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:
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.
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:
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.)
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:
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.