Detailed Metro train stats revealed

This morning The Age published more detailed train service data than we usually get to see. Some information is routinely published, but we rarely get an insight into the breakdown between AM, PM and off-peak punctuality, for instance.

In some ways the data was no great surprise — in the first week of March, hundreds of services were altered, including 71 Loop bypasses (City and Altona), and 399 shortened services, with 95% of them at peak hour in the peak direction. This matches the anecdotal evidence often heard from daily users.

Also not surprising is that peak services are less punctual than off-peak. As Jarrett Walker long ago wrote in his Human Transit blog, peak is when the system is at its most stressed — from numbers of trains and passengers on the network, causing congestion and longer dwell times at stations, with any delays snowballing much faster.

The Age: Metro disruptions

Some lines are clearly much worse than others — these figures have more detail than we usually see, but it’s reflected in the aggregate figures published in the Track Record monthly reports. The worst lines tend to be those with single track sections (which quickly causes delays to escalate) and those in growth corridors (more trains on the line, and more people getting on and off them)… with some unfortunate lines such as Cranbourne having both those attributes.

Lines directly or indirectly linked to those less punctual lines, such as sharing Loop tunnels, tend to get affected too.

What perhaps is surprising is that until March, the reliability and punctuality data wasn’t automatically captured. It was gathered by Metro themselves, and a sample was cross-checked by PTV. (In contrast, the tram network has had automated monitoring for decades — the data from it is used to feed into Tram Tracker. Buses are mostly monitored manually, with only a tiny sample ever being reported on — a small enough number to make it meaningless, though steps are underway to automate it.)

Crowded train home

The sheer number of Loop diversions — about 10 per day, most likely concentrated at peak periods — is also surprising. This can cause a lot of disruption for people, and has flow-on effects to other services as people change trains. That’s if they’re told on time — I’ve been aboard a service that was diverted to bypass the Loop after leaving Richmond, giving no chance for people to change. Many were not happy.

The reasons for specific alterations weren’t included in the data, but we know this is gathered, as Metro get exclusions from performance penalties for problems they have no control over — which is fair enough.

Given we all pay for public transport services (as both passengers and taxpayers), is it not reasonable that this type of detailed information is published regularly? That would provide better visibility of delays and alterations, where and why they occur, and would cast light on specific parts of the network, what the problems are, and how they can be fixed — so voters can hold the operators, authorities and politicians to account.

Fixing the problems

It’s also important that the state government make sure Metro is only altering services for good reasons — such as a counter-peak service altered so a peak service can run on time, rather than just to help the punctuality statistics.

Metro may need to be pulled into line in the short term. How? Well former Labor transport minister Martin Pakula, while in opposition, seemed to think it was perfectly possible:

FORMER Labor transport minister Martin Pakula today called on the state government to force Metro to stop its practice of skipping stations to improve punctuality.


Mr Pakula says the situation could be easily resolved by Transport Minister Terry Mulder.

“There is the franchise agreement (between Metro and the state government) and there is common sense,” Mr Pakula says.
This can be resolved by the Transport Minister getting onto Metro and telling them it is not on.”

Herald Sun, 19/4/2012

Metro should be willing to listen, given you’d imagine they’re seeking an extension to their current contract, which expires soon.

Longer term? Line-by-line targeted investments can make the system more reliable, starting with those single track sections. And the new contracts (due during this term of government) need to be made more watertight against strategies like station skipping, to ensure the service is run in the interests of passengers.

Does the frequent part of the network need timetables?

A change in emphasis should also be considered. As the system transitions to a more “metro”-like network, with segregated lines running frequently, it’s arguable that specific train times matter less than keeping the service running frequently. For instance, if a 5 minute service is in place, it doesn’t matter if the 8:00 train arrives right on 8:00 — instead the contract might be structured so penalties apply for gaps between trains of more than 5.5 or 6 minutes.

The current regime has undesirable impacts right now. For instance, South Yarra sees dozens of trains every peak hour to the City, but some have to wait there for the timetable to catch up to them. This doesn’t make sense. If the 8:51 arrives early, and there’s a slot for it ahead to get into the City, and there’s another train right behind it, let it leave early.

Equally, if trains are running every 10 minutes down the line, and one gets cancelled, a big 20 minute gap eventuates. To even out the loads better, if it doesn’t cause any other problems, it might be better to hold the train before it and run it 5 minutes later, creating two 15 minute gaps instead.

If trains are frequent enough, people don’t bother with timetables. Eventually, if the network and the contracts are structured the right way, the operator could work to provide a frequent reliable service, where you know you’ll get to where you’re going quickly, rather than trying to meet specific train times which don’t matter anyway.

An issue to think about for the future.

Tram changes: Some make sense. Some, it seems, less so.

Via a couple of stories in the last few days, The Age has revealed proposed changes to the tram network, probably to take place from mid-year with the next big round of timetable changes.

Some context

First, some context. All the changes need to be seen in light of fleet changes, and growing patronage.

The load surveys for trams track crowding on trams at the pressure points, specifically the CBD fringe, and in the CBD itself. The “Average Maximum Capacity” figures for the last published survey in 2014 show worsening crowding on many routes.

(See also: What are the load standards for the different types of trams?)

Meanwhile the new E-class trams are rolling out onto route 96, and its D-class trams in turn are moving to route 19 (see below), with their B-class trams then moving to other routes. This is what Yarra Trams refers to as their Cascade Plan, and although it hasn’t been properly published, there’s a fair bit of detail in this document which has leaked out:

Yarra Trams fleet cascade plan, 2012

The oldest of the smaller Z-class trams are being retired. Overall it means more large trams on the network — so not necessarily growth in the fleet size, but certainly growth in fleet capacity.

Route changes

So, what are the proposed changes?

Route 8 (Toorak–City–Moreland) would be removed. The southern section would be served by an extension of route 55 (West Coburg–City–Domain) through to Toorak. The northern section (which mostly overlaps with route 1) would be served by a diverted route 1 to Moreland, as well as route 6 (Glen Iris–City) being extended to the current route 1 terminus at East Coburg.

Route 19 (North Coburg–City) will go to all D-class trams. Those are the longer low-floor trams introduced last decade, moving off route 96 as the E-class trams come in. The catch is trams will run slightly less frequently, though the precise details haven’t yet been released.

There’s one other unconfirmed change worth noting: All CBD routes would be upgraded to run at least every ten minutes off-peak on weekdays. This would presumably affect route 55 along William Street, and others such as those on Swanston Street which currently run at lower (typically 12 minute) frequencies.

These changes mostly makes sense. Having the 55 go to Toorak makes cross-town journeys from Toorak/South Yarra to Kingsway/South Melbourne easier. Those who want to go up St Kilda Road can still change at Domain Interchange, which was re-built in 2013 to enable a cross-platform transfer (in both directions) for this.

The northern section changes should make little difference to frequency, but depending on the balance of big trams, hopefully will add some capacity.

The question for busy Swanston Street (specifically the Domain via City to University section) will be whether a higher proportion of large trams makes up for one less route.

And for route 19 — will slightly fewer, but slightly bigger, trams provide enough capacity? That route is very busy at peak times, but also after dark. We’ll only know when we see more detail, and how it works in action.

Domain Interchange, shortly after it re-opened in April 2013

City Circle

The City Circle is also planned to have changes, with the proposal that it run in one direction only, with the route bypassing HarbourTown, thus returning it to an actual circle(ish). It sounds like this change is yet to be approved/locked-in.

At this stage it’s unclear if that would remain at the current 12 minute frequency (or perhaps 10 if bypassing HarbourTown), thus half the total current number of trams running, or some other arrangement.

Let’s assume for a moment that it’s reasonable to push the tram system as a whole towards modern, air-conditioned, low-floor trams, to increase accessibility and competitiveness with cars.

Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t make sense to cut the Ws from the City Circle in the context of:

  • rampant CBD crowding (in part due to the new Free Tram Zone) meaning having City-only routes actually makes more sense than ever to work alongside Suburb to City routes
  • the cost already spent to restore W-class trams
  • popularity of W-class trams with tourists (and locals), given their heritage value (even if they mostly don’t use heritage colours!)
  • eventual future provision of accessible trams on other routes covering almost all of the streets included in the City Circle

The unconfirmed information floating about is that instead of a cut in service, there’ll be the same number of trams, but all running in one direction. This would mean instead of both directions every 12 minutes, only one way (clockwise?) every 6 minutes.

That’d be pretty silly. Any delays from City Circle trams to other services would be removed in one direction, but doubled in the other. Likewise any relief to other overcrowded services would be in one direction only.

Crowded tram

Why no information? Why no consultation?

Perhaps the real problem here is that, as is far too common, bits of information are leaking out without any visibility of the entire plan, and the thinking behind it. (Remember, much of this was originally intended to happen next month, but will now presumably be in June when Regional Rail Link opens.)

Rather than put it all out there when asked last week by the media, there’s been no further clarification on what’s become public.

There’s already confusion. For instance some people seem to think Moreland Road in Brunswick will lose regular tram services, which isn’t the case.

Has this plan been flagged at the Yarra Trams Meet the Manager sessions held this month? I don’t know.

Changes are needed on the trams, and much of what’s proposed seems to make sense, but it’d be better to explain it all than to just assume that will the public hear the headlines and believe it’ll all be good — unfortunately the reality is that many will assume it’s all bad.

PS. There’s a petition running to retain W-class trams on the City Circle and at least one other route.

Southland station: now expected to open 2017

I remember when Labor and the Coalition both pledged to build Southland station.

It was 2010. I told my kids, who were excited. They were 15 and 12 at the time, just the ages when they were looking forward to exploring the city and suburbs on their own, going to places like Southland with friends.

This train will not stop at Southland station. Because there still isn't one yet. #SpringSt

Of course it was the Coalition who won the 2010 election. In 2012 I looked back at progress — at the time, not much. By 2013 a little bit of detail of the plans had emerged — for a basic station. No matter, said I — the fancy amenity can all come later. The important thing is just to get it built.

Toilets? Not that important. There are some in the centre on the ground floor, about 150 metres (or one train length) away.

Bus interchange? Not that important — almost all the bus routes that serve Southland already intersect the Frankston line at other stations.

In fact given that one could reasonably expect Westfield to expand the centre towards, up to and perhaps over the railway station once it’s clear it’s bringing more punters, much of any facilities provided would be likely to be replaced anyway.

Even with the bare-bones design, it took until 2014 for full funding to be provided in the state budget, with expected opening in 2016.

When I quizzed her about it last year, then-MP for Bentleigh Elizabeth Miller told me that construction would start in early 2015. At that point, the only progress had been a few banners unfurled at the site.

This week she noted that she had been the MP when the funding came through. Yes well, that’s good, but perhaps if that had happened in 2012 instead of 2014, and the station completed before the 2014 election, she might have held onto her seat. Nearby Carrum, Mordialloc and Frankston might have also stayed with the Coalition. The problem was, between 2012 and 2014, the Coalition was so fixated on the East West Link that they dropped the ball on even relatively cheap public transport promises like this. Such as contrast.

The news this week is that PTV is running consultation sessions (19th March 5:30-8:30pm, Cheltenham Community Centre and 21st March 9am-2pm at Southland) — and that toilets are back in scope.

They’re also wanting to know community views on an entrance via Tulip Grove, on the other side of the railway line. It seems someone at PTV had their wits about them when they spotted a property in the street had come up for sale, and bought it, to be used for construction — no compulsory acquisition required. I think it’d be good to provide permanent station access as well, with parking restrictions in the street to prevent shoppers parking there — but it makes sense to ask the locals what they think.

(I’m guessing it was number 60 Tulip Grove — that seems to have sold mid-last-year.)

But they’re now saying the station is expected to open in 2017.

By that time Southland Station is built, my kids will be 22 and 19, both old enough to drive — though at current trajectories of interest, I’m not assuming that they will be driving. That’s another story of course, but fundamentally if we’re hoping fewer people drive in the future, they will need other, viable options to get around.

With appalling bus services and very inconvenient train access, it’s hardly surprising that Southland remains so car-dependent, and it’s a battle every weekend to find a spot to park. The sooner the station opens the better.

PS: I understand the station is not planned to be Premium (fulltime staffed), despite the presence of public toilets. This is likely to be the first of this type of station, and will probably mean an Exeloo-type installation. Additionally Hallam station, also not Premium, was the subject of an election promise for toilets, so is likely to get an Exeloo. Presumably this type of automated self-cleaning toilet is an option for other stations as well, both staffed and unstaffed.

Update 8/3/2015: Comments from some local residents have prompted me to dig out a site plan I came across last year. It’s from 2013, so may have been revised, but hopefully is indicative of the current plan. No doubt we’ll hear more at the consultation sessions.

Southland station: Concept development diagram, Option 4 (March 2013)

It’s hard to see here — click here to see it bigger.

Update 11/3/2015: PTV has published more details, and plans and artist impressions on their web site.

As per the comments, the plan has changed a bit from the above diagram, with the platforms moved further south along the line.

Southland plan - published by PTV 11/3/2015

It’s worth noting that the intent is not to reposition the tracks. This is apparently difficult/expensive due to the nearby bridge over Bay Road. This rules out an island platform for the station.

Track conditions causing carriages to bump together like this can’t be good

One of the advantages of rail over road transport is the ride quality.

Well, that’s in theory. If enough care and funding goes in, trains can be extremely smooth. In practice on a rail network like Melbourne’s, with aging infrastructure, it can be a bumpy ride.

Now, I don’t have a major problem with a less than totally smooth ride, particularly around the many junctions on the system. A bit of a lurch to the left as we come out of the Loop and join the main line? I can deal with that.

I’m less keen on huge bumps and jolts on otherwise completely straight sections of track. Sure, one might not expect no lateral movement at all, but surely it can’t be a good thing if the carriages bounce around so much you can hear bits of them banging together.

This video is the Frankston line tracks, inbound, just north of the Yarra River approaching Richmond (adjacent that well-known landmark the railways Cremorne substation). It’s one of the busier sections of the network: most of the week it gets 6 trains per hour, but during morning peak about double that, plus a freight train or two each day.

I’ve probably been a teensy bit OTT in getting so many shots of it, but it’s on my usual commute, and I think it’s getting worse over time.

From the outside, the bounce is noticeable, but to the untrained eye it doesn’t look too bad.

But inside the train it’s a different story. As you can see, in a Siemens train the bump causes the end-of-carriage sections to make a lot of noise. It’s generally less noisy on Comeng trains, particularly near the front of the train, but I’ve found every so often there’ll be the sound of bits of carriage bouncing against each other.

The adjacent tracks don’t seem to have the same problem. Unfortunately it’s in a position where you can’t really get a good look at the tracks as trains go past.

It’s probably not the worst on the network. Here’s an example from a few years ago near Montmorency, filmed by Rod Williams — and apparently fixed after Channel 7 took a look:

There are many locations like this (though not usually as bad) around the network, raising recent concerns about the level of maintenance, though the regulator doesn’t consider there to be a safety problem.

Even assuming it’s safe and nothing’s about to come off the rails, it bumps the passengers around (which can cause standees to wobble and fall if not holding on tight), and in the long term, this type of lurching around can’t be doing the carriages any good at all.

The area of Metro’s maintenance (and other) arrangements is subject to a lot of speculation at the moment. Lots of email screeds full of unsubstantiated claims are flying around (cough: Sunstone), but one thing’s for sure — upkeep of the track and fleet shouldn’t be something to skimp on.

A lot of work has been done in recent years to install concrete sleepers, and generally upgrade the tracks. The question must be: has it been adequate?

On a section where the tracks are straight, on one of the busiest parts of the network, there should be no excuse for the trains bouncing and lurching around like this.

#Myki Monthly and Weekly Pass fares: more expensive than ever compared to daily fares

On many public transport systems, they go out of their way to encourage what we in Melbourne call Passes — sometimes called Season Passes, Periodicals, Monthly or Yearly tickets: a fixed price for unlimited travel for a period.

For the system, the benefits include reduced transaction costs, getting a bunch of money up front, and the promise of customer loyalty, at least for the Pass duration, but also beyond that if they like the discount and the service and renew.

For the passenger, they get a nice discount, and they don’t have to bother with queuing and buying more tickets for a while. In some places, they don’t even need to get their ticket out unless asked by an inspector.

Myki 2015 bus signage

Passengers can also use the Pass for any travel they like during that time, for instance weekday commuters might use it for social or recreational travel on weekends or evenings.

The key benefit of the Pass is the discount over everyday fares, but Melbourne’s used to have some other benefits which have been removed with the migration to Myki:

  • Pre-1990s Metcard, on weekends, a Weekly/Monthly/Yearly allowed travel not just for the cardholder, but also for another adult and kids, effectively becoming a weekend family ticket
  • Pre-Myki, on weekends the fare also allowed travel in any zone in Melbourne for no extra cost (the clumsy handling of this has led to the situation where some users actually get charged a negative fare for using extra zones now)

Personally I think the loss of these benefits is probably forgiveable. Bringing across every single fare oddity into a new system is part of what has made Myki so trouble prone. There’s a good argument that they should have simplified things further, such as scrapping the Weekly Pass and using an automatic Weekly Cap instead. But I digress.

The bigger effect of Myki, and in particular its compulsory use in Melbourne since the end of 2012, is that the Pass discount is now greatly diminished.

Melbourne Myki Pass costs vs daily fares

How many days does a Pass cost?

Weekly fares were about the cost 4.3 Dailies, from the 90s, right up to 2012. Since Daily fares were moved onto Myki Money, which is at a cheaper rate (since it was originally intended to sit alongside 2-hour and Daily short term/single use tickets), a Weekly fare is now equivalent to 5 weekdays.

In other words, the Weekly fare is no longer a great proposition, unless you know for sure that you’ll travel more than 5 days a week. If you’re not sure, or you never use public transport at weekends, you might as well use Myki Money.

A Monthly/30 Day Pass had been about the cost of 16.2 Dailies, making it a very attractive proposition for daily commuters. It’s now the cost of 18.4 weekdays, making it less compelling for 9-5 workers who might only have 20 days’ use in the month if they never use public transport on weekends.

A lot of people buy 33-day Passes, and have them start on a Monday, and end on the Friday five weeks later, avoiding paying for an intermediate weekend if they are unlikely to use it. With some planning ahead, you can also adjust the number of days (anywhere between 28 and 325) to fit in with public holidays or leave from work.

Yearlies used to be about the cost of 171 Dailies. They are now up at the cost of 199 weekdays.

For metropolitan passengers, there’s no reason to ever pay retail price for a Yearly. Get the Commuter Club discount via your workplace or PTUA instead.

Happily, the combination of the Yearly discount and the Commuter Club discount still makes it a pretty good deal for most everyday users, as long as they can afford the initial outlay (or their workplace can pay it via monthly deductions).

What about the weekend cap?

My calculations are perhaps a little shaky, but the figures come out significantly worse if you take into account that some days in a Pass would be subject to the $6 weekend/holiday daily cap, not the weekend price.

(While few would have welcomed the increase of the weekend daily cap from $3.50 to $6 in 2014, it did remove the anomaly whereby Myki Money users got weekend travel more cheaply than loyal Myki Pass users.)

Including the weekend cap in the calculation, a Weekly costs the same as 5.3 days (assuming no public holidays). A 30-day Pass is 23 days (also assuming no public holidays in the month). A Yearly is around 251 days (assuming 12 public holidays per year).

Average days per Monthly ticket cost (2011)

Comparing Melbourne to other cities

A PTUA study in 2011 found that Melbourne had one of the most expensive Monthly fare prices in the world, at 20.3 days. (The calculation used an average of Zone 1, Z2, and Z1+2 prices. I’ve used just Z1 above.)

The average for the other cities in the study was 12.5 days, and the European cities in particular had deep discounts for Monthly fares.

The prices may have changed a bit since then, particularly as many cities have moved to smartcards in the mean time, and changed their fare structures. For instance in Vancouver it appears the Monthly has moved up from 12.67 then to about the price of 15.5 days now (based on two single fares with transfers).

But most of them still seem to price their Monthlies cheaper than Melbourne.

I’m certainly not arguing that Myki Money fares should go up. The discount from paper tickets is a reasonable one, given the inconvenience of having no paper tickets available.

Given Melbourne’s Weekly Pass discount is negligible for most users, it might be time to revisit whether an automatic Weekly Cap (once proposed, and partly implemented) can easily replace it. A Monthly cap was also once proposed, but seems to have been excised at an early stage.

But to encourage regular users, the Monthly/Yearly price should really come down, at least to reflect the cut in daily fares that occurred when everybody got forced from paper tickets onto Myki.