Trains: Why run along the platform if you can walk through the carriages?

I post this picture to make two brief points:

Siemens train, interior

Even at 3pm, there are a reasonable number of people heading home. It’s before the school and uni loads really hit — and remembering that there’s only 10 minutes between services on this line.

Frequent all-day services help people who can be flexible with their travel avoid peak hours. And every person who does relieves the crowding for those who do have to travel in peak without being penalised by long waits. The trains (and their drivers) of course can do a round-trip — this train left the city at about 2:45pm — it’d be back in the city by about 5pm for a peak journey.

Some train types are walk-through. This is a Siemens train made up of 2 x 3-car sets. You can walk through the 3-cars. X’trapolis trains are similar (but have end-of-carriage doors, and over-protective notices saying you shouldn’t do it when the train is moving).

It astounds me to see people who have decided they must have a specific carriage running along the platform to reach it before the train departs, even when the train is lightly loaded. Why bother?

Some might not know they can walk through, but the observant regular traveller should figure it out pretty quickly, shouldn’t they?

(Note: You can also walk between carriages on a Comeng train, though it’s not for the faint-hearted, and officially shouldn’t be done when the train is moving.)

We suggest you don’t hit this bus

This is an old pic, but a classic. I thought I’d lost it, but it showed-up while sorting through some old files on the computer.

I did once ask someone at Ventura about it — he said one of their staff had taken the photo, and from memory also said there had been no serious injuries — which means you don’t have to feel guilty if amused.

Old pic of an accident, car hit a Ventura bus advertising car insurance. From memory there were no serious injuries, so you can laugh guilt-free.

#Myki: touch-on, touch-off, touch-on, touch-off

Here’s an interesting issue with Myki which has always been around to an extent, but which has got worse with the switch to exact two-hour fares.

The problem

"Keep Calm And Catch Public Transport" Myki card holder from Travellers AidThe Myki software uses the two hour expiry of a fare as the time after which it assumes the next touch of your card is also a new fare.

This implementation is in contrast to the fare rules, which say your fare lasts for as long as the trip, as long as you started it (touched-on) before the expiry date.

Here’s an example: Board a 903 bus at Mordialloc (zone 2) at and touch-on at 9am. Ride to Northland (which is in the zone 1/2 overlap) and touch and alight at 11:10am.

What should happen is you get charged a 2-hour zone 2 fare.

But because it’s more than 2-hours since you touched-on, the touch as you alight will be treated as another touch-on.

You’ll end up paying a default fare (zone 1+2 because that bus route eventually terminates in zone 1) for the original touch.

Plus if you don’t notice as you exit the bus that it’s touched you back on again, you’ll pay another zone 1 fare on top of that, because it will have assumed you travelled from Northland (zone 1/2 overlap) to Altona (zone 1), $3.58.

So a total of $9.64 for what should be a $2.48 fare.

The silver lining is it’s not a very common scenario.

But it can happen, on some bus routes (such as the very long Smartbus routes), and on trains as well, where cross-town trips may take over two hours.

Solutions?

For trains, as you exit the station and touch, as long as you notice it’s touched you back on and charged a default two-zone fare, perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to wait 30 seconds, then touch-off again — invoking the “Change of mind” feature. The 30 seconds is so the reader doesn’t think you accidentally touched twice. You’re still charged the initial two zone fare, but that’s okay, because any conceivable trip of more than two hours would be a two zone fare — except perhaps if there was a long delay en route.

This isn’t possible for buses, because they have no “Change of mind feature”, and even if they did you might still be overcharged.

It’s also a bit tricky if an epic train trip ended at fare gates, perhaps at the end of the line at Frankston for example. Staff on the gates should be able to figure it out for you.

The official solution

Squirrelled away in the bible, the Fares And Ticketing Manual, in a revision posted a couple of weeks ago, they suggest a solution to passengers affected by this:

If a customer using myki money does not touch off the myki within 2 hours after it was touched on, a default fare may be charged when the myki is next touched to a myki reader. Such a touch will also be treated as a touch on

To prevent this happening, a customer may touch off the myki prior to the end of a journey, but must then touch the myki on –

(a) in the case of a journey on a tram or a bus, immediately after the myki was touched off; or

(b) in the case of a journey on a train, before resuming the journey.

In other words, you should touch-on as you board the bus. Then along the way, you should touch-off, then touch-on again. And finally at the end of your epic trip, touch-off again.

Presumably this advice is intended for staff to pass onto affected passengers — few Myki users would be aware of this, nor should they be expected to read the manual (but it’s good the manual exists, so that interested people can get this info).

If they’d thought about how the software might be used in the real world, then (at least on buses) they should be able to figure out that as you exit the bus after a long trip, you didn’t really magically travel to the end of the route (before the bus itself got there) and then board it again.

It’s a reminder that the implementation of Myki leaves a lot to be desired.

PS. For longer V/Line trips, the fare extends to 3 hours for 6 or more zones, and to 4 hours for 12 or more zones. See: PTV: Myki on V/Line.

Traffic light programming is why your CBD tram trip is start, stop, start

It’s not uncommon to see trams stopped at traffic lights along Bourke Street, sometimes in queues, at locations where there is no stop.

If you’ve wondered why your tram journey is start-stop, it won’t surprise you to learn that the lights are all over the place.

Tram westbound on Bourke Street, waiting at Queen Street

With the handy-dandy stopwatch function on my mobile phone, I timed the lights along the central and western section of Bourke Street.

Bourke 30 / Swanston 30 = 60 second cycle

Bourke 35 / Elizabeth 35 = 70

Bourke 47 / Pedestrian crossing near Hardware Lane 23 = 70

Bourke 40 / Queen 50 = 90

Bourke 30 / William 60 = 90

Bourke 30 / King 70 = 100

No wonder trams have to stop continually at lights!

Trams on Bourke Street

Along Bourke Street, and other CBD tram streets, there are numerous improvements that could be made…

Shorter cycles — There are obviously competing demands on the various streets. Because of large numbers of pedestrians, you can’t necessarily have pre-emptive traffic lights that detect trams coming and switch instantly to give them the green. But you could certainly reduce the cycle times. Judging from existing timings, even with our wide streets, it could be as little as 30 seconds each way, or a cycle every 60 seconds. This would greatly cut down waiting times for trams and walkers and everybody else for that matter — but you’d need to check the 15ish seconds Green Man time is enough to get waiting pedestrians off the kerb.

The King Street intersection is particularly bad, giving most of its time to cars — despite Vicroads data showing traffic on all segments of King Street between Flinders and Latrobe Street dropping between 2001 and 2011, and despite that policy should not be to prioritise cars in and through the CBD.

But William Street is almost as bad, despite having much fewer trams than Bourke Street (typically 5 per hour on route 55 vs about 15 per hour on routes 86 and 96 combined).

To help tram drivers know when to depart, for the spots where traffic lights are distant from the tram stops, they should get these lights working — they’re meant to indicate when the best time is to take off. It doesn’t necessarily result in a quicker trip for the tram, but it may allow the driver to wait for passengers who might otherwise miss the tram, while knowing the tram isn’t about to miss a green light.

That’s the theory, but they never seem to actually operate.

Tram stop, Bourke Street at Spencer Street

Co-ordinated cycles — For where there are multiple intersections which are between tram stops, whether or not they are short cycles or long, they should at least be co-ordinated. In this section the important ones are the intersections at Elizabeth and Queen Streets, as well as the pedestrian light in the middle. A tram leaving the Elizabeth Street stop westbound, and not delayed by anything else, should never get a red light before the next stop — and vice versa.

Obviously you’d need to work out the best cycles for the intersecting streets as well — for trams on Elizabeth Street and buses on Queen Street. But how hard could it be?

With the recent movement of tram stops, there are now similar blocks of traffic lights between stops along Swanston Street and Elizabeth Street.

Traffic light programming isn’t the only cause of tram delays of course.

But if moving people quickly and efficiently around the CBD is a priority — and it should be — these issues need to be addressed.

  • A PTUA study found up to 30% of tram travel time is spent wasted waiting at red lights

Waste of money: New automatic signs for platforms where few trains stop

Those LED automated signs on station platforms are known in the biz as Passenger Information Displays, or PIDs. In recent months they’ve been installed at a lot of stations along the Frankston line.

They’re handy because they provide you with realtime departure information, without having to press the Green Button, which often doesn’t work or takes ages to get to the vital bit of information: how many minutes away is my train? PIDs are also useable by the deaf and hard of hearing.

At Frankston line stations with more than 2 platforms, they’ve concentrated installing them on the “island” platforms — if the budget is limited, this makes sense at stations such as Ormond and Bentleigh, where most trains (and most passengers) use those platforms. Few use platform 3.

Passenger Information Display, platform 3 at Malvern

It appears someone decided the “island” rule should apply at the MATH (Malvern, Armadale, Toorak and Hawksburn) stations. So at Malvern, some months ago, PIDs were installed on platforms 2+3. At Armadale and Hawksburn, they’ve been installed on all four platforms. (Toorak doesn’t have them at present, so I guess I should have said MAH.)

Problem is, few trains stop on platforms 3+4. This has been the case for a couple of years, and since the July timetable change, even fewer trains stop there — basically only after 10pm on weekdays, and before 10am and after 8pm on weekends. The rest of the time, all the trains stop on platforms 1+2.

This is because stopping patterns are being standardised so that Dandenong line trains generally run express Caulfield to South Yarra. Consistent patterns make a lot of sense — they are more predictable, and can be shown on maps — and the Dandenong line has been prioritised for expresses because it carries more people than the Frankston line, serves more growth areas, and it also carries express V/Line trains. In the future I wouldn’t be surprised if no trains stop on platforms 3+4 except under unusual circumstances (such as a disruption on the other tracks).

So the signs are either left blank most of the day, or showing a message telling you to go to another platform.

This could be done with a cheap static sign — if needed at all. All these stations have automated displays up on the concourse which direct you to the correct platforms.

There are scores of stations, and hundreds of platforms around Melbourne that are still without PIDs. What an appalling waste of money to install them where they’ll almost never be used.

Update 28/8/2014: In the past week or so, PIDs have been installed at Malvern on platforms 1 and 4, though they are not yet in use.