Traffic light programming is why your CBD tram trip is start, stop, start

It’s not uncommon to see trams stopped at traffic lights along Bourke Street, sometimes in queues, at locations where there is no stop.

If you’ve wondered why your tram journey is start-stop, it won’t surprise you to learn that the lights are all over the place.

Tram westbound on Bourke Street, waiting at Queen Street

With the handy-dandy stopwatch function on my mobile phone, I timed the lights along the central and western section of Bourke Street.

Bourke 30 / Swanston 30 = 60 second cycle

Bourke 35 / Elizabeth 35 = 70

Bourke 47 / Pedestrian crossing near Hardware Lane 23 = 70

Bourke 40 / Queen 50 = 90

Bourke 30 / William 60 = 90

Bourke 30 / King 70 = 100

No wonder trams have to stop continually at lights!

Trams on Bourke Street

Along Bourke Street, and other CBD tram streets, there are numerous improvements that could be made…

Shorter cycles — There are obviously competing demands on the various streets. Because of large numbers of pedestrians, you can’t necessarily have pre-emptive traffic lights that detect trams coming and switch instantly to give them the green. But you could certainly reduce the cycle times. Judging from existing timings, even with our wide streets, it could be as little as 30 seconds each way, or a cycle every 60 seconds. This would greatly cut down waiting times for trams and walkers and everybody else for that matter — but you’d need to check the 15ish seconds Green Man time is enough to get waiting pedestrians off the kerb.

The King Street intersection is particularly bad, giving most of its time to cars — despite Vicroads data showing traffic on all segments of King Street between Flinders and Latrobe Street dropping between 2001 and 2011, and despite that policy should not be to prioritise cars in and through the CBD.

But William Street is almost as bad, despite having much fewer trams than Bourke Street (typically 5 per hour on route 55 vs about 15 per hour on routes 86 and 96 combined).

To help tram drivers know when to depart, for the spots where traffic lights are distant from the tram stops, they should get these lights working — they’re meant to indicate when the best time is to take off. It doesn’t necessarily result in a quicker trip for the tram, but it may allow the driver to wait for passengers who might otherwise miss the tram, while knowing the tram isn’t about to miss a green light.

That’s the theory, but they never seem to actually operate.

Tram stop, Bourke Street at Spencer Street

Co-ordinated cycles — For where there are multiple intersections which are between tram stops, whether or not they are short cycles or long, they should at least be co-ordinated. In this section the important ones are the intersections at Elizabeth and Queen Streets, as well as the pedestrian light in the middle. A tram leaving the Elizabeth Street stop westbound, and not delayed by anything else, should never get a red light before the next stop — and vice versa.

Obviously you’d need to work out the best cycles for the intersecting streets as well — for trams on Elizabeth Street and buses on Queen Street. But how hard could it be?

With the recent movement of tram stops, there are now similar blocks of traffic lights between stops along Swanston Street and Elizabeth Street.

Traffic light programming isn’t the only cause of tram delays of course.

But if moving people quickly and efficiently around the CBD is a priority — and it should be — these issues need to be addressed.

  • A PTUA study found up to 30% of tram travel time is spent wasted waiting at red lights

Doctor Who breaks new ground for television

It would seem Doctor Who is breaking new ground in some interesting ways.

They’ve engineered a “world tour” which involves the show’s stars jetting around the world for live appearances in 6 cities around the globe over about a week. It’s just about finished now… I’d imagine they’d be suffering horribly from jetlag by the time they get back to the UK. It was a set of public screenings for fans, but given limited capacity at each venue, I suspect was mostly set up as a media event.

Doctor Who: Deep Breath cinema ad, The Age, 15/8/2014

Next week “Deep Breath”, the new series opening episode will be simulcast on the ABC at the same time as it airs in Britain — 7:50pm Saturday in the UK, 4:50am Sunday in eastern Australia. It’ll then be available on iView straight afterwards, with a prime time repeat at 7:30pm. The same occurred with the 50th anniversary episode “Day Of The Doctor” last November.

It’ll also be shown in the cinemas on the Sunday: from the looks of listings on yourmovies.com.au, almost 100 cinemas in Victoria alone will show it.

Cinemas do seem to be moving into this kind of special event area. Perhaps they are looking to diversify from traditional movies, and also sensing that people will willingly pay a higher “event” price: Village is charging $25 for tickets, about $6 more than the normal price, and $40 for Gold Class, which is about the usual price. So they’ve recently taken on screenings such as showing the Monty Python live concert from London, a similar Stephen Fry event, classical music concerts and operas — and Doctor Who episodes — “Deep Breath” follows “Day Of The Doctor” in this regard, and recently some cinemas have also shown episodes in the past (though well after the TV broadcast).

I guess the production of TV programmes in 1080p HD now allows projection onto the big screen, and digital media allows distributors to rush it to cinemas worldwide without messing about trying to get physical film out there. But still, in the world of television, this and the simulcast appear to be almost unique to Doctor Who.

Of course there’s long been a relationship between TV and cinema. In the 60s in particular it was common for TV series (particularly in the UK) to be remade as films, sometimes with the same cast and writers, and considered part of the TV series; sometimes independent (as with the 1960s Doctor Who movies).

Many of our family is going to see “Deep Breath” in the cinema. The kids are going to screenings with their friends — M and myself have splurged on Gold Class, and will most likely avoid the early TV broadcast and try and avoid spoilers until we see it on the big screen. (I avoided seeing “Day Of The Doctor” because it was only shown in 3D, which doesn’t work on me.)

Notably, booking on the Village Cinemas web site, we found that on top of the ticket price there was a $2 booking fee for standard tickets… but a whopping $10 for Gold Class. Using the identical web site of course, and you have to print the ticket or show it on your mobile phone. The cheek of it.

Oh well, cost aside, it should be great — but it makes me wonder: Doctor Who is probably helped into this situation by being a cult show that’s also very popular, and being targeted at all ages… but is any other TV show getting this kind of treatment?

Waste of money: New automatic signs for platforms where few trains stop

Those LED automated signs on station platforms are known in the biz as Passenger Information Displays, or PIDs. In recent months they’ve been installed at a lot of stations along the Frankston line.

They’re handy because they provide you with realtime departure information, without having to press the Green Button, which often doesn’t work or takes ages to get to the vital bit of information: how many minutes away is my train? PIDs are also useable by the deaf and hard of hearing.

At Frankston line stations with more than 2 platforms, they’ve concentrated installing them on the “island” platforms — if the budget is limited, this makes sense at stations such as Ormond and Bentleigh, where most trains (and most passengers) use those platforms. Few use platform 3.

Passenger Information Display, platform 3 at Malvern

It appears someone decided the “island” rule should apply at the MATH (Malvern, Armadale, Toorak and Hawksburn) stations. So at Malvern, some months ago, PIDs were installed on platforms 2+3. At Armadale and Hawksburn, they’ve been installed on all four platforms. (Toorak doesn’t have them at present, so I guess I should have said MAH.)

Problem is, few trains stop on platforms 3+4. This has been the case for a couple of years, and since the July timetable change, even fewer trains stop there — basically only after 10pm on weekdays, and before 10am and after 8pm on weekends. The rest of the time, all the trains stop on platforms 1+2.

This is because stopping patterns are being standardised so that Dandenong line trains generally run express Caulfield to South Yarra. Consistent patterns make a lot of sense — they are more predictable, and can be shown on maps — and the Dandenong line has been prioritised for expresses because it carries more people than the Frankston line, serves more growth areas, and it also carries express V/Line trains. In the future I wouldn’t be surprised if no trains stop on platforms 3+4 except under unusual circumstances (such as a disruption on the other tracks).

So the signs are either left blank most of the day, or showing a message telling you to go to another platform.

This could be done with a cheap static sign — if needed at all. All these stations have automated displays up on the concourse which direct you to the correct platforms.

There are scores of stations, and hundreds of platforms around Melbourne that are still without PIDs. What an appalling waste of money to install them where they’ll almost never be used.

Update 28/8/2014: In the past week or so, PIDs have been installed at Malvern on platforms 1 and 4, though they are not yet in use.

You shall not pass

I know it’s been around for a while, but I was quite struck the other day by these traffic lights on the corner of La Trobe and Swanston Streets, facing southbound traffic coming down Swanston.

The left and right arrows are for motor vehicles (which can go left or right, but not straight ahead). The middle two are for cyclists (which have their own “Copenhagen”-style lanes) and trams. They go when all vehicles are stopped (which is also when pedestrians cross La Trobe Street north-to-south).

Traffic lights, corner Latrobe and Swanston Streets, Melbourne

I wonder if these are a little bewildering to novice drivers, having all the lights in a bunch like this? Finding and obeying the individual light(s) that apply to you would be a good challenge for learner drivers (and you’d hope the rest of us can get it).

Any good examples of other complex sets of lights, including in other cities?

Giving with one hand, taking with the other: 2014-15 #Myki fare reform

I’ve already written previously about the fare changes happening (some announced in December, others announced in March), but it’s probably worth considering them all together.

Ad in train for government fare changes

Exact 2-hour fares — from 10/8/2014

From yesterday, 2-hour fares are exactly two hours.

Although it was originally flagged in December, this has crept up, quietly announced on Friday by PTV, with only two days notice — quite different from the “good” changes that the government is promoting heavily, many months in advance.

(They still last until 3am if started after 6pm; and long V/Line trips still get extra time if travelling across more than 5 zones. The Daily cap still applies, eg a maximum of two 2-hour fares. And the touch-off can be after the expiry time without incurring another fare.)

2-hour Met ticket from 1991-92This was arguably a hangover from paper tickets, which had a limited number of notches to mark the hour of expiry. But the rule had been carried over to Metcard and to Myki.

On one level it’s logical to use a fixed time period rather than starting from the next hour.

But some people used it to get a cheap round trip, for instance a quick journey to the shops or the doctor. It seems unlikely this change will pull in a lot more revenue, but for those watching their pennies, it may make a big impact.

It remains to be seen if people will mill about station entrances waiting until the train is coming to touch-on. I never saw a huge number of people waiting for the hour to tick over, though some certainly did.

And it may cause problems on long trips, as if you’re travelling for two hours, then go to touch-off, the system will treat it as another touch-on (with a default two-zone fare). At a station you can touch-off again using the Change Of Mind feature, but on a bus, such as Melbourne’s loooong orbital Smartbus routes, there’s no such option.

I actually think it would have been a better move to make it a fixed three hour period. (At one stage, all tickets were 3 hours.) Minimal impact on revenue, but fairer for those on limited budgets wanting to make short local trips, especially in the outer suburbs where services are often infrequent.

And of course, Myki equipment should show the expiry time of the fare. At the moment, it’s not shown anywhere for Myki Money — and it’s not like many people will be able to remember they touched-on at precisely 11:06am.

Weekend daily cap rise — from 1/1/2014

We shouldn’t forget this one: Last year the maximum daily fare in Melbourne on weekends and public holidays was $3.50. This year it’s $6. Combined with the above change, some weekend travel has jumped around 70% in price.

It’s unclear if this has had an impact on weekend travel.

Tram in Bourke Street Mall

Free tram rides in the CBD — from 1/1/2015

From this coming January, all trams in the CBD will become free.

Obviously the impact is likely to be that CBD trams — already often crowded — will become even more crowded.

I’ll leave it to then-Premier Joan Kirner to explain who benefits from this one, in this Age article from just before the 1992 state election:

Joan Kirner on free CBD trams, The Age, 11/9/1992

In 1992 the Kennett government was voted in, and arguably (thankfully) back-pedalled a little, introducing the free City Circle tram, rather than making all CBD trams free.

I’m with Joan on this. The major beneficiaries are motorists — the very last people who should be benefiting — though tourists and CBD residents will also gain.

But most public transport users don’t benefit at all, because their fare to and from work already includes all day travel in the CBD. As I’ve already noted, Alanis Morissette might have said of this: It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid.

Indeed, last week I was surveyed by PTV about the change. I honestly said that if this makes trams more crowded, I’ll be using them less. In that case, the freeloaders will win at the expense of paying public transport users.

Thankfully the CBD congestion levy area (that’s a tax on inner-city carparks, which anecdotally is working in discouraging motorists into the CBD, and may even be convincing car park owners to redevelop their properties into something more profitable) is bigger than the free tram area, so we hopefully won’t see people driving to the city-fringe where they can jump on a free tram to work, though you don’t know what a price signal like this might do.

Zone 1 to cover all of Melbourne — from 1/1/2015

Also from January the most you’ll pay within the current zone 1 and 2 area is a zone 1 fare. This includes all of metropolitan Melbourne, and regional areas as far away as Lara, Wallan and Bacchus Marsh.

One wonders how this will affect crowding, particularly on trains (both Metro and V/Line), but also on Doncaster area buses, which have a lot of two-zone trips.

Obviously this benefits outer-suburban passengers who travel into zone 1 regularly — provided of course they have a decent service they can access. For many, railway stations may remain too far to walk, nearby parking scarce, and connecting buses poor (as noted in an Auditor General report released last week).

Those who currently just travel across a zone boundary will obviously be happy. The current huge jump is pretty hard to bear if you’re only going an extra stop or two.

In a way this puts all of Melbourne on an equal footing in terms of fare cost, though it also means a huge disparity in the cost per kilometre.

The government estimated that this change and free CBD tram rides will cost about $100 million per year. (To be precise, the budget put it at $390 million over 4 years.)

Long term, the real danger is upward pressure on the standard zone 1 fare, as seen in Adelaide with their single fare zone, and in Melbourne after zone 3 was merged with zone 2.

Fares up by CPI plus 2.5% — 1/1/2015 and 1/1/2016

While they’re cutting the two-zone fare, the government did announce in December that there would be CPI+2.5% rises two years in a row, in 2015 and 2016. So it seems while the cost of two-zone trips drop, single zone trips will start to creep up.

Still unconfirmed

Still unconfirmed but strongly rumoured: Removal of the Earlybird fare. Once again, it’s unclear how much revenue this would pull in, remembering that the original impetus was to save money that would otherwise need to be spent providing extra train capacity in morning peak.

And while Labor has said they’d go ahead with the two-zone price cut and free CBD trams, they haven’t said anything about rolling back the 2-hour change, nor about the CPI+2.5% rises.

Conclusion

It’s a real mixed bag of reforms that the government has announced — giving with one hand, taking away with the other.

Revenue is going to be up and down, all over the place. It’s really hard to see this as anything more than a grab bag of politically-motivated changes, rather than a well-planned, thoughtful strategy to make fares fairer.

They’re obviously courting outer-suburban voters with the zone changes.

They may not care much (or haven’t thought about) about the impact on people with limited incomes trying to squeeze the most they can out of a 2-hour fare.

Free CBD tram rides… well, I’m not sure it’ll convince many residents in the state seat of Melbourne to vote for them (it’s really a Labor/Greens contest), but those who drive their cars into the city and like free rides at lunchtime will certainly be happy… if they can squeeze onto a tram.

The huge numbers of people living and travelling in zone 1 won’t get the benefit of a price cut, and will see fares jump by CPI+5% over two years — so expect to see the base fare creep towards $4, and be under even more pressure to rise to make up for foregone revenue.

It’s a bit like GST. Nobody likes paying it, but if they were to reduce its scope, and make it a flat amount for some higher value transactions, it’s obvious the rate would eventually go up to cover it.

I’ll leave you with the full Age article quoting Joan Kirner… it touches on a number of interesting topics going into the 1992 election, including promises to extend the rail network (Craigieburn was eventually done in 2007, South Morang 2012, Sunbury 2012, Baxter still isn’t done), the prospect of cuts to station staff and conductors under Kennett (which happened, and resulted in the Metcard ticket system), and extra bus services (nothing really happened until two Smartbuses were implemented ten years later, then little more until after 2006).

Kirner promises to extended railway, The Age, 11/9/1992