Most crowded stations

It’s been very busy the last week or two, which is why the blog has been a bit quiet.

Apart from the day job, this week I’ve been to two MTF transport forums (Melbourne, and Glen Eira), and a PTUA committee meeting.

There are more MTF forums (fora?) in the coming weeks, and if you’re interested in this topic, they’re well worth attending. Details here.

At the Glen Eira session on Wednesday, one of the panel members remarked that Caulfield station needs an upgrade, because it’s the tenth most crowded station.

I agree on both counts! But as usual it can be useful to trace back the source of the information.

How did they know Caulfield is the tenth most crowded?

Because it was in this ABC story:

ABC story: most crowded stations

Where did the ABC get it? They asked the PTUA.

How did the PTUA calculate it?

Ummm… well…

There are different types of crowding: on the trains, and in and around the stations.

Some stations are particularly bad for train crowding. Even when the service is running well, it can be difficult to squeeze aboard at the height of peak hour. Typically these stations are the last “minor” stops before the inner-city, where the trains are at their most crowded. Hawksburn and South Kensington are examples of this.

At other stations, it’s a struggle getting in and out because of constrained and crowded platforms, stairs, ramps, subways, entrances and exits. Flinders Street is an example, where during morning peak (when full trains arrive and disgorge passengers) the infrastructure struggles to cope with the sheer number of people exiting and interchanging.

At some stations they suffer from both of these problems. South Yarra, Richmond and others.

Glenhuntly station: passengers waiting for passing freight train

There’s relief on the way for some of these issues.

  • Flinders Street has already gained a new exit to the river, and extra gates in the centre subway, with more changes coming.
  • A recent announcement revealed South Yarra and the adjoining tram stop will get upgrades — though given high-rise apartment development around the station, ultimately it probably needs a second (northern) concourse to take the pressure off.
  • The level crossing program can allow more trains to run if the busiest lines are largely free of crossings, and the newly rebuilt stations are typically more spacious and efficient for passenger movements. The first steps towards this are starting, with more evening (post-peak) services running on the Dandenong line from next week.
  • And the whole metro tunnel project is geared towards separating out lines to run more services to relieve crowding on trains, particularly on lines that currently share the Loop tunnels with the services that will use the new tunnel.

Crowded train

Getting back to that list. Can these factors be measured?

Train crowding yes, via passenger load surveys. Station crowding is more difficult.

So when asked “which stations are the most crowded”, I looked at a bunch of factors, including observations and opinions from fellow passengers, but it wasn’t a scientific or mathematical measure.

It’s anecdata! And apart from South Yarra being nominated as the “worst”, the stations weren’t strictly ranked. But people love a list, even if it’s not actually meant to be in a particular order.

So. Yeah. Caulfield, 10th most crowded? Well, kinda sorta!

With growing patronage and a future role as a metro tunnel interchange, does it need an upgrade? You bet!

The desire to drive, and how we must counter it

I am discovering that there’s some powerful psychology going on when you get a new car.

Playing into this for me is that my old car was wearing out, and was getting difficult to drive, plus the change from manual to automatic.

This means the new car seems like a breeze to drive.

The “new car smell” is real, and somehow makes it seem pleasurable to sit in the driver’s seat.

The extra features – even on this model which was as cheap as I could buy in the size I wanted – are (I’m guessing) designed to appeal, to make you want to be in the car (and thus to drive it).

Some designers have identified cupholders specifically as desirable, with some perhaps unlikely explanations:

Rapaille says women love cup holders because — and this is really what he told her — cup holders mean coffee, and coffee means safety, because of the memories we all have of our mothers preparing coffee with breakfast.

And this: Anthony Prozzi, design manager for Ford in Michigan, explains that “part of a designers job is to play psychologist, anthropologist and sociologist, and knowing those things helps you read consumers and know what puts a smile on their faces.”

Lancer manual: cup and bottle holders

My new car has a spot to put a bottle in the door (like my old car did) plus cupholders in the centre between the front two seats. So I can have two drinks within easy reach if I want… while the manual warns you not to actually use them while driving. Plus it’s got a spot for a packet of tissues, in case I have a spill.

I suppose car manufacturers have been at this game for a long time. You’ve bought their product for thousands of dollars – they want you to feel good about it, so that in time you’ll want to upgrade to another one.

The net result is that – even for someone like me, who understands the consequences of driving, and doesn’t like driving – I feel like I want to drive it.

I’d never drive it to work. Parking is too expensive, traffic is too soul-destroying, and (usually) the train is too good.

But it’s tempting to drive it other places where PT options are fewer – and I can understand why some people would be tempted to drive every day, even into horrible traffic. Combined with (Australian) governments who keep building big roads, even though it doesn’t solve congestion (it expands it), the desire to drive is powerful.

Just get in, turn the key and go. It’s so easy. Mostly the noise, air quality and traffic impacts are Somebody Else’s Problem. The motorist doesn’t pay for them; society does.

Governments are complicit in this, especially in Australia, where they build ever more roads as cities get bigger – despite this being not how the world’s biggest cities solve their mobility problems.

So the desire to drive is powerful.

CBD traffic, Lonsdale and William Streets

Fighting back

All this means that those of us who believe in the importance of solving those impacts through alternative transport modes have to make sure that they improve enough to fight back. If everybody who could afford to and was able to was on the roads, it’d be a disaster.

Perhaps to an extent cars are self-defeating. The more crowded the roads become, the better the alternatives look.

I also associate the car with first escapes, driving nowhere in particular in the middle of the night with a friend, movement being a goal in its own right. … Countless trips have been made by car since then, and we (still) own a small car today. However, trains became our favorite transport mode a long time ago, and as a family, we nowadays associate highways with congestion and stress, places to avoid.Stefan Gossling

Ultimately to fight back against the car, the other options need to improve.

Gossling again: There are powerful interests at work to psychologically engineer car addiction—addicts, conveniently, never question their behavior. Other insights pertain to the role of cars with regard to emotions, sociality, sex and gender, speed, authority, and death. We need to understand these interrelationships to unlock the possibility of alternative transport futures.

Caulfield station, inbound passengers during evening peak

Can public transport improve?

One could focus on the psychological aspects of public transport, but what about the basics – making the system easy and pleasant to use?

Cleanliness, crowding, information, security and easy to use ticketing all come into it. But seamless connections and cutting waiting times to reduce door-to-door journey times are fundamental requirements.

It would be easy enough to despair. Progress is so damn slow.

Most suburban buses are still running to frequencies from cuts 25 years ago. The last tranche of the better quality orbital Smartbus routes were implemented in 2010, almost a decade ago.

Trams have seen capacity expansion (big trams replacing smaller trams) but few route extensions, and remain slow due to a lack of progress on traffic priority.

The noises about public transport expansion are positive, but the actual progress isn’t.

Particularly frustrating is that literally billions are being spent on new rail tunnels to fix peak hour (great!) but most suburban train lines continue to run only every 20 minutes at most times of day, 30 minutes evenings. There are still gaps of 40 minutes on some lines on Sunday mornings.

A few have improved, but on most lines at most times they are much the same now as they have been for 30 years.

Let’s face it, with some exceptions, outside peak, most of the public transport system remains pathetically infrequent and slow, especially for a city of nearly five million people — despite increasing all-day demand.

Really, it’s no surprise that most people continue to drive.

The car industry is doing its best to coax us in, and on the other side, every signal from authorities, every pathetic half-baked public transport upgrade, every poorly-programmed pedestrian crossing, every non-existent bike path tells people to drive.

To curb the many problems of the car, they have to do better.

The rail map circa 2025

Transport For Victoria have quietly put out a map and plan for the rail network for 2025. It’s dated June, but I hadn’t spotted it before.

Well, I say plan… it’s only a ten page brochure (eight if you exclude the covers) mostly summarising projects that we already know are fully funded:

New metro train mock-up: seats

In comparison the 2012 plan, which covered metropolitan rail only, was 144 pages. So this one is scant on detail.

It does vaguely mention the prospect of all-day frequent services:

The Major Transport Infrastructure Program is delivering a series of projects to transition the network to a ‘turn up and go’ service, which will deliver:

  • More peak services, reduced wait times and improved connection times
  • More frequent services throughout the day, with more services outside of peak periods to support non-peak travel
  • Improved journey experience, including getting to and from the station and transport interchanges

…which on the face of it sounds good, but there’s no public plan of how and when this will happen, other than that we know the network infrastructure will be able to support it. (And besides, most of the rail network supports this right now.)

Marcus Wong recently noted that the business case for the Metro 1 tunnel didn’t even include anything better than a 20 minute frequency to stations west of West Footscray. The government rang me to say that’s just a “base case” and not a service plan. But it’s not surprising people assume it is a service plan when it looks like a service plan, and there’s no other public documentation available.

The rail map 2025

And then there’s the rail map. They’ve published a 2025 version that shows how it’ll look once the Metro 1 tunnel is open. (View it bigger or go to the original PDF)

Transport For Victoria: rail map 2025 (published 2018)

This confirms what we knew about operations once the tunnel opens. The Sunbury line will connect through to the Cranbourne/Pakenham line. Frankston trains will run through the Loop. Sandringham will run through to Newport.

State Library and Town Hall are shown as distinct stations, but with connections to Melbourne Central and Flinders Street.

What’s interesting is what the map doesn’t show. They’ve apparently not committed to removing Glen Waverley trains from the Loop, even though it’s obvious that as frequencies increase, they’ll need to do so. Myki on long-distance V/Line? Not clear. Melton/Wyndham Vale electrification? Also not shown.

The document does mention the latter, and other upgrades in passing, without any timelines, providing something of a shopping list for the politicians as we move towards the State Election.

Metro 2 is not mentioned, and there’s only a brief mention of accessibility.

It’s good to see them looking ahead… though I’d hoped to see something that showed a bit more detail around all day service frequencies. These are vitally important to how people can use the train system. The Coalition has made a pledge (but it seems a bit wobbly as it’s not in writing anywhere), and Labor are yet to talk about it.

The current, mostly every 20 minutes, train service doesn’t cut it in a city of almost 5 million and growing, especially in the face of growing motorway expansion that will worsen congestion. Let’s hope we see this change sooner rather than later.

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.

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.