Don’t be a jerk

I was looking through some old photos, and found these from November 1996.

I’ve scanned them from the negatives.

As you can see, they provide some good advice…

Don't be a jerk, Barbara Kruger - Melbourne, November 1996

Don't be a jerk, Barbara Kruger - Melbourne, November 1996

(Click on either photo to view it larger in Flickr)

Things to note here:

  • “Don’t be a jerk” is a work by Barbara Kruger, originally from 1984
  • Some of the well-known CBD skyscrapers are visible in the background, but more were to come over the following 22 years!
  • This is snapped from Flinders Street Station looking east across Swanston Street. The old Gas And Fuel building is being demolished to make way for Federation Square
  • In the first photo you can also just see the entrance to the old Princes Bridge station (look for The Met logo), which was also mostly demolished – apart from platform 14. Back then it also had platforms 15 and 16, used by terminating trains from Clifton Hill.
  • Z-class tram in The Met colours – this was before privatisation. Note the “Do not enter” signage on the rear door; these trams ran with seated conductors near the front, and later as driver-only. This particular tram, number 150, came into service in 1980, and is still in service, making it 38 years old.
  • No tram superstop. Just a “Safety zone”
  • I’m not sure what time of day this was. It looks pretty dark and rainy for November, but that’s what the scribbled note on the photo says!

Traffic light programming, and the tale of the Magic Laptop

The Magic Laptop

One evening many years ago some PTUA bods and I were meeting with a Vicroads bloke about traffic light priority and other related issues.

He had a laptop with him, and it displayed a diagram of a major intersection; I think it was somewhere out on Burwood Highway.

While pondering topics such as tram priority, he talked us through how the traffic light sequences worked, and how the traffic flows, showing us on the laptop.

And he showed us what would happen if the sequence was tweaked; part of the sequence runs for longer, causing some vehicles to pass through more quickly, some to be delayed a few seconds. Really interesting.

Someone asked: “So that’s a simulation?”

The response: “No, that’s real. It’s happening right now.”

So he’d been fiddling with the traffic lights in realtime, and local motorists were probably wondering why they were zipping through or being slightly delayed.

That wasn’t just a laptop, that was a Magic Laptop.

Spencer Street and Collins Street intersection

Programming traffic lights

Anyway, via this and other discussions with people who seem to know what they’re talking about, I get the sense that Melbourne’s traffic lights are reasonably flexible in terms of their configuration, and can be controlled remotely.

But there’s a limit. They can’t handle all scenarios automatically, so for instance when trials of absolute tram priority were done in Nicholson Street, it needed someone to manually control the lights to give a green for the tram.

There are also apparently limited resources, so opportunities to re-program traffic lights don’t come up as often as they’d like.

Why is it so?

Everywhere in government (as well as in the corporate world), if you go digging, you’ll find there’s usually a reason for something.

Sometimes it’s a reason which doesn’t quite make sense, or is outdated in the face of changing circumstances, but a reason nonetheless.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the traffic lights at Spencer and Little Collins Streets had an extraordinarily short green man, only about 18 seconds. Then the red man would flash for about another 10 seconds, and then there’d be a solid red man for a full 40 seconds before the parallel traffic light turned yellow.

This is utterly ridiculous in the central city, next to a major railway station, where pedestrians should be the priority.

Setting it like this is just goading people to cross against the lights.

I made enquiries with City of Melbourne, and discovered it is a road managed by Vicroads. So I approached them about it, and eventually I got a response.

Why was it like this? Because Spencer Street is closed for sewer works south of Collins, and they wanted to allow vehicles to detour into Little Collins easily.

But — as shown by the video — there wasn’t much traffic coming down Spencer that actually needs to detour.

Once they realised this, they set it back. Just like that. Someone probably clicked some buttons on a Magic Laptop, and it was done.

A good outcome, with some delicious technical tidbits in the email trail which I won’t publish, other than to say yes, they really do use the reference numbers on traffic control boxes.

(The few cars, and the number of people crossing Spencer Street against the lights would appear to indicate more needs to be done at this intersection to accommodate pedestrians. Note also that this is just metres from where the old pedestrian subway under the road from the station used to emerge.)

The bigger picture

I’ve also had a discussion about that super-annoying crossing at Centre Road/Eskay Road in South Oakleigh. I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently it’s been tweaked too.

But the bigger picture issue is that traffic lights (even in the CBD) are being programmed with poor outcomes for pedestrians. Sometimes as above there’s a reason — sometimes, apparently, it’s just an error.

Much the same issue occurred at Elizabeth/Little Collins a couple of years ago.

And more recently, City of Melbourne has put in brand new installations that failed to auto activate the green man, despite it being policy within the Hoddle Grid.

(And after they fixed that one, the timing was wrong, with — again — too little green man time.)

These things do make a difference. It’s not just about compliance and safety. The travel mode you want to thrive is the one you should encourage. Make it easier for people to walk, and more people will walk.

What I have learned is that Vicroads is now consulting on some of these issues with groups such as Victoria Walks. This is definitely progress.

Be polite, but firm

Individuals shouldn’t really have to get these things fixed. But in the real world, everybody (including Vicroads and City of Melbourne) is stretched for time, and clearly some things simply aren’t being spotted and fixed otherwise.

So…

Put in a report. Twitter may not be sufficient, so do it via their feedback web site. Include a photo if it’s at all useful.

Be polite. Scrupulously polite. You won’t get anywhere by shouting.

Explain your case. Present the evidence, the logic.

Keep a copy of your query text, and the reference number, because some web sites (such as Vicroads) don’t email you a copy back, and it may be useful at the next step.

If you get a pro forma reply which doesn’t make sense or doesn’t address the issue, query it. Be polite, but firm.

And with a bit of luck, and if your point is convincing, you might just get it fixed.

Of course, what I really want is a Magic Laptop.

Retail therapy

Just a quick few points while I work on a more complicated post that’s (inevitably) transport related

Shopping bags

Many major retailers are phasing out single-use plastic bags. Or to be precise, they’re phasing-out free bags.

This is not the first time Target has tried this. They stopped issuing free plastic bags in 2009, but brought them back in 2013. Part of the problem seemed to be that the bags they sold were the same as the previously free ones they’d given away. Other retailers sell higher quality bags.

An outright ban has been in place for all retailers in NT, Tas, SA and ACT, plus Qld and WA joined them on 1st July, which no doubt is why the retailers have pushed ahead. Victoria is set to follow at some stage. Unclear what NSW will do.

I’m happy to see this change. Yet there’s been some unbelievably ridiculous hand-wringing from some quarters:

C’mon. If you still want a bag, it’s typically just 15 cents to buy one. FIFTEEN CENTS! That’s just one percent of a $15 shop.

For me, the only behaviour change is I now stuff a green bag into my work bag, so I have it for my detours to the supermarket on the way home.

We’ll all adapt. In fact, at this IGA at Nagambie (snapped on 30th June, before Coles switched) the locals seemed to be coping without any fuss whatsoever.

Nagambie IGA: Bring your own bags

Update 2/8/2018: Coles backflipped on 1st of August and made the reusable bags free for an indefinite period.

Then the next day they backflipped again, and said the free bags will end on 29th August.

Dish washer

The Fisher and Paykel dishwasher, which had been in my house since I moved here in 2005, broke down again.

I’d previously thought that, given it was a pretty old model (circa 2000), I’d replace it the next time it failed, so that’s what I did, and found a good price on a Bosch.

Why Bosch? The Bosch washing machine I bought nine years ago hasn’t skipped a beat, and they also rate very well on the Choice web site (which is well worth joining if you’re grumpy that The Checkout hasn’t been renewed).

I paid the installation fee. While it didn’t take long, it was satisfyingly complex enough that I’m glad I did.

Dishwashers aren’t for everybody, but I hate washing dishes, so for me, this is money well spent.

The new car: 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer

The new car arrived

I picked up the new car last night. That’s it above.

I suspect the web has changed the shopping experience. I no longer go and look around car dealerships unless I already know what I want.

The car dealers I’ve dealt with during this saga seem less slimy than the ones I encountered the first time I bought a car.

When scouring Carsales, I had pondered that if I saw the perfect deal somewhere out in the country, I’d be willing to go to grab it. In the end I bought from a local dealership, which will make servicing it with them to maintain the warranty much easier.

In fact as part of the handover, they showed me where the service area is, and how the after hours drop-off/pick-up works. Clever. The chief service guy there recognised me from when he used to work on my old Magna years ago. Heh.

The dealer bloke showed me the basics of the car, then sent me on my way.

Amusingly/horrifyingly I scraped the bottom of the steep driveway just exiting the dealership. Can’t see any visible marks. Also amusingly, I thought the engine was revving loudly on the drive home, until I realised it was in Sports mode, not Drive. Oops.

Today I’ve sat in the car for a while with the manual and figured out all the controls. Or at least, the important ones.

The psychology of buying a new car and wanting to drive places is powerful.

Anyway, I like it so far, though I could do without the spoiler, which I don’t think helps visibility out of the back window. Perhaps I should have asked if the car was available without it.

What, yet ANOTHER rebranding?

Although it doesn’t involve removing level crossings, the Mernda rail extension is being built by the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA).

This LXRA tweet last week got some attention, and not just from those who have been long awaiting the project’s completion:

Perhaps unintentionally, the tweet text has a double meaning: the font is different from those used previously (it’s the newish Network Sans, especially commissioned for PTV) and the PTV logo, recently plastered over everything, is missing.

Signs in this style were also installed at the new Huntingdale bus interchange earlier this year. (“Hail bus”? Really?)

Huntingdale bus interchange

The PTV logo is also missing off the latest rail map which started rolling out in early 2017.

Okay, is THIS the final rebrand?

There have been so many public transport rebrandings over the years, most of us have lost count.

In some parts of Melbourne, just in the past 25 years, we have seen the trains branded as:

  • The Met/PTC
  • Bayside Trains / Hillside Trains
  • M>Train (on the Bayside trains lines)
  • Connex (on the Hillside lines, then across the system)
  • Metro
  • PTV

This is in contrast to Victorian Railways, which ran the trains from 1859 to 1983. The branding would have changed over time, but at least the name remained the same (apart from shortening to Vicrail in the 1970s).

Now what? TfV? Unclear, since the TfV isn’t appearing on these signs either.

I really hope it’s not another full rebrand. Perhaps it’s just a stripping things back to the colours, at least on station signage.

But hopefully it’s the last major change, and hopefully it’s a gradual rollout as signs need replacing, rather than a huge expensive fast replacement.

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Where did the colours come from?

The modal colours — green for trams, orange for buses, blue for trains, purple for V/Line — were devised around 2003, and introduced with the Metlink (and Viclink) signage across the network.

The Metlink changes were a good start at unifying the branding, which had long been a complete mess, with individual train and tram operators having quite different styles of maps and signage when the system was initially split-up and privatised (1999-2004), and there had long been similar issues across the many bus operators.

The Metlink branding didn’t include vehicle liveries, but did at least put Metlink logos on everything, and made all the signage standard, with colours for each mode, and wayfinding showing connections between them.

Later PTV branding expanded the scheme to vehicle liveries, by taking the Metro design and adopting it for trams and buses too.

Why did they choose those colours? Well, we don’t know for sure, but…

Green has long been associated with trams. The Met used it in the 1980s (for all modes), and this in turn harked back to the Melbourne Metropolitan Tramways Board (formed in the 1920s) which had used green initially when the St Kilda Road route was electrified in 1925, then later for their entire fleet.

Blue was used as the main colour for the Victorian Railways, first introduced in 1937 on the Spirit Of Progress, and included on the “blue” Harris suburban trains rolled out from the 1950s, and used on other pre-1980s regional carriages.

Orange was a colour used extensively across all modes of Victorian public transport in the 1970s and 80s, including prominently on the MMTB bus fleet, which might explain why it’s ended up as the Metlink/PTV bus colour.

And purple for V/Line? Perhaps they just wanted something different to the others – as far as I can make out, there is no particular precedent for using purple.

I don’t mind the current set of colours. They seem to work quite well, including on signage that needs to point people between multiple modes. And having been around for about fifteen years, people are getting used to them.

Flagstaff Station main entrance

Patterson station: PTV and Metlink

Logos

While Metlink had a single compact logo, which some described as a fish, PTV took over from Metlink, triggering a rebrand.

I’m not enamoured of the PTV logo, and I’m not disappointed to see it vanish off the signs (though I hope this will be a gradual phaseout as signs are replaced, rather than yet another huge expensive replacement exercise).

The removal of the PTV logo may reflect that parts of its job have been moved across to new umbrella body Transport for Victoria (TfV for short).

Let’s face it, the PTV logo was never very good. Although arguably it’s quite recognisable, in some contexts the sideways V risks being confused with a right-pointing arrow. Three letters is arguably too clumsy to use so widely and prominently.

The Metro M logo (and name), for instance, is far stronger, but of course only represents one mode. Prominent blue signs on the street with a strong distinctive logo representing trains make it far easier to find a railway station when you’re in an unfamiliar place.

Alas the Metro logo has been mostly removed from the trains and stations, in favour of the PTV logo.

Comeng train in Metro livery

A citybound train arrives at Southland Station

Bentleigh station signage

The Metlink squiggle logo was also the type of shape you could use more prominently and universally, though to my mind it was never terribly well recognised — perhaps it wasn’t around long enough.

If only we could come up with something simple and recognisable, and stick to it, like the London Transport logo, which originated in 1908 on the Underground, but is now used with various colours and labelling to represent the entire London transport system.

London Overground: Shepherd's Bush station

As shown above, the Brits use the old British Rail logo (dating back to 1965) to represent anything to do with the National Rail network.

Over in Belgium, a giant B logo (used since 1936) adorns railway stations:

Bruges railway station

In Brussels you might be looking for the blue M of the Metro — using this letter is very common around the world:

Brussels Metro entrance signs

Sydney ferry terminal branding

Sydney has moved to single letters to represent trains (T), ferries (F), buses (B) and light rail (L). It seems to work — the single, strong letter has potential to be very recognisable, though I’m not sure about the four different letters having so little else to unite them. But at least they have a plan, and are rolling it out progressively.

It ties into the branding of rail and ferry routes, T1, T2, F1, F2 and so on, which is quite clever; I mean to blog about this another time… though arguably the ferry routes F1, F2 may confuse some with freeways, which in NSW also use F. (I wonder if they’ll use M for the new Metro lines, or stick with T for trains?)

Is an icon better than a letter, or a letter better than an icon? Pros and cons either way.

The point is, these types of logos are very recognised, thanks to having had a long life, and a good design that you can put them anywhere and everywhere — prominently on the top of a building, or even on directional signage.

This example, part of the “Legible London” wayfinding strategy to me, very clearly communicates that there’s an Underground station nearby, because the logo matches what’s on the stations.

Legible London

On some of central Melbourne’s wayfinding signage, the icon for trains doesn’t really leap out at you, despite it being perhaps the most important destination marked on the sign… though at least it’s the same train logo used by PTV on the signs outside stations.

Central Melbourne wayfinding

Victoria’s new (apparent) strategy of removing organisational logos in favour of just modal icons and colours might work… but then you lose that message about who to contact if you need information. How many people would remember to Google “PTV” if they didn’t see the logo plastered everywhere?

The branding on the signs ties back to what’s used on the vehicles, printed material including maps — and even the colours used on those maps, which in turn show up on the rainbow status boards and Live Updates web site.

I certainly don’t have all the answers here, but I recall chatting to a contact in the bureaucracy when the rail map was being drafted — they are thinking about these issues, and how all the branding ties together.

Part of any service is promotion, and a vital part of the public transport network is easy to use signage, and a branding strategy that works… and that doesn’t keep changing. In Melbourne, longevity might be the biggest failing.

Hopefully this time around we’ll see a good cohesive design, gradually rolled-out across the network, that they’ll actually stick with for more than a few years.

I finally bought a new car

Apologies for the following long ramble about buying a car.

The costs of cars (Do I even need one?)

My prolonged hunt for a new (used) car got me thinking about how much they have cost me… and how long I’ve kept them.

My first car was a 1993 Mitsubishi Magna (pictured above), which I bought in 1998 for, as far as I remember, $11,800. (In 2018 dollars this is about $19,600)

In 2008, by the time it had 215,000 kms on the clock, it was only good for scrap when I sold it, getting back only about $250.

My second car was a 2000 Holden Astra, which I bought in 2008 for $10,990. (In 2018 dollars this is about $13,900.)

At the time it had 117,000 kms on the clock; ten years later it’s now at 180,000, and is basically worth almost nothing, which is a bit annoying as about a year ago I spent $500 on brand new tyres for it.

So basically, the two cars I’ve had have depreciated by about $1100 per year.

What other costs? Insurance roughly $400 per year (though it used to be higher when I was younger). Rego about $800 (this is rising, not reducing).

Petrol: I fill up about 4-6 weeks. Looks like I spent $518 on fuel in 2017.

Maintenance and repairs? So far since the start of 2017 I’ve spent about $1600. This is probably going up as the car gets older, so let’s guess an average of $600 per year.

So in a year, costs of about $3400, over double the cost of my annual Myki fare.

With average annual car travel of about 6300 kms (which is under half the Australian average, by the way) that’s about 54 cents per kilometre.

My usual driving pattern is that I use the car on the weekends, but rarely during the week. Mostly those weekend drives are around the suburbs, but a few times a year it’ll be a longer trip to visit relatives in the country.

What if I didn’t own my own car?

The only car share scheme in my area that I know of is Car Next Door – vehicles cost about $20-30 per day plus about 33 cents per kilometre.

Based on my annual kilometres, that works out to be roughly 20% more than paying to own my own vehicle. If my weekend drives were occasional, it’d probably be cheaper, but not if driving a bit almost every weekend.

Of course if using car share, you’re likely to make more of your trips using other modes. Countering that: my sons are about to learn to drive, so demand for a vehicle may go up a bit.

So for now, I’m thinking I need to continue owning a car, at least until PT is so good that the PTUA has no purpose!

What I want in a car

So I got to shopping. What did I want?

  • 5-star ANCAP rating – Nothing gets you thinking about safety like your offspring learning to drive
  • High used-car safety rating if an older model
  • Automatic — after 20 years of being intimidated by hill starts, I think I’ve had enough of Manuals (and my sons don’t seem interested in learning on one)
  • Cruise control for country driving
  • Something a bit bigger/roomier than the Astra, but not too big, so it’s reasonably fuel-efficient. Small to medium-sized, while noting that small cars are now about the size of that Magna I used to own
  • Reliable/as new as possible, of course. (Just to filter down the options, I decided to stick to Japanese brands, as a synonym for reliability)
  • Preferably white, it’s meant to be safer
  • Nice to have: alloy wheels make the whole car a bit lighter, which may be more fuel efficient, or so they tell me
  • I’m quite enamoured of indicators on mirrors. Possibly they are more visible to pedestrians, but in any case I just like them. I’m not sure why. (Apparently they’re officially referred to as “door mirrors with integrated turn indicator”)
  • Daytime running lights are now a mandated European standard, apparently help safety, particularly with visibility to pedestrians. (I have fog lights on my current car. I don’t think I’ve ever used them.)

What would fit the bill?

Apart from HowSafeIsYourCar, you can also peruse the full MUARC report, though it’s a bit hard to read:

MUARC: Crash worthiness ratings for small cars

Working out the costs of motoring, above, especially the real costs of purchase back in the day, and the money lost in depreciation, made me feel a lot better about shopping for a car in the $15,000 range, to get something as new as possible, and of course with a 5-star ANCAP rating.

After talking to relatives, I concluded that everybody likes the car they drive. Stepfather likes Subaru; sister likes her Mazda 3; cousin likes his Mitsubishi Lancer. (All Japanese brands. Hmm.)

After noting the high safety rating, I did start looking at Subaru Impreza for a while, but there aren’t that many of them about for sale, and you have to spend well over twenty grand to get an almost new model with those nice indicators on mirrors and daytime running lights. Not that they’re essential by any means.

I was also a little nervous about reviews which remarked that Subarus can be a little fussy on maintenance. Which means to minimise risk it’d be a pricey dealer service every time.

So, back to the Carsales web site to do some more searching and researching. (By the way, the Carsales mobile web site lets you search for specific feature in a car, such as Cruise Control. I can’t see that feature on the desktop/standard web site.)

I just bought a new car

While out for a walk the other morning, looking at various cars I saw along the way, I wondered:

Considering I spent over $19,000 (in 2018 dollars) on my first car, back when I had relatively little money, what about upping the budget a bit so I could stop compromising so much and get everything on my list?

I am lucky enough that I can (just) afford to do this.

Mitsubishi Lancer

An ad caught my eye: a demonstration model 2017 Mitsubishi Lancer for $18,500 (drive away price). Retail price for the 2018 model (in automatic) is $21,990.

I like the size and the style (though I could do without the “bum enhancement”).

$18,500 is more expensive than I’d like, but let’s look again at the maths:

  • Servicing on a used car could easily be $500-800 per year, and is often wildly unpredictable, especially the older the vehicle gets. But many brands of new car have capped price servicing. In this case, it’s a maximum of $230 per year for the first three years, so potentially a saving of at least $750 over three years, but even beyond that, repairs are hopefully going to be cheaper on a newer vehicle. (Plus warranty.)
  • A new car also comes with a full year of rego, saving up to $800 — many of the used cars available only have a few months
  • It’s new, so there’s no need to pay for a pre-purchase inspection, saving about $225-250
  • It also comes with four years of roadside assistance, saving about $50 per year (for budget roadside assistance companies) to $105 (the base level for RACV) per year

So in the first four years, potentially a saving of around $2000. And given how much I hate buying cars, I can keep a brand new car for longer.

Suddenly buying a discounted demo car at about $18K seems not a bad proposition compared to a used car at $15K, so I went and test drove it. I quite liked it. It seems odd that the Lancer is being discontinued (and not replaced) at the end of 2018.

Anyway, I decided to go for it. Although it was a demo car, the dealer said it’s actually brand new, sitting in a holding yard somewhere until it can be delivered.

Trade-in? Worth almost nothing, unfortunately, a couple of hundred dollars. But I knew that going in, so at least I wasn’t disappointed.

But we did that little haggle dance around the final “changeover” price, and I did manage to get a bit of a discount, and floor mats thrown in.

The main guy handed me over to a lady who organised payment and delivery, and also offered some extra options like tinting, paint protection… They made the mistake of giving me a minute or two to Google and find this Choice article: Useless car extras revealed, leading me to opt out of those.

So anyway, I’m getting a new car. And not just a new car, but a new car.

It arrives in about two weeks.

Hopefully by the time I’m done with it in a decade or more, electric cars will be plentiful and cheap, and/or public transport will be at a standard where I don’t need to drive regularly on the weekend.

  • Niggling doubt: rather than a sedan, should I have bought another hatch? Will I be cursing myself the next time I need to bring home flatpacks from Ikea? Mind you the specs say it does have the 60/40 split folding seats
  • Of course, having been researching cars for months, every online advert I now see is for cars.

PS: This crash test between a 1998 Corolla and a 2015 Corolla shows the value of newer cars with improved safety features:

…That said, it’s notable that older cars often have poor safety ratings now, but did well in ANCAP tests at the time. They don’t have the 1998 Corolla ANCAP results still available, but the 2009 model scored 5/5 at the time, but only rates 2/5 now based on accident statistics.