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Politics and activism Toxic Custard newsletter

Election day!

Some photos from election day…

The seat of Bentleigh is marginal, so we’ve been getting a lot of attention.

The booth I usually vote at leans towards the Liberals (or at least did in 2010), so we had Labor politicians galore: local candidate Nick Staikos, along with Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, and Labor luminary Simon Crean.

Independent candidate Chandra was also present.

Voting in Bentleigh

A mass of How To Vote cards were thrust in my direction. I usually reject them, but this time around I was interested to take a look. Sneakily, a new local souvlaki restaurant slipped their flyer in as well (their people had “Souvlaki party” t-shirts).

Together with the ballot papers, it made for a lot of paperwork.

The decision had to be made who to put last, of course. My rule is usually: racists are worse than nutters, who are worse than those with policies I disagree with.

Voting

Voting done, I looked around the jumble sale, cake stall, and then wandered outside for that most Australian of election traditions, the sausage sizzle.

Election sausage

My kids were rather unimpressed that the Liberals preferenced the Greens after Rise Up Australia. Isaac voted.

Jeremy’s not old enough to vote yet, but will be next time. Meanwhile though, he put together this short video… apparently if elected, Labor will be all about pudding.

Update Sunday with some Tweets from last night as the count progressed…

Categories
transport

Yes, train punctuality has increased – thanks to timetable padding

One day until the state election.

They do great work, and it’s rather good to see the ABC’s Fact Check unit looking at Victorian issues just before the election.

A couple of days ago they did a segment on train punctuality:

  • The claim: Denis Napthine says his Government has “improved train punctuality”.
  • The verdict: With punctuality running at over 92 per cent across the Metro network, trains are more often on time now than under the previous Labor government.

They looked at the statistics, and they also considered stop skipping, which figures indicate is done on less than half of 1% of services — not enough to greatly influence the result, though sometimes done to excess.

But as commenters on their web site have noted, they didn’t look at the other factor: timetable padding.

Comparing times on the Frankston line: during peak (morning inbound, afternoon outbound), and when it’s quiter (Sunday morning inbound and outbound), we can clearly see that running times have increased — 3-4 minutes was added in 2012.

Frankston line running times, 1997-2012

It’s a similar story on other lines.

Is padding the timetable always bad? No. If network congestion or loadings are such that trains can never achieve the timetable, then allowing more time would be justified.

But in some cases there is now so much padding (for instance, Hawksburn to South Yarra now allows 4 minutes in peak; Richmond to Flinders Street direct allows up to 7) that trains regularly sit idle at stations waiting for the timetable to catch up… or (accidentally) depart before their scheduled time.

So it’s hardly surprising that punctuality has increased.

  • They also haven’t mentioned Loop bypasses, which are a particular problem for the Altona Loop (perhaps thankfully the only suburban section they can do it on) but also the City Loop. These count as a partial cancellation, but when they happen they improve punctuality stats.
  • Additionally it’s notable that the government always talks about punctuality, not cancellations, because the latter has barely changed. That’s outside the scope of ABC Factcheck though; they look at what is claimed, not what isn’t.
  • See also: Alan Davies at Crikey: Did the ABC fact checkers get it right on train punctuality?
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Bentleigh Politics and activism Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Where’s the community’s focal point? It’s the railway station.

Two sleeps until the election.

Apart from trying to get citizens out to a public meeting, where in the neighbourhood is the best place to meet as many people you can, face-to-face?

Judging from what the politicians and lobby groups have been up to, it’s the railway station — on weekdays, at least.

I’ve lost count of the number of flyers I’ve been handed at Bentleigh station over the past few months. Undoubtedly it’s due to being in a marginal seat.

Supporter of Labor, and independent candidate Chandra Ojha, handing out flyers at Bentleigh station

Public Transport Not Traffic campaigners (including myself) at Bentleigh station. Campaigner Tony (who worked harder than me that morning) is not pictured; he snapped the photo.

The Greens candidate Sean Mulcahy at Bentleigh station

The political parties and one of the independents, as well as various unions and lobby groups (including one supporting national parks, and also Public Transport Not Traffic) have been prominent at the station in the last few weeks.

Mostly they are in the morning. It’s easier to hand out flyers as you get a steady stream of people, and if the train isn’t imminent, they can stop for a minute to ask questions. In the evening few people want to linger; they’re keen to get home. Plus it’s harder to hand out to scores of people arriving in a burst, followed by minutes of nobody going past.

Chalk one up for the trains. Cleverer people than I might ponder if this helps skew policies. As the Liberals’ fake commuter newspaper shows, it certainly helps influence campaign literature.

You’re certainly unlikely to have a face-to-face encounter with politicians and their supporters while driving your car. Sadly those people who are unable to use trains because suburban connecting buses are so poor will also miss out.

On the weekends the campaigners tend to be elsewhere in the shopping centre, though sometimes at the station. The advantage for them of street shopping centres is I doubt they’d ever get permission from a Westfield or Gandel to set up in Chadstone or Southland.

Of course this week, they’re also at early voting centres, and will be swarming around polling places on Saturday. (The first inkling I had that Bentleigh was at risk of swinging from Labor to Liberal in 2010 was when I heard that then-Premier John Brumby had been seen at a local polling place, Mckinnon Secondary College. On voting day you’re most likely to see the senior pollies in marginal seats.)

I’ve been tracking the various flyers handed to me in person via Twitter at Bentleigh station. Here are a few instances of flyers and local campaigning from the past month or two:

PS. On Monday the PTUA put out its election scorecard. If you’re interested in public transport issues, and they’ll influence your vote, check it out.

Update: After the election…

Categories
Politics and activism transport

Online state election advertising

Only a few days until the state election, and the campaign is heating up.

Miller and Staikos signs for the state election 2014

Here’s something interesting I’ve noticed: apart from posting and advertising on Facebook, the Liberals have paid for Google Adwords advertising — that is, links to appear above search results on Google.

They’ve covered the names of a number of Labor candidates in marginal seats, plus their state leader’s name (linking to the more positive “Our Plan” site), and the name of their main opposition party and its leader. They don’t seem to have covered opposition candidates in some marginal seats such as Prahran and Frankston, and nor have they included the Greens.

Online advertising, November 2014 Victorian election

View the slideshow

It’s all interesting stuff. I wonder how many people searching for information on Labor candidates end up clicking through to the Liberals’ “Frankston Line Facts” or “Backwards Under Labor” web sites?

I didn’t spot any evidence that Labor have done the same thing, but they have gone in strong advertising on the mainstream media web sites: this morning the Herald Sun and The Age web sites are covered in ads for them attacking Napthine and Abbott.

An article in Crikey (Paywall) last week suggested that political advertising doesn’t actually work very well, a position also supported by research done in America. Personal interactions such as doorknocking (and I guess handing out flyers) work better.

That can be difficult to organise, but has been happening a lot in the marginal seats this year.

The somewhat antiquated “Electronic media blackout” kicks in from midnight tonight, but only applies to TV and radio. I guess we’ll continue to see online ads right up until, and during, Saturday’s vote.

  • Note that the Libs’ 44% fare increase claim (which is repeated on the Frankston Line Facts site) appears to be more scare-mongering. Apparently in one radio interview some months ago, Daniel Andrews misspoke and suggested Labor would remove zone 2 altogether. Their actual policy is to cap fares at zone 1 rates — the same policy as the Coalition, which is why PTV has felt confident enough to press ahead with it from January. (If zone 2 was completely removed, current zone 2-only trips would go up in price to the higher zone 1 fare — a 44% increase.)
Categories
Photos Toxic Custard newsletter

Photos from the past week

A few photos from the past week or so…

Sunday afternoon in Bentleigh. Has either major party pledged to fix the 703 Smartbus? No, neither of them has. The sign closest the camera is telling you to check the timetable… this is because part of the route doesn’t run at all on Sundays. On the other side, if you zoom in, you will see that automated sign by the station still doesn’t work properly after nearly four years, and the buses are 45 minutes apart, in breach of the government’s own Smartbus standard.
Bentleigh bus stops and level crossing

A rare sighting of the only X’Trapolis train running on the Frankston line. Thank goodness they’ve spent up big on gimmicks like this, rather than fix basic problems… like the sign telling you whether you need to cross the tracks to platform 3, which has been incomplete since June.
X'trapolis train at Bentleigh station

Worried about home burglaries? Don’t be — the poilce are on the job.
Poilce targetting home burglaries in area

These things come with some new fridges. They stop items in the door falling over. What are they called? And can you buy them?
Fridge door...what do you call these things?

It was tricky, but I managed to get the Christmas tree box into the bagging area so the self-serve checkout could weigh it. (Our old plastic Christmas tree finally died last year.)
Please place the Christmas tree in the bagging area

Categories
transport

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt on the 822

Incumbent Elizabeth Miller has gone strong on “saving the 822“, promoting via Facebook and an ad the front page of the local Leader newspaper last week, apparently trying to imply that Labor is proposing to scrap the route completely.

822 bus ad

822 promotion (Elizabeth Miller Facebook page)

Having put the claim out there on Facebook, the Liberals have done nothing to quell people’s fears that the route might be scrapped. Comments on the Facebook post have included:

  • Its the only way i can get to work and school :///
  • You cannot remove the 822.. its the only bus route running along east boundary road.. its central for anyone that lives around bentleigh area as its our way to Chadstone & Southland… You have gotta be joking.
  • Our children use the 822 a lot. It is needed for children for school outings as well. … I also see many elderly using that bus as I believe it travels to southland and Chadstone which allows for them to shop and also catch up with friends. This is only a small part of how useful that bus route is. Think before you remove. Elizabeth Miller keep up the good work.
  • For me and all the other passengers of the 822 bus rely on this bus because it gets us to our everyday destinations and without it would be a dissapointment! If you fet rid of this route you will make peoples lives much more difficult.
  • please save the 822 bus.

This is classic FUD — Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. There is NO plan to scrap the route.

I asked the Labor candidate Nick Staikos about it, and he said their intent is the logical move of the route off the backstreets and onto East Boundary Road (as proposed in the 2010 bus reviews), for a speedier trip and to better space out the north-south bus routes — there’s a huge gap between the Frankston line and the 822, with no services on Jasper or Tucker Roads.

But they’d do any change with community consultation to make sure as many people as possible are happy.

Part of that change might be moving the 701 from Mackie Road onto Marlborough Street to cover the section removed from the 822. As I wrote a few months ago, that’d be a good solution as it would remove duplication on Mackie Road (which also has the 767).

It would be difficult to have the 701 turn right from Marlborough Street onto North Road could be troublesome with no lights at that intersection, but the 2010 plan had it following the current 822 route as far as Duncan Mackinnon Reserve, then heading back towards Oakleigh.

Labor aren’t talking about proposed bus frequency upgrades. The 822, like most suburban buses, is appallingly infrequent, particularly on weekends. Public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy mentioned there was some kind of bus strategy coming, but so far we don’t know what’s in it. See below.

There’s obviously some detail to nut out, but nevertheless the Liberals’ posturing is nonsense. It seems to be trying to imply that everything is fine with the local buses… clearly not the case. One way of reading it would be that “only the Liberals” will fail to do anything whatsoever to improve them.

Fact is, local buses in Bentleigh do need improvement. Making the 822 a main road bus is a good start. Making it and other routes more frequent is also vital.

  • PTV stats show the 822 has about 450,000 boardings per year — around 1600 each weekday, 575 Saturdays and 388 on Sundays — the latter not being too bad, given it’s only an hourly service, but given it serves two of Melbourne’s busiest shopping centres, there’s a huge potential to carry more people if it ran more frequently.
  • Labor has said several times they would make an announcement around buses… This is important, as many areas only have buses. The policy has just been released today, and in summary is a $100 million package of upgrades. I haven’t digested the detail yet, but it’s got specifics on a number of routes, particularly the growth areas most dependent on buses. I can’t see anything in the Bentleigh area — not the 822, and also not the 703, which was promised an upgrade to full SmartBus status in the 2010 election by Labor.

Update: Labor’s Public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy has spelt it out on Twitter:

Update 25/11/2014: Partly for anybody clicking through from Jarrett Walker’s blog post, here’s the map of the current route, highlighting the diversion through Crosbie Road, Marlborough Street, Stockdale Avenue and Gardeners Road (including one-way sections) proposed to be changed to run direct along East Boundary Road (which is not shown in full on the map, but is a continuation of Murrumbeena Road) instead.

Bus 822 map

It’s also worth noting that it was not just Labor and the 2010 bus reviews that proposed this change.

Elizabeth Miller herself also called for the change shortly after she won the seat of Bentleigh:

Since taking office as the member for Bentleigh I have been shocked to discover that the former government made no provision for public transport to and from GESAC’s front door.

I call on the minister to investigate with his department the appropriate alteration of existing bus routes, including the 822, to provide a bus stop outside GESAC on East Boundary Road, Bentleigh East, to ensure that as many residents as possible of Bentleigh and neighbouring communities are able to access this wonderful new facility.Hansard, 24/3/2011

By earlier this year, she had changed her mind:

The 822 bus currently services this facility [Glen Eira Sports and Aquatic Centre) on Gardeners Road at its rear. The bus service to the facility is well patronised. I note that the opposition is currently conducting a petition to state otherwise.Hansard 25/3/2014

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Tram extensions: Not as expensive as some claim #VicVotes

The Greens have policy going into the State Election for 17 smallish tram extensions.

Mostly they make a lot of sense — extending many tram routes from their current outer termini in the middle of nowhere (a hangover from when trams and railways competed) to a more logical point such as a nearby railway station or shopping centre. This helps ensure both ends of those routes go to somewhere useful: a traffic generator such as Chadstone, or providing better connections on the public transport network.

The only one I’m doubtful about is extending route 82 from Footscray to the City. Given the route would go through the mostly empty port area, I don’t see the point, as passengers for the city have some of Melbourne’s most frequent trains (which are faster) or some of Melbourne’s most frequent buses to get them there. Personally I wouldn’t see it near the top of my wish list until there’s some redevelopment around the port.

Hey tram fans, is this the first C-class tram in the new #PTV colours? #yarratrams

But in any case, the Greens’ estimate for all this was $840 million.

Wednesday’s Herald Sun savaged it, comparing costs with brand new light rail networks interstate such as the Gold Coast Light Rail system, and extrapolating a per-kilometre cost. The problem is they forgot about new system establishment costs such as depots and fleets aren’t applicable to short extensions to existing systems.

They came up with a figure of $4.7 to $6.9 billion. They used that and other estimates as the basis of an editorial accusing the Greens of threatening the state’s economic stability if they won the balance of power.

The Greens had submitted their policy to the Department of Treasury and Finance for an independent estimate. DTF published that yesterday afternoon (along with a bunch of others). It came out at $1.36 billion. Not as optimistic as the Greens, but a long way from the Herald Sun estimate.

The Greens: tram extension costings

The full DTF document is worth reading for future reference: in summary it says tram lines should cost in the region of $15 million per kilometre, with additional costs for platform stops ($1.7m each), works for major intersections ($2.8m each), substations (for extensions over 5 kilometres $5m each) and terminus works ($5m each).

Update 20/11/2014: Greg Barber points out that DTF said there would be cost savings if multiple projects were implemented:

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General Sydney 2014 Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Sydney day 4, and wrap-up

Backdated. Posted 17/11/2014.

Day 4 — Sunday

Not much to report. Breakfast at Darlinghurst’s Jekyll & Hyde — which was a bit meh. M’s order came with unwanted eggs, which I adopted. Afterwards I realised it was one of the breakfast places I’d ruled out because some of its Urbanspoon reviews didn’t sound that great (though it had a respectable score of 89). I’d happily go back to The Bunker or The Royal, but not this one.

After that, packed up, got a taxi to the airport (M had a Cabcharge). The traffic was okay, though going the other way it was jammed up due to a crash.

Got to the airport in plenty of time. Checked-in the night before online, and used a boarding pass on my phone for the first time. Flight and Skybus/train back was uneventful (though I must remember to walk to the Qantas Skybus stop in future to save time) — back home by mid-afternoon Sunday.

Loading our plane home, Sydney airport

Virgin boarding pass on mobile phone

Short holidays

Long-term blog readers would know I’ve taken a few short 4-5 day breaks over the years. I quite like that style of holiday.

You’re not going to see everything, but you’ll get a good taste of a place without having to organise things like laundry.

I like having a few things planned each day, but nothing absolutely essential, and the flexibility to change things around — add stuff if you find there’s extra time, skip things if it feels rushed.

I’m also a fan of the centrally located hotel. It’s good to have a base that’s close to the action, making it easy to stop back past there during the day if desired. Walking distance to a supermarket and cafes/restaurants is also a great thing for breakfast and dinner. Hotel breakfasts are often an option, but generally quite expensive compared to a local cafe.

In our case, this time the hotel wasn’t right in the CBD ($$$), but a very short walk from a nearby railway station that has frequent services — every 10-15 minutes every day until midnight — and as often as every 3 minutes in peak hour.

The transport system

Which brings me to some random thoughts on Sydney’s public transport system, which we used fairly extensively while visiting. (See here for the blog post all about the Opal card.)

The trains have impressive capacity. They never seemed too crowded, though our use was mostly outside peak hour, and I did see other trains passing that looked pretty packed. (It’s unclear if double-deck trains overall can carry more people, due to generally slower dwell times — see this ABC Fact Check article).

The rail network as a whole seems very staff-heavy compared to Melbourne. Guards on trains, and on one platform at Central in peak hour I counted about a dozen staff… to assist with boarding?

It’s a shame the City Circle direction isn’t shown on train maps. That would have saved me some time.

The buses are extensive, and at least in the inner-city, are impressively frequent. But as noted, they often duplicate train routes, and at key locations such as Bondi Beach, are clearly inadequate for the task they’re given.

The ferries were a lot of fun, and quite practical given the geography (the same reason they don’t really suit Melbourne) though I suspect some routes are much more economically viable than others.

333 buses following each other, Paddington, Sydney

The new(ish) numbering of all modes and routes is interesting, and makes it much clearer when trying to remember which route you have to take, rather than memorising a lengthy line name (eg line T4, rather than the Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line). At present there’s still a fair bit of confusion with inconsistent signage though. And it does result in some slightly confusing overlaps with F being used for ferries and freeways, and T being used for trains and airport terminals. It’s all about context I suppose, though a sign mentioning T1 and T3 at the airport that appeared to be pointing down to the trains threw me momentarily.

Airport rail is terrifically convenient, thanks to it being fast and frequent. It’s expensive given the surcharge, but even at that near-exhorbitant price, I’d rather have it than not. Being able to get to a major destination such as the airport without being at the mercy of traffic is a godsend.

The monorail is gone. I used to ride it as a visitor, but honestly, can’t say I miss it, and nor do I suspect does most of Sydney.

In conclusion

I really enjoyed Sydney… again. Can’t wait to go back!

Categories
Sydney 2014 Toxic Custard newsletter

Sydney trip day 3: Saturday

Backdated. Posted on 16/11/2014.

Saturday! The weather was warming up — have I mentioned how I’d jetted in on Thursday, a day after a huge storm passed through the city? Good timing (well, luck) is essential to any holiday, even a short one.

After breakfasting at The Bunker in Darlinghurst, we caught the train across the Harbour Bridge to Milson’s Point — and walked back.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Harbour: water police

From the station it’s only a couple of minutes walk to the footway over the bridge. Plenty of others were out and about doing it as well, and there were also a few security guards around — I don’t remember their presence last time I did this, but that was about 20 years ago.

The roadways were busy. Some of the old toll gates still seem to be in place, though I assume in the age of the eTag, they’re not used anymore.

Also still present: what appear to be support structures formerly used for tram overhead wires, until trams were removed from the bridge in 1958.

Sydney Harbour Bridge pedestrian walkway

The sun was shining, making me wish I’d packed my hat. Despite the presence of many safety fences, there are some great views from the bridge. I could see the grey-suited bridge climbers as well, who no doubt were getting an even better view. Perhaps on my next trip to Sydney I’ll try that out.

As usual, the harbour was busy with boats: everything from Sydney ferries small and big (cue “Reckless”) to sailing boats to a tall ship. A police boat and one marked “Maritime” (some other authority no doubt) were circling someone who had taken a dunk in the water, presumably to rescue him.

It was only a few days until the G20 in Brisbane… I spotted one sign from Sydney’s APEC meeting in 2007 (perhaps best remembered for the Chaser motorcade) still on display stuck to part of the Bridge. It said you had to obey reasonable directions of Police. Not sure about unreasonable directions.

APEC signage, Sydney

Rhapsody of the Seas, at Circular Quay, Sydney

Sydney Harbour: Cruise ship Rhapsody of the Seas, and a tall ship

A gigantic cruise ship named “Rhapsody of the Seas” was docked at Circular Quay. M said it had disgorged thousands of passengers earlier in the week, and there seemed to be plenty of them wandering around The Rocks, Sydney’s historic harbourside suburb.

After a quick walk around The Rocks, from Circular Quay we caught a ferry to Cockatoo Island, formerly used as a prison and a shipyard, now a heritage and cultural site.

A ferry comes into Circular Quay, Sydney

Bangaroo precinct under construction, Sydney

I was a bit disappointed that it was a newish, modern ferry, unlike the “traditional” type I always picture (the equivalent of a Melbourne W-class tram perhaps), and which seemed to be operating on some of the other routes. Not to worry; we ended up getting one of those on the way back.

On the way the ferry stopped off at Darling Harbour, passing the massive new Bangaroo Barangaroo precinct, which at the moment is a huge construction zone, but is planned to be a casino, hotel, cultural area and apartments. From what I hear, the transport planning around hasn’t been well thought-out, with no mass transit options provided except a long walkway to the nearest distant station at Wynyard — about 300 metres from the southern end of the precinct, but over a mile from the northern end.

After about half-an-hour we landed at Cockatoo Island, and started exploring. The island has various areas showing off the different aspects of its heritage, and we explored for quite a while, discovering tunnels, convict areas, old shipyards (some parts still used, it looks like). There’s also an area full of tents, where you can camp, and if you prefer a more civilised place to stay, a Bed & Breakfast.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney

In some spots there were also a large number of very cranky seagulls — extremely noisy and some trying to swoop to scare people away from their hatching areas.

In one spot there was one of those fake owls, perhaps to try and calm them down. It clearly doesn’t work — in fact they’d pooed on it.

Seagulls at Cockatoo Island, Sydney

Seagulls at Cockatoo Island, Sydney

We then went to the Island Bar, and snacked on a pizza for lunch over a drink or two. The view was glorious, though once again I felt myself getting sunburnt.

It was enjoyable just lazing, eating and drinking there for a while, though for the middle of the day, the staff just seemed a teensy bit over-zealous — for instance the security guy asked specifically if we had food or drink in a bag when we entered (would they have made us chuck it out before entering?), and the wait staff seemed very quick to descend and straighten-out any unoccupied deck chairs which had been moved out of position.

The jukebox was playing music, and at one point “Brazil” played, making me think of the movie of the same name, and I pondered whether this paradise was in fact a bit more authoritarian than it needed to be. That said, the ambience made it clear that some people were there not sightseeing, but partying, so I can understand why there was a security presence, and perhaps it helps explains the vigilance.

Island Bar, at Cockatoo Island, Sydney

Sydney Harbour

Train crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge

We headed back on another ferry — on the other route that serves the island, so seeing a few different sights on the way back.

From Circular Quay (after topping up our Opal cards, which as I’ve noted, it turned out we didn’t need to do as we’d hit the daily fare cap by this point, and wouldn’t be using PT on Sunday) we headed south to have a bit of a look around the shopping areas of the CBD. By this point — Saturday afternoon — it was pretty packed with people, especially in Pitt Street Mall.

There were also large numbers of pedestrians along George Street, and I found myself appreciating that Sydney (like every other Australian capital city other than Melbourne) doesn’t allow motorbikes to park on the footpath, instead providing areas on the road for them to park. This especially helps on narrow streets, but even George Street with its wide footpaths benefits.

George Street, Sydney

QV building, Sydney

While in the area, I thought we might duck into Uniqlo, whose signs were prominent around the MidCity centre, but they hadn’t actually opened yet in Sydney. Looks like it opened a few days later.

We caught a train from Town Hall back to the hotel to relax for a short while, then headed back to Town Hall to catch a bus to my friend KW’s place for dinner in Drummoyne. Google Transit and Transport for NSW’s journey planner agreed: several reasonably frequent bus routes could take us there, but we still ended up waiting about 15 minutes, and when we got off the bus I noted two others in close succession. Sigh.

Kings Cross, Sydney, Saturday night

One mighty fine dinner later, we headed back by bus/train. Being Saturday night, Kings Cross was super-busy, and noisy. About as noisy as the seagulls, but less aggressive.

I must say though, little of the noise penetrated the hotel room, and we slept like logs until morning.

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Sydney’s Opal card

(Backdated. Posted 14/11/2014.)

During the Sydney trip I tried out Opal card, and M got one as well to try.

It’s worth remembering that although the system is provided by Cubic, who built London’s Oyster system, its cost is not insubstantial — $1.2 billion over 15 years. It’s not quite as expensive, but is in the ballpark as Myki ($1.5 billion over ten years).

Opal card standalone reader

Obtaining and topping up

I ordered mine online; it arrived by post within about a week. They’re only available online, or via retailers. Not stations.

Same with topping up, which is heavily restricted as to the amounts you can use. At retailers it’s $10, $20 etc. Online it’s only $40, $80, $120…! At least online topup is fast — one hour vs Myki’s “up to 24 hours” (though in practice Myki is often faster).

The cards are free, but with a minimum top-up.

It’s unclear if they will make buying and topping-up more widely available in future or not. One local contact believes they plan to push Auto Topup for most users — this of course is impractical for most tourists.

For now the paper (magnetic stripe) ticket machines remain in use, and presumably will be kept for some time, alongside Opal — perhaps indefinitely as a single use ticket option?

Sydney station ticket machine

In use

This is what really matters: from the first trip on the airport train on the first day, to the last use late on Saturday night, it was easy. Tap on, tap off (and that’s the language they use). The response times on stations, buses and ferries seemed uniformly fast, unlike Myki (which changed its language from “scan” to “touch” when it became obvious the response times wouldn’t be fast enough for “scan”).

The fare gates and buses still take the mag stripe tickets as well. Suburban stations and ferry stops had standalone readers on poles, which are a lot nicer looking than the Myki or Go Card ones. (Unlike in Brisbane, which has readers on the ferries, Sydney’s are on the wharves.)

The balance/status was shown on each tap on a colour screen… but it doesn’t stay up if you hold the card to it, as with Myki.

Fares

The fares are confusing.

Sydney is keeping its segmented fare system, and the base fares are reasonably priced, but the different modes are all charged separately.

Change from bus to bus? Or train to train? Ferry to ferry? All free, as long as the next trip is less than an hour later. (The light rail is not yet on Opal.)

Mix the modes? You get charged again, with no discount. It means the fares can quickly add up — on one day we took all three modes, and it ended up costing about double what similar travel might have costed cost in Melbourne.

No free transfer between modes has big implications for the network, and helps explain why so many Sydney bus routes run all the way into the city, duplicating trains.

Apparently there are hints that fares will be reformed in the future, but nothing is confirmed.

There are caps to stop costs getting too out of hand. This I found somewhat confusing.

It’s 8 journeys then free for the rest of the week, so if you travel a lot at the start of the week, you’ll find the rest of your travel until Sunday is free. I knew about this one, but expected (rightly) that we wouldn’t get to the 8, even with a fair bit of moseying around.

There’s also a $15 per day cap (a bargain $2.50 on Sundays). We hit the $15 cap on Saturday, via multiple train, ferry and bus trips.

The caps replace most of the weekly/monthly/yearly options on the old ticket system. There have been complaints that a lot of people end up paying more overall under the new system.

Opal fare gates, Circular Quay

I didn’t know (or had forgotten) about the $15 cap, and we ended up unnecessarily topping up our cards as I thought we needed to pay a few more fares on our travels.

But we hit the $15 cap on Saturday, and ended up with balances above the top-up levels, meaning we would have never hit zero if we hadn’t topped-up. So we needn’t have bothered. Perhaps… or not? Unlike Myki the minimum balance to tap-on and keep travelling isn’t zero — it’s the minimum possible fare: $2.10 for buses, $3.30 for trains, and $5.60 for ferries. This reflects that the card itself is free, though you could still drive the balance below zero by then making a trip that’s a longer distance.

So if we hadn’t topped-up, even though we hit the daily cap, I don’t know if we’d have been able to keep tapping-on to travel, because we would have been below the minimum balance.

As it is, I have $20.28 left on my card ready for my next trip to Sydney. It seems you can get an unused balance refunded by returning the card — but only paid into an Australian bank account or via a cheque, so impractical for overseas tourists.

Opal web site

Web site

Finally, the web site. It’s good. Obviously it’s relatively new. The Myki web site appears not to have been revamped since its original design probably in about 2007.

The transaction list updated a little slowly for buses, but quickly for trains and ferries (which have fixed readers). It’s a lot more readable because it shows the data by trip, rather than by individual transaction/touch like Myki does.

In conclusion

Over three days (not the most exhaustive test), I found the Opal system reliable and fast (consistently faster than the notoriously inconsistent Myki), but there are very limited top-up options (and it’s unclear if this will be fixed), and fare system leaves a lot to be desired (ditto).