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.

Rebranding number 6 (in 20 years): Can we stick with “PTV” for a while please?

Do I win a prize? Following on from my photos a couple of years ago of a train, tram and bus in one shot, I’ve managed to get another (at the same location) of the three of them in the PTV livery.

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Common livery is not the most important thing in a public transport network, but it is important. It’s a reminder that while the system may be run by lots of different companies, it is meant (in theory at least) to be one network.

The tickets and fare system are common, the routes should be designed to connect not compete, the timetables should complement each other and co-ordinate where possible.

The biggest change is in buses, where a myriad of colour schemes are coming together as one, with the operator name/logo reduced in size so it’s no longer significant — reflecting the practice in cities like London, but also closer to home in Adelaide and Perth.

Mind you it can also add to passenger confusion, in areas where passengers are used to differently coloured buses running specific routes.

Edit: This confusion can be reduced if route numbers are clearly displayed, not just on the front of the bus, but also on the side and back. Some buses have this already. It should be standard.

It sounds like only the (multi-company) Smartbus fleet will retain its distinctive bus colours.

I didn’t manage to get one of the few V/Line PTV-branded carriages into this photo. I guess that’s the next challenge (and to show the distinctive side design on a bus more clearly, rather than just the plain white front). You can see it in this snap a few seconds after the above photo… though the exposure was too short to properly show the tram LED number display. (In all honesty, none of the LED display showed in the above photo — I photoshopped it from another snap a moment later.)

Bus, train and tram

Hopefully, having completely branded everything to PTV in the coming months, the powers that be will stick with that for many years to come.

Given some of the trains in particular have gone in the last twenty years through The Met (2 versions), Bayside/Hillside Trains, Connex/M>Train, Connex, Metro, and now PTV, I think everybody’s had enough rebranding for now.

Some big public transport changes coming on July 27th

The July 27th public transport network changes are pretty big. Some of the information is a bit vague, so here are some points I’ve gleaned from looking around, as well as chatting to Transdev, who run a lot of the bus routes that are changing.

V/Line train approaching Clayton station

V/Line

The big thing in rail is V/Line trains from Ballarat and Bendigo will start using the new Regional Rail Link tracks from Sunshine into the City. This will mean they no longer stop at North Melbourne, because unfortunately RRL has no platforms there.

You’d expect the new dedicated tracks would help running times, but that doesn’t seem to be universal. For instance the 8:13 arrival from Bendigo took 12 minutes from Footscray into Southern Cross in the old timetable; the new one has it taking 17. The 8:25 arrival from Ballarat took 22 minutes from Sunshine in the old timetable; the new one has it at 21 minutes. In many cases V/Line trains take substantially longer than comparable Metro trains.

It’s quite possible the V/Line timetables include some padding to allow for delays (though they still consistently miss their punctuality targets). And the RRL project isn’t actually finished yet, so there might be improvements when it is.

Where V/Line timetables have changed, their connecting buses have got modified timetables — same for those metropolitan bus timetables which provide timed connections to Metro trains. This is why all the changes are coming on one date.

PIDs at Malvern - why on platform 3?

Metro

The Dandenong line is going to every 10 minutes on weekdays, which is very welcome given the number of passengers and destinations along the line. Most trains will no longer stop at Malvern, matching the weekend pattern. Curiously they recently put in realtime information on platform 3 there — which will barely get used. It really should have gone onto platform 1.

This also means the Cranbourne and Pakenham ends of the lines go to every 20 minutes — much better than the current half-hourly service.

Another big change is that peak Pakenham trains will now stop between Oakleigh and Caulfield where currently they run express. It won’t make much difference to running times as the line is so congested anyway. On the up side people at those stations will have more trains… but possibly it’ll result in more crowding on those services, which are often pretty packed.

The Frankston line gets a few changes, including — at last — removal of the incredibly confusing afternoon peak-shoulder timetable which currently has three completely different running patterns.

Morning Frankston line trains are also altered, with the two-tier timetable extended to until the off-peak timetable kicks-in. The anomalous 8:35 limited express from Bentleigh into the City no longer stops there, but there’s an additional service originating at Moorabbin to make up for it — which should mean overall more seats available for passengers at the zone 1 stations, as well as a faster ride for those coming in from zone 2.

(The government is claiming Frankston has two extra morning peak services. I might be counting them in a different way, but I’m not seeing that. I can see two extra expresses, but one less stopping train.) — Update, see below

It’d have been nice to see some other upgrades come through — more lines are richly deserving of ten minute services, for instance.

Platform 1, new Springvale station, April 2014

Trams: some route changes

Route 112 is being split back to similar to how it used to be: the 11 from West Preston into the City (and Docklands), and the 12 from St Kilda into the City and then out to Victoria Gardens. This should allow them to run the bigger trams on busy route 11 (including adding space on incredibly busy Collins St/Docklands routes), without wasting that capacity on quieter route 12.

Some part-time city routes such as 24, 31 and 95 won’t run anymore. Other fulltime routes cover that ground.

Likewise, the long-running part-time route 79 will no longer run, replaced in the evenings and weekends by its weekday cousin 78… which will mean people heading from Chapel Street to St Kilda Beach will need to change at Carlisle Street onto a 16 (or, on weekends, a 3a).

There are big question marks over what will happen when CBD trams are free from January. Some routes are swamped at present… one wonders if there will be a need to reinstate those part-time city routes to boost capacity. You’d hope PTV and Yarra Trams are feverishly working on the forecasts for that. (Ditto the abolishment of two-zone fares in Melbourne from January.)

Hey tram fans, is this the first C-class tram in the new #PTV colours? #yarratrams

Buses: northeast

Lots of changes on the buses in the Manningham area, particularly those run by Transdev, whose contract stipulates they need to re-design their routes and increase patronage — but without increasing resources. In other words, badly-needed route reform.

DART/Smartbus 908 will no longer go all the way into the city outside peak hours. It’ll terminate at Doncaster Park+Ride instead, with connections into the City. This should be okay inbound, and outbound on weekdays during the day, when the services you’re connecting to will be frequent. There might be some waiting involved outbound on weekends and evenings.

This one is controversial: route 303, which runs 4 services per day in each peak direction, is getting cut.

In general the theme is one of removing duplication, particularly part-time routes, and consolidating services by bumping up frequencies to compensate. For instance routes 200, 203 and 205 have been combined into a single route 200, which should be less confusing.

In many cases another similar route isn’t too far away from a removed one.

It does mean some trips that were a single seat ride all the way will require changing to another bus or a train, but the pay-off is a more cohesive network that provides options for more journeys, and in some cases overall a faster trip.

So, as is almost inevitable with route reform, some inconvenience to some, but overall should result in a more legible, simple, usable network… which in other areas has been shown to pay off in terms of getting new passengers on-board.

Smartbus in Lonsdale Street

Other bus changes

The 401 North Melbourne to Melbourne University shuttle gets extended to 10pm, with services every 10 minutes after 7:30pm. Excellent.

Local bus routes around the airport get a shakeup, with the main connection now being the Smartbus from Broadmeadows station, which makes sense as it’s more frequent than the other routes.

Non-Smartbus airport area routes such as 478 and 479 are re-focussed on connections from Sunbury and Airport West, for the benefit of local trips (such as workers) to the airport. The ridiculous 479′s one service per day on the weekend into the CBD has been removed. What a total waste of resources that was.

Routes 216/219/220 get a slight cutback from every 15 minutes to every 20 on weekday evenings. This probably makes sense at the southern end, as demand is light, and resources are better used elsewhere — I understand the whole timetable has been re-written for the first time in decades to better reflect traffic conditions. Hopefully the slight reduction in frequency doesn’t mean crowding at the western end of the route. Apparently it will get more substantial changes next year, along with other long routes such as the orbital Smartbuses, which have also had just timetable adjustments this time around.

The Brimbank area gets an overhaul, with some good reform which has irritated some current users, but should result in a more usable network overall. While some are saying they are negatively affected, some locals I’ve spoken to say they welcome the more direct routes.

The Port Melbourne area will also get revised, with simpler routes, and some routes such as 250/251 which formerly ran through the city to Port Melbourne, have been split to improve reliability.

The 232 Altona to city bus over the Westgate Bridge will no longer stop in Port Melbourne — despite little difference in timetabled running time in peak, it’ll stick to the freeway.

In the outer suburbs such as Cranbourne and Frankston, there are some extra services on some routes.

Impacts on journeys

I’m not across all the changes: you should really go to the source. (Initially the information on the numerous bus changes was pretty vague, but it’s improved a lot in the past week or so, with a lot of detail on specific areas.)

Those in areas affected by some of the bigger changes should take a look at the Journey Planner, and check the alternative routes available. Despite the protests at the changes, the new routes actually make a lot of sense. In many cases I’ve seen, people might face a slightly longer journey on the bus, but gain higher frequencies, longer operating hours (eg full-time routes instead of peak only) and in one case I looked at, a shorter walk to the bus stop.

In other cases I’ve looked at, a change to another bus or a train will now be required to get into the city, but the overall trip is faster.

Transdev have also said they’re willing to help passengers on their routes with looking at their specific route changes.

Overall

Overall it looks like a pretty good package. The continued rollout of RRL infrastructure as the project nears completion; some good upgrades to the Dandenong line; cleanup of the incredibly messy Frankston line timetable, and perhaps most significantly, widespread bus route reform to remove duplication and part-time routes, replaced by more frequent, fulltime routes — these sorts of changes are vital to untangle Melbourne’s bus spaghetti.

Some areas miss out of course. I for one am really hoping a significant upgrade to western suburbs lines (Werribee/Altona/Williamstown, and Sunbury) when RRL is completed.

But it’s good stuff. If they gave us a package this significant every year, the government would be kicking goals.

I’d be interested in comments on other changes people have noticed… and how their trips are affected.

Update Tuesday 15/7/2014: Some great comments being submitted – keep them coming.

I wanted to particularly note that passengers on bus route 303 have been active in calling for their route not to get cut. While I have reservations about peak-only routes because it can be confusing for potential users, particularly where they largely duplicate other routes, some users have shown evidence that suggests the buses have more than the 20-24 people per service the stats say they have.

Update Sunday 27/7/2014: In this press release, the government claims: “There will also be two extra morning weekday trains on the Frankston line.

The first was easy to find: it’s the 6:38am Frankston to City limited express. The other one was harder to find, because it is actually against the peak flow, and in fact after 9am: the 9:09am Flinders Street to Mordialloc. That’s not even filling a big service gap; it’s just a run from the city back into stabling.

My recollection is the Coalition used to rightly criticise Labor for announcing extra trains that were against the peak direction, and not terribly useful to many people. Now they seem to be doing exactly the same thing.

Revised (and renamed, again) rail tunnel plans – not as bad as first thought

The metro rail tunnel has been renamed again. What has been at various times “Metro 1+Metro 2″, “the Metro Tunnel”, and the “Metro Rail Capacity Project” is now “Melbourne Rail Link”.

The plans for the revised version are not as bad as first thought.

Rail map showing re-designed rail tunnel (May 2014)

The Frankston line will run from South Yarra to Domain and Montague (Fishermens Bend), then to underground platforms at Southern Cross, then into the City Loop (which will have to have modifications to the Caulfield and Burnley Loops to handle trains in both directions) via Flagstaff, Melbourne Central and Parliament to Richmond, then out to Ringwood (and vice-versa).

As oldtimers will know, Montague used to have a railway station, on the Port Melbourne line before it was converted to light rail in the 80s.

The Sunbury/Airport line will be through-routed aboveground to Dandenong, via Southern Cross and Flinders Street. This presumably means that any plans for 9-car trains would require extension of aboveground platforms only. I would think it also puts in doubt the Airport line’s planned 25 minute trip, if those trains have to share the rails with stopping Sunbury line trains (rather than the RRL tracks as I first thought) — which can take up to 20 minutes between Sunshine and Southern Cross.

The Werribee/Williamstown lines will be through-routed aboveground to Sandringham.

So, barring expansion, the six Viaduct lines will be for the Clifton Hill Loop (1 track), the Craigieburn/Upfield lines (1 track), the Sunshine to Dandenong line (2 tracks) and the Newport to Sandringham line (2 tracks).

Presumably the two tracks from South Yarra to the city that become free will be used for V/Line trains and/or freight, in line with the vague plans known to be around the place for extra track from South Yarra to Dandenong for this purpose. They might have to share viaduct tracks through to Southern Cross.

This government video attempts to explain it all:

Lots more detail and glossy brochures on the project web site

The good news is that it appears the new design for the tunnel will include a station/interchange at South Yarra, which the old one didn’t have.

It still trades off Fishermans Bend (potential high-density residential in the future) for Parkville (actual high-density residential, education and medical, right now). And it doesn’t even serve Fishermans Bend properly — as this blog from Jason Murphy shows, the proposed station would be right on the eastern edge, well beyond walking distance for many residents.

There’s some talk of upgrades for Swanston Street-corridor trams to compensate for the lack of station, but little detail. It might work, with high-capacity trams and true traffic light priority that means trams never get a red.

Obviously ensuring the new tunnel links into the City Loop fixes some the problems with the previous version of the plan, though it’s unclear how long it’ll take passengers from the Frankston line to reach the city coming in via Montague.

But previously PTV types have said that reconfiguring the City Loop would cost lots of money and mean some Loop tunnels would be out of action for years at a time. Has a way around this been found? Or is it somehow okay to disrupt tens of thousands of train passengers for years, but not okay to disrupt Swanston Street?

The question still must be: why the re-design when so much work had been done on the old scheme? Why has the PTV plan, only released last year, been chucked out the window? Could it be that the Coalition didn’t want to build a project originally proposed under Labor? That’s no way to design multi-billion-dollar city infrastructure projects.

And why miss interchange with Flinders Street? Why through-route two lines from the same side of the city?

Many questions need answering.

See also this follow-up blog post: Rail tunnel plans compared

We could have a vastly more usable PT network; PTV has a plan. It just needs funding.

Getting around Melbourne’s inner-suburbs without a car is pretty easy, thanks to a reasonable network of frequent trams. In some areas, such as around Prahran, the trams, trains and buses form a grid, making almost any local trip within that area very easy.

Getting around Melbourne’s middle and outer-suburbs without a car is generally a nightmare. There are some rail lines, but for most trips it’s buses, and they are hopelessly infrequent — generally only hourly on weekends, and only half-hourly on weekdays.

Queueing for the 703 SmartBus at Bentleigh Station

It’s no secret then that areas of good public transport tend to have lower rates of car ownership — the excellent Charting Transport blog explored this in detail a while back.

Of course, there are other factors such as urban planning — are the things you want/need easy to get to without a car, including by walking?

But most of Melbourne currently misses out on frequent services of the type that you can use without looking at a timetable, and without a long wait (particularly if connecting off another service).

A few Smartbus routes have been a step in the right direction, and they’re popular, but still leave huge gaps in the frequent network.

PTV plan: bus service standardsPTV has a plan to fix this problem. As The Age reported on Tuesday:
A network of more than 30 bus routes running every 10 minutes would criss-cross much of Melbourne within less than a decade under ambitious plans produced by Public Transport Victoria.

This kind of upgrade is really important: along with train and tram upgrades proposed, it gives way more suburban areas a much more useable network.

The information has come out in a documentwhich is part of East West Link travel forecasts. It’s a bit vague because the details are in tram and bus plans prepared by PTV but not released — only the train plan has been made public.

But what we do know is this:

  • Most trains running every 10 minutes, 7 days-a-week
  • Most trams running every 10 minutes, 7 days-a-week
  • Some tram route changes to better organise the network (though little in the way of expansion, alas)

The most interesting bit is around buses. Remember that many areas of Melbourne will never have trains and trams, not even under the most ambitious expansion plan imaginable.

A LOT of suburbs will remain beyond walking distance to stations and tram stops, and need frequent bus services.

The plan sorts buses into several categories, and attaches minimum standards to each.

  • Smartbus – at least every 10 minutes – 43 routes by 2021, 49 routes by 2031
  • Direct – at least every 20 minutes on about 70 routes by 2021, at least every 15 minutes on about 75 routes by 2031
  • Coverage – at least hourly – about 180 routes by 2021, about 190 routes by 2031
  • Commuter – a dozen routes by 2021
  • Special – every 4 minutes on two routes – eg the existing 401 and 601 university shuttles
  • InterTown – about 20 routes on the urban fringe
  • Telebus – a handful of routes, but with many variations, on request routes
  • Hybrid – routes which fall into multiple categories, presumably with differing service standards

Yes, by 2031, the proposal is to have over 120 Melbourne bus routes running every 15 minutes.

This is critical for the overall public transport network.

The mass introduction of Smartbus and Direct routes every 10 and every 15 minutes would vastly expand the “turn up and go” anywhere-to-anywhere network across Melbourne, making it possible to use public transport for a lot more trips than at present.

Here’s how my neck of the woods looks at present: 7-day 15 minute services (all modes) — the current situation on the left, and if the PTV plan were implemented on the right.

7 day 15 minute services: 2014 7 day, 15 minute services: proposed by 2031
(Because the detail is vague, I’ve assumed only 822 would change in its upgrade to Smartbus. I’ve also assumed South Road buses 811/812/824 would run frequently on those sections — they’re actually slated as “hybrid”. And it’s quite possible I’ve missed some other proposed routes. Would need to get the full report to get all this cleared-up.)

At present, if your trip isn’t entirely along a tram or train line, you’ve probably got a long wait ahead of you. Going to most areas, it’s hopeless — so most people drive, and will often pack their driveway with one car per adult, putting a big strain on household budgets.

With the PTV plan implemented, a lot more journeys are possible without long waits, because a lot more areas are within walking distance to a frequent service.

This includes being able to easily get to your nearest shopping centre and/or railway station without having to drive.

As Jarrett Walker is fond of saying: “Frequency is freedom.”

A frequent network is the type of thing needed to let households really reduce their car ownership and usage.

It would bring Melbourne more into line with other big cities around the world, particularly in Europe, where the fast frequent backbone (principally heavy rail) is supported by connections to a network of frequent buses and trams across urban areas.

And a lot of it is achievable in the short term by making better use of fleet and infrastructure, in particular by getting the large number of vehicles currently in depots outside peak hours and getting them out into service more of the time.

The only question is when will the politicians take note and fund this?