Where’s the community’s focal point? It’s the railway station.

Two sleeps until the election.

Apart from trying to get citizens out to a public meeting, where in the neighbourhood is the best place to meet as many people you can, face-to-face?

Judging from what the politicians and lobby groups have been up to, it’s the railway station — on weekdays, at least.

I’ve lost count of the number of flyers I’ve been handed at Bentleigh station over the past few months. Undoubtedly it’s due to being in a marginal seat.

Supporter of Labor, and independent candidate Chandra Ojha, handing out flyers at Bentleigh station

Public Transport Not Traffic campaigners (including myself) at Bentleigh station. Campaigner Tony (who worked harder than me that morning) is not pictured; he snapped the photo.

The Greens candidate Sean Mulcahy at Bentleigh station

The political parties and one of the independents, as well as various unions and lobby groups (including one supporting national parks, and also Public Transport Not Traffic) have been prominent at the station in the last few weeks.

Mostly they are in the morning. It’s easier to hand out flyers as you get a steady stream of people, and if the train isn’t imminent, they can stop for a minute to ask questions. In the evening few people want to linger; they’re keen to get home. Plus it’s harder to hand out to scores of people arriving in a burst, followed by minutes of nobody going past.

Chalk one up for the trains. Cleverer people than I might ponder if this helps skew policies. As the Liberals’ fake commuter newspaper shows, it certainly helps influence campaign literature.

You’re certainly unlikely to have a face-to-face encounter with politicians and their supporters while driving your car. Sadly those people who are unable to use trains because suburban connecting buses are so poor will also miss out.

On the weekends the campaigners tend to be elsewhere in the shopping centre, though sometimes at the station. The advantage for them of street shopping centres is I doubt they’d ever get permission from a Westfield or Gandel to set up in Chadstone or Southland.

Of course this week, they’re also at early voting centres, and will be swarming around polling places on Saturday. (The first inkling I had that Bentleigh was at risk of swinging from Labor to Liberal in 2010 was when I heard that then-Premier John Brumby had been seen at a local polling place, Mckinnon Secondary College. On voting day you’re most likely to see the senior pollies in marginal seats.)

I’ve been tracking the various flyers handed to me in person via Twitter at Bentleigh station. Here are a few instances of flyers and local campaigning from the past month or two:

PS. On Monday the PTUA put out its election scorecard. If you’re interested in public transport issues, and they’ll influence your vote, check it out.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt on the 822

Incumbent Elizabeth Miller has gone strong on “saving the 822“, promoting via Facebook and an ad the front page of the local Leader newspaper last week, apparently trying to imply that Labor is proposing to scrap the route completely.

822 bus ad

822 promotion (Elizabeth Miller Facebook page)

Having put the claim out there on Facebook, the Liberals have done nothing to quell people’s fears that the route might be scrapped. Comments on the Facebook post have included:

  • Its the only way i can get to work and school :///
  • You cannot remove the 822.. its the only bus route running along east boundary road.. its central for anyone that lives around bentleigh area as its our way to Chadstone & Southland… You have gotta be joking.
  • Our children use the 822 a lot. It is needed for children for school outings as well. … I also see many elderly using that bus as I believe it travels to southland and Chadstone which allows for them to shop and also catch up with friends. This is only a small part of how useful that bus route is. Think before you remove. Elizabeth Miller keep up the good work.
  • For me and all the other passengers of the 822 bus rely on this bus because it gets us to our everyday destinations and without it would be a dissapointment! If you fet rid of this route you will make peoples lives much more difficult.
  • please save the 822 bus.

This is classic FUD — Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. There is NO plan to scrap the route.

I asked the Labor candidate Nick Staikos about it, and he said their intent is the logical move of the route off the backstreets and onto East Boundary Road (as proposed in the 2010 bus reviews), for a speedier trip and to better space out the north-south bus routes — there’s a huge gap between the Frankston line and the 822, with no services on Jasper or Tucker Roads.

But they’d do any change with community consultation to make sure as many people as possible are happy.

Part of that change might be moving the 701 from Mackie Road onto Marlborough Street to cover the section removed from the 822. As I wrote a few months ago, that’d be a good solution as it would remove duplication on Mackie Road (which also has the 767).

It would be difficult to have the 701 turn right from Marlborough Street onto North Road could be troublesome with no lights at that intersection, but the 2010 plan had it following the current 822 route as far as Duncan Mackinnon Reserve, then heading back towards Oakleigh.

Labor aren’t talking about proposed bus frequency upgrades. The 822, like most suburban buses, is appallingly infrequent, particularly on weekends. Public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy mentioned there was some kind of bus strategy coming, but so far we don’t know what’s in it. See below.

There’s obviously some detail to nut out, but nevertheless the Liberals’ posturing is nonsense. It seems to be trying to imply that everything is fine with the local buses… clearly not the case. One way of reading it would be that “only the Liberals” will fail to do anything whatsoever to improve them.

Fact is, local buses in Bentleigh do need improvement. Making the 822 a main road bus is a good start. Making it and other routes more frequent is also vital.

  • PTV stats show the 822 has about 450,000 boardings per year — around 1600 each weekday, 575 Saturdays and 388 on Sundays — the latter not being too bad, given it’s only an hourly service, but given it serves too of Melbourne’s busiest shopping centres, there’s a huge potential to carry more people if it ran more frequently.
  • Labor has said several times they would make an announcement around buses… This is important, as many areas only have buses. The policy has just been released today, and in summary is a $100 million package of upgrades. I haven’t digested the detail yet, but it’s got specifics on a number of routes, particularly the growth areas most dependent on buses. I can’t see anything in the Bentleigh area — not the 822, and also not the 703, which was promised an upgrade to full SmartBus status in the 2010 election by Labor.

Update: Labor’s Public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy has spelt it out on Twitter:

Update 25/11/2014: Partly for anybody clicking through from Jarrett Walker’s blog post, here’s the map of the current route, highlighting the diversion through Crosbie Road, Marlborough Street, Stockdale Avenue and Gardeners Road (including one-way sections) proposed to be changed to run direct along East Boundary Road (which is not shown in full on the map, but is a continuation of Murrumbeena Road) instead.

Bus 922 map

It’s also worth noting that it was not just Labor and the 2010 bus reviews that proposed this change.

Elizabeth Miller herself also called for the change shortly after she won the seat of Bentleigh:

Since taking office as the member for Bentleigh I have been shocked to discover that the former government made no provision for public transport to and from GESAC’s front door.

I call on the minister to investigate with his department the appropriate alteration of existing bus routes, including the 822, to provide a bus stop outside GESAC on East Boundary Road, Bentleigh East, to ensure that as many residents as possible of Bentleigh and neighbouring communities are able to access this wonderful new facility.Hansard, 24/3/2011

By earlier this year, she had changed her mind:

The 822 bus currently services this facility [Glen Eira Sports and Aquatic Centre) on Gardeners Road at its rear. The bus service to the facility is well patronised. I note that the opposition is currently conducting a petition to state otherwise.Hansard 25/3/2014

Sydney day 4, and wrap-up

Backdated. Posted 17/11/2014.

Day 4 — Sunday

Not much to report. Breakfast at Darlinghurst’s Jekyll & Hyde — which was a bit meh. M’s order came with unwanted eggs, which I adopted. Afterwards I realised it was one of the breakfast places I’d ruled out because some of its Urbanspoon reviews didn’t sound that great (though it had a respectable score of 89). I’d happily go back to The Bunker or The Royal, but not this one.

After that, packed up, got a taxi to the airport (M had a Cabcharge). The traffic was okay, though going the other way it was jammed up due to a crash.

Got to the airport in plenty of time. Checked-in the night before online, and used a boarding pass on my phone for the first time. Flight and Skybus/train back was uneventful (though I must remember to walk to the Qantas Skybus stop in future to save time) — back home by mid-afternoon Sunday.

Loading our plane home, Sydney airport

Virgin boarding pass on mobile phone

Short holidays

Long-term blog readers would know I’ve taken a few short 4-5 day breaks over the years. I quite like that style of holiday.

You’re not going to see everything, but you’ll get a good taste of a place without having to organise things like laundry.

I like having a few things planned each day, but nothing absolutely essential, and the flexibility to change things around — add stuff if you find there’s extra time, skip things if it feels rushed.

I’m also a fan of the centrally located hotel. It’s good to have a base that’s close to the action, making it easy to stop back past there during the day if desired. Walking distance to a supermarket and cafes/restaurants is also a great thing for breakfast and dinner. Hotel breakfasts are often an option, but generally quite expensive compared to a local cafe.

In our case, this time the hotel wasn’t right in the CBD ($$$), but a very short walk from a nearby railway station that has frequent services — every 10-15 minutes every day until midnight — and as often as every 3 minutes in peak hour.

The transport system

Which brings me to some random thoughts on Sydney’s public transport system, which we used fairly extensively while visiting. (See here for the blog post all about the Opal card.)

The trains have impressive capacity. They never seemed too crowded, though our use was mostly outside peak hour, and I did see other trains passing that looked pretty packed. (It’s unclear if double-deck trains overall can carry more people, due to generally slower dwell times — see this ABC Fact Check article).

The rail network as a whole seems very staff-heavy compared to Melbourne. Guards on trains, and on one platform at Central in peak hour I counted about a dozen staff… to assist with boarding?

It’s a shame the City Circle direction isn’t shown on train maps. That would have saved me some time.

The buses are extensive, and at least in the inner-city, are impressively frequent. But as noted, they often duplicate train routes, and at key locations such as Bondi Beach, are clearly inadequate for the task they’re given.

The ferries were a lot of fun, and quite practical given the geography (the same reason they don’t really suit Melbourne) though I suspect some routes are much more economically viable than others.

333 buses following each other, Paddington, Sydney

The new(ish) numbering of all modes and routes is interesting, and makes it much clearer when trying to remember which route you have to take, rather than memorising a lengthy line name (eg line T4, rather than the Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line). At present there’s still a fair bit of confusion with inconsistent signage though. And it does result in some slightly confusing overlaps with F being used for ferries and freeways, and T being used for trains and airport terminals. It’s all about context I suppose, though a sign mentioning T1 and T3 at the airport that appeared to be pointing down to the trains threw me momentarily.

Airport rail is terrifically convenient, thanks to it being fast and frequent. It’s expensive given the surcharge, but even at that near-exhorbitant price, I’d rather have it than not. Being able to get to a major destination such as the airport without being at the mercy of traffic is a godsend.

The monorail is gone. I used to ride it as a visitor, but honestly, can’t say I miss it, and nor do I suspect does most of Sydney.

In conclusion

I really enjoyed Sydney… again. Can’t wait to go back!

Sydney’s Opal card

(Backdated. Posted 14/11/2014.)

During the Sydney trip I tried out Opal card, and M got one as well to try.

It’s worth remembering that although the system is provided by Cubic, who built London’s Oyster system, its cost is not insubstantial — $1.2 billion over 15 years. It’s not quite as expensive, but is in the ballpark as Myki ($1.5 billion over ten years).

Opal card standalone reader

Obtaining and topping up

I ordered mine online; it arrived by post within about a week. They’re only available online, or via retailers. Not stations.

Same with topping up, which is heavily restricted as to the amounts you can use. At retailers it’s $10, $20 etc. Online it’s only $40, $80, $120…! At least online topup is fast — one hour vs Myki’s “up to 24 hours” (though in practice Myki is often faster).

The cards are free, but with a minimum top-up.

It’s unclear if they will make buying and topping-up more widely available in future or not. One local contact believes they plan to push Auto Topup for most users — this of course is impractical for most tourists.

For now the paper (magnetic stripe) ticket machines remain in use, and presumably will be kept for some time, alongside Opal — perhaps indefinitely as a single use ticket option?

Sydney station ticket machine

In use

This is what really matters: from the first trip on the airport train on the first day, to the last use late on Saturday night, it was easy. Tap on, tap off (and that’s the language they use). The response times on stations, buses and ferries seemed uniformly fast, unlike Myki (which changed its language from “scan” to “touch” when it became obvious the response times wouldn’t be fast enough for “scan”).

The fare gates and buses still take the mag stripe tickets as well. Suburban stations and ferry stops had standalone readers on poles, which are a lot nicer looking than the Myki or Go Card ones. (Unlike in Brisbane, which has readers on the ferries, Sydney’s are on the wharves.)

The balance/status was shown on each tap on a colour screen… but it doesn’t stay up if you hold the card to it, as with Myki.

Fares

The fares are confusing.

Sydney is keeping its segmented fare system, and the base fares are reasonably priced, but the different modes are all charged separately.

Change from bus to bus? Or train to train? Ferry to ferry? All free, as long as the next trip is less than an hour later. (The light rail is not yet on Opal.)

Mix the modes? You get charged again, with no discount. It means the fares can quickly add up — on one day we took all three modes, and it ended up costing about double what similar travel might have costed cost in Melbourne.

No free transfer between modes has big implications for the network, and helps explain why so many Sydney bus routes run all the way into the city, duplicating trains.

Apparently there are hints that fares will be reformed in the future, but nothing is confirmed.

There are caps to stop costs getting too out of hand. This I found somewhat confusing.

It’s 8 journeys then free for the rest of the week, so if you travel a lot at the start of the week, you’ll find the rest of your travel until Sunday is free. I knew about this one, but expected (rightly) that we wouldn’t get to the 8, even with a fair bit of moseying around.

There’s also a $15 per day cap (a bargain $2.50 on Sundays). We hit the $15 cap on Saturday, via multiple train, ferry and bus trips.

The caps replace most of the weekly/monthly/yearly options on the old ticket system. There have been complaints that a lot of people end up paying more overall under the new system.

Opal fare gates, Circular Quay

I didn’t know (or had forgotten) about the $15 cap, and we ended up unnecessarily topping up our cards as I thought we needed to pay a few more fares on our travels.

But we hit the $15 cap on Saturday, and ended up with balances above the top-up levels, meaning we would have never hit zero if we hadn’t topped-up. So we needn’t have bothered. Perhaps… or not? Unlike Myki the minimum balance to tap-on and keep travelling isn’t zero — it’s the minimum possible fare: $2.10 for buses, $3.30 for trains, and $5.60 for ferries. This reflects that the card itself is free, though you could still drive the balance below zero by then making a trip that’s a longer distance.

So if we hadn’t topped-up, even though we hit the daily cap, I don’t know if we’d have been able to keep tapping-on to travel, because we would have been below the minimum balance.

As it is, I have $20.28 left on my card ready for my next trip to Sydney. It seems you can get an unused balance refunded by returning the card — but only paid into an Australian bank account or via a cheque, so impractical for overseas tourists.

Opal web site

Web site

Finally, the web site. It’s good. Obviously it’s relatively new. The Myki web site appears not to have been revamped since its original design probably in about 2007.

The transaction list updated a little slowly for buses, but quickly for trains and ferries (which have fixed readers). It’s a lot more readable because it shows the data by trip, rather than by individual transaction/touch like Myki does.

In conclusion

Over three days (not the most exhaustive test), I found the Opal system reliable and fast (consistently faster than the notoriously inconsistent Myki), but there are very limited top-up options (and it’s unclear if this will be fixed), and fare system leaves a lot to be desired (ditto).

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!