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.

Now mostly no monetary benefit from touching-off your #Myki

As far as I can see, since the January zone changes, there is now no monetary benefit to touching-off your Myki for trips in zone 1, or zone 1+2.

This is because the Myki Money Default fare (the fare it assumes you should be charged if you touched-on, but never touched-off) is normally the same as the fare incurred for those trips anyway: $3.76 full fare, or $1.88 for concession.

This means you may be able to avoid the long queues to touch-off when exiting non-gated stations, as well as crowded buses (and trams).

I’ve tested this on Myki Money — it works correctly.

(It’s always been the case that Myki Pass had a default fare of zero if the trip started in a zone covered by an active Pass.)

Myki default fare on trains is now $3.76

There are a few exceptions

There are always complications with Myki. It’s consistently inconsistent. Here are some examples of where you may want to touch-off:

If you are intending on making another trip within two hours, you may wish to touch-off, otherwise your next touch on the same mode may be treated as a touch-off, potentially leaving you without a valid ticket if you don’t notice. This will happen if it’s the same station, and may also happen if you board the exact same bus or tram as your previous trip. If you didn’t touch-off, double-check your next touch when you board is on.

For Zone 2-only local trips, it’s still worth touching-off if you want the cheaper zone 2-only fare. If you were going into zone 1 anyway, it doesn’t matter.

(By the way, on Zone 2-only buses, the Default fare, if everything’s working correctly, would be the zone 2-only fare. Ditto, theoretically, on a tram in the zone 1+2 overlap heading towards its outer terminus. But Myki has enormous problems with GPS location detection, so don’t count on it.)

V/Line users need to be wary. The $3.76 fare applies from Melbourne out as far as Lara, Bacchus Marsh, Riddells Creek and Wandong, but if the conductor comes through and checks your ticket, they may also set the default fare to the end of the service, which could be a lot further away.

You may also wish to touch-off if you’re trying to take advantage of the Myki Pass payback glitch.

On the first trip on a new Myki Pass, I’m not sure if it’ll activate properly if you don’t touch-off. Anybody tested that?

It’s unclear what this will do to the stats if lots of people stop touching-off, but they basically threw away the prospect of comprehensive stats when they started recommending no touch-off on most tram trips (back in 2010). So perhaps it doesn’t greatly matter. They still use manual counting anyway.

And of course on suburban trains, the worst crowding is AM peak, and since most of those trips start with a touch-on, and end at a gated station with a touch-off, they’ll still have good stats for the busiest time on the rail network.

If default fares confuse you, it may be worth touching-off — remember, they get charged the next time you use the system, and that could be hours, days, weeks or months later. This can also result in some odd-looking online statements.

Queue exiting station to touch-off

Will they promote this?

Having locked us poor suffering taxpayers into spending $1.5 billion over ten years for the complicated, bespoke Myki system (and also a small fortune on adding station exits), now they’ve basically switched Melbourne to a flat fare for most users, will they officially promote the fact that it mostly makes no difference if you don’t touch-off?

I don’t know. They never did so for Pass users, even though it would help clear the exits at busy suburban stations in the evenings (and in turn, help trains run on time, as sometimes the crowds block the driver’s view, delaying departure).

PS: Additional reasons to touch-off:

  • If inspectors are standing there, obviously you might as well to avoid any questions
  • If using Early Bird, to ensure you get the free fare (thanks Roger)

Related: TheMykiUser also blogged about this same issue.

PS. If you haven’t heard: PTV is finally getting its timetable data ready for release for Google Transit (and other apps) in March: Age report.

Another glitch with #Myki: It pays you $1.52 to travel further

Over the years there have been various problems with the Myki ticketing system. Some have been self-inflicted, such as the lack of a single use ticket, which was the result of a Coalition decision in 2011. Others are down to poor implementation, such as the slow and inconsistent read times for cards, or the difficulty that trams and buses have in detecting which of Melbourne’s two gigantic zones they are in.

Perhaps the most alarming issues are those that involve incorrect charging. There was a doozy found in 2013 where a Pass would activate early. And a few years ago a glitch emerged where if someone with a Zone 1 Myki Pass went travelling into zone 2 on the weekend, the system would pay them 2 cents for doing so. At the time, the Transport Ticketing Authority tried to claim it was a result of the system working as it should to calculate the correct fare, but admitted it may appear to be a quirky outcome.

A new issue has emerged since the zone changes on 1st of January. Uncovered by dedicated Myki user “TheMykiUser“, under some circumstances, the system will credit you $1.52 in Myki Money.

Myki bug

I replicated it myself on Sunday. It would seem the circumstances are:

  • You need to have a zone 1-only Myki Pass
  • It needs to be a public holiday or weekend — this doesn’t happen on a regular weekday when the $6 cap doesn’t apply
  • You need to travel in zone 2 on two separate occasions (eg in two separate 2-hour blocks) on the same day — this could be for instance travelling into zone 2, then travelling back, provided you touch-on to come back more than 2-hours after you first touched-on

Somehow the combination of a day’s travel in zone 2, but having already paid for zone 1, with the weekend/public holiday $6 cap applying means the system will decide that rather than charge you an additional amount it will credit you for $1.52.

Why does it do it?

Note that $1.52 is the same amount of the weekday zone 1+2 daily fare $7.52, minus the weekend/public holiday $6 cap, so it’s assumed these are factors.

Those who have bigger brains than I may like to try and interpret this text in the 2015 Fares And Ticketing Manual, which documents Myki’s business rules:

Where a product already exists on a customer’s myki (a 2 hour product, Daily product or a myki pass) that is valid for a zone(s) and the customer makes a journey that consists of, or includes, travel in a zone(s) for which the existing product is not valid, the fare for the journey is the 2 hour fare for all zones for which the existing product is valid combined with the zone(s) for which the existing product is not valid minus the 2 hour fare for all zones for which the existing product is valid.

I’m recognising the individual words, but translating it into an equation where it pays you $1.52 is a bit beyond me at present.

And what’s staggering is that nowhere in the fare calculation logic did they include a sanity check that says: Is the final fare less than zero? If so, set it to zero, because it doesn’t make sense to have a negative fare.

Myki 2015 bus signage

If they want Myki to work smoothly, they should stop messing with the fare structure

This issue has occurred since the zone changes on 1st of January.

After all the problems Myki has had, the politicians should know better than to mess with the ticketing system like this, but having come up with the clumsy plan to cut prices by removing two-zone fares[1], the boffins at PTV and their contractors had to find a way to implement it.

I had assumed they would expand zone 1 to cover all of zone 2 as well (thus making a huge overlap area, but reflecting how they changed the tram zones in 2010), but they seem to have implemented it in a different way, which probably explains why they no longer sell a Zone 1 Pass — instead they sell a Zone 1+2 Pass (at the price of a zone 1-only Pass), or a slightly cheaper Zone 2-only Pass.[2] I suspect this bug won’t appear using one of the new Zone 1+2 Passes.

Who knows how many thousands of people have those existing Zone 1 Passes which have this quirk. (On weekdays these correctly give free travel in zone 2.) That said, it’s probably not the kind of issue that’ll see lots of people trying to gain a $1.52 credit.

Myki check, showing $1.52 credit

It’s not the first time a political decision has caused headaches with Myki. The removal of zone 3 in 2007 (well after Myki had started being built, but before the public rollout started) meant problems for the higher numbered regional zones, and eventually left Lara station in three zones: 2, 3 and 4. As with the latest change, they would have done better to reduce all fares rather than remove zones.

The result is, I suspect, a bug which will affect existing Zone 1-only Passes, until these have all expired, and been replaced by Zone 1+2 Passes over the next year or so.

  • [1] All that money — $1.5 billion over ten years — paid to build and run the Myki system, and now most trips all cost the same price. Terrific.
  • [2] Of course they also sell Passes for other regional zones. This article concentrates on Melbourne zones 1 and 2.
  • TheMykiUser has also written a blog post on this issue

Update Tuesday: The Age — Myki: now it’s paying you to travel