Big enough, small enough

St George Bank is using the slogan “Big enough. Small enough.”

Which is why this made me laugh:

St George: Big enough, small enough. (But in this case, not small enough)

Clearly, that’s not small enough.

(They’ve taken it down in the last day or two.)

Happy new year, everybody.


Myki: the cases for and against

Myki and OysterIt’s a year today since Myki was switched-on in Melbourne. There were a lot of problems on day one, and many others have been highlighted in the last twelve months.

In today’s Herald Sun, Paul Mees argues Myki should be scrapped and replaced with a system from elsewhere, such as Perth’s SmartRider.

I argue that while it was a bad idea to build it, it may now be too late to scrap Myki; to do so now may waste $700 million, and it should be kept — but only if problems with it can be fixed cost-effectively.

Equally, a decision to keep myki must only be made if it can be made to work properly, and without going further over budget. We don’t want to be throwing good money after bad.

Slow and inconsistent readers, beeps that can barely be heard, reliability problems with vending machines and cards, slow online transactions, and incorrect charging have all plagued the system, and must be fixed.

So must design problems that make the system unfriendly to use: beeps for “touch-on” and “touch-off” that are indistinguishable, touch-offs on buses resulting in queues at doorways, and a plan for single-use short term tickets to require activation if bought from stations but not on trams and buses (which would inherit a problem from Metcard that enormously confuses occasional users).

I came to this conclusion after considering the key facts that while it’s had problems this year, the system largely works now; and most of the capital costs have already been spent, meaning it would be a huge waste of money to scrap it (and would probably cost more to find a replacement, though Mees disagrees on this).

Of course it makes sense that it’ll be the government’s full audit of the system that will determine what happens from here. Will be very interested to see what it says.

PS. People may have forgotten, but Metcard had big problems in its early years too. What’s that saying? Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.


Build your own Metro

Sick of how Metro’s running? Then build your own!

(ABC News, 26/12/2010.)

driving Video games

Coolest Mini ever

Spotted in Centre Road, Bentleigh:

Coolest Mini ever

Friends and loved ones

Merry Christmas

Christmas tree at Daniel's house

Quieter than usual due to my boys being away in Hawaii, but I chatted with them on Skype this evening.

Presents are easier now all the adults in the family have switched to (non-anonymous) Kris Kringle… and of course we stuffed ourselves full of heaps of food. The only downer was being locked-out of my sister’s house for a little while, and I managed to get the wrong thing for my niece’s dolls house. Whoops. (Yes, I have the receipt.)

But overall, a good day. Hope the rest of you had a good one.


Perfect for a train-spotter

Looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for a train-spotter? Got a budget of hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Then splurge and buy them a home in this new development in Caulfield East.

Urban Art Apartments, artists impression

Urban Art Apartments is an artistic, inspired residential development in Caulfield East which is surrounded by lush greenery and designer art pieces. The development will feature a range of 34 architect designed 1, 2 and 2 plus study bedroom apartments. Each apartment will include European stainless steel appliances, split system heating/cooling and acoustically treated. The large, beautifully landscaped communal courtyard garden is an ideal place for all residents to enjoy the sun or you can gather with friends in your own private terrace. Visitor bike parking in basement and on ground level. All apartments have one car space.

Urban Art Apartments web site

It sounds good… until you realise the precise location, which is smack bang in the middle of the junction between the Frankston and Dandenong train lines.

Site of Urban Art Apartments

Site of Urban Art Apartments

I suspect that even with the best sound-proofing in the world, that is a location only a train-spotter could love.

Update 25/12/2010: Bonus photo:
Urban Art Apartments site

(Anybody else thinking of that scene in the Blues Brothers in the flat where the trains rumble by every few seconds? Yup.)

Have a Merry Christmas everybody.


Dream: the late start

Just had an interesting dream.

I dreamt that I woke up at 11:48am (according to the clock) today. (I’d intended to get up and out early, with a planned half-day at work followed by various errands before the shops shut for Christmas.) Somehow I’d slept through the alarm.

Despite it being late, I was very sleepy. I stumbled through the house and was surprised to find the washing machine running, yet I couldn’t recall having set it to run the previous night.

On the back porch I found my stepfather Peter, up a ladder looking at the drains (not unknown for him), but with suit trousers on (unusual). Nearby on a seat was a man who appeared at first glance to be my Uncle Frank.

Peter said he was urgently checking the drains, and that he’d also had to shut the water off. I replied that I’d need it on, as I was running really late and had to have a shower shortly. He said okay, he’d switch it back on.

Then I woke up in the real world. The clock was actually on 6:05am, about an hour before I usually get up. *Yawn*.


Lego: Santa’s little helper

For the past year or two, Lego have advertised heavily around Christmas time on billboards and in newspapers. Surprisingly, they don’t direct you to the Lego web site, but say to search for “Santa’s little helper”.

Lego advertising

This is tied into their advertising for those keywords on Google, which goes through to their web site with a gift suggestion applet. (For some crazy reason goes to a completely different web site.)

I guess they’re assuming everybody uses Google, not Bing or Yahoo or anything else, where Lego is not a prominent result for those keywords (though Bing suggests it).

No Lego advertising on Bing or Yahoo

Nonetheless, Lego seems to be doing well. An article in last week’s Sunday Age notes that the company faced bankruptcy in 2003, but has bounced back. And I know that when looking around Chadstone on Monday night for Lego for my nephew Leo for Christmas, some of the Lego shelves in Toys R Us, Myer, David Jones, Target and K-Mart were looking a bit empty.

And I’m not going to pretend I didn’t wish I was buying some for myself. (That Lego train set 7938 looks rather good.)

Politics and activism transport

Baillieu and the Clearways

Seems the more cynical (especially on the left) are panicking about the new Coalition government in Victoria, including with regard to public transport — trams in particular.

Remember Kennett!

Well no, hold on. Baillieu is not Kennett, this is not 1992, and the economy is not stuffed. There is no mandate nor need to drastically cut government debt, nor cut government spending.

And unlike any time in the last few decades, public transport patronage is increasing, there is public demand for investment, and there is not even the scope nor opportunity for Kennett-style work reforms (such as the mass removal of staff). On the contrary, the Coalition has come in pledging 940 security officers for stations, as well as 40 more trains, and feasibility studies for four new rail lines (Doncaster, Rowville, Tullamarine and Avalon).

Removal of Clearways is anti-tram!

First of all, no Clearways are being removed. Rather, the hours they apply is being rolled back to how they were a couple of years ago. Under Brumby these crept into off-peak business hours, up to 10am in the mornings, and from 3:30pm in the afternoons.

Secondly, there are questionmarks over whether the benefits of Clearways is compelling against the pain suffered by shopping strips — not just removal of parking, but general poor amenity — window shopping and al fresco dining are not very pleasant with cars zooming by at 60 km/h. Parked cars provide a buffer.

Shops on Centre Road, Bentleigh

In strip shopping centres with no clearways, such as Centre Road (where widened footpaths physically prevent it) there is activity on the street as early as 8am, with cafe patrons sipping coffees and eating breakfast.

The obvious question must be: are streets just for traffic, or for everybody?

In any case, opinions differ on how much travel time is saved with Clearways. Some tram drivers say there’s a noticeable difference. But the only hard figures that have come out are that on High Street there is saving 5% time for trams, and 9% for cars. So it benefits motorists more than tram passengers. And for trams, that adds up to just 36 seconds along the affected section. (It’s not even clear if this applies to the peak of the peak, or the 9am-10am and 3:30pm-4:30pm periods now rolled-back, when traffic is much lighter. It’s also not clear if it’s in the AM peak direction, which includes a tram-only lane, or in the PM peak direction as well, which has no tram lane.)

Tram on Sydney Road, Brunswick

On Sydney Road, where the Clearway is not accompanied by a tram-only lane, a study indicated the time difference for trams was next to nothing: just 7 seconds — with adjoining section along Royal Parade actually being slower, despite it having a dedicated tram lane.

This reflects the fact that most of the delays are at traffic lights; in fact Yarra Trams figures indicate delays at traffic lights account for 17% of travel time across the tram network, much higher than in many other tram cities — including those similar to Melbourne, with older networks running in mixed traffic.

Traffic light priority, if done well, could be highly beneficial to tram users, but barely noticeable to most other people.

Other solutions (particularly relevant for the south end of Sydney Road) would include traffic metering, to reduce the number of cars able to enter the street ahead of the trams (which could easily be carrying 150 cars-worth of passengers), and subtly encourage (but not force) motorists onto other (non-tram) roads.

Don’t panic

The Coalition said little about trams (or buses) during the election campaign. Neither did Labor. Let’s face it, trains get most of the publicity. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic just yet.

Of course, they’ll probably need some nudging, particularly with regards to issues like traffic light priority for trams.


Happy Gravy Day

(There are several versions of this song on Youtube. I like the versions with his full band, but this one — which appears to be with Uncle Bill — is excellent.)