Most crowded stations

It’s been very busy the last week or two, which is why the blog has been a bit quiet.

Apart from the day job, this week I’ve been to two MTF transport forums (Melbourne, and Glen Eira), and a PTUA committee meeting.

There are more MTF forums (fora?) in the coming weeks, and if you’re interested in this topic, they’re well worth attending. Details here.

At the Glen Eira session on Wednesday, one of the panel members remarked that Caulfield station needs an upgrade, because it’s the tenth most crowded station.

I agree on both counts! But as usual it can be useful to trace back the source of the information.

How did they know Caulfield is the tenth most crowded?

Because it was in this ABC story:

ABC story: most crowded stations

Where did the ABC get it? They asked the PTUA.

How did the PTUA calculate it?

Ummm… well…

There are different types of crowding: on the trains, and in and around the stations.

Some stations are particularly bad for train crowding. Even when the service is running well, it can be difficult to squeeze aboard at the height of peak hour. Typically these stations are the last “minor” stops before the inner-city, where the trains are at their most crowded. Hawksburn and South Kensington are examples of this.

At other stations, it’s a struggle getting in and out because of constrained and crowded platforms, stairs, ramps, subways, entrances and exits. Flinders Street is an example, where during morning peak (when full trains arrive and disgorge passengers) the infrastructure struggles to cope with the sheer number of people exiting and interchanging.

At some stations they suffer from both of these problems. South Yarra, Richmond and others.

Glenhuntly station: passengers waiting for passing freight train

There’s relief on the way for some of these issues.

  • Flinders Street has already gained a new exit to the river, and extra gates in the centre subway, with more changes coming.
  • A recent announcement revealed South Yarra and the adjoining tram stop will get upgrades — though given high-rise apartment development around the station, ultimately it probably needs a second (northern) concourse to take the pressure off.
  • The level crossing program can allow more trains to run if the busiest lines are largely free of crossings, and the newly rebuilt stations are typically more spacious and efficient for passenger movements. The first steps towards this are starting, with more evening (post-peak) services running on the Dandenong line from next week.
  • And the whole metro tunnel project is geared towards separating out lines to run more services to relieve crowding on trains, particularly on lines that currently share the Loop tunnels with the services that will use the new tunnel.

Crowded train

Getting back to that list. Can these factors be measured?

Train crowding yes, via passenger load surveys. Station crowding is more difficult.

So when asked “which stations are the most crowded”, I looked at a bunch of factors, including observations and opinions from fellow passengers, but it wasn’t a scientific or mathematical measure.

It’s anecdata! And apart from South Yarra being nominated as the “worst”, the stations weren’t strictly ranked. But people love a list, even if it’s not actually meant to be in a particular order.

So. Yeah. Caulfield, 10th most crowded? Well, kinda sorta!

With growing patronage and a future role as a metro tunnel interchange, does it need an upgrade? You bet!

Don’t be a jerk

I was looking through some old photos, and found these from November 1996.

I’ve scanned them from the negatives.

As you can see, they provide some good advice…

Don't be a jerk, Barbara Kruger - Melbourne, November 1996

Don't be a jerk, Barbara Kruger - Melbourne, November 1996

(Click on either photo to view it larger in Flickr)

Things to note here:

  • “Don’t be a jerk” is a work by Barbara Kruger, originally from 1984
  • Some of the well-known CBD skyscrapers are visible in the background, but more were to come over the following 22 years!
  • This is snapped from Flinders Street Station looking east across Swanston Street. The old Gas And Fuel building is being demolished to make way for Federation Square
  • In the first photo you can also just see the entrance to the old Princes Bridge station (look for The Met logo), which was also mostly demolished – apart from platform 14. Back then it also had platforms 15 and 16, used by terminating trains from Clifton Hill.
  • Z-class tram in The Met colours – this was before privatisation. Note the “Do not enter” signage on the rear door; these trams ran with seated conductors near the front, and later as driver-only. This particular tram, number 150, came into service in 1980, and is still in service, making it 38 years old.
  • No tram superstop. Just a “Safety zone”
  • I’m not sure what time of day this was. It looks pretty dark and rainy for November, but that’s what the scribbled note on the photo says!

The desire to drive, and how we must counter it

I am discovering that there’s some powerful psychology going on when you get a new car.

Playing into this for me is that my old car was wearing out, and was getting difficult to drive, plus the change from manual to automatic.

This means the new car seems like a breeze to drive.

The “new car smell” is real, and somehow makes it seem pleasurable to sit in the driver’s seat.

The extra features – even on this model which was as cheap as I could buy in the size I wanted – are (I’m guessing) designed to appeal, to make you want to be in the car (and thus to drive it).

Some designers have identified cupholders specifically as desirable, with some perhaps unlikely explanations:

Rapaille says women love cup holders because — and this is really what he told her — cup holders mean coffee, and coffee means safety, because of the memories we all have of our mothers preparing coffee with breakfast.

And this: Anthony Prozzi, design manager for Ford in Michigan, explains that “part of a designers job is to play psychologist, anthropologist and sociologist, and knowing those things helps you read consumers and know what puts a smile on their faces.”

Lancer manual: cup and bottle holders

My new car has a spot to put a bottle in the door (like my old car did) plus cupholders in the centre between the front two seats. So I can have two drinks within easy reach if I want… while the manual warns you not to actually use them while driving. Plus it’s got a spot for a packet of tissues, in case I have a spill.

I suppose car manufacturers have been at this game for a long time. You’ve bought their product for thousands of dollars – they want you to feel good about it, so that in time you’ll want to upgrade to another one.

The net result is that – even for someone like me, who understands the consequences of driving, and doesn’t like driving – I feel like I want to drive it.

I’d never drive it to work. Parking is too expensive, traffic is too soul-destroying, and (usually) the train is too good.

But it’s tempting to drive it other places where PT options are fewer – and I can understand why some people would be tempted to drive every day, even into horrible traffic. Combined with (Australian) governments who keep building big roads, even though it doesn’t solve congestion (it expands it), the desire to drive is powerful.

Just get in, turn the key and go. It’s so easy. Mostly the noise, air quality and traffic impacts are Somebody Else’s Problem. The motorist doesn’t pay for them; society does.

Governments are complicit in this, especially in Australia, where they build ever more roads as cities get bigger – despite this being not how the world’s biggest cities solve their mobility problems.

So the desire to drive is powerful.

CBD traffic, Lonsdale and William Streets

Fighting back

All this means that those of us who believe in the importance of solving those impacts through alternative transport modes have to make sure that they improve enough to fight back. If everybody who could afford to and was able to was on the roads, it’d be a disaster.

Perhaps to an extent cars are self-defeating. The more crowded the roads become, the better the alternatives look.

I also associate the car with first escapes, driving nowhere in particular in the middle of the night with a friend, movement being a goal in its own right. … Countless trips have been made by car since then, and we (still) own a small car today. However, trains became our favorite transport mode a long time ago, and as a family, we nowadays associate highways with congestion and stress, places to avoid.Stefan Gossling

Ultimately to fight back against the car, the other options need to improve.

Gossling again: There are powerful interests at work to psychologically engineer car addiction—addicts, conveniently, never question their behavior. Other insights pertain to the role of cars with regard to emotions, sociality, sex and gender, speed, authority, and death. We need to understand these interrelationships to unlock the possibility of alternative transport futures.

Caulfield station, inbound passengers during evening peak

Can public transport improve?

One could focus on the psychological aspects of public transport, but what about the basics – making the system easy and pleasant to use?

Cleanliness, crowding, information, security and easy to use ticketing all come into it. But seamless connections and cutting waiting times to reduce door-to-door journey times are fundamental requirements.

It would be easy enough to despair. Progress is so damn slow.

Most suburban buses are still running to frequencies from cuts 25 years ago. The last tranche of the better quality orbital Smartbus routes were implemented in 2010, almost a decade ago.

Trams have seen capacity expansion (big trams replacing smaller trams) but few route extensions, and remain slow due to a lack of progress on traffic priority.

The noises about public transport expansion are positive, but the actual progress isn’t.

Particularly frustrating is that literally billions are being spent on new rail tunnels to fix peak hour (great!) but most suburban train lines continue to run only every 20 minutes at most times of day, 30 minutes evenings. There are still gaps of 40 minutes on some lines on Sunday mornings.

A few have improved, but on most lines at most times they are much the same now as they have been for 30 years.

Let’s face it, with some exceptions, outside peak, most of the public transport system remains pathetically infrequent and slow, especially for a city of nearly five million people — despite increasing all-day demand.

Really, it’s no surprise that most people continue to drive.

The car industry is doing its best to coax us in, and on the other side, every signal from authorities, every pathetic half-baked public transport upgrade, every poorly-programmed pedestrian crossing, every non-existent bike path tells people to drive.

To curb the many problems of the car, they have to do better.

The rail map circa 2025

Transport For Victoria have quietly put out a map and plan for the rail network for 2025. It’s dated June, but I hadn’t spotted it before.

Well, I say plan… it’s only a ten page brochure (eight if you exclude the covers) mostly summarising projects that we already know are fully funded:

New metro train mock-up: seats

In comparison the 2012 plan, which covered metropolitan rail only, was 144 pages. So this one is scant on detail.

It does vaguely mention the prospect of all-day frequent services:

The Major Transport Infrastructure Program is delivering a series of projects to transition the network to a ‘turn up and go’ service, which will deliver:

  • More peak services, reduced wait times and improved connection times
  • More frequent services throughout the day, with more services outside of peak periods to support non-peak travel
  • Improved journey experience, including getting to and from the station and transport interchanges

…which on the face of it sounds good, but there’s no public plan of how and when this will happen, other than that we know the network infrastructure will be able to support it. (And besides, most of the rail network supports this right now.)

Marcus Wong recently noted that the business case for the Metro 1 tunnel didn’t even include anything better than a 20 minute frequency to stations west of West Footscray. The government rang me to say that’s just a “base case” and not a service plan. But it’s not surprising people assume it is a service plan when it looks like a service plan, and there’s no other public documentation available.

The rail map 2025

And then there’s the rail map. They’ve published a 2025 version that shows how it’ll look once the Metro 1 tunnel is open. (View it bigger or go to the original PDF)

Transport For Victoria: rail map 2025 (published 2018)

This confirms what we knew about operations once the tunnel opens. The Sunbury line will connect through to the Cranbourne/Pakenham line. Frankston trains will run through the Loop. Sandringham will run through to Newport.

State Library and Town Hall are shown as distinct stations, but with connections to Melbourne Central and Flinders Street.

What’s interesting is what the map doesn’t show. They’ve apparently not committed to removing Glen Waverley trains from the Loop, even though it’s obvious that as frequencies increase, they’ll need to do so. Myki on long-distance V/Line? Not clear. Melton/Wyndham Vale electrification? Also not shown.

The document does mention the latter, and other upgrades in passing, without any timelines, providing something of a shopping list for the politicians as we move towards the State Election.

Metro 2 is not mentioned, and there’s only a brief mention of accessibility.

It’s good to see them looking ahead… though I’d hoped to see something that showed a bit more detail around all day service frequencies. These are vitally important to how people can use the train system. The Coalition has made a pledge (but it seems a bit wobbly as it’s not in writing anywhere), and Labor are yet to talk about it.

The current, mostly every 20 minutes, train service doesn’t cut it in a city of almost 5 million and growing, especially in the face of growing motorway expansion that will worsen congestion. Let’s hope we see this change sooner rather than later.

Old photos from July 2008

Another in my series of old photos from ten years ago

Let’s start with Melbourne Central. A few years earlier, the centre and station concourse had been re-developed to better integrate the shops with the station. And by integrate, I mean funnel the passengers through the shopping centre instead of directly out to Swanston Street.

What could possibly make it worse? Closing the entrance from Swanston Street for a movie premiere event (Mamma Mia). 5pm-7pm. Yes, during peak hour.

I have an email from the time that says after “some words with Melbourne Central from ourselves (PTUA) and a journalist” they altered their event so it only blocked Knox Place (which runs east-west from Swanston Street), not the pathway from the corner of Swanston and Latrobe. But honestly, the nerve.
Melbourne Central event to close main station entrance, July 2008

Gathering for a human sign to say “Climate emergency” in the Alexandra Gardens.
Human sign for climate change action, July 2008

Brighton Beach station, with haze over the bay. Note the equipment installed in the sidings; from memory this was for the “Concorde” project on the Comeng trains, to make the two types compatible again after their modification by different train companies earlier in the decade.
Brighton Beach Station, July 2008

I knew Doctor Who had become mainstream when ads started appearing for it on public telephones. This is opposite the GPO – the Angus and Robertson book shop behind the phones has since vanished.
Public telephone ads for Doctor Who, July 2008

New street furniture was installed around my local shopping centre in Centre Road in Bentleigh. Not sure why the green lighting. Maybe the council was expecting visiting aliens.
Bentleigh street furniture, July 2008

The street upgrade also included trees in the parking lane – in principle a good idea, but they managed to chop this bus zone in half. They also messed up the taxi rank near the station.
Bentleigh bus stop, July 2008

Also on Centre Road, the Smartbus sign for westbound buses, and the level crossing – since gone in the 2016 grade separation.
Bentleigh level crossing, July 2008

Over in Edgewater (Maribyrnong), they’d created a new bus route which didn’t even have any bus zones at its stops.
Edgewater (Maribyrnong) bus stop, July 2008

Rail works on the level crossing at Ripponlea.
Rail works at Ripponlea, July 2008