That moment when you’re talking about train disruptions, and one sneaks up behind you…

Today Show 4/9/2015: That moment when you're talking about train disruptions, and one sneaks up behind you.

…but I think I bumbled my way through it okay.

So here we are. The first major industrial action on the train network since 1997, following a similar tram stoppage last week.

Trains begin shutting down from 8:17am — that’s the time some stations have last services, though many stations will still have service up to about an hour later. By 10am all trains will have stopped, and they won’t be back until after 2pm, but some stations may not have trains until after 3. Lots of detail on the Metro web site — but above this, there seem to be additional cancellations expected well into the afternoon and evening.

Apparently during the stoppage there are replacement buses running, but 320 buses organised in a rush can’t possibly cover adequately for an entire train network, especially when the road network is likely to be more congested (even though it appears to be a building industry RDO today). Note the buses don’t actually go into the CBD, but terminate on the outskirts. Presumably they don’t want them all caught in traffic snarls.

Neither Metro nor union are backing down. Metro clearly want to push their “five group railway” policy, which includes limiting driver training to specific lines. The union wants to protect that and other working conditions. And the public (and the community at large) are the meat in the sandwich.

The union argues that limiting qualifications is bad, and a possible safety risk. I can understand in principle that repetitive work could lead to complacency and safety issues, but I can’t reconcile that with the fact that numerous other rail systems across the world have drivers dedicated to specific lines — on radio yesterday Jon Faine said that London Underground drivers are trained in 22 weeks, for example, compared to 68 here.

There are other issues involved however, and it’s worth noting that multiple drivers have told me they didn’t want strike action – that was pushed by other parts of the union.

What happens next is anybody’s guess. Hopefully they can reach an agreement soon that sees fair conditions for workers, but also a more efficient reliable rail network — without more disruptions to services.

The bus stop that was taken over by al fresco dining

I’m all for al fresco dining. It can be lovely sitting in the sun on the street enjoying food and drink — and will be doubly so once the smoking ban comes in, in 2017. And it helps make our streets more interesting and interactive.

But getting off a bus in Brighton the other day, I noticed this, which just seemed excessive.

Bus stop somewhere amongst the al fresco dining

As an able-bodied person, I was able to get off the bus — but what would someone with a pram or wheelchair do?

There was only a small gap (where the tactiles were) — the bus driver had lined up his front door with this, but the back door faced a barrier.

Bus stop among the al fresco dining

It seemed logical to ask the local council, City Of Bayside, what was going on, as in most areas there are guidelines as to where cafe and shop furniture can be placed.

The bus company got into the conversation pretty quickly, but more importantly, the council replied that they were on the case:

This is not a theoretical problem. Route 703, and other local bus routes, often have passengers in wheelchairs on board, and others who require some space on the kerb to get on and off.

“Kneeling” buses can still do their thing, but small gaps don’t allow space for ramps to be deployed.

These cafe owners should have known better. Hopefully space can be allocated more sensibly. By all means allow kerbside trading, but keep the bus stop clear.

There are probably more cases like this. I’d encourage you to have a word with your local council if you’re concerned or affected.

Update 9:40am:

Update 1pm: The bus stop guidelines provided by VicRoads appear to mandate a 2 metre clearance out from the kerb in the area of the front and rear doors, as well as the clear area adjacent to the front door that is 2 metres wide (eg 2 x 2 metres in this area).

Also, my sister zipped past this morning and tells me nothing’s changed yet.

Update 6:45pm: Not quite the outcome I’d hoped for; Bayside Council has got back to me with this response (via Twitter, but I’ll string it together so it’s more readable):

We got our wires crossed and gave you the wrong information. Both cafés have permits that predate the bus stop being relocated here. We are working with traders in Bay Street to work out a solution which could include moving the bus stop.

I should have known it couldn’t be as easy as getting the street furniture removed. I suppose when the bus stop moved there (some years ago), nobody thought to check the implications of the location against the kerbside trading that was already in place.

Issues aside, the current location of the stop is pretty good — being very close to the railway station, making it good for train/bus interchange. It would be problematic if it were to be moved further away from the station.

Being a considerate driver to pedestrians, cyclists, PT users

As someone who can do a lot of my travel by foot or on public transport, I drive fewer kilometres than the average. But sometimes I have to drive.

I was thinking about the things one can do to be a considerate driver with regard to more vulnerable road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and also specifically with sustainable modes such as pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

Centre Road, Bentleigh

Of course the first thing is simply observing the law: for instance giving way where required — when turning into streets (except roundabouts), turning in or out of private premises including car parks.

Stopping at the stop line (or equivalent spot), not beyond it, obviously. And avoiding entering intersections where the exit isn’t clear — common in the CBD, resulting in blocked pedestrian crossings.

Always indicating, of course, whether I can see people or not — as my driving instructor noted, it’s when you don’t notice someone nearby that it’s particularly important.

Giving way to buses pulling out from the kerb is not only mandated by law, it also gives me a warm inner glow.

Of course, don’t park on footpaths.

But beyond what the law requires… what can one do to facilitate others, particularly those using more sustainable travel modes?

What can I do that not only keeps those people safe, it also makes their trip more pleasant, such that they are encouraged to keep doing it?

I tend to give way to pedestrians when I’m coming out of streets, even though this is not required by law.

When giving way or stopping for others, I don’t zoom up to the stop line then screech to a halt like I’m in a car chase. Coming to a stop slowly and acknowledging others with a nod if they look my way seems to me to be a way of giving them assurance that I’ve seen them and am willingly waiting for them. And I’ll give them plenty of space and time to cross, and not zoom past once they’re done.

Some motorists do this really badly, their driving style telling us they are only giving way grudgingly, and some appear to almost try to intimidate others to relinquish their right to go first.

I try to avoid having to wait to turn right, blocking trams. In fact I mostly tend to stick to non-tram roads when driving. There are plenty of them, and it helps us both.

If I feel like I have to sound the horn for safety reasons, I can do so with a short, gentle, almost cheerful “bip!” rather than a sustained angry “beeeeep!”

Staying at least a metre from cyclists isn’t yet law in Victoria, but is a good practice anyway.

What else can we do?

Border Force farce

If you haven’t heard about Friday’s Australian Border Force debacle in Melbourne, here’s the background: Timeline: How Operation Fortitude unravelled

It started with their Friday morning statement, which said, among other things:

“ABF officers will be positioned at various locations around the CBD speaking with any individual we cross paths with.”

The media dutifully reported it. The prospect of officers stopping people on the street and demanding proof of immigration status was, of course, bound to get a negative reaction.

Cue a backpedal from ABF:

“The Australian Border Force (ABF) will not be ‘stopping people at random’ in Melbourne to ‘check people’s papers’ as reported in media this morning regarding Operation Fortitude.”

As pretty much reported in your own statement, actually.

The original release also noted a media launch at 2pm at Flinders Street station, and with a rapidly rising level of outrage over what it all meant, that was enough to get a protest.

As it was more-or-less lunchtime, I wandered down. I came through the station, and saw an ABF officer, a Victoria Police officer and a uniformed Metro employee in a huddle, looking furtively towards the protesting crowd nearby.

I stood nearby and watched the protests for a while. It was not a huge crowd — media later estimated 300 — but they were doing plenty of chanting. Given the type of protest, there were of course some with Socialist Alliance banners, but it didn’t appear that they were in the majority.

When I left, the protesters had moved into the intersection, and were blocking traffic. (Note the sign on St Paul’s Cathedral.)

Border Force protest, 28/8/2015

While I was there it was peaceful but noisy, and it was enough to get the official media event cancelled… but of course, having gathered protesters and media to the site, coverage was guaranteed.

Shortly afterwards, Victoria Police advised that the entire operation was cancelled.

Subsequently the Victorian Police Minister issued a press release, expressing something less than complete happiness at what had occurred.

Operation Fortitude was intended to be a standard police operation.

We fully support the decision by Victoria Police to cancel the operation after the unfortunate and inappropriate characterisation by the Australian Border Force today.

So now we’ve all heard of Border Force

It strikes me that if it was an exercise in brand recognition, then it was a resounding success… but really it’s all about politics, and in those terms, it was a disaster.

Even the name is overly political. The ABC explains that the ABF merged the frontline functions of Customs and Immigration.

But the name isn’t as utilitarian as Customs or Immigration. Australian Border Force is a macho, action-man name evidently designed, along with current immigration policies, to make the government look tough.

Remember, the launch was botched: at the announcement in July 2014, they managed to prominently use an image of a faceless authoritarian tough guy that was never intended to be used as a standalone logo, leading to numerous parodies and the graphic designer to remark “It was never meant to be a logo; it was just a small icon. It’s been overemphasised and so I can understand the reaction.”

As for Friday’s cancelled operation, why would anybody think sending these guys in to piggyback on a Victoria Police operation was a good idea in the central business district of Australia’s most left-wing capital city, and one of its most multi-cultural?

I’m betting they won’t try that again in a hurry.

Impacts of proposed tram and train strikes

Today’s tram strike

Some media is saying trams will start heading back to depots from 8am — but Yarra Trams tells me 9am. They also tell me trams will come back out of depots right on 2pm, but it may take until 6pm for things to be completely back to normal.

Tram replacement buses during industrial action 27/8/2015

Options during the tram stoppage:

Yarra Trams has a list of alternative service — both regular scheduled bus/train services, and special replacement buses on a few routes.

(I think it’s a pretty good effort to put on some replacements. Can you imagine trying to organise bustitution for the World’s Biggest Tram Network(tm) for 4+ hours?)

PTV also has an information page.

For getting around the CBD, walking often isn’t that much slower than tram for trips of less than a few blocks, though the weather may not be the best for it.

You can use the City Loop: the direction changes are confusing, but PTUA has a map of it.

Frequent buses run along some streets in the City and inner suburbs — some of them include:

  • Crown Casino (Queensbridge) via Queen Street to Lonsdale Street: 216, 219, 220
  • Queen St/Collins St along Queen St then along Lonsdale St, Russell St, Lygon St: 200, 207
  • Victoria Market via Queen St, Collins St to Southern Cross, Docklands (Collins St), South Wharf: 232, 235, 237
  • Lonsdale St/King St along Lonsdale St, Victoria Parade, Hoddle St: 905, 906, 907, 908

All of these buses have realtime information via the PTV app and other apps such as Bus Tracker. Remember none of these will be free like CBD trams.

Tram/bus stop, Queensbridge Street, Casino East

Next week’s possible train strike

Some of the actions proposed next week are harmless, some less so.

> Refusing to wear company uniforms

Who’d notice? The trammies did it a few days ago, and nobody noticed.

> A ban on inspecting mykis

The problem comes when there’s confusion over which days/modes it applies.

> A ban on short arrivals and short departures [when trains do not run to the end of the line]
> A ban on station skipping between 9am and midnight

Sounds good? Well, perhaps not. Those changes (along with skipping stations) are sometimes to get delayed trains into position for a peak run. If they are banned, it may mean more delays in peak hour.

> A one-hour stoppage between 3am and 4am Thursday
> A four-hour stoppage between 2am and 6am Friday

No trains run before 4am, but even the 3-4am stoppage would cut into train prepping time, affecting early morning services and morning peak hour. A 2am-6am stoppage even moreso; that would affect a lot of services.

Many of them sound harmless at first, but have real effects on services which may not be immediately obvious.

Hopefully, on both trams and trains, a settlement can be reached without further impacts on passengers.