The perils of comparison studies

On Friday a number of UK publications posted news articles about a Deutsche Bank report saying that London’s public transport fares are the highest in the world.

The comparison was of a monthly public transport pass.

Most of the news reports listed only the top three most expensive cities; London, Dublin and Auckland, and the cheapest: Mumbai.

I wondered where Melbourne ranked. The BBC report was the only one to list beyond the top three; it showed Melbourne at number 9, with a monthly Pass costing £82 (US $106).

It was also the only one to link to the source Deutsche Bank report. The report is not about public transport specifically, it’s about cost of living in numerous categories, in 47 cities. (Note: 47 cities is not the entire world.)

Looking through the Deutsche Bank report, they’d got figures from various places. The public transport fares had come from a web site called Expatistan, which compares cost of living indicators — indeed, Deutsche Bank credits them for most of their pricing data:

Most of our price data is collected from Expatistan (www.expatistan.com). We would like to give special thanks to the founder Gerardo Robledillo for permitting us to use this data and for assisting us in collating historical data from the website.

Clicking through to have a look at their page about Melbourne, I found they had a monthly public transport pass listed at A$136.

The problem is, this is wrong. A 30-day Pass actually costs $147.60 (excluding the cost of the Myki ticket). It looks like their price is about two years out of date.

Edit: It’s been pointed out that a 28-day Pass is about the right price. But 28 days isn’t a month (usually!)

Expatistan’s information is comprehensive… but it’s also crowd-sourced. This can be problematic — Deutsche Bank notes:

Much of our data is from sources that utilize crowdsourcing techniques to collect and aggregate price data. While this methodology provides them with regular data updates from a large sample, there may be issues with data quality and consistency over time. … Do note thus that prices, changes and ranks should be considered representative with considerable room for measurement and sampling error.

A few clicks and I was able to update the Melbourne price on Expatistan, but it’s not being accepted until I guess others enter the same data.

Trains at Milsons Point station

Sydney was ranked 7th most expensive by Deutsche Bank. Expatistan says it’s A$147, but it’s not clear how this was calculated given there is no monthly pass available. The weekly cap on Opal is A$60, so a monthly cap would be at least $240 for four weeks.

Even the provenance of the London figure quoted in all those articles is uncertain. The Deutsche Bank figure quoted is US$174. The Expatistan figure is UKP £134, which matches the USD figure. But £134 doesn’t match anything on the current official price list – the closest logical match is a zone 1 Monthly ticket, which is £126.80.

Zone 1 only covers central London. The New York City price doesn’t match the official price (USD $121) either, perhaps because it changed in March. But even if it did, that’s not really a valid comparison, as the NYC fare covers the entire subway and local bus network.

So really the fare comparison part of the study is problematic.

Perhaps I’m over-thinking it, but when I did fare comparisons in the past for the PTUA, I went to official sources of fare information, and I was as careful as possible to ensure I was comparing apples with apples.

In this case, the media quotes Deutsche Bank, who used Expatistan, who trust in their users and their algorithms. And data points I’ve checked are wrong, and/or, in my opinion, not equivalent enough to be compared.

The lesson here is: Don’t believe everything you read.

And when a study boldly states a conclusion, do a little digging, to understand how they got there.

Old photos from April 2007

Another in my series of ten year old photos.

The old Olympic Doughnuts caravan, well before the shops along Irving Street were demolished to make way for additional station platforms.
Olympic Doughnuts, Footscray, April 2007

Footscray station snapped from the old (uncovered, ancient) overpass. This is platform 1, which has now become platform 3.
Footscray Station, April 2007

Despite The Met having been long since gone, this sign still survived as a guide to which buses departed Footscray from where. In summary: they’re all over there.
"The Met" bus routes sign, Footscray Station, April 2007

Footscray bus interchange. It’s still pretty much the length of Paisley Street (a not-very-handy 3-5 minute walk from the station, whose major renovation a few years ago didn’t touch the bus stops). The biggest difference is that these days most of the buses are decorated in PTV orange.
Footscray bus interchange, April 2007

The PTUA Office is rarely staffed nowadays, but is still in Ross House in Flinders Lane. From time to time, space became available in the window, and we’d decorate it with our propaganda. I don’t know how many members we ever got from it, but I guess you’ve gotta try. (Want to support PTUA? Join Now.)
PTUA display at Ross House, April 2007

V/Line Sprinter trains at Southern Cross Station.
Southern Cross Station, April 2007

It might be hard to believe, but the old tram stop at Spencer and Bourke Streets was even worse than the one that’s there now. The exit was constricted (though only with barriers on one side, so at least people could spread out if there was no tram present). But no platform, virtually no shelter, and not enough capacity for more than one tram.
Spencer and Bourke Streets, April 2007

Bourke Street Mall during the Comedy Festival. I see there’s an Armaguard van parked there. Nothing changes.
Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, April 2007

Free Hugs in Swanston Street. Does that still happen anymore? Note the “3 Mobile” shop sign — they merged with Vodafone in 2009. There’s also a tram Passenger Information Display — at the time, this was still the northbound tram stop.
Free hugs in Swanston Street, Melbourne, April 2007

This scene hasn’t changed: pedestrians crossing at Flinders Lane against the traffic, despite the oncoming cars. (Snapped for this blog post.)
Flinders Lane, Melbourne, April 2007

A walk along the river. Perhaps the skyline has changed a bit.
Melbourne, April 2007

Ormond: the Stacks Of Slax shop made famous by The Late Show was finally closing down. Nowadays the left hand side has been painted over, so all that’s left is “Of Slax.”
Stacks Of Slax, Ormond, April 2007

“Evict Connex!” said the protest banners. I don’t think it worked, as Connex got their contract renewed in August 2007 until November-2009. After that though, they got replaced by Metro Trains Melbourne.
Anti-Connex Trains protest, 12 April 2007

Yes, even back in 2007 I was narked off by motorists blocking pedestrian crossings.
Blocking the pedestrian crossing, April 2007

Finally, the fare gates in the Campbell Arcade underneath Flinders Street Station seemed to be left open a lot of the time. The year before, I’d documented it and turned it into a PTUA call for them to staff the gates properly, and a Herald Sun article based on that. Connex hadn’t listened, and continued to prefer to give fare evaders an easy time. Also notably, the number of gates hasn’t been increased despite crowding at peak times.
Flinders Street Station - Campbell Arcade, April 2007

So darling share this wine with me, we’ll be together on the eve of World War 3

Friday night concert! I was sold on Things Of Stone And Wood – though my compradres were really going for the support act, Club Hoy.

It might be cruel to call TOSAW a one-hit wonder, though none of their efforts charted as well as Happy Birthday Helen. But the song was on an album called “The Yearning” (1993) which I really really liked back in the day… perhaps apart from the title track, which seemed overly earnest and solemn. I liked it so much I had both the album on CD, and the EP of the single. Listening to the album today, it’s still terrific.

Friday night’s concert was a full performance of “The Yearning”, a near 25th anniversary performance. I admit, the last two concerts I’d been to were similar setups: Ocean Colour Scene’s Moseley Shoals, and Deborah Conway’s String Of Pearls.

A nostalgic Gen X-er and his money are easily parted.

Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

M and I made our way to Northcote and met up with Tony and Elizabeth. We found some dinner and as we chatted over some food, which gave Elizabeth and I a chance to hear Tony and M’s tale of being shushed for talking at a concert many moons ago by a fan of the support act. Don’t talk over Dave Graney!

A notice in the window of the Northcote Social Club gave us the running times of each act (and a song lyric on the sign above), and we opted for dessert over Rick Hart (sorry Rick).

We headed into the club at about 9:30 and found a spot close to the stage.

Club Hoy at the Northcote Social Club, 24/3/2017

Club Hoy came on, and were really good, despite two blokes behind us talking incessantly about the other concerts they’d been to (and presumably talked through).

After a few songs, another bloke trying intently to listen to the band turned around. “Shhhh!”

“Sorry mate”. They disappeared. I laughed and laughed (quietly). Thank you, defenders of support acts everywhere.

They finished up, and suddenly from nowhere, TOSAW fans filled the room, with the two biggest blokes in the place crowding out some of our view. Alas, Tony and Elizabeth bailed at this point to return home to their respective families before it got too late (it was about 10:30pm), which was a great pity because I think they missed a great show. (But I would say that; I accept I’m a Club Hoy newbie and a TOSAW fan.)

Things Of Stone And Wood, Northcote Social Club 24/3/2017

Lead singer Greg Arnold doesn’t look a day older – his long hair, beard and moustache probably help, and I was left wondering if he’s had them since 1993 or if he just grew everything out for the anniversary tour.

No matter. They rocked. It was a great show, with TOSAW tragics singing every word, but everyone present in the sold-out club seemed to enjoy it. And let’s face it, a good deal of what makes a great show is whether the crowd gets into it.

There was some nice band repartee as well. They seemed genuinely delighted to be there in front of such an appreciative crowd, and don’t seem to mind being known popularly just for Happy Birthday Helen (“it took us around the world”).

They answered something I’d long wondered: was The Yearning (track 7) meant to lead straight into Single Perfect Raindrop (track 8)? Why yes! But due to a miscalculation of sorts, on the cassette the effect was ruined, because you had to turn the tape over. No such problem on the CD.

After the 14 tracks of the album, they went on to play a few later songs, including one that sounded very familiar when I heard it: Wildflowers — which they remarked is unfortunately relevant again.

…as well as the B-side “She Will Survive”, with its very memorable lyrics about Jane Austen.

And then it was over. What a great show, and a great night out for $40.

If you remember them from back in the day, and have a chance to catch them (that show was sold out, but they’re on in Geelong this weekend), I can thoroughly recommend TOSAW.

Learning to drive

Masters Hardware couldn’t launch a viable business against Bunnings, and only a couple of years after launching, have closed up all their outlets.

As this photo shows, they also couldn’t construct a functioning pedestrian crossing:

But here’s one thing they did manage: they’ve provided empty car parks right across Australia for learner drivers to practice in.

Yes, we may be more public transport-oriented than most households, but we do have a car, and the time has come to teach my offspring how to drive.

They haven’t waited as long as I did (I was 27 when I got my licence), but neither have my kids jumped into it at the first opportunity. We ended up getting them Proof Of Age cards when they turned 18 because they hadn’t got Learners permits yet.

But it’s starting to happen now, and apart from paid lessons, we have headed down to Masters a couple of times. And both times, other L-platers have been doing laps as well.

As it turns out, it’s not perfect at South Oakleigh, because there’s an active supermarket at the other end of the car park, and an alarming number of motorists like cutting through the car park at diagonals to get to it. Sure, you may save five seconds, but you risk smashing into a learner driver.

Figuring out the clutch and manual gears seems to be about as hard and frustrating as I remember it being when I first learned.

(I’ve been thinking about upgrading my old car, which might include going to an automatic — more on this soon. Something for family discussion.)

Anyway, we’ll keep practicing, so thanks again, Masters.

Old photos from March 2007

Another in my series of ten year old photos: March 2007.

Smartbus advertising at Caulfield station. It was nice to see them promoting the frequent service, but there was only one problem: it wasn’t true. The Smartbus serving Caulfield (route 900) has never been better than every 15 minutes in peak. (And really, the frequency/radio thing is a bit lame.)
Smartbus advertising (March 2007)

The Town Hall tram stop in Collins Street. Yes, even back then, the entrance ramp was a bottleneck at busy times. Note the canvas roller for the destination displays – these days they’re all LEDs.
Collins Street/Town Hall tram stop (March 2007)
Collins Street/Town Hall tram stop (March 2007)

Train bingo at Richmond – tracks to/from platforms 2, 3, 4 and 5 have trains. Back then, Richmond’s platforms and ramps were largely uncovered. More shelter was added in 2015.
Trains at Richmond (March 2007)

Delays on platform 5 at Flinders Street. As I recall, it was a stinking hot day.
Delays on platform 5 at Flinders St (May 2007)

Glenhuntly station, then my local for some days of the week. A Comeng train crosses while a Z3-class tram waits. Despite the current level crossing removal program, this hasn’t changed – trams still wait while trains crawl across.
Tram waits for train, Glenhuntly (March 2007)
Tram waits for train, Glenhuntly (March 2007)

Also Glenhuntly; a Comeng train on platform 2, while a Siemens train arrives on platform 1. The earlier Siemens liveries were pretty ugly, but the Connex version was quite pleasing to the eye, I thought.
Trains at Glenhuntly (March 2007)

The Railway Museum at Williamstown, from a visit that month. Who is, or was Bill Bragg? Presumably not related to Billy Bragg the singer. I don’t know – searching Google didn’t find any answers. Anybody know?
Railway Museum, Williamstown (March 2007)

Also at the Railway Museum. I’ve been visiting since I was a kid. In many ways it hasn’t changed much.
Railway Museum, Williamstown (March 2007)

Flinders Street station; delays on platform 8.
Flinders Street Station (March 2007)

In 2008 I used this photo to compare to an old one from the same angle, and The Age subsequently reprinted them.
Sunday Age 12/10/2008

Another angle at Flinders Street, on the same day, in the mirror.
Flinders Street Station (March 2007)

Back at Glenhuntly, what a surprise, someone is queuing where they shouldn’t.
Glenhuntly; car queuing on level crossing (March 2007)

Something you never see anymore: the marker for a wheelchair to board a 3-car train. 3-car trains were the bane of evening and weekend travellers, resulting in horrible crowding at times. Nowadays they’re almost all 6-cars all the time.
3-car train wheelchair boarding point (March 2007)