Tram stop barriers – are they good design?

Yesterday’s collision between a police vehicle and a tram stop barrier has raised the issues of whether those barriers are a good design.

Police vehicle collision with tram barrier
Source: ABC News

Thankfully the two policemen will recover.

The barriers are intended to stop pedestrians crossing the tracks at tram platform stops. It’s hardly surprising that people do this, given many of the stops are so long as to fill entire city blocks, and it is often the quickest way across.

At the Federation Square stop in question, time saving isn’t likely to be an issue because unlike the other stops on Swanston Street which are open, the two platforms are enclosed. Perhaps the fear is people will jump the tracks due to congestion on the platforms — in which case the logical thing to do is to widen them. Given little traffic congestion southbound at this point, widening and moving them across to take one southbound traffic lane would make sense.

People crossing between tram platforms in Bourke Street

Certainly crossing the tracks could potentially be dangerous, particularly on Swanston Street with a large volume of trams. But are there statistics supporting the use of barriers? And at quieter stops, if people pay attention, is it really a huge issue?

As I understand it, crossing the platforms is deemed to be an equivalent offence to doing so at a railway station, which doesn’t make sense given trams are slower, can stop faster, streets have a smooth surface rather than ballast, and of course the distance down from the platform is much smaller.

Another issue with the barriers is that emergency vehicles using the tram tracks (which they often do) are unable to move around stopped trams. Here’s an instance of an ambulance going to a call, stuck behind a tram.

Ambulance stuck behind tram due to barrier

Platform stops are important to help provide an accessible and efficient tram service. But perhaps the wisdom of block-long stops in busy urban areas, and the use of barriers in particular, needs to be considered.

Plug: Get my transport-related posts by email (via MailChimp)

An email each morning — if there’s a new transport-related blog post.

Digital maps: sometimes I want to see railways, not roads

At a conceptual level, I navigate this city by rail more than by road. For instance, if I’m trying to focus on rain around home, the proximity to railways is far more useful to me than the proximity to major roads.

So to make the Bureau of Meteorology’s rain radar map more useful to me, I switch off roads, and switch on railways instead.

Melbourne rain radar

If only more digital maps were customisable like this.

As others have remarked:

The technology exists now to have these options. It’s a shame BoM is one of the few that offers it.

Extra brickbats for the otherwise wonderful Google Maps — when zooming in to see road/street detail, their algorithm seems often reluctant to tell me the name of major roads — instead telling me all about the minor streets surrounding them. It might be because it likes showing State Route numbers (which almost nobody uses) — in this example, it’s not just Centre Road (state route 16) which is unlabelled, but also Jasper Road (state route 17, but it’s not even showing that).

Google Maps: Bentleigh

In any case, the core point is this: Most maps are digital these days. Why don’t they have the options to show and/or highlight what I want them to show?

Farewell MX

Feebie afternoon commuter newspaper MX finishes its run today after 14 years of publishing in Melbourne (and shorter runs in Brisbane and Sydney).

Melbourne Express was its awkward morning competitor for a short time in 2001 — it was never going to last because morning distribution is so difficult. That brand name lives on in The Age’s morning updates.

Some may mock MX for being overly filled with show-biz news and lifestyle stories, but for years it had a good team of local reporters, and their focus on public transport-using readers meant they always gave the PTUA a good run, often on the front page. It was a great way to reach a key demographic… for advertisers too, of course.

Here are some of the more (for me) memorable stories:

30/8/2005: East-west tunnel? Or public transport? It’s a debate that’s been around for a while.
MX: road tunnel, or public transport (30/8/2005)

11/10/2006: Celebrating the PTUA’s 30th anniversary
MX: 30 years of PTUA (11/10/2006)

23/5/2011: When the PTUA’s “Problem Of The Day” poked holes in the new tram network map, MX went Full Tabloid on it:
MX: Map of crap (23/5/2011)

2/6/2011: And this one, critiquing in detail the screens at Southern Cross Station:
MX: Southern Cross screens (2/6/2011)

Alas, their coverage of local news changed somewhat earlier this year when MX had a revamp. Recently there’s been little local content in it; indeed it appears much of the paper has been a generic Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane production.

MX of course had other uses. Some would get it every day just for the crosswords. You could wave it angrily at cars that failed to stop at zebra crossings. You could use it to cover that horrible-looking stuff on the train seat.

Litter could be a problem on evening trains, though MX probably helped the push for recycle bins to be installed at suburban stations. (And litter on trains is unlikely to just vanish when MX is gone.)

Perhaps with the recent proliferation of smart phones (iPhones were still six years away when MX launched) it’s not surprising it’s wrapping up.

It’s hard to break news if you go to press at midday for distribution to people at 4-5pm when many of your readers will have seen the same stories at lunchtime on their phones and computers.

Notably, News Corporation has been advertising news.com.au heavily around public transport recently.

So long MX, it’s been nice knowing you.

And to all the journos there I dealt with over the years, past and present: Erin, Hanna, Inga, Lachlan, Maria, Michelle, Nadia, Rebecca and any I might have forgotten (and/or not saved in my phone!) — thank you and good luck!

PS:

A quick look through PTV’s 2015 network revenue protection plan

I noticed there’s a 2015 version of PTV’s network revenue protection plan on their web site.

It’s a lot less detailed than the one The Age FOI’d in 2010… perhaps because it was intended to be made public.

Some points of interest, with my notes in italics:

Pages 5-6 talk about the background — total loss of $51.6 million in revenue in 2014.

“Metro Trains and Yarra Trams hold revenue risk, sharing 70 per cent of the total metropolitan farebox revenue.”

There are a couple of important points in this section:

“[Passengers] are not fare evading if they have a statutory defence for travelling without a valid ticket; i.e. they took all reasonable steps to obtain a valid ticket before their journey, there was no reasonable opportunity to obtain a valid ticket during their journey, and they took all reasonable steps to obtain a valid ticket after completion of their journey.”
this is worth remembering. What is “reasonable” has long been a bit wibbly-wobbly, and ultimately decided by the courts, but the fact is if you are pinged and genuinely believe you took all reasonable steps to buy a ticket, you should be able to appeal it.

“It is not regarded as fare evasion if a passenger has breached the ticketing conditions without loss of revenue (e.g. by failing to touch on at the start of their trip when they have a valid myki pass for their trip).”
so whereas the conditions say you’re meant to touch-on every trip, if there’s been no loss of revenue, you’re not the person they’re chasing. However! I’d suggest it’s well worth touching-on every time, to verify that your fare is still current, your Pass hasn’t just expired, and your card is functioning correctly.

Page 11 notes they’re monitoring a number of recent changes… the January 2015 changes (free tram zone, and zone 1 metropolitan price capping), on-the-spot fines (introduced August 2014), Multi-Modal Authorised Officers (primarily to boost checks on the bus network), and the use of Behavioural Economics.

Myki gates being repaired

Cutting to the chase, from page 13 onwards they note actions. Some of the significant ones include:

Changes for a User-friendly ticketing system, which includes

  • encourage off-system use of Myki channels, eg retail and online — presumably the aim is to help reduce queuing, which is still a problem at busy stations
  • possible changes to vending machines to improve the interface — good move. Maybe they’ll finally fix the unwanted receipts issue
  • more monitoring of Myki device reliability — I remember being told that there’d be a level of automated monitoring, but if it was ever implemented, it’s not acted upon. If a reader or gate at a busy location is getting zero cards read when neighbouring devices are getting lots, it should trigger someone to go check it.
  • promoting card expiry and free replacements — this is still a problem, particularly for people who have never registered their cards. Do the on-system prompts even mention imminent card expiry?

Compliance

  • auditing station barriers — barriers being left open has been an issue in the past, though it seems to be improving
  • an interesting one: “include revenue protection considerations in special events planning” — perhaps this is one that’s led to the closing of barriers at AFL games
  • close ticket barriers; direct people to go buy a fare if they turn up when AOs aren’t present — this is common sense, of course, though how AOs deal with honest people who have been defeated by Myki system problems is also a big issue.
  • “support (bus) drivers in encouraging passengers to touch on” — again, makes sense, while ensuring bus drivers don’t put themselves at risk
  • “trial an alternative location for bus fare payment devices” — the current default placement of readers is in an illogical position, where the bus driver often can’t see if people touch on or not, and (on metro buses at least) they don’t let you touch-on using the touch pad next to the driver’s console.

Enforcement

  • “Behaviour change” work via regular visible AOs swarming over specific rail lines — I seem to recall one of those Brit railway documentaries showing this, with the additional effect of making it harder for fare evaders to just go to the next station and hop off there to avoid a fine
  • “Review AO training and guidelines with continued focus on customer service and incident management” — important given some highly-publicised incidents
  • New hand held Myki readers — sounds like the existing ones have problems. No surprise, given most of the originally deployed publicly-used Myki hardware has problems.
  • Develop a single AO uniform across all operators — good idea; like vehicle liveries, to have a recognisable uniform, and preferably not an intimidating paramilitary-style one.
  • Continue “cross-deployment activities” — AOs on and around buses have certainly been more visible recently, and it also mentions V/Line
  • “Undertake corralling exercises (banners and bollards) at platform tram and bus stops to increase ticket checks – tram” — hmm that should be fun. Of course it doesn’t happen in the busy Free Tram Zone anymore (apart from the first inbound stop). Note the first combined bus/tram platform stop outside the Casino opened recently.

There’s also a section on marketing and education, as well as one on measurement and monitoring, which ties into the regular fare evasion stats published.

Authorised Officers at a tram stop

What’s the fare collection strategy?

There’s not a lot of detail in the document. Fair enough, they don’t want to give away all their detailed strategies to potential fare evaders.

But there’s really not a lot on the higher-level strategy: specifically the nature of fare collection.

They hint at it on page 6:

“While it is not practical to achieve 100 per cent fare compliance across an open public transport system such as Victoria’s, there is scope to significantly reduce the cost of fare evasion.”

Right. But why do we have an open system?

We’ve moved to an open, mostly self-serve system since the late-1980s. A failed attempt to use scratch-tickets, and then removing most station staff and all tram conductors in the 90s. More recently we’ve seen the removal of all ticket purchase/top-up options from trams — as a result of a 2011 consultant’s report which has never been published.

But what decisions went into this, and given huge patronage growth since those decisions in the 80s and 90s, do those reasons still apply?

Some new suburban stations have been getting fare gates (for instance Williams Landing, Springvale, Mitcham). What’s the strategy there? I’ve heard it’s to increase the proportion of trips starting and/or ending at a fare gate, but where is this spelt out?

Could we have tram conductors back? What would be the costs? Would it be affordable? Or would modern cash handling, safety issues and today’s much larger trams make it impractical?

Presumably they’ve thought about these issues, but if the strategy is documented somewhere, it’s not public.

Recently I found this interesting bit of text on the UK Network Rail site, which attempts to explain similar decisions:

“On long-distance trains, it is often possible for the on-board staff to check every passenger’s ticket. On rural routes, trains stop more often but as they usually have fewer coaches and carry a smaller number of passengers, on-board ticket checks can also be effective.

However, on urban and suburban routes, where station stops are frequent and the trains are often busy, it is not always possible to check every passenger’s ticket between every station.

In the past, tickets have been inspected by staff at ticket barriers but it is very expensive to provide staff at every ticket barrier and also inconvenient for passengers.”

Agree or disagree, at least they’ve tried to explain the logic behind their fare collection regime.

Authorised Officers at a bus stop

Nonetheless, the PTV document is an interesting peek into the world of fare compliance. It makes sense for them to (fairly) improve compliance to ensure revenue loss to the system is minimised.

But it makes you wonder how thoroughly they’ve looked at the big picture.

Regional Rail Link – details and timetables at last

It’s not every day a major new suburban rail line opens in Victoria. In fact it’s been 85 years since the last one.

Finally all the details of the Regional Rail Link (which despite its name, runs entirely within the metropolitan area) have been released, including the timetables for the line, and connecting bus services within Melbourne and in the Geelong area.

After $4 billion spent on it, you’d hope they’ll be marketing the benefits to people. I’ve been told this will occur in the coming weeks, at least on a local level, including flyers into mailboxes.

PTV RRL poster June 2015

Geelong line

RRL of course includes two new stations in Melbourne (Wyndham Vale and Tarneit), as well as moving the Geelong line onto its own tracks from Deer Park.

The trains will basically run every 10 minutes in peak (though the gaps are uneven), every 20 minutes off-peak. They’ll still be hourly in the evenings and on weekends, including to Wyndham Vale and Tarneit, which is a bit poor for a metropolitan growth area.

Some trains originate at Waurn Ponds; some at South Geelong. Some skip North Shore and Corio, some skip Little River, but otherwise most trains stop at most stations until they get into the suburbs.

Most trains stop at Wyndham Vale (and some in peak originate there). Slightly fewer trains stop at Tarneit.

Many Geelong trains will stop at Deer Park, finally giving this long-established suburb a decent service on weekdays, though fewer stop at Ardeer. These stations are also served by trains on the Ballarat line, confusingly, so far there is no published combined timetable for those two stations.

Oddly, not a single Geelong train stops at Deer Park or Ardeer on weekends.

Also oddly, the trains from further afield at Warrnambool (which require reservations to use) will also stop at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit, but not at interchange stations such as Footscray and Sunshine. Edit: they do stop at Footscray.

So overall a big boost for the Geelong line (and for Deer Park), but they’ll have to watch how passenger loads are affected by the extra stops in Melbourne’s west, and the hourly evening and weekend services need a boost.

The Geelong-Werribee disconnection

A loss for some people is the convenient Geelong to Werribee train trip, which currently takes about 30 minutes.

Instead it’ll be a 25-30ish minute trip to Wyndham Vale, then a change onto the (mercifully frequent) new route 190 bus. To Werribee this is 15 minutes off-peak, but up to about 18 minutes during peak, with buses scheduled to depart 5 minutes after the train arrives.

So for those people, if everything runs smoothly, the trip will be about 20 minutes longer.

V/Line trains at Southern Cross

Overall trip time Geelong to Melbourne

There’s been years of speculation about how long the overall trip would take from Geelong to Melbourne.

The existing time varies widely: from about 56 minutes for expresses to about 77 minutes for a peak stopper.

The new times are similar despite the longer route. The difference is trains can run faster on the new section than they can on the more congested Werribee line, but this is countered by (for most services) extra stops at the new stations.

The quickest still seems to be 56 minutes, with the longest stopper in the middle of peak about 75 minutes.

Trying to serve more passengers rather than skip more stops and get the trains in as quickly as possible is, I think, a sensible move. On weekdays, this means most stations get a decent service frequency, and the clear run in should mean much more reliable and predictable travel times.

Other V/Line changes

All the lines from the west see tweaks and adjustments.

The current ludicrous timings of up to 16 minutes between Footscray and Southern Cross are brought a little bit more under control, down to 9 minutes supposedly non-stop — but this is still the same time as a suburban train making additional stops at South Kensington and North Melbourne.

One detail some may miss in the new timetables: urban fringe stations Sunbury and Pakenham are now marked as “d” (set down only) for inbound trains, and “u” (pick up only) for outbound trains. This means local residents will no longer be able to use V/Line trains to and from the city. I actually think this makes sense given those stations have heaps more Metro trains than they used to, and V/Line services need to prioritise space and seats for people travelling longer distances, but one would hope they are explaining this decision to the locals.

Buses

Buses networks in the Geelong and Wyndham areas are getting major redesigns — the latter to fit into the new stations.

In both cases PTV say they’ve continued to consolidate routes, with high-frequency (by Victorian standards) routes along main roads feeding into stations, which is a good thing — it should make the network much more usable for everyday travel. Again, they’ll obviously have to communicate the changes to users and potential users.

Other routes around the place are getting minor adjustments, including regional city bus service timetable changes to better coordinate with trains.

Metro changes

The intention had been to introduce a raft of Metro timetable changes at the same time as RRL, making use of some of the capacity unlocked by the project, particularly on the Sunbury and Werribee lines.

But in this timetable change, almost nothing is changing on Metro.

One wouldn’t expect them to fill the new capacity from day one, but one might expect adjustments to at least take advantage of it.

On the Sunbury line for instance, there are reports of trains (now unencumbered by congestion from V/Line services, which got moved to the new tracks some months ago) arriving at Footscray several minutes early, having to sit idle until their departure times.

Meanwhile on the Werribee line, crowding has been getting steadily worse (including on weekends), and although some of those people may move over to the new stations, we’re talking about one of Melbourne’s biggest growth areas. They are getting a single new service in on weekday mornings and another on weekday evenings, but that’s it.

The long-suffering Altona Loop, with its off-peak shuttle, sees no changes. I haven’t looked closely at other lines, or trams, but it appears other changes are also deferred, which seems to be a missed opportunity.

The map

The rail map change has been held over until later in the year. The current suburban maps won’t change (this would cost a small fortune), meaning many suburban passengers will remain blissfully unaware of the new stations.

The V/Line map has been updated, and looks more like the London map (the old “Connections” version) than ever before. Not that this is a bad thing.

V/Line Map June 2015

Overall

RRL will make a huge difference to Melbourne’s West. The Wyndham Vale and Tarneit areas are growing fast, and for once new residents may be able to make a choice to use a viable public transport service before they buy cars for every adult in their household and fill their driveways with motor vehicles.

But there are some oddities, and some missed opportunities to provide a big boost on the metropolitan network.

No doubt there are more improvements to come — let’s hope those aren’t too far away.

Any other changes you’ve spotted?