The new map has arrived

As flagged earlier in the month, the long-awaited new rail map, in the works since at least 2014, has finally been officially launched.

It’ll show up around the network in 2017.


(Click to zoom)

There seem to be at least two versions: the plain one above, and a version with a grid and station index.

It’s over two years since we saw the drafts — in fact this was a process started under the previous government. What took them so long to get it out? I really don’t know.

But it’s great to see it launched at last.

Thanks to Tim H for the tip-off: it is “in the wild” on the concourse at North Melbourne.

New rail map at North Melbourne station

At one stage there were also plans to start using the colours on major interchange station platforms and concourses, to help people navigate more easily to their platform. It remains to be seen whether this will still eventuate — in some cases operations are still too inconsistent for it.

The colours are intended to match the rainbow status boards and the PTV Live Updates web site. (At the time of writing, V/Line is still appearing there in grey… hopefully it will go purple soon.)

PTV information screen, Bentleigh station

Some comments I’ve seen around the place:

Skybus shouldn’t be on the map. It isn’t a train!

True… but I look at it this way: it’s going to be a constant reminder that Melbourne should have a train to the airport.

You can’t actually walk from Belgrave to Bairnsdale!

Well of course you can’t. It’s not to scale. Melbourne/Victorian rail maps haven’t been to scale for decades.

Where’s the line to (proposed destination) ?

There have been so many fantasy rail maps over the years that it’s important to remember this is a new map for the current network, though it includes stations about to open (Caroline Springs) and opening in the next 12 months (Southland).

Of course it doesn’t show rail to Doncaster or Rowville, or even the Metro rail tunnel or Mernda. That’d just be confusing for people trying to navigate their way somewhere. The map can be updated when (and if!) these are built.

London Tube map 2016

What happened to the zones?

Zones aren’t as important as they used to be. Firstly, for trips covered by Myki (which is the majority of them), the smartcard automatically calculates the fare. (There are sometimes problems with this on buses and trams, thanks to on-vehicle readers and poor GPS and other factors, but train calculations have never had major issues.)

Secondly, changes to Melbourne fares in 2015 mean we basically have a flat-fare system. A trip in zone 1 costs the same as a trip across zones 1 and 2. (There is an exception: trips entirely and only in Zone 2 are charged at a cheaper rate.)

You could add zones to the map, perhaps in the style of some of the London Tube maps (above), but it’s messy, so I can understand why they left them off.

It would be especially difficult to show it for the V/Line area in a way that didn’t make the map unreadable — once you leave zone 2, practically each station is in its own zone.

Note they have indicated where you can use Myki and where you need a V/Line paper ticket.

What happened to the bus/tram interchange icons?

It’s true, they’ve gone. But in many ways they weren’t very useful. Most stations have bus and/or tram connections, but the icons alone didn’t tell you anything about where those routes go, or how often.

For instance, the old map showed tram and bus connections at Hawthorn. The tram is route 75, with almost 100 services each weekday (slightly fewer on weekends)… the bus is route 609, which serves the station just once per weekday.

Interchange information is better conveyed via the Journey Planner (or Google Maps) in such a way that includes the information travelling passengers actually need to make that connection.

What about the interstate trains?

There’s probably an argument for including them, though the XPT to Sydney follows the line to Albury, so effectively its route already on there.

The Overland follows quite a different route (via North Shore, Ararat, Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola, Nhill). But it only runs twice a week (every other train service on the map runs multiple times per day), and its long-term future is far from certain. That said, you can book a V/Line ticket on it for trips within Victoria, and it is shown on the V/Line timetable.

Some staffed stations don’t have the (i) info icon

All the interchange stations are staffed fulltime. There are some exceptions on the V/Line network; here they have the interchange bubble and the part-time info icon.

But I’m inclined to agree; it would have been clearer, and more consistent, to give the fully-staffed interchange stations an info icon.

I’m not sure why Essendon is marked one way, and Berwick is marked differently. Both get a handful of V/Line services stopping there each day.

Oh yeah, I’m not fond of the term “Customer service hub”, especially as there are numerous over-the-counter services available at Metro full-time staffed stations and V/Line part-time staffed stations which are not available at Metro part-time staffed stations.

So, what are the benefits of the new map?

Maps have to be replaced from time to time anyway, as new stations open.

This design is a huge improvement on the old one — and it’s about time we had a map that shows where the trains actually run, not just where there are tracks.

In other words, it’s going to be far more useful for passengers.

Hope at Christmas

My native garden attracts native birds.

These are our latest residents, visiting for Christmas: rainbow lorikeets. Very colourful; they seem to be enjoying the food available at the moment.

Rainbow lorikeet by Daniel Bowen on 500px.com

Rainbow lorikeet by Daniel Bowen on 500px.com

Christmas is almost over at our house. Due to travel commitments, the various arms of the family had their gatherings over the last two Sundays.

As we wrap up the year, a couple of articles caught my eye. They’re a reminder that while the world is often replete with bad news, there is hope.

99 Reasons 2016 Was a Good Year — lists numerous (mostly low-profile) achievements in areas such as conservation, public health, political and economic progress.

…and this was really interesting:

A history of global living conditions in 5 charts — goes into detail about world progress on key indicators: poverty, literacy, health, freedom, fertility and education.

(Click through for full details, including interactive graphs.)

There is hope. It’s not all doom and gloom.

This is not to say we don’t have to fight for progress. Nor does it mean everyone is benefitting from the advances — one of the lessons from 2016 is that a lot of people feel they are being left behind.

But it’s reassuring that as a species, overall, we are moving forward.

Happy Christmas.

Public transport is like a computer. It needs both hardware and software

Here’s a thought, via a possibly dodgy analogy: public transport is like a computer. It needs both hardware and software to function properly.

Hardware — right of way (tracks/roadspace), signalling, stops and platforms, vehicles, stabling.

Software — how do you operate it? Timetables, routes (particularly for buses, which can be easily changed), traffic light priority, staff.

People often forget that infrastructure alone won’t do it. A train line is of limited use unless the trains come frequently.

It’s amazing for example when reading in Wikipedia about a city’s rail system, that it often talks in detail about the lines and stations and fleet, but often doesn’t mention anything to do with operating hours or service frequencies, which are absolutely fundamental to how and whether people can use the system to get around efficiently.

Roads aren’t really like that. They can tweak the road rules and the traffic lights, but fundamentally the authorities supply the hardware. The users bring some of their own hardware (their vehicle) and software (decide when they travel, and which route).

But public transport needs both hardware and software working well to be really useful.

Of course just like in the world of computers, the hardware/infrastructure may impose a limit on the software/service that can be provided. Which means when buying or building the infrastructure, you need to plan what service will be provided on it, from day one and into the foreseeable future.

Looking towards Melbourne, from Caulfield station platform 1

Funding

Hardware tends to be a once-off cost, aka Capital Expenditure (CapEx). Splash out for infrastructure, then in theory it lasts forever… It doesn’t really — maintenance is important. One rule of thumb I’ve heard is that for road infrastructure, 1% per year of the initial cost is needed for maintenance.

Software (in a transport context) is a recurring cost, aka Operating Expenditure (OpEx). The cost of running the train needs to be paid each time you run it: power, vehicle maintenance, and often the biggest component: staff. This is a bit different from the world of computers, though many software vendors now offer per month or per year licencing options, with free upgrades included, and in the world of the cloud, Software As A Service is getting very popular.

To stretch the analogy perhaps too far, public transport software (timetables) needs regular upgrades! Hardware too, but less often.

Southland station under construction November 2016

Who’s better at what?

I’d be cautious about generalising, but if you had to, you might say that each of our two major political parties are better at one or the other.

Labor seems to be better at hardware. Since about 2005 they’ve funded numerous upgrades to stations, got started on removing lots of level crossings, upgraded trains (ever notice how the Comeng fleet rarely breaks down in the heat nowadays?), expanded train and tram fleets, extended lines, even initiated an entirely new line (Regional Rail Link).

But Labor have been very cautious on upgrading timetables in recent years, perhaps because it often means changes that benefit many may also (slightly) disadvantage specific groups of users — to the extent that some of the new trains are sitting doing nothing waiting for the next change — while the fleet expands, it’s now been more than two years since the last major train timetable change.

Even minor tram route changes have been postponed, though the Metro rail tunnel is likely to force their hand.

The Coalition seems better at software. The 10 minute train services on the Frankston, Dandenong, Ringwood (the latter weekends only) and Newport (weekdays only) started on their watch (though the timetable change process may have started under Labor).

The Coalition also initiated PTV and their role in co-ordinating train and bus timetables, something which has since rolled out across many areas of Melbourne. Back in 2009 this was a memorable blind spot for Labor, though by 2010 they were acknowledging the problem.

But when the Coalition has been in power in recently (2010-2014), they haven’t done as much as Labor in terms of hardware. During that term, they ordered some new trains, but I’d struggle to think of other major public transport infrastructure they initiated. They successfully managed projects like South Morang rail and Regional Rail Link, but they’d been started by Labor. Southland station went nowhere. Their 2010 pledges for rail to Doncaster and Rowville resulted in studies that virtually ruled them out. Avalon airport rail link never happened. They made promises in 2014 for a rail tunnel and Melbourne Airport rail, but were voted out.

One could perhaps theorise that a deep-seated traditional conservative principle is coming into play: making the most of the assets you already have.

You don’t have to look too hard to see these generalisations fall down. Labor presided over the extension of trains and trams to 1am on weekends back in 2006, and this year have introduced Night Network, both of which make use of existing infrastructure to extend service hours — they also did numerous train timetable changes last decade, including moving weekday Werribee trains out of the Loop to make better use of the infrastructure, and did a massive review of bus routes in 2010, though most recommendations were never implemented.

The Coalition in their 2010-2014 term kicked off the Ringwood station upgrade, and funded some level crossing removals, giving us brand new stations at Mitcham and Springvale.

Bus 609 timetable outside Vicroads HQ

Without services, PT is nothing

Ultimately you need both the infrastructure and the services to be up to scratch for public transport to be useful.

Hopefully both sides of politics are getting better at both. Investment in better hardware is important, but so is tweaking the software to make the most of the available hardware.

Service quality varies widely across the network. Sometimes for good reasons related to demand, but sometimes just due to accidents of history.

Miss a bus on route 601, you’ll wait 4 minutes for the next one. On route 609, it might be 24 hours.

Miss a tram on route 86 in the middle of a weekday, you’ll wait 8 minutes for the next. On route 82, it’ll be 20 minutes.

Waiting at Melton station on a weekend? It’s 60 minutes between trains. At Mordialloc? 10 minutes.

A line on a map, or infrastructure on the ground means nothing unless the timetable is up to scratch.

And those of us who advocate for more public transport need to remember — services are just as important as infrastructure.

Good riddance

Since I don’t have a transport-related post ready at the moment, here’s a quick one about music.

I’m loving the Sonos system. I’d been warned that buying extra speakers for it was addictive, and it’s true. I just got another Play:1. They’re the smallest of the range, but they still pack a punch. (All Sonos speakers are $50 off at the moment, until the end of the year… help me, I don’t need more, but may not be able to stop myself.)

But anyway…

I sometimes listen to Green Day at work when I’m trying to concentrate. It’s good for drowning out background noise.

I was remarking to my sons that “Time Of Your Life” is just about the only Green Day song you hear on many radio stations. It’s also perhaps the most un-Green Day like Green Day song.

They replied that they don’t like the song, it’s too overused, and too nice.

Nice? Ah… so I was able to tell them three things they perhaps didn’t know about the song, which might be reasons to like it.

1. It was used on the Seinfeld finale (well, the clipshow episode that aired with the finale). Even for millenials, Seinfeld is a hit, so that’s worth some brownie points.

2. On the album recording, if you listen carefully from the beginning, you’ll hear Billie Joe starts playing, hit a couple of wrong notes, then utter an expletive before starting again.

3. It’s not called “Time Of Your Life”. Its full name is actually: “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”, which puts a completely different spin on it. Indeed, Billie Joe Armstrong wrote it in anger when his girlfriend broke up with him and moved overseas.

Does this make it unsuitable for end of school celebrations and funerals and the like? Probably not. Wikipedia: To the band’s surprise, the song became a hit at prom dances. … Billie Joe Armstrong remarked that, in retrospect, the lyrics make sense when viewed that way. “The people that you grew up and braved the trials of high school with will always hold a special place. Through all the BS of high school you hope that your friends had the time of their life, and that’s what the song is talking about”.

Also amusing: the song’s style is quite unlike the rest of the Nimrod album. Songfacts says: The song was such a sonic departure for the band that record stores reported a high rate of returns from customers who purchased the Nimrod album expecting similar songs.

But in any case, my sons decided they had a new-found respect for the song.

The lesson here? Sometimes things aren’t quite what they seem at first glance.

Old photos from December 2006

Here’s another in my series of old photos from ten years ago: December 2006.

On the 9th, there was a lot of smoke over Melbourne from a large number of bushfires around the state. Here’s a view (not snapped by me, I should add — I was driving) of Melbourne CBD, taken from the Bolte Bridge.
View of CBD from Bolte Bridge, 9 December 2006

Richmond station, a day or two later:
Richmond station, December 2006

A lady reading her posse a story on the train one night. I can’t make out the title. Wombat something?
Reading a story on the train, December 2006

I don’t even know what this is. Found in the park one day.
In the park

Christmas Day. We got one of these novelty thingies… I don’t even know what to call it. I’d just done an impression of my nose on it. Someone seems to have been given a desk calendar of George Bushisms.
Christmas Day 2006 - nose impression

At the supermarket: King of the Coke!
King of the Coke, December 2006