The May 2018 Metro and Yarra Trams passenger load surveys were released last week.
It’s worth noting that load surveys are measuring what happens when the service is running as planned. It’s not designed to look at crowding during disruptions, it’s designed to guide future investment.
Here’s the TL;DR for Metro: After a reduction in the past couple of years, crowding is on the rise again. 9.8% of AM services are above the threshold, and 4.8% of PM services.
To me, this indicates that patronage has kept increasing, and the reduction in crowding in 2017 was thanks to the removal of some seats to increase standing space. Unfortunately on some lines there hasn’t been a huge number of new services added to the peak timetable in some years — only 5 across the networkwide AM peak between May 2015 and May 2018 according to the graph.
Here’s a summary of the state of the lines. Rather than use the figures concerning the number of trains that are overcrowded, I’ve pulled out the percentage of peak passengers travelling on overcrowded trains:
|Line||AM peak||PM peak||Notes|
|Alamein||0.0%||0.0%||Steady since 2012|
|Glen Waverley||0.0%||16.6%||Crowding increasing|
|Ringwood||7.4%||6.8%||Crowding increasing marginally in AM peak|
|Dandenong||16.8%||10.8%||Crowding dropped markedly from 2016 to 2017, but is on the rise again|
|Frankston||16.1%||5.3%||AM peak has been consistently more crowded since 2012. Dropped between 2015 and 2017, but rising again|
|Sandringham||0.0%||0.0%||In the past has been consistently more crowded in AM peak, but has improved a lot since 2016.|
|South Morang||24.0%||27.2%||This survey was before the Mernda extension opened, though that added extra services: AM peak increased from 15 trains in May to 20 now.|
|Hurstbridge||22.1%||0.0%||Increased crowding in AM peak. Continued duplication of the line will help run extra trains.|
|Craigieburn||23.6%||10.7%||Peaked in 2016 and has been dropping, but clearly still very crowded|
|Sunbury||18.4%||0.0%||Peaked in 2016 but has improved… for now.|
|Upfield||0.0%||0.0%||Crowding has dropped since 2016 despite no extra services; not really clear why. (The AM peak switch from 20 minute frequencies to 18 minutes was in 2012.)|
|Werribee||17.6%||5.7%||Similar to the Dandenong line; crowding had been improving, but has increased recently|
|Williamstown||0.0%||0.0%||As with Alamein, no crowding recorded since 2012|
Basically, crowding on the lines serving the growth areas of Melbourne (especially Sunbury, Dandenong, Werribee and South Morang/Mernda) can be expected to worsen over coming years if nothing is done.
Also worth noting: the focus is on peak hours, but there are now real problems outside peak hours, including weekends. Some lines run as little as every 40 minutes on Sunday mornings, and are packed. This should be an easy win to fix, but seems to be a blind spot for the government.
The load survey notes say that counts are actually done between 6am and midday, and 2pm and 7pm. It’d be interesting to see the data from the middle of the day, when some lines see a big service frequency reduction.
Tram crowding has also worsened, with load breaches primarily on Swanston Street/St Kilda Road, and Elgin/Lygon Street (routes 1 and 6), particularly in the morning peak.
Other hotspots in the AM peak include Wellington Parade (routes 48/75 — I’m betting mostly the 48, which usually uses small trams), and on Clarendon Street (route 12, another with small trams).
And there’s a twist: for the first time, they measured a “non-cordon” (eg non-CBD) location: route 82 at Droop Street and Ballarat Road — and found that too is overcrowded in the AM peak.
Perhaps this should be no surprise: despite huge urban renewal around Maribyrnong, this route is one of the least frequent in Melbourne (only every 15 minutes in peak) and runs all small trams.
One can understand where the debate about population and decentralisation is coming from – prompting talk of (among other things) fast rail to the regions.
But if decentralisation just means fewer people moving into Melbourne (which at least has some semblance of a public transport network) and more moving into regional areas (many of which really don’t have any public transport, apart from a small number of buses and trains) then that’s not a good outcome. It just means more car dependence and sprawl in towns around the state.
Plus our local decision makers haven’t yet learnt that big cities can and do deal with congestion… just not by building more motorways. They can’t necessarily eliminate congestion, but they can ensure that more people can get around without being caught in it, by providing alternatives to driving.
Can PT cope?
You can argue that public transport in Melbourne and Sydney isn’t coping with our growing population.
But it’s incorrect to claim it can’t cope… because we haven’t really tried.
- Australia has no metro systems (Sydney’s one line under construction doesn’t make a system) — frequent services all day until midnight, with dedicated routes? Suburban rail can transition to it, but it’s a frustratingly slow process
- There’s almost no proper light rail with real on-road and traffic light priority — the Gold Coast is the only example in the nation.
- Frequent buses with priority? Very rare. Brisbane is perhaps the only city doing this seriously, and even there the busways are arguably doing the job that should be done by trains.
Meanwhile, Melbourne’s recently opened major rail projects were very welcome, but:
- Tarneit/Wyndham Vale/Caroline Springs/Melton etc need a metro or a suburban service, but got a regional train service which is predictably struggling
- Mernda got a “Metro” connection that runs as little as every 30-40 minutes
None of this is good enough in a city of 5 million people and growing.
While successive Victorian governments haven’t really tried in a serious way to fund high frequency high capacity public transport, they’ve tried everything they can to get the motorways to cater for growth.
More and more lanes, “managed motorways” (metering aka traffic lights, dynamic speed limits, automated lane signage).
It doesn’t work. Ultimately, moving millions of people around in their own metal boxes simply doesn’t work… which is why the smartest big cities have fewer motorways than we do.
The time has come for proper, turn-up-and-go, big city public transport. Our government must do better.
- On Wednesday I participated in a forum on ABC Radio. The full audio is here. Transport is the middle section, but the whole thing (also covering housing and crime) is worth a listen.