Retail therapy

Just a quick few points while I work on a more complicated post that’s (inevitably) transport related

Shopping bags

Many major retailers are phasing out single-use plastic bags. Or to be precise, they’re phasing-out free bags.

This is not the first time Target has tried this. They stopped issuing free plastic bags in 2009, but brought them back in 2013. Part of the problem seemed to be that the bags they sold were the same as the previously free ones they’d given away. Other retailers sell higher quality bags.

An outright ban has been in place for all retailers in NT, Tas, SA and ACT, plus Qld and WA joined them on 1st July, which no doubt is why the retailers have pushed ahead. Victoria is set to follow at some stage. Unclear what NSW will do.

I’m happy to see this change. Yet there’s been some unbelievably ridiculous hand-wringing from some quarters:

C’mon. If you still want a bag, it’s typically just 15 cents to buy one. FIFTEEN CENTS! That’s just one percent of a $15 shop.

For me, the only behaviour change is I now stuff a green bag into my work bag, so I have it for my detours to the supermarket on the way home.

We’ll all adapt. In fact, at this IGA at Nagambie (snapped on 30th June, before Coles switched) the locals seemed to be coping without any fuss whatsoever.

Nagambie IGA: Bring your own bags

Dish washer

The Fisher and Paykel dishwasher, which had been in my house since I moved here in 2005, broke down again.

I’d previously thought that, given it was a pretty old model (circa 2000), I’d replace it the next time it failed, so that’s what I did, and found a good price on a Bosch.

Why Bosch? The Bosch washing machine I bought nine years ago hasn’t skipped a beat, and they also rate very well on the Choice web site (which is well worth joining if you’re grumpy that The Checkout hasn’t been renewed).

I paid the installation fee. While it didn’t take long, it was satisfyingly complex enough that I’m glad I did.

Dishwashers aren’t for everybody, but I hate washing dishes, so for me, this is money well spent.

The new car: 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer

The new car arrived

I picked up the new car last night. That’s it above.

I suspect the web has changed the shopping experience. I no longer go and look around car dealerships unless I already know what I want.

The car dealers I’ve dealt with during this saga seem less slimy than the ones I encountered the first time I bought a car.

When scouring Carsales, I had pondered that if I saw the perfect deal somewhere out in the country, I’d be willing to go to grab it. In the end I bought from a local dealership, which will make servicing it with them to maintain the warranty much easier.

In fact as part of the handover, they showed me where the service area is, and how the after hours drop-off/pick-up works. Clever. The chief service guy there recognised me from when he used to work on my old Magna years ago. Heh.

The dealer bloke showed me the basics of the car, then sent me on my way.

Amusingly/horrifyingly I scraped the bottom of the steep driveway just exiting the dealership. Can’t see any visible marks. Also amusingly, I thought the engine was revving loudly on the drive home, until I realised it was in Sports mode, not Drive. Oops.

Today I’ve sat in the car for a while with the manual and figured out all the controls. Or at least, the important ones.

The psychology of buying a new car and wanting to drive places is powerful.

Anyway, I like it so far, though I could do without the spoiler, which I don’t think helps visibility out of the back window. Perhaps I should have asked if the car was available without it.

What, yet ANOTHER rebranding?

Although it doesn’t involve removing level crossings, the Mernda rail extension is being built by the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA).

This LXRA tweet last week got some attention, and not just from those who have been long awaiting the project’s completion:

Perhaps unintentionally, the tweet text has a double meaning: the font is different from those used previously (it’s the newish Network Sans, especially commissioned for PTV) and the PTV logo, recently plastered over everything, is missing.

Signs in this style were also installed at the new Huntingdale bus interchange earlier this year. (“Hail bus”? Really?)

Huntingdale bus interchange

The PTV logo is also missing off the latest rail map which started rolling out in early 2017.

Okay, is THIS the final rebrand?

There have been so many public transport rebrandings over the years, most of us have lost count.

In some parts of Melbourne, just in the past 25 years, we have seen the trains branded as:

  • The Met/PTC
  • Bayside Trains / Hillside Trains
  • M>Train (on the Bayside trains lines)
  • Connex (on the Hillside lines, then across the system)
  • Metro
  • PTV

This is in contrast to Victorian Railways, which ran the trains from 1859 to 1983. The branding would have changed over time, but at least the name remained the same (apart from shortening to Vicrail in the 1970s).

Now what? TfV? Unclear, since the TfV isn’t appearing on these signs either.

I really hope it’s not another full rebrand. Perhaps it’s just a stripping things back to the colours, at least on station signage.

But hopefully it’s the last major change, and hopefully it’s a gradual rollout as signs need replacing, rather than a huge expensive fast replacement.

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Where did the colours come from?

The modal colours — green for trams, orange for buses, blue for trains, purple for V/Line — were devised around 2003, and introduced with the Metlink (and Viclink) signage across the network.

The Metlink changes were a good start at unifying the branding, which had long been a complete mess, with individual train and tram operators having quite different styles of maps and signage when the system was initially split-up and privatised (1999-2004), and there had long been similar issues across the many bus operators.

The Metlink branding didn’t include vehicle liveries, but did at least put Metlink logos on everything, and made all the signage standard, with colours for each mode, and wayfinding showing connections between them.

Later PTV branding expanded the scheme to vehicle liveries, by taking the Metro design and adopting it for trams and buses too.

Why did they choose those colours? Well, we don’t know for sure, but…

Green has long been associated with trams. The Met used it in the 1980s (for all modes), and this in turn harked back to the Melbourne Metropolitan Tramways Board (formed in the 1920s) which had used green initially when the St Kilda Road route was electrified in 1925, then later for their entire fleet.

Blue was used as the main colour for the Victorian Railways, first introduced in 1937 on the Spirit Of Progress, and included on the “blue” Harris suburban trains rolled out from the 1950s, and used on other pre-1980s regional carriages.

Orange was a colour used extensively across all modes of Victorian public transport in the 1970s and 80s, including prominently on the MMTB bus fleet, which might explain why it’s ended up as the Metlink/PTV bus colour.

And purple for V/Line? Perhaps they just wanted something different to the others – as far as I can make out, there is no particular precedent for using purple.

I don’t mind the current set of colours. They seem to work quite well, including on signage that needs to point people between multiple modes. And having been around for about fifteen years, people are getting used to them.

Flagstaff Station main entrance

Patterson station: PTV and Metlink


While Metlink had a single compact logo, which some described as a fish, PTV took over from Metlink, triggering a rebrand.

I’m not enamoured of the PTV logo, and I’m not disappointed to see it vanish off the signs (though I hope this will be a gradual phaseout as signs are replaced, rather than yet another huge expensive replacement exercise).

The removal of the PTV logo may reflect that parts of its job have been moved across to new umbrella body Transport for Victoria (TfV for short).

Let’s face it, the PTV logo was never very good. Although arguably it’s quite recognisable, in some contexts the sideways V risks being confused with a right-pointing arrow. Three letters is arguably too clumsy to use so widely and prominently.

The Metro M logo (and name), for instance, is far stronger, but of course only represents one mode. Prominent blue signs on the street with a strong distinctive logo representing trains make it far easier to find a railway station when you’re in an unfamiliar place.

Alas the Metro logo has been mostly removed from the trains and stations, in favour of the PTV logo.

Comeng train in Metro livery

A citybound train arrives at Southland Station

Bentleigh station signage

The Metlink squiggle logo was also the type of shape you could use more prominently and universally, though to my mind it was never terribly well recognised — perhaps it wasn’t around long enough.

If only we could come up with something simple and recognisable, and stick to it, like the London Transport logo, which originated in 1908 on the Underground, but is now used with various colours and labelling to represent the entire London transport system.

London Overground: Shepherd's Bush station

As shown above, the Brits use the old British Rail logo (dating back to 1965) to represent anything to do with the National Rail network.

Over in Belgium, a giant B logo (used since 1936) adorns railway stations:

Bruges railway station

In Brussels you might be looking for the blue M of the Metro — using this letter is very common around the world:

Brussels Metro entrance signs

Sydney ferry terminal branding

Sydney has moved to single letters to represent trains (T), ferries (F), buses (B) and light rail (L). It seems to work — the single, strong letter has potential to be very recognisable, though I’m not sure about the four different letters having so little else to unite them. But at least they have a plan, and are rolling it out progressively.

It ties into the branding of rail and ferry routes, T1, T2, F1, F2 and so on, which is quite clever; I mean to blog about this another time… though arguably the ferry routes F1, F2 may confuse some with freeways, which in NSW also use F. (I wonder if they’ll use M for the new Metro lines, or stick with T for trains?)

Is an icon better than a letter, or a letter better than an icon? Pros and cons either way.

The point is, these types of logos are very recognised, thanks to having had a long life, and a good design that you can put them anywhere and everywhere — prominently on the top of a building, or even on directional signage.

This example, part of the “Legible London” wayfinding strategy to me, very clearly communicates that there’s an Underground station nearby, because the logo matches what’s on the stations.

Legible London

On some of central Melbourne’s wayfinding signage, the icon for trains doesn’t really leap out at you, despite it being perhaps the most important destination marked on the sign… though at least it’s the same train logo used by PTV on the signs outside stations.

Central Melbourne wayfinding

Victoria’s new (apparent) strategy of removing organisational logos in favour of just modal icons and colours might work… but then you lose that message about who to contact if you need information. How many people would remember to Google “PTV” if they didn’t see the logo plastered everywhere?

The branding on the signs ties back to what’s used on the vehicles, printed material including maps — and even the colours used on those maps, which in turn show up on the rainbow status boards and Live Updates web site.

I certainly don’t have all the answers here, but I recall chatting to a contact in the bureaucracy when the rail map was being drafted — they are thinking about these issues, and how all the branding ties together.

Part of any service is promotion, and a vital part of the public transport network is easy to use signage, and a branding strategy that works… and that doesn’t keep changing. In Melbourne, longevity might be the biggest failing.

Hopefully this time around we’ll see a good cohesive design, gradually rolled-out across the network, that they’ll actually stick with for more than a few years.

I finally bought a new car

Apologies for the following long ramble about buying a car.

The costs of cars (Do I even need one?)

My prolonged hunt for a new (used) car got me thinking about how much they have cost me… and how long I’ve kept them.

My first car was a 1993 Mitsubishi Magna (pictured above), which I bought in 1998 for, as far as I remember, $11,800. (In 2018 dollars this is about $19,600)

In 2008, by the time it had 215,000 kms on the clock, it was only good for scrap when I sold it, getting back only about $250.

My second car was a 2000 Holden Astra, which I bought in 2008 for $10,990. (In 2018 dollars this is about $13,900.)

At the time it had 117,000 kms on the clock; ten years later it’s now at 180,000, and is basically worth almost nothing, which is a bit annoying as about a year ago I spent $500 on brand new tyres for it.

So basically, the two cars I’ve had have depreciated by about $1100 per year.

What other costs? Insurance roughly $400 per year (though it used to be higher when I was younger). Rego about $800 (this is rising, not reducing).

Petrol: I fill up about 4-6 weeks. Looks like I spent $518 on fuel in 2017.

Maintenance and repairs? So far since the start of 2017 I’ve spent about $1600. This is probably going up as the car gets older, so let’s guess an average of $600 per year.

So in a year, costs of about $3400, over double the cost of my annual Myki fare.

With average annual car travel of about 6300 kms (which is under half the Australian average, by the way) that’s about 54 cents per kilometre.

My usual driving pattern is that I use the car on the weekends, but rarely during the week. Mostly those weekend drives are around the suburbs, but a few times a year it’ll be a longer trip to visit relatives in the country.

What if I didn’t own my own car?

The only car share scheme in my area that I know of is Car Next Door – vehicles cost about $20-30 per day plus about 33 cents per kilometre.

Based on my annual kilometres, that works out to be roughly 20% more than paying to own my own vehicle. If my weekend drives were occasional, it’d probably be cheaper, but not if driving a bit almost every weekend.

Of course if using car share, you’re likely to make more of your trips using other modes. Countering that: my sons are about to learn to drive, so demand for a vehicle may go up a bit.

So for now, I’m thinking I need to continue owning a car, at least until PT is so good that the PTUA has no purpose!

What I want in a car

So I got to shopping. What did I want?

  • 5-star ANCAP rating – Nothing gets you thinking about safety like your offspring learning to drive
  • High used-car safety rating if an older model
  • Automatic — after 20 years of being intimidated by hill starts, I think I’ve had enough of Manuals (and my sons don’t seem interested in learning on one)
  • Cruise control for country driving
  • Something a bit bigger/roomier than the Astra, but not too big, so it’s reasonably fuel-efficient. Small to medium-sized, while noting that small cars are now about the size of that Magna I used to own
  • Reliable/as new as possible, of course. (Just to filter down the options, I decided to stick to Japanese brands, as a synonym for reliability)
  • Preferably white, it’s meant to be safer
  • Nice to have: alloy wheels make the whole car a bit lighter, which may be more fuel efficient, or so they tell me
  • I’m quite enamoured of indicators on mirrors. Possibly they are more visible to pedestrians, but in any case I just like them. I’m not sure why.
  • Daytime running lights are now a mandated European standard, apparently help safety, particularly with visibility to pedestrians. (I have fog lights on my current car. I don’t think I’ve ever used them.)

What would fit the bill?

Apart from HowSafeIsYourCar, you can also peruse the full MUARC report, though it’s a bit hard to read:

MUARC: Crash worthiness ratings for small cars

Working out the costs of motoring, above, especially the real costs of purchase back in the day, and the money lost in depreciation, made me feel a lot better about shopping for a car in the $15,000 range, to get something as new as possible, and of course with a 5-star ANCAP rating.

After talking to relatives, I concluded that everybody likes the car they drive. Stepfather likes Subaru; sister likes her Mazda 3; cousin likes his Mitsubishi Lancer. (All Japanese brands. Hmm.)

After noting the high safety rating, I did start looking at Subaru Impreza for a while, but there aren’t that many of them about for sale, and you have to spend well over twenty grand to get an almost new model with those nice indicators on mirrors and daytime running lights. Not that they’re essential by any means.

I was also a little nervous about reviews which remarked that Subarus can be a little fussy on maintenance. Which means to minimise risk it’d be a pricey dealer service every time.

So, back to the Carsales web site to do some more searching and researching. (By the way, the Carsales mobile web site lets you search for specific feature in a car, such as Cruise Control. I can’t see that feature on the desktop/standard web site.)

I just bought a new car

While out for a walk the other morning, looking at various cars I saw along the way, I wondered:

Considering I spent over $19,000 (in 2018 dollars) on my first car, back when I had relatively little money, what about upping the budget a bit so I could stop compromising so much and get everything on my list?

I am lucky enough that I can (just) afford to do this.

Mitsubishi Lancer

An ad caught my eye: a demonstration model 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer for $18,500 (drive away price). Retail price for the 2018 model (in automatic) is $21,990.

I like the size and the style (though I could do without the “bum enhancement”).

$18,500 is more expensive than I’d like, but let’s look again at the maths:

  • Servicing on a used car could easily be $500-800 per year, and is often wildly unpredictable, especially the older the vehicle gets. But many brands of new car have capped price servicing. In this case, it’s a maximum of $230 per year for the first three years, so potentially a saving of at least $750 over three years, but even beyond that, repairs are hopefully going to be cheaper on a newer vehicle. (Plus warranty.)
  • A new car also comes with a full year of rego, saving up to $800 — many of the used cars available only have a few months
  • It’s new, so there’s no need to pay for a pre-purchase inspection, saving about $225-250
  • It also comes with four years of roadside assistance, saving about $50 per year (for budget roadside assistance companies) to $105 (the base level for RACV) per year

So in the first four years, potentially a saving of around $2000. And given how much I hate buying cars, I can keep a brand new car for longer.

Suddenly buying a discounted demo car at about $18K seems not a bad proposition compared to a used car at $15K, so I went and test drove it. I quite liked it. It seems odd that the Lancer is being discontinued (and not replaced) at the end of 2018.

Anyway, I decided to go for it. Although it was a demo car, the dealer said it’s actually brand new, sitting in a holding yard somewhere until it can be delivered.

Trade-in? Worth almost nothing, unfortunately, a couple of hundred dollars. But I knew that going in, so at least I wasn’t disappointed.

But we did that little haggle dance around the final “changeover” price, and I did manage to get a bit of a discount, and floor mats thrown in.

The main guy handed me over to a lady who organised payment and delivery, and also offered some extra options like tinting, paint protection… They made the mistake of giving me a minute or two to Google and find this Choice article: Useless car extras revealed, leading me to opt out of those.

So anyway, I’m getting a new car. And not just a new car, but a new car.

It arrives in about two weeks.

Hopefully by the time I’m done with it in a decade or more, electric cars will be plentiful and cheap, and/or public transport will be at a standard where I don’t need to drive regularly on the weekend.

  • Niggling doubt: rather than a sedan, should I have bought another hatch? Will I be cursing myself the next time I need to bring home flatpacks from Ikea? Mind you the specs say it does have the 60/40 split folding seats
  • Of course, having been researching cars for months, every online advert I now see is for cars.

PS: This crash test between a 1998 Corolla and a 2015 Corolla shows the value of newer cars with improved safety features:

…That said, it’s notable that older cars often have poor safety ratings now, but did well in ANCAP tests at the time. They don’t have the 1998 Corolla ANCAP results still available, but the 2009 model scored 5/5 at the time, but only rates 2/5 now based on accident statistics.

Where are you really from?

I found SBS’s “Where Are You Really From” to be compelling viewing.

If you don’t look ethnic, you won’t know the experience of people asking where you’re from — and not taking “Sydney” for an answer.

They don’t want to know where you’re from. They want to know where your family originated.

The whole series had some powerful stories, but it was the first episode that particularly struck a chord, as host Michael Hing visited the Chinese community in Bendigo.

Not that I have any connections to Bendigo. But as with the people interviewed, I get my half-Chinese looks from family who came to Australia before Federation — farther back than many white Australians.

I grew up somewhat isolated from any cousins or uncles/aunts or grandparents, and in those circumstances you can easily assume that your family’s background story is unique. It’s not. Suddenly seeing a group of people who have shared many of the same experiences was not just eye-opening, it was quite emotional.

My jaw dropped when I realised just how common it was for Chinese immigrants in the 1800s to have their names messed up by officials.

My grandfather’s name ended up back to front. This happened all the time. (Rather than try and fight it, he just went along with it. Only one of my uncles bothered to change it back.)

Walking across country to either avoid Chinese-specific taxes, or just because you’d landed at the wrong place and didn’t have any money, was also apparently commonplace, and something that some of my ancestors experienced.

We ended up watching the episode again in a family group, with some verbal dissection afterwards.

While the first episode really struck a chord, the others were worth watching too – in fact watching the second, I felt the situation reversed somewhat, with my usual assumptions about Sikhs in turbans flipped as soon as you heard their Australian accents.

Whatever your family background, this is well worth a look.

Here’s an idea: Pedestrian Clearways

For the proposals in City of Melbourne’s discussion papers to be described as “radical” and “ridiculous” just shows how far we haven’t come in transport planning in this state.

Perhaps it’s no surprise given that in the forthcoming election, if choosing a major party, we vote for either the mob who wants to build two massive motorways, or the mob who wants to build three massive motorways — the latter announced on a day of heavy smog, and despite Melbourne already having more motorways than most cities of its size.

Nowhere in the City of Melbourne discussion papers did they suggest outright banning cars in the CBD. And I think that would be a bridge too far; the Hoddle Grid is a far bigger area than any car-free central city areas around the world, and it would cause headaches for vehicles that have to be there, such as for deliveries.

But it’s blindingly obvious that in a central business district where the majority of people arrive and travel around without a car, that it’s time to stop allocating the majority of road space to a diminishing number of motorists.

Another CBD spot in need of a footpath upgrade. Wonder if @DoyleMelbourne is looking at these?

Central cities are, by their nature, space constrained. Inner Melbourne is getting busier, with daily population expected to climb from almost a million now, to 1.5 million in the coming years.

So reducing space for motor vehicles, and discouraging motorists from coming into the CBD isn’t radical or ridiculous – it’s just commonsense.

Although the discussion paper is a long way from being City of Melbourne policy, it’s refreshing to see recognition of the issues.

Making CBD main streets a single lane each way for traffic. By my count, of the 14 streets in the Hoddle Grid, only 6 aren’t one lane each way, so this isn’t actually a big change. (Perhaps 6.5 if you count Flinders Street, a few sections of which have two lanes of traffic.)

Re-allocating a traffic lane and/or parking spaces to pedestrians and cyclists would be a big improvement. More separated cycling lanes and wider footpaths would be a win for the most efficient modes.

Queen Street and Lonsdale Streets should probably have 24/7 bus lanes implemented, given these are major bus corridors.

Optimising traffic lights is an obvious one. King Street’s dominance of light cycles in particular, is absurd, delaying east-west flow for pedestrians heading to/from Southern Cross Station, and trams. But it’s also a problem at other intersections, including William/Bourke. In fact the lights along Bourke Street are all over the place, playing havoc with the trams.

Motorcyclist riding along busy footpath

Motorcycle parking has long been a bugbear of mine. Given almost every person coming into the CBD is a pedestrian at some point during their visit (even those who drive), but journey to work mode share for motorcycles is just 0.7%, it’s ridiculous that these motor vehicles take up so much space on footpaths, with only unenforceable guidelines to stop them completely taking over.

Assuming we don’t align ourselves to every other state in Australia and ban footpath motorcycle parking outright, they should at least be restricted to designated areas where they won’t impact pedestrian flows and can be manoeuvred on and off the road without conflict.

In fact the whole question of street furniture needs looking at – footpaths are littered with obstacles, as shown in this short video:

Pedestrian Clearways

Walking is probably the most neglected transport mode. Even worse than buses.

It’s the most space-efficient, but increasingly squeezed for capacity as pedestrian numbers grow.

Let me put forward a modest, simple proposal: The busiest parts of the city centre should have Pedestrian Clearways.

Concentrate initially on the spaces around the railway stations, which see the largest pedestrian flows:

  • No motorcycle parking
  • No outdoor dining at peak times
  • Advertising bikes prohibited
  • Fixed rubbish bins, letter boxes, bike hoops, information and sales kiosks, parking signs and other street furniture either removed completely, or minimised — and designed to be as much out of the way as possible
  • Garbage collection from buildings moved to adjoining laneways or side streets, or scheduled so that bins are clear of footpaths during peak hours
  • Careful placement of trees to maximise available space
  • Removal of parking to allow wider footpaths
  • Traffic light programming to prioritise pedestrian flows
  • Rigid enforcement of Rule 128, requiring motorists to keep clear of intersections and crossings

There’s a great opportunity to ease crowding on our CBD streets.

In a constrained space like the city centre, encouraging more people to walk and use public transport can only be a good thing.

But you can’t just wish for improvements. It’s high time authorities acted to prioritise pedestrians.