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.

Election wrap-up: Counting continues, East West Link, and Pudding!

A few thoughts post-election…

Bentleigh

As I write this, the seat is still too close to call. Counting is continuing, but it would seem we are destined to remain a marginal seat for the next election — in fact some voters reckoned they were deliberately voting to stay marginal.

Elsewhere, some sandbelt (or as I prefer to call them, “Frankston line”) seats are still being counted, though it looks like some of them have swung back to Labor.

Bentleigh, Centre Road

East West Link

A few weeks ago Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared the state election a referendum on the East West Link tollroad.

“This election is about many things, but in the end, it is a referendum on the East West Link. It is a referendum on the plan that this Premier and no one else has, to build a modern 21st century with 21st century infrastructure.”

Some people still don’t grasp that the tollroad was a bad idea for numerous reasons.

  • It wouldn’t solve traffic congestion.
  • It would have entrenched car dependency — which is bad for all sorts of reasons.
  • It would have swallowed billions of dollars in funding — perhaps $18 billion just for stage one.
  • Because it was so expensive, we couldn’t have it as well as big public transport upgrades. Trying to do both would have led to the old “balance” scenario, where all the road projects get up, and public transport gets the crumbs. (Even while the $4 billion Regional Rail Link has been built, which you’d think would skew the balance back towards equal, billions have been spent on motorways, and pseudo-motorway “arterials”.)
  • Even if you could fund everything, building big new roads is still a bad idea. Even if you argue they spark economic growth by enabling mobility of people and goods, the problem is they do so in the least efficient manner possible (and in the case of people, limiting it to those who can drive).
  • As I’ve said before: do we want more traffic? Or do we want more people using public transport? The one we want is where the investment should go.

Foremost in not grasping these concepts is the PM himself. It’s hardly surprising; in transport policy as in so many other areas, he’s a dinosaur.

Having declared the election to be a referendum on East West Link, he has now put out a statement saying he wants it to happen anyway:

“He (Denis Napthine) restored the fiscal position of the state and embarked on a major infrastructure programme to get Victoria moving. I share his commitment to the East West Link and I am determined to do what I can to ensure this vital national infrastructure project proceeds to completion.”

And to cap it off, when he had his first phone conversation with Premier-elect Daniel Andrews, he suggested building it anyway, despite Andrews’ pledge not to!

I suspect Abbott simply doesn’t understand why people would not want a massive new road. He still thinks they’re the “roads of the 21st century“.

I’d like to think that in our big cities, voters are increasingly aware that cars a not a mass transit solution.

Credit to Daniel Andrews for refusing the offer to break his pledge, and indeed deciding to release all the East West Link paperwork (including cabinet-in-confidence papers). It should make for some interesting reading.

State election 2014: Transport referendum

Pudding

My son Jeremy’s Pudding video got noticed by The Age… By Monday morning it had over 14,000 views.

On Monday, The Age updated its story with an audio interview with me, describing what inspired the video. Then it got picked up by news.com.au, and then shown (including to Mr Andrews) on The Project (about 26 minutes in). As I write this, it’s at 28,000 views.

I know Daniel Andrews has a sense of humour… hopefully he sees the funny side of this.

So how did it happen?

Jeremy had been looking at an ALP campaign video on Youtube, and played it to Isaac (who is of voting age), who misheard, and wondered why there was talk of pudding. Jeremy (too young to vote) took it from there.

Initially Jeremy posted it privately, and only his friends could see it, but M thought (and I agreed) it could get a wider audience on YouTube. It spread after I tweeted it, helped along by my Twitter feed being followed by a number of journalists.

What’s interesting is that both my kids are becoming more politically engaged — a product no doubt of my interest, and the fact that we often watch the evening news together.

The political parties using social media and the internet is helping this, and in fact hopefully the spread of this video has helped more otherwise disengaged people know who our new Premier is.

Election day!

Some photos from election day…

The seat of Bentleigh is marginal, so we’ve been getting a lot of attention.

The booth I usually vote at leans towards the Liberals (or at least did in 2010), so we had Labor politicians galore: local candidate Nick Staikos, along with Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, and Labor luminary Simon Crean.

Independent candidate Chandra was also present.

Voting in Bentleigh

A mass of How To Vote cards were thrust in my direction. I usually reject them, but this time around I was interested to take a look. Sneakily, a new local souvlaki restaurant slipped their flyer in as well (their people had “Souvlaki party” t-shirts).

Together with the ballot papers, it made for a lot of paperwork.

The decision had to be made who to put last, of course. My rule is usually: racists are worse than nutters, who are worse than those with policies I disagree with.

Voting

Voting done, I looked around the jumble sale, cake stall, and then wandered outside for that most Australian of election traditions, the sausage sizzle.

Election sausage

My kids were rather unimpressed that the Liberals preferenced the Greens after Rise Up Australia. Isaac voted.

Jeremy’s not old enough to vote yet, but will be next time. Meanwhile though, he put together this short video… apparently if elected, Labor will be all about pudding.

Update Sunday with some Tweets from last night as the count progressed…

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…