrobe Street, a minor crossing south of Cheltenham, is staying for now, even though it may have made sense to close it to cars.

(From the Level Crossing Removal Authority web site)

There are of course pros and cons to rail under.

Probably higher cost, but possibility of building over the rail line (“value capture”) later — as proposed but not yet implemented at Ormond.

More disruption during construction. Expect a lot of road closures, and of course extended rail closures between Moorabbin and Mordialloc when they dig it all out. Unfortunately this will affect the new Southland station just after it opens.

Certainly more compulsory acquisition around Cheltenham. 32 properties are set to be demolished — far more than would have been needed for rail over.

The third platform at Cheltenham can currently handle trains to/from the City only. This will be upgraded to also link to the Frankston-bound tracks, allowing more operational flexibility. It might result in some consistency in short Frankston “stopper” services in peak, which currently start/end at a variety of locations: Moorabbin, Cheltenham, Mordialloc, Carrum.

Three pedestrian overpasses around Mentone, but two of them (at the shallow ends of the trench) will have extremely long ramps.

There will also be a big loss of trees — the options assessments last year forecast significant removal of trees whether the rail line went under or over, but rail over provided more options for replanting afterwards.

There have been complaints about tree removal around Murrumbeena for skyrail, but it’s worth remembering that the trenches at Ormond and McKinnon in particular resulted in a huge number of trees removed. Palm trees at Bentleigh got moved then put back, but other types of trees were simply chopped down.

Bike cages and bus stops? Locations aren’t clear yet. Hopefully these will be moved as close as possible to the station entrance, and available as soon as stations reopen.

Some diagrams indicate at Mentone the bus stops may be left further away from the station than some of the parking, which is completely illogical. And Cheltenham could do with some consolidation of bus stops, though this is partly related to the problem of buses to Southland departing from various different stops — not so much of an issue once Southland station opens.

Station parking

At both locations they may get 4 storey car parks in the station precinct. It’s unclear if this is to preserve current numbers of car spaces, or radically increase them.

Multi-storey car parks are extraordinarily expensive. The one recently built at Syndal cost an eye-popping $43,200 per space. And while it takes up less ground space than a single level car park, it’s not beautiful, especially as they failed to activate the ground level for retail or other uses. It’s not as tall as a 4 storey building, but it’s still pretty tall, even compared to the elevated station.

Syndal station
Syndal station car park

A big increase in station parking would be a mistake. It would increase local traffic, and undermine other more efficient modes such as walking, cycling and feeder buses.

As with many suburban stations, the car parking is visually very prominent, but the number of people arriving by car is far outweighed by the number of people walking to the station.

At Cheltenham, 2013-14 PTV statistics say there were 3,240 boardings per day. 26.1% arrive by car, 60.3% walk to the station.

At the very least, Cheltenham will have car parking above the trench, along either side of Park Road. This could have been a good development opportunity.

Reaction

So the anti-Skyrail people got their way. I wonder how happy they are with the consequences for people whose properties will be acquired and demolished?

The Opposition of course… are opposed.

Right… but context is important.

One of the primary reasons for skyrail on the Dandenong line is to limit the disruption. Part of this was the gas pipeline underneath Carnegie, but also the passenger numbers.

PTV stats indicate around 64,000 boardings per day on affected part of the line, outwards from Caulfield. In contrast, south of Moorabbin there are 25,520 boardings per day.

It’s a lot easier to shift 25,000 trips to buses around a 9km section of closed railway, than to shift 64,000 over 20km.

Interestingly, Cheltenham and Mentone are both within the strong Liberal seat of Sandringham, though the boundary with marginal seats is very close by.

Proximity to the beach and other geological factors may see the crossings further south result in a different solution. We’ll see.

But hopefully — despite the big trenches to be dug at Cheltenham and Mentone — disruptions can be kept to a minimum.

Works will start in 2018.

More info:

Save the trees, or save the world?

While I work on a bigger post (or at least one requiring a bit more research), here’s a quickie on an interesting parallel observed last week.

Part one

In the same week that Minister for Energy and the Environment Josh Frydenberg joined in a parliamentary stunt playing with a lump of coal, he also launched a self-admitted flawed bid to save trees on St Kilda Road.

Part two

Meanwhile, the State Opposition’s Michael O’Brien thought that green activists gathering outside State Shadow Minister for Energy David Southwick’s office to protest the Opposition pledging to scrap the Victorian renewable energy target, should instead have been protesting the removal of trees in Murrumbeena for “skyrail” grade separation works.

O’Brien perhaps has a point of course. I bet it’s a lot easier to get a bunch of left-leaning protestors to gather outside a Liberal electorate office than a Labor one.

Save the world, or save the trees?

Two observations here.

1. Green shift: Arguably (at least in my probably overly-simplistic view) the green movement started out by (amongst other things) trying to save trees at a local level, hence the term treehuggers. For instance the Australian Greens party has its origins in 1970s protests in Tasmania.

Apparently, saving trees has become mainstream enough that Coalition politicians are calling for it, at least where it can help meet political ends. (Politicians never seem quite as concerned when tree removal is for one of their preferred projects.)

Meanwhile the green movement has moved to bigger things. The energy debate is closely related to emissions, and climate change. It has become about the future of the planet.

It would be nice if politicians on all sides started to address climate change with the urgency it deserves. But for now there are too many denialists and vested interests.

2. Activists tend to be from voluntary groups.

PTUA isn’t really a green group, but let me tell you from experience: you probably won’t get very far by demanding that a bunch of volunteers drop their chose campaign and instead do your bidding.

Old photos from February 2007

Here’s my regular post of ten year old photos… quite a few this month, and mostly transport-related.

This is then-Opposition Leader, later Premier Ted Baillieu being interviewed by the media about widespread train disruptions at the time, caused by the Siemens train brakes problem reaching crisis point. I recall Age reporter Steve Moynihan (seen here facing away from Baillieu, but no doubt listening in) saying his mum was rapt he’d got several front page stories out of it.
Then Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu addresses media

Large numbers of Siemens trains had been taken out of service, and this combined with strong patronage growth at the time meant many of the remaining trains on the network were at crush load during peak hours. This was the scene at Glenhuntly one Monday morning.
Glenhuntly station - train crowding
Glenhuntly station - train crowding

Following the November 2006 election, the government had postponed the usual January fare rise until March, and in line with their election pledge (which was bipartisan), removed zone 3 as well (or to be precise, merged it with zone 2).
Of course, responding to dissatisfaction about crowding with a price cut for some users, which would logically result in more patronage, may not be the most logical action…
At this time, V/Line fares also dropped by 20%, alongside better timetables as the Regional Fast Rail project was completed. Cheaper fares and more trains resulted in V/Line patronage growth in the years following this.
Removal of zone 3 poster, February 2007

Not all Siemens train were out of service. Here one in the Connex livery approaches Huntingdale station.
Connex train approaching Huntingdale, February 2007

…and this one approaches the boom gates at Bentleigh station. This area all changed in 2016 with the level crossing removal.
Connex train approaching Bentleigh, February 2007

South Yarra station. What is the point of having fare gates if they always leave them unstaffed and open?
South Yarra station

Paramedics wait on the station at South Yarra. Note the open space next to the station – another skyscraper has since filled this space.
Paramedics at South Yarra station

Connex met their December target. I don’t think they were so lucky in January and February.
Connex performance results, December 2006

For some years the PTUA ran a stall at the annual Sustainable Living Festival at Federation Square. Often it could be stinking hot in the tents, and eventually we realised the considerable effort was not getting a huge return in new memberships.
PTUA stand at Sustainable Living Festival, February 2007

A Critical Mass bike event in Lonsdale Street. Do they still do these anymore? Unclear.
Critical Mass bike ride, Melbourne, February 2007

At ACMI playing old Commodore 64 games. This looks like Way Of The Exploding Fist.
Playing Commodore 64 games at ACMI, February 2007

…the picture has shown up (with permission) in various spots related to vintage video games.

Finding this photo means not only have I had this couch for ten years, that t-shirt (which I still have as well) is also a decade old.
My new couch, February 2007

An ABC crew came to visit one Saturday. The story was about Connex’s SMS alerts service being hacked. In the end, as I recall, they went to a lot of trouble to light my livingroom just so, and filmed me showing the hack text on my phone, then never used the footage.
About to be interviewed, February 2007

Walking in suburbia

On Monday I had an errands at Pinewood.

Pinewood? Yes, the minor shopping centre somewhere on Blackburn Road between Clayton and Mount Waverley.

I caught the bus up there — the 703 runs from near home in Bentleigh, via Monash Uni, then up Blackburn Road. Unsurprisingly perhaps, we had to wait at the Clayton level crossing for a train… thankfully only one train; it’s common for long delays here, though this was after peak hour.
Bus stuck at Clayton crossing

After my errand, I decided to walk back part of the way. It was only about 3km to Monash Uni, and the weather was cool and dry — perfect for walking. Good to try and get to my daily 12,000 step goal.

As with my travels during holidays and short breaks, I snapped a few photos, and tweeted a bit as I went. Always an opportunity to observe and learn. Later on I was asked if I’d be blogging it, so here goes.

There was a PTV outage of realtime bus info that day. It seemed to affect the apps, the Next Stop announcements and displays inside the bus, as well as real-time Smartbus signage. Apparently it took until sometime on Tuesday to get it resolved.
Smartbus sign partially working

For a short time in the 90s I recall working in this office block. My view is it’s not a beautiful location, surrounded by car parks. The problem with suburban office blocks is not just that the PT is often woeful (or certainly inferior) but there’s few options within walking distance to eat lunch or go shopping at lunchtime. No doubt some people like that it’s a drive-able commute, but I definitely prefer working in the CBD.
Office park

Slip lane for vehicles exiting the Monash Freeway turning northbound onto Blackburn Road. Most of slip lanes have zebra crossings. Not this one. It’s actually the law that vehicles must give way to pedestrians here, but as a pedestrian, I’d never assume that motorists actually know this.
Slip lane, Blackburn Road and Monash Freeway

Pedestrian signal button at the same location. Too bad if you’re mobility-impaired and can’t navigate off the path to press it — or if there’s a huge muddy puddle in the way.
Traffic light

Blackburn and Ferntree Gully Road intersection. Lots and lots of traffic lanes. You get a zebra crossing to get over the service road, and another to get across the slip lane. Then you have to wait for the other six lanes of traffic.
Blackburn and Ferntree Gully Roads

Ferntree Gully Road outside the Monash waste transfer station. Not a friendly pedestrian environment. You’re expected to veer left then right to cross… the visible desire line looks like many people don’t.
Pedestrian crossing on Ferntree Gully Road

I’ve often wondered what the point of these narrow bus bays is. It’s awkward for the bus to pull in, and it still blocks the traffic lane. Why bother?
Bus stop, Ferntree Gully Road

Howleys Road. There are often complaints that bus shelters don’t provide proper weather protection. Not these! Only one problem — no bus route serves this road. Obviously it did once, but now the shelters sit idle. Too much to ask for them to be relocated? (The bus stop signs have been removed, but there are still designated 24/7 bus zones.)
Bus shelters, Howley Road

The northern entrance into Monash Uni Clayton campus isn’t beautiful, and the giant roundabout is difficult to navigate as a pedestrian. It’s called “Scenic Boulevard”… perhaps that only applies if you’re in a car. To be fair, it’s probably got little potential as a principal route for pedestrians.
Monash Uni, pedestrian entrance from the north

As you go further through campus, the pedestrian environment improves, particularly the paths from the student accommodation to the main part of campus. This is a curious design though. The busiest path to the right misses the zebra crossing by a few metres.
Monash University

Happily, the main part of campus has mostly very wide pedestrian spaces. Being off-semester, it wasn’t too busy, but I bet it gets very busy when all the students are around. (See also: Monash University master plan)
Pathways at Monash University

The new Monash University bus interchange is under construction. Hopefully it will provide better cover. So much for the bus loop we all know and love.
New bus interchange under construction, Monash University

Waiting for the 601 shuttle to Huntingdale station. The bus is so frequent that it made me wonder if anybody reads these timetables. It might be more useful to just have a frequency guide. Locals say it doesn’t really stick to time anyway — after all, for a service like this, maintaining frequency is more important than specific times.
601 timetable

Being outside semester, those times didn’t even apply. A reduced service runs: every 12 minutes… to meet a train running most of the day every 10 minutes. Yeah.

I was taking a phone call at the time (ironically from a public transport bureaucrat) so I didn’t get a photo, but the bus was pretty busy, with most seats filled. On campus I’d run into a contact and his colleagues, and one of them told me the 601 bus suffers greatly from overcrowding in first semester, when all the students come back. Monash campus numbers are increasing… sounds like the bus needs a boost too.

Rain the previous day had put parts of Huntingdale station car park under water, but it didn’t seem to bother some people.
Huntingdale station car park under water

Wouldn’t you think that at a busy train/bus interchange like Huntingdale, the platforms would have real-time information? Nope. (There is a Smartbus/train Passenger Information Display on the street, but it wasn’t working. Unclear if this was temporary due to the outage that day, or long-term like the Bentleigh PIDs.)
Huntingdale station

After all that walking (and more later), I didn’t quite reach my 12,000 step goal that day — only 11,171 according to my phone. Oh well, not for lack of trying.