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Food'n'drink Health Toxic Custard newsletter

FebFast: No junk food for a month

I’ve just enjoyed my last takeaway pizza for a month, including leftovers for lunch today:

Last takeaway pizza before FebFast

I’ve signed up for FebFast, where participants are encouraged to refrain from something for the month of February.

They’ve got a few variations on it:

FebFast Smoking — no point in this, as I don’t smoke.

FebFast Social Media — Noooooooooooo.

FebFast Alcohol — I barely drink, so there’d be no challenge here.

FebFast Sugar — not convinced sugar intake is a problem for me, but I think it’d be difficult to do properly.

FebFast Junk Food — that’s the one for me!

Here’s an info-graphic on the benefits of staying off junk food:

FebFast: Junk food infographic

They’re ultimately leaving it up to the individual to decide what’s in and what’s out, though they do have some guidelines.

For me, I’ll be aiming to avoid: chips (both hot and crisps), chocolates (apparently “raw dark chocolate” is okay?), biscuits (a difficult ask in the office), milk shakes. Cakes? I’ll decline anything except a small slice for any birthday celebrations.

I’ll lay off soft drinks, but reserve the right to glug down a Coke if I need to, as I use them to fight off headaches occasionally. But I’ll try and avoid it.

I’ll avoid ice cream, but with one exception: I’m hoping to have one last Dairy Bell cone before they close in late February. I have fond memories of them from when I was a kid living near their Elsternwick shop — it’s a shame they’re going.

Non home-made pizza, burgers, and most other packaged/processed foods are also on the No Go list. I suspect I should also avoid muesli bars… they’re really just a glorified biscuit, aren’t they?

What else should I avoid?

I love my snacks between meals, so I’ll stick to fruit and nuts and other fresh stuff. Maybe I should pack some carrot sticks for morning tea?

Daniel's FebFast banner

So, who wants to sponsor me? Donations are tax deductible for Australians, and go towards supporting youth drug and alcohol addiction services.

Update: I was asked a good question on Twitter: How much junk food to I normally eat? I don’t binge on it all the time, but I do sometimes fall into the trap of a takeaway burger and chips as a lazy lunch or dinner, and I do eat far too many snacks such as biscuits at work, where we have a plentifully supplied biscuit jar.

Update FebFast Day 2: You should have SEEN the number of chocolate biscuits in the office biscuit jar today. Somehow I managed to resist them all!

Update FebFast Day 7: It’s been surprisingly easy to avoid chomping on office snacks such as biscuits. I did eat one muesli bar which I had in a desk drawer, and found it unsatisfying, so I doubt I’ll be having any more in a hurry. I have succumbed to a couple of (small) bottles of Coke as a pick-me-up (one day as I’ve developed a cold which has left me feeling pretty flat). I have been snacking on fruit and nuts, though I wonder what the overall kilojoule count is like on those.

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transport

Myki Monthly and Weekly Pass fares: more expensive than ever compared to daily fares

On many public transport systems, they go out of their way to encourage what we in Melbourne call Passes — sometimes called Season Passes, Periodicals, Monthly or Yearly tickets: a fixed price for unlimited travel for a period.

For the system, the benefits include reduced transaction costs, getting a bunch of money up front, and the promise of customer loyalty, at least for the Pass duration, but also beyond that if they like the discount and the service and renew.

For the passenger, they get a nice discount, and they don’t have to bother with queuing and buying more tickets for a while. In some places, they don’t even need to get their ticket out unless asked by an inspector.

Myki 2015 bus signage

Passengers can also use the Pass for any travel they like during that time, for instance weekday commuters might use it for social or recreational travel on weekends or evenings.

The key benefit of the Pass is the discount over everyday fares, but Melbourne’s used to have some other benefits which have been removed with the migration to Myki:

  • Pre-1990s Metcard, on weekends, a Weekly/Monthly/Yearly allowed travel not just for the cardholder, but also for another adult and kids, effectively becoming a weekend family ticket
  • Pre-Myki, on weekends the fare also allowed travel in any zone in Melbourne for no extra cost (the clumsy handling of this has led to the situation where some users actually get charged a negative fare for using extra zones now)

Personally I think the loss of these benefits is probably forgiveable. Bringing across every single fare oddity into a new system is part of what has made Myki so trouble prone. There’s a good argument that they should have simplified things further, such as scrapping the Weekly Pass and using an automatic Weekly Cap instead. But I digress.

The bigger effect of Myki, and in particular its compulsory use in Melbourne since the end of 2012, is that the Pass discount is now greatly diminished.

Melbourne Myki Pass costs vs daily fares

How many days does a Pass cost?

Weekly fares were about the cost 4.3 Dailies, from the 90s, right up to 2012. Since Daily fares were moved onto Myki Money, which is at a cheaper rate (since it was originally intended to sit alongside 2-hour and Daily short term/single use tickets), a Weekly fare is now equivalent to 5 weekdays.

In other words, the Weekly fare is no longer a great proposition, unless you know for sure that you’ll travel more than 5 days a week. If you’re not sure, or you never use public transport at weekends, you might as well use Myki Money.

A Monthly/30 Day Pass had been about the cost of 16.2 Dailies, making it a very attractive proposition for daily commuters. It’s now the cost of 18.4 weekdays, making it less compelling for 9-5 workers who might only have 20 days’ use in the month if they never use public transport on weekends.

A lot of people buy 33-day Passes, and have them start on a Monday, and end on the Friday five weeks later, avoiding paying for an intermediate weekend if they are unlikely to use it. With some planning ahead, you can also adjust the number of days (anywhere between 28 and 325) to fit in with public holidays or leave from work.

Yearlies used to be about the cost of 171 Dailies. They are now up at the cost of 199 weekdays.

For metropolitan passengers, there’s no reason to ever pay retail price for a Yearly. Get the Commuter Club discount via your workplace or PTUA instead.

Happily, the combination of the Yearly discount and the Commuter Club discount still makes it a pretty good deal for most everyday users, as long as they can afford the initial outlay (or their workplace can pay it via monthly deductions).

What about the weekend cap?

My calculations are perhaps a little shaky, but the figures come out significantly worse if you take into account that some days in a Pass would be subject to the $6 weekend/holiday daily cap, not the weekday price.

(While few would have welcomed the increase of the weekend daily cap from $3.50 to $6 in 2014, it did remove the anomaly whereby Myki Money users got weekend travel more cheaply than loyal Myki Pass users.)

Including the weekend cap in the calculation, a Weekly costs the same as 5.3 days (assuming no public holidays). A 30-day Pass is 23 days (also assuming no public holidays in the month). A Yearly is around 251 days (assuming 12 public holidays per year).

Average days per Monthly ticket cost (2011)

Comparing Melbourne to other cities

A PTUA study in 2011 found that Melbourne had one of the most expensive Monthly fare prices in the world, at 20.3 days. (The calculation used an average of Zone 1, Z2, and Z1+2 prices. I’ve used just Z1 above.)

The average for the other cities in the study was 12.5 days, and the European cities in particular had deep discounts for Monthly fares.

The prices may have changed a bit since then, particularly as many cities have moved to smartcards in the mean time, and changed their fare structures. For instance in Vancouver it appears the Monthly has moved up from 12.67 then to about the price of 15.5 days now (based on two single fares with transfers).

But most of them still seem to price their Monthlies cheaper than Melbourne.

I’m certainly not arguing that Myki Money fares should go up. The discount from paper tickets is a reasonable one, given the inconvenience of having no paper tickets available.

Given Melbourne’s Weekly Pass discount is negligible for most users, it might be time to revisit whether an automatic Weekly Cap (once proposed, and partly implemented) can easily replace it. A Monthly cap was also once proposed, but seems to have been excised at an early stage.

But to encourage regular users, the Monthly/Yearly price should really come down, at least to reflect the cut in daily fares that occurred when everybody got forced from paper tickets onto Myki.

Categories
Home life Toxic Custard newsletter

House repairs and renovation

Happy Australia Day! Now I’m going to do the Australian thing and talk about real estate.

Later this year it will be ten years since I moved into this house. It’s got me pondering maintenance, repairs and a little bit of renovation.

It started when I got my stepfather, who knows more about this kind of stuff than me, to look over the place and identify what needed fixing or upgrading. He came back with a lengthy list, and did some of the smaller jobs himself. Some of the major ones I’ve now organised to get done by tradesmen:

Window repairs. Some of the wooden windows need patching up as they’re showing signs of water damage. It’ll be good to get this done before it gets worse and more expensive to fix. Some of the sash windows need additional repairs, and the same guy can look at a couple of other issues including cracking brickwork.

Windows in need of repairs

This lead me into house painting. The windows obviously need to be repainted when patched. Looking at the rest of the outside of the house, it seemed like it might be a logical time to get it all done in one hit — for one thing where the windows were repainted, they’d match everything else.

Thirdly, external blinds. This is part of my three-point plan to keep the house cool on hot days via passive cooling. The first two parts were better roof insulation, and ceiling fans. I’ve ordered three external blinds for the biggest north and west-facing windows.

Wait, do ceiling fans count as passive cooling? Not sure, but hopefully the external blinds will make a difference, by deflecting the heat before it gets into the house. At present the inside of the house can get up to the low-30s on a really hot day.

I’d heard mixed reports from the big blind company starting with V (who also own the one starting with K), and ended up with the one with the appalling radio jingle starting with B. They came out on Monday and the bloke seemed cheerful and knowledgeable. I also got him to quote on replacing a broken interior window blind.

I’m not sure I understand their system of working out a price then automatically giving you a 40% “factory discount”. If that’s done as routine, it’s not really a discount — it’s just your price. I gather V/K do something similar, but press you to agree on the day to get some/all of that discount. Must be something they just do in the blinds business.

As part of preparations, I spent some time in the garden with various implements of destruction clearing away bushes from the walls and windows to about a metre. Hopefully it’s enough to allow the coming small army of tradespeople to do their work.

I’m also steeling myself for the cost. Suddenly I find myself up for about $800 of window repairs, $2000 in new blinds, and a third big bill for painting, which will drain away my savings somewhat.

But it ultimately is an investment in keeping the house shipshape, and cooler in hot weather.

(Some neighbours of mine have gone for a different plan. They’ve just moved out, in preparation for having their house demolished, and a brand new one built in its place.)

And doing a bunch of repairs and renovations at the start of the year is good, because (as will be the subject of a future blog post), I always get a whole raft of annual bills midyear.

Other things that need attention soon:

  • Some floorboards moving about a bit, producing gaps
  • Narrow cracks near ceiling in livingroom
  • Kitchen: remove blank plate over old light switch hole; fill and paint
  • Continue the clearout of stuff I no longer need! (Let’s face it, this is a long-term prospect, which has been going longer than I’ve lived here!)

Updates

Wednesday: Window repairs done, went smoothly, apart from one crack in a pane, which was then repaired. Now awaiting painter.

Friday: Painter came yesterday to get paint samples, and today used a high-pressure hose to wash down the house, and did some other preparatory work. Painting itself starts tomorrow.

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Now mostly no monetary benefit from touching-off your #Myki

As far as I can see, since the January zone changes, there is now no monetary benefit to touching-off your Myki for trips in zone 1, or zone 1+2.

This is because the Myki Money Default fare (the fare it assumes you should be charged if you touched-on, but never touched-off) is normally the same as the fare incurred for those trips anyway: $3.76 full fare, or $1.88 for concession.

This means you may be able to avoid the long queues to touch-off when exiting non-gated stations, as well as crowded buses (and trams).

I’ve tested this on Myki Money — it works correctly.

(It’s always been the case that Myki Pass had a default fare of zero if the trip started in a zone covered by an active Pass.)

Myki default fare on trains is now $3.76

There are a few exceptions

There are always complications with Myki. It’s consistently inconsistent. Here are some examples of where you may want to touch-off:

If you are intending on making another trip within two hours, you may wish to touch-off, otherwise your next touch on the same mode may be treated as a touch-off, potentially leaving you without a valid ticket if you don’t notice. This will happen if it’s the same station, and may also happen if you board the exact same bus or tram as your previous trip. If you didn’t touch-off, double-check your next touch when you board is on.

For Zone 2-only local trips, it’s still worth touching-off if you want the cheaper zone 2-only fare. If you were going into zone 1 anyway, it doesn’t matter.

(By the way, on Zone 2-only buses, the Default fare, if everything’s working correctly, would be the zone 2-only fare. Ditto, theoretically, on a tram in the zone 1+2 overlap heading towards its outer terminus. But Myki has enormous problems with GPS location detection, so don’t count on it.)

V/Line users need to be wary. The $3.76 fare applies from Melbourne out as far as Lara, Bacchus Marsh, Riddells Creek and Wandong, but if the conductor comes through and checks your ticket, they may also set the default fare to the end of the service, which could be a lot further away.

You may also wish to touch-off if you’re trying to take advantage of the Myki Pass payback glitch.

On the first trip on a new Myki Pass, I’m not sure if it’ll activate properly if you don’t touch-off. Anybody tested that?

It’s unclear what this will do to the stats if lots of people stop touching-off, but they basically threw away the prospect of comprehensive stats when they started recommending no touch-off on most tram trips (back in 2010). So perhaps it doesn’t greatly matter. They still use manual counting anyway.

And of course on suburban trains, the worst crowding is AM peak, and since most of those trips start with a touch-on, and end at a gated station with a touch-off, they’ll still have good stats for the busiest time on the rail network.

If default fares confuse you, it may be worth touching-off — remember, they get charged the next time you use the system, and that could be hours, days, weeks or months later. This can also result in some odd-looking online statements.

Queue exiting station to touch-off

Will they promote this?

Having locked us poor suffering taxpayers into spending $1.5 billion over ten years for the complicated, bespoke Myki system (and also a small fortune on adding station exits), now they’ve basically switched Melbourne to a flat fare for most users, will they officially promote the fact that it mostly makes no difference if you don’t touch-off?

I don’t know. They never did so for Pass users, even though it would help clear the exits at busy suburban stations in the evenings (and in turn, help trains run on time, as sometimes the crowds block the driver’s view, delaying departure).

PS: Additional reasons to touch-off:

  • If inspectors are standing there, obviously you might as well to avoid any questions
  • If using Early Bird, to ensure you get the free fare (thanks Roger)

Related: TheMykiUser also blogged about this same issue.

PS. If you haven’t heard: PTV is finally getting its timetable data ready for release for Google Transit (and other apps) in March: Age report.

Categories
driving Toxic Custard newsletter

Thoughts from the road

I don’t drive as much as many people (my average kilometres per year figure is about half the national average), but here are some recent random observations…

Seat belts. Why do some people wait for a few hundred metres before they put on their seatbelts? Do they think they’re somehow immune from accidents for the first minute or two?

Petrol prices are down at the moment. It’s unclear if this will get more people driving more often or further, or buying bigger gas-guzzling cars, but looking at the longer term on the bright side, it’s completely taken the heat out of the government re-instating indexation on fuel excise.

Manual vs Auto. My car is a manual. I had the opportunity to drive an automatic a few times last year. It’s easier to drive, but perhaps not as responsive as driving a manual. The car took a few seconds to work out when I wanted to accelerate rapidly… in a manual, I can tell it exactly what to do.

How not to drive through level crossings - the signs 'Keep Tracks Clear' are important

The race: One of the books I read a year or two ago (I’d tell you precisely which, but I can’t remember, and haven’t found the quote) noted that driving is a race. I think that’s right. I’m not a speed-freak (I hope), but on multi-lane roads, I constantly find myself wondering if I can get ahead of the other cars by switching lanes.

On single lane roads the race becomes one of strategy. Avoid Caulfield if there’s horse racing today. Don’t use the tram roads; you may get stuck behind one. Don’t drive through the busy shopping centres if you don’t need to go there.

Of course, if you get stuck behind a slow driver, ultimately, that’s just life, right? It’s the nature of the road system — everybody’s at the mercy of the worst drivers on the road.

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport

The pros and cons of the new #FreeTramZone

Some of the arguments in favour of the Free Tram Zone seem very simplistic.

The Free Tram Zone debate

Shaun Carney built a whole opinion piece around this in the Herald Sun on Thursday: basically, it doesn’t matter if it’s poorly thought out, sucks away resources, and doesn’t get people out of cars — if it’s cheap or free, it must be good — and hang the consequences.

Things aren’t that simple.

The Free Tram Zone is not without its advantages, of course. Here are some pros and cons to ponder.

Pros of the Free Tram Zone

Given the decision to scrap short term tickets under the Myki system, and the ridiculous situation of no facility to buy or top-up a Myki on-board a tram, it’s helpful for tourists and other occasional users in the CBD and Docklands.

In fact it can probably be sold to prospective tourists as a feature. It’s handy for instance to be able to catch a free tram to the Skybus terminal, rather than waiting for their less-frequent hotel shuttles.

It might help reduce congestion in the CBD, particularly from short distance taxi trips.

It may help relieve the crowding on the City Circle, which has been problematic for years, particularly on Flinders and Latrobe Streets.

Some streets seem to be coping fine with loads. From what I’ve seen, Collins and Elizabeth Streets seem pretty much okay most of the time (thanks to many routes serving them). William Street is managing, despite probably having the CBD’s least frequent service. I haven’t looked closely at the others. This may change over time of course.

It’s difficult to touch-on a Myki on packed trams, so it saves people the trouble.

If people don’t touch on and off, it may help cut tram loading delays at some stops.

It gets more people onto public transport, including some who wouldn’t otherwise use it.

The maps, signage and announcements (at least on trams where they’re automated) are pretty clear about where the Free Tram Zone starts and ends.

Free Tram Zone advertising/signage

Cons of the Free Tram Zone

Crowding seems to be getting worse on some streets. This is particularly a problem on Bourke Street, probably more so than any other street. On Bourke Street there is route 86 (every 7-8 minutes weekdays off-peak) and route 96 (ditto), and on paper at least they’ve spaced them evenly for a tram every 3-4 minutes.

But in practice delays occur resulting in gaps of ten minutes or more, followed by several jam-packed trams in a row. This photo on Friday shows on route 96, there was going to be one tram (the one I shot footage from within, below) then a 15 minute gap, followed by 2 trams within 2 minutes. There was also a short delay on route 86 at that time, resulting in gaps of up to 7 minutes — enough for significant crowds to build up.

Delays on tram route 96

This could be countered by running short services just through the CBD. But the most recent change was that Bourke Street actually lost its short route 95 services last year in a route revamp. The simplicity is welcome, but the crowding isn’t.

(Since this post, route 86a short runs have been implemented along Bourke Street.)

Or it could be fixed by resolving delays along the routes, so that more trams got to the CBD on schedule. This is mostly due to lack of traffic light priority, but there seems to be little appetite to fix this, and even if there was, it’s a challenging exercise to eliminate all delays.

Delays compound as more people try to pack in, of course, making the problem worse, and resulting in delays right along each route.

As a paid customer, I’m not very impressed with the change, or at least the resultant crowding, and I don’t seem to be the only one.

Here’s video showing what is becoming more common. The video below is in two parts: Inside the tram was shot on Friday at 2:01pm at the Bourke Street Mall stop, westbound on route 96. Outside the tram (apologies for the horrible mobile phone audio in this second clip) was shot on Thursday at 1:33pm at the same location. Note the doors are open for a full minute before the tram can move off again.

Is there space inside the tram in front of the lady with the stripy shirt? I don’t think there was — I think there were people of diminished height not visible in the video. People were left behind at the stop, and TramTracker said the next tram (86 or 96) was 7 minutes away, by which point the crowd would have built up again.

If you have a pram or a wheelchair, you’re probably wanting a low-floor tram. Finding one with space aboard, especially on Bourke Street, just got a lot harder. (I’m amazed the two in the video above squeezed on; the lady on the left had help from one passenger who appeared to give up his space. The bloke on the right appeared to get a bit narky with the crowd.)

Similarly, if you want a specific route, things are now more difficult. You might want to consider catching whichever tram comes first out to the edge of the Free Tram Zone where the crowding is less worse, and waiting for your route there… if you wait for it at one of the busier stops, there’s a real risk you won’t be able to fit on board.

The lunchtime peak seems to be getting longer. Of course CBD trams have always been packed at lunchtime, but my impression is the period of the worst crowding is lasting longer into the afternoon. This photo was taken moments before the video from inside the tram, above, at 2pm:

Crowding on tram route 96 in Bourke Street

The cost is a problem. Fare changes this year are estimated to be costing about $100 million per year, though I’d suspect most of that is the zone 2 change. But that may go up if they have to put more resources into easing crowding. Revenue reductions mean less funding available for service upgrades.

Those who primarily benefit are tourists (who can probably afford tram fares), CBD residents (who can probably afford tram fares), international students (as long as they primarily live, study and travel within the CBD), and motorists (who don’t need encouragement to drive to the CBD, and can probably afford tram fares).

In fact almost nobody who catches public transport into the CBD and out again benefits (with the exception of Earlybird passengers). You have CBD travel already included in your fares, including if you’re using V/Line. (It’s unlikely many Earlybird passengers benefit on the way to work, as apart from Docklands, no spot in the Free Tram Zone is more than two stops from a railway station.)

The Free Tram Zone falls short of some major tourist destinations — it ends one stop before the Casino (on both route 55 and routes 12/96/109), the Museum (86/96) and the National Gallery of Victoria (Swanston Street routes). Of course the zone has to end somewhere. But if you’re going to have it (and I don’t think you should), then if it’s going to stretch to the Victoria Market and cover all of Docklands, shouldn’t it also stretch to these major attractions?

Free Tram Zone: Casino is out, Batman Park is in

Free Tram Zone: Museum is out, Victoria Pde is in

Despite good signage, at stops and shelters, on platforms, on trams, there seems to be some confusion about where the zone applies. Authorised Officers have been spotted just outside the zone boundaries. Hardly surprising though, is it? (That 3AW story also quoted a lady claiming there is no information online. Not so — it’s very prominent on the Yarra Trams, PTV, and City of Melbourne web sites.)

It will get more people onto public transport, but may do little to encourage mode shift from cars. Many people may be switching from walking instead, and it may encourage motorists to drive into the CBD and Docklands, knowing they can catch free trams (though fortunately the CBD parking levy zone is larger than the Free Tram Zone).

It may not be good health policy. I don’t suppose there’s any firm information yet, but one friend who works in this area suggested to me that it is likely to cut the amount of incidental exercise some people get. As an example, I saw one lady on Friday, in fine weather, board a tram at Queen Street for a ride of less than a block, to William Street. She didn’t appear to be a lost tourist.

If don’t they put more trams onto the CBD routes, crowding will probably get worse. If they do, they’re effectively diverting resources for no revenue gain, while people in the suburbs who are crying out for better services (many with currently only one bus per hour) and who are willing to pay a fare, miss out.

I don’t know if there are commandments for economics, but if there are, surely there must be one that says you don’t give away a product people are willing to pay for. It seems madness that there was heavy demand for CBD trams when fares applied, and they just made them free. It’s a curious thing to decide to increase subsidies for.

Note that (going into the 2014 election) the Coalition had a plan to expand the E-class tram order by another 50. This would eventually have added to tram capacity. No word from Labor on this.

If you do touch-on within the Free Tram Zone, you’ll get charged. If you touch-off within the FTZ, and want to bother, you can probably get a reimbursement. Should they have properly programmed the FTZ into Myki? Perhaps — there used to be a “Zone 0” for the City Saver Zone… but it’s unclear if it could have handled a zone being free, and it would mess with Tram Zone 1 Default Fares… and Myki GPS is hopeless, so who knows if it would have worked.

(Remember, if you were using public transport to get into and out of the CBD anyway, and you were going to pay a daily fare anyway, it doesn’t matter if you get charged for a CBD tram trip.)

Myki signage on trams, December 2014

The Myki message has changed over the years from the simple consistent “Top-up, Touch-on, Touch-off”, to having a raft of exceptions. On trams it’s now touch-on… unless you’re travelling entirely in the Free Tram Zone. Touch-off… only for trips entirely in Zone 2. Confused yet?

Meanwhile, more and more people are returning to work throughout January. It’ll be interesting to see just how crowded it gets.

So, there are pros and cons

So there is good and bad from the Free Tram Zone. It’s not all bad, and it’s not all good — it’s more complex than that.

The problem with free things is, someone has to pay for them.

I still think the bad outweighs the good, but I suppose we’re stuck with it for now.

And if you’re trying to get east-west across the city and want to avoid the crowds, you might want to consider the Lonsdale Street buses. Not free, but not swarming with people either most of the time.

Categories
Film Melbourne Toxic Custard newsletter transport

1978 film “Mouth to Mouth” includes scenes of Melbourne anti-freeway protests

The recent anti-motorway protests in Melbourne are nothing new. In fact the very same area was subject to protests in the 1970s, when it was proposed to link the Eastern Freeway to the Tullamarine Freeway by way of an aboveground link, by converting Alexandra Parade to a freeway, ploughing through neighbourhoods in Collingwood, Carlton and Fitzroy.

Film and television can sometimes provide little glimpses of these events. M told me that on Sunday night, Channel 31 as part of their classic Australian film series, was showing 1978’s Mouth To Mouth“, about four youngsters trying to survive on Melbourne’s streets.

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

About 43 minutes in, there’s a scene were one of the characters looks out of a window and spots one of the anti-freeway protests. I assume it was staged for the film, as they are marching to an audience of nobody, but the placards look to be directly inspired by real life, one criticising the then-Premier — partly out of shot, but I think it says “What about your 1972 promise – No more freeways, Mr Hamer”.

Others such as “Melbourne needs a transport plan!” and “Freeways – Money for jams” wouldn’t be out of place today.

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

I missed the scene on Channel 31’s broadcast, but found the DVD for the bargain price of $5 plus $1.30 shipping on Umbrella Entertainment’s web site.

In other scenes you can glimpse bright orange trams, safety zones, rows and rows of telephone boxes, a red rattler train, the old Coles cafeteria, and numerous old cars. There’s also a scene set in a plush hotel — possibly the Southern Cross.

And apart from the scenery, the film itself isn’t bad either. Apparently it got three AFI nominations.

Categories
Photos from ten years ago Toxic Custard newsletter

Old photos from January 2005

Continuing my series of old photos from ten years ago

At the house in Carnegie, we had an old slide (which eventually got left there for whoever moved in after us) and a trampoline (which came with us, but in the end when we’d tired of it, got given to relatives who would use it more). Here I am mid-bounce, with my ancient Reg Mombassa Mambo for Greenpeace anti-car t-shirt.
Bouncing on the trampoline

Back when I did the all dishes by hand. Nowadays most of these would go in the dish washer. I love having a dish washer. The dish rack lasted me about ten years, but rust started to get to it, so it got replaced last year by a slightly smaller one that fits better in the space I have.
Dishes

The train home from Warragul arrives. We’d gone down there for just a quick joy ride.
Warragul station

Asleep on the train home from Warragul. Well, probably pretending to sleep, getting one of the kids to snap the photo.
Asleep on the train home from Warragul

The Town Hall (Collins Street at Swanston Street) tram superstop opened in 2001. By 2003 route 109 had been extended to Box Hill. But by January 2005, the signs at the premier stop along the route still said Mont Albert. I think from memory I did send this photo around and eventually it got fixed. This type of thing eventually helped inspire the PTUA’s Problem Of The Day series in 2012-2013, highlighting mostly smallish public transport problems via photos.
Incorrect signage, Town Hall tram stop

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Public transport system signage – mostly improving, but some is getting vaguer

At any station with multiple platforms, especially when they’re not adjacent (eg an island platform), you’re going to need to know which one your train leaves from. At many it’s easy — one platform is going towards the City, one is away.

Some stations have three platforms. The third track is often used for peak hour expresses, and the platforms used can vary across the day.

My local station used to have signs specifying which times the trains out of the City towards Frankston depart from platform 3. You really need to know if your train is on platform 3 before you enter the station, otherwise you’ll have to come all the way out again to its separate entrance — and you might miss your train in the process.

At some stage last year, the signs got messed up, and ended up with contradictory information:

Bentleigh station - When is platform 3 in use?

As you can see from this lengthy Twitter conversation, sometime around the middle of last year, the times were removed at numerous stations, pending a new train timetable.

When to use platform 3? Not sure.

The new train timetable came and went, and for months the signs’ times remained blank.

Perhaps they were struggling with coming up with a message that reflected that sometimes platform 3 is in use until a specific time in the morning, but sometimes there are delays, and it goes later. (It’s good to switch from 3 to 2 so all passengers go to the one island platform, where there are better facilities, but I’ve suggested in the past they delay the switchover an extra 15-20 minutes after track 2 is clear, to have a more definite, fixed time that allows for delays.)

A couple of weeks ago they came up with an answer:

When to use platform 3? During "AM peak", whatever that means.

Umm… yes. AM peak. A bit vague, isn’t it? How are you meant to know when “AM peak” is?

If you actually go up to the platform (which may not be the right platform, mind you) you’ll find in smallprint on the timetable poster that it indicates which trains use platform 3. Note how they are from platform 3 until 9:10, then there are a few that aren’t, then another one at 9:36. (These times are for Patterson, 2 minutes further down the line; I don’t seem to have a photo handy for the same sign at Bentleigh.)

Which trains from platform 3?

None of this would be so much of a problem if the automated sign near the station entrance worked, but it hasn’t for almost four years — in fact, similar signs seem to have been de-activated at other stations too, and of course most stations don’t have these. Realtime information is available on the platforms (via green buttons on all, as well as displays currently being installed), but that’s too late to prevent backtracking if you’ve got the wrong platform.

But this is just signs, right? They’re not that important!

Not so. Information is a crucial factor in determining whether someone will choose to use public transport. Having the service available for your trip is one thing — knowing where and when it runs is also vital, as this diagram from the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual (chapter 4, Exhibit 4-9) shows:

Transit availability factors (Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual, Third Edition)

Timely, accurate, easily accessible information is important. It’s about making the system as simple as possible to navigate and use. As simple as hopping in your car.

Telling people heading towards Frankston that they need platform 3 “in AM peak” is better than nothing, but it’s a long way from the kind of precision information that people need to catch a train without delay, without risking missing a service, and without having to annoyingly backtrack if their platform guess is wrong.

Publications and signage around the system (both static and realtime) has improved a lot over the past few years, particularly with Metlink/PTV guiding driving standards across operators, but they’re not perfect yet.

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transport

Another glitch with #Myki: It pays you $1.52 to travel further

Over the years there have been various problems with the Myki ticketing system. Some have been self-inflicted, such as the lack of a single use ticket, which was the result of a Coalition decision in 2011. Others are down to poor implementation, such as the slow and inconsistent read times for cards, or the difficulty that trams and buses have in detecting which of Melbourne’s two gigantic zones they are in.

Perhaps the most alarming issues are those that involve incorrect charging. There was a doozy found in 2013 where a Pass would activate early. And a few years ago a glitch emerged where if someone with a Zone 1 Myki Pass went travelling into zone 2 on the weekend, the system would pay them 2 cents for doing so. At the time, the Transport Ticketing Authority tried to claim it was a result of the system working as it should to calculate the correct fare, but admitted it may appear to be a quirky outcome.

A new issue has emerged since the zone changes on 1st of January. Uncovered by dedicated Myki user “TheMykiUser“, under some circumstances, the system will credit you $1.52 in Myki Money.

Myki bug

I replicated it myself on Sunday. It would seem the circumstances are:

  • You need to have a zone 1-only Myki Pass
  • It needs to be a public holiday or weekend — this doesn’t happen on a regular weekday when the $6 cap doesn’t apply
  • You need to travel in zone 2 on two separate occasions (eg in two separate 2-hour blocks) on the same day — this could be for instance travelling into zone 2, then travelling back, provided you touch-on to come back more than 2-hours after you first touched-on

Somehow the combination of a day’s travel in zone 2, but having already paid for zone 1, with the weekend/public holiday $6 cap applying means the system will decide that rather than charge you an additional amount it will credit you for $1.52.

Why does it do it?

Note that $1.52 is the same amount of the weekday zone 1+2 daily fare $7.52, minus the weekend/public holiday $6 cap, so it’s assumed these are factors.

Those who have bigger brains than I may like to try and interpret this text in the 2015 Fares And Ticketing Manual, which documents Myki’s business rules:

Where a product already exists on a customer’s myki (a 2 hour product, Daily product or a myki pass) that is valid for a zone(s) and the customer makes a journey that consists of, or includes, travel in a zone(s) for which the existing product is not valid, the fare for the journey is the 2 hour fare for all zones for which the existing product is valid combined with the zone(s) for which the existing product is not valid minus the 2 hour fare for all zones for which the existing product is valid.

I’m recognising the individual words, but translating it into an equation where it pays you $1.52 is a bit beyond me at present.

And what’s staggering is that nowhere in the fare calculation logic did they include a sanity check that says: Is the final fare less than zero? If so, set it to zero, because it doesn’t make sense to have a negative fare.

Myki 2015 bus signage

If they want Myki to work smoothly, they should stop messing with the fare structure

This issue has occurred since the zone changes on 1st of January.

After all the problems Myki has had, the politicians should know better than to mess with the ticketing system like this, but having come up with the clumsy plan to cut prices by removing two-zone fares[1], the boffins at PTV and their contractors had to find a way to implement it.

I had assumed they would expand zone 1 to cover all of zone 2 as well (thus making a huge overlap area, but reflecting how they changed the tram zones in 2010), but they seem to have implemented it in a different way, which probably explains why they no longer sell a Zone 1 Pass — instead they sell a Zone 1+2 Pass (at the price of a zone 1-only Pass), or a slightly cheaper Zone 2-only Pass.[2] I suspect this bug won’t appear using one of the new Zone 1+2 Passes.

Who knows how many thousands of people have those existing Zone 1 Passes which have this quirk. (On weekdays these correctly give free travel in zone 2.) That said, it’s probably not the kind of issue that’ll see lots of people trying to gain a $1.52 credit.

Myki check, showing $1.52 credit

It’s not the first time a political decision has caused headaches with Myki. The removal of zone 3 in 2007 (well after Myki had started being built, but before the public rollout started) meant problems for the higher numbered regional zones, and eventually left Lara station in three zones: 2, 3 and 4. As with the latest change, they would have done better to reduce all fares rather than remove zones.

The result is, I suspect, a bug which will affect existing Zone 1-only Passes, until these have all expired, and been replaced by Zone 1+2 Passes over the next year or so.

  • [1] All that money — $1.5 billion over ten years — paid to build and run the Myki system, and now most trips all cost the same price. Terrific.
  • [2] Of course they also sell Passes for other regional zones. This article concentrates on Melbourne zones 1 and 2.
  • TheMykiUser has also written a blog post on this issue

Update Tuesday: The Age — Myki: now it’s paying you to travel