Health News and events transport

Cutting capacity has side effects

With all the talk of falling public transport patronage (some estimates have suggested it’s down 90%) and persistent (but unconfirmed) rumours of reduction of services to weekend levels, it’s worth remembering that capacity is only one aspect of service levels.

Normally, trains trams and buses are often packed, but with patronage currently so low, passengers are able to travel and easily maintain “social distancing” as a precaution against COVID-19.

Provided plenty of space can still be provided, it may make sense to reduce capacity.

But before you just declare “Okay then, let’s switch to a weekend timetable!” – what else would be affected?

Bentleigh station, peak hour 25/3/2020

Wait times and connections

Perhaps a little less obvious, particularly to those who don’t use public transport often, is the effect of service levels on frequency and waiting times.

This is particularly relevant for big cities where people increasingly use connections between services to complete their journeys. You can choose what time to leave the house, but you can’t choose what time your connecting service arrives.

You also probably can’t choose what time you can arrive at work, and what time you can leave work at the end of the day. This likely to be especially the case for people who are still attending workplaces – those of us with cushy white-collar jobs might have some flexibility, but most of us are already working from home.

How long should people wait? There was an old PTUA document that described 20 minute intervals in an urban context as “passable”, and 40+ minutes as “charity”.

Expanding that out (and being a little less charitable, because this is now the 21st century; most people have the choice of a car; and Melbourne is now a city of 5 million, not a sleepy hollow of 2.5 million), you might get something like this:

5 minutesgreat!
10 minutesgood
15 minutesokay
20 minutespassable
30 minutespoor
40 minutescharity
over 40 minutesalmost unusable

If they switched trains to a Saturday timetable, that would cut the busiest rail lines from around every 5 minutes in peak to every 10 for most of the day (especially if there were some extra services to boost the morning peak). That would probably be bearable.

But the other lines would drop back to every 20 minutes. Merely passable, not good, especially for connections.

Trams on a Saturday timetable would be mostly every 10-15 minutes through the day. That’s probably bearable.

But Sunday timetables are a different story. That could mean:

  • late starts, with the first trains not reaching the City until about 8am
  • virtually unusable 40 minute services on half the rail network before 10am
  • trams only every half-hour after 7pm, and poor frequencies in the morning peak

Buses on a weekend timetable? That would result in many already poor (but just about usable) half-hourly services dropping to an almost unusable hourly frequency. That would make them useless for connections, and create real difficulties for the essential workers relying on those routes.

And blanket weekend bus timetables would mean some critical routes, such as the 401 shuttle into the hospital precinct, would not run at all.

Melbourne University 401 shuttle bus, March 2008

Express journey times

A switch to a weekend timetable would remove express trains on the lines that have them: Frankston, Ringwood, Hurstbridge, Sunbury, Werribee.

While the impact is not as bad as service frequency cuts, it would mean longer journey times for some users.

For example, most Werribee trains on weekdays take 31 minutes inbound to North Melbourne, thanks to direct express services. On weekends this blows out to 42 minutes.

Doors – and fleet management

In many cities authorities are asking passengers to use the rear doors of trams and buses to board, to keep a distance from the driver. Yarra Trams has started doing this with some trams.

But the other issue is who opens the doors. Can passengers avoid having to do it?

Bus doors are opened by the driver.

Tram doors involve a game of bluff. The newer (post-2000) trams have buttons to open the doors, but generally the driver opens the doors at stops, which is consistent with older trams.

Train doors are problematic. The newer models have press buttons to open them. Metro is apparently exploring if this can be made automatic, which would help.

But on the older Comeng fleet, there’s a handle to pull to open the door – a handle with a deliberately awkward design to prevent people forcing doors.

If there is a train timetable cut, hopefully the service could be mostly or entirely run by newer trains, to reduce the risk from unwanted door handle contact. At least with button-operated doors you can use an elbow to press.

In fact, one silver lining of a period of reduced service would be an opportunity to push ahead with fleet upgrades/life extension projects on older vehicles, if any are pending.

Greatly reduced passenger numbers are certainly making bus operations easier during the autumn construction blitz. The Sandringham line has been closed for almost two weeks now without any fuss.

A service cut is probably inevitable

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. With patronage at perhaps 10% of the usual numbers, it’s a massive waste to keep running a full weekday service.

With so few passengers, and so little fare revenue, the system is haemorrhaging money, which ultimately would be better put into service upgrades when patronage is back to normal.

And there’s an ongoing risk that staff availability may be affected in coming weeks by the virus, which would make cuts will be impossible to avoid – and potentially forced to happen in a less controlled way.

One perhaps unforeseen aspect of a pandemic is that a flexible pool of train drivers able to drive multiple lines is now an advantage, rather than being seen as an unnecessary extravagance. Lack of flexibility is causing grief in London: Nearly a third of TfL’s workforce have called in sick, many of whom are trained for specific lines, and therefore cannot be transferred over at short notice to fill in the gaps.

One option on the trains might be run 3-car sets to the usual frequencies. This would maintain workforce requirements, but cut running costs including maintenance. 3-cars was once routine on weekends, though it’s unclear what operational changes might be required to do it again.

(Did they ever dare run the Siemens trains as 3-cars after the brakes crisis was over? Edit: Yes. See first comment.)

The system must remain usable

The key is to maintain a decent frequency that people can still actually use (not hopeless 40 minute trains and hourly buses) and enough capacity that passengers and staff can spread out and stay safe.

And it would make sense to make any changes as further COVID-19 restrictions are introduced – following reductions in demand, not prompting them.

Ultimately, a system-wide weekend timetable would make many bus routes unusable – and thus the overall public transport network would be compromised.

The last thing we need is essential medical and food supply chain staff having trouble just getting to work.

But a hybrid timetable: perhaps Saturday trains (plus some peak extras) and trams, and weekday bus timetables just moderate reductions to the few bus routes that are actually high frequency – with timing adjustments to take advantage of light traffic.

That would still provide a usable system for the essential workers who need it.

More reading:

Health transport

Patronage is down. Punctuality is up.

One of the effects of the COVID-19 crisis (which I wrote about in general terms yesterday) is a steep fall in public transport usage.

This is partially people avoiding the network and switching to other modes such as cycling and driving, but mostly it’s people avoiding travelling in the first place. (City Mapper data suggests as of Thursday 26 March, overall travel, across all modes, is down 80% from the usual levels.)

How far has public transport usage dropped?

The Age reports today that patronage is down by around 90%.

I was interested to see how the patronage drop affected service punctuality.

Punctuality for the month of February 2020 (on-time within 5 minutes) was 90.3% for Metro Trains, and 81.5% for Yarra Trams.

Using PTV’s daily figures, I was able to see how rapidly this is changing:

Train/tram punctuality: 7 day average

I’ve used a 7 day average figure, to smooth out spikes on specific days, and the effects of weekends.

The trend is obvious, and isn’t a great surprise, as fewer and fewer passengers are using the system. And in the case of trams, there’s also less traffic on the roads delaying services.

(I can’t show you bus punctuality data because it’s generally not published.)

A quick glance at PTV’s data back to 2000 shows Metro train punctuality is now at its highest since at least 2004, which was before the huge patronage surge in the latter part of that decade.

And since 2000, tram punctuality has never before been above 90%. Shows how good trams could be with effective traffic priority.

Avoiding performance penalties will be of benefit to the operators. But they also earn a large share of Myki fare revenue. In 2018-19, Metro, Yarra Trams and V/Line jointly received $620 million of this money (out of total fare revenue of about $982 million).

So the overall financial hit from plummeting patronage is enormous, given they are continuing to run a full service.

It is of course important for the public transport network to keep running, even if there are further government restrictions on activity, as no matter what, it’s critical that essential workers can get to their workplaces.

And service capacity must be sufficient to ensure the risk of close proximity for passengers and staff is minimised.

In the UK, there’s been a change so that the government takes on the revenue risk and the impacts from falling patronage from the private rail operators.

This will be something to watch in the days and weeks ahead.

Update: While most tram and bus doors open automatically, train doors don’t. Metro is investigating this (though the Comeng trains will still be a problem).

Health News and events

Stage 3? Bring it on.

I said it last week, but this whole situation is surreal.

At this point, there are 3,048 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around Australia. In the past week or two, the number has roughly doubled every 3-4 days.

There’s a slight bit of relief for those of us in Victoria – the growth here is a little more linear, with between 50 and 60 cases confirmed for most of each of the last five days.

But I think we all know this is about to spiral out of control. The number of cases of local transmission in Victoria rose from 9 yesterday to 16 today.

It all started off early this year with news reports from Wuhan in China, but quickly spread outwards from there.

The first real effects we saw were in early March when (possibly inspired by Hong Kong) toilet paper vanished from the shops. People were panic-buying it, and as soon as it starts, it’s hard to stop.

At one stage, rice, pasta, tissues, soap, cleaning products, fresh meat, frozen vegetables, some dairy and tinned food were all in short supply.

Chemist: out of stock

Thanks to measures such as purchase limits and early closing to allow restocking, they’ve all started to come back in.

In the past few days, I’ve found almost everything back in stock – though I haven’t spotted pasta. Even toilet paper is in stock (if you go in the morning).

Working from home

Last weekend we had hoped to get away to NSW for a few days. But I’m glad I held back booking flights. By the start of last week it increasingly appeared to be a bad idea.

Until last week I was still working in the City, but it was getting quieter every day. It reminded me of early January when most people are away.

As of this week, many workers (including myself) who can work from home are now doing so.

The public transport network is still running to full capacity (with major project works also underway) but hardly anybody is using it – this is just as well, since “social distancing” is vital to slow down the spread.

Bentleigh station, peak hour 25/3/2020
Bentleigh station at peak hour, Tuesday

So I’m at home all day. It’s a bit of adjustment. I’m finding I have to break it up with short walks, particularly at the start and end of the work day.

Most pedestrians around the place seem very aware of the guidance to keep 1.5 metres or more away from others.

Restrictions: Stage 1, stage 2…

It seems NSW and Victoria really wanted a near-lockdown last weekend. Some announcements by those states caused a lot of confusion that day, and in retrospect it seems to have been an ambit claim to force the Federal government into action.

Despite it being dialled-back, unprecedented restrictions were put in place. From Monday at midday, cafes and restaurants were forced to stop indoor dining, and gyms, pubs and numerous other types of businesses closed.

From Tuesday, Victorian schools were closed for early school holidays, though a few remain open for the children of essential workers, and in other states, schools are still open.

From midnight Wednesday there were more restrictions in place, including on weddings (now limited to a celebrant, the couple, and the legally-required two witnesses) and funerals (10 people only) and tightening of business restrictions.

I found the announcement of that one a bit problematic. After reading the list, Prime Minister Scott Morrison went wildly off-script, saying at one point that only essential workers should go out (okay, makes sense), but then nonsensically saying:

Now if you ask me who is an essential worker? Someone who has a job. Everyone who has a job in this economy is an essential worker. Every single job that is being done in our economy with these severe restrictions that are taking place is essential.



Really, I think that undermines the messaging about avoiding unnecessary travel.

Have the restrictions gone far enough? Only 5.4% of confirmed cases so far are via local transmission with no known link to an existing case, but about another 12.9% are of unknown origin, so who knows.

And a concern is how far behind reality are the confirmed case numbers, given the delay in symptoms appearing and being diagnosed.

What happens next? I’m no medical expert, and I know how disruptive and impactful it’ll be, but I think there has to be tighter restrictions soon.

It’s easy for me to say that when I personally am not (and thankfully am unlikely to be) under financial stress, but to batten down the hatches seems like the obvious course of action to have any hope of getting this thing under control.

Good luck everyone. Stay safe.

Going green

Getting into hot water

There’s a lot of doom and gloom from COVID-19 at the moment. So here’s something positive: I got a new hot water system.

Twelve years ago this month I got solar hot water installed: a collector panel on the roof, a tank to store the water, and a gas booster.

I thought it was going to be great. But to be honest, I never really saw a great difference in the gas bills. Over summer (when the heating doesn’t get used), gas cooking and water is still about $2 per day.

Recently the hot water has been playing up. The gas booster unit started leaking, and then stopped working – meaning the morning shower was somewhere between room temperature and lukewarm.

Twelve years perhaps isn’t a bad innings for a hot water system, so I started looking at replacements.

One philosophy is to migrate homes completely off natural gas, because unlike electricity, it’s not only non-renewable, it can never be renewable.

If you can get completely off gas, you also save a bundle in service fees. For me, this involves upgrades for hot water, heating (also due for an upgrade), and cooking (my stove is ancient, so ditto).

For hot water, I’ve ended up with a Sanden electric heat pump. A fair bit more expensive than other options, but they’re known for being very efficient. It was installed on Friday.

Despite COVID-19, the installers said they’re taking precautions, but they’d keep doing jobs for now – thankfully most of their work is outside, with minimal time indoors or directly interacting with people. And we avoided shaking hands.

A heat pump is best when accompanied with solar PV panels. This is the next step. There may be a challenge due to a lack of roof space, but this should cut my household emissions even further.

It’s a reminder that when the current crisis is over, society will still need to properly resolve climate change. COVID-19 is getting a serious response. Climate change will be just as big, if not bigger (but will probably creep up on us more slowly) if it’s not addressed properly.

Photos from ten years ago

Old photos from March 2010

Let’s momentarily distract ourselves from the perils of March 2020 with some photos from ten years ago.

Parliament station, back when the old Passenger Information Displays were CRTs with a blue background.

Parliament station, March 2010

They converted the Flinders Street Lane/Spring Street crossing from a zebra to signalised – thus downgrading the experience for pedestrians.

Flinders Lane crossing converted from zebra to signalised, March 2010

There was crowding on CBD trams before the Free Tram Zone, but the worst of it was mostly on the City Circle, seen here in Latrobe Street.

Crowded City Circle tram, March 2010

Being a fan of the old Max Headroom TV show (the sci-fi telemovie and series more than the music video show), I was delighted to find this down an obscure alleyway in Melbourne’s CBD.

Max Headroom, March 2010

Delayed trains, crowded platforms, on the old then-ground level station at Bentleigh – before the level crossing removal. Who needs seating when you’ve got bike hoops?

Late train, crowded platform, Bentleigh March 2010

The old station had very narrow platforms at the citybound end. It made boarding with a wheelchair trickier than it should have been.

Wheelchair boarding from a narrow platform at Bentleigh, March 2010

Also at Bentleigh: a bus kneels to assist a mobility impaired passenger to board. This and low-floor designs mean most buses now are wheelchair accessible.

Kneeling bus at Bentleigh, March 2010

On 6th of March a torrential storm hit Melbourne, causing all kinds of chaos. This is Glenhuntly.

Glen Huntly in the storm

In those heady days of 2010, train crowding was a real issue, and the delivery of brand new trains into service actually got the media in attendance.

Media covering a new train delivery, March 2010

Me in a quiet train moving slowly through the City Loop, trying to snap the signs in the tunnel telling you how far it is to the nearest emergency exit. The distances are odd because they were converted from imperial to metric.

In the City Loop, March 2010

Not something we’re seeing a lot of at the moment: a crowded train.

Crowded train, March 2010

For those of you reading this in 2020, stay well, stay safe.

Health transport

Some thoughts on COVID-19

COVID-19 is developing very fast, and really is quite unlike anything in living memory.

I feel like Australia is still at the early stages, and already the impacts are huge. The ban on events of more than 500 people from Monday is unprecedented, and shopping for scarce supermarket items is a little bit surreal.

I’m a long way from being an expert, and I don’t want to make any predictions, but just a couple of observations on possible public transport impacts.

There was a comment last week about possibly switching to a Sunday timetable, but these seemed like more of a thought bubble than an actual plan. (At least I’d like to think so.)

Then an Age story on Friday speculated on social distancing measures:

The number of people allowed on public transport would likely to be severely limited.

“In a pandemic situation, you’d cut the number of people down to one person per seat,” said Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, who helped author the federal government’s influenza pandemic strategy.

People standing would be required to give each other at least one metre of space.

That could lead to a huge capacity crunch. An E-class tram in Melbourne is designed to hold 210 people, for example. But it has only 64 seats.

However, work hours could be staggered to reduce the number of people needing to use public transport at the same time.

Over decades the public transport staffing has been reduced – similar to many fields of work where labour costs have necessitated changes to working practices.

In the name of efficiency, these days we mostly buy our own tickets and board on platforms and onto vehicles with no direct staff presence. The majority of frontline staff are drivers, and do not normally supervise passengers.

So it’s very difficult to see how load limit like one passenger per seat that could be enforced.

The key is that any public transport restrictions would have to be accompanied by Government-led or recommended/mandated work-from-home policies (for those in roles that can do this – not everybody can) to make it work, alongside similar moves by schools and universities.

And in terms of any cuts to service, those would need to be very carefully considered to avoid exacerbating crowding. In other words service cuts should be in reaction to any peak hour patronage dip, rather than forcing it.

(See the update below for some clarity on this)

Peak hour demand might already be dropping. Anecdotally, a lot of people are switching to other travel modes or working from home.

Outside peak, as Jarrett Walker writes (in the context of lost revenue forcing these decisions) off-peak frequencies are cheaper to run, and should be maintained lest they prompt a long-term patronage drop.

Is it still okay to use public transport? As of Sunday the official advice was yes.

Public transport operators are promoting public health messages, which is good to see.

They should also be upping their cleaning regimes with regard to shared spaces, especially for things like door buttons, handles and seats – though at this early stage with hardly any “community transmission” in Victoria, the risk is thankfully minimal.

And operators should be supporting their staff – with any necessary protective gear such as masks and gloves, and operational changes to help reduce their risk.

All this might change at any time. This whole situation is obviously developing very fast. We’ll see what happens next.

Good luck everybody in the weeks ahead.

Update 7pm. A bit more information has emerged today, via a government source:

  • They don’t intend to cut services in response to patronage drops
  • But they will take advice from the State government’s medical experts, which might at some stage make recommendations related to service levels
  • They also might have to cut services if large numbers of staff (drivers and other support staff such as signallers and control room personnel) are unavailable due to illness. The nature of cuts would depend on which staff are out of action.
  • They’re looking at what other measures may be required, including what can be done to reduce cash handling (especially an issue for bus drivers)
  • Currently the only option for people with a Myki Pass who don’t want to use it is to get a refund. For Yearlies this may not be economical – because they are structured as 325 days at a discount rate, plus 40 free days. PTV’s algorithm means any refund instantly loses the 40 free days, then you get back a balance from the rest, which is often not much. It really depends how much is left on the Pass versus how long you expect not to use it.

Update Tuesday 17/3/2020: The cleaning regime has been boosted.

Update Wednesday 18/3/2020:

PTV advice includes suggestions to stagger your travel, and avoid cash

Victorian Government DHHS advice from today includes:

  • Additional cleaning is now in place on public transport. The Victorian Government is urging employers to consider staggered work times and remote working arrangements to reduce overcrowding at peak travel times.
  • The public is advised to sit in the back of taxis and ride shares, while mass transport should be avoided by people vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly.


Under the skyrail at Clayton South

Unlike most of the spots where skyrail replaced level crossings on the Dandenong line, this area at Centre Road (Clayton South) has no station.

I happened to stop past there on the public holiday Monday and was interested to see the different groups using the space.

Overall it looks pretty clean. Note the graffiti mural on a nearby wall, but not on the skyrail supports themselves, which have official markings no doubt to discourage tagging.

Under the skyrail at Clayton South

Basketball areas seem to be well used.

Basketball under the skyrail at Clayton South
Space under the skyrail at Clayton South

Here’s a special dog off-leash area. I didn’t see anybody using it.

Space under the skyrail at Clayton South

The Djerring trail (shared use path) seems popular with individuals and groups. This seemed to be a family all out together.

Djerring trail at Clayton South

Centre Road here has two T-intersections, thanks to where the level crossing used to be. I was surprised they didn’t change this, but on the bright side, leaving the road layout as is means Djerring trail users only have to cross once to continue their journey. (Other footpath users may not be so lucky.)

Skyrail at Centre Road, Clayton South

Overall the space looks clean and well used by locals, and hopefully it’ll stay that way.

Over in Williamstown they’ve reached a decision point for the Ferguson Street level crossing removal: rail under, or rail over? Both have pros and cons, but the open space is something rail under simply can’t provide.

Meanwhile in other news, former PTV CEO (now Department of Transport head of services) Jeroen Weimar has resigned effective next month. He’ll leave some big shoes to fill.


How long does it take to fix a tram shelter?

This tram and bus shelter shown below is at a stop in Footscray – at Tiernan Street and Droop Street.

Sometime in late-January the main panel of glass got smashed.

Authorities cleared away the broken glass and put hazard tape around it.

Broken tram/bus shelter - 8/2/2020
8th February

Fresh tape was provided a couple of weeks later.

Broken tram/bus shelter - 22/2/2020
22nd February

But what about actually fixing it?

Here’s a photo from today. There’s now no trace of hazard tape or new glass.

Broken tram/bus shelter - 8/3/2020
8th March

This is not a once off. I’ve seen it take months for some shelters to be repaired or replaced after being hit by cars.

Rain doesn’t fall vertically. With no glass, wind also goes right through it. And winter is coming.

This particular stop gets pretty busy. It’s the closest tram stop to Victoria University’s Footscray Park campus, and it also serves two bus routes, and will also be the tram stop for the new Footscray hospital once built.

Really this stop (and others along this route) should get an accessible platform and low floor trams.

But in the mean time, basic passenger shelter is important.

So are they actually going to fix this? One would certainly hope so.


Australia’s top tram routes

Unlike here in Victoria, Transport For NSW regularly releases detailed patronage data.

I was wondering how Sydney’s new light rail line (L2, CBD to Randwick, opened mid-December) is performing, so I took a look at the figures. Despite a number of technical problems, the line had than 1.2 million trips in January, which seems not too shabby.

How does that compare to Melbourne’s busiest tram routes?

Unfortunately comparable data is hard to find, but back in 2018, the Victorian Greens did an FOI on tram patronage data, and the figures which came back included annual patronage for 2016-17. A good basis for a comparison, with some caveats.

  • Melbourne tram patronage overall (as seen in the Budget Papers) has grown only about 1% between 2016-17 and 2018-19, so I didn’t bother to adjust the figures. The last big surge was 2014-15 when the Free Tram Zone was introduced.
  • I initially excluded routes 8, 55 and 58, as in May 2017 routes 8 and 55 merged to become the 58. But instead I’ve taken the 58 figure for May-June and multiplied by 6.
  • It would be nice to see some more up-to-date data for Melbourne – the recent deployment of larger trams may have seen patronage on some routes increase in the past year as the constraint of overcrowding is relieved.
Sydney Light Rail - L2 line Circular Quay to Randwick
  • The NSW data is incomplete or likely to be inconsistent, as the new line only just started, and the Newcastle line is also pretty new.
  • So I used the numbers from January and multiplied it by 12 – January might be quieter than a typical month, but it actually gave a higher figure overall for the L1 inner west/Dulwich Hill line and the Newcastle line than their actual patronage over the past year.
  • The L3 line will open in coming months, as a branch of L2, and boosting frequency over the common section into the CBD, so expect further strong growth in Sydney.
  • Important: this NSW data includes Opal only, and excludes trips using other types of tickets.
Adelaide CBD tram terminus 2007
  • Adelaide’s tram network is confusing. It used to be just the one line to Glenelg. Now they confusingly listed as four different acronyms on the web site (why not route numbers?), but the route map and the printed timetable booklet which could help you make sense of it only shows three of them.
  • In any case, I could only find an overall patronage figure for Adelaide trams, so that’s what I’ve used.
  • Proposed Adelaide tram extensions seem to be on hold at the moment.
  • Gold Coast Light Rail saw heavy growth in 2018 thanks to a line extension and the Commonwealth Games, which may mean it dropped in 2019. They’ve got another line extension probably coming soon, which should boost patronage.
  • I initially missed Canberra. Have updated the graph.
  • I did not include tourist trams in Ballarat, Bendigo, and elsewhere (Whiteman Park, WA, and St Kilda, SA, spring to mind). I’m more interested in actual public transport (though Melbourne’s City Circle route 35 is included)

It’s somewhat arbitrary to look at just trams, of course. In Brisbane and Sydney, they have very extensive inner-city bus networks which replaced their old tram networks, and still serve a similar role to Melbourne’s trams.

And remember, route lengths vary widely, which affects boarding numbers.

But with the above caveats in mind, how do things look?

Some observations:

The busiest two tram routes in Australia are in Melbourne: the 96 (St Kilda to Brunswick) and 109 (Port Melbourne to Box Hill) – but the brand new Sydney L2 (City to Randwick) line isn’t far behind.

Sydney L2 replaced a number bus routes. The south-west ends of 96 and 109 replaced heavy rail lines, though the north/eastern ends of those lines date back many decades.

Sydney’s older L1 (City to Dulwich Hill) line also performs quite well, between Melbourne’s extremely long 75 (City to East Burwood) and route 11 (City to West Preston).

Adelaide’s small network sits somewhere in the middle, and the Gold Coast line isn’t too far off the middle as well. Edit: More up-to-date figures (see comments) show the Gold Coast line patronage is growing fast, and is well within the top ten.

Canberra’s relatively new line is increasing, but still not too high compared to Melbourne routes.

The least patronised lines in Melbourne are the 78 and 82 (neither of which serve the CBD) and the very short route 30 (Latrobe Street), almost all of which is duplicated by route 35 (City Circle).

Newcastle’s short 2.7km line has the lowest patronage in the country.

Federation Square tram stop, evening peak hour

Can Melbourne keep up?

Melbourne might be Australia’s fastest growing city by population, but Sydney is out-performing us on public transport, with much stronger patronage growth – and has been stronger overall for some years.

Here’s a comparison of total public transport patronage for 2018-19:

  • Note how Sydney’s trains and buses easily outstrip Melbourne’s trains, trams and buses.
  • The Sydney Metro line opened during this period, but in part replaced a section of the Sydney Trains network. Expect strong growth in coming years.
  • I’ve included half of V/Line patronage (eg trips in outer-suburban Melbourne), not that it makes a huge difference overall.

Apart from Sydney’s patronage being higher, it’s also growing faster. Why is that?

Sydney’s new infrastructure (metro and light rail) is helping, but also there’s been a big focus on service frequency on both new and existing lines, particularly outside peak periods. Sydney’s (heavy rail) stations are now mostly served by trains every 15 minutes or better until midnight – a long way ahead of Melbourne’s mostly half-hourly evening train services.

It’s a similar story on Sydney’s tram lines, with services every 15 minutes in the evenings – better than Melbourne’s 20 minutes (Monday to Saturday) or 30 minutes (Sundays). Melbourne’s daytime weekend tram frequencies are slightly better than Sydney’s L2, but the opening of the L3 line will double for the common section of the route.

The focus on increasing frequencies and cutting waiting times just isn’t happening in Melbourne.

Individual routes are getting service upgrades, but for all the talk of the metro tunnel and the Suburban Rail Loop to have turn-up-and-go services, the opportunities to deliver that right now by and large are not being delivered.

Melbourne also could and should be addressing traffic priority for trams, and more aggressively resolving accessibility issues.

And we should be extending suburban tram routes to more logical termination points. Quite a few fall short of railway stations due to rivalry between the railways and tramways last century. Enhancing overall public transport network connectivity like this would help boost patronage where it can be easily accommodated, at the less busy outer ends of routes.

Expect strong tram patronage growth in Sydney when the L3 line opens later this month.

And don’t be surprised if soon, Australia’s busiest tram route is in Sydney, not Melbourne.

Photos from ten years ago

Old photos from February 2010

Here’s another in my series of photos from ten years ago.

Lonsdale House was a lovely art deco building, pictured here just before demolition. At the time it was thought an Apple Store might be built in its place – it ended up being the Top Man/Top Shop section of the Emporium shopping centre.

Lonsdale House, shortly before demolition

At Southern Cross, V/Line was getting ready for Myki. It had started on trains in Zones 1 and 2 in December 2009 (including V/Line within those zones) but wouldn’t be enabled to other V/Line zones until 2013. The rollout beyond the commuter zones was cancelled in 2011, along with short term tickets and tram ticket machines.

V/Line getting ready for Myki, Southern Cross, February 2010

At Flinders Street they had posters trying to explain to people how to use the Myki readers.

Myki poster, February 2010

The fare gates were the 1990s era Metcard gates with Myki readers retrofitted, so they could use both tickets during the transition. Here you can also see Metcard vending machines, but Myki machines were also dotted around the place.

Metcard machine and Metcard/Myki gates at Flinders Street station, February 2010

Myki wasn’t yet running officially on trams, but they were preparing. Even W-class trams had readers fitted – these days the only Ws still in service are on the free City Circle. Back in 2010, Ws still ran on routes 78 and 30 – the latter route is now completely within the Free Tram Zone – except for a single stop.

Myki equipment on W-class tram, February 2010

A pair of W-class trams on Latrobe Street. Often there was space on the paid 30 while the free 35/City Circle was packed.

W-class trams in Latrobe Street, February 2010

A Comeng train at Flinders Street, sporting temporary Metro stickers to cover up the Connex logos.

Comeng train at Flinders Street showing temporary Metro stickers, February 2010

Looking south from a Latrobe Street/Little Lonsdale Street building, over the City skyline. I’m not sure this view has changed a huge amount, as many of the newer buildings are further west (to the right of shot).

City skyline looking south from Little Lonsdale St, February 2010

Skybus has recently taken over a lot of suburban airport bus routes – probably a strategy to diversify before airport rail eventually arrives. Before Skybus dubbed it the Peninsula Express, it was the Frankston And Peninsula Airport Shuttle (FAPAS for short).

Pre-Skybus FAPAS Airport Bus stop, Moorabbin, February 2010

For a few years PTUA ran a stall at the annual Sustainable Living Festival. Here it is in 2010, sharing space with the Metropolitan Transport Forum and Victoria Walks. Note the fake bus stop sign.

PTUA at Sustainable Living Festival, February 2010