New fares – comparing cost per kilometre

While some are hailing the government’s plan (backed by Labor) to apply zone 1 fares (as a maximum) right across Melbourne, I thought it might be worth looking at the per kilometre cost for various trips — including some V/Line trips.

The table below shows a sample of trips, both with the current fares, and the proposed ones (assuming no overall rise on 1/1/2015).

Journey Distance Zone(s) Current From 2015
km Cost (peak) Cost/km Zone(s) Cost (peak) Cost/km
Richmond to City 1.5 2.6 1 $3.58 $2.39 $1.38 1 $3.58 $2.39 $1.38
Malvern to City 8.9 1 $3.58 $0.40 1 $3.58 $0.40
Oakleigh to City 15.3 1 $3.58 $0.23 1 $3.58 $0.23
Clayton to City 19.3 2 $6.06 $0.31 1 $3.58 $0.19
Dandenong to City 30 2 $6.06 $0.20 1 $3.58 $0.12
Pakenham to City 57 2 $6.06 $0.11 1 $3.58 $0.06
Werribee to City 32.4 2 $6.06 $0.19 1 $3.58 $0.11
Lara to City 57.5 2 $6.06 $0.11 1 $3.58 $0.06
Geelong to Melbourne City 72.5 4 $11.20 $0.15 4 $11.20 $0.15
North Geelong to Werribee 37.6 2 $3.60 $0.10 2 $3.60 $0.10
Geelong to Werribee 40.1 3 $2.94 $0.07 3 $2.94 $0.07

What I find interesting is that once the change takes effect, the cost per kilometre will vary by up to a factor of 40 23 — with passengers from Richmond to the City paying $2.39 $1.38 per kilometre, but Pakenham to City paying just 6 cents. Stations like Oakleigh and Malvern are somewhere in the middle.

As you can see, there are some other interesting things to note:

  • Geelong to Werribee is cheaper than North Geelong to Werribee, both currently and under the proposed change. This is because the former is a 3-zone fare, which automatically attracts an off-peak discount at all times, because the trip doesn’t go into zone 1.
  • Currently the Clayton to City cost is 31 cents/km, almost 50% higher than the Oakleigh figure, and three times the Pakenham to City figure. It’ll still be much higher than the Pakenham figure.
  • I’m told V/Line Zone 2 stations are included in the change — which I think is unwise. It’s not hard to see how stations like Lara are about to suffer a LOT of car park pressure. Once the change comes in, the per-km and monetary cost from Lara to Melbourne will be about a third that of Geelong.
  • Thanks to the zone 3 removal in 2007, Lara is already in zones 2, 3 and 4. It would seem it’s also going to be in zone 1 from January!
  • Train arrives at Geelong station

    Regional town buses

    While I was looking, I had a snoop around the regional town bus maps, to see if any of them were stuck with two-zone bus trips where Melbourne will only pay a maximum of one zone.

    When the Myki zones were devised, they were wise enough to put just about the entirety of each town within a single zone (with some areas in overlaps of other zones).

    Geelong is in zone 4, Seymour zone 6/7 overlap, Traralgon zone 12/13 overlap, Bendigo zone 14, and so on. So almost every local bus trip in Victorian cities (at least those covered by Myki) is a single zone trip, $2.20.

    One exception is at Ballarat: its bus route 9 to Creswick crosses from zone 8 (Ballarat) into zone 9. This means the 14 minute, 18 km trip from Ballarat Station to Creswick town centre is a two-zone trip, costing $3.60 — about the same cost as Melbourne zone 1. All other Ballarat bus routes are within zone 8.

    Point to point charging?

    I should note that comparing the per kilometre costs are not an attempt to implicitly say that point-to-point fares would work better or more fairly, though I know some people support them.

    The poor implementation of Myki also means it’s unlikely we’ll ever see point-to-point charging while it’s around. Slow touch times mean re-introducing touch-off to trams would play havoc with loading times, even in the suburbs. And Myki’s GPS units seem to be hopeless when it comes to accuracy. (Curiously, Smartbus GPS units are excellent.)

    Point-to-point also isn’t necessarily good policy. It needs to be very carefully implemented not to penalise people who go from A to B via C because the network is designed so that they have to — interchanging between services is already a necessary pain for many trips — you shouldn’t charge people more money for it.

    And the bottom line is politically we’re probably stuck with the mostly-flat-fares in Melbourne for a few years at least.

    So if we’re stuck with it, let’s embrace it: Rejoice that Zone 1 types can explore Zone 2 for no extra cost! Embrace that you won’t need to get your Myki out for tram rides in the CBD! Celebrate the removal of the need to touch-off for most people!

    Update: Tom pointed out in a comment that my distance from Richmond to Flinders Street was wrong. Whoops. Corrected.

Rainbow

Sorry, no time to do a proper blog post, so here’s a photo of a rainbow I snapped in Bentleigh on Monday, as dark clouds loomed:

Rainbow over Bentleigh

Coalition fares announcement: free CBD trams; zone 2 gone [Updated]

The Herald Sun reports the government is planning big changes to Melbourne public transport fares:

The radical changes, being unveiled today ahead of the State Budget, would cap maximum daily fares at the Zone 1 rate across Melbourne’s entire tram, rail and bus network.

And CBD and Docklands trams would be free under the changes, due to take effect on New Year’s Day.

The cost of the windfall, to be funded in the May Budget, has been estimated at $100 million a year.

Herald Sun: Commuters in Melbourne’s outer suburbs to see public transport costs slashed by up to $1200 a year in proposed changes by State Government

This is bad policy on a couple of fronts.

Friday lunchtime: eastbound tram meets westbound car in Flinders Lane

Free rides for CBD motorists

Firstly, if CBD and Docklands trams are made free, then the major beneficiaries are people who drive into the CBD.

People who’ve used public transport to get into the city gain no benefit (other than perhaps slightly faster loading trams) because unlike in cities such as Perth, the Myki daily cap system means their CBD trips, for instance at lunchtime, are already paid for.

Flat fares = higher base fares

Merging/removal of zone 2, as I noted in this post last year, over time, this is likely to put upward pressure on all fares.

Adelaide went to a flat fare many years ago. As of the last comprehensive check, it also had Australia’s highest fares for trips below 20km.

In Melbourne, people already complain that any trip in zone 1, even one stop, is $3.58.

The removal of Melbourne’s zone 3 in 2007 also added to upward pressure on fares:

  • In 2006 a Z1 daily (using 5xDaily or 10×2 hour fares, the equivalent of today’s Myki Money) was $5.34. That’s now $7.16 — a jump of 34% (compared to about 21% inflation in that time).
  • Meanwhile Z2 (only) daily fares went from $3.68 to $4.96, a jump of 35%.
  • Zone 1+2 daily fares leapt from $9.02 to $12.12 in that time, 34%
  • Before the zone 3 removal, a Zone 1+2+3 daily was $10.44. It dropped once zone 3 went to $9.02, but has now climbed back up to $12.12 — up 16%.

(The post last year also notes some benefits, of course. It’s not black and white. One benefit would be that presumably touch-off would become optional for most suburban trips, though this has caused mass confusion on the trams.)

What about better services?

$100 million sucked out of fare revenue is another whittling away at funds which could be better used to upgrade services, which is where I’d rather see it go.

For most, particularly in the outer suburbs which will primarily benefit from this plan, the problem isn’t the fares, it’s the infrequent, inadequate services.

In the long run, service upgrades such as PTV’s plans for lots of frequent suburban buses, would benefit outer suburban families more, given most of them don’t commute to the CBD every day, by giving them better transport options for their suburban trips.

Other reforms could include more zones (so the jump between them is less severe), changing zone boundaries and overlaps to remove anomalies, single zone fares for buses (which would cost very little, but enhance the feeder/connection role for them), or cutting all fares by 20% (which would also cost about $100 million/year).

But if the government’s proposed change goes through, it’s unlikely a change of government would reverse it. We just had a CPI+5% rise, and another is expected next year. Obviously two-zone travellers are about to benefit in the short term, but expect many more big rises for everybody in the future to cover the shortfall.

How soon before that one stop trip on a tram (outside the CBD that is) costs $5?


Update 1pm — the government has published the map showing where the free tram rides would be. Note the Museum is just outside the area. And is it telling that the biggest dot is a freeway interchange?

Coalition govt: Free tram map

Update — Thursday

Perhaps Alanis Morissette summed up the free trams proposal best, with regard to existing public transport commuters:

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid.

But what perhaps is ironic is that for a free zone supposedly aimed at business and tourist travellers, attractions such as the Casino, Arts Centre and Museum are just outside the free area. Even Federation Square is shown as outside it, which is odd.

Explaining to people where the free rides start and end will be a challenge.

How it’ll all work

My educated guesses, gleaned from the info out there:

  • No touch-on (and indeed, no Myki) required for tram rides entirely in the free area
  • Zone 2 will become part of the Zone 1+2 overlap area, meaning trips entirely in the old zone 2 area will require touch on/off to get the cheaper zone 2-only fare
  • Default fare will be a zone 1 fare, meaning for most trips, touch-off is not required — just like the trams now. This — at least — should have benefits in cutting suburban station exit queues in rush hour.
  • It’ll also help the role of connecting bus services around the zone overlap areas, and take pressure off zone 1 station car parks (though as noted previously, this is confined to a relatively limited number of locations. But it may have the reverse effect at some zone 2 stations.
  • It’s unclear if V/Line stations in zone 2 are included in this. At least one report has stated: The changes do not apply to V/Line fares — but it’s still early days, and it’s obvious this package was put together in a hurry, and perhaps without fully thinking through the implications.

Obviously the most significant thing is it’s likely to make two-zone trips much more attractive to people, and the government (whichever flavour after November, given Labor has said they’ll also implement the change) will have to be very careful about adding extra services where needed to cope with this.

Ditto CBD trams, likely to become more crowded at peak (including lunchtime).

There are also sorts of other implications that need to be thought through — the deployment of tram AOs won’t be needed in the CBD, but may become prominent just outside it. Attractions such as the Zoo will still be very keen to ensure Myki is continued to be marketed to tourists.

It’s still not clear where the $100m/year will come from. Perhaps it should be part funded by a further increase in the CBD/inner-city car park levy, given the car park operators inside the free tram area will be beneficiaries of this. There’s a huge car park at Etihad stadium, for instance. They must be delighted.

Let’s hope the next policy announcements are about the things that will benefit PT (and potential PT) users more… service upgrades.

Smoke, steam, nostalgia: Steamrail Open Day 2014

The Steamrail Open Day a couple of weeks ago was good fun, though in some ways very similar to the previous one in 2012… But I’ll post some pics anyway.

This is a Tait train (“Red rattler”) — dating back to the 1910s, and very common when I was growing up, but phased-out in the 1980s.
Tait train (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

If you’ve ever wondered what the destination signs looked like from the inside, here it is. I was fascinated by these as a kid. Note the mirror allowing the operator to verify what was on the sign. These old painted canvas rolls are, of course, way more legible than most of the modern LED dot matrix varieties… and representations of them are now very common in home decorating. (You know, those big signs with white writing on a black background, and lots of words, not necessarily place names, all in a row.)
Tait destination roll (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Sometimes it’s only by seeing things in the flesh that little details come back to you. In this case, I’d completely forgotten that the old red train manual doors had a catch, so it was easy to fix them in a position that let the air in, but wasn’t big enough for someone to fall out of.

Inside the old carriages you’ll find notices about the railway bylaws… in principle not so different from today’s.
Railway bylaws (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Also of note, and in use until the 70s, are the Smoking and No Smoking sections. (This was from a diesel rail car.)
Smoking/No Smoking sections (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Old and new (1)
Old and new (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

Old and new (2)
Old and new (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

I’m all for nostalgia, but it’s not hard to see that air pollution may have been one factor in phasing-out coal out of regular use on the railways (though I’m sure economics was the main driver). Well, kind of phased-out… it still powers our electric trains of course.
Smoke and steam (Steamrail Open Day 2014)

On the way home, the platform mirror at Footscray was in just the right position to catch this scene.
Platform mirror, Footscray station

We could have a vastly more usable PT network; PTV has a plan. It just needs funding.

Getting around Melbourne’s inner-suburbs without a car is pretty easy, thanks to a reasonable network of frequent trams. In some areas, such as around Prahran, the trams, trains and buses form a grid, making almost any local trip within that area very easy.

Getting around Melbourne’s middle and outer-suburbs without a car is generally a nightmare. There are some rail lines, but for most trips it’s buses, and they are hopelessly infrequent — generally only hourly on weekends, and only half-hourly on weekdays.

Queueing for the 703 SmartBus at Bentleigh Station

It’s no secret then that areas of good public transport tend to have lower rates of car ownership — the excellent Charting Transport blog explored this in detail a while back.

Of course, there are other factors such as urban planning — are the things you want/need easy to get to without a car, including by walking?

But most of Melbourne currently misses out on frequent services of the type that you can use without looking at a timetable, and without a long wait (particularly if connecting off another service).

A few Smartbus routes have been a step in the right direction, and they’re popular, but still leave huge gaps in the frequent network.

PTV plan: bus service standardsPTV has a plan to fix this problem. As The Age reported on Tuesday:
A network of more than 30 bus routes running every 10 minutes would criss-cross much of Melbourne within less than a decade under ambitious plans produced by Public Transport Victoria.

This kind of upgrade is really important: along with train and tram upgrades proposed, it gives way more suburban areas a much more useable network.

The information has come out in a documentwhich is part of East West Link travel forecasts. It’s a bit vague because the details are in tram and bus plans prepared by PTV but not released — only the train plan has been made public.

But what we do know is this:

  • Most trains running every 10 minutes, 7 days-a-week
  • Most trams running every 10 minutes, 7 days-a-week
  • Some tram route changes to better organise the network (though little in the way of expansion, alas)

The most interesting bit is around buses. Remember that many areas of Melbourne will never have trains and trams, not even under the most ambitious expansion plan imaginable.

A LOT of suburbs will remain beyond walking distance to stations and tram stops, and need frequent bus services.

The plan sorts buses into several categories, and attaches minimum standards to each.

  • Smartbus – at least every 10 minutes – 43 routes by 2021, 49 routes by 2031
  • Direct – at least every 20 minutes on about 70 routes by 2021, at least every 15 minutes on about 75 routes by 2031
  • Coverage – at least hourly – about 180 routes by 2021, about 190 routes by 2031
  • Commuter – a dozen routes by 2021
  • Special – every 4 minutes on two routes – eg the existing 401 and 601 university shuttles
  • InterTown – about 20 routes on the urban fringe
  • Telebus – a handful of routes, but with many variations, on request routes
  • Hybrid – routes which fall into multiple categories, presumably with differing service standards

Yes, by 2031, the proposal is to have over 120 Melbourne bus routes running every 15 minutes.

This is critical for the overall public transport network.

The mass introduction of Smartbus and Direct routes every 10 and every 15 minutes would vastly expand the “turn up and go” anywhere-to-anywhere network across Melbourne, making it possible to use public transport for a lot more trips than at present.

Here’s how my neck of the woods looks at present: 7-day 15 minute services (all modes) — the current situation on the left, and if the PTV plan were implemented on the right.

7 day 15 minute services: 2014 7 day, 15 minute services: proposed by 2031
(Because the detail is vague, I’ve assumed only 822 would change in its upgrade to Smartbus. I’ve also assumed South Road buses 811/812/824 would run frequently on those sections — they’re actually slated as “hybrid”. And it’s quite possible I’ve missed some other proposed routes. Would need to get the full report to get all this cleared-up.)

At present, if your trip isn’t entirely along a tram or train line, you’ve probably got a long wait ahead of you. Going to most areas, it’s hopeless — so most people drive, and will often pack their driveway with one car per adult, putting a big strain on household budgets.

With the PTV plan implemented, a lot more journeys are possible without long waits, because a lot more areas are within walking distance to a frequent service.

This includes being able to easily get to your nearest shopping centre and/or railway station without having to drive.

As Jarrett Walker is fond of saying: “Frequency is freedom.”

A frequent network is the type of thing needed to let households really reduce their car ownership and usage.

It would bring Melbourne more into line with other big cities around the world, particularly in Europe, where the fast frequent backbone (principally heavy rail) is supported by connections to a network of frequent buses and trams across urban areas.

And a lot of it is achievable in the short term by making better use of fleet and infrastructure, in particular by getting the large number of vehicles currently in depots outside peak hours and getting them out into service more of the time.

The only question is when will the politicians take note and fund this?

Spot the difference – transport advertising in the lead-up to elections

I was thinking the government ads about transport upgrades back in 2009-10 (Labor) are pretty similar to 2014 (Coalition).

How would it be if I got them both and dubbed the audio of one over the video of another?

The 2010 version is mostly about trains; the 2014 one has been chopped a tad to remove around 15 seconds that was about East West Link. But it’s surprising how well they fit. (The full unedited versions are shown below.)

This time around, Channel 7 reports ads like this have cost at least $3.2 million so far.

Comparing 2010 to 2014

Let’s play a little game of Spot The Difference.

2009-2010 – Labor 2013-2014 – Coalition
Advert for new Smartbus route 903
Advert for a measly 6 extra services on bus route 630
moving-victoria-ad-20140301
Nice placement: Advertising, Cheltenham station
Victorian Transport Plan advertising, December 2009
Myki billboard advertising, February 2014
Bayside Rail Imorovements poster, Bentleigh, February 2014 (cropped)

Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said the ad campaign should now be considered “electioneering” and withdrawn immediately. He vowed to cut advertising spending in the transport portfolio if the Coalition won government in November. “If I’m the transport minister, the money I have available to me will be going into nuts and bolts business, not self-promotion,” he said.

The Age, 1/9/2010

Rather than invest in public transport Napthine Govt invests in advertising 2 tell us how good it is. But you can’t spin lived experience!
Jill Hennessy, Labor Public Transport Spokesperson, 28/2/2014, Twitter

Denis Napthine will fight for his survival with the last dollar of your money #springst
Martin Pakula, Labor Spokesperson for Scrutiny of Government, and Transport Minister 2010, 1/3/2014, Twitter

Is advertising ever justified?

Yes, sure it is. Public transport is a product which competes against other modes of travel, particularly cars.

But it the ads should be informative, or at the very least should tell you why (even at a high level) you should be using the product.

Some of the ads have been informative at some level. From the sample above (and it is only a sample), Labor’s newspaper ads and the Coalition’s billboard/noticeboard ads have some level of useful information in them.

Amazingly, none of the Coalition’s ads spell out a huge improvement they’ve delivered in the last couple of years, but almost totally failed to promote: frequent weekend trains on much of the network.

And the TV ads in particular, placed by both sides of politics over the years, tell you very little — they seem purely design to try and convince you that your Government is doing Good Things with your money.

The curse of dead running – enemy of the passenger

One of the issues in public transport is “dead running“. This blog post cites a local example, but it’s a widespread issue.

At various times of day, trams trains and buses move out of service between their runs and their depots or stabling. This is dead running.

This is dead running.

Out of service bus

Sometimes this is taken to extremes. Most route 600/922/923 buses run out of a depot in Sandringham, but apparently because of lack of space, some buses run Out Of Service right across town to/from another depot in Footscray! (At least they did when the route was run by Melbourne Bus Link. It’s recently been taken over by TransDev, who may have changed it.)

My local route the 703 is run out of Ventura Buses’ South Oakleigh depot. The route runs from Brighton to Blackburn. In the 703′s case, Dead Running to and from Brighton is along the most direct road, which also happens to be along the route: Centre Road. I would think this is a pretty common scenario.

Thus we get sights like this: people in the morning peak waiting at Bentleigh station for a bus to Brighton… perhaps their bus is delayed thanks to the long run from Blackburn (troubleprone despite the theoretical traffic priority Smartbuses are meant to have). Often when a bus turns up, it’s going to Brighton all right, but it’s not in service — yes, they do dead running in peak hour.

703 bus stop, Bentleigh

Likewise eastbound in the evenings there’s a big gap in the service between 7:33pm and 8:41pm… there’s a bus in between (at about 7:51) which runs out of service back to the depot.

The most obvious solution is to run more of these buses in service.

Stopping to pick up and drop off passengers would add to the run times of course, so you wouldn’t want to do it across the board — there will be times when it’s necessary to get vehicles to and from their runs as quickly as possible.

But if there are known gaps in the schedule, due to the timetable or regular delays, then it’d help those passengers a lot, even if it meant extending the run time slightly. Big benefit for little cost.

I was told some years ago by a senior bus planner that in regional cities, Myki had reduced the number of cash transactions on buses, and sped up run times — and that was before sales of individual tickets were scrapped. The silver lining in the cloud that is Myki is that we now have vastly reduced numbers of transactions on buses.

Theoretically bus run times should be faster now than in the Metcard days. And making Out Of Service buses run in service may make little difference to running times in many cases, thus almost no extra cost for those extra services.

It’s time those waiting passengers saw some benefit from that.

Ouchy

Those Swiss Army knife people certainly know how to make knives. Very sharp knives.

While using one of their kitchen knives earlier in the week, I carelessly took a small chunk out of my thumb.

Be warned: slightly gory picture ahead.
Continue reading