Transdev bus routes are changing: Give your feedback!

Transdev are seeking survey responses to their planned bus network changes for 2015, and unlike last time, they are properly doing community consultation. But if you are interested, today is the last day you can submit feedback.

Last week I went along to the Transdev session in Sandringham, and spoke to reps there about various points, mostly related to the changes in that area.

Transdev: Is this Klingon for "St Kilda via Elwood"?

From my point of view most of it looks okay, but there are some issues.

Most route changes make sense; and make the network more legible. The removal of the crazy-confusing 600/922/923 split is particularly welcome.

Splitting the long orbital bus routes makes sense to better match demand, and improve reliability by not having four-hour-long routes, particularly as few people use them end-to-end. (No, really — the 901 and 903 are currently about four hours end-to-end.)

Relief for crowded 903 buses along Warrigal Road on weekends is excellent, with services every ten minutes on Saturdays, and twenty on Sundays.

Most northern suburbs Smartbuses will no longer be every 15 minutes — mostly going to every 20 minutes weekdays (including peak), every 30 minutes Saturdays, and every 40 minutes Sundays. Weekday off-peak and Sundays this could synchronise better with their trains which are generally every 20 minutes, but the peak service won’t, and it’s pretty poor. Note this includes the 912 (currently part of 901) to Melbourne Airport.

Part of the problem is that currently semi-rural areas like Kurrak Road in Yarrambat get a bus every 15 minutes — over-servicing that area while other more populated suburbs miss out on frequent services — a classic example of where a single level of service on one really long route isn’t a good idea. But under this proposal, that service will still be every 20 minutes. Perhaps further splitting of the orbital routes needs to occur so that those resources can be directed to where they’re actually needed.

As part of these changes, the 901 and 902 will swap through the north, between Broadmeadows and Greensborough, making for a more direct route to the airport from Doncaster, Eltham, Greensborough, and Keon Park.

The 600 will be curtailed at Sandringham, no longer serving Elwood, but it will have will have timed connections with the 248 for most of the day at Sandringham, enabling (for example) Brighton to Black Rock trips without too much trouble.

Cutting service route 600 St Kilda Street in Brighton I don’t see as an issue given close proximity to New Street. Parts of Brighton are arguably over-serviced anyway, given the area has a lot of well-to-do people who seem willing to use trains, but largely unwilling to use buses.

But Elwood loses out along Ormond Road due to the loss of the 600. The remaining 606 service runs only every 40 minutes on weekdays, including peak — a far cry from the 80s when I was a kid, when there’d be 6 to 10 route 600 buses per hour in peak to cope with loads feeding to the trains at St Kilda. There was speculation 606 would get a frequency boost, but as this is run by another operator, the Transdev people couldn’t confirm — part of the problem of getting one operator to do network planning. A boost to the 606 should definitely happen if the 600 is being removed. That or the 630 could be extended from its current termination point in the middle of nowhere in Elwood, along the 606 route to St Kilda, with a level of timetable co-ordination to provide a good combined service.

The dotted line on part of route 600 in Cheltenham is a once-a-day schools diversion. This leaves a large area (particularly Weatherall Road) unserved for most of the day – and an old couple at the session noted they currently use that bus (the 922) and will be about a kilometre from a service. Transdev say they get very few passengers in that section (perhaps mostly thanks to so many golf courses in the area, rather than houses). It’s similar to Hope Street, Brunswick, I think — this is probably an area that should be considered for some kind of Neighbourhood Bus along the lines of the services run by City of Port Phillip.

Frequency cut along Hotham Street 248 on weekends goes to 40 mins (a big cut on Saturdays, which currently has 15 minute services), while Orrong Road 249 (the new number for the southern end of current route 220) goes to 20 minutes… seems a bit arbitrary, though of course 248 largely parallels the train through Brighton. The 249 will continue to duplicate trams for much of its length, but at least the 248 route doesn’t join it going all the way into the City. (The plan to run one of those routes further north to Burnley and Victoria Gardens seems to have disappeared — the 248 will instead terminate at the Alfred Hospital.

Keeping the 249 (currently 220) as high frequency maintains good service through Southbank, which is welcome. The disconnection of the 216/219/220 in the City makes sense for the same reason disconnection of the Orbital routes makes sense, to improve reliability given not many people travel through the City.

Altona – not in the local area, but some talk raised of their end of the 903, which is getting cuts. Their peak service is going to every 20 minutes, but it was pointed out that a reliable 20 minute peak service is actually better than their morning peak service now, which due to the length of the route doesn’t actually meet the 15 minute frequency going into Altona until about 10am. It would also better connect with trains (as far as is known, when Regional Rail Link opens in April or so, Altona peak trains will move from the impossible-to-remember 22 minute frequencies to the much more sensible 20 minutes).

Transdev admitted the halving of off-peak Altona 903 services from 15 to 30 minutes is bad (and also won’t synchronise with trains), but said several times that most of their patronage counts were based on Myki data, so if those buses are well-used, they implied large numbers of passengers are not touching-on/paying. One Transdev rep commented this was a quandry: even if they know what’s happening, do they upgrade (or maintain) bus services for areas with users that don’t pay? Indeed… but of course that’s penalising whole neighbourhoods (and hordes of potential users) for the actions of only some.

They said they’ve only done other types of passenger counts were they knew there were specific surges in patronage not indicated by the Myki data, such as school runs where lots of students with Student Passes aren’t touching on (and they’ve talked to some schools to ask them to tell students to do so).

However, as you’d expect, bus drivers have a reporting mechanism to flag overcrowded routes.

Transdev: Proposed southern suburbs bus network

Route 223, a remnant of the Footscray tramway era, is getting cut back to every 20 minutes, every day (including in peak), and no services after 9pm (7pm Sundays). Not sure about this — currently it’s every 15 minutes Monday to Saturday, and the Footscray to Highpoint section seems quite busy, particularly when traffic delays occur. This cut may result in overcrowding, as I’m assuming they can’t magically prevent the delays.

Some City to Doncaster DART buses upgraded to every 20 minutes on weekends — good!

Dead running: Unfortunately I forgot to ask if the current situation where buses “dead run” out of service right across town between Sandringham/Brighton and the Footscray Depot (due to lack of depot space at Sandringham) will be solved. Hopefully.

TransDev Melbourne bus in full PTV colours

The route structure looks good — less so the service frequency

I don’t have intricate knowledge of the whole network, but from what I can see, the proposed route structure looks pretty good. Less confusing, less duplication. It’s the service frequencies on some routes which let it down (as they often do) — particularly the abandoning of the Smartbus promise of a bus every 15 minutes (on weekdays) on the quieter parts of the orbital routes, with resources moved to busier sections.

One Transdev planner said this change would be setting the scene for some years, with future revisions likely to be only minor, but they’d be hoping for service frequency upgrades as more funding comes through.

This seems to stem from the former Coalition government’s aim as part of the 2012 re-tendering process of making Transdev upgrade the network but at no extra cost to the taxpayer — a noble aim, given inefficiencies such as copious dead running — but in our growing city, with strong demand on parts of the network and huge potential on other parts, extra funding is needed to boost services.

I’ve submitted an online survey (the survey questions made this a bit tricky as I live in the south-east, but most often use Transdev services in the west), and they urge as many people as possible to do so.

One gentleman at the information session said he was upset by many of the changes (but didn’t seem quite able to articulate why, at least not while I was close by), and said he’d be writing to the minister. He was encouraged to do the survey as well, but refused. Not sure why, if one objected so strenuously, one wouldn’t use all avenues available to get their opinion across.

So, if you use Transdev bus services, be sure to look at the planned changes, and fill in the survey — remember, it closes today!

#Myki. It’s as simple as Touch on (unless you don’t have to), and Touch off (only if you need to).

I noted this new Myki signage on trams, reflecting the free CBD tram zone from January:

Myki signage on trams, December 2014

Once it was a simple message: Top up, touch on, touch off.

Now it’s top up, touch on (unless you don’t need to) and touch off (only if you need to).

From the PTV FAQ, it’s clear that they haven’t reprogrammed Myki for the free zone. If you touch on and/or off within it, you will be charged for zone 1, as now. If you do touch on in the tram free zone and want a refund, they say you need to touch off (also in the free zone) then you can contact them for a refund. Bear in mind that if you’re making non-free trips elsewhere that day, it may not make any monetary difference.

Confused yet? Not surprised.

Touch off would never have become a problem if Myki response times were consistently fast, as they are on other public transport smartcard systems. Originally it was thought the system would be so fast that they were going to use the terminology “scan on, scan off“… but by mid-2010, they knew it was going to be so much of a problem clogging up tram exits that they extended zone 1 to the end of all tram routes and told people not to bother touching off.

The new gates they’re trialling at stations such as Richmond and Springvale are an improvement in terms of response times, though it’s unclear if these would work on trams.

Touch on won’t be needed either, from January 1st if you’re travelling entirely in the free CBD tram zone. There is of course no monetary difference if you travel in and out of the CBD by public transport (unless you use the free Early Bird train fare).

Tread carefully if you’re planning a free ride though. The free zone ends the stop before the Casino, Museum and the Arts Centre. One wit on Reddit noted the free zone looks quite like a yellow (green?) submarine.

PTV free tram zone from 1st January 2015

The change to free CBD trams and (almost) scrapping of zone 2 reflects something of a race to the bottom by the political parties in this year’s state election. It’s unclear if the patronage growth resulting from the fare cuts will be reflected in extra services or at least bigger trams to relieve crowding… but one can only hope that the next big fare change will be more equitable. Like taxes, fares should ultimately be both affordable (not a deterrent to patronage growth), and helping to grow revenue in a sustainable way that helps public transport services continue to expand.

Those who can, might like to check out options for traversing the CBD by bus… Lonsdale Street and Queen Street are well-served by frequent buses most of the time.

Luckily most people don’t bring their cars to central Melbourne

Sometimes in the city, it’s a bit like a Where’s Wally book.

Bourke Street Mall, lunchtime

City of Melbourne figures indicate the average daily population for the CBD and surrounding council area is 844,000.

But Christmas shopping is a very busy time of year.

City of Melbourne has some very clever pedestrian monitoring systems, which can tell us just how busy different parts of the city are. They have sensors around the place, including in the Bourke Street Mall — on both sides, though the northern side one is currently not working, which is a shame as I suspect it’s a bit busier. The southern side one shows pedestrian numbers peaked yesterday around lunchtime (when the photo was taken) at about 5000 per hour — about 45% higher than the 52 week average, showing how the nice weather and Christmas shopping has a huge effect.

Pedestrian count, Bourke Street Mall - south - 18/12/2014 (City of Melbourne)

How do people get to the city? The Census has very good data on travel for work (and this appears to include study) which shows about 65% of people working in the city centre (or thereabouts) come in by public transport as their main mode. About 25% are by motor vehicle. The rest are by other means including walking and cycling.

ABS Census 2011: Mode to city

City of Melbourne has a smaller survey (the Central Melbourne travel survey) that captures all city visitors (not just workers). It shows a slightly lower public transport share — 59% — and also lower for walking and cycling, but higher for motor vehicles — 37%.

City of Melbourne survey: mode to city

They also have a survey showing trips around areas of the city. Unsurprisingly, this is dominated by walking and trams.

City of Melbourne survey: Mode around city

It’s lucky most of people coming into the City don’t bring their cars with them.

Well, they can’t really — parking supply for them all thankfully isn’t provided. If it was, it wouldn’t be the dense inner area that we know it, but dispersed by lots of space taken for car parks — a completely different city centre that I dare say wouldn’t attract the booming daily population of residents, workers and visitors that come now.

My notes from a quick skim of the #EWLink business case

Late last night, the Herald Sun unexpectedly published the entire East West Link business case, ahead of its official release today.

Some notes from me from a quick flick through:

p12 makes various high-level claims, particularly faster trips for motorists — but as we know, this benefit never lasts because traffic increases.

EWLink: Proposed tolls

p17 flags the toll prices used in the modelling: (2012 pricing) cars $5.50 in peak, $4.40 off-peak. Light commercial vehicles $8.80 peak, $7.04 off-peak. Heavy commercial vehicles $16.50 peak, $13.20 off-peak. I wonder what regular motorists (especially those with commercial vehicles) make of these toll levels?

By comparison, bypassing the city along the Bolte Bridge or the Domain/Burnley tunnels (not both) currently costs $7.06 in a car, or $8.15 for both sections. It’s only marginally more expensive for both because there’s a cap… I assume it’s unknown if a similar cap could exist where adjoining motorways are run by different operators.

p17 says the funding gap between the toll revenue and the cost of construction is $5.3 to 5.8 billion.

p39 says north-south public transport is being degraded by traffic congestion, which may be the case, but that’s because authorities have allowed it to happen by failing to provide tram/bus priority through busy intersections such as Alexandra Parade. They continue to prioritise large numbers of vehicles (single-occupant cars) over large numbers of people. It’s important to recognise that while the greater East West Link project includes tram priority measures, these can be implemented without building a big road tunnel.

p41-42 appears to be cherry-picking statistics to try and claim there’s a lot of demand for cross-city traffic. For instance the diagram at the top of page 42 implies lots of cross-city traffic, but it’s mapping out in percentage terms the demand from different directions heading to the Eastern Freeway in the AM peak — in other words, feeding into the freeway in the counter-peak direction, as if counter-peak travel is where the congestion problem is.

A diagram on page 41 does look at AM peak from the Eastern Freeway, and like previous studies shows little traffic heading to the west of the city — 2% to the south-west (eg Newport area), 6% due west to Footscray and beyond, 7% north-west to around Essendon and beyond. The vast majority of traffic is heading to the CBD and inner north.

In comparison, here’s the screendump from VicRoads traffic status web site this morning (8:16am, peak hour). The camera image shows counter-peak the Eastern Freeway seems to be free-flowing. It also shows free-flowing traffic most of the way across to the west (in both directions), again underscoring that the east-west route isn’t the main problem; as per the page 41 diagram, it’s traffic going into the CBD and inner suburbs.

EWLink: Realtime traffic on Eastern Freeway and Alexandra Parade, 15/12/2014 8:16am

p100 forecasts traffic rampup to % of steady state volume: 91% by month 6. 96.5% by month 12. 100% by month 22. I wonder: Is this in line with recent experience?

A NSW Auditor-General report on Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel (see page 32) found that projections of 80% initially, and 88% after a year were about double the traffic levels that actually eventuated. Brisbane’s Clem7 and Airportlink tollways, and Melbourne’s EastLink had similar problems.

Note that in East West Link’s case the taxpayer bears the risk.

p165 Whoa! The construction cost is much much higher than theoretical revenue of $112 million/year (56x) relative to Citylink (8x) or Eastlink (20x). The average construction cost is also much higher per kilometre than those projects.

p168 The assumed tolling period is 40 years.

p176 Benefit Cost Ratio of stage 1 is 0.8 (eg it costs more than it makes) when “Wider Economic Benefits” (WEBs) are excluded. Including WEBs is 1.3-1.4.

Update: The earlier estimate, using the methodology preferred by Infrastructure Australia, came out at just 0.45. In later versions of the document, the methodology changed and the estimate rose to 0.8. The version released by the Herald Sun has the higher figure, and it’s been speculated that someone supportive of the project dropped that version to them deliberately to pre-empt reporting of the lower figure. Josh Gordon at The Age has some nice analysis of how the figure grew from 0.45 to 0.8 with some WEBs, and then to 1.4 by including other projects such as the Tullamarine Freeway widening, and even Wider WEBs.

WEBs are notoriously wibbly-wobbly in their calculation, and often controversial. For instance it’s not clear how they claim $2153m in agglomeration economies (specifically “growth in Melbourne’s competitive central core”) when the tollway doesn’t directly serve Melbourne’s central core.

It also claims a lot of benefits from travel time savings, but as I’ve already noted, we know these never last.

Compared to the 1.4 the road gets with WEBs, the metro rail tunnel (which is also an incredibly expensive project) apparently got 1.9. And compared to the 0.8 for EWL without WEBs, the metro rail tunnel got 1.17 — so at least it isn’t loss-making when evaluated without possibly dodgy WEBs.

p193. If they built the road elevated rather than underground, the BCR (excluding WEBs) would still only be 0.9. It’s only by building it as a surface road (eg a ground-level motorway, thus obliterating large areas of the inner-northern suburbs) that you can get a BCR above 1: 2.6 to be precise.

EWLink costs and revenues

p209 summarises the revenues and outlays, and if I’m reading this right, seems to show toll revenue of about $200m per year against availability service payments from the government to the operator of about $345m each year. I assume by June 2023 that’s the “steady state”.

If the toll revenue doesn’t get that high, then taxpayers foot the larger bill. And remember this is only stage 1.

p211 ponders the state privatising the road later — that is, selling the toll revenue stream, presumably to offload the taxpayer risk in case revenue flops in the future.

I’ll keep dipping into the document as I get time in the next day or two, and may add some points as I find them.

Hopefully when there’s an official release in the next day or two, the PDFs available will be searchable — it’ll make finding things a lot easier!

And presumably there’s more detail coming as well — for me one thing that stands out is the courageous predictions of quick growth in tollway traffic and revenue, in the face of recent experiences with other Australian tollroads.

And I’d love to see detail on the modelling assumptions that show how well the traffic would flow if the revenue targets are met. It still strikes me that these massive tollroad projects can be profitable, or provide for free-flowing traffic, but not do both.

Update: The official release of documents has now occurred.

Public transport fares to rise about 5%

It hasn’t been announced yet, but I understand Myki fares are going up about 5% in January.

(Zone 1+2 fares will drop to zone 1 level of course, in line with the pledge made by the Coalition and matched by Labor.)

This is rise the Coalition government announced in December 2013, which I assume the new Labor government has approved: 2.3% CPI, plus a rise in real terms of 2.5%.

(Perhaps it’s not surprising Labor has okayed it; the Coalition went through with CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 which had been planned by Labor back when it was in office.)

Myki zone changes

Leaving aside the enormous disparity in per kilometre fares, the combination of zone changes (including free tram rides in the city) plus a real terms rise means we get the terrific combination of:

  • Fare revenue dropping by about $100m per year
  • Those travelling short distances (eg those costing the network the least in terms of driver and vehicle hours, and fuel) getting fare rises
  • Those travelling long distances (eg most expensive to serve, especially if you consider things like the demand to build more express tracks, and fleets being unable to run more than a single round trip in peak) seeing a big fare cut (increasing their subsidy)
  • A price signal that it’s good to use PT for long trips, which is likely to add to crowding, particularly on trains

Plus of course those who currently have crap PT in the middle and outer-suburbs will continue to have crap PT because there’s less money available to pay for upgrades.

Sigh.

While I don’t think a per kilometre fare is really a great idea (especially with Myki’s currently hopelessly slow readers and even more hopeless GPS devices), nor do I think a trip from Flinders Street to the Shrine should cost the same as one to Pakenham.

Silver lining: If they’re smart, they’ll let people know that in most cases you no longer have to touch-off after metropolitan train/bus trips. Just as on most tram trips now, the default fare if you don’t touch-off will be the same fare you pay if you did.

Still unknown: The fate of the Earlybird fare, long rumoured to be on the verge of being removed.

Update: Beat the rise?: Hoping to beat the price rise by splashing out on a Commuter Club yearly? No chance. The news of the rise came through in a CC bulletin yesterday showing the rise for Yearly fares, and declaring the ordering deadline to be 5pm the same day — way too fast for any CC organisations to scramble to let employees/members know. Usually there’s at least a few days’ warning. Not this time, though it’s still cheaper to buy a CC Yearly Pass than a retail Yearly.

If you use other Myki Passes, you can still beat the rise by buying them before the end of December. (But don’t buy a zone 1+2 pass; you’ll just need to get a partial refund once the zone changes happen). You can’t beat the price rise with Myki Money — it’s charged as you use it, not when you load it.

Update 6:30pm Tuesday: The rise has been confirmed by PTV in The Age: Myki fare rise for commuters travelling in a single zone.

Of course, those travelling in three or more zones will also see a rise, though I don’t think it’s been clarified if a zone 1 to 4 trip (eg Melbourne to Geelong) would still pay the zone 2 portion of the fare as part of that.

It’s also worth noting that this is not the only recent above-CPI rise: there were CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 (the ones planned by Labor).

I also note that while this 2014 rise was been planned by the Coalition, in 2011 then-Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said in the Ballarat Courier: “The Coalition Government wants to keep changes in ticket prices to no more than CPI (Consumer Price Index).”

Update 17/12/2014: The rise has finally been confirmed by PTV. Early Bird is staying, and the weekend daily cap will remain at $6 (though it’s not much cheaper than the new zone 1+2 daily cap anyway).