This week marks the first weekday shutdown of the Frankston line for level crossing removal works. It lasts until Sunday, but there will be a lot more later in the year.
And obviously more on various lines as the many level crossing removals take place. Gradually it’ll affect most of Melbourne’s train lines, so I think it’s worth exploring in some detail.
I’ve got a post coming on the bus replacement services themselves, but first I wanted to post this question:
Are they a paid service, or not?
There’s great confusion over this issue.
On Monday morning an Authorised Officer (AO) was at Bentleigh touching-on people’s cards, but he missed me. I touched-on as I boarded the bus.
On the Monday afternoon trip the bus actually had no Myki readers.
During other trips this week, I’ve asked stop staff and bus drivers, and had different answers. Some have said yes, touch-on if you can, others have said no, don’t do it.
One bus driver called out to the whole bus “never touch-on on a replacement bus service! The readers aren’t programmed for train replacement services!”
On a tram replacement bus service recently the bus driver repeatedly told boarding passengers not to touch-on, that it was free (though he also joked that people should feel free to slip him $5.)
The official word
Ask Metro and they tell you it’s a paid service.
— Metro Trains (@metrotrains) January 26, 2016
I’ve spoken to some of the Metro people involved in organising the services (hi if you’re reading). They’ve said the expectation is bus Myki readers won’t be used. People would touch-on at a station if their trip started on a train. If the trip started on a bus then transferred to a train, they’d touch-on at the first station they encountered, though in some cases AOs would touch them on at the bus stop. (This is what I saw on Monday morning peak, but they’re not around outside peak.)
That kind of makes sense. If there isn’t a train touch-on before you board the train, then you’d risk getting stuck at a fare gate when reaching the city, as well as a possible fine.
What does the manual say?
What does the bible, the Fares And Ticketing Manual, say?
Page 14: When replacement vehicles are provided, tickets are valid on the alternative services to the same extent as they applied on the original service.
OK. That makes sense. No problem there.
Page 62: If a replacement vehicle is provided for a train service and the replacement vehicle does not have any myki operating equipment on board, customers using a myki for travel must touch on using a myki reader at the departure railway station and touch off using a myki reader at the destination railway station.
This is nonsensical, particularly in this context.
Some of the buses have working Myki readers, some don’t. You don’t know until you board, and the railway station is up to 600 metres away, so it’s impossible to go and touch your card there. (In fact the stations are fenced off, with staff outside pointing you to the bus stop. You can’t go in.)
Even if the station were adjacent, is this really a sensible answer? If you first checked whether the bus had a working Myki reader, and if not went to use a station reader, you’d either delay the bus or miss it.
(By the way, there’s some fascinating/confusing stuff about Night Buses on page 63 that ticketing nerds might like to have a look at.)
It’s not a good sign that there are completely opposite answers depending on who you ask.
Thank goodness the almost-flat-fares means little chance of problems with default fares triggering overcharges.
Just make it free
So, are we thoroughly confused yet?
I’m no fan of free public transport, but I think it would make sense for all suburban train (and tram) replacement bus services to be free.
- In general, bus replacements are an inferior travel experience to trains. Few people experiencing them would agree they are “normal services”.
- Most passengers pay anyway on the train part of their trip, thus incur a fare anyway. (A notable exception is V/Line services which get completely replaced by coaches.)
- At busy times, every passenger touching on and off the bus would result in long delays at stops.
- Understandably they get buses from anywhere they can find them, so given some don’t have any Myki equipment, it should be consistent.
It doesn’t make sense to try and collect fares on these services. They might as well be free, and to avoid any doubt, the Myki readers (if installed) should be de-activated on these trips.
And if, as at Caulfield, extra (non-Myki) gates are open for passengers to enter from the buses, AOs should be deployed there to help passengers touch-on their cards as they come through.