Our new Premier on the need for frequent public transport #FrequencyIsFreedom

One should never read too much into politicians’ rhetoric, but it was rather good to see comments from Premier-elect Daniel Andrews on Monday in free commuter newspaper MX:

“Yes, we need better local roads and yes, we do need to invest in that infrastructure, but the transformational infrastructure is a better public transport system. One where you don’t need a timetable, one where you can comfortably and optimistically leave the car at home knowing that you’re getting on to a first rate public transport system.”

– Daniel Andrews, MX 1st December 2014

(My emphasis added)

Daniel Andrews at Bentleigh station during the 2014 Victorian election campaign

…as well as these comments on election-eve:

“I want to make sure we build the best possible public transport system. I simply won’t ask Victorians to get out of their car and into a second-class public transport system. They won’t do it, and I won’t ask them to.”

– Daniel Andrews, Channel 10 news, 28th November 2014

Public transport that’s frequent enough that you don’t need a timetable is critical to willingly get people out of their cars and out of the traffic.

Frequency is particularly important to cater for a network of services to make anywhere-to-anywhere trips are possible with the minimum of waiting.

To draw an analogy, you don’t need a timetable (or face a 20-30 minute wait) when driving your car through a major intersection or freeway interchange.

Some services already run frequently — in peak hour particularly. Thanks to governments of both persuasion now recognising its importance (and/or being forced to add services thanks to overcrowding), as well as the transport bureaucracy getting behind it, more parts of the network are getting to that magic “every 10 minutes” standard, though promotion to actually tell people it exists is lacking.

In fact while there are some issues with proposed Transdev bus service changes in 2015, one change that’s welcome is route 903 between Box Hill and Mordialloc (including Chadstone) will be upgraded to every 10 minutes on Saturdays. Unfortunately the western end of that Smartbus route, at Altona, will suffer from service cuts of up to 50% — the current 15 minute off-peak service will go to 30 minutes. Apparently this is due to the former government’s wish to squeeze more efficiencies out of the bus operators — not necessarily a bad thing, but it may have gone too far. A case of one step forward, one step back?

There is a plan for frequent services

PTV have a plan to make more buses and trains run more frequently, all day every day. Trams are almost there, but could also do with a boost. (The PTV tram plan hasn’t been revealed.)

And the beauty of it is, many service upgrades are possible now, particularly at off-peak times, without huge investment in infrastructure, so there’s a huge opportunity to make a lot of progress in the next four years.

We’ll find out who the new Public Transport Minister is today — let’s hope they and the Premier will be keen to push ahead with implementing Melbourne’s frequent network.

Update: Lynne Kosky: Very sad to hear of former transport minister Lynne Kosky’s passing at just 56. It was under her that serious PT investment (especially train fleet expansion) started. This interactive graphic shows the projects underway in 2009, during her time as minister. (And no, she didn’t start Myki… that was a Peter Batchelor creation). RIP.

Update: New minister: Jacinta Allan is the new Public Transport minister. In related portfolios, Luke Donnelan got roads, and Richard Wynne got planning.

Yes, train punctuality has increased – thanks to timetable padding

One day until the state election.

They do great work, and it’s rather good to see the ABC’s Fact Check unit looking at Victorian issues just before the election.

A couple of days ago they did a segment on train punctuality:

  • The claim: Denis Napthine says his Government has “improved train punctuality”.
  • The verdict: With punctuality running at over 92 per cent across the Metro network, trains are more often on time now than under the previous Labor government.

They looked at the statistics, and they also considered stop skipping, which figures indicate is done on less than half of 1% of services — not enough to greatly influence the result, though sometimes done to excess.

But as commenters on their web site have noted, they didn’t look at the other factor: timetable padding.

Comparing times on the Frankston line: during peak (morning inbound, afternoon outbound), and when it’s quiter (Sunday morning inbound and outbound), we can clearly see that running times have increased — 3-4 minutes was added in 2012.

Frankston line running times, 1997-2012

It’s a similar story on other lines.

Is padding the timetable always bad? No. If network congestion or loadings are such that trains can never achieve the timetable, then allowing more time would be justified.

But in some cases there is now so much padding (for instance, Hawksburn to South Yarra now allows 4 minutes in peak; Richmond to Flinders Street direct allows up to 7) that trains regularly sit idle at stations waiting for the timetable to catch up… or (accidentally) depart before their scheduled time.

So it’s hardly surprising that punctuality has increased.

  • They also haven’t mentioned Loop bypasses, which are a particular problem for the Altona Loop (perhaps thankfully the only suburban section they can do it on) but also the City Loop. These count as a partial cancellation, but when they happen they improve punctuality stats.
  • Additionally it’s notable that the government always talks about punctuality, not cancellations, because the latter has barely changed. That’s outside the scope of ABC Factcheck though; they look at what is claimed, not what isn’t.
  • See also: Alan Davies at Crikey: Did the ABC fact checkers get it right on train punctuality?

Where’s the community’s focal point? It’s the railway station.

Two sleeps until the election.

Apart from trying to get citizens out to a public meeting, where in the neighbourhood is the best place to meet as many people you can, face-to-face?

Judging from what the politicians and lobby groups have been up to, it’s the railway station — on weekdays, at least.

I’ve lost count of the number of flyers I’ve been handed at Bentleigh station over the past few months. Undoubtedly it’s due to being in a marginal seat.

Supporter of Labor, and independent candidate Chandra Ojha, handing out flyers at Bentleigh station

Public Transport Not Traffic campaigners (including myself) at Bentleigh station. Campaigner Tony (who worked harder than me that morning) is not pictured; he snapped the photo.

The Greens candidate Sean Mulcahy at Bentleigh station

The political parties and one of the independents, as well as various unions and lobby groups (including one supporting national parks, and also Public Transport Not Traffic) have been prominent at the station in the last few weeks.

Mostly they are in the morning. It’s easier to hand out flyers as you get a steady stream of people, and if the train isn’t imminent, they can stop for a minute to ask questions. In the evening few people want to linger; they’re keen to get home. Plus it’s harder to hand out to scores of people arriving in a burst, followed by minutes of nobody going past.

Chalk one up for the trains. Cleverer people than I might ponder if this helps skew policies. As the Liberals’ fake commuter newspaper shows, it certainly helps influence campaign literature.

You’re certainly unlikely to have a face-to-face encounter with politicians and their supporters while driving your car. Sadly those people who are unable to use trains because suburban connecting buses are so poor will also miss out.

On the weekends the campaigners tend to be elsewhere in the shopping centre, though sometimes at the station. The advantage for them of street shopping centres is I doubt they’d ever get permission from a Westfield or Gandel to set up in Chadstone or Southland.

Of course this week, they’re also at early voting centres, and will be swarming around polling places on Saturday. (The first inkling I had that Bentleigh was at risk of swinging from Labor to Liberal in 2010 was when I heard that then-Premier John Brumby had been seen at a local polling place, Mckinnon Secondary College. On voting day you’re most likely to see the senior pollies in marginal seats.)

I’ve been tracking the various flyers handed to me in person via Twitter at Bentleigh station. Here are a few instances of flyers and local campaigning from the past month or two:

PS. On Monday the PTUA put out its election scorecard. If you’re interested in public transport issues, and they’ll influence your vote, check it out.

Update: After the election…

Online state election advertising

Only a few days until the state election, and the campaign is heating up.

Miller and Staikos signs for the state election 2014

Here’s something interesting I’ve noticed: apart from posting and advertising on Facebook, the Liberals have paid for Google Adwords advertising — that is, links to appear above search results on Google.

They’ve covered the names of a number of Labor candidates in marginal seats, plus their state leader’s name (linking to the more positive “Our Plan” site), and the name of their main opposition party and its leader. They don’t seem to have covered opposition candidates in some marginal seats such as Prahran and Frankston, and nor have they included the Greens.

It’s all interesting stuff. I wonder how many people searching for information on Labor candidates end up clicking through to the Liberals’ “Frankston Line Facts” or “Backwards Under Labor” web sites?

I didn’t spot any evidence that Labor have done the same thing, but they have gone in strong advertising on the mainstream media web sites: this morning the Herald Sun and The Age web sites are covered in ads for them attacking Napthine and Abbott.

An article in Crikey (Paywall) last week suggested that political advertising doesn’t actually work very well, a position also supported by research done in America. Personal interactions such as doorknocking (and I guess handing out flyers) work better.

That can be difficult to organise, but has been happening a lot in the marginal seats this year.

The somewhat antiquated “Electronic media blackout” kicks in from midnight tonight, but only applies to TV and radio. I guess we’ll continue to see online ads right up until, and during, Saturday’s vote.

  • Note that the Libs’ 44% fare increase claim (which is repeated on the Frankston Line Facts site) appears to be more scare-mongering. Apparently in one radio interview some months ago, Daniel Andrews misspoke and suggested Labor would remove zone 2 altogether. Their actual policy is to cap fares at zone 1 rates — the same policy as the Coalition, which is why PTV has felt confident enough to press ahead with it from January. (If zone 2 was completely removed, current zone 2-only trips would go up in price to the higher zone 1 fare — a 44% increase.)

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt on the 822

Incumbent Elizabeth Miller has gone strong on “saving the 822“, promoting via Facebook and an ad the front page of the local Leader newspaper last week, apparently trying to imply that Labor is proposing to scrap the route completely.

822 bus ad

822 promotion (Elizabeth Miller Facebook page)

Having put the claim out there on Facebook, the Liberals have done nothing to quell people’s fears that the route might be scrapped. Comments on the Facebook post have included:

  • Its the only way i can get to work and school :///
  • You cannot remove the 822.. its the only bus route running along east boundary road.. its central for anyone that lives around bentleigh area as its our way to Chadstone & Southland… You have gotta be joking.
  • Our children use the 822 a lot. It is needed for children for school outings as well. … I also see many elderly using that bus as I believe it travels to southland and Chadstone which allows for them to shop and also catch up with friends. This is only a small part of how useful that bus route is. Think before you remove. Elizabeth Miller keep up the good work.
  • For me and all the other passengers of the 822 bus rely on this bus because it gets us to our everyday destinations and without it would be a dissapointment! If you fet rid of this route you will make peoples lives much more difficult.
  • please save the 822 bus.

This is classic FUD — Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. There is NO plan to scrap the route.

I asked the Labor candidate Nick Staikos about it, and he said their intent is the logical move of the route off the backstreets and onto East Boundary Road (as proposed in the 2010 bus reviews), for a speedier trip and to better space out the north-south bus routes — there’s a huge gap between the Frankston line and the 822, with no services on Jasper or Tucker Roads.

But they’d do any change with community consultation to make sure as many people as possible are happy.

Part of that change might be moving the 701 from Mackie Road onto Marlborough Street to cover the section removed from the 822. As I wrote a few months ago, that’d be a good solution as it would remove duplication on Mackie Road (which also has the 767).

It would be difficult to have the 701 turn right from Marlborough Street onto North Road could be troublesome with no lights at that intersection, but the 2010 plan had it following the current 822 route as far as Duncan Mackinnon Reserve, then heading back towards Oakleigh.

Labor aren’t talking about proposed bus frequency upgrades. The 822, like most suburban buses, is appallingly infrequent, particularly on weekends. Public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy mentioned there was some kind of bus strategy coming, but so far we don’t know what’s in it. See below.

There’s obviously some detail to nut out, but nevertheless the Liberals’ posturing is nonsense. It seems to be trying to imply that everything is fine with the local buses… clearly not the case. One way of reading it would be that “only the Liberals” will fail to do anything whatsoever to improve them.

Fact is, local buses in Bentleigh do need improvement. Making the 822 a main road bus is a good start. Making it and other routes more frequent is also vital.

  • PTV stats show the 822 has about 450,000 boardings per year — around 1600 each weekday, 575 Saturdays and 388 on Sundays — the latter not being too bad, given it’s only an hourly service, but given it serves too of Melbourne’s busiest shopping centres, there’s a huge potential to carry more people if it ran more frequently.
  • Labor has said several times they would make an announcement around buses… This is important, as many areas only have buses. The policy has just been released today, and in summary is a $100 million package of upgrades. I haven’t digested the detail yet, but it’s got specifics on a number of routes, particularly the growth areas most dependent on buses. I can’t see anything in the Bentleigh area — not the 822, and also not the 703, which was promised an upgrade to full SmartBus status in the 2010 election by Labor.

Update: Labor’s Public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy has spelt it out on Twitter:

Update 25/11/2014: Partly for anybody clicking through from Jarrett Walker’s blog post, here’s the map of the current route, highlighting the diversion through Crosbie Road, Marlborough Street, Stockdale Avenue and Gardeners Road (including one-way sections) proposed to be changed to run direct along East Boundary Road (which is not shown in full on the map, but is a continuation of Murrumbeena Road) instead.

Bus 922 map

It’s also worth noting that it was not just Labor and the 2010 bus reviews that proposed this change.

Elizabeth Miller herself also called for the change shortly after she won the seat of Bentleigh:

Since taking office as the member for Bentleigh I have been shocked to discover that the former government made no provision for public transport to and from GESAC’s front door.

I call on the minister to investigate with his department the appropriate alteration of existing bus routes, including the 822, to provide a bus stop outside GESAC on East Boundary Road, Bentleigh East, to ensure that as many residents as possible of Bentleigh and neighbouring communities are able to access this wonderful new facility.Hansard, 24/3/2011

By earlier this year, she had changed her mind:

The 822 bus currently services this facility [Glen Eira Sports and Aquatic Centre) on Gardeners Road at its rear. The bus service to the facility is well patronised. I note that the opposition is currently conducting a petition to state otherwise.Hansard 25/3/2014