Labor pledges to grade-separate #Bentleigh level crossing #SpringSt

As I walked to the station this morning there seemed to be an unusually long tailback of cars approaching the level crossing.

I found a gaggle of reporters at the station, and shortly afterwards state opposition leader Dan(iel) Andrews showed up, with public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy and local Bentleigh candidate Nick Staikos, to announce Labor will grade separate the Centre Road crossing if elected.

Labor pledges Bentleigh level crossing grade separation

It’s part of Labor’s scheme to remove 50 level crossings over 8 years (two terms). They had announced 40 based on the official ALCAM (Australian Level Crossing Assessment Model) risk ratings, and said they’d announce another 10 in due course… closer to the election.

Evidently the first of those ten is Bentleigh, which is slap bang in a marginal seat, though this doesn’t mean it’s not deserving — in the 2008 ALCAM list (it appears this is the most up-to-date one that has been completed), it sat at number 60. Since then, numerous others in the top 50 have been completed or funded, and there are many more still are in Labor’s first 40 — though I haven’t yet checked if they are all included.

I couldn’t stay for the full press conference (alas, I had a train to catch), but Daniel Andrews said they wouldn’t comment on costings for individual crossings, as they didn’t want to flag to contractors how much they’d be willing to pay. Costings are a hot issue — St Albans has set a record at an estimated $200 million, but some other recent, less complex, crossings have been much much cheaper — for example Middleborough Road (including a new Laburnum station) was $66 million in 2007. And the Springvale and Blackburn crossings completed earlier this year were three for $350 million, or an average of $117 million each — and you’d expect economies of scale to drive prices down if you were doing 50.

I think most locals will welcome this pledge. It’s not just traffic (including buses and cyclists) which is frequently delayed — people walking to and from the station often have to wait… though the programming of the gates sometimes sees long delays for distant approaching trains, and some people lose patience and skip around the gates.

And though it’s not as big a problem as it is at Clayton, it’s not unknown to see emergency vehicles having to wait as well.

Along with other grade separations along the line, it allows more trains to run without impacting local road traffic.

Bentleigh also has a less than stellar record for safety, with a number of fatal accidents over the years — though fewer since the pedestrian gates were upgraded. Here’s an interactive timeline created by Amy Foyster:

But the pledge raises a question: given North Road is funded to be grade separated, would Labor propose to do Mckinnon Road as well? It’s midway between them, only 800 metres from North Road, and 800 metres from Centre Road. Unless all three are done (preferably as one project, to save money and minimise disruptions) the line could resemble a roller coaster, and play havoc with the freight trains, which already have problems getting up the hill northbound into Ormond.

The local Leader newspaper is seeking comment from sitting Liberal member Elizabeth Miller on the crossing. Nothing yet.

Why does the government want to kill Community TV?

It takes a special kind of cunning to first nobble the National Broadband Network, that if fully implemented might have been able to reliably deliver realtime high-definition video into homes…

…and then cancel community television licences, and demand those stations go online instead.

Obsolescence, sculpture in Bourke St Mall

This seems like a bad idea in many ways, not the least of which is that many of the disenfranchised and elderly members of our society who might use community TV may be less likely to have good quality internet connections.

Community TV doesn’t just broadcast programmes and issues that can’t get an airing on mainstream channels, it’s also a training ground for talent, and to help that happen, the broadcasts need to be easily found. Having them on free-to-air helps achieve this. Even fewer would watch if they were a hidden needle in the YouTube haystack.

It’d be a crying shame if these stations around the country could no longer broadcast, while the apparently precious broadcast spectrum is used for multiple stations which just play ads all day every day (SpreeTV, TVSN, Fresh Ideas, Extra, Extra 2).

One proposal was that community TV could take over unused SBS channel 31. Great idea! Nope — the Government says No. Why on earth are they so keen to get these channels off air?!

Commit To Community TV campaign

Four minutes? Impossible!

I can’t help noticing that when traffic is relatively light, this sign on Kings Way always it’s 4 minutes to Williamstown Road.

4 minutes to Williamstown Road

This seems as optimistically unlikely as those old Citylink travel time promises. Google Maps reckons it’s 7.7 kilometres, and estimates a travel time without traffic of 6 minutes.

The speed limit along the freeway and over the Westgate bridge is 80 km/h, which by my calculations makes it just under 6 minutes if you were able to consistently do the speed limit for the whole distance. To do it in 4 minutes you’d need to be zooming along at about 115 km/h.

The estimate to get to the Western Ring Road seems a little more accurate.

Of course the very reason these signs are needed is because travel times on the roads can vary widely. In peak hour they are crowded and slow… in a city the size of Melbourne, this is inevitable, because it’s simply not efficient to move people in ones and twos in their cars.

Vicroads figures just released show that traffic continues to get slower… and that’s despite a multitude of motorways having been built, extended or widened over the last decade. This graphic from the PTUA:

Despite billions spent on roads, traffic is still getting slower.

In a big city I contend that it’s probably not possible to fix road congestion. But is it possible to reduce overall average travel times for everyone (not just motorists)?

Well yes it is. Vancouver’s managing to do it. How? By not building motorways, but upgrading public transport instead. The more people are off the road, the better.

Airport rail begins here… well, eventually, maybe

There’s some big news on the East West Link today, with Labor saying that if the Supreme Court agrees with the Cities of Moreland and Yarra that the planning approval was invalid, they will rip up the contracts if elected. Read all about it here in The Age.

But meanwhile… Lots of ads for the Airport rail link have gone up around Southern Cross Station in the last few days.

Dear tourists, don't go looking for the airport train. First departure not expected for about a decade.

Wonder how much govt is paying PPP station operator to display all these ads. #SpringSt

Dear tourists, sorry, when they say the airport rail link "begins here", they mean in about ten years

Yesterday morning they outdid themselves, including a massive ad on the steps from Bourke Street. Update: Pic below
Airport rail ad, Southern Cross Station

A bewildered tourist (or blissfully unaware local) might wander around the station looking for this train to the airport that departs every ten minutes and “begins here”.

The problem of course is that the link doesn’t exist. It won’t exist for at least a dozen years.

And that’s if it goes ahead. The 2014 Budget Papers show that in the 4 year budget forward estimates period, there’s $850 million of funding, or about 10% of the total cost of Melbourne Rail Link and the Airport Link.

State budget 2014-15: Asset initiatives

This seemed to be confirmed last night by Liberal MP for Caulfield David Southwick at the Glen Eira MTF Transport Forum, who when asked about it said that the current funds would cover extensive planning and preparatory works, with the rest of the money to follow.

(Note in contrast the East-West Link western section, which gets around $3 billion in funding in the next 4 years — well and truly enough to get lots of actual construction underway, and provide the project enough momentum that it can’t be stopped.)

The danger is that with most of the project as yet unfunded, a government of either flavour could easily put it on ice, just as the Coalition has done with the Metro rail tunnel, which has had many millions of dollars already spent on it.

Meanwhile, the ads pile up. In this post I compared the current crop of ads with the Labor ads in 2010. But these have gone a lot further: At least Labor stuck with promoting initiatives that were actually in the delivery phase.

Promoting an unfunded plan that may never happen, just months before an election? That really is just a pitch at re-election.

Bentleigh area bus routes: Don’t just tinker; we need a proper plan

As we move towards the election, in the marginal seat of Bentleigh, candidates are rightly pondering public transport issues. Trains are already getting a makeover thanks to recent frequency increases and the Bayside rail project.

So then… what of the buses? These are important — many people use (or could use, if they were better) buses to access their nearest station, as well for local trips.

This applies all across Melbourne of course, but I’m going to look at some specifics in the Bentleigh electorate.

Significant routes in the electorate include the not-quite Smartbus 703 (east-west along Centre Road), 822 (north-south along East Boundary Road), and the 630 (east-west along North Road). There are numerous other routes as well.

Glen Eira/Bentleigh area buses

The candidates’ proposals

Elizabeth Miller (sitting; Liberal) — as far as I’m aware has not expressed a particular view on buses, though in the past when I have asked she has enquired with PTV on the 703, and reported back that they believe an upgrade between Bentleigh and Clayton is warranted due to demand/crowding, but that Bentleigh to Brighton may not be viable (eg on Sundays) as there isn’t sufficient demand. Not sure how you measure demand when the service doesn’t run.

  • 12/9/2014: A commenter below notes a petition being distributed by Elizabeth calling for the 822 bus to stay where it is.

Nick Staikos (Labor) — Nick has a petition (which I have signed) running on moving the 822 out of the side streets onto East Boundary Road, as a way of better serving Glen Eira Swimming and Aquatic Centre (GESAC). He’s also said we should expect bus-specific policies from Labor in the near future, and noted that Labor policy at the last election was to upgrade all of route 703 to full Smartbus status. (Will update when/if anything is announced.)

  • 12/9/2014: It’s unclear if Nick supports other changes in the 2010 bus reviews, but at Wednesday’s MTF forum, he made it clear that he is aware of them.

Sean Mulcahy (Greens) — agrees with moving the 822, but has told me he wants to see it done as part of wider network reform.

  • 12/9/2014: Sean said at Wednesday’s MTF forum that the Greens policy is to implement all the bus review proposals, subject to community consultation.

Chandra Ojha (Independent) — wants to see service upgrades on route 703, and also other routes including 701, 626, 630 and 824.

(I’ll update this section as other policy positions emerge.)

The 2010 bus reviews

The 2009-2010 bus reviews included a great deal of local input, and came up with a variety of proposed changes that would work together as a network.

Broadly, routes categorised as Principal or Main were proposed to be straightened-out and made more direct (which is a good thing if you want more people to consider bus travel against driving their cars). Local routes fill in the gaps for people unable to walk to a Principal or Main route.

Some changes were flagged as requiring road upgrades first, such as traffic lights so that buses can more easily make right hand turns into main roads.

Bentleigh area, proposed bus routes from 2010 reviews

I’m going to go into some detail here, as the proposed changes were not widely publicised. Skip over this bit if you’re not interested in the specifics.

Principal routes

630: proposed to get better timetables to benefit the Huntingdale to Monash end (this happened indirectly with the introduction of the 601 shuttle), and an extension at the western end to St Kilda

703: adjustments to the route in Brighton to make it more consistent with other routes

767: straightened out to continue down Bignell Road (may require traffic signals at South Road), and peak-hour deviations removed

811/812: combine into one route, and remove peak-hour deviations through Moorabbin (replaced by changes to 631), and minor changes in Brighton and around Southland

823: Extend to run from Elsternwick to Mordialloc along Nepean Highway, and more frequently

Main routes

822: Truncate at Southland (instead of running to Sandringham), and move it off the side-streets behind GESAC to run direct down East Boundary Road (Marlborough Road section replaced by 701)

825: Extend existing route Sandringham to Moorabbin up to Caulfield via Jasper Road (arguably this duplicates part of the Frankston line, though it would also better serve some local trips not suited to the wide spacing of railway stations)

Local routes

627 Elsternwick to Chadstone section re-routed to be straighter, avoiding Ormond station — this wasn’t done; it’s a questionable outcome to disconnect it from the Frankston line

627 split into two routes — this was done, it’s now the 625 and 626. This is good; it was incredibly confusing before.

701 re-aligned to replace route 822 in Marlborough Street in Murrumbeena, and extended from Bentleigh along Brewer Road and Marriage Road to Brighton — this hasn’t happened. They also considered changing the 701 from heading to Oakleigh to instead go to Murrumbeena, though this isn’t reflected on the map.

They also made recommendations on service levels — at the time, they expected train frequencies to be standardised to 15 mins, and what’s happened instead is a (good) move towards 10 minutes.

You’d never want to cherry-pick of course, but from the looks of it, a good first stage of changes would be re-routing (but not truncating or extending) routes 822, 701 and 767 in East Bentleigh. That’d be cost-neutral, I would think.

Not hard to see why pedestrians, cars, buses, ambulances get delayed in Clayton. Grade separation needed!

PTV’s 2014 proposal: the 703

Earlier this year PTV released a “stage 2″ report on the Rowville corridor — mostly concerning bus services in the area in the interim ahead of any rail line being built. It proposed the 703, which serves Bentleigh, be split into two routes:

  • Blackburn Road to Monash University and Clayton Station — eg the northern half, running every 10 minutes
  • Clayton Station to Bentleigh and Brighton — eg the southern half, running every 20 minutes

The logic was that the Clayton grade-separation is years away and causes long delays to buses, and also that the northern half of the route is much busier.

This makes some sense, but there are two main issues — firstly passengers from the Brighton and Bentleigh areas would have to change buses at Clayton (and walk across the tracks) to get to Monash and beyond. Wait times might not be too bad heading north if the northern half of the route runs frequently, but you’d risk long waits heading back the other way if you just miss your connection.

Secondly, it represents a big reduction in service from the present 15 minute weekday frequency. The government obviously realised this as they quickly put out a press release which welcomed the overall report but specifically said they didn’t support the frequency change.

The report didn’t specify if the proposed frequency would apply all week including weekends (which would be an upgrade), or just on weekdays during daytime/peak (a downgrade).

Unfortunately we don’t know what PTV has in mind for the rest of the network because only the rail plan has been released; not the plan(s) covering buses and trams. However we do know they intended to sort routes into tiers, and upgrade the most important routes to high-frequency operation.

Buses idle at depot

Now what?

There are other issues of course apart from network structure. The frequency of services needs addressing, particularly on weekends when many people are travelling, some routes are over-crowded, almost all have long waiting times, and hundreds of buses sit idle in depots doing nothing.

But just concentrating on routes (and noting that more direct routes make service upgrades more viable)…

Better connections with stations and other local amenity, and a route structure which ensures buses are more competitive with car travel (while still effectively serving people who have no choice) is vital for all those areas beyond walking distance to the trains. The changes proposed in 2010 are probably a great basis for network reform — for the most part it’s hard to think of reasons why they shouldn’t be implemented.

It’s all very well for (some) candidates in Bentleigh to say they’ll move the 822 onto the main road, but you shouldn’t be fiddling with individual routes in isolation. It should be part of a plan to ensure a cohesive, usable network.