#Myki topups coming soon to buses (but will they avoid the issues of slow transactions and security?)

Leader Newspapers is reporting that Myki topups will be allowed on buses from next month. A maximum of $20 will apply.

Well, that’s about time. This is good news for passengers.

On a bus

Firstly, it means the Myki consoles will be activated, with Metcard equipment removed. The coexistence of the two systems has caused a lot of glitches, particularly crashed readers unable to be easily restarted, and incorrect zone detection.

Secondly, it resolves issues for middle and outer-suburban users with topups. Bus drivers do carry preloaded Myki cards for sale, but with no short-term tickets, and many suburbs having few retail outlets, and online topups being quite slow at times (because transaction has to be loaded onto bus readers for collection with the card), this is an important option for many, particularly those who don’t use trains, and those who don’t want to use Auto Topup (which does avoid these issues).

Possible issues

There are two issues that have been highlighted with topups on buses.

First: that it’ll slow down buses. That one is easy to solve: don’t give change. This will cut the time taken for each transaction, but it’ll also encourage users to load up more than a trip and/or day’s worth of Myki Money in each transaction.

After all, we’re stuck with no single tickets for now — we might as well make the most of it to speed up bus services, which unlike the other modes have suffered greatly in the past from delays caused by on-board sales.

What should be permitted though is to split the topup across multiple cards, so that for instance a family boarding can give the driver a $20 note and have $10 of that loaded onto the parent’s card, and $5 onto each of the two kids’ cards.

Secondly, some bus drivers have grumbled about possible security issues from carrying large amounts of cash.

I would think it wouldn’t be a larger amount of cash than previously under Metcard, but it is likely to be higher denominations — people will topup less often than they bought tickets, but are likely to chuck $20 at a time onto their card.

The security risk is easily solved by using the method that has been used by many North American bus systems for decades: give no change; all cash goes into a locked box which can only be opened at the depot.

So, I think both issues are easily solved — but it’s not yet clear if they have been addressed by PTV for the April rollout.

Trams?

It’s not clear when trams will have their Metcard equipment removed and headless mode will be fixed… I don’t think I’ve seen a single tram which doesn’t still have a Metcard machine fitted.

When it eventually happens, it won’t mean topups are available, but at least other issues should be resolved.

How Yarra Trams cleans up the wrong types of leaves

There’s a legendary excuse for late-running trains in Britain called the wrong type of snow (fallen on railway lines). Apparently the wrong leaves are also blamed sometimes.

Yarra trams track cleaner

I recall a Yarra Trams person telling me that while they love Melbourne’s leafy streets, some of our local trees drop the wrong leaves (I’m paraphrasing mind you, these are not her words), which does cause slippery rails, particularly in autumn — which is why, particularly at this time of year, you’ll see this beastie out and about, cleaning them up.

Similar perhaps to a conventional street-sweeper, it’s got special wheels that go into the groove of the track to clear it out.

It moves slower than the trams — on the morning I snapped it, it manoeuvred itself onto the opposite track when a tram came along, then moved back and followed it onward.

Yarra Trams track cleaner

What are the load standards for the different types of trams?

A while back I was talking about train load standards, which as you’ll recall is 798 per train (or 133 per carriage).

Crowded tram

Similar desired load standards exist for trams, but they vary much more widely because the tram fleet is much more diverse in size.

These are found in volume 2 of the tram contract, schedule 6, page 40… and as already noted, they are not total capacity figures — exceeding these is meant to trigger action to manage patronage growth.

Tram type Load standard
A-class tram A-class 65
Z-class tram Z-class 70
W-class tram W-class 75
B-class tram B-class 110
B class tram, Apollo layout B-class
(modified “Apollo” design, with fewer seats)
120
C-class tram C-class (Alstom Citadis) 110
D1 tram D1 (3-section Siemens) 90
D2 tram D2 (5-section Siemens) 130
C2 tram C2 (Bumblebee) 140

The above figures are all “CBD” figures — there’s a lower limit for “non-CBD” of 10 fewer passengers.

You can find the May 2012 load survey here — a number of routes do breach the load standards.

One obvious solution is for the government to buy more and bigger trams — which is happening: an order for 50 is underway, though it’ll take about 4-5 years for them all to rollout.

A less obvious solution is improved traffic priority, which means faster trips, which means they can run more services with the fleet and drivers they already have.

Plus of course where crowding exists outside peak periods, more services can be run with the current fleet, the only additional costs being extra drivers, maintenance and power.

On the trams

Live — from a tram stop in the Bourke Street Mall
Live -- from a tram stop in the Bourke Street Mall

The latest in high-contrast, high-resolution semi-permanent destination displays
The latest in high-contrast, high-resolution semi-permanent destination displays

While it looks like it’s good from a tram operations point of view, it’s also not hard to see why people such as Paul Mees see the Melbourne University tram terminus/shunting yard as poor urban design, fencing off a large section of Swanston Street. (See: Permeability.)
Melbourne University tram terminus

019

Happy Australia Day (on the trams)

Happy Australia Day.

While I cringe at the “bogan display” in the supermarket selling Australian flag caps, t-shirts, capes, stubby-holders and so on, I quite like the (in comparison understated) flags that have appeared on the trams during the week.

My recollection growing up is of small flags in this position on the W-class trams, though I don’t recall if it was all the year round, or just close to Australia Day.

Even the Royal Tram was sporting a flag on Thursday:

Australian flag on the Royal Tram

Presumably passengers on trams with flags are not more likely to be racist, as research on cars with flags claimed last year. (If bogans and racists have claimed our flag, we should claim it back, I say.)

Less patriotic than flags was the placement of one of the big Myki stickers (placed over Metcard machines a few weeks ago) onto the outside of this tram. Perhaps the miscreant was protesting against the lack of ticket purchase and top-up on-board?

Myki sticker (taken off a Metcard machine, it appears) on side of tram

The Elizabeth Street “which tram leaves first” conundrum: at last there is a solution

It’s been a problem for many years: how do you know which tram from the Elizabeth Street (Robert Risson) terminus will leave first?

At last, thanks to Tram Tracker (and its clone apps on other platforms, such as Android’s Tram Hunter) there is a solution!

Tram Hunter: Which tram is heading up Elizabeth Street first?

Just use one of the apps or the mobile web site (or SMS if you’re stuck in 1997) to check for departures from stop ID 3801 (Elizabeth Street at Flinders Street).

From what I’ve seen, the information shown is pretty accurate.

Trivia: the Tram Tracker icon, Jake the bloodhound, is based on former Yarra Trams CEO Dennis Cliche’s dog Jake.

Tramspotting: B1 and B2 #gunzel

I think it was Lonely Planet that had an entry about transport in Melbourne that bemoaned the fact they are no longer the traditional wooden trams of olde but instead “pneumatic monsters”. They might have been talking about tram numbers 2001 and 2002. They are B-class trams, but with a difference.

Tram 2002

These two were the prototypes, sometimes known (Bananas-in-Pyjamas-like) as B1 class. The other 130 are B2 class.

The two B1s have venetian blinds — which seems positively civilised. Unlike the B2s they have LED destination lights (upgraded, as far as I recall, from flap versions). They were originally built with poles, not pantographics (no regular Melbourne tram still has a pole; they’ve all been replaced by pantographs, which don’t come off the wires so easily, and don’t need changing over at the end of the line).

And unlike the others they make noticeable curious pneumatic noises as they come to a stop.

The multi-lingual rhino poster

I quite like these ads:
Rhino (tram) advert

From what I’ve heard, the campaign was originally quite successful, but started to wear off after a few months, so I guess they need to keep revamping it to continue to get the message across.