A quick look through PTV’s 2015 network revenue protection plan

I noticed there’s a 2015 version of PTV’s network revenue protection plan on their web site.

It’s a lot less detailed than the one The Age FOI’d in 2010… perhaps because it was intended to be made public.

Some points of interest, with my notes in italics:

Pages 5-6 talk about the background — total loss of $51.6 million in revenue in 2014.

“Metro Trains and Yarra Trams hold revenue risk, sharing 70 per cent of the total metropolitan farebox revenue.”

There are a couple of important points in this section:

“[Passengers] are not fare evading if they have a statutory defence for travelling without a valid ticket; i.e. they took all reasonable steps to obtain a valid ticket before their journey, there was no reasonable opportunity to obtain a valid ticket during their journey, and they took all reasonable steps to obtain a valid ticket after completion of their journey.”
this is worth remembering. What is “reasonable” has long been a bit wibbly-wobbly, and ultimately decided by the courts, but the fact is if you are pinged and genuinely believe you took all reasonable steps to buy a ticket, you should be able to appeal it.

“It is not regarded as fare evasion if a passenger has breached the ticketing conditions without loss of revenue (e.g. by failing to touch on at the start of their trip when they have a valid myki pass for their trip).”
so whereas the conditions say you’re meant to touch-on every trip, if there’s been no loss of revenue, you’re not the person they’re chasing. However! I’d suggest it’s well worth touching-on every time, to verify that your fare is still current, your Pass hasn’t just expired, and your card is functioning correctly.

Page 11 notes they’re monitoring a number of recent changes… the January 2015 changes (free tram zone, and zone 1 metropolitan price capping), on-the-spot fines (introduced August 2014), Multi-Modal Authorised Officers (primarily to boost checks on the bus network), and the use of Behavioural Economics.

Myki gates being repaired

Cutting to the chase, from page 13 onwards they note actions. Some of the significant ones include:

Changes for a User-friendly ticketing system, which includes

  • encourage off-system use of Myki channels, eg retail and online — presumably the aim is to help reduce queuing, which is still a problem at busy stations
  • possible changes to vending machines to improve the interface — good move. Maybe they’ll finally fix the unwanted receipts issue
  • more monitoring of Myki device reliability — I remember being told that there’d be a level of automated monitoring, but if it was ever implemented, it’s not acted upon. If a reader or gate at a busy location is getting zero cards read when neighbouring devices are getting lots, it should trigger someone to go check it.
  • promoting card expiry and free replacements — this is still a problem, particularly for people who have never registered their cards. Do the on-system prompts even mention imminent card expiry?

Compliance

  • auditing station barriers — barriers being left open has been an issue in the past, though it seems to be improving
  • an interesting one: “include revenue protection considerations in special events planning” — perhaps this is one that’s led to the closing of barriers at AFL games
  • close ticket barriers; direct people to go buy a fare if they turn up when AOs aren’t present — this is common sense, of course, though how AOs deal with honest people who have been defeated by Myki system problems is also a big issue.
  • “support (bus) drivers in encouraging passengers to touch on” — again, makes sense, while ensuring bus drivers don’t put themselves at risk
  • “trial an alternative location for bus fare payment devices” — the current default placement of readers is in an illogical position, where the bus driver often can’t see if people touch on or not, and (on metro buses at least) they don’t let you touch-on using the touch pad next to the driver’s console.

Enforcement

  • “Behaviour change” work via regular visible AOs swarming over specific rail lines — I seem to recall one of those Brit railway documentaries showing this, with the additional effect of making it harder for fare evaders to just go to the next station and hop off there to avoid a fine
  • “Review AO training and guidelines with continued focus on customer service and incident management” — important given some highly-publicised incidents
  • New hand held Myki readers — sounds like the existing ones have problems. No surprise, given most of the originally deployed publicly-used Myki hardware has problems.
  • Develop a single AO uniform across all operators — good idea; like vehicle liveries, to have a recognisable uniform, and preferably not an intimidating paramilitary-style one.
  • Continue “cross-deployment activities” — AOs on and around buses have certainly been more visible recently, and it also mentions V/Line
  • “Undertake corralling exercises (banners and bollards) at platform tram and bus stops to increase ticket checks – tram” — hmm that should be fun. Of course it doesn’t happen in the busy Free Tram Zone anymore (apart from the first inbound stop). Note the first combined bus/tram platform stop outside the Casino opened recently.

There’s also a section on marketing and education, as well as one on measurement and monitoring, which ties into the regular fare evasion stats published.

Authorised Officers at a tram stop

What’s the fare collection strategy?

There’s not a lot of detail in the document. Fair enough, they don’t want to give away all their detailed strategies to potential fare evaders.

But there’s really not a lot on the higher-level strategy: specifically the nature of fare collection.

They hint at it on page 6:

“While it is not practical to achieve 100 per cent fare compliance across an open public transport system such as Victoria’s, there is scope to significantly reduce the cost of fare evasion.”

Right. But why do we have an open system?

We’ve moved to an open, mostly self-serve system since the late-1980s. A failed attempt to use scratch-tickets, and then removing most station staff and all tram conductors in the 90s. More recently we’ve seen the removal of all ticket purchase/top-up options from trams — as a result of a 2011 consultant’s report which has never been published.

But what decisions went into this, and given huge patronage growth since those decisions in the 80s and 90s, do those reasons still apply?

Some new suburban stations have been getting fare gates (for instance Williams Landing, Springvale, Mitcham). What’s the strategy there? I’ve heard it’s to increase the proportion of trips starting and/or ending at a fare gate, but where is this spelt out?

Could we have tram conductors back? What would be the costs? Would it be affordable? Or would modern cash handling, safety issues and today’s much larger trams make it impractical?

Presumably they’ve thought about these issues, but if the strategy is documented somewhere, it’s not public.

Recently I found this interesting bit of text on the UK Network Rail site, which attempts to explain similar decisions:

“On long-distance trains, it is often possible for the on-board staff to check every passenger’s ticket. On rural routes, trains stop more often but as they usually have fewer coaches and carry a smaller number of passengers, on-board ticket checks can also be effective.

However, on urban and suburban routes, where station stops are frequent and the trains are often busy, it is not always possible to check every passenger’s ticket between every station.

In the past, tickets have been inspected by staff at ticket barriers but it is very expensive to provide staff at every ticket barrier and also inconvenient for passengers.”

Agree or disagree, at least they’ve tried to explain the logic behind their fare collection regime.

Authorised Officers at a bus stop

Nonetheless, the PTV document is an interesting peek into the world of fare compliance. It makes sense for them to (fairly) improve compliance to ensure revenue loss to the system is minimised.

But it makes you wonder how thoroughly they’ve looked at the big picture.

Public transport system signage – mostly improving, but some is getting vaguer

At any station with multiple platforms, especially when they’re not adjacent (eg an island platform), you’re going to need to know which one your train leaves from. At many it’s easy — one platform is going towards the City, one is away.

Some stations have three platforms. The third track is often used for peak hour expresses, and the platforms used can vary across the day.

My local station used to have signs specifying which times the trains out of the City towards Frankston depart from platform 3. You really need to know if your train is on platform 3 before you enter the station, otherwise you’ll have to come all the way out again to its separate entrance — and you might miss your train in the process.

At some stage last year, the signs got messed up, and ended up with contradictory information:

Bentleigh station - When is platform 3 in use?

As you can see from this lengthy Twitter conversation, sometime around the middle of last year, the times were removed at numerous stations, pending a new train timetable.

When to use platform 3? Not sure.

The new train timetable came and went, and for months the signs’ times remained blank.

Perhaps they were struggling with coming up with a message that reflected that sometimes platform 3 is in use until a specific time in the morning, but sometimes there are delays, and it goes later. (It’s good to switch from 3 to 2 so all passengers go to the one island platform, where there are better facilities, but I’ve suggested in the past they delay the switchover an extra 15-20 minutes after track 2 is clear, to have a more definite, fixed time that allows for delays.)

A couple of weeks ago they came up with an answer:

When to use platform 3? During "AM peak", whatever that means.

Umm… yes. AM peak. A bit vague, isn’t it? How are you meant to know when “AM peak” is?

If you actually go up to the platform (which may not be the right platform, mind you) you’ll find in smallprint on the timetable poster that it indicates which trains use platform 3. Note how they are from platform 3 until 9:10, then there are a few that aren’t, then another one at 9:36. (These times are for Patterson, 2 minutes further down the line; I don’t seem to have a photo handy for the same sign at Bentleigh.)

Which trains from platform 3?

None of this would be so much of a problem if the automated sign near the station entrance worked, but it hasn’t for almost four years — in fact, similar signs seem to have been de-activated at other stations too, and of course most stations don’t have these. Realtime information is available on the platforms (via green buttons on all, as well as displays currently being installed), but that’s too late to prevent backtracking if you’ve got the wrong platform.

But this is just signs, right? They’re not that important!

Not so. Information is a crucial factor in determining whether someone will choose to use public transport. Having the service available for your trip is one thing — knowing where and when it runs is also vital, as this diagram from the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual (chapter 4, Exhibit 4-9) shows:

Transit availability factors (Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual, Third Edition)

Timely, accurate, easily accessible information is important. It’s about making the system as simple as possible to navigate and use. As simple as hopping in your car.

Telling people heading towards Frankston that they need platform 3 “in AM peak” is better than nothing, but it’s a long way from the kind of precision information that people need to catch a train without delay, without risking missing a service, and without having to annoyingly backtrack if their platform guess is wrong.

Publications and signage around the system (both static and realtime) has improved a lot over the past few years, particularly with Metlink/PTV guiding driving standards across operators, but they’re not perfect yet.

Public transport fares to rise about 5%

It hasn’t been announced yet, but I understand Myki fares are going up about 5% in January.

(Zone 1+2 fares will drop to zone 1 level of course, in line with the pledge made by the Coalition and matched by Labor.)

This is rise the Coalition government announced in December 2013, which I assume the new Labor government has approved: 2.3% CPI, plus a rise in real terms of 2.5%.

(Perhaps it’s not surprising Labor has okayed it; the Coalition went through with CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 which had been planned by Labor back when it was in office.)

Myki zone changes

Leaving aside the enormous disparity in per kilometre fares, the combination of zone changes (including free tram rides in the city) plus a real terms rise means we get the terrific combination of:

  • Fare revenue dropping by about $100m per year
  • Those travelling short distances (eg those costing the network the least in terms of driver and vehicle hours, and fuel) getting fare rises
  • Those travelling long distances (eg most expensive to serve, especially if you consider things like the demand to build more express tracks, and fleets being unable to run more than a single round trip in peak) seeing a big fare cut (increasing their subsidy)
  • A price signal that it’s good to use PT for long trips, which is likely to add to crowding, particularly on trains

Plus of course those who currently have crap PT in the middle and outer-suburbs will continue to have crap PT because there’s less money available to pay for upgrades.

Sigh.

While I don’t think a per kilometre fare is really a great idea (especially with Myki’s currently hopelessly slow readers and even more hopeless GPS devices), nor do I think a trip from Flinders Street to the Shrine should cost the same as one to Pakenham.

Silver lining: If they’re smart, they’ll let people know that in most cases you no longer have to touch-off after metropolitan train/bus trips. Just as on most tram trips now, the default fare if you don’t touch-off will be the same fare you pay if you did.

Still unknown: The fate of the Earlybird fare, long rumoured to be on the verge of being removed.

Update: Beat the rise?: Hoping to beat the price rise by splashing out on a Commuter Club yearly? No chance. The news of the rise came through in a CC bulletin yesterday showing the rise for Yearly fares, and declaring the ordering deadline to be 5pm the same day — way too fast for any CC organisations to scramble to let employees/members know. Usually there’s at least a few days’ warning. Not this time, though it’s still cheaper to buy a CC Yearly Pass than a retail Yearly.

If you use other Myki Passes, you can still beat the rise by buying them before the end of December. (But don’t buy a zone 1+2 pass; you’ll just need to get a partial refund once the zone changes happen). You can’t beat the price rise with Myki Money — it’s charged as you use it, not when you load it.

Update 6:30pm Tuesday: The rise has been confirmed by PTV in The Age: Myki fare rise for commuters travelling in a single zone.

Of course, those travelling in three or more zones will also see a rise, though I don’t think it’s been clarified if a zone 1 to 4 trip (eg Melbourne to Geelong) would still pay the zone 2 portion of the fare as part of that.

It’s also worth noting that this is not the only recent above-CPI rise: there were CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 (the ones planned by Labor).

I also note that while this 2014 rise was been planned by the Coalition, in 2011 then-Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said in the Ballarat Courier: “The Coalition Government wants to keep changes in ticket prices to no more than CPI (Consumer Price Index).”

Update 17/12/2014: The rise has finally been confirmed by PTV. Early Bird is staying, and the weekend daily cap will remain at $6 (though it’s not much cheaper than the new zone 1+2 daily cap anyway).

Our new Premier on the need for frequent public transport #FrequencyIsFreedom

One should never read too much into politicians’ rhetoric, but it was rather good to see comments from Premier-elect Daniel Andrews on Monday in free commuter newspaper MX:

“Yes, we need better local roads and yes, we do need to invest in that infrastructure, but the transformational infrastructure is a better public transport system. One where you don’t need a timetable, one where you can comfortably and optimistically leave the car at home knowing that you’re getting on to a first rate public transport system.”

— Daniel Andrews, MX 1st December 2014

(My emphasis added)

Daniel Andrews at Bentleigh station during the 2014 Victorian election campaign

…as well as these comments on election-eve:

“I want to make sure we build the best possible public transport system. I simply won’t ask Victorians to get out of their car and into a second-class public transport system. They won’t do it, and I won’t ask them to.”

— Daniel Andrews, Channel 10 news, 28th November 2014

Public transport that’s frequent enough that you don’t need a timetable is critical to willingly get people out of their cars and out of the traffic.

Frequency is particularly important to cater for a network of services to make anywhere-to-anywhere trips are possible with the minimum of waiting.

To draw an analogy, you don’t need a timetable (or face a 20-30 minute wait) when driving your car through a major intersection or freeway interchange.

Some services already run frequently — in peak hour particularly. Thanks to governments of both persuasion now recognising its importance (and/or being forced to add services thanks to overcrowding), as well as the transport bureaucracy getting behind it, more parts of the network are getting to that magic “every 10 minutes” standard, though promotion to actually tell people it exists is lacking.

In fact while there are some issues with proposed Transdev bus service changes in 2015, one change that’s welcome is route 903 between Box Hill and Mordialloc (including Chadstone) will be upgraded to every 10 minutes on Saturdays. Unfortunately the western end of that Smartbus route, at Altona, will suffer from service cuts of up to 50% — the current 15 minute off-peak service will go to 30 minutes. Apparently this is due to the former government’s wish to squeeze more efficiencies out of the bus operators — not necessarily a bad thing, but it may have gone too far. A case of one step forward, one step back?

There is a plan for frequent services

PTV have a plan to make more buses and trains run more frequently, all day every day. Trams are almost there, but could also do with a boost. (The PTV tram plan hasn’t been revealed.)

And the beauty of it is, many service upgrades are possible now, particularly at off-peak times, without huge investment in infrastructure, so there’s a huge opportunity to make a lot of progress in the next four years.

We’ll find out who the new Public Transport Minister is today — let’s hope they and the Premier will be keen to push ahead with implementing Melbourne’s frequent network.

Update: Lynne Kosky: Very sad to hear of former transport minister Lynne Kosky’s passing at just 56. It was under her that serious PT investment (especially train fleet expansion) started. This interactive graphic shows the projects underway in 2009, during her time as minister. (And no, she didn’t start Myki… that was a Peter Batchelor creation). RIP.

Update: New minister: Jacinta Allan is the new Public Transport minister. In related portfolios, Luke Donnelan got roads, and Richard Wynne got planning.

10 minute trains – there is a rollout plan – but when will it get funded?

High-frequency trains (all day, every day) are critical for any big city, to ensure large numbers of people can get around quickly and easily.

As a PTUA study found some years ago, Melbourne is one of the few big world cities that doesn’t have them. To draw an analogy, it’s as if outside peak hour, we closed the freeways and highways except for one lane in each direction.

To delve into hyperbole for a moment: it’s the tyranny of infrequent services on so-called trunk routes. Those in power are basically saying: if you choose to use public transport, your time is not important. We’d prefer you drove.

But there is a rollout plan for ten minute trains.

Footscray station, Sunday morning

This week the Coalition announced that as part of a package of transport upgrades that include extending the South Morang line to Mernda, the line would also go to every 10 minutes off-peak on weekdays from October 2015.

Notably the service upgrade is costed at only $20 million (it’s unclear for how long, but often these recurrent figures are given in terms of 4 year budget cycles).

This underscores that higher all-day frequencies, which make public transport much more easy to use, don’t have to cost that much money. We have a big train fleet and plenty of track capacity to cope with extra services outside peak hour. The costs are largely in drivers and power, though it also adds to pressure on maintenance facility capacity, which is why this is being slowly expanded.

PTV, which established by the Coalition government to manage and plan the network, actually has a plan to gradually roll out ten minute services across most of the rail network — it’s part of their “Network Development Plan – Metropolitan Rail” (which I blogged about here). The process started with the longer (thus busier) lines a few years ago, and while it’s not ideal that progress is driven by politicians rather than transport planners, I suppose that’s the reality — so in a way it’s good that the importance of high frequency all-day services is recognised at the political level.

I’ve summarised the rollout (past, and proposed) of ten minute services (and new lines) below.

Notes:

  • The first toe dipped in the water of ten minute services was a short-lived experiment on the Werribee line. It wasn’t a good choice — the single track Altona Loop meant it was impossible to provide even frequencies on the line, so it never actually provided a ten minute service. It was abandoned in 2011. There were similar problems initially on the Frankston line, with half the trains running via the City Loop, and half direct — leading to very uneven frequencies at Flinders Street.
  • The 2016 proposal was originally tied to the opening of Regional Rail Link, but RRL will now open around April 2015. It’s unclear if it will be accompanied by any additional 10 minute services on Metro lines.
  • As noted above South Morang (weekdays) is now said to be happening in October 2015 if the Coalition is returned to government. It’s not clear what will happen if Labor is voted in.
  • One oddity from the plan: It appears the Sunbury line (between the city and Sydenham) would go to ten minutes, but then back to twenty minutes when the Airport line opens. This seems a bit strange, and perhaps someone messed up the plan — or perhaps it’s because eventually the Melton line would be electrified and combined with Sunbury trains provide a 10 minute service between Sunshine and the City.
  • By the time it’s complete, most of the network would be running every ten minutes, so you’d be able to get around much of Melbourne quickly and easily, and without having to look at a timetable to avoid long waits, including when making connections off other services.

Unfortunately PTV has almost totally failed to promote the existing ten minute services (despite them and the government promoting many far less useful improvements to trains), but anecdotally at least patronage does seem to be increasing — it’s not unusual on Saturday mornings to see a few standees on Frankston line trains inbound, which in the past few years have doubled in frequency and length, thus quadrupling capacity.

The question is… when will the politicians grasp how beneficial high frequency trains are, and fund the PTV rollout plan — not just a line at a time, but for the whole network?