My smartcard collection – I’ll report on Opal soon!

Here is my collection of Australian public transport smartcards.

The ones I’m missing are Adelaide, Canberra and Tasmania — all of which have been introduced since my last visits there.

Smartcards: Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney

Notably Perth’s SmartRider is the only card that is blank on the back, which is why the card number (which I’ve blacked-out) is on the front.

Some friends and family have also given me cards from overseas, though what I find most interesting is not the card designs themselves, but how the systems work for users — the response times in particular, but also the opportunities to top them up, the availability and pricing of single tickets, and so on — and to judge those, you really need to use the systems.

Expect a report on Opal soon!

Should parking at Melbourne railway stations be free?

Here’s something I didn’t know: Perth’s Transperth transport system has some paid parking, and you can pay for it with a Smartrider card.

Pay ‘n’ Display car parks are also fenced, but are patrolled by car park attendants between 7.00am and 9.00pm Monday to Friday excluding public holidays. A flat fee of $2.00 per day, or part thereof, applies. — Transperth web site

Car park, Laverton station

Bear in mind that provision of new parking spaces costs on average over $15,000 per space.

For multi-level parking, it can cost 3-4 times that amount. For the recent WA election, there was a promise by the Liberals of $47 million for a new multi-storey carpark at Edgewater station, providing 560 spaces. That’s about $84,000 per space. If every space was filled 365 days a year, paying $2 per day, it would take 115 years of for them to make the money back (and that doesn’t count the interest bill for borrowing the capital cost).

It appears that many Perth stations have between 30% and 60% of their parking with a $2 fee attached. I guess having at least some paid is to increase the likelihood of people arriving after rush hour being able to still find a spot. It may also be that the paid spots are those that have been added more recently, so the fees have helped pay for them. Bear in mind that because many Perth stations are in the middle of freeways, walk-up patronage is much lower than in Melbourne.

Another interesting one in Perth is they have some parking spaces which are locked-up between 9am and 3:30pm each weekday. Perhaps car theft is a big problem there.

It raises an obvious (but probably controversial) question: should they charge for parking spaces in Melbourne?

Options

You could have a charge for all station car parks, probably on weekdays only (as in Perth) when demand is high.

Or you could charge more in zone 1. Or have a charge in zone 1 but none in zone 2. That would help reduce the current zone fare difference, discouraging people from driving to zone 1. Plus typically (but not always) at zone 1 stations there are more and better feeder services available, which people should be encouraged to use.

Or you could only apply it to specific stations where there is very heavy demand, particularly around zone boundaries (hello Laverton!)

Or some free, some paid parking at each station like in Perth.

You might be talking boom gates (more infrastructure required), or you might use pay-and-display tickets (more staff required).

Given the government decision that every traveller is expected to have a Myki, I would think you’d want it possible to be paid using that, to avoid having to have cash collection and so on, though also allowing payment with coins might help for occasional users.

Pros

Given tight budgets at the moment, it could fund extra services, particularly feeder buses so more people can get to the station without driving at all. (After all, you shouldn’t have to own a car to be able to use public transport.)

It could help defray the huge cost of providing parking (though at $2 a day it would take at least 20 years to do so). And given that huge cost, user-pays is not inappropriate — remember, despite how it seems, most train passengers don’t drive to the station — and land around stations is some of the most valuable in Melbourne.

It would discourage non-passengers from using those spaces. At some stations such as Camberwell, local office and building workers are known to fill up commuter parking. (What might be practical to solve this, without actually charging, is to make entering and/or exiting a carpark dependent on a touch from a Myki, with the system treating it the same as a fare for that zone… thus actual PT users would be charged no more, but non-PT users would be charged.)

It might help reduce demand so that people who genuinely need a park at the station are able to get one, even if travelling after 8am or so (earlier at some stations) when they currently fill up.

Cons

It means an additional cost for people who may not have any practical choice but to drive to the station… which might encourage some to simply drive all the way to their destination. (When this has come up in the past has been the PTUA position.)

The cost of collecting the fees would need to be taken into account… apart from things like boom gates, it might also require re-modelling of car park layouts, and even a mechanism for ensuring people don’t enter a car park when it’s already full (or perhaps just allow free exit within 15 minutes, like with Myki at stations — also useful for “kiss and ride” drop-offs).

Can Myki handle this type of transaction if it’s not considered part of the zone system, but an additional charge? If not, it might result in additional costs.

Thoughts?

Railway lines down freeways: good idea? Only if there’s no viable alternative

Some people will tell you that rail lines down freeways are a great idea, because “the train overtaking cars is a great advertisement for public transport.”

Perth has done this, primarily because it’s been the easiest way of extending the train network. So the Clarkson/Joondalup and Mandurah lines both run down the middle of freeways.

And it’s long been proposed to build Melbourne’s Doncaster line this way, which I think makes a lot of sense.

But having seen the Perth examples up close recently just re-inforces my view that it’s only a good idea if there is no viable alternative — for a number of reasons…

On the Clarkson/Joondalup line, Perth

Stations on freeways are very pedestrian un-friendly

As I’ve noted in the past, you are pretty much killing off any pedestrian use into the stations… and this is actually how the bulk of people reach railway stations in Melbourne at present.

You either end up having to put in lots of car-parking (which on level ground can cost tens of thousands of dollars per space, let alone the astronomical cost of multi-storey — and severely limits your patronage, as well as denying access to those who don’t/can’t drive) or you have to bring in people by feeder bus — which needs a lot of effort/cost to make it work well.

Perth has actually made the effort to put in reasonable connecting buses at some of its stations, and (from what I saw waiting around at Murdoch in the evening peak) these are pretty well used, though the adjacent car parks were busy too.

Stations in freeway reservations are also unlikely to be destinations, because shops, universities, businesses and so on — all the things that have grown around most of Melbourne’s suburban railway stations — won’t develop. These are important to make stations and trains well-used at times other than peak, and make the whole thing more viable, by catering for more than just CBD 9-5 commuters.

It’s worth noting that the Mandurah line diverges away from the Kwinana Freeway at both ends — the CBD (at a cost as it included tunnels and two underground stations) to ensure people hopping off could walk to work, and the Mandurah end, presumably because (some) land was available and cheap, so they didn’t feel constrained to just the freeway. (That said, the Mandurah line doesn’t actually reach central Mandurah; you have to catch a bus the last little bit of the way.)

Near Murdoch station, Perth

Trains only overtake cars in peak hour

Let me tell you, it was great being in a train overtaking all the peak hour traffic on the Mandurah line. The trains were fast, frequent, and very popular.

Frankly, it was equally great being in a car in peak hour traffic being overtaken by trains.

But this only happens when the traffic is heavy. At all other times, including the peak-shoulder, trains don’t overtake cars because the traffic is moving faster.

Trains are at a particular disadvantage in off-peak hours, when the cars zoom along, and trains are less frequent. The result is — especially if you’re sitting at a station — the disheartening sight of waiting for 10, 20, 30 minutes while the traffic whizzes past you. That’s not a great advertisement for public transport; it’s a great advertisement for driving.

And if you’re driving and the average speed of the train is about the same (eg car at 100 kmh versus train at 130 kmh but with regular stops) you might not see any trains in the direction you’re travelling (only in the opposite direction). Again, that’s not a great advertisement for public transport.

Last resort

Don’t get me wrong — a railway line down a freeway is better than no railway line. For instance in the case of Melbourne’s Doncaster line, a very obvious easy affordable project would be a “phase 1″ from Victoria Park to Bulleen, with a bus interchange at Bulleen. That would get thousands of passengers on scores of at-capacity buses out of inner-city traffic on the freeway and Hoddle Street, and encourage thousands more to get out of their cars.

But overall, down freeways is not the first choice for where you should build railways.

Perth day 7: Heading home

All good things come to an end, and so it was with our Perth trip.

We had a sleep-in, then packed up our stuff into the car and headed out.

The flight wasn’t until lunchtime, but we had one more place to go before heading home: the boys have a strong interest in retro video gaming. (I can’t imagine where they got THAT from.) There are two retailers you can buy this kind of stuff from: Cash Converters, and a small chain called Gametraders.

So we arranged for my aunt to drive us to the only Gametraders in Western Australia, which is in a shopping centre called Centro Galleria, in the suburb of Morley, fortunately not too far from the airport. “Kate” (the name my aunt has given to her GPS unit) guided us there, and the boys had a happy time looking through the range, and buying a few ancient cartridges to play at home when they got back.

(I should note at this point that my cousin Justin also has an interest in video games, and in fact at my aunt’s house is his enviable collection, most or all of it still in boxes, in various cupboards. Very impressive.)

Perth airport

From there we headed back to the airport. I’d checked-in on my mobile phone earlier, but this time we were able to check-in our suitcase (arguably it’s quicker at your destination to leave it as hand luggage, but it’s less hassle wheeling it around the airport while you wait if it’s checked-in), and we also elected to get printed boarding passes, since on the mobile it had been a bit laborious calling up the three of them onto the screen when boarding.

While we waited we got a snack: some wedges (a reasonable-sized tray; enough for the three of us) and a drink.

Brigands! Pirates! Buccaneers! Gyroscopes! $13.70 for a bottle of water and some wedges?! #PerthAirport

I got a copy of The West Australian to read on the plane, and Qantas were giving away The Australian as well, so I had plenty to read. The flight itself was fine; no delays.

Flying home

The in-flight movie was Game Change, about the 2008 US Presidential Campaign, and Sarah Palin in particular. I found it interesting, though the kids were completely bored by it. Fair enough.

After landing, we did our usual thing: luggage, Skybus, then train home. The two-hour time-difference resulted in a little jetlag, but it certainly didn’t detract from a great holiday — thanks in no small way to the extraordinary hospitality of my aunt. Thanks Aunty!

Perth/WA trip day 6: caves, wineries, and back to the big smoke

Tuesday 10th July

We’d be heading from Margaret River back to Perth today, so we packed up the serviced apartment and loaded everything into the car, then headed to cave number two of our tour: Lake Cave.

Lake Cave, Western Australia

Lake Cave has guided tours, and while we waited for it to begin, we pondered the displays and the new-fangled terminology used. Their “Caveworks” display is not a museum exhibit — it’s an “eco interpretive centre”. And these are not just caves inside national parks that you can look around — no, they’re “living windows”.

The cave itself, like Jewel Cave the day before, is quite spectacular, particularly the steps down to the entrance mouth, which is itself a collapsed cave. Inside there were some amazing formations, and the guide noted that in the early days of cave exploration and tourism some damage had been done as there wasn’t much care taken by visitors.

Lake Cave, Western Australia

Lake Cave, Western Australia

On to Mammoth Cave, which includes no mammoths. It’s self-guided, using an industrial-strength iPod, and again, was spectacular in quite a different way, with vast caverns to explore. The way out reminded me a little of the Mines of Moria in the Lord Of The Rings film.

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

Mammoth Cave, Western Australia

After all those caves, we craved lunch, and after a quick look at the Leeuwin winery (where I took a photo of some very wary cows), we ended up stopping off at the very impressive Voyager winery for food. It was so amazingly pristine that it gave me the impression of being a product of the slave trade, and they had the most massive Australian flag you’ve ever seen. We had a very nice, very posh lunch there, then headed north.

Cows at Leeuwin winery, Western Australia

Voyager winery, Western Australia

Some winery I can't remember the name of, near Margaret River, Western Australia

Our next stop was the amazing Canal Rocks formation, near Yallingup. We clambered all over them to have a look. My aunt reckons the same rock formations can be found in Madagascar, showing that we were all once part of Gondwanaland. It’s hard to describe them, so I’ll just post a few pictures.

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

Canal Rocks, Western Australia

North again, and another brief snack and toilet stop at Dunsborough, with each of us devouring something tasty from the bakery there. The boys, despite their unfavourable review of Spearmint milk a few days before, were rather impressed with the wide variety of flavoured milks in the bakery fridge.

In a fridge in Dunsborough, Western Australia

Then it was the drive back to Perth, happily against the peak hour traffic, which was pretty busy at that time of day.

After arriving back at my aunt’s house and unpacking and having a rest, we headed out for dinner: at Sizzler.

Sizzler is something that used to be common in Melbourne but has disappeared now… according to the Sizzler web site, they’re only now in WA, Queensland and NSW.

It’s all-you-can-eat buffet, surely words of joy to two hungry teenagers. The pricing is such that you basically order a main meal and get bottomless salads, pasta, soup, desserts and other yummy stuff all included.

My recollection is that Pizza Hut restaurants in Melbourne used to do a similar deal (but more pizza-oriented, obviously)… but Pizza Hut seems to have got out of the restaurant business; they only really do takeaway now.

Sizzler was pretty busy, even on a Tuesday night. Cunningly, they feed you “free” cheese-on-toast while you wait for your meal to arrive, surely a strategy to get you to fill up on the cheap stuff and eat less from the buffet.

The food itself is reasonably tasty. We all know that the deal is it’s not going to be fine cuisine, but neither is it horrible greasy euchy fast food.

I lost count of the number of times we went for refills of everything, but by the time we finished we were thoroughly stuffed full of food, and waddled out, very satisfied after a long day of travel.