Easy like Sunday morning

No time at the moment for any ambitious deep dive blog posts, so here’s a slightly rambling follow-up to last week’s Caulfield to City rail bustitution.

For the entire week, I was lucky enough to avoid travelling in peak hours, but overall the feedback was that it was a lot smoother this time. There were delays of course – buses just can’t do the job of trains – and footy fans in particular (who if they are not regulars, are less familiar with the changed arrangements, and tend to travel at busy times) had some issues.

Overall, it a big improvement from Easter – perhaps fewer operational mishaps, and more passengers becoming familiar with alternative routes.

Peak hour bustitution at Caulfield

What is a little disappointing is that – like so many things with public transport – despite significant organising and resources, often it’s relatively little things that fall short.

For instance: I travelled outbound on Sunday morning, when buses were replacing trains between the City and Westall/Moorabbin. The road network isn’t stretched at this time, and passenger numbers aren’t huge. But still there were little hiccups.

Frankston line buses were running to three patterns:

Express (E) – Arts Centre to Moorabbin non-stop, for longer distance trips

Limited Express (L) – Arts Centre to Caulfield non-stop, then all stations to Moorabbin, for people between the City and stations between Caulfield and Patterson (including me)

Stopping All Stations (S) – from the City to Caulfield, stopping all stations – for shorter distance trips between Richmond and Malvern.

This all makes sense; it helps minimise the travel time, and splits passengers into groups so the numbers are more manageable.

Not that you’d know about this if you saw the timetable guides provided on the web site, which showed a diagram for only one route, and timetable information (arguably too much; it’s very difficult to read) for two.

There were detailed brochures flying around the place which did have the route detail, and these had been handed out to passengers at stations in the weeks beforehand. But if you didn’t get given one of these, they were hard to find.

So where do I catch the bus?

The signage was excellent around Flinders Street station – provided you wanted the E or L buses. For the S… not so good; I didn’t see it anywhere.

In fact, even basic information on where to catch the Stopping buses was contradictory, as shown in these two tweets from Metro that morning.

This one said you catch the Stopping buses from Spring Street, near Parliament:

This one a few hours later reckoned Fed Square.

Talking to some People That Know, it sounds like there were different arrangements on each weekend (presumably for some good reason) and some of the info for weekend 1 got muddled with that for weekend 2.

Waiting for a bus

On that Sunday morning, it was good to see there were lots of staff and lots of buses deployed at the Arts Centre.

The boarding point for a Limited Express bus was incorrectly signed for Express buses. Thankfully there were enough staff to advise arriving passengers which queue they should use.

Express bus signage at the Limited Express bus stop

I found a line of people waiting for a Limited Express bus, and a line of Express buses arriving, waiting and leaving with virtually no passengers aboard.

Some people had obviously been waiting for a while. A stream of Express buses continued to arrive while I was in the queue.

Lots of Express buses, barely any passengers wanting to use them

Eventually the dispatchers decided to reallocate an Express bus to the Limited Express service, and off we went.

Unlike during weekday peaks, the buses moved pretty quickly, and we got to Caulfield after about 20 minutes, and then Bentleigh perhaps another 10 minutes after that. About the same as the train journey, if you don’t count the walks to/from the bus stops.

Are the buses free, or paid?

There was the usual confusion over whether passengers should touch-on their Myki cards. Many regulars know that you don’t have to touch on, but the last time I looked, the “bible” (the Fares & Ticketing Manual) still claimed that you should (at the railway station, which in this context makes no sense, as it could be hundreds of metres away).

The bus Myki readers (as usual) were left on, and at least one passenger did use them. Can they not be switched off? Why does Myki not have a “free ride” mode?

At busy stops, some passengers (quite reasonably) expected that the bus driver might open both doors for boarding. I mean, given free rides, why not, to speed up operations? And yet this still doesn’t happen with any consistency.

Indeed, there is a bus operator that’s been set up specifically for running train replacements. Their buses actually have No Entry signage on the rear door. If no fares are payable, why do this?

Rail Replacement bus

More bustitution coming soon

As usual, the point of all this minutiae is to identify the big picture.

There’s lots of projects in the next few years, right across the rail network. Which is good.

This means lots more bustitution is coming. A little more care and effort, and it could be a lot smoother for passengers.

Transit Unplugged

I’ve been listening to the Transit Unplugged podcast for a while now on my (sometimes quite long) weekend walks.

They typically interview CEOs and other senior managers from public transport systems in the USA, often small-to-medium sized operations.

In recent weeks they’ve published a set of interviews with CEOs from much larger operations – and the reason this is of particular interest to locals here is that they’re all in Australia – mostly Melbourne.

Featuring are PTV (since merged into Department of Transport), Metro, Yarra Trams and V/Line, along with Transport Canberra, Sydney Trains/NSW Trainlink and John Holland.

While I know and have spoken to some of the people involved, it’s interesting to hear about issues from this perspective – interviewed by host Paul Comfort, who is a former CEO of an American public transport operator.

They’re not challenging interviews – but some of the challenges facing these operations certainly get highlighted.

The interviews are also a reminder that behind the scenes of the public transport operations that we passengers see day to day, there’s a lot of management of people and finance that’s also going on – something in common with any big organisation.

The other theme is that of change. For instance the PTV interview notes that one seat journeys are no longer realistic for all trips in a city the size of Melbourne, but work needs to be done on better interchanges. The V/Line interview notes the transition from a regional rail operator to (at least for many passengers) a commuter railway.

I can see a few typos in the transcripts – especially for Jeroen Weimar, who is a fast talker when he gets going – and Nicolas Gindt’s reference to gunzels, in his French accent, which must have confounded the host, is missing.

Perhaps the transcripts were generated by a computer – and you might also note a few minor gaffes in the recordings, but still, these are very interesting and well worth a listen.

I’ll leave you with this great optimistic quote from Howard Collins from Sydney Trains:

Australia has hit the golden age of rail. I think for the first time in probably 50 years, Australians realize public transport is the only way to get cities to work. Expanding cities like Melbourne and Sydney, which are going to grow from five million to eight million in the next 20 years, you can’t drive, you can’t have that culture of car anymore. You’ve got to look at London and New York, and you’ll see that public transport.

Transit Unplugged Podcasts

  • PTUA members and would-be members: the next member meeting on 25th July features Councillor Nic Frances Gilley from City of Melbourne, talking about their draft transport strategy. Details here.

Bustitution looms again

Just a quick one as I’ve been very busy, and have also had a bad cold, so haven’t felt like much writing.

The next lot of major bustitution is upon us from Saturday morning, and including all of next week: no trains between the City and Caulfield.

You’ll recall that at Easter, this was a complete mess.

Have they learnt from that? Yes, I’m told they looked very closely at how it went, though they’re sticking with the strategy of funnelling most people into Caulfield, then bussing them from there.

Why? Because, they say, they know what went wrong, including during that looooong trip on the Monday morning:

  • What should have happened is that terminating trains used platforms 1 and 3. Frankston into platform 1, with passengers directed to a bus queue at the NW end of the station, going to the Arts Centre; Dandenong into platform 3, passengers directed to a bus queue at the SW end, buses to Federation Square
  • But Frankston trains arriving into platform 1 were delayed leaving again due to crowding on the platform.
  • Train controllers made the fateful decision to terminate some onto platform 2 instead, to keep trains moving.
  • This resulted in large numbers of people ending up in the one queue, and consequently long delays there, and on buses approaching Federation Square.
  • Bus drivers only have training for their specific route (they’re often brought in from far afield, so don’t necessarily know the local road system), so they couldn’t divert resources to the Fed Square route, nor could they divert some buses away from Fed Square to avoid traffic snarls

Okay, fair enough, let’s assume the root cause was a lack of staff clearing platform 1. They can fix that.

But that doesn’t explain why they let the queue for buses to Fed Square get out of control. Why didn’t they divert some of the crowds to the other queue?

They could also brief the bus drivers on both routes, and the options connecting them, for more operational flexibility. Sounds like this time they will divert buses if the Fed Square route clogs up.

And it doesn’t explain why the long delays for buses getting out of Caulfield across Princes Highway, nor why the Federation Square bus route was still a mess throughout that week.

To be fair, they say they’ll try harder this time to quickly clear incoming buses out of Fed Square, and deploying Variable Message Signs to encourage other traffic to avoid parts of that route, to try and keep things moving.

They’re also going to try express buses from Cranbourne and Pakenham all the way into the City (inbound AM peak only), to try and reduce loads closer in. It’ll still be a long journey in the traffic.

And for Dandenong line users they’ll have contingency plans if the line clogs up, offering the option of a bus connection from Oakleigh to Darling on the Glen Waverley line. They may also deploy buses to Moorabbin.

But they’ve resisted the idea of funnelling large numbers of passengers onto other lines by default, as it may just cause crowding and delays to spread more widely.

There also seems to be no consideration to also boosting regular crosstown route buses to neighbouring rail lines – though they did tell me they’d watch for people left behind, and try to boost tram capacity. Tram 67 and bus route 630 seemed to be the worst affected last time.

I also know they’ll continue to monitor closely each day and tweak things where possible. I don’t expect this will be the last big shut down for the metro tunnel, so they do need to keep working at improving things.

Let’s see what happens on Monday morning.

Old photos from June 2009

Here (just a few hours late) is another in my series of ten year old photos: this time, it’s June 2009.

Already the subject of a blog post, was this confusing ad on the side of a bus. Does it mean it’s flexible or not?

Advert on bus

Don’t you wish you were not packed into a train on your commute, but instead on your own private train somewhere? I used this photo in a blog about Connex (Veolia, then running the suburban trains) and Transdev (then running Yarra Trams) being replaced by consortiums run by MTR and Keolis – which was announced in June 2009.

Just another crowded train

There was a campaign on trams around keeping trams and other traffic moving.

June 2009: Public transport roads campaign

…There was also a campaign around rail safety.

June 2009: Rail safety campaign on a tram

As of June 2019, there’s a new bus route 627 that’s just started – here’s a pic of the previous route to have that number – which was very confusing. Since split into the 625 and 626, which helps legibility.

June 2009: The old route 627 - confusing!

Meanwhile over on the trains, ads for the government’s transport plan had started to appear.

June 2009: Government advertising starts to creep into trains

…and Myki machines had started to appear in railway stations. They would finally be switched on at the end of 2009.

June 2009: Myki machines start to appear in stations

Some Brisbane observations

Last week’s two whirlwind trips to Brisbane were busy with family business, but there was a chance for a few quick transporty observations.

Tourists see signs for “stations” and might assume they’re all railway stations. Nope, some of them are busway stations – they just look similar from the outside!

Brisbane: RBWH busway station
Brisbane: RBWH hospital busway station

Boggo Road busway station has platform numbers combined with the adjacent Park Road railway station. But why don’t the two stations have the same name?

When we passed through, the railway line was closed for works, with the busway and station being used for bus replacements. Handy. Their bus replacement routes also have route numbers, which helps navigate the system when the trains are out.

Rail buses at Park Road/Boggo Road busway station

Some Brisbane bus drivers say “thank you” as you touch-on your Go card. This might encourage fare compliance. Most Melbourne bus drivers in comparison don’t seem to acknowledge this.

Brisbane bus passengers are encouraged via signage to say thanks to their drivers, and many seem to do so.

Lots of resources get thrown at Brisbane buses: high frequencies on many routes, the bus ways, and innovations such as USB charging. It probably reflects that they play a significant role in the transport task, in comparison to Melbourne. Of course Brisbane has no trams.

As noted previously, the busways keep buses zooming alongโ€ฆ at least at off-peak times. They can clog up quickly during peak. They can handle a lot of people – more than cars, but not as many as trains.

Brisbane: Busway map

Elsewhere on Brisbane roads, there seem to be some bus lanes and jump start lanes, but little in the way of real bus traffic light priority.

Brisbane from a train

Brisbane’s train system infrastructure remains impressive, but service frequencies do not.

Most rail lines run only every half-hour outside peak, including the Airport to Gold Coast line, though this is gradually moving to 15 minutes.

The exception of course is the inner section where multiple lines converge. We travelled from Wooloowin (near our hotel) to Park Road, then made a connection to a bus to UQ. Then back again. Waiting/connection time: minimal, thanks to combined high frequencies.

Brisbane: Park Road railway station during bustitution

Wooloowin has the rail service of a busy hub station, but feels like a well-to-do residential inner suburb.

Apart from the hotel we stayed in, many of the houses were traditional Queenslanders, not South Yarra-like skyscrapers. I wouldn’t be surprised if density increases there as the city grows.

As in Melbourne, Brisbane trains seem to be mostly 6-car trains even at off-peak times. so it beats me why the new trains (“Next Generation Rollingstock” aka NGR700) were built with intermediate cabs. Maybe they envisage some 3-car running on some lines into the future.

Correction: the NGR fleet does not have intermediate cabs. The middle two carriages are non-cab/driver motor cars.

Brisbane: Wooloowin station

There are a lot more staff on the train system than in Melbourne, even on weekends. For a start there are drivers and guards on the trains.

But there are even more staff thanks to a screw-up with the new trains.

  • Over decades, Queensland Rail have designed the system to cater for wheelchairs in the middle of the train. Guards on older trains are located here, and so are raised sections of platforms.
  • But the NGR fleet was designed for the guards at the end of the train.
  • So on every line they run on, station staff meet the trains and check for anybody needing assistance. It’s resulted in lots of stations staffed from first to last train, and those staff roving the platforms.
  • The side effect of this is there are actually some good safety and customer service outcomes for all passengers, but I’m sure the government would have preferred not to have the additional expense.
  • Maybe passengers might prefer that too, given a well-publicised shortage of drivers.
Brisbane: Air train only every 30 minutes

It’s nice having the airport train in Brisbane. But it’s expensive, and at most times of day it’s infrequent. Of the four trips to/from the airport, I only used it for one – where I was travelling alone, and at a time when there was a train every 15 minutes.

The train was a long way from full, but still had quite a few people aboard – perhaps 100 alighted at the end of the line at the Domestic terminal.

Brisbane: Air Train arrives at Domestic airport station
Brisbane Air Train: Domestic airport station

For one of the other airport trips I used a taxi (perhaps more expensive than Uber, but positioned right outside the terminal, with no waiting), and for another, because we’d be making some time-sensitive, non-PT-friendly trips, we got a hire car — which was pretty smooth, but I did have to navigate Brisbane’s road network, which was challenging thanks to hills preventing a Melburnian-friendly grid.

Parking in Brisbane’s CBD and surrounds is getting difficult on weekdays. They’re becoming a big city!

New in the CBD scramble crossings – with signage to educate pedestrians.

Brisbane CBD: new scramble crossings, and Cross River Rail under construction

And along Albert Street there’s construction for their metro tunnel (“Cross River Rail“), though I’m not sure there’s any actual construction happening just yet. It’s due to open in about 2025, around the same time as Melbourne’s Metro 1 tunnel.

The Go Card that I first bought in 2011 still works, 8 years later. Presumably due to its 10 year lifespan, it’ll conk out in 2021, though I’m told you can actually get the expiry date extended at a station booking office. I didn’t get a chance to do this, and I’m not sure if it means the card is replaced, or just the expiry date on it is reset.

Brisbane: Single use ticket

Go Card purchase cost remains at $10 (refundable deposit), but single use (2-hour) tickets are also available – they’re just a printed receipt you can show to staff. More expensive than Go Card fares, but good to have the option for tourists who only want to make a quick single trip.

And one more thing in the transport mix: apart from hire bikes, Brisbane also has Lime scooters all over the CBD and inner city. I don’t have a feel for how successful they are, but I did see a few people using them.