PTV finally starts promoting the good stuff

You might recall a while ago I posted about the lack of awareness of $3.50 cheap weekend fares, and frequent (every 10 minutes) trains on some lines on weekends.

Well, finally PTV are promoting both.

This is a step forward.

It’s a shame the imagery in the frequent trains ad uses the outer stations’ buildings — likely to be unfamiliar to the vast majority of people along the line. I suspect they’d have done better to use something that more clearly articulated that all the stations along those lines will benefit.

Still, hopefully it helps spread the word. The ten minute services are terrific… but we may never see them spread to more routes if patronage doesn’t grow as a result of them.

Update Wednesday: Advert noted on numerous trams:

PTV advertisement for cheap weekend fares on a tram

#FrequencyIsFreedom – even in the country

Overheard near Nagambie, about travelling to Melbourne:

“A lot of people go to Seymour to catch the train. There’s one once an hour from there.”

Yep.

Nagambie railway station

At stations beyond Seymour, where the Shepparton and the Albury line branch off, there’s usually only about 3 trains each way per day.

But at Seymour, there are 20 to Melbourne on weekdays, and 13 on Saturdays and on Sundays. The more services, the more options, more freedom.

Some people will drive to Seymour to get that… just as in the past some people would drive to junction stations like Caulfield — I suspect this happens less now that the Frankston and Dandenong both run every 10-15 minutes, 7 days-a-week (at least in the daytime).

10 minute trains are great, but why is the promotion of them so incredibly vague and uninformative?

If you improve a product, and want it to sell well, you need to make people aware of it.

When they launched trains every 10 minutes between the City and Ringwood, Dandenong and Frankston last year on weekends, there was an initial bit of publicity via the media, but very little else.

Metro did some advertising via MX and billboards which was incredibly vague:

Metro billboard near Caulfield station, October 2012

Witty? Perhaps. But what does it tell you? It could mean anything. And it implies the boost is on Sundays only.

Even now, while the excellent Dumb Ways To Die campaign has gained a lot of awareness, as far as other promotion goes, they’ve reverted to non-specific advertising:

My Metro - billboard near Caulfield station, January 2013

It might build brand awareness, and hint at the idea that people should consider PT for travel everyday, not just to and from work/school, but does nothing to tell you that, actually, weekend train services are better than they’ve ever been — and let’s face it, that’s what’s going to get people on board.

While those who know have started using ten minute trains more (and loving it), and it’s relieved the crowding, a lot of people are completely unaware that Melbourne’s three busiest rail lines have such a frequent weekend service.

The problem was brought home to me a couple of years ago (before the latest upgrade) when my stepfather said that he wished they’d improve Sunday (daytime) train timetables from running every 40 minutes. In reality on his line they haven’t run every 40 minutes since 1996. In that year they changed to every 30, then to every 20 in 1999. He had been thoroughly discouraged from using trains on Sundays many years ago, and hadn’t heard they’d improved.

Many people are also unaware that you’ll pay a maximum of $3.50 per day on weekends and public holidays to travel anywhere around Melbourne.

There are good examples in the not too distant past of targeted, clear promotion that gets the message across. Here’s a local newspaper advert from 1992:

The Met: advertisement for improved Sandringham line services, 11th Feb 1992

With Melbourne’ CBD booming on weekends, and inner-city traffic and parking often causing hassles, fast frequent trains have real potential to help people get around Melbourne.

Not every line runs frequently, but if we’re going to see that happen, the ones that do need to be successful. Proper, clear promotion is vital to help make it so.

Have higher weekend train frequencies resulted in huge traffic jams at level crossings? No.

There was speculation from some quarters that introducing 10 minute train frequencies would result in long traffic queues at level crossings, similar to those seen in many suburbs during peak commuting hours.

I think this was unfounded. Looking around Bentleigh on a recent weekend, it seems no worse than when trains ran half as frequently.

Bentleigh level crossing

I think there’s a couple of reasons for this:

Less trains than weekday peak hours — this crossing gets 3-4 trains every 9 minutes (counting both directions) in peak; about 23 trains per hour. On weekends it’s about half that.

Less motor vehicle traffic than weekday peak hours, so it’s never going to be as bad as peak.

For a train that stops at the station then goes through the crossing (eg southbound), the gates are down for about 75 seconds. For a train in the other direction, it’s about 45 seconds. So every 10 minutes, assuming the two trains aren’t crossing at the same time, the gates are closed for about 2 minutes, or 20% of the time. This is less than a typical road intersection (about 50%) and much less than an intersection with a major road such as Nepean Highway (probably over 70%).

The other thing is that more frequent train services should, in the longer term, attract more people out of their cars, reducing traffic. It’s a bit hard to tell if this has had any effect yet, or if a north-south railway would ever take a substantial amount of east-west road travel, of course. (This is why Smartbus services also need to be expanded and boosted.)

Perhaps it’s worse at other locations, such as the notorious Murrumbeena Road crossing. But other hotspots I’ve seen such as North Road, Ormond, appear to be managing okay.

There are genuine concerns that roads will clog up if a large number of extra trains are added in peak hours — grade separation is the only long-term full solution to fix that.

But in off-peak hours including weekends and evenings, there should be nothing stopping the government bringing the huge benefits of 10 minute train services to the rest of Melbourne.