Comparing public transport smartcards around Australia

Brisbane and Perth had got their smartcard systems before the Myki system started in Melbourne (just on 5 years ago). Other cities have followed, and now all Australian capital cities have public transport smartcards.

Every single one of those other cities has a paper or single use ticket alongside the smartcards.

And every single one of these other systems has been provided by a supplier with a track record of installing smartcards on other public transport systems — in fact many of them tendered for the Myki project — but our government ended up with a system to be built from the ground up.

My view is this was the biggest factor in the delays to implementation, all the technical problems along the way, and the end result of a system that to this day is still lacklustre.

However I don’t think it was necessarily the biggest factor in the total cost of the system — believe me, software developers don’t get paid that much. No, I suspect the costs are largely down to the size of the rollout. Sydney’s Opal system is based on pre-existing Cubic technology, and is in the same ballpark for cost… however as we shall see, Brisbane appears to have got away with a bargain.

Here’s my comparison table of the different systems around the country:

Main city Melbourne Sydney Brisbane Perth Hobart Canberra Adelaide Darwin
Other areas covered [1] “Commuter belt” area of regional Victoria Newcastle, Blue Mountains, Illawara, Central Coast, Hunter Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast Various regional cities Launceston, Burnie     Alice Springs
System Myki Opal Go Card Smartrider Greencard MyWay Metrocard Tap and Ride card
Web site PTV: Myki Opal TransLink: Go Card Transperth: Smartrider Metro Tasmania: Greencard ACT: MyWay Adelaide: Metrocard North Territory: Tap and Go
Used on Trains, trams, buses Trains, trams, buses, ferries Trains, trams, buses, ferries Trains, buses, ferries Buses Buses Trains, trams, buses Buses
Vendor Kamco Cubic Cubic Wayfarer / Parkeon iNit Parkeon / Downer EDI ACS  
Introduced [2] 2009 (regional buses, suburban trains), 2010 (trams/buses), 2013 (regional trains) 2013 (ferries), 2014 (other modes) 2008 2007 2009 2011 2012 2014
System cost [3] $1.5b over ten years $1.2b over 15 years $134m for ten years plus share of secondary revenues $35m $4m $8m $42m  
Buy / top up: Online [4] Y Y Y N / Y N / Y Y N / Y N
Buy / top up: Retail/Info Centres Y Y Y Y Y Y Y Y
Buy / top up: Stations Y Coming “Many” N / Some NA NA N / Y (on trains) NA
Buy / top up: Buses Y N N / Y N / Y N / Y N N N / Y
Buy / top up: Trams N N N NA NA NA N / Y NA
Buy / top up: Tram stops Some N Some NA NA NA N NA
Buy / top up: Ferries NA N Y N / Y NA NA NA NA
Buy / top up: Other     Some bus stations         Bus interchanges
Railway stations 218 (Melb metro) + 50 (V/Line Myki) 308 149 70 (19 have top up machines) 0 0 (108 trains) 0
Tram fleet 487 13 16 stations 0 0 0 21 0
Bus fleet 1753 (Melb metro only) About 5000 2078 1354 218 417 1080 312
Retail outlets 800 1765 625 (including stations) 61 17 33 289 3
Card cost [5] $6 Free $10 (refundable) $10 Free? $5 $5 $0
Minimum topup [6] $1 $10 (Online: $40) $5 $10 ($20 for BPay/Auto) $5 $5 $5 $20 weekly / FlexiTrip
Single use alternative ticket [7] No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Peak discount compared to single use ticket [8] NA None, but caps apply 30% 15% 20% 35% 35% 33%
Off-peak discount compared to single use ticket 30% for trips of over 2 zones only 30% on trains only 45% 15% 20% 50% 35% 33%
Smartcard fare: inner suburbs to CBD peak [9] $3.58 $3.30 $3.35 $2.47 $2.40 $2.84 $3.39 $2.00
Daily cap [10] Yes – 2 x 2-hour fares $15 No (except Seniors) $11.80 (after 9am) $9.60, or $4.80 after 9am $8.60 No No
Daily cap: weekends/public holidays $6 Sat $15, Sun $2.50   $11.80 $4.80 $5.19 No No
Weekly cap [11] No, but can pre-load a Pass 8 journeys, or $60 9 journeys No No No, but has monthly cap (40 journeys) No No
Weekly/monthly pass fare [12] Yes: week, or 28-365 days No No No No No 28 day pass Weekly $20
Free transfers [13] Yes, 2 hours (longer for regional) 1 hour, same mode only 1 hour Yes, 2-3 hours ? Yes, 90 minutes Yes, 2 hours Yes, 3 hours
Phone/Online topup speed [14] Up to 24 hours Up to 60 mins Up to 48 hours BPay only. 3-5 days Up to 48 hours 1-2 days Overnight NA
Auto topup [15] Yes Yes Yes Yes. 10% extra discount Yes Yes. 5% discount Yes No
Card read speed [16] Slow to medium Fast Fast Fast        
Gate paddle speed Medium Medium Slow Fast NA NA   NA

Got any corrections for me? Please, send me an email or leave a comment below!

Copious footnotes!

[1] Most of the systems cover more than just the main metropolitan area. Myki covers regional rail out to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour and Gippsland, and the local bus routes in those areas. Sydney’s Opal similarly covers the entire area of the Sydney urban and intercity rail network, which includes Newcastle (the area, but not the central station, which has now closed), Bathurst and other regional centres. Perth’s Smartrider covers local buses in places like Bunbury and Geraldton, but not the regional services that will get you there.

[2] Prize for the most prolonged rollout goes to Myki: early 2009 for regional town buses, but not active on V/Line until mid-2013, and in that time, the scope was reduced to remove short term tickets, purchase/top-up on trams, and long distance V/Line trains and coaches.

Myki rollout

[3] I had a lot of trouble finding comparable figures for system cost. Some only include the initial rollout, but not running costs. Some such as Brisbane had a provision for the system supplier sharing “secondary revenues” if/when the system was able to be used for other purchases, though this document says the cost was $99 million to establish, and $53 million in running costs to 2016.

[4] I think the biggest factor in the system cost is the size of it — the number of devices — thus I’ve tried to compare them via the places you can buy and top-up/recharge cards, and the fleet and system sizes.

They are quite different, for instance in Perth you can use the card on all services, but there are only a few railway stations where you can top up, and also far fewer retailers than in Melbourne or Sydney. (I found figures indicating Smartrider has a total of about 4,000 smartcard devices, where Myki has about 20,000.)

The number of railway stations and the size of the tram and bus fleets is also significantly different.

Note that in Adelaide, the readers are on the trains, not the stations (except for Adelaide station). Perth’s rail network has 70 stations, but only 19 have top up machines. In Brisbane (Gold Coast), the trams have their readers on the stations, not on the vehicles.

Of course, Myki has to have more devices: touch-on and off is so slow that extra readers have had to be installed at railway stations to minimise queuing and crowds (some have been added as recently as last month), and the lack of a short term ticket or any way of buying a ticket on a tram means a wider retail network is important.

Sydney’s system still appears to be in flux, so it wouldn’t surprise me if card purchase and top-up becomes more widely available in future.

(See also: my conclusion at the bottom of the post.)

Perth SmartRider and paper ticket vending machines - Esplanade station

[5] The cost to a passenger of just getting a card varies widely, with Brisbane and Perth cards costing $10 a pop.

[6] In most cities, the smartcards are very much geared at regular users, who don’t mind having more money on their card than a departing tourist would. Perth and Sydney in particular are quite restrictive in their topup amounts.

[7] As has been noted before, Melbourne is one of the only big cities anywhere in the world which doesn’t have some kind of paper/single use ticket available for use — certainly the only capital in Australia.

[8] In most cities using the smartcard instead of buying paper tickets gains you a discount; as much as 35% in some cases less than the paper fare cost in peak hour, and 50% off-peak. In Melbourne the discount was originally intended to be the difference between the old single tickets and the 10 x 2 hour fares, which in the last year of single fares was about 15%. Scrapping single use tickets meant everybody moved to the discounted fare. (Melbourne now has no off-peak discounts, though previously there was a hard-to-obtain 2-zone off-peak ticket, which was much the same price as the 10 x 2 hour discount.)

[9] I’ve also compared the base level fare for a peak-hour adult inner-suburban trip. I’ve excluded very short trip fares to try and make it reasonable comparable, but it’s very difficult to do this properly without digging around and ensuring you’re comparing trips of a similar distance.

Of course, fare prices are not a direct product of the Smartcard system, but the fare policies in place. But the two are closely linked.

[10] Daily caps help people who use public transport for lots of their travel, not just to and from work. Thus they help encourage non-commute trips, and are good for tourists. Some of the systems have no daily cap, but note most of those that do apply a simple dollar amount — apart from Myki, which is more complicated, though to an extent this will be wasted from 2015 when Melbourne trips are capped at the zone 1 amount.

Brisbane’s Go Card has a 2 journey daily cap only for Seniors, which indicates it could be implemented for more users if they wanted to. Most systems will also string together multiple trips into a single paid journey if you travel continually, so you don’t end up paying for lots and lots of fares in a single day — though in Sydney you may, if you keep changing modes.

[11] As noted yesterday, Myki was originally intended to have a weekly cap. The other systems largely don’t, though Sydney and Brisbane have a X journeys then free policy, which can be rorted by taking short lunchtime trips early in the week to reach your quota by about Wednesday. It’s reflective of the simplistic capping in those systems, and arguably starves the system of revenue from long distance commuters who would use the system anyway if the cap was less generous. A more intelligent weekly cap would be better.

[12] Only Myki and Adelaide’s MetroCard offer a pre-loaded Pass system. In Myki’s case, this reflecting the old Metcard structure, which in turn goes back to the paper tickets of the 80s and earlier. This is a double-edged sword: many people find the difference between Myki Money and Pass confusing, but fare policy-wise there’s probably no better way to encourage people to use public transport more.

Adelaide offers a 28 day pass only, but interestingly offers a system called Commuter Club, which is similar to Melbourne’s Commuter Club, offering discounted fares if issued via employers/organisations.

[13] Sydney’s system falls down on free transfers: if you want to change modes, you get stung for another fare (as well as the time penalty of the transfer). There are rumours this will change in the future, but who knows.

[14] Many people have complained about Myki’s slow online top-up speed of up to 24 hours, but in fact Myki faster than most of the other systems. Only Sydney, with a time of up to 60 minutes, seems to have got this right. They’ve probably made use of mobile data technology to get the top-ups from the central servers to the devices on buses and ferries and trams.

[15] All the systems except Darwin’s (which isn’t really a Smartcard) offer an automatic top-up system, automatically adding value to your card when it reaches a pre-determined level, then taking those funds from your linked bank account.

Myki’s auto top-up started off flawed (it would block your card if the payment didn’t work, forcing you to send the card in for unblocking — this has now been fixed) but in my experience works fine now, and is very handy — I never have to worry about topping-up my kids’ cards. Some of the other cities encourage auto top-up by providing you bigger fare discounts.

[16] My non-scientific evaluation of the speeds of some of the systems. Myki is hopelessly inconsistent, except for the new gates recently installed at a handful of locations. From limited use of the other systems, they all seem much more responsive, though in Brisbane the card read was fast, while the gates seemed to open up quite slowly, which could be problematic at peak times.

Some other notes

  • Sydney — still in flux. Limited card purchase opportunities at the moment, but seems to be changing. Hopefully intermodal transfers will become free in the future.
  • Perth — Very limited card purchase or on-system top-up opportunities, which helps explain the cheap cost of implementation.
  • Tasmania — Card is set to a “Default” trip (eg home to work and vice-versa). Anything else requires resetting by bus driver. Arguably it’s more of an electronic purse system than a Smartcard. Ditto Darwin.

Why is there no combined system?

The tollways of Australia have got their act together: an eTag used on Melbourne’s tollways can be used in Sydney and Brisbane, for example, and vice versa. Why not public transport smartcards?

Turned out there was a working party trying to get this to happen: the National Ticketing and Tolling Working Group. It seems to have all been too hard to get the cooperation of the various state bodies:

In Australia, while Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne have each selected the same card interface, there is no immediate prospect of achieving smartcard data, reader or back-end interissuer interoperability. Efforts by the National Ticketing and Tolling Working Group (NTTWG) and Standards Australia are effectively on hold while each city rolls out its own vendor-specific implementation.

National Smartcard Framework – case studies (December 2008) – page 10

It’s like the 21st century version of the break of gauge.

Myki, Smartrider, Go card, Opal public transport smartcards

Which system is best?

Would Victoria embark on Myki again now, knowing the outcomes in terms of costs, delays, reliability and speed? I doubt it.

At one stage they tried to claim we had to have a system built from the ground up, because none of the others could cater to the state’s requirements in terms of our public transport system being large and including multiple modes. I always found that very difficult to believe — plenty of other systems handle big multi-modal systems with ease. I suspect there is some truth in that pre-existing systems may not have handled our structure of unlimited use Passes so well, though Adelaide seem to have managed.

So which system is best? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer.

Ideally you’d want the ubiquity of Myki, the single ticket alternative and speed of (any of the others), and the cheap system establishment costs of Brisbane or Perth.

In fact Brisbane is probably the closest thing to being a extensive big multimodal smartcard system that was relatively cheap to implement. Even if it were doubled in size and cost, it would still come out at about a fifth of the Melbourne system cost, though it’s unclear if that reflects the real cost or if it was just a great deal for the government, and Cubic was betting on that extra revenue to come through.

Taking on an existing system also requires any city to change its fare structure somewhat to suit the ticket system — but Melbourne ended up making compromises in that department anyway.


Today marks five years of #Myki in Melbourne

Five years ago today, the government unexpectedly announced that Myki was valid for travel in Melbourne, from 3pm that day.

It followed the rollout in regional centres earlier that year, and the installation of numerous card vending machines and reader devices around Melbourne.

The government had foolishly promised it would be switched-on in Melbourne by the end of 2009, and just about met that promise… except they only felt it was ready for use on trains only, and many of the devices at railway stations weren’t working properly, and the web site had big problems (including compatibility with Google Chrome and some other browsers).

Having used Myki in the regional cities, I was one of few Melburnians to already have a card, and that evening I attempted to use it. The short trip I took was charged correctly, but attempting to top-up at two separate machines failed — contradicting the government’s claims that it was ready for use on the rail system.

All in all it led me to the conclusion that it made sense to order a free card while they were offered, but not to start using it:

Progress in the last five years

A change of government in November 2010 put the project into stasis for a while.

Eventually in June 2011 the Baillieu government announced that they’d keep Myki, but scale it back — though the total project cost actually went up by about 10%.

The old Metcard system eventually got switched off at the end of 2012, meaning you can no longer buy a single ticket for travel in Melbourne or in the biggest regional cities where Myki operates.

Myki tram machineMyki tram vending machine trial

Functionality that didn’t make it into the system

Both before and during the Coalition’s reign, numerous design decisions were made to reduce or hobble the functionality, either deliberately or because things didn’t go to plan.

While trying to precisely copy the Metcard fare structure, some features were deliberately removed:

  • The periodical zone benefit allowed a single zone fare to be used anywhere in Melbourne on weekends. This was removed, though the Weekend cap made up for it somewhat, even on occasion paying you back for travelling in an extra zone
  • Under Metcard the fare used to be still valid if your tram/bus was delayed/cancelled and the travel started after the expiry time

Myki card content reportOther features that were intended to happen under Myki, but scaled back, or never achieved, included:

  • Myki originally had a weekly cap system planned, which presumably would have made a Weekly Pass unnecessary, and made the balancing act of trying to get the best weekly fare much easier. You can see it still on the “Myki card content report” issued at railway station booking offices when things go wrong. I still think they should implement this.
  • In fact, early information indicated it would also include a monthly cap. As this 2004 press release says: “With Smartcard, there will be no need for customers to plan their travel for the day or week before purchasing tickets, because the new system will be programmed to read the number of trips over a period of up to a month to work out the cheapest possible fare
  • The claim back in 2004 was “It only needs to be scanned for less than half a second”. It’s not unfair to say it’s never consistently reached that speed, though the deployment of new readers at some stations is promising.
  • In 2010 the then Labor government changed the zones to include the outer parts of the tram system into zone 1, to avoid touch-off issues for tram users, particularly in the CBD. This also scrapped the City Saver fare on Myki, though up to that point it had been working. They also made changes to some bus zoning, which made sense to make them more consistent.
  • The Coalition government made the decision to scrap the short term ticket option, which had been working in regional cities since 2009. This included scrapping of any form of ticket purchase on trams, which had been originally intended via card vending machines offering Myki and short term ticket sales. Tram ticket machines and short term tickets were subsequently scrapped.
  • The system was planned to include most public transport services in Victoria, including the entirety of the V/Line train and coach network, even including those coach services going to Adelaide and Canberra. Again, it was the Coalition that reduced the scope. It seems unlikely it will ever happen, as it would depend on them expanding the system functionality to include things like booked seats.

(Marcus Wong has a good article on this: Broken promises from Myki)

Five years on

Five years later, where are we?

Overall reliability seems to have improved, but the system is still as inconsistently slow as ever, apart from the new readers installed at a handful of stations. These are engineered by Vix-ERG, which I guess shows that things work better when you get an experienced mob in to do the job.

A number of other problems remain: the big ones being reader response times and incorrect zone detection on buses and trams, but even simple improvements like changing the beeps to be more meaningful (for instance to distinguish between touch on and touch off) and showing the 2-hour fare expiry time haven’t been done.

People put up with Myki, but I think it’s fair to say many of them don’t like it — particularly if they’ve seen faster systems elsewhere.

But we’re stuck with it now. The ten year contract expires in 2016, the system will keep running — which honestly is a relief given the cost of installing all the equipment.

I’m still of the view that the government should review and simplify the fare policies, then re-write the reader software for speed.

Next up I’ll have a post which compares public transport smartcard systems around Australia.

Photos from ten years ago Toxic Custard newsletter

Photos from December 2004

The Trugo mural in Yarraville. I added this photo to the Wikipedia article on Trugo, which is a sport believed to have been invented by railway workers in the 1920s. this image from Google Streetview, by 2009 the mural had deteriorated a bit. When I went past recently, they seemed to have patched it up, which is good. I thought I had a snap of it, but I can’t find it.
Trugo mural, Yarraville, December 2004

From time to time in the house in Carnegie that I lived in, this mysterious residue would appear, often around windows. I never figured out what it was, but I note with some alarm that occasionally something similar appears on one of the window ledges in my current house. It can’t be good, right? I’m not panicking though — I’ve got a guy coming in a few weeks to do some repair work; I’m sure he’ll sort it out.
Mysterious things in the old house

This looks to have been an attempt by Isaac to write Christmas cards to all of his classmates. I gather some school kids still do this.
Christmas cards

From a walk around Altona Beach with M and the dog. There were lots of flies… evidently I wasn’t having a good time with so many of them buzzing around.
Daniel under attack from flies

Another snap of Southern Cross Station under construction. This photo would have been taken from the south-east corner, at Collins/Spencer Streets.
Southern Cross Station under construction, December 2004

Finally, a photo which isn’t from 2004.

This is just a few weeks old, and is to wish everybody reading a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year… and an extra special thought to those who have lost someone dear to them recently.
Elizabeth Street, Christmas 2014


Transdev bus routes are changing – some proposals good, some bad

Transdev are seeking survey responses to their planned bus network changes for 2015, and unlike last time, they are properly doing community consultation. But if you are interested, today is the last day you can submit feedback.

Last week I went along to the Transdev session in Sandringham, and spoke to reps there about various points, mostly related to the changes in that area.

Transdev: Is this Klingon for "St Kilda via Elwood"?

From my point of view most of it looks okay, but there are some issues.

Most route changes make sense; and make the network more legible. The removal of the crazy-confusing 600/922/923 split is particularly welcome.

Splitting the long orbital bus routes makes sense to better match demand, and improve reliability by not having four-hour-long routes, particularly as few people use them end-to-end. (No, really — the 901 and 903 are currently about four hours end-to-end.)

Relief for crowded 903 buses along Warrigal Road on weekends is excellent, with services every ten minutes on Saturdays, and twenty on Sundays.

Most northern suburbs Smartbuses will no longer be every 15 minutes — mostly going to every 20 minutes weekdays (including peak), every 30 minutes Saturdays, and every 40 minutes Sundays. Weekday off-peak and Sundays this could synchronise better with their trains which are generally every 20 minutes, but the peak service won’t, and it’s pretty poor. Note this includes the 912 (currently part of 901) to Melbourne Airport.

Part of the problem is that currently semi-rural areas like Kurrak Road in Yarrambat get a bus every 15 minutes — over-servicing that area while other more populated suburbs miss out on frequent services — a classic example of where a single level of service on one really long route isn’t a good idea. But under this proposal, that service will still be every 20 minutes. Perhaps further splitting of the orbital routes needs to occur so that those resources can be directed to where they’re actually needed.

As part of these changes, the 901 and 902 will swap through the north, between Broadmeadows and Greensborough, making for a more direct route to the airport from Doncaster, Eltham, Greensborough, and Keon Park.

The 600 will be curtailed at Sandringham, no longer serving Elwood, but it will have will have timed connections with the 248 for most of the day at Sandringham, enabling (for example) Brighton to Black Rock trips without too much trouble.

Cutting service route 600 St Kilda Street in Brighton I don’t see as an issue given close proximity to New Street. Parts of Brighton are arguably over-serviced anyway, given the area has a lot of well-to-do people who seem willing to use trains, but largely unwilling to use buses.

But Elwood loses out along Ormond Road due to the loss of the 600. The remaining 606 service runs only every 40 minutes on weekdays, including peak — a far cry from the 80s when I was a kid, when there’d be 6 to 10 route 600 buses per hour in peak to cope with loads feeding to the trains at St Kilda. There was speculation 606 would get a frequency boost, but as this is run by another operator, the Transdev people couldn’t confirm — part of the problem of getting one operator to do network planning. A boost to the 606 should definitely happen if the 600 is being removed. That or the 630 could be extended from its current termination point in the middle of nowhere in Elwood, along the 606 route to St Kilda, with a level of timetable co-ordination to provide a good combined service.

The dotted line on part of route 600 in Cheltenham is a once-a-day schools diversion. This leaves a large area (particularly Weatherall Road) unserved for most of the day – and an old couple at the session noted they currently use that bus (the 922) and will be about a kilometre from a service. Transdev say they get very few passengers in that section (perhaps mostly thanks to so many golf courses in the area, rather than houses). It’s similar to Hope Street, Brunswick, I think — this is probably an area that should be considered for some kind of Neighbourhood Bus along the lines of the services run by City of Port Phillip.

Frequency cut along Hotham Street 248 on weekends goes to 40 mins (a big cut on Saturdays, which currently has 15 minute services), while Orrong Road 249 (the new number for the southern end of current route 220) goes to 20 minutes… seems a bit arbitrary, though of course 248 largely parallels the train through Brighton. The 249 will continue to duplicate trams for much of its length, but at least the 248 route doesn’t join it going all the way into the City. (The plan to run one of those routes further north to Burnley and Victoria Gardens seems to have disappeared — the 248 will instead terminate at the Alfred Hospital.

Keeping the 249 (currently 220) as high frequency maintains good service through Southbank, which is welcome. The disconnection of the 216/219/220 in the City makes sense for the same reason disconnection of the Orbital routes makes sense, to improve reliability given not many people travel through the City.

Altona – not in the local area, but some talk raised of their end of the 903, which is getting cuts. Their peak service is going to every 20 minutes, but it was pointed out that a reliable 20 minute peak service is actually better than their morning peak service now, which due to the length of the route doesn’t actually meet the 15 minute frequency going into Altona until about 10am. It would also better connect with trains (as far as is known, when Regional Rail Link opens in April or so, Altona peak trains will move from the impossible-to-remember 22 minute frequencies to the much more sensible 20 minutes).

Transdev admitted the halving of off-peak Altona 903 services from 15 to 30 minutes is bad (and also won’t synchronise with trains), but said several times that most of their patronage counts were based on Myki data, so if those buses are well-used, they implied large numbers of passengers are not touching-on/paying. One Transdev rep commented this was a quandry: even if they know what’s happening, do they upgrade (or maintain) bus services for areas with users that don’t pay? Indeed… but of course that’s penalising whole neighbourhoods (and hordes of potential users) for the actions of only some.

They said they’ve only done other types of passenger counts were they knew there were specific surges in patronage not indicated by the Myki data, such as school runs where lots of students with Student Passes aren’t touching on (and they’ve talked to some schools to ask them to tell students to do so).

However, as you’d expect, bus drivers have a reporting mechanism to flag overcrowded routes.

Transdev: Proposed southern suburbs bus network

Route 223, a remnant of the Footscray tramway era, is getting cut back to every 20 minutes, every day (including in peak), and no services after 9pm (7pm Sundays). Not sure about this — currently it’s every 15 minutes Monday to Saturday, and the Footscray to Highpoint section seems quite busy, particularly when traffic delays occur. This cut may result in overcrowding, as I’m assuming they can’t magically prevent the delays.

Some City to Doncaster DART buses upgraded to every 20 minutes on weekends — good!

Dead running: Unfortunately I forgot to ask if the current situation where buses “dead run” out of service right across town between Sandringham/Brighton and the Footscray Depot (due to lack of depot space at Sandringham) will be solved. Hopefully.

TransDev Melbourne bus in full PTV colours

The route structure looks good — less so the service frequency

I don’t have intricate knowledge of the whole network, but from what I can see, the proposed route structure looks pretty good. Less confusing, less duplication. It’s the service frequencies on some routes which let it down (as they often do) — particularly the abandoning of the Smartbus promise of a bus every 15 minutes (on weekdays) on the quieter parts of the orbital routes, with resources moved to busier sections.

One Transdev planner said this change would be setting the scene for some years, with future revisions likely to be only minor, but they’d be hoping for service frequency upgrades as more funding comes through.

This seems to stem from the former Coalition government’s aim as part of the 2012 re-tendering process of making Transdev upgrade the network but at no extra cost to the taxpayer — a noble aim, given inefficiencies such as copious dead running — but in our growing city, with strong demand on parts of the network and huge potential on other parts, extra funding is needed to boost services.

I’ve submitted an online survey (the survey questions made this a bit tricky as I live in the south-east, but most often use Transdev services in the west), and they urge as many people as possible to do so.

One gentleman at the information session said he was upset by many of the changes (but didn’t seem quite able to articulate why, at least not while I was close by), and said he’d be writing to the minister. He was encouraged to do the survey as well, but refused. Not sure why, if one objected so strenuously, one wouldn’t use all avenues available to get their opinion across.

So, if you use Transdev bus services, be sure to look at the planned changes, and fill in the survey — remember, it closes today!

Updates — April 2015

Update 13/4/2015: The Age: Hundreds of bus services in Melbourne’s west and north face being cut to service city’s east

Update 14/4/2015: Looks like the plan is on hold for now, pending changes to the proposal. State government: Labor Backs Investment In Better Bus Services And Community Consultation / The Age: Plan to cut buses in Melbourne’s west and north quashed by Andrews government

This is good news. As I’ve noted above, some parts of the plan — particularly cutting north/western suburbs services — didn’t make sense. Other parts do make sense: splitting the orbitals, and extra services to relieve crowding. Here’s a picture from the Warrigal Road 903 on a Sunday afternoon (when buses are only every half-hour).

Crowded 903 bus, Sunday

It seems the eastern routes have hit the virtuous circle of increased patronage -> improved services -> increased patronage (and leading to crowding). Rinse and repeat.

Sadly the western routes have hit the opposite, in part because they haven’t been allowed to reach their potential for patronage growth: precious few frequent services, and those that are there in theory are flawed, missing frequency goals and having poor connections to rail services.

And the real problem here is that the current Transdev contract allows them minimal wiggle room to increase resources overall. So it’s no real surprise that they are moving more services to where there’s crowding.

Apart from finding genuine efficiencies (such as reducing dead running), the real answer is to recognise that all of Melbourne needs more bus services, and to resource the operators appropriately.

Toxic Custard newsletter transport

#Myki. It’s as simple as Touch on (unless you don’t have to), and Touch off (only if you need to).

I noted this new Myki signage on trams, reflecting the free CBD tram zone from January:

Myki signage on trams, December 2014

Once it was a simple message: Top up, touch on, touch off.

Now it’s top up, touch on (unless you don’t need to) and touch off (only if you need to).

From the PTV FAQ, it’s clear that they haven’t reprogrammed Myki for the free zone. If you touch on and/or off within it, you will be charged for zone 1, as now. If you do touch on in the tram free zone and want a refund, they say you need to touch off (also in the free zone) then you can contact them for a refund. Bear in mind that if you’re making non-free trips elsewhere that day, it may not make any monetary difference.

Confused yet? Not surprised.

Touch off would never have become a problem if Myki response times were consistently fast, as they are on other public transport smartcard systems. Originally it was thought the system would be so fast that they were going to use the terminology “scan on, scan off“… but by mid-2010, they knew it was going to be so much of a problem clogging up tram exits that they extended zone 1 to the end of all tram routes and told people not to bother touching off.

The new gates they’re trialling at stations such as Richmond and Springvale are an improvement in terms of response times, though it’s unclear if these would work on trams.

Touch on won’t be needed either, from January 1st if you’re travelling entirely in the free CBD tram zone. There is of course no monetary difference if you travel in and out of the CBD by public transport (unless you use the free Early Bird train fare).

Tread carefully if you’re planning a free ride though. The free zone ends the stop before the Casino, Museum and the Arts Centre. One wit on Reddit noted the free zone looks quite like a yellow (green?) submarine.

PTV free tram zone from 1st January 2015

The change to free CBD trams and (almost) scrapping of zone 2 reflects something of a race to the bottom by the political parties in this year’s state election. It’s unclear if the patronage growth resulting from the fare cuts will be reflected in extra services or at least bigger trams to relieve crowding… but one can only hope that the next big fare change will be more equitable. Like taxes, fares should ultimately be both affordable (not a deterrent to patronage growth), and helping to grow revenue in a sustainable way that helps public transport services continue to expand.

Those who can, might like to check out options for traversing the CBD by bus… Lonsdale Street and Queen Street are well-served by frequent buses most of the time.

Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Luckily most people don’t bring their cars to central Melbourne

Sometimes in the city, it’s a bit like a Where’s Wally book.

Bourke Street Mall, lunchtime

City of Melbourne figures indicate the average daily population for the CBD and surrounding council area is 844,000.

But Christmas shopping is a very busy time of year.

City of Melbourne has some very clever pedestrian monitoring systems, which can tell us just how busy different parts of the city are. They have sensors around the place, including in the Bourke Street Mall — on both sides, though the northern side one is currently not working, which is a shame as I suspect it’s a bit busier. The southern side one shows pedestrian numbers peaked yesterday around lunchtime (when the photo was taken) at about 5000 per hour — about 45% higher than the 52 week average, showing how the nice weather and Christmas shopping has a huge effect.

Pedestrian count, Bourke Street Mall - south - 18/12/2014 (City of Melbourne)

How do people get to the city? The Census has very good data on travel for work (and this appears to include study) which shows about 65% of people working in the city centre (or thereabouts) come in by public transport as their main mode. About 25% are by motor vehicle. The rest are by other means including walking and cycling.

ABS Census 2011: Mode to city

City of Melbourne has a smaller survey (the Central Melbourne travel survey) that captures all city visitors (not just workers). It shows a slightly lower public transport share — 59% — and also lower for walking and cycling, but higher for motor vehicles — 37%.

City of Melbourne survey: mode to city

They also have a survey showing trips around areas of the city. Unsurprisingly, this is dominated by walking and trams.

City of Melbourne survey: Mode around city

It’s lucky most of people coming into the City don’t bring their cars with them.

Well, they can’t really — parking supply for them all thankfully isn’t provided. If it was, it wouldn’t be the dense inner area that we know it, but dispersed by lots of space taken for car parks — a completely different city centre that I dare say wouldn’t attract the booming daily population of residents, workers and visitors that come now.


My notes from a quick skim of the #EWLink business case

Late last night, the Herald Sun unexpectedly published the entire East West Link business case, ahead of its official release today.

Some notes from me from a quick flick through:

p12 makes various high-level claims, particularly faster trips for motorists — but as we know, this benefit never lasts because traffic increases.

EWLink: Proposed tolls

p17 flags the toll prices used in the modelling: (2012 pricing) cars $5.50 in peak, $4.40 off-peak. Light commercial vehicles $8.80 peak, $7.04 off-peak. Heavy commercial vehicles $16.50 peak, $13.20 off-peak. I wonder what regular motorists (especially those with commercial vehicles) make of these toll levels?

By comparison, bypassing the city along the Bolte Bridge or the Domain/Burnley tunnels (not both) currently costs $7.06 in a car, or $8.15 for both sections. It’s only marginally more expensive for both because there’s a cap… I assume it’s unknown if a similar cap could exist where adjoining motorways are run by different operators.

p17 says the funding gap between the toll revenue and the cost of construction is $5.3 to 5.8 billion.

p39 says north-south public transport is being degraded by traffic congestion, which may be the case, but that’s because authorities have allowed it to happen by failing to provide tram/bus priority through busy intersections such as Alexandra Parade. They continue to prioritise large numbers of vehicles (single-occupant cars) over large numbers of people. It’s important to recognise that while the greater East West Link project includes tram priority measures, these can be implemented without building a big road tunnel.

p41-42 appears to be cherry-picking statistics to try and claim there’s a lot of demand for cross-city traffic. For instance the diagram at the top of page 42 implies lots of cross-city traffic, but it’s mapping out in percentage terms the demand from different directions heading to the Eastern Freeway in the AM peak — in other words, feeding into the freeway in the counter-peak direction, as if counter-peak travel is where the congestion problem is.

A diagram on page 41 does look at AM peak from the Eastern Freeway, and like previous studies shows little traffic heading to the west of the city — 2% to the south-west (eg Newport area), 6% due west to Footscray and beyond, 7% north-west to around Essendon and beyond. The vast majority of traffic is heading to the CBD and inner north.

In comparison, here’s the screendump from VicRoads traffic status web site this morning (8:16am, peak hour). The camera image shows counter-peak the Eastern Freeway seems to be free-flowing. It also shows free-flowing traffic most of the way across to the west (in both directions), again underscoring that the east-west route isn’t the main problem; as per the page 41 diagram, it’s traffic going into the CBD and inner suburbs.

EWLink: Realtime traffic on Eastern Freeway and Alexandra Parade, 15/12/2014 8:16am

p100 forecasts traffic rampup to % of steady state volume: 91% by month 6. 96.5% by month 12. 100% by month 22. I wonder: Is this in line with recent experience?

A NSW Auditor-General report on Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel (see page 32) found that projections of 80% initially, and 88% after a year were about double the traffic levels that actually eventuated. Brisbane’s Clem7 and Airportlink tollways, and Melbourne’s EastLink had similar problems.

Note that in East West Link’s case the taxpayer bears the risk.

p165 Whoa! The construction cost is much much higher than theoretical revenue of $112 million/year (56x) relative to Citylink (8x) or Eastlink (20x). The average construction cost is also much higher per kilometre than those projects.

p168 The assumed tolling period is 40 years.

p176 Benefit Cost Ratio of stage 1 is 0.8 (eg it costs more than it makes) when “Wider Economic Benefits” (WEBs) are excluded. Including WEBs is 1.3-1.4.

Update: The earlier estimate, using the methodology preferred by Infrastructure Australia, came out at just 0.45. In later versions of the document, the methodology changed and the estimate rose to 0.8. The version released by the Herald Sun has the higher figure, and it’s been speculated that someone supportive of the project dropped that version to them deliberately to pre-empt reporting of the lower figure. Josh Gordon at The Age has some nice analysis of how the figure grew from 0.45 to 0.8 with some WEBs, and then to 1.4 by including other projects such as the Tullamarine Freeway widening, and even Wider WEBs.

WEBs are notoriously wibbly-wobbly in their calculation, and often controversial. For instance it’s not clear how they claim $2153m in agglomeration economies (specifically “growth in Melbourne’s competitive central core”) when the tollway doesn’t directly serve Melbourne’s central core.

It also claims a lot of benefits from travel time savings, but as I’ve already noted, we know these never last.

Compared to the 1.4 the road gets with WEBs, the metro rail tunnel (which is also an incredibly expensive project) apparently got 1.9. And compared to the 0.8 for EWL without WEBs, the metro rail tunnel got 1.17 — so at least it isn’t loss-making when evaluated without possibly dodgy WEBs.

p193. If they built the road elevated rather than underground, the BCR (excluding WEBs) would still only be 0.9. It’s only by building it as a surface road (eg a ground-level motorway, thus obliterating large areas of the inner-northern suburbs) that you can get a BCR above 1: 2.6 to be precise.

EWLink costs and revenues

p209 summarises the revenues and outlays, and if I’m reading this right, seems to show toll revenue of about $200m per year against availability service payments from the government to the operator of about $345m each year. I assume by June 2023 that’s the “steady state”.

If the toll revenue doesn’t get that high, then taxpayers foot the larger bill. And remember this is only stage 1.

p211 ponders the state privatising the road later — that is, selling the toll revenue stream, presumably to offload the taxpayer risk in case revenue flops in the future.

I’ll keep dipping into the document as I get time in the next day or two, and may add some points as I find them.

Hopefully when there’s an official release in the next day or two, the PDFs available will be searchable — it’ll make finding things a lot easier!

And presumably there’s more detail coming as well — for me one thing that stands out is the courageous predictions of quick growth in tollway traffic and revenue, in the face of recent experiences with other Australian tollroads.

And I’d love to see detail on the modelling assumptions that show how well the traffic would flow if the revenue targets are met. It still strikes me that these massive tollroad projects can be profitable, or provide for free-flowing traffic, but not do both.

Update: The official release of documents has now occurred.

Photos Toxic Custard newsletter

Recent photos

You know I’m busy when the blog posts are few and far between, and contain a lot of photos…

There do seem to be a lot sightings of Google Streetview cars recently. Here’s another. This one was resting.
Google Streetview car

Christmas shopping crowds at Southland shopping centre last weekend. It’ll get busier as the month rolls on, of course.
Southland shopping centre: Christmas crowds

Southland’s car park was packed, and the station somewhat… non-existent. If you want to be sneaky during the shopping season, instead of hunting for a car park at Southland, park across the street. But shhhh! Don’t tell too many people! (No, that’s not my Merc.)
Sneaky parking at Southland

“That’s the second biggest inflatable Christmas gift I’ve ever seen!” At Southern Cross station. I think there was a sign saying it’s in support of a charity.
Big Christmas present, Southern Cross Station

Those audio-visual ads at underground stations may be irritating, but occasionally serve up some geek amusement, such as this 404 error. Mind you it disappeared after a few seconds.
404 on web page ad, Flagstaff station

As the city gets busier, motorcyclists are taking up more of the pavement, even in pedestrian mall areas. This kind of unregulated constriction of pedestrian space really needs to be reviewed.
Motorcycle parking in Bourke Street Mall

…and in fact even police motorcyclists seem to be unaware of the guidelines that you shouldn’t park in a bus stop.
Perhaps even police are unaware the guidelines say you shouldn't park motorcycles in bus stops

Spotted in JB Hifi… The Beatles “Help”. Rated MA? Really?
The Beatles "Help" - rated MA?!

Good to see works continuing at Bentleigh station after the election. Ah, removal of the pointless blockage in the exit to platform 3 — good!
Bentleigh station works

Sure enough, passing a day or two later, it was gone, and extra Myki readers are going in too. Not sure of the wisdom on these for the rarely-used platform 3, but extras are going in on platform 2 as well.
Wider entrance and more Myki readers on platform 3 at Bentleigh

It was said the X’trapolis train on the Frankston line was just an election stunt. Some thought it would disappear straight after the election. Then the rumour was it would run for an extra week so it didn’t look like an election stunt. To my surprise, it’s still on the line — maybe they know the rumour got around, so it’s been left for a bit longer. It’s costing more money than the other trains as it has two drivers in the cab (as not all the lineside equipment has been fully modified) and is only scheduled on a couple of morning runs before spending the rest of the day in stabling.
The only X'Trapolis on the Frankston line, still running a week and a half after the election

Baaa! Waiting for trains to pass at Bentleigh station. While grade separation benefits motorists more than other groups, there’s no doubt pedestrians benefit too, though the need would be less great if the underpass had been left operational.
Baaa! Waiting for trains to pass

Birdlife at Albert Park lake. The ID tag on the swan made me ponder if that’s what some have in mind when they demand that cyclists have number plates… not really practical. (Has anywhere in the world done it?)
Albert Park Lake birdlife


Public transport fares to rise about 5%

It hasn’t been announced yet, but I understand Myki fares are going up about 5% in January.

(Zone 1+2 fares will drop to zone 1 level of course, in line with the pledge made by the Coalition and matched by Labor.)

This is rise the Coalition government announced in December 2013, which I assume the new Labor government has approved: 2.3% CPI, plus a rise in real terms of 2.5%.

(Perhaps it’s not surprising Labor has okayed it; the Coalition went through with CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 which had been planned by Labor back when it was in office.)

Myki zone changes

Leaving aside the enormous disparity in per kilometre fares, the combination of zone changes (including free tram rides in the city) plus a real terms rise means we get the terrific combination of:

  • Fare revenue dropping by about $100m per year
  • Those travelling short distances (eg those costing the network the least in terms of driver and vehicle hours, and fuel) getting fare rises
  • Those travelling long distances (eg most expensive to serve, especially if you consider things like the demand to build more express tracks, and fleets being unable to run more than a single round trip in peak) seeing a big fare cut (increasing their subsidy)
  • A price signal that it’s good to use PT for long trips, which is likely to add to crowding, particularly on trains

Plus of course those who currently have crap PT in the middle and outer-suburbs will continue to have crap PT because there’s less money available to pay for upgrades.


While I don’t think a per kilometre fare is really a great idea (especially with Myki’s currently hopelessly slow readers and even more hopeless GPS devices), nor do I think a trip from Flinders Street to the Shrine should cost the same as one to Pakenham.

Silver lining: If they’re smart, they’ll let people know that in most cases you no longer have to touch-off after metropolitan train/bus trips. Just as on most tram trips now, the default fare if you don’t touch-off will be the same fare you pay if you did.

Still unknown: The fate of the Earlybird fare, long rumoured to be on the verge of being removed.

Update: Beat the rise?: Hoping to beat the price rise by splashing out on a Commuter Club yearly? No chance. The news of the rise came through in a CC bulletin yesterday showing the rise for Yearly fares, and declaring the ordering deadline to be 5pm the same day — way too fast for any CC organisations to scramble to let employees/members know. Usually there’s at least a few days’ warning. Not this time, though it’s still cheaper to buy a CC Yearly Pass than a retail Yearly.

If you use other Myki Passes, you can still beat the rise by buying them before the end of December. (But don’t buy a zone 1+2 pass; you’ll just need to get a partial refund once the zone changes happen). You can’t beat the price rise with Myki Money — it’s charged as you use it, not when you load it.

Update 6:30pm Tuesday: The rise has been confirmed by PTV in The Age: Myki fare rise for commuters travelling in a single zone.

Of course, those travelling in three or more zones will also see a rise, though I don’t think it’s been clarified if a zone 1 to 4 trip (eg Melbourne to Geelong) would still pay the zone 2 portion of the fare as part of that.

It’s also worth noting that this is not the only recent above-CPI rise: there were CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 (the ones planned by Labor).

I also note that while this 2014 rise was been planned by the Coalition, in 2011 then-Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said in the Ballarat Courier: “The Coalition Government wants to keep changes in ticket prices to no more than CPI (Consumer Price Index).”

Update 17/12/2014: The rise has finally been confirmed by PTV. Early Bird is staying, and the weekend daily cap will remain at $6 (though it’s not much cheaper than the new zone 1+2 daily cap anyway).

Culture Doctor Who Melbourne Toxic Custard newsletter

Geek central, Melbourne

They say geek is the cool, right?

Geek central in Melbourne must be the corner of Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets.

Why? Because within a few metres are no less than three pop culture shops:

Firstly, there’s the Doctor Who “popup” (eg temporary, until January) shop. Actually it has Sherlock merchandise too, which probably makes it more of a Steven Moffat shop.
Doctor Who Popup Shop, Melbourne, Summer 2014-15

Secondly, a little further up Little Collins Street is this shop, which as far as I can tell, has no actual name. At least, none prominently on display. (Professor Google says it’s called “Critical Hit“.)
Collins Gate pop culture shop

Thirdly, that old favourite, Minotaur. I used to shop there in the 80s when it was in Swanston Street. Then it moved to Bourke Street, and more recently(ish, well, probably 10+ years ago now) to Elizabeth Street — the former Melbourne Sports Depot, I think.

Also nearby:

EBGames in Swanston Street (also a former Melbourne Sports Depot?) has opened a geek section in their basement.

The ABC Shop has moved to Emporium.