Carnegie and Murrumbeena stations opened

The new Carnegie and Murrumbeena stations opened on Monday morning.

These used to be my local stations. I lived close to Murrumbeena in my teens, and again from 2003 to 2005, and occasionally used Carnegie as well, and still sometimes pass through on the bus to Chadstone.

As this photo from Saturday shows, immediately after the train leaves Caulfield it starts climbing to go up and over Grange Road. It then stays elevated through Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale (yet to be opened) before descending back down to street level.

Skyrail driver training - a 3-car Siemens train leaves Caulfield towards Oakleigh, Sat 16/6/2018

The trains running on the elevated track seem a fair bit quieter than they were at ground level.

This is the view from Dandenong Road, where the impact of the elevated rail is far less than the other side where there is housing.

View of Caulfield to Carnegie skyrail, from Dandenong Road 16/6/2018

The old railway has been mostly cleared away.

View towards Caulfield, from Carnegie 16/6/2018

Both Carnegie and Murrumbeena are basically the same design, and similar to Clayton and Noble Park.

This photo from Saturday shows the wraparound shelter – note the jagged edges – it’s not completed yet.

623 bus passes underneath Carnegie station, 16/6/2018

Metro and V/Line trains were running between Caulfield and Oakleigh on the weekend ahead of opening, for driver training purposes. This is continuing during normal running days, with already-trained “On The Job Trainers” accompanying drivers through the new section. This is a train leaving Carnegie towards Caulfield on Saturday.

Train leaves Carnegie towards Caulfield on a skyrail training run, 16/6/2018

Monday was opening day. At Carnegie the old subway has already been filled-in with concrete.

Carnegie skyrail station - operational but still under construction. Old subway filled in

Temporary stairs up to the platform, while they get the lifts and escalators working — unlike Noble Park and Clayton, these stations are in exactly the same spot as the old stations, so this will take a while to get done. In the meantime, there are shuttle buses between Caulfield and Oakleigh for those who can’t use stairs.

Carnegie skyrail station - temporary stairs

At Carnegie there were lots of staff, ABC 774’s Jon Faine was doing a live broadcast, and a number of politicians and senior government and operator types were milling around, as well as some police.

Carnegie skyrail station opening - live broadcast by Jon Faine of ABC Radio Melbourne

The wraparound roof structure is similar to the other skyrail stations. Unfortunately it doesn’t run the length of the platform, but other shelters provide some coverage further along. This is Carnegie…

Carnegie skyrail station - open but not completed

…and this is Murrumbeena, basically the same design.

Murrumbeena skyrail station - open but not completed

At Murrumbeena I had a chat to some locals, including Twitter’s “CrossingWatchin”.

Given it refers to the crossing, this sign seems to have been recycled…

Spot the recycled sign, at Murrumbeena skyrail station

This view from the temporary stairs at Murrumbeena shows the space where the escalators and lifts will go.

Murrumbeena skyrail station - open but not completed

Here’s the view from Murrumbeena looking towards Carnegie and the City. Note the Eureka building on the right.

Looking towards the City from Murrumbeena skyrail station

View from Murrumbeena towards Hughesdale — same design, but flipped around 180 degrees, as the new station is on the western side of the road, not the eastern side.

Murrumbeena skyrail station, looking towards Hughesdale

The train back to Carnegie was delayed… eventually it arrived, and it was packed. A reminder than reliability, frequency and capacity on this line needs to improve, given it’s the main route for a huge area of Melbourne.

Citybound train at Murrumbeena skyrail station

Grievances

Back at Carnegie a local resident spoke to me – he is one of those affected by the line being just above his backyard. He made it clear he’s not very happy, and he berated me somewhat for a somewhat jokey tweet from Singapore back in 2016. Hopefully he’s read the rather more detailed, nuanced, post about it.

His main beef was with the government – he said the local MP had refused to meet, and he cited a Level Crossing Removal Authority survey which claimed 82% of people support elevated rail — but it actually excluded people living within 400 metres of it!

Anyway, he was invited to express his grievance on-camera by Channel 9, and did so.

This should be obvious, but just in case not: PTUA did call for impacts on residents to be minimised, but this is not the first priority of public transport advocates — the focus is on services for passengers, amenity and disruptions.

Track expansion

One other point raised by detractors is that the project hasn’t added two more tracks. (Adding just a third track is not very useful.)

As noted previously, removing the crossings and other upgrades mean a huge increase in the passenger carrying capacity of the line, even if it doesn’t allow expresses or fast V/Line services.

But what about additional tracks? The government says this would only have been possible with large-scale property acquisition through Carnegie and Murrumbeena, where the existing rail alignment is quite narrow. The skyrail design as built allows light and rain to get in between the tracks, giving flora a chance to develop — but a four track viaduct wouldn’t allow this, and in any case would need more space through the alignment.

Will they need to do something about this in the future? What will the plan be? It’s clear there’s provision for future tracks on the south side of the line between Dandenong and Huntingdale, but what about closer in?

Some propose an entirely new alignment along Dandenong Road, though this may not be possible if Caulfield to Rowville light rail is built along there.

But ultimately, more tracks between Dandenong and Caulfield are of limited use without more tracks between Caulfield and South Yarra, and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Murrumbeena skyrail station - open but not completed

Premium!

So, apart from improved safety, better train reliability, the ability to run more trains (which starts with extra evening services later this year), better access into the stations and across the tracks (especially Hughesdale where there was no alternative to waiting at the gates), DDA compliance, and cuts to delays to buses, what has grade-separation ever done for us?

Well…

Unlike at Clayton and Noble Park, the original plans for Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale stations actually excluded escalators, and had no changes to staffing levels: morning peak only at Carnegie and Murrumbeena, and PSOs after 6pm at all three.

PTUA lobbied for both. Escalators just seemed obvious given the distance from ground level up to the platforms, and if you’re spending all this money on stations in fast-developing areas, why wouldn’t you spend a little more and give them extra facilities and a full-time staff presence?

Fairly early on we had a win on escalators.

Just recently it was confirmed that the new stations will also have full-time staff. The State Government and the LXRA are to be congratulated on this – it means better amenity for passengers, and all the security and assistance benefits that a proper staff presence brings.

So, everybody will welcome the removal of the crossings, and the rail line having re-opened. But there are also some definite wins for passengers with these new stations. Now, bring on the development of the space under the tracks.

We need better public transport, not free public transport

From time to time the topic of free public transport comes up, most recently because of changes in Estonia.

I think it’s a distraction from far more important issues.

I just wanted to address a few points about it. Apologies for the rambling.

Would it be a good idea in Melbourne and/or Victoria?

I don’t think so.

The first point is the cost: the PTV Annual Report indicates around $800 million is collected in fare revenue every year.

Even allowing for the running costs of the ticket system and fare enforcement, hundreds of millions of dollars would have to be found to cover that.

That’s money that wouldn’t be available for upgrades, which are a far higher priority, because the main reason people don’t use public transport isn’t the fares, it’s the service quality.

If the system goes free, assuming that at least some of the shortfall is via higher taxes, you’d have a lot of people paying more for a service they can’t practicably use, which brings me to the next point.

Free Tram Zone

Would free PT get more people on board?

Melbourne’s existing free public transport is an indicator of what would happen if the whole system was free.

The usable, frequent services would be swamped with people. They’d need upgrades to keep up with growth — upgrades which would be far more difficult if revenue isn’t growing with patronage growth. Example: the Free Tram Zone; free New Years Eve trains.

You’d also lose any peak/off-peak pricing mechanism that can moderate peak demand and help encourage off-peak travel. This is used heavily on V/Line (30% discount outside peak, and for all trips that don’t go through Zone 1), and also on Metro (100% discount before 7:15am on weekdays), though arguably this could be used more extensively.

The infrequent, less usable services — such as suburban buses — still wouldn’t get a lot of use. Example: Seniors and Myki Pass-holders on weekends. Some use the buses, but plenty would rather drive, even if they can use public transport for free (or for no extra cost with their weekday ticket).

And that’s a problem if one of the prime aims is to increase public transport usage. Those middle and outer suburban areas where most people travel day to day is where public transport is failing to win market share, thus driving dominates. It would continue to be the case.

If a suburban bus is once an hour (and plenty are), then it’s not suddenly a compelling service if it becomes free. They need more services, not free services.

Myki, Smartrider, Go card, Opal public transport smartcards

It costs more to collect fares than the revenue

No, completely wrong.

Myki was an expensive system to build; around $1.5 billion including ten years running costs = $150 million per year.

It’s still expensive. The recently signed operations contract is $700 million for seven years = $100 million per year.

(Sydney’s Opal card system is also expensive, at $1.2 billion for 15 years. That’s a bit cheaper, but these systems can be very expensive when they involve coverage of a large network, requiring lots of hardware — whether or not it’s established technology or being built afresh.)

So yes, ticket systems cost a lot of money. But even if you supposed that on top of the $100-$150 million per year for the ticket system, ticket inspections were costing another $50 million per year (and assuming those staff aren’t needed anyway for other purposes such as safety), that’s still around $600 million per year lost if fares aren’t collected.

Or to put it another way: if Myki hadn’t been built, instead the system could have been fare-free… but only for about two years.

There would be some benefit from going fare-free: better passenger flows in and around stations, as fencing and gates are removed, and on and off trams and buses. But at a huge cost, and these issues can be ameliorated in other ways.

New Myki signage on trams, October 2015

But Estonia has free public transport!

No it doesn’t. If you look beyond the headlines, you’ll discover that recent changes have made regional buses in Estonia free.

Free journeys will be available for all Estonians using county buses, but won’t be available on trains (although enhanced subsidies will make tickets on the state-owned rail network cheaper). And in Estonian cities outside of Tallinn, all passengers will still have to pay to use all modes of public transit, including buses. — Huffington Post

It’s apparently not even all county regional buses:

To date, not all Estonia’s 15 counties have taken up the offer, though the free-fare zone is set to cover large areas of the country. — European Sting

So it excludes rail services, and city (suburban) buses — which would account for the majority of passengers.

Tallin, the capital of Estonia (population 610,000) does have free buses, trolley-buses, trams, ferries and trains within the city limits, but only for residents.

People still use a smartcard, but the cards issued to local residents give them free rides. Which means the system still incurs the cost of running the ticketing system. In fact Wikipedia notes that services are stopped during ticket checks — so it’s really not a fare free system at all.

Problems aside, was Tallinn’s free public transport a success? That depends on how you define success:

…a 2016 analysis of the Tallinn scheme found it didn’t really encourage many people to stop driving.

In 2014, a year into the experiment, the use of public transport had increased by 14%. However, car use only declined by 5%.

In fact, it was walkers who hopped on buses, as the number of trips made on foot dropped by a staggering 40%.

And while the share of car use marginally decreased, the average distance travelled by car actually went up. — European Sting

Cardiff Bay: Pierhead building and Millennium Centre

Wales has free public transport!

No it doesn’t. Wales has free bus services on weekends only… but only for 9 bus regional routes run by one operator, the Welsh government-owned Travel Cymru. It appears to be a measure designed to stimulate tourism.

The scheme excludes rail services, and all other bus services — including bus services within cities.

Hasselt, Belgium has free public transport!

No it doesn’t. They had free buses (not other modes) from 1997 until 2013 when they scrapped the scheme because of cost — in part the costs of running services to cater for higher patronage. The buses are still free for those under 19.

Hasselt isn’t a big city, in any case – it has a population of only about 71,000 people. That means it’s not a good example to point to when arguing for a large city to go fare free.

Paris…

The (socialist) Mayor of Paris has proposed it, but the idea has been opposed by others.

As far as I can make out, as of 2018, there is no major city in the world (of say more than a million people) where all public transport is free.

But the roads are free

Toll roads are an obvious exception, but even “free” roads aren’t actually free. They are heavily subsidised, but motorists still have to pay fuel tax at the pump, and registration and licencing fees.

Public transport is subsidised too of course. This is no reason to cut out fare collection and make the subsidy even bigger.

Crowded train, Richmond

Priorities

Chris Hale recently wrote in The Age that: “a public dollar frittered on fare discounting is invariably a waste, whereas that same dollar invested in better off-peak service gets great results.”

Fares certainly need to be affordable. Part of that is addressed ensuring there are concessions to those who need them.

But in any big city, even those hailed as having great public transport, service and infrastructure improvements are needed.

In fact the best public transport cities tend to get into a growth spiral of patronage – they need ongoing investment. It costs, but it’s good for their city.

All of which means that in any city, with even a moderately successful public transport network, given the huge amount of money raised from fares, it’s very difficult to envisage a time when making the service free would be a priority, or even desirable.

Frequency is (temporary) freedom

If you used the Glen Waverley or Sandringham lines over the weekend, you might have got a pleasant surprise.

Both were running every 10 minutes for most of Saturday and Sunday — twice the usual frequency.

Why?

Because the Frankston and Dandenong (Cranbourne/Pakenham) lines were closed between the City and Moorabbin/Westall between Friday 8pm and Saturday 4pm.

The Dandenong line is also closed between Westall and Caulfield for the next two weeks as part of the big push to remove the final four level crossings as part of the skyrail project.

View from Murrumbeena towards Hughesdale during skyrail construction

Both the Dandenong and Frankston lines usually run every 10 minutes between 10am and 7pm. As part of their replacement with buses during the works, some passengers were shuttled to the Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines by bus.

(Not that you’d have known any of this was happening if you relied on the online timetables or journey planners. PTV messed up their data feeds. Their own web site and apps were only updated with the closures on Friday afternoon, and downstream users of the same data never got the update. So if you relied on the Google Maps trip planner, you’d have been completely oblivious to the bustitution.)

Bustitution 1st-2nd June 2018

Running more trains on the Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines was a great idea – to minimise delays for people coming off other lines, and to help the trains cope with the extra loads.

Apart from the official rail replacement buses, those using regular buses (or trams) to change lines also have benefited. One of my sons on Saturday decided to use the 703 from Bentleigh across to Brighton (12 minutes), then the Sandringham line (20 minutes), rather than catch a Frankston line replacement bus stopping all stations to the City (estimated 56 minutes). With half-hourly buses, and usually trains every 20 minutes, this would be potluck as to whether it worked. Trains every 10 minutes made the connection easy.

(Most stations have orbital cross-line tram or bus connections. Trams run at good frequencies every day; unfortunately buses don’t. Most are only hourly on weekends and evenings.)

People who usually use the Sandringham and Glen Waverley lines also got the benefit, though it’s doubtful that there was any patronage boost, since nobody knew about it. The only advertised change was that all trains ran direct to/from Flinders Street, not via the City Loop.

It looks like the doubling of services will happen again next long weekend, with both the Frankston and Dandenong lines shut down again from Moorabbin/Westall from Saturday to the end of Monday, for both grade separation (Dandenong line skyrail) and upgrades to accommodate the new High Capacity Metro Trains.

Frequent services make the whole network more usable, and if made permanent, would get more people on board. If only those lines (and the others) ran every ten minutes every day.

What we know about the Myki mobile phone trial

The State Government has announced a trial of a mobile phone app for Myki.

Here’s what we know about the trial.

Will it mean the end of Myki cards?

No.

Despite the fascination of headline writers with Myki being replaced, a phone app will be an additional option, alongside cards.

Some people don’t have mobile phones, and may never have mobile phones. They’ll still need cards.

Will it only be E-class trams, as first thought?

No, the government now say it’ll be systemwide, without the need to rollout new equipment. Which is good – there are thousands of devices out there on stations, trams and buses. Replacing them all would be extremely expensive.

Why only on Android?

I’m told it’s because Apple has the iOS NFC feature heavily locked-down, apparently in the hopes of controlling all payments made with iPhones.

NFC isn’t on all Android phones, but it is on an increasing number of them. It’s already used by a number of public transport cards in some way, including being able to instantly check your balance on Sydney’s Opal.

Perhaps in time Apple will come to the party.

Myki, Smartrider, Go card, Opal public transport smartcards

Will it cover Myki Pass and Myki Money?

Yes, both. The app will be able to act as a Myki card, with the same fares.

It will also allow instant top-up, without the current 90 minute online delay. (This delay is similar on all public transport smartcards).

Will it cost $6 like a real card? Will it expire like a card?

I doubt it will expire. (Most phones don’t last 4 years like a Myki card is meant to!)

The cost is unknown. The $6 cost of a real card is partly because you can commence a (non-V/Line) trip on a zero balance, so the balance can drop as low as minus $4.30. It’s not yet clear how the app will work in this regard.

Perhaps if in some way it enables a user to pay just the cost of a daily fare, this can partly negate the need for a single use ticket, which isn’t currently provided.

What about contactless credit cards, such as Paypass?

It looks like existing Myki equipment isn’t compatible with that.

That’s a shame, as I suspect a lot more people have contactless cards than NFC mobile phones. Card payment works really well in London, and many cities (especially those that use a variant of London’s Oyster) are trying it.

But that may be changing over time, and it’s still a positive move to help make it easier to pay a fare.

And on balance, it’s better not to go down the path of huge expense to replace all the equipment around the system. Perhaps that can be planned for the new generation of station/bus/tram devices, to allow a later upgrade.

New Myki signage on trams, October 2015

When will the trial happen?

The trial is expected to run from July until early 2019.

I hate topping up. I want it now.

If you use Myki Money, you should consider Auto-Topup.

It was a bit kludgy when first introduced, but works really well now. I’ve had it set up on my kids’ cards for years.

Unfortunately it doesn’t work with Myki Pass, which is why they should really implement Myki Money weekly and monthly capping, which was originally planned.

How do I get involved in the trial?

PTV says: To stay up to date with the Mobile myki trial, including how to register your interest in participating in the trial later in the year, make sure your myki is registered.

What else?

This government fact sheet might help:

PTV: Mobile Myki fact sheet (28/5/2018)

…or leave a comment/question and I’ll see if I can get an answer.

Bushes and trees blocking footpaths

We all like some greenery in our neighbourhoods.

But as I noted in this rant blog post, one bane of pedestrians is bushes and trees overhanging footpaths.

They’re not really obvious unless you’re walking, but bushes and trees like this are everywhere.

I’m sick of having to duck out of their way. This is especially difficult when it’s dark. You can easily not spot the hazard as you approach.

Bushes blocking footpath

Local councils have regulations about this. In my area, City of Glen Eira local law says:

Trees must be trimmed to a height of three metres above the ground and, at least, vertically in line with the property boundary. Shrubs must not protrude beyond the fence line or encroach onto the footpath.

If a Council notice is sent requesting that trees or shrubs be trimmed, the work must be completed within 14 days.

Property owners who do not comply with a notice within 14 days will be issued with an official warning notice. This provides a further 10 days to complete the work. If action is still not taken within the required timeframe, a penalty notice of $200 may be issued and a contractor will be engaged by us to undertake the necessary work. The property owner is responsible for the contractor’s fees.

When I checked with the council, they said they don’t do proactive inspections. It’s up to people to report problems.

But how many people know what the rules are, and that you can report them? No wonder it’s such a widespread problem.

Bushes overhanging footpath

What the council does do is when looking at a reported site, they will look at the immediate surrounding area.

They also said that for overhanging branches from trees on the nature strip, the council is ultimately responsible — though it sounds like they’d prefer if property owners kept them under control.

One weekend I went for a walk along some main roads near home, and noted down some particularly problematic locations to report.

I used a stricter criteria than the council. The council standard is 3 metres of clearance. I decided I’d only report it where I had to duck to walk under it (I’m about 1.8 metres tall), or if it was blocking enough of the footpath that a parent with a large pram, or someone with a mobility aid/wheelchair would have to detour onto the grass to avoid it.

On a 6km walk, I found about two dozen problematic locations. About 90% of them were bushes and trees growing from private property. A small number were on the nature strip. And I reported a bunch of them.

On a subsequent walk, I found one far worse:

Tree branch across footpath

With most trees and bushes that overhang the footpath, you can brush past. Not this one.

The main branches are so thick that you’d do yourself an injury if you collided with it. It’s right at head height.

Someone had put a bit of hazard tape on it, but one wonders how it was ever allowed it to block the footpath like this.

Duly reported.

We’ll see what happens next.

Update 15/5/2018: Sometime in the last 72 hours, the tree in question has been pruned back markedly, such that it is now clear of the footpath.