A new train map is coming (and: network status boards)

PTV are trialling a new train network map. They’re seeking feedback on it, and you’ll see it at some stations now (Bentleigh, Malvern and Moorabbin, I think).

Note, just to remove all doubt: unlike the PTV network plan, it’s not a concept for new rail lines; it’s a prototype of a map of the existing network.

PTV Rail network map: concept design, April 2014

View the map larger, in a new window

My initial impression: I quite like this.

Colour-coding the lines helps make sense of the way the network actually runs (or will run in the near future). It allows them to add detail such as the stations usually skipped by expresses on particular lines, which lines run via the City Loop, and which sections run as shuttles. This helps people navigate — for instance if you’re coming from the Dandenong line going to Armadale, you’ll probably have to change trains at Caulfield.

The caveat here is that the train network is not currently operated consistently. Loop operations (even leaving direction aside) are very confusing. Express stopping patterns are all over the place on some lines. The Frankston and Newport lines are connected… but only on weekdays.

The operational variations on the various lines might need some work. See the difference between Williamstown and Alamein, for instance; potentially confusing.

A big difference is this map also adds V/Line services. With Myki now phased-in for short-distance (commuter-belt) V/Line services, one barrier to city people using them (the need to buy a separate ticket) is gone. This is an interesting move. It does take extra space, thus makes everything smaller — is the benefit worth it?

The part-time Flemington Racecourse line is shown prominently in black. I suppose that’s a good (for occasional users) and bad (implies it’s fulltime). I’m told it’s showing terminating at Southern Cross because that’s how it’s likely to be (at least on weekdays) in the near future, due to rail viaduct capacity issues, so they’d rather encourage people to change there instead of Flinders Street.

Somehow the order of lines shown at Flinders Street seems wrong, but I think that’s because I know Glen Waverley direct services don’t actually terminate next to Sandringham services.

The Skybus connection is shown, but the Broadmeadows to Airport Smartbus connection isn’t. Neither are the 401 and 601 university weekday high-frequency shuttles, specifically designed to connect to the rail network.

In the first version of the map that got out in the wild over the weekend, there were at least two errors: Violet Town and Euroa had been transposed, as had Ballan and Bacchus Marsh, and the colours indicating Myki validity had crept beyond where they should have. The stations have now been corrected (though Myki still creeps beyond Wendouree, Eaglehawk, Marshall and Traralgon) and PTV expect to do quite a few more tweaks over coming months as a result of feedback.

They don’t expect a more general rollout of the map until Regional Rail Link opens next year. It costs a small fortune apparently.

But what’s wrong with the current train map?

PTV Metro train map, 2013Everyone will have their own views, but the current train map (below) has a few problems. For instance:

It doesn’t show where the lines go. Someone unfamiliar with Melbourne might assume there’s a line from Sunbury to Upfield, for instance. And it doesn’t show any operational detail; the map implies all trains run via the Loop, for instance. It gives little hint as to where the best places to change trains are.

Meanwhile, we’re losing two-zone trips next year, so there won’t be a huge need to show zones as at present. The new map started being designed well before this, but it’s good to be able to take advantage of it to show other useful detail.

What about multi-modal?

I think the new map is a good step in the right direction.

But if they’re starting to mix things up on a map (Metro and V/Line), I think another thing they should be looking at is showing the network frequent trams and buses that back up the train network… though of course, that would be a much more complicated and difficult visualisation to get right.

But other cities are moving into this, and you can see the benefits from it, as described by Vancouver’s Translink:

People traveling along FTN (Frequent Transit Network) corridors can expect convenient, reliable, easy-to-use services that are frequent enough that they do not need to refer to a schedule. For municipalities and the development community, the FTN provides a strong organizing framework around which to focus growth and development.

(My emphasis. That’s the most important point. For public transport to be competitive with cars, this is essential. It’s not like, as Jarrett Walker describes, you can only drive out of your driveway every half-an-hour — but that’s what most PT users face.)

The train-only network map is still useful — good for showing the mass transit, backbone of the public transport network. But a frequent network map would be great for showing all the places you can easily get to in Melbourne on public transport — which is a lot more than just the rail network.

Also: the status board, and the bigger picture

Are maps even in important?

Sure they are. Good maps mean people can navigate their way around more easily, so they’re more likely to use the system. More passengers means more impetus to keep upgrading services.

Bentleigh station: "Rainbow" network status board

But this is about more than just a map. Related is the trial rollout of “rainbow” network status boards, installed this week at Moorabbin, Bentleigh, Malvern, and in the PTV Hub at Southern Cross. The colours on the board match those on the new map… including Alamein, which has a distinctive colour on the map to draw attention to the fact that you usually have to change at Camberwell.

It’s a little early to judge these, though I note that they don’t show next train departures — this is present on other displays at Malvern, but not at Moorabbin and Bentleigh and most other stations.

I’m told they can modify the design based on feedback, so it’ll be interesting to see how this evolves. One issue I think is that line-specific info is shown at the bottom — only a “traffic light” indicator is shown at the top, which means the information you need may not be easy to find.

I’d hope that once these boards are running well, they roll them out quickly to the bigger interchange stations, where they’re likely to be most useful.

Both the map and the status board are part of measures to standardise train operations: the slow move towards more predictable routes, consistent stopping patterns, consistent platforms at the larger stations, and “metro”-like frequent operation on dedicated tracks. And there are also moves to improve the flow of information from operators (on all modes) through to PTV so a better view of the overall network is available, including online.

Clearly they’ve got a long way to go, but this is a step forward.

Other maps:

See also:

Melbourne PT: an unofficial map of frequent (usable) services

You might recall I did a recent poll on three public transport questions. I posted about the first two here.

The third was about frequent network maps. Here’s the thinking:

Frequent public transport services are an order of magnitude more useful to people than infrequent ones. Nobody likes to live their life by a timetable, and frequent services allow you to turn up at the stop/station and go within a few minutes. They make connections easier because you don’t have to rely on timetable co-ordination (which is difficult to provide, and risky to rely on).

In short, a network of frequent services helps public transport provide the kind of freedom that the car provides.

And having a map of these services helps people see where they can go easily in a city, without first having to look at a timetable.

Just as people look at maps of freeways and arterial roads to see which way they can easily drive to things, many Melburnians already use tram and train maps to see what’s easy to get to by PT… because, as a rule, trams and trains offer reasonable services, while buses don’t.

Reality is a bit more nuanced than that. Having a map of all frequent services would be a good way of seeing which trips are easy by PT, and would be of particular help for those who have the choice to drive, but will decide not to drive if the alternative is quick and easy.

PTV publishes no such map, and last I heard, were reluctant to do so. Apparently they did some research and concluded it wasn’t worth it. This makes it difficult to find such information other than via looking for specific routes and using the trip planner. To draw a web analogy, you can search but not browse.

My little survey made it clear that most respondents would like to see a frequent service map.

Frequent services map: survey

Campbell Wright has designed such a map. It first appeared on the Human Transit blog late last year. His original version showed everything running at least every 15 minutes in the weekday interpeak period — but left off everything else — which unfortunately included most of Melbourne’s train lines.

This revised version includes services running every 20 minutes, but in grey. It leaves off less frequent services. The various routes are shown by frequency, with the thicker lines being more frequent. Oh, and it’s to scale.

Frequent services map by Campbell Wright (southern suburbs excerpt)

As you can see from this excerpt of the middle-southern suburbs (my area) there is a grid of frequent routes reaching most suburbs, but some big gaps between the routes. If you want to travel north-south anywhere between the Frankston line and Warrigal Road, you’ll be stuck with 30-60 minute buses.

The full map covers all of metropolitan Melbourne — a great effort from Campbell. Check it out — Click here to view it larger

Melbourne frequent PT services map by Campbell Wright

Campbell is keen to get comments.

I think my only niggle with the design is that I’d probably have included all Metro train services… their speed and capacity (even when they only run every 30 to 40 minutes on the outer sections) makes them perhaps worthy of a thin grey line at least.

I’m also torn on the scale. At present it does clearly show the big gaps in the frequent network, but making it to scale has also meant to cover the entire metropolitan area takes up a lot of space, limiting its practicality.

But I love the idea, and it’s a great effort. This map is really a great effort to highlight where in Melbourne you can get without too much trouble without a car.

There’s been almost zero promotion of Melbourne’s most frequent PT… it’s about time it started. PTV really need to stop pretending that people will just magically find out about upgrades and start using them. A widely distributed frequent service map could help a lot.

According to iOS6 maps, North Melbourne station is in South Melbourne, Collingwood Station is in the CBD

In the Apple Store at Southland the other day, I noticed they had all the iDevices maps set to satellite.

It wasn’t hard to see why — it took all of a minute or two to find some glaring errors in the street maps. It’s not just that tram lines are completely missing; they’ve put whole railway stations in the wrong suburbs.

Apple maps: Glenhuntly Railway Station is in Elsternwick

Apple Maps: North Melbourne Station is in South Melbourne

Apple Maps: Collingwood Railway Station is at Melbourne Central, and there's a petrol station in Elizabeth St

It’s been well over a month since iOS6 was released… I wonder how long it’ll take them to fix this stuff?

How do mistakes like this even happen?

Is this tram route map the wrong way round?

While I applaud Yarra Trams’ efforts to put more information on-board trams, this map threw me for a moment.

Tram route map

I’m used to seeing east (Box Hill) on the right, and west (Port Melbourne) on the left. This had it the other way around.

And before you say it: it wasn’t designed to match the actual orientation of the tram and the outside world, because there were copies of this map on both sides of the tram, so one was the right way around, and the other wasn’t.

Perhaps I need to just stop being such a map.square.

PS. I suspect the real reason for it being like this is they wanted the major route to be at the top.

Finding an ATM

Having moved offices to Latrobe Street, I wanted to know where the nearest ATM is — that is, those of my preferred (no fee) banks, St George or Westpac.

The St George ATM/Branch locator will only show five results — including Westpac ATMs.

St George ATM locator

Searching postcode 3000, it shows me those closest to the the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets, none of which are west of Queen Street. I know of at least one ATM on William Street near Bourke Street, but even when dragging the map around, it won’t show any others.

The Westpac site seems a little better, but doesn’t appear to show St George ATMs, only Westpac ones.

I’ve sent some feedback to the St George people. Will be interested to see how/if/when they fix it.

Update lunchtime: The Commonwealth Bank locator has similar issues if you just enter a postcode, only showing the 5 closest. But it does have the option of entering a full address, but if you don’t spell La Trobe with a space, it (and others) assume it’s Little Latrobe Street, thus showing me ATMs several blocks away instead.

The ANZ one shows about 15, none nearby. If you search by street name, like Commonwealth, you have to put the space in La Trobe, otherwise it has real problems.

The NAB one seems to show all results, but in pages of 5 per page, and with no combined map, which is hopelessly unuseable. (Imagine that, in 2010!) It allows me to enter a full address, but it has the same problems with La Trobe as the Commonwealth does.