Getting to the airport

A short trip coming up soon. Two nights away. Up on a Saturday at lunchtime, back on Monday evening.

Options for getting to Melbourne airport and back, for the three of us:

Train plus Skybus. About 70 minutes each way. Train fares each way $3.76 + 2 x $1.88. Skybus fares each way 3 x $18. No discount for the return leg. Skybus fares add up to $108. Return trip total $123.04

(Because my boys are now both over 16, we’re all adults now according to Skybus, even though the boys are fulltime students with the requisite concession cards, thus eligible for concession Myki fares. This seems illogical to me, and what prompted me to look at the various options. Skybus also offers no discount to Seniors or other concession holders — it appears to aim at being a premium service.)

Train to Broadmeadows plus 901 Smartbus. About 100 minutes each way, but varying according to connection times. Frequency of Smartbus on weekends and evenings is only half-hourly. Same as the train fare only. Return trip total $15.04.

(Evening 901s from the airport arrive at Broadmeadows every half-hour: 9:08, 9:38, 10:08, 10:38. Train to city is scheduled to depart one minute later. Genius. Any little bus delay, and/or if you’re not an Olympic sprinter, and you’ll have to wait half an hour for the connection. Not very Smart.)


Taxi to airport. About 50 minutes each way. About $85 each way says the Taxi Fare Estimator. Return trip total $170.

Train to Essendon, then taxi to airport. About 70 minutes depending on train connections. Train fare as above, plus taxi fare about $32.77 each way. Return trip total $80.58. Is there a taxi rank at Essendon? All I could find on Google Streetview was a paltry one space rank.

(Moonee Ponds might have more chances of getting a taxi quickly. Other options might be staying on the train to Broadmeadows, or instead going to Footscray, which is further away, but generally doesn’t involve a change of train on weekdays.)

Train to City, then taxi to airport. About an hour. Train fare as above, plus taxi fare about $55 each way (so, about the same as Skybus, but less environmentally friendly).

UberX to airport. About 50 minutes. $71-93 says the Uber fare estimator, depending on demand. You can’t get UberX from the airport. So comparing apples for apples, the return trip would be a cab.

(UberX from Southern Cross to the airport is estimated at $46-61. Essendon Station to the airport $27-37. So pretty consistently, UberX is from 20% cheaper than a cab, to 20% more expensive than a cab.)

Private Airport bus (Frankston to Tullamarine). Pick-up point in Moorabbin, with a travel time of 80 minutes, so including getting to Moorabbin plus the bus time is about 95 minutes. Fare is $59 return per adult, so $177 total plus train fares — perhaps $20 less depending on their definition of a child. But this isn’t really an option coming back as they have no trips back from the airport after 6:55pm.

Drive to airport. About 50 minutes + perhaps 15 for the bus from the long term car park. Pre-booked parking for 2.5 days is $34, plus $7.35 in tolls (using an eTag) each way plus petrol. It’s 40 km each way. If we use say 5 litres of petrol each way (which is probably over-estimating) at $1.40/litre would be about $7 in petrol. So a return trip total of $62.70 excluding wear and tear on the car, and the fixed costs of owning it.

(The costs of owning a car are not insubstantial, but I have it already. It’s paid for. Whether it sits in the driveway or sits in the airport car park makes almost no difference. This, of course, is not an unusual consideration people make. That said, all things being equal, I’d prefer to have my car in the driveway when I’m away from home. I’m not the paranoid type, but I wonder if it helps discourage burglars.)

What options have I missed?

Car and taxi options are basically a fixed price for fewer than 5 people. Car parking obviously varies according to how long you leave your car in the carpark. But public transport options can multiply up quickly as your party gets bigger unless discounts apply for groups — Skybus has a Family option, but over 16s don’t count as kids.

Ultimately the issue is that my default choice, Train plus Skybus, a nice balance between quickest and most environmentally friendly, is a good option when 1-2 people are travelling, or with children under 17… but once you have 3 “adults” (even though for other public transport they are considered concessions) the cost is substantial.

I don’t know yet which option we’ll take, but I’m sure I’m not the only one put off by the price.

Moving 70 people

Here is about 70 people on a freeway. It was running at more-or-less full speed, though on the verge of getting congested. It was a Saturday, so vehicle occupancies were probably higher than average.

70 people on a freeway

And here’s about 70 people in a single train carriage. It wasn’t crowded, though certainly getting there. (The same number would fit into a conventional bus or small tram.)

70 people in a train

Note the space taken by each. A four lane freeway has a capacity of about 10,000 people per hour (assuming a level of car occupancy well above what’s normal). A conventional railway has a capacity of at least double that (triple if you assume good signalling, and trains reasonably full).

Of course it’s not a simple thing to get people to switch from one to the other.

For the highest capacity public transport mode — rail — you first need to get people to the station before they’ll get onto a train — and it needs to be easy for them to get where they’re going at the other end.

On the carrot side that’s a mix of good urban planning (for instance homes and destinations both close to stations) and good feeder services (bus or tram or bicycle or an easy walk to the station — preferably not park and ride, as it’s very expensive and space-inefficient). On the stick side, regular congestion and expensive or hard-to-find parking (all by-products of a growing city) contribute too.

But ultimately we need to decide what we prioritise — continuing to encourage (and even force, through lack of real choice) car travel, or more efficient modes.

  • Note: the numbers were estimates. I zoomed up the photos to count as accurately as possible, but it was hard to see any people in the back seats of cars — however I erred on the high side. The train carriage number is based on doubling the number in the half of the carriage you can easily see.

Level crossing removals progressing

On Thursday the state government announced two more level crossings in their first term batch of 20: Scoresby Rd and Mountain Hwy, either side of Bayswater station. This provides some interesting challenges due to the adjacent train maintenance facility, which presumably can’t be moved. The press release notes:

They [the crossings] will be removed through a combination of lowering the rail line and raising Mountain Hwy and Scoresby Rd, which will enable trains to continue to access the maintenance yard between the crossings.

With these two, they’ve now started work on 19 of the 20 pledged:

  • Gardiner and St Albans (both initiated by the former Coalition government)
  • three on the Frankston line (Ormond was initiated by the Coalition) — more about these below
  • Blackburn and Heatherdale
  • Furlong Road, St Albans
  • the nine between Caulfield and Dandenong
  • the two at Bayswater

So they only need to fund and start work on one more and they’ll be hitting their first term target… though of course for economy they should be trying to continue to group the crossings where possible.

Bentleigh level crossing

Ormond-Mckinnon-Bentleigh aka North-Mckinnon-Centre

My local crossings are continuing apace.

The project timetable has been altered — the major works will now take place in mid-2016, instead of in the January 2017 holidays. Obviously this has implications in terms of the number of people travelling, especially students for 3 of the 5 weeks — though bear in mind most people are back at work by mid-January, so perhaps the main difference is the presence of students.

Obviously how well this goes depends on how well replacement bus services are run. More on this below.

Saving Dorothy

For residents north of Ormond and those who use the E.E.Gunn reserve, the project team has confirmed that the Dorothy Avenue underpass will retain access for cars:

Following detailed design, and extensive community consultation, we can now happily confirm that the Dorothy Avenue underpass in Ormond will remain open to pedestrians, cyclists and cars following completion of the level crossing removal works.

Through the detailed design process, the rail gradient has been improved to allow the necessary clearance for pedestrians, cyclists and cars. — October update

Apparently they sought and got dispensation for the usual (for freight trains) maximum 2% gradient between North Road and Dorothy Avenue. It’s closer to 2.5% (the normal limit for suburban trains), but this has been ruled okay for freight for short distances.

The result is that the works won’t need to touch the overpass at all. One team member described this as “Saving Dorothy”, which to me sounds like it could be a sequel to The Wizard Of Oz.

It’s good that this was achievable, and I think this makes sense — if it were closed, every time there was an event at the reserve, there’d have been a lot more traffic in the surrounding streets. And given North Road won’t have its level crossing, the number of rat-runners should reduce.

Train alterations

As I flagged in this blog post, Frankston express trains will stop all stations from mid-November. PTV were very slow at loading the timetable, but it’s there (at least for the first week) now.

A handful of trains won’t run each day, but most will. This is perhaps understandable given longer running times, but may result in crowding.

As now, some trains will run direct, some via the Loop. (I’m writing this on a train. I can overhear someone on the phone claiming they will all run direct and he’ll have to change for the Loop with heaps of other people. He’s in for a pleasant surprise.)

PTV has a brochure about service changes, though there are multiple errors in the map (they show the old 626 route, and show tram 64 curtailed at North Road). Confusingly it also has the Sandringham line shown in grey — blue would make more sense, since it’ll still be running. The car parks are in the wrong positions, as well.

I’m told a new version will be out shortly; hopefully it fixes these problems.


After the taster of bus replacement services a couple of weekends ago, the arrangements are being reviewed. Bus stop locations are being reconsidered — some apparently were put in without much time available. Sounds like many will move closer to the main road intersections, which was the main problem with them.

They’re saying that during the peak of replacement services, some 100 buses will be deployed between Caulfield and Moorabbin, with 75 normally in service, and 25 on standby. That should be quite a sight to see, but it indicates the scale of moving the usual Frankston line peak loads, and how many cars a rail line keeps off the roads in peak hour.

Instead of express and stopping buses, all buses will stop on demand (eg press the buzzer for your station). I think this makes sense — it will speed up loading and despatch considerably — just fill and despatch the buses as people arrive — and prevent passenger confusion. When I sampled it, the express buses were only seconds faster than the stopping buses.

Apparently overall the main road route has been well-received, as it’s much more efficient, though there are some concerns about those with mobility challenges getting from the station. Some kind of on-demand taxi service is being considered.

They’re also working on more traffic light green time for buses (particularly a problem southbound at North and South Roads) and temporary clear ways.

Some traders are worried about the reduction in activity around the stations during this time. This hasn’t been very apparent on weekends, but I suppose weekdays are a different story.

Level crossing removal works near Ormond

New stations coming soon

A few other design issues are moving towards a conclusion, for instance the Murray Road issue and whether a south side entrance can be provided at Ormond Station (hopefully at least for platforms 1 and 2 — platform 3 isn’t nearly as important, as under normal circumstances it is barely used, and providing it may be difficult due to the local streetscape).

It’s great to see this project progressing. For locals, remember to stay up to date via the official web site.


Honestly, sometimes I despair. No wonder the bloke on the train thought there will be barely any Loop services during the level crossing works — this poster (snapped by Andrew at Mckinnon this morning) purports to show the modified timetable. What it instead shows is just the modified express trains. This means about half the services are missing — almost all the Loop trains.

Incorrect Frankston line works timetable seen at Mckinnon Station

You just wonder sometimes if anybody checks this stuff before it goes out.

I’ve passed this back to the project team to get it fixed.

Update 10pm — another, similar poster seen at Flagstaff at 6pm implies Frankston line trains won’t run through the Loop during peak.

Incorrect poster for altered Frankston line services during level crossing removals

I’m told the Mckinnon poster has been removed already… not sure about other stations.

In some ways this issue isn’t new — I’ve seen other notifications in the past that focus solely on the additional/altered/removed services. But passengers don’t think like that. They need to see the changes in context. Displaying timetables like this which only show half the services is just pointless and misleading.

Update 9/11/2015 — Metro continues to display these misleading posters — they’ve appeared at more stations and online over the weekend. I’ve heard multiple reports of people (including Metro staff) reading them and concluding that they show the train timetable whereas they actually show just the altered services.

After all, if it looks like a timetable, it must be a timetable, right?

Apart from missing all the short services originating from Carrum, Mordialloc, Cheltenham and Moorabbin, it doesn’t even show all the trains departing from Frankston: the 7:07 and the 7:30 aren’t shown, because they’re not altered.

And just to underscore the lack of thought that went into this, the fine print at the bottom adds this irrelevancy: the disclaimer about bicycles, surfboards and dogs not being permitted on buses. What buses?!

As I said: useless and misleading.

Melbourne’s rail viewing platform

In quiet Railway Place, North Melbourne, just south of the station, there’s long been a viewing platform for rail enthusiasts to gaze upon the glory of the tracks between Southern Cross and North Melbourne.

Rail Viewing Platform, near North Melbourne station

It must have at least pseudo-official status as it’s marked in the Melway (map 2E, reference F1).

Google Maps doesn’t show it… but I guess that’s in keeping with GMaps not having public transport data

Rail Viewing Platform, near North Melbourne station

Rail Viewing Platform, near North Melbourne station

Happily, the recent Regional Rail Link upgrades to the rail flyover left it in place, and it now provides a close-up view of the many V/Line RRL trains now using it to get into Southern Cross.

Unfortunately RRL’s widening of a bridge in Footscray resulted in the demolition of a former trainspotters’ favourite, the Small Poppies cafe on Nicholson Street, overlooking the western side of the station (including the Bunbury Street tunnel) though this had long since changed hands, and wasn’t such a great venue for simply dropping in.

If you’re ever passing North Melbourne and want to have a sit down and watch a few trains, the Rail Viewing Platform is recommended.

  • eMelbourne says it was built in 1994. Designer Bernice McPherson; architects Craig Perry and Peter Dann, and officially opened by Michael Leunig

A quick look at PTV’s Night Network

Labor’s “Homesafe” has been rebranded “Night Network“. The 12 month trial starts in January, with hourly suburban trains on all routes, half-hourly trams on 6 routes.

Full timetables aren’t out yet, but some reasonably good new maps are… note the symbolism of the Pakenham and Sunbury lines, diagonal straight through the middle — as it will be (more or less) in reality when the metro tunnel is open.

PTV Night Network 2016

Nightrider is renamed Night Bus, with a re-organised network of 21 routes, with about half the routes originating in the city (including running a CBD loop anti-clockwise along Flinders, Russell, Lonsdale and Queen Streets) every half-hour, and the rest running suburban routes, co-ordinated with trains at some stations.

This is good — it made no sense to retain the existing Nightrider routes, which largely replicate rail lines. That said, it’s unclear if the suburban bus routes match the most heavily used daytime bus routes. They’ve included parts of the Dandenong/Knox City/Ringwood Smartbus, which is good, but other routes such as Elsternwick to Bentleigh are quite different from the day network. It’ll be interesting to see how successful these are.

PTV Night Bus Network 2016

To the regions there’ll be 4 Night Coach routes, departing at 2am.

It all looks pretty good, with some caveats. Hourly trains will solve the Nightrider bus capacity problem, but at the expense of frequency — they may or may not be attractive to enough people to keep the trial going after a year. (The publicity indicates stations on two lines, eg Caulfield, Clifton Hill, Footscray will get half-hourly trains.)

Oddly Southern Cross (and the City Loop) will be closed after 1am, with trains not stopping there, making it more difficult to get there to catch the Night Coaches or Skybus (which runs 24 hours) — though some of the Night Buses and Night Trams will stop there.

Apart from those out late at night, it will also finally fix the lack of services for early Sunday morning events, such as fun runs — Melbourne’s Sunday morning trains reach the CBD later than in any other city in Australia.

And it’s good to see that PTV is seeking feedback on the night network.