Night Network begins with fireworks

The PTV Night Network (formerly known as Homesafe) kind of sort of started on New Years Eve, with trains, all trams and the new Night Buses running for the first time.

For the rest of the weekend, trains, six tram routes and the Night Buses will run, meaning by the end of Sunday, many routes will have had service for 93 hours straight since Wednesday morning.

#Melbourne, you're looking lovely tonight

New Years Eve

It seems to have gone mostly okay, but disruptions to St Kilda trams and parts of the Frankston line suspended due to someone hit by a train at Mentone (and also a Glenhuntly level crossing fault) caused delays at times. There was also an incident between Footscray and Newport around 6:30pm which caused delays.

Pakenham train, approx 2:35am — this carriage is not completely full, but close to it (and I don’t know the context eg this might be after it’s emptied-out somewhat)
Pakenham train, 2:35am, 1/1/2016 (Pic: James Clark)
Source: James Clark

It also seems the hourly trains after 2am may be insufficient to deal with NYE crowds on the busiest/longest lines. An hour’s wait is never good, especially when it results in heavy crowding (or even people left behind), and there was at least one case of a service being cut short due to a faulty train, presumably leaving a two hour gap between trains.

Also notable was the lack of disruptions due to heat. There were no mass cancellations as seen during summer 2008-2009 — the upgrades since then to tracks, equipment and trains (including upgrading Comeng air-conditioning which used to be so problematic) seems to have solved this. Something I noticed which I hadn’t seen before was the use of water sprays on tracks on the city viaduct.

Of course whenever big crowds are present, there are some delays — and New Years Eve got around half a million people into central Melbourne alone.

Overall it seems to have gone fairly well — reflective of ten years experience since all-night New Years Eve services became a regular event in Melbourne. (See: How Melbourne got all-night NYE services)

So NYE was effectively Night Network but with (almost) all the trams running, and more trains before 2am.

Routes 78 and 82 finished an hour earlier than the usual Saturday times, which is ridiculous. No doubt there’s some clause in the contracts which says this is the way it is when NYE falls between Sunday and Thursday, but it makes no sense from a passenger point of view. Ideally those routes would run all night (it’s common to see people waiting in vain for them), but if not, they should at least run until the usual Saturday time. Yarra Trams’ slogan is “Think like a passenger”… hmmm!

Night Network starts

Night Network proper starts tonight. And without wanting to pre-empt the public reaction, here are some notes:

The old Nightrider network has been scrapped in favour of new Night Bus routes, which seek to complement the train network rather than duplicate it. This is good.

Some Night Bus routes depart from the CBD every half-hour. Other routes depart from suburban stations once an hour, timed to meet trains at at least one stop… though it’s unclear how bus drivers will know that the relevant train has arrived and/or if they will wait if it’s delayed.

There’s some concern about some of the Night Bus services and their roundabout routes, with some trips taking far longer on Night services than during the day. (The opposite is also true in some cases.)

Night Tram routes are precisely those pledged by Labor for the 2014 election. This obviously has us in the curious position of transport policy having been determined by the ALP’s policy wonks rather than by PTV, the independent body that’s meant to do transport planning in this state. But that’s political reality I guess.

Night tram signageNight bus signage

Most signage has gone up, with quite striking moon symbols and maps and timetables added to relevant bus and tram stops. (I spotted one suburban bus stop today with only temporary signage.)

The moon symbols are also shown in printed timetables against the new services. But there’s some confusion as the pre-existing (since 2006) post-midnight services are shown with a different designation to the Night services, even though they are effectively the same thing. That is, as far as I can make out, they run on exactly the same nights. Like the problem with NYE trams, this indicates to someone not “thinking like a passenger”. Ditto you have to turn the page to see times after 3am.

Frankston line timetable January 2016, showing Night Train services

The maps leave something to be desired. For some reason they’ve sought to emphasise the cross streets at many stops, which in some cases are quite obscure, rather than the major nearby feature (which is the reason for there being a stop there in the first place). Examples on the 979 route which runs through Bentleigh include: “Bent Street” instead of Bentleigh station (not clear why they haven’t used the stops closer to the station; possibly due to level crossing works), and “Wards Grove” instead of Moorabbin Hospital. I had to look up where Wards Grove was. But hey, I’ve only lived in the area for ten years.

Night Bus 979 diagram (altered to reduce whitespace)

These are just niggles though. Overall the network looks good, a big step forward with the only major sticking point being the hourly trains.

Yes, hourly trains will cope with the loads. But the danger is they won’t be frequent enough to attract lots of users. We’ll see. I suppose that’s one reason it’s a trial — I’m hopeful they’ll realise that the standing costs of running the train system (operations and security staff) mean the incremental cost of more trains is only minor.

Notably, other cities with 24-hour trains tend to run them more frequently, typically at least every 15-20 minutes. London’s Night Tube, expected to start later in 2016, will run trains mostly every 8-10 minutes. This is because they’ve grown night travel demand over many years via a very extensive night bus network, and are switching to trains now because capacity requires it.

We’ve jumped that progression and gone straight to all-night trains, but on a low frequency. We’ll see how people react. Hopefully they’re willing to actively check timetables and use the service.

I tend to agree with those who say it’ll have a profound effect on Melbourne’s night culture. It’s going to be fascinating to see how it goes.

  • Update 8/1/2016: The Age reports that preliminary Myki data shows around 10,000 people used the additional services on the first weekend; about three times the number that used the previous Nightrider service over a weekend in October — so it seems things are off to a good start.
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17 Replies to “Night Network begins with fireworks”

  1. Let’s not forget that this is not the first time that all-night transport has been provided (excluding the night trams that ran until the 1950s). There were the “Night Link” trams trialled over 1997/98. The current solution should be a lot more attractive though, as it’s a whole network, rather than a single mode – although the 1990s trams at least ran every 20 minutes instead of the new network’s 30 minutes. But they also ran on a weird route (Route 99) that went in a long loop through all of Melbourne’s night spots (even IIRC running over Swanston Trams tracks when the service was run by Yarra Trams, and Melbourne’s tram network was split in two). This meant that route familiarity was not there and people had to figure out where their tram was actually going from the woeful information that was shown at the stops. So this time round, with the moon symbol, and good timetable info, things should be a lot better. Let’s hope it’s a roaring success and gets expended in the future.

  2. Good luck getting a Route 78 tram up and down Chapel Street at that time of any Friday/Saturday night, let alone New Year’s Eve.

  3. Thanks for your summary and optimism – yes, let’s see how it works and hopefully there will be a measured evaluation of the service in a year’s time.
    Hourly services are a concern. Many city events finish at (sometimes unpredictable) specific times, such as a concert or movie. Using a timetable is no help if you have 55 minutes to “hang around” before the train/tram leaves. For most people, they could be home in bed within 55 minutes if they had a car in the city (After hours parking costs between nothing and $5 if you do your homework). That is the biggest turn off for me using late services.

  4. I am not happy for the 979 you have shown above.

    Firstly, to show a one way symbool for only one direction, where is the ‘outbound only’ symbool/pattern for the outbound section???

    Secondly, I am not that happy with the size of that loop. It is to say that, people who go to a disco in Dandenong, and lives near Parkmore S/C, you can ‘get stuffed’ in the mind of the PTV.

    What PTV really needs is, to have a network of regular bus routes. These bus routes run all day, 24/7, rather than have night time only bus routes. I trust there are plenty of the existing bus routes which could have operated overnight as well, rather than introduce these new bus routes. Confusing vs simple.

  5. I have one problem with the new night time bus signage: Stopped at the lights on the corner of North and Poath roads in East Bentleigh the sign on North Rd was so bright my eye was drawn to it and I kept thinking it was a red traffic light. I’m sure that bright fluoro orange will fade pretty quickly though.

  6. Looking at the network overall, my guess is that if any routes are added to the system, the first contenders will probably be the smartbus orbitals. I’m not familiar enough with the 905/6/7/8 but I’d guess there would be some duplication between them and the 961/966; and it looks like some combination of the 901, 903, 978 would make the 900 irrelevant (assuming frequency boosts).

    However, it looks like there would be significant duplication between the 901 and 969, between Knox City and Ringwood. If so, then could the resources used in keeping the end of 969, be better utilised elsewhere?

  7. A train or tram home is much cheaper than a taxi and I think this service will be well liked. Driving is often not a good option with expensive CBD parking and the fact that many people going out would like to have a drink and not have to worry about having to be sober enough to drive home. It will also discourage a bit people who have had too much to drink and that should not be driving from risking lives by driving when they shouldn’t be when a save and cheap alternative is available.

    A once an hour service is perhaps not the most convenient but it is still far better than no services at all. The trains, trams, tracks and other infrastructure are all already available and paid for. The only added costs I can see are for staffing and power for the trains. Fares should mostly cover the added costs so there is really no excuse for not providing the night services. Even if it not cost effective it will probably save lives (far more important in my opinion) at some point by avoiding people taking a risk driving home drunk and having a wreck. Many people in the hospitality industry and some other industries have to work late on weekends and this will give them a good way home too. Some hospitality jobs such as bakeries and others require an early start at work and these people will find these services useful too for getting to work at least on the weekends.

  8. @nick

    Is there any reason why Zone 2 is still not promoted as Zone 1+2?

    The fares for just travelling in Zone 2 is cheaper than in Zone 1.

  9. There is some logic behind only showing the moon symbol on the timetable for trains after 1.30am, at least for the Northern group:
    Trains run via the Northern loop until about 12.30am
    Then direct via Southern Cross until station close at 1.30am (leaving only one station open for the whole CBD)
    Then Night Train is express Flinders St – North Melbourne until first train Sat/Sun morning

    (I’ve just added this stuff to show the direct night trains in City Looper – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rockgecko.cityloop )

  10. Whilst yes, it is a trial, and yes, it is a good step forward, it’s a bit sad not seeing a better level of service at night to the western suburbs. Not one tram line from the Essendon depot running during, which is can only presume is a cost saving measure. I would have thought at the very least Route 59 would have been a shoo in given the levels of patronage it attracts during the day.

  11. It’s a step forward for sure, but I am not sure if an hourly train is better than a more frequent bus service, also providing better coverage. As it stands now, some areas previously served by NightRider are losing coverage and service (not stops between railway stations, and a reduction from every half-hour to hourly).

    My gut feeling is by the end of the trial, some lines will receive an increased frequency, and other lines may be replaced by bus services, hopefully at a higher frequency, as demand is better understood. Some of the bus route choices are also a bit odd, and this will most likely be corrected as the trial is evaluated.

    I guess any step forward is positive though, but it definitely seems to be crafted around political palatability, rather than practicality.

  12. Has the GTFS data on data.vic been updated to reflect the new timetables for 2016? Last I looked the update date was still a few months back but it mentions in the description that it will be updated weekly?

  13. Yeah the GTFS feed is up to date, and has the lat/long paths of the new Night Bus routes as well – but confusingly, the datestamp on the site is never updated.

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