Remove zone 2? Not necessarily a good idea

A regular suggestion that pops up is that Melbourne’s zone 2 should be merged with zone 1, making the whole metropolitan area a single zone.

No surprise that everybody wants cheaper fares… but is it a good idea?

Platform 5 at Flinders St after ANZAC Day football
No shortage of footy fans on the trains on ANZAC Day, in part thanks to discount fares — but the crowds weren’t well-handled after the game

Pros

Price cut: The biggest beneficiaries would be weekday travellers who cover both zones, particularly those coming from the middle and outer suburbs into the CBD, saving $4.84 per day if on Myki Money, or about $760 over a year if using a Commuter Club yearly.

Car park pressure: It would remove the problem of zone boundary stations having the heaviest demand for car parking, as some people drive to zone 1 to avoid the higher fare.

Frankston line zone overlap(This is a very visible problem. But is it a widespread one? Not sure. By my quick count there are about 6500 parking spaces at the stations on the zone 1 boundary or a little further along — even if you add people parking in nearby streets, it’s a tiny proportion of the roughly half-a-million people using the train system each day.)

Myki: It would remove touch-off from trains and buses. This would have particular benefits at suburban railway stations in evening peak. (It’s already not needed on trams for almost all trips, as zone 1 applies.)

Cons

Price rises: The biggest issue is that it benefits some passengers but badly disadvantages others. Making all fares the zone 1 fare would mean that local zone 2-only trips would jump in price by about 45 per cent — for instance a daily fare would go from $4.84 to $7.00.

Lost revenue: Assuming there are more two-zone passengers than zone 2-only, there would be a big hit on fare revenue. How much? I don’t know; but I did work out using old railway station boarding figures that there are around 211,000 boardings in zone 2 each weekday. If for the sake of a rough estimate that we assume 60% of those travel to zone 1, that half are concessions, and that many are on Myki Money (none of these assumptions are necessarily true) then you’re looking at lost revenue of over $100 million a year. That’s a lot of money.

Equity: Is it equitable that someone travelling two stops on St Kilda Road should pay the same as someone travelling from the city to Pakenham?

Fare rise pressure: If experience from elsewhere is anything to go by, a single zone might well result in upward pressure for the flat fare to increase. Which big Australian city has the highest fares for trips up to 15 km? When a comparison was last done, it was Adelaide — which is also the only big Australian city with a single zone/flat fare system. (I had a quick look at latest fares — Adelaide is still highest for cash fares: $4.90, though for smartcard fares, Brisbane beats it by a small margin).

It wouldn’t make Myki a one-zone system: People forget: Myki isn’t just Melbourne. You might get rid of touch-off in Melbourne (which would in turn lead to confusion because of the way default fares are processed, unless more was spent on revising the software)… but Myki is about to cover the V/Line commuter belt as well, out to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour, and the Latrobe Valley, as well as the local town bus services along the way. There will always need to be zones.

My view

My view is it’s not worth it.

It does sting badly to have to pay for two zones when you’re only 1-2 stations out from the boundary — I know this pain — when at uni, I used to pay a two-zone fare to travel between Moorabbin and Caulfield.

But it hasn’t stopped, for instance, the new Williams Landing station (2 stops/2km into zone 2) from being used. Apparently yesterday, the first weekday of operation, the big 500-space car park was already half full.

There are definitely problems with the high price jump as you cross the zone boundary, but making one Melbourne zone is not the way to fix it.

In fact, having more (but cheaper) zones, not less, might be a solution. That could mean a more gradual step-up. In this respect it’s a shame zone 3 was removed in 2007… a better idea might have been an across-the-board fare cut (which is what happened on V/Line that same year). The issues with this are that more zones is probably politically unpalatable (because it sounds retrograde, and might be difficult to explain the benefits) and it might mean the current issue of driving to zone boundaries actually spreads to more locations.

Considering a parking fee at zone 1 stations (particularly those near the boundary) is worth looking at to help reduce the instances of people driving further to get cheaper fares — but is also somewhat politically unpalatable.

There is an argument for making buses zone-free, similar to trams. I’ll explore that in a later blog post.

As ever, I’d be interested to hear what others think about this issue.

  • Remember, on weekends, zones aren’t much of an issue, because of the $3.50 weekend daily cap
  • And Seniors have a $3.80 cap every day

Update: In March 2014, the Napthine government announced they would abolish two-zone trips in Melbourne. Zone 2 will remain for zone 2-only trips at the cheaper rate, but all other trips will be at the zone 1-only rate.

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24 Replies to “Remove zone 2? Not necessarily a good idea”

  1. Great analysis and pretty fair summary of your views.
    Like you, I live in zone 1/2 overlap so have a vested interest in maintaining current zone situation.
    Another option is to charge passengers per km or similar. This would only work if myki did not malfunction, it was easy for people to touch in/off, and myki was trusted by commuters. This would produce the most equitable outcome.
    Do you think this will ever be introduced?

  2. At first I thought a modest weekday parking fee at zone 1 periphery stations would be best IMO (say half the difference in the daily fare). I realise that people in the local area would likely object however they may also have the option to switch modes or travel in further to a free zone 1 car park. The issue offcourse then becomes that once you are in a vehicle the time cost for driving that little bit further to a free zone 1 park is likely to be minimal.
    Perhaps a modest parking fee across all zone 1 and high demand stations is best. Most of zone 1 is now or is becoming prime real-estate with regard to parking with new apartment buildings often charging upwards of $50k per car park per apartment. Councils would also be quick to implement parking restrictions or fees in surrounding streets. Even some zone 2 stations could be prime candidates (for example I am sure lots of hospital visitors, workers and patients park at the Clayton train station for free to avoid the costs $9 first hour $18 four hours at the hospital).
    Most hospitals charge very large amounts for parking knowingly taking advantage of people with limited mobility or in potentially desperate situations with little or no public outcry. Yet charging daily commuters a reasonable amount for the convenience of parking at the station door when they largely have multiple travel choices and simply chose the most convenient and time efficient option is seen as out of bounds.

  3. Saw you on the platform after the big game – you were deep in copbversation so I didn’t stop to say hi – there are times when that escalator can be pretty dangerous, disgorging people into masses of more people as it does when trains don’t arrive to disperse MCG crowds. That’s every time Essendon play there btw

    Great analysis of the issue too Daniel

  4. Another option could be to extend the zone overlaps. Perhaps by two stations in each direction? Where there are trams in the area, it would make sense to at least extend it roughly as far as the tram goes (eg; at Box Hill you can catch a tram on a Zone 1 fare, but the train station is strictly Zone 2).

  5. @Roger, unless they can fix Myki to be consistently fast, they won’t create smaller zones, at least not where trams run. Same goes for per-km charging.

    Per-km charging has a lot of disadvantages, for instance it’s almost impossible to calculate how much you’ll pay in advance; should longer trips necessitated by network design be charged more, unfairly?; and the zone system encourages additional (eg non-work/evening/weekend) travel because you’ve already paid for it.

    @Austin, remember though that car travel in zone 1 during morning peak (which is when we’re talking about) can be quite slow — often slower than travelling by train. This is likely to discourage people from driving further into zone 1 to seek out free parking… though of course one way around that is to charge for *all* zone 1 parking. As you say, the land is valuable!

    @Lad Litter, I actually ran into a bloke from the Herald Sun that I used to deal with and we have a grand old chat about the state of the trains! Feel free to say hi next time!

    @Evan, true — for instance Box Hill and Clayton would be prime candidates for adding to the zone 1 overlap, because of the hospitals and other major destinations. At present these can be expensive by train from zone 1.

  6. Was in Copenhagen earlier this year and they have the complete opposite system to us. They have heaps and heaps of small zones – the number would have to be close to 100. Ticket prices depend on how many zones u travel through. It’s damn confusing for a tourist, but the locals get it just fine

  7. Williams Landing might’ve been half full, but plenty of commuters who live close to it were still driving to Laverton yesterday – and the carparking situation there is, as you know, beyond dire. I would have expected WL to be completely full as soon as available given how many CBD commuters live within shot of it, TBH.

    I think you have missed one argument in favour of flat fares (no metro zones) and somewhat mis-stated another.

    1. Surely there is an argument to be made that flat zones encourage PT use in the mid-outer suburbs, and therefore may positively effect traffic congestion? Isn’t there a strong public policy case to be made for this, on several axes? I’d say this is a particularly potent argument in the west, where housing development has galloped ahead of infrastructure in many areas and the road access points to the CBD are inadequate now and getting worse.

    2. I think the equity argument is a bit of a furphy. Public transport is meant to be operated on a partial cost recovery basis, but it’s also considered to be a merit good (one that has public benefits beyond the benefit to the individual). The fact that some members of the public may benefit by travelling further at the same cost is not relevant to assessing the case. Everyone can access the good at the same rate. The fact that people who live further out, who are also demonstrably likely to have other vectors of economic disadvantage relative to those who live closer to the city, will routinely travel further is neither here nor there, and in fact might have positive social policy outcomes as well.

    If the argument is that removing zones makes the system unsustainable, then I think that is an argument with weight. Other than that, I think the zone system causes more problems than it solves and that those problems are unevenly borne by mid-outer suburbs and their less advantaged population.

  8. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you raise the issue of myki barely being able to cope with just the 2 zones in Melbourne. I suspect that City Savers were removed in preparation for myki, and we already see the weird anomaly that someone in Box Hill can travel by tram within Zone 1 from Box Hill Station to Mont Albert Station, then transfer to the train, in order to remain in Zone 1, rather than just hopping on the train in Box Hill and having to pay Zone 1 & 2.

    Similar inadequacies exist, as you’ve pointed out: it costs more to travel the 4 stops from Hampton to Gardenvale, or the 6 from Clayton to Caulfield, than it does to go all the way from Fawkner to Huntingdale, or Reservoir to Brighton Beach (much longer distances). It also means that people who live in the CBD pay the same to travel 2 stops on the tram, as someone does to take that 1 hour journey (perhaps this encourages fare evading, as it doesn’t seem ‘fair’ to pay $3.50 for a 2-stop journey).

    The issue, as I see it, is that the system is completely geared towards people who commute in & out of the CBD. I’m not just referring to revenue/ticketing here, but in the design of the train, tram systems. The Smartbus orbital routes have gone some way to addressing these, but without tram-level frequency (and running until the same time as trains & trams all week), and a rollout of Smartbus-type technology across the network (including a Tram-Tracker type app for buses — really that one surprises me, as Sydney has had this for some time now), the travelling public in Melbourne will not start using buses (which is unfortunate).

    But, I digress…

    That brings us back to the ‘flat rate’ system, which from memory is pretty common in the US (LA and NYC have it, I believe, and I know Buenos Aires has it too). To be honest, I think the ‘equity’ issue is a fallacy – equity is already missing in the current system, as I’ve mentioned above. The potential for a price rise is a pretty big concern, as is lost revenue.. I wonder though, would there be any savings in having a ‘simpler’ myki system, or is it so tangled already that this would not make a dent in the already colossal bill (especially when we can’t really make it a single price when we add in all those regional zones)?

    Essentially, I think the fairest system would involve a reconfiguration of zones, closer to something like ‘distance travelled’ (perhaps not broken down by km, but with at least some extra variation to reflect true distance travelled). Perhaps something based on council boundaries, or in line with ‘activity centres’?

    But with myki straining under the amount of data it needs to process just the 2 zones, I don’t believe this will ever happen in my lifetime (and I’d say the travelling public would be very wary of being overcharged).

    You’ve pointed out the disadvantage of ‘per km’ charging, saying longer trips necessitated by network design being charged more, but this already occurs (I used to commute from Parkdale to Dandenong and on the weekends this would involve having to head into Zone 1 to change at Caulfield, rather than the very infrequent bus that remained in Zone 2).

    No system is going to be perfect, but as you’ve highlighted, I think we’re still not at the least-worst system…

  9. Some excellent points and comments. When I visited the UK 17 years ago I was astounded that commuters were actually charged for parking at the station, in addition to the exorbitant BR/Network SE fares that commuters already had to pay, especially in light of the at-times woeful, or non-existent feeder bus connections to stations, mainly in outlying areas of the commuter belt (Berkshire, Surrey, Bucks etc.)

    Back then, free parking here was the norm as PT had (from memory?) a fairly static or declining mode share, so free parking could have been viewed as an encouragement to use PT for at least the last leg of the journey, CBD-bound.

    Fast forward to the massive patronage growth of the last decade or so and perhaps it’s now time to start looking at charging for parking at some of the more ‘well-served by bus’ stations, but massive improvements in the feeder bus network would be required / should be deployed in parallel.

    Just on that, perhaps a separate network of railway station feeder buses should be deployed to do just that – drop-off/pickup pax from the station, in time with the train arrivals/departures where practical. This could address the current issues where scheduled buses happen to stop, or originate, at a railway station, and need to keep to the bus timetable to avoid disadvantaging travellers just using the bus, especially further down the road ; which then presents the issue where pax roll off a train only to watch the scheduled bus depart, carrying mostly fresh air.

    On a Tram-Tracker type app for buses, I hear rumblings that there will be such a beast rolled out as soon as this year (well, attempted to be rolled out this year, after the usual glitches are resolved Myki), PTV has of course been deathly silent on this.

  10. I’d like to see fares charged (on trains, anyway) based on how many stations are travelled. So the fare from say, the South Yarra to Caulfield, would be the same as the fare from Caulfield to Patterson etc. All City Loop stops would count as the same stop for the purposes of these calculations (so it wouldn’t matter if I got on at Flagstaff or Flinders Street, the trip to Caulfield would be the same cost) and you’d get charged per station whether or not the train stopped at that station or ran through express. (BTW, I haven’t discussed this with Gunzel_Son either!) I think this would probably work best if all trams and all bus trips were counted as just one zone…

  11. I doubt there would be many transport systems where you don’t pay for the distance you travel in some way, from planes to trains to motor cars. Someone remarked to me the other day that he thought trams were quieter at night than a couple of years ago, City excepted, and I think he is right. I suggested that perhaps it was because there were now less foreign students here. He suggested that public transport is too expensive compared to taxis and I think he has a point. Once you have a couple or more people travelling, it is well worth considering a taxi for short distances where the public transport fares are very high for the same distance.

    I don’t think public transport should be responsible for the social welfare of people who live in outer areas. If there is an injustice to them because they pay much higher fares, then that can be dealt with by the government, but they can’t have it both ways, a cheap house in an outer area with cheap fares too.

    Naturally I will agree that it is not equitable for for someone to travel two St Kilda Road stops to pay the same as someone coming in from Pakenham.

  12. Which ever way we want to argue the equity issue, we need to remember that the cost of actually transporting someone on PT can be broken down into two parts, fixed and variable costs. Variable costs are those that are need to actually run the vehicle, i.e. petrol or electricity and driver’s salary (i.e this cost is zero if the vehicle doesn’t run). Fixed costs include the purchase of said vehicle and its ongoing maintenance and salaries of ancillary staff. For PT I’m sure that the variable cost is very small compared with the fixed cost.

    This means that the portion of your ticket price that relates to the length of your journey is very small. This is the reason we are even having this discussion and why a short journey seems to be disproportionately more expensive than a long one.

  13. My view is that if this is done, the government would have to try and make it cost neutral. This would mean the new fare would be higher than the existing Zone 1, but lower than Zone 1+2. (a mixture of several of your cons). This would, of course, be massively unpopular with everyone who only travelled in one zone, and particularly unpopular with those that only travel in Zone 2. This is probably why the idea has never had legs.

  14. @Jen – fine for the suburban area, but would you charge the six-station fare for a 220km trip from Bendigo to Swan Hill?

    Also, would this mean everyone on the Werribee line has to pay more since Williams Landing has now opened?

    For what it’s worth, my view is that the ideal would be distance-based with birds’ eye measureing (to account for the bends in the Hurstbridge line, for example), but that isn’t practical if people want to be able to plan ahead and budget their expenses. It’s too complex. So the answer is probably to have about ten zones in the Melbourne metro area, current Zone 1 extended a little and then Zone 2 split radially, so Dandenong would be a different zone to Frankston.

    In addition, we should not be able to buy tickets for Zone 1, or Zone 2, or Zone 87. Instead, the system would work better if, like Perth and other systems, we purchased a ticket for a *number* of zones. So a 3-zone ticket would be good for Zones 4-5-6, or for 40-41-42, or for 56-57-58.

    At the same time there has to be a way to account for things like parking at stations, first-class travel, buffet service and other surcharges. Parking can be covered by automatic booms and tickets at the carparks; the on-train benefits should probably be assumed not to apply unless the conductor walks through and adds the charge to your ticket. Or First Class could be used to activate the doors into the first class carriage, unless in case of emergency.

  15. Another note re the multi-zone-ticket bit, you’d account for the vastly different levels of service by changing the size of the zones; so zone 1 might be 25km radius, while zone 57 might be 100km radius. And as population increases, and with it the required level of service, the zones would be realigned to match – a lot like electoral/council boundaries.

  16. The traditional “fixed and variable” cost analysis doesn’t work particularly well for public transport, because it does not effectively allow for the opportunity costs of different possible utilisations of the equipment.

    For a very simple example, in a three hour period, a train could carry 1000 people to Pakenham ( and return empty ), or it could carry 4000 people to Caulfield in four trips there and back. Which costs more ? Which adds greater value ? This is not a simple question to answer.

    The value of any transport service ( private or public, individual or group ), depends on the distance travelled and time saved compared to walking. The price of it has to have some relationship to the value obtained by the user, and this has to be related in some way to distance.

  17. My view is to split the zones into smaller rings rather than current zone 1 which has a boundary of 20-25km from Flinders Street (or from Melbourne CBD), followed by zone 2 thereafter.

    It is not justified to why someone from Sandringham (20km approx. from Flinders Street) pays the same as someone from Frankston (40-50km approx.). The same can be applied to the justification of someone paying from Richmond to Flinders Street the same as someone from Oakleigh to Flinders Street. It just doesn’t make sense!

    If we were to split them into smaller circular zones from Melbourne CBD of 5km rings, it would be a much fairer, realistic price and getting value for our money.

    This of course will reduce revenues made by government however having more affordable ticket prices may be a justification for many more hundreds of thousands of people getting out of their cars and onto the public transport network, thus overall balancing amount spent on public transport by government.

    I will note, ticket subsidies have gone down over the years, as noted with VLine where ticket subsidies have dropped by a couple of dollars. Whether this is directly related to increasing patronage or lower operational costs, I do not know! However the more people buying into your services (by offering more attractive prices) may balance the transport budget roughly the same overall.

    This will create lesser pressure on car parks at stations, which I do not believe should be charging, otherwise it will become a disincentive to park at the station and back onto local roads (creating dangerous mix for pedestrians, especially around schools) on top of people going back to work by cars rather than trains.

    The other issue raised is how will these smaller ticketing zones work? Well Myki is built to smartly calculate the cheapest fare option, hence when integrated fully, you can go all the way to Adelaide (Zone 73 I believe) on a Myki without needing to pre-plan you ticket on how many zones you are going in, especially if you decide you don’t want to go through all those zones at the end of the day.
    If it can work out all the zones of Victoria (around 80) surely it can if we split Melbourne into 6-10 zones.

    This may of course create confusion or slowing down of services by people touching off at every bus or tram stop. So I believe these smaller zones should apply to trains only. For buses and trams, charge a basic flat rate for local buses and trams (e.g. all non CBD and crosstown bus/tram services, like the 82 tram). This fare could be as low as $1-2, to encourage more to use local buses rather than cars to their local shopping centres for example.

    Longer routes, smart bus routes and trams can work as either single zone or two zone fare structures similar to today’s zonal system. This would mean most bus and all tram trips would avoid touching off as they often run in single zones or occasionally overlap into the other zone.

    It would work similar to today where you do not need to touch off on buses and trams that run entirely in the single zone technically.

    Just a thought.

    Aljosa

  18. @Campbell – yes, though I disagree with some of the boundaries, and I don’t understand why there are separate zones for Moorabbin and Box Hill.

    @Aljosa – I think 5km bubbles is too close; this map has 10km boundaries:
    http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7162/6479934975_094c6837cd_b.jpg

    (Incidentally, if the free travel zones were included they’d also apply to Ringwood and Dandenong – they just don’t have any stations besides their namesakes within what would be the FTZ area.)

  19. Tend to agree with Roger, a per stop or per kilometre rate is the most equitible (equitable??). With touch on / touch off this should not be an issue, with the current reliability this may be an issue but that must surely iron itself out with time.

    My thinking would be a base fee per touch on (administration costs) plus a distance related fee at touch off.

  20. If there was any change, I think the Brisbane zone system would be suitable: smaller zones.

    Brisbane is about 8 radial zones, and the zones keep going to the Gold Coast (about 17 zones) and other places.

    There’s only one problem: confusion when switching: how to handle the fact that zone 2 suddenly changes its meaning (it would apply from East Richmond to about Hawthorn), when a lot of people would still believe it applied from Box Hill onwards?

    Ditto for zone 3, and every other zone that has to be renumbered.

  21. ** My Idea **

    I like having a combination of, the old neighborhood zones we once had, and as Daniel had said, more radial zones for those of whom travel into the city.

    The majority of passengers would be either to/from the city, or travel in their local area for shops and school.

    You may or may not have neighborhood plus one, or you would expand on the original boundaries to ensure great coverage and great overlap too.

    ** Comment to above **

    The one reason why they removed the old Zone 3 is, because MyKi could not handle all of the different zone combinations. It put too much stress on the system when it had to calculate the correct fare.

    For that reason, any sensible ticket system, is going to be a fantasy only.

  22. ” itโ€™s a tiny proportion of the roughly half-a-million people using the train system each day.”

    It’s only “half a million people” when you count each actual user, twice.

    “Half a million trips a day”, is actually only a quarter of a million people using the train system.

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