News and events

NYE 2012

Having a night in.

Just noticed my new year’s resolutions from two years ago — given I’m not really in the mood to write a new set, let’s review these old ones, shall we?

  • Teach my kids chess — I did have one go at this, but didn’t push it. Should try again.
  • Try to declutter the house — This is an ongoing project. I really couldn’t say if I’ve made a huge amount of progress in the past two years.
  • Get Jeremy into his own bedroom — we finally got this done about a month ago.
  • Get all of us more exercise — yep; sometime back then I instituted a nightly walk after dinner, and except when it’s pouring with rain, we do it every night.
  • Write a computer game (even a simple one) to get more enthused again about programming — Nup, though work has had me doing more coding in the last 18 months.
  • Replace the TV with something shiny, flat, and digital — DONE! (I got this done back then, two years ago)
  • Have a more regular bedtime — kinda sorta, could do better.
  • Plan a Proper Holiday — got two in: Brisbane in 2011, Perth in 2012
  • Not let any gift vouchers expire — pretty sure I’ve achieved this since 2010
  • Have a birthday party to make up for my lack of a 40th — had a bunch of people for drinks and dinner at a pub; twas a good night

If I can’t think of new resolutions, perhaps in the next year I’ll keep going through this list.

For our family, 2012 brought both joy and sadness. Hope your 2013 brings more of the former than the latter. Happy New Year.


Hitachi trains: forty years on

Forty years ago this week (on Christmas Eve to be precise) the first Hitachi train went into service.

Here’s an article and some blueprints published in the Victorian Railways internal newsletter in June 1970, showing off models of the then-proposed trains.

(Click on the pictures to view them bigger in Flickr.)

"New metropolitan trains"

Hitachi trains article

Hitachi trains plans

The “driving trailer” carriages were later converted to trailer carriages, with additional motor carriages built to make up the 3-car sets we see today.

Most Hitachis were scrapped during the 2000s, when it was originally thought they would be completely replaced by Siemens and X’Trapolis trains. Initially a few were kept for the Commonwealth Games, to be scrapped afterwards, but strong growth patronage meant they were saved, and some others brought back — famously some were bought back off a collector who had purchased some and kept them on his farm.

They don’t have air-conditioning and passenger intercoms, but are otherwise known for being a pretty reliable train. Air-con only really matters a few days a year anyway — on all except the very hot days, opening the windows does wonders. It’s far more important that they be around to relieve overcrowding. If you’d rather not travel in a Hitachi on a hot day, you’ve always got the option of waiting and catching the next train.

(With thanks to Chris G for the tipoff)


Yes, there will still be paper tickets post-Metcard — so why not offer them more widely?

This Friday is the last day for Metcard.

But if you thought it was the end for paper tickets, think again. Even aside from V/Line tickets, they will live-on.

As noted in today’s Age, despite the claims from government that it’s impossible to have paper tickets on a system that’s moved to Smartcards, there are several scenarios in metropolitan areas where passengers will continue to be issued with paper tickets.

(This picture provided by “MAN_24.350” on the BusAustralia forum)

This is a Day Pass, basically a zone 1+2 daily ticket. As you can see, it bears an amazing resemblance to paper tickets used before Metcard.

2-hour Met ticket from 1991-92

So far I’ve found three cases where they’re being used:

Firstly, By charities, for clients in need who need to be given a public transport fare:

The Day Pass is for clients:

  • in emergency situations
  • who are extremely disadvantaged or disabled
  • who, for variety of reasons cannot use myki and/or unlikely to retain one
  • who aren’t able to use another product at the time of presenting for a Day
  • Pass, such as Access Travel Pass or Asylum Seeker concession

UnitingCare, quoting a Transport Ticketing Authority document

Secondly, Seniors are provided with travel vouchers each year, and these can be exchanged for Day Passes:

As a Victorian Seniors Card holder you can exchange your Free Travel Vouchers for a Day Pass as an alternative means to travel on public transport instead of myki.

The Day Pass is not available for sale to the general public and is ONLY issued under special circumstances, or to certain concession groups that are redeeming free travel entitlements or vouchers.

This Day Pass entitles you to one day’s travel on public transport in Zones 1 and 2 in Melbourne, as well as on regional town bus services where myki is operating. You must use a myki for any other travel undertaken.

In order for the Day Pass to be valid for travel, it must be issued to you at a staffed train station with the day, month and year of your intended travel, hole-punched. A Day Pass that does not have the day of intended travel identified in this way is not a valid ticket.

PTV web site

And finally, and I find this one the most amusing, they are to be issued to Seniors on Mornington Peninsula bus routes 787 and 788.

Why? Because of a shortcoming with Myki. You see, under Metcard Seniors can buy a Seniors Daily for $3.80, covering all travel in metropolitan Melbourne, including zones 1 and 2, and the entirety of routes 787 and 788, parts of which are beyond zone 2.

Myki couldn’t handle this. It deals with parts of those bus routes as being in zones 3 and 4, but it treats a Seniors Daily fare as only being valid in zones 1 and 2. Seniors using Myki to travel from say Portsea into Frankston, and then on to central Melbourne and back again ended up paying about $9 for the fare.

Rather than fix the problem in the Myki software, instead Peninsula Seniors will be sold a Day Pass:

If you are travelling on bus routes 787 and 788 and making a return trip across three or more zones in one day, seniors on the Mornington Peninsula can buy a Day Pass from the bus driver and continue to pay the Seniors Daily fare of $3.80.

The Day Pass is a paper ticket that is valid for one day’s unlimited travel between Zone 3 or 4 on the Mornington Peninsula and into Zone 1 in Melbourne.

You can purchase a Day Pass from the bus driver for $3.80 to travel on that day only. Show your Victorian Seniors Card to the driver to request a Day Pass.

The bus driver must hole-punch the day, month and year in the Day Pass in order for the Day Pass to be valid for travel. A Day Pass that does not have the day, month and year hole-punched, or which has more than one day, month or year punched, is not valid for travel.

When travelling with a Day Pass, you must show it to the bus driver when boarding, to train station staff to gain entry or exit from a gated station, or to an Authorised Officer when requested. You must also carry your Victorian Seniors Card when travelling with a Day Pass. Please note that Day Passes cannot be used to travel on any other day, other than the date specified.

PTV web site: Fares 2013

Perth paper ticket and SmartRider

What about others wanting paper tickets?

There’s no doubt that encouraging as many people onto smartcards makes sense from an efficiency point of view, and for regular passengers there are a number of advantages (even if the implementation has been extremely troubleprone).

But for a variety of reasons, not having some kind of short term ticket option opens up a world of problems.

I’m not suggesting that punch tickets be used more widely as a short term ticket — nor am I suggesting that the short term cardboard Myki tickets currently used (for now) in regional cities be brought into metropolitan Melbourne.

Myki vending machines and bus consoles are capable of issuing receipts for top-ups. These should be used to print paper tickets (as is done in Brisbane and Perth) which can be shown to staff — just like the Day Pass.


Merry Christmas

Flinders Street: Merry Christmas

I don’t care if it’s the same lot of decorations as last year — I like ’em. They look rather good at night.

And you know what? Their location helps cement Flinders Street Station’s cultural importance to our city — perhaps never moreso than now, with public transport patronage increasing, and rail patronage in particular hitting record highs.

We had our family Christmas lunch early — on Saturday — because a bunch of us won’t be in town on Christmas day.

Hope all the readers of my blog have a very Merry Christmas.


How to touch-on and off your #Myki from a wallet

Some people have said to me “I forgot to take my Myki card” — to which I ask: “Why does it ever leave your wallet?”

If it stays in your wallet/purse, which most people would always have with them whenever they leave the house, you’re unlikely to forget your Myki. And the fact is, with a little care, you can touch-on and off from a wallet.

What I do is to keep it in one flap, as close to the side of the wallet as possible, and also as far as possible from any RFID cards — specifically in my case, a Paywave Mastercard and a Visa card — as these sometimes confuse Myki readers.

(This shouldn’t be the case actually. From what I’ve heard, buried deep in the RFID standard there is a feature that lets card issuers and readers specify a type of card they are using, and public transport-related cards such as Myki have a code they can use and look for. Apparently this hasn’t been implemented — or not implemented very well — by Myki.)

No doubt the removal of all single ticket options is going to cause problems. But for individuals wanting to avoid the issue of getting to the station and discovering they left their Myki at home, keeping it permanently in your wallet or purse will help a lot.

Other points of note in the video:

  • The response times continue to be longer than comparable systems
  • This was a touch-off at a station in zone 2 on a weekend — I have a zone 1 pass, so it charged me the difference between the $3.30 weekend rate and the $3.28 zone 1 fare — 2 cents. Both of these fares go up to $3.50 from January 1st, so zone 2 travel on weekends and public holidays will then come at no extra charge to zone 1 passholders.
  • My drivers licence is normally in the pocket facing the camera; I took it out for filming this, for privacy reasons. One of my kids stuck a Metcard to his Myki, so it looks like he’s touching-on a Metcard when he travels!
  • The reader does a double-beep on touch. My card is not a concession — it’s a discounted Commuter Club ticket. It does not cause a light to go-off at station gates, but still does the double-beep. Under Metcard these tickets did not cause a double-beep. Seems like the business rules for the beeps were either written or interpreted poorly under Myki. Of course, single and double beeps make little sense — a different touch-on and touch-off sound would have been far more useful (and would have saved me some confusion last week, in fact).
Consumerism TV

Is Big W deliberately trying to discourage people buying TVs from them?

Spotted in Big W:
TVs in Big W

Spotted in JB Hifi:
TVs in JB Hifi

The key difference seems to be that the JB Hifi people know how to set up their TVs.

The Big W people don’t know, or don’t care, that on almost all of the TVs they have on display, the colour is completely distorted.

If you can’t see a display product working properly, why would you buy it there?


Flyer highlights public transport – are Coalition MPs starting to get worried?

YEARS ago, it might have been strange to think the fortunes of a government could rest on a suburban railway line.

That was before the last Victorian election, when the Frankston train line became a potent symbol of the Brumby government’s transport woes: overcrowded carriages, ageing infrastructure, myki cost blowouts.

Labor hardheads call it the Frankston Train Wreck – that fateful polling day in 2010 when voters in the sandbelt seats of Frankston, Carrum, Mordialloc, and Bentleigh helped install the Baillieu government with a cautionary tale: a bad transport system loses votes; the pledge of a good one is a game-changer.

Farrah Tomazin in The Sunday Age, 16/12/2012

If you were an MP in one of these seats… the most marginal seat in the state in fact (and the one that ultimately decided the election), halfway through your term, and it was widely recognised that what swung voters was dissatisfaction with public transport, yet those at the top of the parliamentary tree were prioritising roads instead (contrary to their election promises), and there was continuing speculation that public transport having been your ticket to victory last time might be your downfall next time, what would you do?

Flyer from Elizabeth Miller, MP for Bentleigh (front)

Maybe you’d issue a seasonal card emphasising some good things about public transport, like free Christmas Day and all-night New Year’s Eve public transport, extra Nightrider services, as well as a new taxi sharing scheme?

Before Bentleigh electorate residents get too excited about the wonderful PT upgrades the government has provided, there is a catch of course.

Free Christmas Day and all-night New Year’s Eve public transport is a nice gesture. All-night services on NYE have been provided since 2004-5 (after the then Labor government was thoroughly embarrassed by the lack of it the year before). It’s probably free on NYE for practical considerations. Free rides on Christmas day probably result in little revenue lost, though many pack onto V/Line trains for free rides to the regions — to fully accommodate demand may cost a bit of money. Perhaps instead it should be a token amount for charity, to discourage too many free-loaders?

The extra Nightrider services do indeed boost capacity and cut waiting times, with Frankston-bound buses up to every 15 minutes on Friday and Saturday nights before Christmas. But these run down the Nepean Highway, only within reasonable walking distance of a fraction of the electorate. In extreme cases it might take you well over an hour to walk from a Nightrider stop to a home in the eastern part of the electorate. Arguably what Nightrider really needs is a recasting of the route structure, to better follow the busiest daytime routes (eg rail and tram lines, preferably while not adding too much to travel time) and provide a network that people actually understand.

Taxi sharing is an interesting idea, with a flat rate to share a maxi taxi on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s so new it’s unclear if it’ll really solve the problem — which is a lack of after-midnight mass transit in a busy city, especially on Sunday to Thursday nights.

The flip side of Ms Miller’s card is asking for feedback.

Flyer from Elizabeth Miller, MP for Bentleigh (back)

I’ll send mine in. To my mind, the two priorities in transport would have to be bringing the 703 up to proper Smartbus standards, and building Southland station.

I’m very transport-focussed, of course. What non-transport issues need state-level attention in Bentleigh?


Yes, #Myki cards expire after four years

I’m a bit bemused by the apparent mass surprise of people that Myki cards expire. Every other type of smartcard expires. Credit cards get replaced every 3-4 years. Despite the system cost, Myki cards don’t magically last forever.

Myki card expired error
(Pic courtesy of Colin Fry)

Right from when the system first went into live pilot in Geelong in late-2008, it’s always been known (though not widely) that Myki cards expire after four years — the question has always been what happens when they do expire, and how are replacements organised?

What is surprising is that the TTA only released details of the process last Wednesday, after the first cards issued back then started expiring. And I expect it was helped-along by one of the first cards to expire belonging to Channel 9 reporter Andrew Lund.

And of course there’s a sense of irony in that cards are expiring before the system is fully rolled-out. (If the election hadn’t resulted in a change of government, the plan had been for Melbourne’s phase-out of Metcard to be done by Easter 2011.)

So, what happens?

After four years the cards stop working, with the readers reporting an “expired” error. You then have to get a replacement.

This can be done over-the-counter at the Southern Cross PTV Hub. Apparently at some stage in the future you’ll be able to do it at any Premium station.

Or you can send the card away for replacement, but it’ll take 10 days to come back to you.

Or you can buy another card, then fill in a form and get the balance of the old one transferred, as well as a refund on the new card’s purchase price.

Thankfully you can organise the replacement before the card has actually expired, if your card is “is approaching its expiry date” (though it doesn’t specify precisely what “approaching” means).

It’s unclear if the replacement cards will have higher-level security, to counter the theoretical hack identified last year. This vulnerability is unlikely to be exploited in the real world any time soon, so replacement of cards is not considered urgent, but they might want to get it done within the next four years.

Myki wristbands from 2009 - later they changed the term from "scan" to "touch"

Do you get an expiry warning?

It appears not, at least not for unregistered cards. Myki readers will flash warnings if your balance is low, or your Pass is about to expire, but it seems nothing is highlighted when the card itself is close to expiry.

You can check it on a Myki Check machine, or a vending machine, but if you only use buses or trams, you might never get a chance to use one of these.

If the card is registered you can check it on the web site.

And they say that registered card-owners will get an email in advance, though it’s not clear if that process is actually in place yet.

Is four years long enough?

All cards expire eventually. I assume the TTA made a wild guess that four years was a reasonable amount of time to set, perhaps anticipating a higher failure rate after that.

Brisbane’s Go Card, based on a different version of the MiFare smartcard, has a ten year life.

I had a look around — a lot of other systems (including Perth Smartrider, San Francisco Clipper and London Oyster) don’t seem to nominate a card life. I suppose either that means they keep going until they stop working and you get them replaced, or they just don’t make it public, and have measures in place to issue replacements when it happens. Of course in these cities, if you get stuck, there is a single use/short-term ticket option as a backup.

How could it be better

For a start they should have publicised the replacement process ahead of the cards starting to expire, and targeted it at those most likely to be affected — those who were the very first to get Myki cards: Geelong bus users. They could have also ensured that cards could be replaced over-the-counter at locations in Geelong (and the other regional cities), as well as in Melbourne.

And the readers should give an advance warning, so it doesn’t just get sprung on you.

Although I’m not currently using it, my first Myki card is from April 2009. I’ll be interested to see if this process has improved by the time it expires.

Finally, perhaps instead of a hard expiry date, with the card suddenly unusable, they should have provided a month’s grace, and/or automatically sent out a replacement if the card was registered and in regular usage.

Update 9/1/2013: It turns out the emails are being sent to at least some people, though this one was received just two days before the card’s expiry, which is inadequate to arrange a replacement before the card is no longer usable:
Myki expiry email (not mine)

Geek transport

“data from all Vic govt agencies will now be supplied in a machine-readable format” – PT timetables expected mid 2013

Back in 2010, Victorian government timetable data was released to the public, as part of the App My State competition.

The PTUA submitted an app as part of a study that showed how bad train/bus connections were, which got some media attention — and also managed to progress the debate around connections: the government went from denial to excuses.

Predictably it didn’t win a prize in the competition, and the timetable data was subsequently pulled, and never updated or put back. Could it be they weren’t very impressed at the data being used to embarrass the government?

Timetable data

The release of data was something that then seemed to go pretty quiet until after the Coalition came into power. Then:

“As a default position, data from all Victorian government agencies will now be supplied in a machine-readable format”

Govt press release: Coalition to unleash the economic power of Vic data

Good news… But where’s the public transport stop and timetable data then?

Still not available — in fact the blurb provided hasn’t been updated since Metlink was subsumed into PTV:

As the Victorian Government is currently evaluating the arrangements for release of public sector information under the Creative Commons licence, any requests for train, tram and bus route, stop and timetable data must still be made directly to Metlink Victoria Pty Ltd, the custodians of public transport data on behalf of the Director of Public Transport. Each request will be assessed on its merits.

Hey gunzels, New #PTV logos on tram 2049.

As it happens, information flying around from multiple sources says PTV are now aiming to have timetable data released in mid-2013, in a format that allows not only Google Transit, but other developers (including small independent ones) to use it too.

This will be a good thing.

As Gordon Rich-Phillips said in the press release:

“In driving the release of useable, high-quality data, these new policies will stimulate significant innovation and economic activity, creating a platform on which to develop new technologies, new services and ultimately, new jobs.”


The lion

I wonder how many people notice gems like this, high up above our streets. It’s on a building on William Street, between Collins and Bourke.

Hidden away above William Street