Fare evasion changes

Public transport fines are changing. Today the Victorian Ombudsman released a damning report into the fare evasion regime; so did the Government Department Of Everything.

And importantly, the Government announced numerous changes including the scrapping of Penalty Fares; better training, equipment and discretion for Authorised Officers; upgrades to Myki to improve online top-up times, and make readers easier to use.

It’ll take effect in January. Some people have asked why so long… I suspect the answer is that when you’re talking about changing equipment and procedures across a large department and hundreds of people, it just takes a while.

Myki billboard advertising, February 2014

Anyway, rather than repeat myself, I’ll just point you to this opinion piece in The Age: Myki changes are good news, but unexplained oddities will remain

TL;DR: It’s a big step forward. Penalty Fares were problematic; getting rid of them makes sense, as does improving AO operations and some (but not all, alas) aspects of the Myki system.

Burke Road level crossing: train punctuality improving, but no visible benefits for trams yet

After about a year of construction, the Burke Road (Gardiner) level crossing was finally removed in January. One of four train/tram crossings (tram squares), it had long caused delays to both, as well as pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles.

I went and had a look a month or two back. The design isn’t outstanding. In particular the train/tram interchange is stuffed — they’ve managed to engineer it so that you have to cross two sets of lights to get between them. You could easily see your tram depart while waiting to cross from the station.

Here you can see the station exit on the left, and the tram stop on the right.
Gardiner station and nearby tram stop, March 2016

This means that for changing between trams and citybound trains, it’s actually worse now than it was before.

This sort of stuff shouldn’t be hard. The Brits, who we often seek to emulate, can manage it. I recall seeing the new “TramLink” light rail system at East Croydon station (circa 1999) in south London — they’d engineered it so the tram stops are right outside the station.

Given the Burke Road tram comes around the corner at Malvern Road, it shouldn’t have been difficult to run the tram along the western side of the road as far as the station, but instead the tram is in the middle of Burke Road — separated from you by the traffic. At the very least the tram stop should be directly adjacent the station so there’s only one road to cross.

Very disappointing, but unfortunately hardly surprising — even outside our biggest stations such as Southern Cross, the trams are multiple lanes of traffic away from the concourse.

Snooping around the station I was also struck by the lack of shade on the outbound platform while I was there. Hopefully in the morning on the citybound platform (when people are more likely to be waiting) it’s a little better.
Gardiner station, March 2016

The adjacent trench for the trains was already tagged.
Train trench near Gardiner station

One bit of good news; when I was there, the platform Passenger Information Displays were the typical suburban two-line LED jobs, but the display on the concourse shows the next two departures in each direction. If they can just get similar information onto the platforms so you know when it’s worth waiting for the next train rather that squeezing onto the one that’s arrived first.
Gardiner station concourse, March 2016

Effects of grade separation

Anyway, to the point of this post: I’m hearing on the grapevine that motor traffic has already increased by 20% (3000 cars per day) since grade separation.

But has it helped the trains and trams? They both used to crawl across there, and trams would get held up whenever trains were approaching.

Taking a look at Track Record punctuality figures, what do we see?

Gardiner: tram 72 and Glen Waverley line punctuality

There’s a slight trend upwards on the trains, at both peak times and across the day. That might reflect the higher speeds they can achieve without the tram square speed limit, which can be as low as 10 kmh.

On the trams, there’s surprisingly little difference.

(I’ve excluded the tram figure for January itself; at 86.7%, almost 10% higher than December, it’s clearly an outlier, probably due to quiet holiday road traffic along the route and altered operations while the crossing work was happening.)

Perhaps the increased traffic, and/or adjustments made to nearby traffic lights, means any gains for the trams haven’t materialised?

There are no doubt some lessons here in terms of better interchange, better on-road priority for trams and buses to weigh against the huge benefits to motorists, and some level of control (such as plenty of responsive pedestrian crossings, especially in busy shopping centres) so that grade separated roads don’t become high speed traffic sewers.

As we know, level crossing removals benefit pedestrians and public transport users, as well as motorists, cyclists and emergency vehicles. But at Burke Road, it appears the benefits for tram users aren’t obvious just yet.

  • Footnote: the graph was done in Google Docs. I’m amazed it can do it at all — quite impressive — but it’s certainly not as customisable as graphs in Excel.

Station plans: the new Ormond/Mckinnon/Bentleigh

I haven’t seen the detailed station plans for Ormond/Mckinnon/Bentleigh (aka the North-Mckinnon-Centre grade separations) online anywhere, but they are on display at the semi-regular public sessions.

Here’s how they look, with some notes from me.

Any misinterpretations of the plans are my mistake. In all three diagrams, north (to the city) is to the left. Click on any of the diagrams to view them larger.

Ormond

Ormond station plan

Worth noting:

  • This station is a Host (staffed in the AM peak) station, and is designed for future upgrade to Premium status.
  • Entrances on both sides of North Road, accommodated on the southern side by making the Cadby Avenue intersection one way (exit only).
  • Lifts and stairs, but no ramps. With two lifts to each platform, this is probably considered enough to ensure a DDA-accessible entrance/exit is always available, even if one lift is out of service.
  • Hopefully the layout of the main stairs doesn’t encourage people who don’t need it to use the lift.
  • I can’t actually see stairs on the southern side of platform 3, but platform 3 is barely used under normal circumstances anyway.
  • Eastbound bus stops move to right outside the station. Westbound stops stay in the current location.
  • Taxi spots on both sides of the road. Kiss And Ride spots (eg for dropping off/picking up people by car) on the southern side.
  • Pedestrian crossing is slightly east of the station entrance, aligned to the Shared User Path (SUP, aka bike and pedestrian path).
  • Bike cage on the eastern side.
  • Looks like three public toilets, plus a staff toilet.
  • Note the rooms marked “PSO” (Protective Services Officer) and “HOLD” (presumably the holding cell for PSOs to use). All three stations have these, though they are not explicitly marked on the other diagrams.

Mckinnon

Mckinnon Station plan

  • Lifts, stairs and ramps — which are nice and long due to DDA-compliance, which limits the maximum gradients, and requires level rest areas, but a failsafe against lift failure, which has been a problem at other stations such as Laverton and Epping.
  • Retail space included in the building. Wouldn’t surprise me if this is designed so that if necessary it can be converted into future additional station office space.
  • Bike cage on eastern side.
  • Pedestrian crossing outside the station entrance.
  • Not in view here, but the bus stops are in the same place as at present, just east of the station.

Bentleigh

Bentleigh station plan

  • This is the only Premium station of the three.
  • Lifts, stairs and ramps. The lifts are tucked slightly out of the way so hopefully only those who need them will use them.
  • Myki gate line, and it looks like they’ve gone for the sensible design of making the bypass gate right next to the ticket office, so it can be worked from inside, so the gates can be kept closed without the extra cost of dedicated gate staff. This is used at the northern end of Parliament station at present, and is common on some overseas systems.
  • Looks like there are two individual public toilets.
  • Not specifically marked in, but the station building includes PSO facilities, of course.
  • Bike cage in the old location, accessed via Nicholson Street.
  • Both bus stops (for route 703) are just east of the station. The eastbound stop is pretty much in the same location as at present, but I suspect the westbound stop with amalgamate the two existing stops — one just west of the station (converted to Kiss And Ride), and another about 200 metres further east. Both are problematic at present due to the lack of a pedestrian crossing.
  • Apparently at Bentleigh and Mckinnon, the new platforms will be below the water table, so the whole structure will be in a concrete trench, and the platforms will also be solid concrete to keep the whole structure weighed down, so it doesn’t float up!

Here’s what the Myki gate line looks like at Parliament (north end).
Parliament station (north end) Myki gates and bypass gate

For Bentleigh station users, note that from today, access to platform 1 (Citybound) is via Nicholson Street. The station itself closes at the end of next week to be demolished, but the rail line will be open for another three weeks after that before closing on 24th June for the major works period of 37 days.

Mckinnon, the least complex of the three stations, will re-open first (though not in a completed state) on 1st August when the line re-opens. Bentleigh and Ormond will re-open at the end of August. The third track will re-open in September.

Ferries: to work, they need a lot more than a guaranteed comfortable seat

I hate to say I told you so, and I hate even more to see enthusiasm and investment defeated, but it’s looking that way with the Wyndham to Docklands ferry.

After much anticipation from some quarters, it kicked off this week in a blaze of publicity.

Just to recap here’s the deal:

  • The ferry departs Wyndham Harbour at Werribee South, headed for Docklands in the morning, and back in the evening.
  • One morning departure at 6:40am, one evening departure at 5:40pm.
  • The ferry trip is scheduled to take 74 minutes. They’d like to speed this up if possible.
  • The ferry fare during the trial period is $13 one way, or $20 return.

The ferry might be a comfortable ride, with a guaranteed seat, but if you’re going to abandon your car for public transport, it also needs to provide a combination of convenience, speed and affordability.

One departure per day each way, going to Docklands (a fair way from most CBD jobs) is only going to suit so many people — those whose timetables exactly match the ferry times, and are guaranteed never to be running late, or needing to go home early.

They may or may not consider the train to be a competitor, but it’s hard to ignore it. The train is twice as fast (from Werribee to Southern Cross in about 35 minutes; obviously longer if coming from near the ferry terminal), the train fare is about a third the cost of the ferry, and there are departures every 10 minutes in peak, and every 20 minutes most of the rest of the day. 64 departures per weekday.

Even if — as the operators hope — the ferry is sped up by 15 minutes, taking about an hour, for many people it doesn’t resolve the issue of a single fixed departure time, though it might enable a second departure each peak (two hours later).

Circular Quay

Perhaps they’re trying to mimic Sydney’s Manly Fast Ferry — a privately run premium service (costing up to $8.80 each way). But their ferries depart up to every 10 minutes in peak, and critically, Sydney’s geography is such that both the fast ferry (19 minutes) and even the slower government ferries (30 minutes) can easily beat the same trip by car (up to an hour), bus or train at peak times.

Geography is really the key to why Sydney has so many commuter ferry routes, and also to why Melbourne doesn’t. There are few if any Melbourne trips by water that are time-competitive with land modes, AND there are no major ferry terminals immediately adjacent to business districts where large numbers of people actually work. The latter may change eventually with Docklands development, but the time issue is likely to remain.

So how did the Wyndham ferry go in the first week?

On day one they apparently had 57 passengers… though about half of these were said to be officials or staff.

By Wednesday, it was being reported there were only seven passengers on board.

They’re giving it a red hot go, and I wish them luck. In fact from next Monday, there are additional services during off-peak periods, making a total of two round trips per day (including weekends).

Maybe off-peak trips will appeal to tourists. Is there much to see at Wyndham Harbour and the vicinity? Enough to keep people occupied for five hours waiting for the ferry back?

But with still only one trip each peak, it’s hard to see how it’s going to be a success in terms of commuters.

Docklands

Like SuitJet (the premium commuter coach service) which failed last year only a week or two into their trial, they’ve provided comfort at a premium fare, but they’ve ignored affordability, speed, and the basic utility of mainstream public transport.

Melbourne’s trains might often be packed, and sometimes unreliable, but the fares are cheap, they go where a lot of people want to go, and for the most part the timetables give you the flexibility to travel more-or-less when you want.

If public transport can’t offer that, it won’t entice people out of cars.

Ten years since “Meeting Our Transport Challenges”

Ten years ago today, the Bracks Government’s “Meeting Our Transport Challenges” plan was released. MOTC for short.

It wasn’t the first of the 1999-2010 Labor Government’s transport documents, nor would it be the last. It came following a stinging assessment of Melbourne’s public transport a few months earlier by Professor Peter Newman for the Metropolitan Transport Forum, and a sustained push for some kind of government strategy to provide some genuine solutions to car dependence.

The MOTC launch itself was perhaps symptomatic of the plan. The Premier Steve Bracks, Treasurer John Brumby and Minister Peter Batchelor all arrived by train in Frankston for the event — but they had only hopped on two stops before at Seaford. (It was a similar story a year later when the Craigieburn electrification opened.) The rest of their journey was by government car.

But it was the content of the plan that didn’t get people as excited as the government had perhaps hoped.

Following the launch, the PTUA called for Batchelor to resign. OK, I was the one that said the words for the cameras, but like all PTUA views, this was based on an agreed committee position: if by a fair assessment we judged that MOTC failed to provide substantial relief from car dependence, it was to be declared a flop.

Towards the end of the year, Batchelor, who had presided over the conception of the Myki project and the scrapping of trains (only to be bought back later when patronage surged), was replaced by Lynne Kosky in a reshuffle following the 2006 state election. (Only after that did the government start inviting PTUA to events again!)

So what was in the MOTC plan itself? Here I’ve gone through the Actions from the summary section of the document:

DELIVERING FOR THE FUTURE — The MOTC Reserve fund of $5.9 billion over ten years, to ensure transport funding was available into the future. At the time, Batchelor described it a bit like Abbott’s “locked box”. Perhaps this is still down as a line item in some obscure part of the budget, but as far as the public goes, it has disappeared.

CREATING A CROSS-TOWN TRANSPORT NETWORK FOR MELBOURNE — the Smartbus crosstown orbital network. Three of the proposed routes were delivered, now the 901, 902 and 903. The fourth was to have been the 904 (hence the gap in route numbers), but never happened. This would have run from Sandringham via Elsternwick, Punt Road, Clifton Hill, then across to Brunswick, Footscray and Williamstown, amalgamating routes 246, 472 and others, providing frequent inner-city connections to make cross-town trips faster and take pressure off CBD services. See the map here. PTUA and PTNT are still pushing for this route as part of a package of better bus services.

BOOSTING MELBOURNE’S RAIL NETWORK — capacity upgrades on the City Loop, Dandenong, Clifton Hill and Northern Group, and stations at Point Cook, Cardinia Road, and Lynbrook. The stations got done. Various works have occurred on most of the lines mentioned, such as duplication from Clifton Hill to Westgarth, and duplication of the Epping line north of Keon Park, all done as part of the South Morang line extension.

The Dandenong line proposal was a third track — a plan now dumped (and not just because four tracks are better than three) in favour of grade separation, longer trains and better signalling.

But the plan also included relatively minor upgrades which haven’t happened, such as an extra platform at Sandringham. At least the new stations have been built.

IMPROVING METRO TRAIN AND TRAM SERVICES — extra peak and late-night services. They’ve largely happened, at least on the trains — the late (to 1am) Friday and Saturday night trains and trams were implemented pretty quickly. Peak train services have increased on many lines, but there’s been less movement on trams.

This item also flagged better control and comms systems — work that is still underway — and improved traffic priority for trams and buses, which has been… well, subtle or non-existent on much of the network.

New Years Eve trains, approx 1am, 1/1/2006

DELIVERING FIRST CLASS PUBLIC TRANSPORT FOR PROVINCIAL VICTORIA — including upgrading the Mildura line (for freight only) and new trains.

BUILDING BETTER ROAD CONNECTIONS — including numerous highway and arterial road upgrades.

DELIVERING A BETTER LINK BETWEEN THE EAST AND WEST OF MELBOURNE — this included the East-West Link Needs Assessment (eg study), but did not flag actually building it. The fact they wanted a study shows just how keen the road engineers in government must have been, despite the early results from the 2003 Northern Central City Corridor Study only a few years before having shown it was totally pointless, which appears to have prompted the government to cancel the NCCCS study itself to try and prevent it being released.

This item did include Westgate Bridge strengthening and a package of Monash-Westgate improvements, which I’m guessing morphed into the $1 billion+ package of widening works done around 2010… since completely swamped by extra traffic, and now subject to more widening works.

PROMOTING SMARTER, HEALTHIER TRAVEL CHOICES — programs such as TravelSmart, to try and encourage people to think about not just hopping in the car for every trip.

CREATING ACCESSIBLE, CONNECTED COMMUNITIES — a mix of accessibility projects, park and ride (which it turns out was enormously expensive, at something like $15,000 per space), interchange upgrades and “Transit Cities”, which resulted in urban renewal in places like Footscray and Ringwood.

Bourke Street, Melbourne (2005)

BUILDING A SAFER, MORE SECURE NETWORK — the wording is a bit vague as to what this actually means, but it may have been about more CCTV, better comms systems and the like.

Some of the actions were flagged to commence as far off as five years later, when the government had no certainty that they’d still be in power — indeed, they weren’t.

Not getting much attention at the time (I can’t even see it in the Actions list) was something that has made a huge difference to many suburbs: the upgrade of hundreds of bus routes to include Sunday and evening services. Before this, many buses finished by 7pm on weekdays and 1pm on Saturdays (despite typical shopping hours extending to 5pm), with no Sunday services. Nowadays most routes have 7-day services. They may only be hourly on weekends, but it’s better than nothing. They’re never going to get people out of their cars, but for those without cars, it has made a huge difference.

Just two years after MOTC, the plan was superseded by the Victorian Transport Plan in late-2008. By that point, the political climate was changing. Patronage had been booming, resulting in high-profile over-crowding problems and infrastructure failures. The government was finally starting to realise — too late given the lead times involved — that more significant investment was needed.

Labor was voted out in 2010, but came back in 2014, and given the current push on some big projects, seem determined not to make the same mistake twice.