#Myki. It’s as simple as Touch on (unless you don’t have to), and Touch off (only if you need to).

I noted this new Myki signage on trams, reflecting the free CBD tram zone from January:

Myki signage on trams, December 2014

Once it was a simple message: Top up, touch on, touch off.

Now it’s top up, touch on (unless you don’t need to) and touch off (only if you need to).

From the PTV FAQ, it’s clear that they haven’t reprogrammed Myki for the free zone. If you touch on and/or off within it, you will be charged for zone 1, as now. If you do touch on in the tram free zone and want a refund, they say you need to touch off (also in the free zone) then you can contact them for a refund. Bear in mind that if you’re making non-free trips elsewhere that day, it may not make any monetary difference.

Confused yet? Not surprised.

Touch off would never have become a problem if Myki response times were consistently fast, as they are on other public transport smartcard systems. Originally it was thought the system would be so fast that they were going to use the terminology “scan on, scan off“… but by mid-2010, they knew it was going to be so much of a problem clogging up tram exits that they extended zone 1 to the end of all tram routes and told people not to bother touching off.

The new gates they’re trialling at stations such as Richmond and Springvale are an improvement in terms of response times, though it’s unclear if these would work on trams.

Touch on won’t be needed either, from January 1st if you’re travelling entirely in the free CBD tram zone. There is of course no monetary difference if you travel in and out of the CBD by public transport (unless you use the free Early Bird train fare).

Tread carefully if you’re planning a free ride though. The free zone ends the stop before the Casino, Museum and the Arts Centre. One wit on Reddit noted the free zone looks quite like a yellow (green?) submarine.

PTV free tram zone from 1st January 2015

The change to free CBD trams and (almost) scrapping of zone 2 reflects something of a race to the bottom by the political parties in this year’s state election. It’s unclear if the patronage growth resulting from the fare cuts will be reflected in extra services or at least bigger trams to relieve crowding… but one can only hope that the next big fare change will be more equitable. Like taxes, fares should ultimately be both affordable (not a deterrent to patronage growth), and helping to grow revenue in a sustainable way that helps public transport services continue to expand.

Those who can, might like to check out options for traversing the CBD by bus… Lonsdale Street and Queen Street are well-served by frequent buses most of the time.

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.

Tram extensions: Not as expensive as some claim #VicVotes

The Greens have policy going into the State Election for 17 smallish tram extensions.

Mostly they make a lot of sense — extending many tram routes from their current outer termini in the middle of nowhere (a hangover from when trams and railways competed) to a more logical point such as a nearby railway station or shopping centre. This helps ensure both ends of those routes go to somewhere useful: a traffic generator such as Chadstone, or providing better connections on the public transport network.

The only one I’m doubtful about is extending route 82 from Footscray to the City. Given the route would go through the mostly empty port area, I don’t see the point, as passengers for the city have some of Melbourne’s most frequent trains (which are faster) or some of Melbourne’s most frequent buses to get them there. Personally I wouldn’t see it near the top of my wish list until there’s some redevelopment around the port.

Hey tram fans, is this the first C-class tram in the new #PTV colours? #yarratrams

But in any case, the Greens’ estimate for all this was $840 million.

Wednesday’s Herald Sun savaged it, comparing costs with brand new light rail networks interstate such as the Gold Coast Light Rail system, and extrapolating a per-kilometre cost. The problem is they forgot about new system establishment costs such as depots and fleets aren’t applicable to short extensions to existing systems.

They came up with a figure of $4.7 to $6.9 billion. They used that and other estimates as the basis of an editorial accusing the Greens of threatening the state’s economic stability if they won the balance of power.

The Greens had submitted their policy to the Department of Treasury and Finance for an independent estimate. DTF published that yesterday afternoon (along with a bunch of others). It came out at $1.36 billion. Not as optimistic as the Greens, but a long way from the Herald Sun estimate.

The Greens: tram extension costings

The full DTF document is worth reading for future reference: in summary it says tram lines should cost in the region of $15 million per kilometre, with additional costs for platform stops ($1.7m each), works for major intersections ($2.8m each), substations (for extensions over 5 kilometres $5m each) and terminus works ($5m each).

Update 20/11/2014: Greg Barber points out that DTF said there would be cost savings if multiple projects were implemented:

Traffic light programming is why your CBD tram trip is start, stop, start

It’s not uncommon to see trams stopped at traffic lights along Bourke Street, sometimes in queues, at locations where there is no stop.

If you’ve wondered why your tram journey is start-stop, it won’t surprise you to learn that the lights are all over the place.

Tram westbound on Bourke Street, waiting at Queen Street

With the handy-dandy stopwatch function on my mobile phone, I timed the lights along the central and western section of Bourke Street.

Bourke 30 / Swanston 30 = 60 second cycle

Bourke 35 / Elizabeth 35 = 70

Bourke 47 / Pedestrian crossing near Hardware Lane 23 = 70

Bourke 40 / Queen 50 = 90

Bourke 30 / William 60 = 90

Bourke 30 / King 70 = 100

No wonder trams have to stop continually at lights!

Trams on Bourke Street

Along Bourke Street, and other CBD tram streets, there are numerous improvements that could be made…

Shorter cycles — There are obviously competing demands on the various streets. Because of large numbers of pedestrians, you can’t necessarily have pre-emptive traffic lights that detect trams coming and switch instantly to give them the green. But you could certainly reduce the cycle times. Judging from existing timings, even with our wide streets, it could be as little as 30 seconds each way, or a cycle every 60 seconds. This would greatly cut down waiting times for trams and walkers and everybody else for that matter — but you’d need to check the 15ish seconds Green Man time is enough to get waiting pedestrians off the kerb.

The King Street intersection is particularly bad, giving most of its time to cars — despite Vicroads data showing traffic on all segments of King Street between Flinders and Latrobe Street dropping between 2001 and 2011, and despite that policy should not be to prioritise cars in and through the CBD.

But William Street is almost as bad, despite having much fewer trams than Bourke Street (typically 5 per hour on route 55 vs about 15 per hour on routes 86 and 96 combined).

To help tram drivers know when to depart, for the spots where traffic lights are distant from the tram stops, they should get these lights working — they’re meant to indicate when the best time is to take off. It doesn’t necessarily result in a quicker trip for the tram, but it may allow the driver to wait for passengers who might otherwise miss the tram, while knowing the tram isn’t about to miss a green light.

That’s the theory, but they never seem to actually operate.

Tram stop, Bourke Street at Spencer Street

Co-ordinated cycles — For where there are multiple intersections which are between tram stops, whether or not they are short cycles or long, they should at least be co-ordinated. In this section the important ones are the intersections at Elizabeth and Queen Streets, as well as the pedestrian light in the middle. A tram leaving the Elizabeth Street stop westbound, and not delayed by anything else, should never get a red light before the next stop — and vice versa.

Obviously you’d need to work out the best cycles for the intersecting streets as well — for trams on Elizabeth Street and buses on Queen Street. But how hard could it be?

With the recent movement of tram stops, there are now similar blocks of traffic lights between stops along Swanston Street and Elizabeth Street.

Traffic light programming isn’t the only cause of tram delays of course.

But if moving people quickly and efficiently around the CBD is a priority — and it should be — these issues need to be addressed.

  • A PTUA study found up to 30% of tram travel time is spent wasted waiting at red lights

Giving with one hand, taking with the other: 2014-15 #Myki fare reform

I’ve already written previously about the fare changes happening (some announced in December, others announced in March), but it’s probably worth considering them all together.

Ad in train for government fare changes

Exact 2-hour fares — from 10/8/2014

From yesterday, 2-hour fares are exactly two hours.

Although it was originally flagged in December, this has crept up, quietly announced on Friday by PTV, with only two days notice — quite different from the “good” changes that the government is promoting heavily, many months in advance.

(They still last until 3am if started after 6pm; and long V/Line trips still get extra time if travelling across more than 5 zones. The Daily cap still applies, eg a maximum of two 2-hour fares. And the touch-off can be after the expiry time without incurring another fare.)

2-hour Met ticket from 1991-92This was arguably a hangover from paper tickets, which had a limited number of notches to mark the hour of expiry. But the rule had been carried over to Metcard and to Myki.

On one level it’s logical to use a fixed time period rather than starting from the next hour.

But some people used it to get a cheap round trip, for instance a quick journey to the shops or the doctor. It seems unlikely this change will pull in a lot more revenue, but for those watching their pennies, it may make a big impact.

It remains to be seen if people will mill about station entrances waiting until the train is coming to touch-on. I never saw a huge number of people waiting for the hour to tick over, though some certainly did.

And it may cause problems on long trips, as if you’re travelling for two hours, then go to touch-off, the system will treat it as another touch-on (with a default two-zone fare). At a station you can touch-off again using the Change Of Mind feature, but on a bus, such as Melbourne’s loooong orbital Smartbus routes, there’s no such option.

I actually think it would have been a better move to make it a fixed three hour period. (At one stage, all tickets were 3 hours.) Minimal impact on revenue, but fairer for those on limited budgets wanting to make short local trips, especially in the outer suburbs where services are often infrequent.

And of course, Myki equipment should show the expiry time of the fare. At the moment, it’s not shown anywhere for Myki Money — and it’s not like many people will be able to remember they touched-on at precisely 11:06am.

Weekend daily cap rise — from 1/1/2014

We shouldn’t forget this one: Last year the maximum daily fare in Melbourne on weekends and public holidays was $3.50. This year it’s $6. Combined with the above change, some weekend travel has jumped around 70% in price.

It’s unclear if this has had an impact on weekend travel.

Tram in Bourke Street Mall

Free tram rides in the CBD — from 1/1/2015

From this coming January, all trams in the CBD will become free.

Obviously the impact is likely to be that CBD trams — already often crowded — will become even more crowded.

I’ll leave it to then-Premier Joan Kirner to explain who benefits from this one, in this Age article from just before the 1992 state election:

Joan Kirner on free CBD trams, The Age, 11/9/1992

In 1992 the Kennett government was voted in, and arguably (thankfully) back-pedalled a little, introducing the free City Circle tram, rather than making all CBD trams free.

I’m with Joan on this. The major beneficiaries are motorists — the very last people who should be benefiting — though tourists and CBD residents will also gain.

But most public transport users don’t benefit at all, because their fare to and from work already includes all day travel in the CBD. As I’ve already noted, Alanis Morissette might have said of this: It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid.

Indeed, last week I was surveyed by PTV about the change. I honestly said that if this makes trams more crowded, I’ll be using them less. In that case, the freeloaders will win at the expense of paying public transport users.

Thankfully the CBD congestion levy area (that’s a tax on inner-city carparks, which anecdotally is working in discouraging motorists into the CBD, and may even be convincing car park owners to redevelop their properties into something more profitable) is bigger than the free tram area, so we hopefully won’t see people driving to the city-fringe where they can jump on a free tram to work, though you don’t know what a price signal like this might do.

Zone 1 to cover all of Melbourne — from 1/1/2015

Also from January the most you’ll pay within the current zone 1 and 2 area is a zone 1 fare. This includes all of metropolitan Melbourne, and regional areas as far away as Lara, Wallan and Bacchus Marsh.

One wonders how this will affect crowding, particularly on trains (both Metro and V/Line), but also on Doncaster area buses, which have a lot of two-zone trips.

Obviously this benefits outer-suburban passengers who travel into zone 1 regularly — provided of course they have a decent service they can access. For many, railway stations may remain too far to walk, nearby parking scarce, and connecting buses poor (as noted in an Auditor General report released last week).

Those who currently just travel across a zone boundary will obviously be happy. The current huge jump is pretty hard to bear if you’re only going an extra stop or two.

In a way this puts all of Melbourne on an equal footing in terms of fare cost, though it also means a huge disparity in the cost per kilometre.

The government estimated that this change and free CBD tram rides will cost about $100 million per year. (To be precise, the budget put it at $390 million over 4 years.)

Long term, the real danger is upward pressure on the standard zone 1 fare, as seen in Adelaide with their single fare zone, and in Melbourne after zone 3 was merged with zone 2.

Fares up by CPI plus 2.5% — 1/1/2015 and 1/1/2016

While they’re cutting the two-zone fare, the government did announce in December that there would be CPI+2.5% rises two years in a row, in 2015 and 2016. So it seems while the cost of two-zone trips drop, single zone trips will start to creep up.

Still unconfirmed

Still unconfirmed but strongly rumoured: Removal of the Earlybird fare. Once again, it’s unclear how much revenue this would pull in, remembering that the original impetus was to save money that would otherwise need to be spent providing extra train capacity in morning peak.

And while Labor has said they’d go ahead with the two-zone price cut and free CBD trams, they haven’t said anything about rolling back the 2-hour change, nor about the CPI+2.5% rises.

Conclusion

It’s a real mixed bag of reforms that the government has announced — giving with one hand, taking away with the other.

Revenue is going to be up and down, all over the place. It’s really hard to see this as anything more than a grab bag of politically-motivated changes, rather than a well-planned, thoughtful strategy to make fares fairer.

They’re obviously courting outer-suburban voters with the zone changes.

They may not care much (or haven’t thought about) about the impact on people with limited incomes trying to squeeze the most they can out of a 2-hour fare.

Free CBD tram rides… well, I’m not sure it’ll convince many residents in the state seat of Melbourne to vote for them (it’s really a Labor/Greens contest), but those who drive their cars into the city and like free rides at lunchtime will certainly be happy… if they can squeeze onto a tram.

The huge numbers of people living and travelling in zone 1 won’t get the benefit of a price cut, and will see fares jump by CPI+5% over two years — so expect to see the base fare creep towards $4, and be under even more pressure to rise to make up for foregone revenue.

It’s a bit like GST. Nobody likes paying it, but if they were to reduce its scope, and make it a flat amount for some higher value transactions, it’s obvious the rate would eventually go up to cover it.

I’ll leave you with the full Age article quoting Joan Kirner… it touches on a number of interesting topics going into the 1992 election, including promises to extend the rail network (Craigieburn was eventually done in 2007, South Morang 2012, Sunbury 2012, Baxter still isn’t done), the prospect of cuts to station staff and conductors under Kennett (which happened, and resulted in the Metcard ticket system), and extra bus services (nothing really happened until two Smartbuses were implemented ten years later, then little more until after 2006).

Kirner promises to extended railway, The Age, 11/9/1992