How do people get to the station?

Last week’s Age reported that Metro proposed multi-storey car parks at some stations.

When it comes to how people get to the station, Park And Ride gets a lot of attention, probably because it’s so obvious. In terms of land taken up, car parks often dwarf the stations they serve.

But it’s important to remember that park and ride doesn’t actually cater for the majority of train travellers.

Tarneit station car park

The PTV’s station patronage data is a couple of years old, but it shows that even in zone 2, where feeder services are often lacklustre, park and ride users are in the minority, though it is a sizeable minority.

Of course, the number of park and ride users isn’t always limited to car park spots at the station. Often they fill local streets, causing headaches for councils, with parking restrictions being a common result for the streets immediately around the station.

I’ve pulled out the stats to compare zone 1 (which often has good quality feeder tram services, and sometimes very little parking) against the zone 1+2 overlap (where feeder services are often not that great, and until this year many people would drive to avoid paying a two zone fare) against zone 2-only stations.

Station access 2013-14 (PTV data)

  • I have excluded CBD stations from these figures, as I’m more interested in suburban station access. CBD access is heavily skewed towards walk and tram.
  • The total number of boardings (excluding CBD) was 474,820, which gives an indication of how many individuals use the train system each day, though of course people heading to some locations outside the CBD would be counted at least twice.
  • Access to the station by train means people changed from another train service. It’s interesting to see the large number of train interchanges in zone 1 but outside the CBD.
  • Unsurprisingly the number of people driving to the station in zone 2 is higher than in zone 1, but even in the outer suburbs, the non-car modes outstrip car.
  • Bus access is quite low in zone 1, perhaps reflecting that many feeder services tend to be trams.
  • Tram usage barely rated in zone 2, but wasn’t actually zero — there were 363 people counted, all at Box Hill! Due to the way the zones worked, most of these people might have been catching a train outbound from home.
  • Unfortunately it doesn’t distinguish between those who drove to the station themselves, and those who were dropped-off (“Kiss and ride”)
  • Not sure what “other” is — rollerblade? Skateboard? Motorbike perhaps. (The source data says “car”, not “motor vehicle”)
  • While car is a minority mode overall, it’s still a substantial number, and at some stations it is more than 50%. Highest was East Malvern with 84%, then Merinda Park with 73%, Sandown Park 73%, Brighton Beach 67%, Officer 67% (but that’s only 63 people!), Laverton 65%
  • These numbers are for 2013-14, before the 2015 zone changes. I’ve known friends who could have walked to a zone 2 station but chose to drive to zone 1, so it’s likely that these figures will need an update once newer data is available.
  • Feeder services into zone boundary were also disadvantaged. Often the train fare to the City was zone 1, but the connecting bus was zone 2. This is no longer an issue.
  • Some early figures available from PTV suggest this has led to a drop in patronage at zone boundary stations, in favour of those further out, as they no longer cost more for the trip into the city. For instance, Laverton dropped by 22%, with Aircraft up by 56%, though I’m told by locals other stations have jumped in patronage too.

Exiting Bentleigh station

It’s worth remembering that Park And Ride is extremely expensive to provide. Ground-level spaces cost on average around $17,000 per space.

Multi-level is extraordinarily expensive, with Syndal station’s new multi-level car park coming out at $43,200 per additional space provided. That’s 5,744 daily fares, or, based on 250 trips a year (which might be typical weekday usage), 23 years worth. That of course doesn’t count any additional revenue to run or improve train services. Metro’s idea of prefabricated structures might being the cost down a bit, but it’s likely to still be an exorbitant way of getting extra people onto the trains.

Some park and ride will always be needed in the outer suburbs, particularly for stations that serve passengers coming a long way from home just to be able to catch a train.

But many passengers are only coming a relatively short distance to the station, and to serve them it would be far better to improve feeder services from the surrounding areas, as even the biggest car parks fill up at morning peak hour. Better feeders all day mean even those travelling after peak hour can get to the station. And indeed, those who don’t or can’t drive.

And after all, you shouldn’t need to be able to drive to be able to use public transport.

The Five Group Railway – good or bad for passengers?

The “five group railway” is something that’s been on the cards for a while. The Age highlights it today in this article: Metro plan to split Melbourne rail network into five lines hangs on union fight

It has its origins last decade — the 2008 Victorian Transport Plan talked about “creating a Metro system”, in the context of strong patronage growth and the evolution of Melbourne’s commuter railway into one that can cope with far more passengers than it can currently handle, reflecting Melbourne’s growth, and in particular the CBD and inner-city.

Melbourne’s railway system was designed as an old style commuter railway, carrying people to and from the city with branches, junctions and single track lines to maximise reach. The City Loop was a major boost to the rail system at the time but the four tunnels have to cope with trains from 10 separate inbound lines

The operation of this sort of railway is complex, the capacity of lines is not maximised and reliability of the service overall falls. One delayed train can affect the whole system.

Melbourne will soon be at the point where we cannot run more train services on key lines. Metro rail systems are designed to run higher capacity trains from end to end of lines using dedicated tracks – the trains can run at higher frequency without interfering with other routes. The focus is on simple timetables, frequent services and consistent stopping patterns.

Metro systems like those in London and New York have key interchange stations to allow people to change trains easily or switch to trams and buses to get to where they want to go.

PTV’s plans for this have also developed over the years. It’s reflected in the 2013 Network Development Plan — this map shows the rail network as it is now (apart from delayed Southland station), with the opening of Regional Rail Link. As you can see: five groups. (Yes, they left Stony Point off the map… I assume because it doesn’t go into the City.)

PTV rail Network Development Plan - stage 1

Metro (to be precise, the current operator, Metro Trains Melbourne, MTM for short) has gone in hard supporting the idea, and bit by bit, is splitting the network into the five groups. The first four are named after the four Loop tunnels, though not all trains would use the Loop:

Northern — the Sunbury, Craigieburn and Upfield lines, all using the Northern Loop.

Clifton Hill — the Hurstbridge and South Morang lines, all using the Clifton Hill Loop.

Burnley — the Belgrave and Lilydale lines, using the Burnley Loop, and also the Glen Waverley and Alamein lines, running direct to Flinders Street.

Dandenong — the Pakenham and Cranbourne (eg Dandenong) lines, using the Caulfield Loop.

…and the fifth…

Cross-city — the Frankston line running direct to Flinders Street then out to the Werribee and Williamstown lines. And also the Sandringham line, direct to Flinders Street and likely to be fairly independent. (In practice some Craigieburn trains share the Cross-City tracks into Flinders Street.)

Independence is the key. At present trains and drivers move from line to line across the day, meaning a delay on one line can quickly flow to another. In fact MTM claim in peak the reduction in interdependencies could mean a punctuality improvement of up to 10%.

From that point of view, separation makes sense for passengers.

Taking it further

Behind the scenes, PTV and MTM seem to be moving towards partial segregation of the train fleet. The High Capacity Metro Trains project will see Dandenong line get its own dedicated fleet of trains, with a maintenance centre at Pakenham, though the same model of train is likely to roll out to other lines later on. More on this in a minute.

But MTM want to take it further, and this is where it starts to get controversial.

Complete operational independence of the groups, including separate stabling and maintenance facilities

Removal of some points that provide connections between groups of lines, which Metro says will speed up services (though in some cases only by ten seconds or so), and reduce track faults
This could help, but of course it comes at the expense of flexibility, such as being able to route trains around obstructions, and limiting the places trains can be terminated during disruptions — leading to longer-than-otherwise sections of line replaced by buses. They wouldn’t want to go too far.

Fleets dedicated to specific groups: in 2013 the plan was for Cross-City to be Siemens, Comeng for Dandenong and Northern, X’trapolis for Burnley and Clifton Hill. Since then the plan has changed to get X’trapolis trains onto the Cross-City lines as part of the Bayside Rail project, which means more Siemens will presumably move onto the Dandenong and/or Northern lines until the new fleet arrives
Provided they don’t actually take steps to make parts of the fleet incompatible with some lines, or with each other. Over time, trains will need to be cascaded through the system as new ones come into service, this makes some sense, as it means more consistent performance (eg acceleration) on each line, and should simplify maintenance.

Restriction of most drivers to specific groups… including not training them to drive on the other groups (thus cutting training costs and time). Drivers don’t like this, though it’s not unusual on networks overseas. MTM would keep a central pool of drivers qualified for all routes for disruptions and other operations.
While getting drivers trained would be quicker, perhaps meaning they can ramp up additional services more quickly, for passengers this could be a problem if the central pool of fully-qualified drivers isn’t sufficient, leading to worsened delays during disruptions. Perhaps the answer is to simply not swap drivers between groups on a particular day? Not sure.

Driver de-centralisation, where most drivers start duty at outer termini rather than changing over at Flinders Street, including complete segregation of staff within line groups.
Again, controversial with drivers, but it’s not hard to see the benefits of cutting delays at Flinders Street, though theoretically it should be possible to swap drivers there pretty quickly. It largely happens today on the Clifton Hill group.

Some claim that MTM wants to run each group as a separate company — in fact Labor claimed that the original 2014 Dandenong line upgrade proposal was basically geared to be a PPP whereby MTM gained control of the line long after their contract for the rest of the network might have ended.
This of course makes no sense to passengers — we’ve seen the problems before of separate companies running separate lines, leading to competition between operators, fleets made incompatible with some lines, and unnecessarily inflexible operations.

Belgrave train arriving Southern Cross

Controversial

Many drivers are campaigning against some of these changes, as seen on the MTM Memes blog, for instance this post: Bungled timetable or saving us from Liberal deceit? — I don’t necessarily agree with everything in it, but it raises some interesting points.

I suspect there’s a balance to be found here. Day to day operation, including high frequencies, predictable patterns and reducing the cascade effect of delays across lines would absolutely benefit from operational separation.

Less useful to passengers might be the kind of organisational separation that MTM seems to be pushing for.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.

PS. Thursday morning: This blog post a couple of years ago talked about limiting drivers to specific lines. Note the extensive comments from a train driver. Also worth noting, there are currently limitations on how many times a driver can drive a train on the same section of track each day, for safety. But two things make me question the safety reasoning: firstly it doesn’t apply to shuttle runs, and secondly I’ve been told this was only introduced in the 1980s, with the opening of the City Loop. It’s not some long-held standard. It’s not hard to see how it restricts operations, and to me it would make sense for it to be reviewed.

Productivity while travelling

Peter Martin in The Age yesterday, on driverless cars:

Imagine studying, reading books, watching TV, sleeping or (legally) playing with your mobile phone on the way to work. Whichever way you look at it, the freed-up time will boost productivity.

Sounds great!

Wait a minute, thousands of us do that stuff every day by catching public transport to work.

Being productive on the train 1Being productive on the train 2

Even when it’s crowded and you’re standing, it’s generally possible to steady yourself with one hand and play with a mobile phone with the other.

Oh, and pardon me for being a little cynical, but I suspect the technology has a way to go yet given reports that it still relies largely on highly detailed mapping data rather than actually being able to “see” what’s in front of it:

But the maps have problems, starting with the fact that the car can’t travel a single inch without one. Since maps are one of the engineering foundations of the Google car, before the company’s vision for ubiquitous self-driving cars can be realized, all 4 million miles of U.S. public roads will be need to be mapped, plus driveways, off-road trails, and everywhere else you’d ever want to take the car. So far, only a few thousand miles of road have gotten the treatment, most of them around the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. The company frequently says that its car has driven more than 700,000 miles safely, but those are the same few thousand mapped miles, driven over and over again.

The article also notes the risk of maps being out of date, of not being able to “see” a temporary traffic light because it’s not mapped.

Of course, computing power is improving by leaps and bounds all the time, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath on this.

Nor should we assume that driverless cars will solve traffic problems (especially if having delivered you, they drive home again to a parking space) or pollution problems (which are down to the nature of the engine and its fuel).

And anyway, has anybody actually tried to work in a moving driverless car? Are they really smooth, or — even if you’re able to take your eyes off the road — is travel sickness a risk?

I have to admit, I can’t read for long on a bus — and I know I can’t read for long in a car when I’m a passenger — I’d imagine it’d be an issue in a driverless car.

The ABC Shops to close

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My first recollection of the ABC Shop in Melbourne was a small space in their then Lonsdale Street radio HQ, which was where the County Court is now — on the corner of Queen Street.

I think it’s where I got the 1983 Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special book (a local reprint of a UK Radio Times publication), as well as the Doctor Who Technical Manual (in hardback no less) – both still in our family.

Later on they were in the Galleria (in bottom of the gigantic State Bank, later Commonwealth Bank building at Elizabeth/Bourke Streets), and at times I bought Monty Python VHS tapes, DAAS Book (which I got autographed at the shop by the Doug Anthonys… since sold on eBay) and lots more Doctor Who merchandise, of course. This includes a bunch of laminated posters of paintings from renowned franchise artist Andrew Skilleter, one that also marked the 20th anniversary story (The Five Doctors) — which eldest son Isaac has since had autographed by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison — at an ABC Shop, of course.

Doctor Who 20th anniversary poster

Since then the Melbourne CBD shop has moved to the GPO, then more recently to Emporium. And meanwhile they’ve popped up in most big shopping centres.

We still love browsing, and occasionally buying there. The selection of DVDs is more focussed than somewhere like JB Hifi, and the range of other merchandise is good. (Have you seen the amount of Doctor Who stuff that’s available nowadays?!)

Admittedly I browse more than I buy, but purchasable gems still abound… in March I found this excellent documentary:

So it’s sad to hear all ABC Shops will be closing in the next year or two.

I’ll miss them.

Online will continue, but it won’t be the same.

PS. Trivia: before the recent crop of Doctor Who pop-up shops, there used to be a BBC Shop. Okay, it wasn’t a standalone shop, but a dedicated section of Thomas’s Music on the ground floor of the Southern Cross hotel building.

The next timetable – delayed but hopefully still on the way

Today’s Age highlights the Metro timetable changes that were planned to be implemented with the RRL opening last month.

As many would know, the introduction of Regional Rail Link was meant to be accompanied by a big timetable change on Metro to take advantage of the extra capacity unlocked, particularly on the Sunbury, Williamstown and Werribee lines.

Despite the moves towards “Metronisation” (a term the government and/or Metro appear to have coined to describe the gradual change to dedicated lines, simplified stopping patterns and more frequent services), the rail network still has numerous inter-dependencies.

This means many of the proposed changes were tied together, and it appears when the government got cagey about one of the changes, the whole upgrade unravelled, which is why the only Metro change when RRL opened was one lousy service each way on the Werribee line.

At this stage, it appears the rest of the changes are postponed until the end of the year, and I hope they all still happen, because it turns out there are some great upgrades in the package.

Notably this is not the only delay to Metro timetable changes that has occurred recently — there are improvements that have been proposed, but held back under the Coalition, as well as under Labor.

Trains near Footscray station

What was planned?

Here’s a summary of the timetable changes planned for 2015 — as well as changes originally proposed to have happened during 2013 and 2014 which were postponed.

This is based on my reading of information I’ve obtained. Any errors or omissions are mine.

Sandringham — Peak: upgrade to every 6-7 mins (currently 7-8)

Frankston — Peak: expresses and stopping trains each every 7-8 mins (currently 9ish). Weekday evenings: every 10 mins until 9pm.

The biggest change on this politically sensitive line would be no more Frankston Loop trains at all. This would mean trains will run via Flinders Street and Southern Cross and then through to Newport, as currently happens most of the time on weekdays.

It would affect weekend and peak (currently every second peak train runs via the Loop). This is what The Age says the government got nervous about. This will have obvious impacts as many Loop station passengers will change onto other trains at Richmond. Will that station, and those other trains cope?

In peak I usually catch these trains to and from Flagstaff Station. But I’m usually headed for Bourke Street — it’s only slightly further to walk from Flinders Street Station, so that’s what I’ll do, and I hope everybody else considers their options carefully rather than automatically still use the same station even when it involves a change of trains that makes it a longer journey than just walking an extra block or catching a tram. Werribee passengers got used to it; we could too. Ditto Sandringham, Glen Waverley AM peak, Alamein PM peak, Frankston peak express users…

The pay-off is more trains overall. The only nagging question I have is… will they use that space freed up in the Caulfield Loop? It appears not yet, not until a later timetable change to boost the Dandenong line. So why do it now? It seems to be tied to the Werribee line upgrade, as Frankston trains will mostly through-route to that line.

Glen Waverley — Peak: every 6-7 mins. Weekday interpeak: every 10 mins (currently 15). Weekday evenings: every 10 mins until 9pm. No more Loop trains weekday PM — see above.

Alamein/Belgrave/Lilydale — Peak: every 10 mins each to Belgrave, Lilydale, and Ringwood/Box Hill. Weekday interpeak and weekday evenings: until 9pm every 10 mins to Ringwood (currently 15-20), alternating to Belgrave and Lilydale, every 20 mins to Alamein.

Note, this is a reduction in service for Alamein during interpeak periods, but an upgrade in the evening.

Upfield — Peak: the source I have says every 11/22 mins, which I assume means 11 between the city and Coburg, as beyond that the single track makes more than 3 trains per hour difficult. (This is similar to operations during the Commonwealth Games, when extra trains ran to Coburg.)

Craigieburn — Peak: every 11 minutes via the Loop, and every 11 minutes direct via Southern Cross and Flinders Street, so every 5-6 minutes combined — (currently uneven, about every 6-12 minutes, with a small number of direct trains).

Sunbury — Peak: every 11 mins to Sunbury (currently 12), plus extra services to Watergardens.

Off-peak on the Sunbury line there was to have been a doubling of frequencies in 2016, every 10 minutes to Watergardens, 20 to Sunbury, but it’s unclear if this change was meant to tie in with RRL, which was originally expected in 2016.

Note the peak pattern here: Upfield/Craigieburn/Sunbury all share the Northern Loop, and would be on an 11 minute peak cycle… mind you, the direct Craigieburn trains would also share tracks with the Werribee/Williamstown lines in peak.

Werribee — Peak: every 7-8 mins (currently about 10-12) — a big boost taking advantage of the fact that Geelong trains are no longer on the line.

Altona Loop — Weekday interpeak: every 20 minutes all the way to Flinders St (currently shuttles to Newport)

Williamstown — Weekend daytime: every 20 mins (currently shuttles), making a combined Werribee/Williamstown service every 10 mins as far as Newport.

Spreading the peak: Although the grisly detail (such as actual timetables) isn’t available, there is also talk of spreading the peak over a longer period, so in some cases the highest frequency remains about the same, but it’s provided over a longer time span, encouraging more people where possible to travel outside the “peak of the peak” busiest times.

Train exits City Loop approaching Richmond

Good? Bad? Indifferent?

Overall good, though a couple of notes of caution.

The Loop changes would be painful for some, but the pay-off (as usual) is more frequent services, roughly a 20% peak boost on some lines, up to 50% in the evenings (from two trains per hour to three) and further moves towards ten minute services all-day everyday.

And this is the key to running more trains: you can’t have all the lines converging on the four track City Loopthose tracks are pretty much full. To make better use of the substantial track capacity in the CBD, some lines have to go direct into Flinders Street and Southern Cross.

Better separation of services should also help reliability, though there may be longer dwell times at interchange stations such as Richmond and Caulfield.

They’ve already started upgrading Richmond to provide more weather cover for interchanging passengers. Granted, the shelters above the ramps make it look like a jail, but given the centre and eastern end subways are often congested, at least people will be encouraged to use the subway at the city end, even if it’s raining — since widening the centre subway is a huge project that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

No doubt the timetable is tied into a myriad of other less obvious changes which move the rail system towards the “5 group railway” as Metro calls it, designed to improve reliability and frequency. For instance the reduction in seating on many trains would also be a factor here, providing more standing space for those short hops in and out and around of the Loop — though even the new layout lacks handholds to encourage people to move down the aisles.

Better separation and more consistent operation also means the lines can more clearly shown on the new rail map, improving the overall legibility of the network.

And I don’t think you’ll find any Altona Loop people who would be disappointed to see the end of interpeak shuttles.

We know the train fleet has been increasing in size. I wonder just how many trains sit idle at peak hour while people are packed into the services that are running?

I’ll be affected by the removal of peak Frankston trains out of the Loop. And perhaps this should have been held over until a big boost on the Dandenong line. But that could be years away, and I can see the big picture. I can work with it.

Overall this package of changes is good for the rail network, and helps move us ahead towards more frequent services overall. We need the extra services this provides. So yes, there’ll be some inconvenience, but hopefully the government will get the upgrades to Richmond in place, and publicly explain the changes, how they benefit people, how those impacted can work with it — then push ahead and do it.