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

Rebranding number 6 (in 20 years): Can we stick with “PTV” for a while please?

Do I win a prize? Following on from my photos a couple of years ago of a train, tram and bus in one shot, I’ve managed to get another (at the same location) of the three of them in the PTV livery.

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Common livery is not the most important thing in a public transport network, but it is important. It’s a reminder that while the system may be run by lots of different companies, it is meant (in theory at least) to be one network.

The tickets and fare system are common, the routes should be designed to connect not compete, the timetables should complement each other and co-ordinate where possible.

The biggest change is in buses, where a myriad of colour schemes are coming together as one, with the operator name/logo reduced in size so it’s no longer significant — reflecting the practice in cities like London, but also closer to home in Adelaide and Perth.

Mind you it can also add to passenger confusion, in areas where passengers are used to differently coloured buses running specific routes.

Edit: This confusion can be reduced if route numbers are clearly displayed, not just on the front of the bus, but also on the side and back. Some buses have this already. It should be standard.

It sounds like only the (multi-company) Smartbus fleet will retain its distinctive bus colours.

I didn’t manage to get one of the few V/Line PTV-branded carriages into this photo. I guess that’s the next challenge (and to show the distinctive side design on a bus more clearly, rather than just the plain white front). You can see it in this snap a few seconds after the above photo… though the exposure was too short to properly show the tram LED number display. (In all honesty, none of the LED display showed in the above photo — I photoshopped it from another snap a moment later.)

Bus, train and tram

Hopefully, having completely branded everything to PTV in the coming months, the powers that be will stick with that for many years to come.

Given some of the trains in particular have gone in the last twenty years through The Met (2 versions), Bayside/Hillside Trains, Connex/M>Train, Connex, Metro, and now PTV, I think everybody’s had enough rebranding for now.

Some big public transport changes coming on July 27th

The July 27th public transport network changes are pretty big. Some of the information is a bit vague, so here are some points I’ve gleaned from looking around, as well as chatting to Transdev, who run a lot of the bus routes that are changing.

V/Line train approaching Clayton station

V/Line

The big thing in rail is V/Line trains from Ballarat and Bendigo will start using the new Regional Rail Link tracks from Sunshine into the City. This will mean they no longer stop at North Melbourne, because unfortunately RRL has no platforms there.

You’d expect the new dedicated tracks would help running times, but that doesn’t seem to be universal. For instance the 8:13 arrival from Bendigo took 12 minutes from Footscray into Southern Cross in the old timetable; the new one has it taking 17. The 8:25 arrival from Ballarat took 22 minutes from Sunshine in the old timetable; the new one has it at 21 minutes. In many cases V/Line trains take substantially longer than comparable Metro trains.

It’s quite possible the V/Line timetables include some padding to allow for delays (though they still consistently miss their punctuality targets). And the RRL project isn’t actually finished yet, so there might be improvements when it is.

Where V/Line timetables have changed, their connecting buses have got modified timetables — same for those metropolitan bus timetables which provide timed connections to Metro trains. This is why all the changes are coming on one date.

PIDs at Malvern - why on platform 3?

Metro

The Dandenong line is going to every 10 minutes on weekdays, which is very welcome given the number of passengers and destinations along the line. Most trains will no longer stop at Malvern, matching the weekend pattern. Curiously they recently put in realtime information on platform 3 there — which will barely get used. It really should have gone onto platform 1.

This also means the Cranbourne and Pakenham ends of the lines go to every 20 minutes — much better than the current half-hourly service.

Another big change is that peak Pakenham trains will now stop between Oakleigh and Caulfield where currently they run express. It won’t make much difference to running times as the line is so congested anyway. On the up side people at those stations will have more trains… but possibly it’ll result in more crowding on those services, which are often pretty packed.

The Frankston line gets a few changes, including — at last — removal of the incredibly confusing afternoon peak-shoulder timetable which currently has three completely different running patterns.

Morning Frankston line trains are also altered, with the two-tier timetable extended to until the off-peak timetable kicks-in. The anomalous 8:35 limited express from Bentleigh into the City no longer stops there, but there’s an additional service originating at Moorabbin to make up for it — which should mean overall more seats available for passengers at the zone 1 stations, as well as a faster ride for those coming in from zone 2.

(The government is claiming Frankston has two extra morning peak services. I might be counting them in a different way, but I’m not seeing that. I can see two extra expresses, but one less stopping train.) — Update, see below

It’d have been nice to see some other upgrades come through — more lines are richly deserving of ten minute services, for instance.

Platform 1, new Springvale station, April 2014

Trams: some route changes

Route 112 is being split back to similar to how it used to be: the 11 from West Preston into the City (and Docklands), and the 12 from St Kilda into the City and then out to Victoria Gardens. This should allow them to run the bigger trams on busy route 11 (including adding space on incredibly busy Collins St/Docklands routes), without wasting that capacity on quieter route 12.

Some part-time city routes such as 24, 31 and 95 won’t run anymore. Other fulltime routes cover that ground.

Likewise, the long-running part-time route 79 will no longer run, replaced in the evenings and weekends by its weekday cousin 78… which will mean people heading from Chapel Street to St Kilda Beach will need to change at Carlisle Street onto a 16 (or, on weekends, a 3a).

There are big question marks over what will happen when CBD trams are free from January. Some routes are swamped at present… one wonders if there will be a need to reinstate those part-time city routes to boost capacity. You’d hope PTV and Yarra Trams are feverishly working on the forecasts for that. (Ditto the abolishment of two-zone fares in Melbourne from January.)

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

Buses: northeast

Lots of changes on the buses in the Manningham area, particularly those run by Transdev, whose contract stipulates they need to re-design their routes and increase patronage — but without increasing resources. In other words, badly-needed route reform.

DART/Smartbus 908 will no longer go all the way into the city outside peak hours. It’ll terminate at Doncaster Park+Ride instead, with connections into the City. This should be okay inbound, and outbound on weekdays during the day, when the services you’re connecting to will be frequent. There might be some waiting involved outbound on weekends and evenings.

This one is controversial: route 303, which runs 4 services per day in each peak direction, is getting cut.

In general the theme is one of removing duplication, particularly part-time routes, and consolidating services by bumping up frequencies to compensate. For instance routes 200, 203 and 205 have been combined into a single route 200, which should be less confusing.

In many cases another similar route isn’t too far away from a removed one.

It does mean some trips that were a single seat ride all the way will require changing to another bus or a train, but the pay-off is a more cohesive network that provides options for more journeys, and in some cases overall a faster trip.

So, as is almost inevitable with route reform, some inconvenience to some, but overall should result in a more legible, simple, usable network… which in other areas has been shown to pay off in terms of getting new passengers on-board.

Smartbus in Lonsdale Street

Other bus changes

The 401 North Melbourne to Melbourne University shuttle gets extended to 10pm, with services every 10 minutes after 7:30pm. Excellent.

Local bus routes around the airport get a shakeup, with the main connection now being the Smartbus from Broadmeadows station, which makes sense as it’s more frequent than the other routes.

Non-Smartbus airport area routes such as 478 and 479 are re-focussed on connections from Sunbury and Airport West, for the benefit of local trips (such as workers) to the airport. The ridiculous 479′s one service per day on the weekend into the CBD has been removed. What a total waste of resources that was.

Routes 216/219/220 get a slight cutback from every 15 minutes to every 20 on weekday evenings. This probably makes sense at the southern end, as demand is light, and resources are better used elsewhere — I understand the whole timetable has been re-written for the first time in decades to better reflect traffic conditions. Hopefully the slight reduction in frequency doesn’t mean crowding at the western end of the route. Apparently it will get more substantial changes next year, along with other long routes such as the orbital Smartbuses, which have also had just timetable adjustments this time around.

The Brimbank area gets an overhaul, with some good reform which has irritated some current users, but should result in a more usable network overall. While some are saying they are negatively affected, some locals I’ve spoken to say they welcome the more direct routes.

The Port Melbourne area will also get revised, with simpler routes, and some routes such as 250/251 which formerly ran through the city to Port Melbourne, have been split to improve reliability.

The 232 Altona to city bus over the Westgate Bridge will no longer stop in Port Melbourne — despite little difference in timetabled running time in peak, it’ll stick to the freeway.

In the outer suburbs such as Cranbourne and Frankston, there are some extra services on some routes.

Impacts on journeys

I’m not across all the changes: you should really go to the source. (Initially the information on the numerous bus changes was pretty vague, but it’s improved a lot in the past week or so, with a lot of detail on specific areas.)

Those in areas affected by some of the bigger changes should take a look at the Journey Planner, and check the alternative routes available. Despite the protests at the changes, the new routes actually make a lot of sense. In many cases I’ve seen, people might face a slightly longer journey on the bus, but gain higher frequencies, longer operating hours (eg full-time routes instead of peak only) and in one case I looked at, a shorter walk to the bus stop.

In other cases I’ve looked at, a change to another bus or a train will now be required to get into the city, but the overall trip is faster.

Transdev have also said they’re willing to help passengers on their routes with looking at their specific route changes.

Overall

Overall it looks like a pretty good package. The continued rollout of RRL infrastructure as the project nears completion; some good upgrades to the Dandenong line; cleanup of the incredibly messy Frankston line timetable, and perhaps most significantly, widespread bus route reform to remove duplication and part-time routes, replaced by more frequent, fulltime routes — these sorts of changes are vital to untangle Melbourne’s bus spaghetti.

Some areas miss out of course. I for one am really hoping a significant upgrade to western suburbs lines (Werribee/Altona/Williamstown, and Sunbury) when RRL is completed.

But it’s good stuff. If they gave us a package this significant every year, the government would be kicking goals.

I’d be interested in comments on other changes people have noticed… and how their trips are affected.

Update Tuesday 15/7/2014: Some great comments being submitted – keep them coming.

I wanted to particularly note that passengers on bus route 303 have been active in calling for their route not to get cut. While I have reservations about peak-only routes because it can be confusing for potential users, particularly where they largely duplicate other routes, some users have shown evidence that suggests the buses have more than the 20-24 people per service the stats say they have.

Update Sunday 27/7/2014: In this press release, the government claims: “There will also be two extra morning weekday trains on the Frankston line.

The first was easy to find: it’s the 6:38am Frankston to City limited express. The other one was harder to find, because it is actually against the peak flow, and in fact after 9am: the 9:09am Flinders Street to Mordialloc. That’s not even filling a big service gap; it’s just a run from the city back into stabling.

My recollection is the Coalition used to rightly criticise Labor for announcing extra trains that were against the peak direction, and not terribly useful to many people. Now they seem to be doing exactly the same thing.

Some of my photos from April 2004 – You won’t BELIEVE how similar everything was #clickbait

Continuing my series of posting ten-year-old photos, I was struck by the fact that many of the photos from April 2004 show some things have changed very little.

Traffic in Collins Street, creeping into the tram lanes. Just recently more visible dividers have been added… I suspect they help, but don’t completely prevent cars on the tracks.
Tram in traffic, Collins Street approaching Spring Street (March 2004)

Spirit of Tasmania, seen from South Melbourne Beach. Looking closely, it might be Spirit of Tasmania II. According to Wikipedia, it seems both I and II were built in 1998, and originally served connecting Greece with Italy, though it seems II was involved in a fatal accident in 1999, some years before being brought to Australia.
Spirit of Tasmania, from South Melbourne Beach (March 2004)

Who remembers the M>Tram livery? A little garish perhaps, but in some ways not so different to the new PTV livery. And I did like the “Moving Melbourne” slogan.
Tram at terminus of Route 1 South Melbourne, in M>Tram colours (March 2004)

Flinders Street Station, as seen from Southbank. Thanks to height limits around Swanston Street, I’m not even sure the skyline from this angle has changed very much.
Flinders Street Station, from Southbank (March 2004)

Interior of a Hitachi train — odds on it’s one of those scrapped in the mid-2000s, as only about 7 are still around (and not in service at present). Obviously this wasn’t a busy service — the timestamp says it was 9:14am on Wednesday 14th April 2004.
Hitachi train interior (March 2004)

Being interviewed for ABC TV News on 18th April — this was the day Connex took over the entire metropolitan rail network.
Daniel being interviewed for ABC TV News, 18/4/2004

…unfortunately the Connex banner at Caulfield decided to rebel against its new overlords.
"Welcome to nnex" - Connex takes over from M>Train, 18/4/2004

Traffic in Collins Street near Swanston Street. Yep, not changed much. If you want to move quickly in this area, don’t bring a motor vehicle.
Traffic in Collins St, near Swanston St (March 2004)