I noted this tweet from my local state MP, boasting of improved punctuality on the Frankston line since she and the Coalition came to power in November 2010:
Frankston line punctuality in Nov 2010 86% & Aug 2013 93% =7.6% improvement. Vic Coalition delivering 4 #Bentleigh &Frankston line commuters
— Elizabeth Miller MP (@EMillerMP) September 17, 2013
But are these two figures really showing an improvement? Tony Smith on Twitter replied, pointing out that two data points aren’t a trend. (And I think he wants me to run for parliament.)
— Tony Smith (@ynotds) September 17, 2013
Funny thing is, my records show punctuality was actually lower than Ms Miller quoted in November 2010 — at just 73.5% (arrivals within 5 minutes). I suspect she was looking at the November 2011 figure.
Here’s the period in question on a graph, with a trend line added.
So yes, the trend is up.
But there’s a problem with the Coalition claiming credit for it. The biggest boost in punctuality in mid-2011 was when a timetable re-write was introduced, separating out most weekday services from the Dandenong line. It also cut the myriad of stopping patterns. But that timetable was largely prepared while Labor was still in power.
The other relevant changes during the Coalition’s term (apart from very welcome boosts in weekend frequency) were timetable tweaks providing a longer running time on the line (in some cases leaving multimillion dollar trains sitting idle waiting for the timetable to catch up), and Metro’s new habit of skipping stations (either bypassing them completely by running direct instead of via the Loop, or running express where scheduled to stop) to catch up time.
Metro would claim that this is to keep trains in position by ensuring one service delay doesn’t cascade into the next, but on occasions they have been found to be doing this where it didn’t make operational sense — such as this example, where an evening shoulder-peak train was altered to stop at just a handful of stations, despite plenty of trains being available for its return run.
Network-wide the punctuality trend is also up, though it’s less pronounced:
So overall, there’s no denying the punctuality stats have improved since November 2010.
But what about…
But what about a graph of that other big election promise for the Frankston line?
The state government continues to push the East-West motorway (a plan they barely mentioned in the 2010 election campaign) over major public transport projects.
But what do the people want? As it happens there’s a pretty clear message from surveys going back at least five years. (Skip to the end for the latest one.)
And 94% believe the Government should be spending more on public transport. Extra spending on roads was supported by 55% of those surveyed.
The survey, taken last month by Sweeney Research, involved 601 respondents in Melbourne and 2000 nationally.
– The Age 20/10/2008: Melburnians want better system
A survey of attitudes to transport found that 94 per cent of respondents believed more money should be spent on public transport, while just 68 per cent said the government did not spend enough on roads.
This trend was reflected nationally, with an average of 88 per cent of those surveyed calling for more public transport funding, and 73 per cent wanting more spending on road infrastructure.
– The Age 10/4/2011: Fix trains, then roads: commuters
ALMOST two-thirds of Australians believe investment in public transport is more important than investment in roads, a survey has found.
In Victoria 63 per cent of people surveyed said investing in public transport was the highest priority, compared with 20 per cent who believed it was most important to invest in roads.
– The Age 26/9/2012: Make room: transport survey, quoting the University of Sydney
Over half (53%) of Australians said that the highest priority issue for transport in Australia is public transport improvements, followed by road improvements (26%).
– University of Sydney, Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies (ITLS): Transport Opinion Survey (TOPS), Quarter 1, March 2013 (an update of the survey quoted for September 2012)
Would you prefer the Napthine Government to spend more on public transport or road infrastructure projects, like the East West Link tunnel?
Public transport 58.8%
Road infrastructure projects 32.3%
Update 23/7/2013: It’s emerged via a Melbourne Times Weekly article that more RACV members believe enhanced public transport is a better fix for traffic congestion than more roads. In responding to the article, the RACV has revealed that only 38% of their members support the East-West tollway tunnel.
Update 28/11/2013: A poll published by The Age today shows 23% support the East West tunnel, compared to 74% supporting improved public transport.
Next Tuesday’s state budget is probably the last chance the government has to fund Southland station as promised and have work well underway by the time the next election comes around.
Given a string of seats along the Frankston line swung on public transport issues, if it doesn’t get funding, I reckon there’ll be some nervous local Coalition MPs.
I won’t recount the recent history again, but let’s assume for a moment that the Coalition’s $13 million costing for the station was too low. And let’s assume that Labor’s $45 million was too high (as it included moving the existing bus interchange, which I still think is not a priority). What if for argument’s sake, the real cost was going to be, say, $30 million?
And how would that $30 million, which would benefit people right along the Frankston line corridor, compare to the various road projects that have been funded recently?
A quick skim of the Vicroads web site, excluding public transport projects such as grade separations and tram and bus lanes, shows the following, mostly relatively minor, projects:
- Stud Road widening — $12.7m
- Yarra Glen truck bypass — $15m
- Tullamarine Freeway safety barriers — $4.8m
- Cooper Street, Epping widening — $7.5m
- Plenty Road, South Morang widening — $21.8m
- Clyde Road, Berwick upgrade — $55.6m
- Dingley Arterial, Keysborough — $74.6m
- Dingley Arterial, Moorabbin — $155.7m
- Hallam Road, Hampton Park widening — $38m
- Narre Warren-Cranbourne Road widening — $49m
- Pound Road, Dandenong widening — $36.8m
I’ve also excluded another $170 million of various road upgrade projects announced yesterday — apparently mostly repairs to deteriorating country road surfaces, rather than road expansion.
Now, I’m not saying that specific projects on the above list should not have been funded — I don’t know enough about them — for all I know, some might be bringing genuinely needed safety improvements, for example. (The Dingley Arterial, however, in my view is just a continuation of past rampant freeway building in the misguided belief that it’ll fix traffic congestion.)
Nor am I saying that PT has received no funding since the election.
But the projects above, which have been funded and commenced with relatively little fuss, and many of which I suspect weren’t even in the Coalition’s election manifesto, add up to $471 million — or more than fifteen times the cost of Southland station.
You have to hand it to the roads guys. While the marginal seats that gave the Coalition the last election keep waiting for Southland station, road funding keeps rolling on.
YEARS ago, it might have been strange to think the fortunes of a government could rest on a suburban railway line.
That was before the last Victorian election, when the Frankston train line became a potent symbol of the Brumby government’s transport woes: overcrowded carriages, ageing infrastructure, myki cost blowouts.
Labor hardheads call it the Frankston Train Wreck – that fateful polling day in 2010 when voters in the sandbelt seats of Frankston, Carrum, Mordialloc, and Bentleigh helped install the Baillieu government with a cautionary tale: a bad transport system loses votes; the pledge of a good one is a game-changer.
If you were an MP in one of these seats… the most marginal seat in the state in fact (and the one that ultimately decided the election), halfway through your term, and it was widely recognised that what swung voters was dissatisfaction with public transport, yet those at the top of the parliamentary tree were prioritising roads instead (contrary to their election promises), and there was continuing speculation that public transport having been your ticket to victory last time might be your downfall next time, what would you do?
Maybe you’d issue a seasonal card emphasising some good things about public transport, like free Christmas Day and all-night New Year’s Eve public transport, extra Nightrider services, as well as a new taxi sharing scheme?
Before Bentleigh electorate residents get too excited about the wonderful PT upgrades the government has provided, there is a catch of course.
Free Christmas Day and all-night New Year’s Eve public transport is a nice gesture. All-night services on NYE have been provided since 2004-5 (after the then Labor government was thoroughly embarrassed by the lack of it the year before). It’s probably free on NYE for practical considerations. Free rides on Christmas day probably result in little revenue lost, though many pack onto V/Line trains for free rides to the regions — to full accommodate demand may cost a bit of money. Perhaps instead it should be a token amount for charity, to discourage too many free-loaders?
The extra Nightrider services do indeed boost capacity and cut waiting times, with Frankston-bound buses up to every 15 minutes on Friday and Saturday nights before Christmas. But these run down the Nepean Highway, only within reasonable walking distance of a fraction of the electorate. In extreme cases it might take you well over an hour to walk from a Nightrider stop to a home in the eastern part of the electorate. Arguably what Nightrider really needs is a recasting of the route structure, to better follow the busiest daytime routes (eg rail and tram lines, preferably while not adding too much to travel time) and provide a network that people actually understand.
Taxi sharing is an interesting idea, with a flat rate to share a maxi taxi on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s so new it’s unclear if it’ll really solve the problem — which is a lack of after-midnight mass transit in a busy city, especially on Sunday to Thursday nights.
The flip side of Ms Miller’s card is asking for feedback.
I’ll send mine in. To my mind, the two priorities in transport would have to be bringing the 703 up to proper Smartbus standards, and building Southland station.
I’m very transport-focussed, of course. What non-transport issues need state-level attention in Bentleigh?
The last state election swung on public transport — both sides said so — specifically on the perceived lack of action from Labor on fixing the trains, resulting in delays, cancellations and sometimes horrendous overcrowding.
The Liberals, especially in the seat of Prahran, should be aware that this is still happening on a regular basis between Malvern and South Yarra:
I hasten to add it’s not every train that’s this packed.
It appears to be a combination of issues: firstly delays to inbound peak trains on the Dandenong line, resulting in crowding — particularly the 7:53 from Cranbourne (8:37 from Malvern). Possibly the train beforehand is on-time or cancelled.
Secondly, poor information at the MATHS stations which results in loads of people waiting on platform 3 as the train pictured arrives — despite the train from Moorabbin arriving simultaneously (on time, 8:41 Malvern) having plenty of space.
Thirdly there’s poor timetabling at work here. The peak timetable which nicely balances passengers between Dandenong expresses, Frankston expresses and Frankston stoppers grinds to a halt shortly before this time, despite it still being peak hour.
Often people are left behind, particularly at Toorak, Hawksburn and South Yarra. I see this happening perhaps once or twice a week — it might well be happening every day but my train isn’t always parallel so I don’t always see it.
Toorak, Hawksburn and South Yarra are in, or adjacent to the seat of Prahran. Prahran swung from Labor to the Coalition in 2010.
Services to many stations seem to have improved since the election. But these people do not look delighted at the state of their train service. If I were current member Clem Newton-Brown, I’d be concerned about this.
Metro was already having a bad Monday morning peak with the inner part of the Sandringham line suspended due to a maintenance train derailing overnight. Things didn’t improve when at about 7:15 the outer section of the Cranbourne line also went down, and it just got worse when at 8:10 a train caused an overhead power fault at Caulfield. By 8:40, they were evacuating that train and others, as these snaps I grabbed from a passing Frankston line train show:
They weren’t the best pictures, but thanks to Twitter, what they did do was alert journalists that there was a major disruption emerging at Caulfield. The second pic got picked up by The Age, though far better was a pic and video shot by Gavin Tan on Twitter:
Now, the maintenance train derailing on the Sandringham line could be just bad luck. Metro are pointing at vandalism for the Caulfield problem. And the Cranbourne issue (which seemed to recur on Monday afternoon)? We don’t know.
But it all underscores just how fragile and troubleprone the rail network continues to be.
The political fallout
While Metro might be the operator, it’s the level of investment, and the level of scrutiny of the operator that must ensure a good outcome. And that’s the government’s job.
The last state election was won and lost on public transport — both sides said so.
Not everybody uses the trains, but everybody knows somebody that uses the trains. In the 2010 election campaign, they were a powerful symbol of a government failing to deliver.
Will history repeat in 2014?
- Update Wednesday: Pic also published by Leader
These anonymous flyers appear to have popped up overnight (at least I didn’t spot them yesterday) around Bentleigh station.
I might note that since the 2010 timetable was introduced (and the tweaks in 2011), the morning commute is slower, but I for one can almost always get a seat on the train in the mornings, apart from when there are cancellations and other disruptions. However, I consistently travel after 8am on weekdays — it may be a different story before 8.
Whoever posted these new ones, it seems public transport is still a hot button issue — something both major parties would do well to note.
I didn’t spot any signs relating to the sub-par Bentleigh “Smartbus”.
Last Wednesday the Ombudsman/Auditor General report into government ICT (Information & Communications Technology) projects was released. Included in the list of projects gone bad that it investigated was our old favourite Myki, with some interesting findings on the timings and costings:
The TTA business case dated 27 April 2004 had forecast total expenditure of $741.9 million over the life of the project (2004-17). Following the award of the contract in 2005, the budget was revised to $999 million … In April 2008, the budget was increased to $1.35 billion…
More interesting is what the conclusion is on where to go from here:
In my [The Ombudsman's] view, the TTA focus in the short-term must be to ensure the operational efficacy of myki as soon as possible and replace Metcard. I can see no reason why the TTA cannot immediately commence planned transition from Metcard to myki on a station by station, line by line basis. This will minimise the significant costs associated with running parallel systems.
I think this makes a lot of sense — provided they can come up with a solution to the short term ticket problem, preferably, of course, continued availability using cheap thermal tickets, as seen in Brisbane. They should also do another “free” card offer (perhaps just make the card free with a balance deposit).
It’s not just the costs of running Metcard and Myki, it’s also the problems caused by the two systems coexisting — primarily slow and unreliable/unresponsive “Frankenbarriers” at major stations, and bus/tram location detection problems because drivers have no access to Myki consoles to log what route they’re running, and the GPS apparently can’t work it out on its own.
Other than these issues, Myki pretty much works, and it’s time for the government to bite the bullet and get on with it.
I saw the TTA’s old transition plan as being the logical way to go.
For instance, with trains, one day you’d arrive at your station to find the Metcard vending and booking office machines gone, Myki machines in their place, with only Metcard validators remaining (for existing tickets). Station and TTA staff (Myki Mates) would be there for a few days to explain to you how to buy a card, charge it up and work it, answer questions, solve any problems.
Have a few teams converting a few stations each day, and you’d soon have the biggest part of the network/regular passengers switched (eg “station by station, line by line”, as the Ombudsman says.)
Then do the same on trams and buses.
Residual Metcards (weeklies, monthlies, yearlies, 10×2) would disappear over time and at some point they would offer fee-free refunds on them (as has occurred when other types of tickets were withdrawn). Once they’re all gone, remove the Metcard validators.
(In fact I suspect Metcard Yearlies have almost disappeared, given it was about a year ago when they switched to selling Yearlies only on Myki.)
Sure, there’ll be glitches along the way, but if the government gets on with it, it’ll all be over and done with and working, well before the 2013 state election, and won’t be something that’ll haunt them going into the next poll.