The merger

The Victorian Department of Transport is expanding, absorbing Vicroads and PTV to one big agency.

We’ll have to see, but potentially this could be good. Better integration of different transport planning roles could benefit street-based public transport in particular.

Recent changes, moving some PTV roles into DOT (and/or the apparently shortlived Transport For Victoria) were just confusing.

Major projects authorities, such as those delivering the metro tunnel and the North East Link, will stay separate.

Huntingdale bus interchange

The most visible thing to the public is the branding. Does this change mean yet another expensive re-branding exercise, putting new logos on everything?

If that happens, hopefully they won’t go for the nuclear approach. Since the 1980s, we’ve had (just in metropolitan Melbourne):

  • Victorian Railways/Vicrail
  • Metropolitan Transit Authority/The Met
  • PTC
  • Bayside Trains/Hillside Trains /Swanston Trams/Yarra Trams
  • M>Train/M>Tram/Connex Trains/Yarra Trams
  • Connex trains/Yarra Trams
  • Metro trains/Yarra Trams
  • and now PTV.

What next?

The current PTV designs are mostly good – the colours, lines/patterns, typefaces all work quite well. The PTV logo itself is a bit meh – maybe it’s possible to start by just removing it.

If it’s replaced with something new, I’d prefer a more compact logo, with a name that’s easier to drop into conversation. (The Met might have been the best recent one for this.)

But the whisper is that the branding already seen on the Mernda line extension and the Huntingdale and Monash bus interchanges shows the way forward – most signs with no operator branding.

What this means for Vicroads branding is another question.

Of course, it’s how this new body works, and whether it provides improved planning and delivery, that really counts. Time will tell.

Mobile Myki – not available for uni students

UPDATE: SEE BELOW

Mobile Myki was made permanent last month. Even though for now it’s only available on Android phones, it’s great that it’s increased the options for public transport ticketing.

So if you’re a senior (60+) and you want to use Mobile Myki?

No problem – grab your Android phone with NFC, install Google Pay and load it up.

If you’re a tech-savvy tertiary student, with a PTV Tertiary Student Concession Card, and you want to use Mobile Myki?

Not so fast! It turns out only a few specific types of concession fare can be used with Mobile Myki.

The following concession categories are currently available as a Mobile myki:

– Child (Code CH) – customers aged 16-18 years only;
– Victorian Seniors Card holders (Code VS);
– General Concession (Code GC) – Interstate Seniors Card and Interstate Pensioner Concession Card holders only.

For all other concession categories, Mobile myki is not currently available, and another type of concession ticket must be used.

PTV Fares and Ticketing Manual 2019, page 12

This is not an April Fools joke.

Apart from tertiary students, Health Care Card holders are also excluded from the list, as well as some other types of concessions. Children under 16 are excluded, perhaps because Google Pay needs to be linked to a valid credit or debit card.

Why is this? I don’t know, but I’ll see if I can find out.

Given it works fine with Visa and Mastercard debit cards, there should be no concerns about the use of credit cards for low income earners.

Maybe there’s a good reason. But it seems completely illogical to exclude a huge number of tech savvy public transport users who happen to use concession fares.

UPDATE Monday 5:30pm: The government has been in contact to advise that tertiary and other concession card holders can use Mobile Myki, by choosing the “General concession” option in the app. It appears the Fares And Ticketing Manual, normally the bible for these types of issues, is incorrect – perhaps the new Mobile Myki information was added in a hurry.

Private operator, private profits

My blog’s RSS feed has been having problems. This has also affected some email subscribers. I think I’ve found the problem, so hopefully both are working again now.

Just a quick post:

The Age and Herald Sun reported yesterday that Metro Trains Melbourne made an annual profit of $29 million, on $786 million of revenue — despite still regularly missing punctuality targets.

I’m not sure the fact that they’re taking a profit is really a surprise. They’re a private company, and they wouldn’t be in this game otherwise.

Is the 3.6% profit high, or low, for a company earning $786m in revenue per year? I dunno.

Of course, if Metro misses targets, a lot of the blame should really be on the poor state of rail infrastructure – owned by the government. Upgrades are finally happening, but that follows decades of neglect.

I think the broader question is whether the taxpayer is getting value for money overall from the train network (regardless of whether the operator is private or public).

I’m particularly concerned that there’s such a huge amount of infrastructure/fleet investment (capex), as well as the fees to the operators (opex), but the service provision still has a strong concentration on commuter peaks.

This means that a lot of the assets are only being fully used for a few hours a day, despite strong travel demand at other times (both on the roads and on the trains).

Sandringham line, Saturday lunchtime

A moderate increase in opex would provide for all-day high frequencies (eg most stations with trains at least every 10 minutes for most of the day) that make much more effective use of the overall spend, and better match current travel demand by making the system so much more useful for people.

How much money are we talking about? One estimate I’ve seen is $100m per year. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same cost as the 2015 fare changes that capped zone 1+2 fares, and introduced the Free Tram Zone.

While people welcomed the two-zone discount, it’s not clear if it made a big difference to patronage. The Free Tram Zone benefits CBD motorists, and crowds out fare-paying users – it might be a good example of what Chris Hale wrote in The Age last year: a public dollar frittered on fare discounting is invariably a waste, whereas that same dollar invested in better off-peak service gets great results.

And any increased spend on services would be offset by additional fare revenue from increased patronage, of course.

The idea that trains only run every 30 minutes after 7pm (and 20-40 minutes in daytime off-peak/weekends, despite crowding) is just crazy for a city of 5 million in the 21st century.

It’s high time it was rectified.

Some thoughts on high speed rail in 2019

There must be a Federal election coming.

The Greens have declared their support for funding and building a full fast rail network on the east coast of Australia, serving Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (as per the official study from a couple of years ago).

Yesterday Labor made a pledge to get started on buying the corridor for the same network.

And today the Coalition has pledged $2 billion for fast rail between Melbourne and Geelong – upgrades and additional tracks so that trains run at an average 160 km/h (rather than this being the top speed, as now). The investment would also include business cases for other projects.

The proposed east coast HSR network

The study is well worth a read if you’ve never had a look.

It would run between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Gold Coast and Canberra would both be served by spur lines. This means compromising on timetable frequency and operations. The study says this design reduces the required station footprints, and speeds up the journey for through trains.

High Speed Rail study - preferred alignment

Let’s assume this plan is the most feasible. Fast rail has shown proven benefits in many countries. If all this investment occurred in Australia, it could cut air travel and spark development along the route – at least in the areas served by a station.

But there’s a catch. There are doubts about HSR’s viability for interstate travel in Australia. Our geography – the distances involved – makes it really difficult.

Unlike in Europe or Asia, the planned line between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane is, I suspect, with current technology, a bit too long to be really competitive against air travel, with too few large intermediate destinations.

Will conventional rail technology increase speeds in the coming years? It’s hard to say. Regular service speeds of about 320-350 km/h seem to have been the maximum for about 20 years. (But I’m a terrible futurist.)

It probably makes sense to reserve the corridors, but I’m less sure about trying to build the whole east coast network right now – especially with such a backlog of public transport projects in major cities and along regional corridors.

Eurostar at St Pancras station, London

What’s most viable right now?

Rather than try and take on building a full HSR system which might cost tens of billions of dollars with sub-optimal travel time outcomes, what if the most obvious portion, Sydney to Canberra, was the focus for now?

That’s the sector that’s relatively straightforward. At an expected 64 minutes by train, it is a short enough distance to be competitive with air (55 minutes plus transit time, which could easily be another 30-60 minutes), and long enough to be competitive with road (about 180 minutes).

There are also fast-paced improving local connections at each end.

It would be a good first project, and if done well, gain good political support for further extensions or lines elsewhere, thanks to serving Canberra’s politicians.

To be fair, the study actually said this should be the first section. I’m just not sure the politicians are paying attention.

Think local and regional

While we wait for east coast high speed rail, there’s a compelling argument for upgrades to the existing regional lines for intra-state travel (such as Melbourne’s commuter lines to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour/Shepparton, Gippsland) to get ensure the existing fleet can attain and stick to their maximum speeds for more of their trip: full duplication, for a start, and provision and separation of metro services, especially to Melton and Wyndham Vale.

In this respect, the Federal Coalition’s pledge today makes some sense. It seems like quite a lot of money for only a moderate time saving – if the train fleet needs to be replaced, should they be aiming for higher speed than average 160/top speed 200?

Of course, assuming it includes track amplification, there would also be capacity benefits for Melbourne’s west.

With any of these plans, high speed rail needs to be accompanied by boosts to local public transport connections around the regional stations. If a major rail line is reliant on park and ride, that will severely limit patronage.

So, as always, excuse my rambling. What I’m trying to say is this:

A full interstate HSR network along the east coast has a lot of potential… eventually. But I suspect shorter distance projects are probably more viable right now.

  • I see Albo recently claimed that Sydney to Newcastle by train is slower now than 50 years ago. I’d be interested if anybody has fact-checked this claim. Every such claim made in Victoria is invariably wrong.

Metro tunnel and level crossing works

I was going to blog a few quick things from the past couple of weeks. That post grew too big, so I’m splitting it up…

Bustitution is coming

With the number of rail projects underway, it should be no surprise that there seem to be major works happening somewhere, every school holidays.

In fact for the April school holidays there is so much going on that they’ve scheduled some works to happen beforehand, and labelled it an “autumn construction blitz“.

The big (weekday) shut downs include:

  • Werribee line (Werribee to Laverton) closed for two days last week for level crossing works at Aviation Road
  • Mernda line (Epping to Bell) for four days next week and then again (Epping to Thornbury) for a week in early April for level crossing works at Reservoir
  • Frankston line (Mordialloc to Frankston) for three days in early April
  • …and the big one: the Frankston and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines (Caulfield to City) will shut for more than two weeks around Easter

And that’s leaving aside a host of evening and weekend closures affecting numerous other lines, as well as V/Line.

Huddling in the shelter #bustitution

On Friday some detailed bustitution flyers were released. They’re worth a look if you’re on one of the affected lines. You’ll find them via the PTV page or on Metro’s web site.

One particular unfortunate change from previous shut downs is that recent infrastructure issues at Elsternwick now mean the entire Sandringham line is closed during works, even when they only affect South Yarra.

As usual, it’s worth checking information before you travel, and considering alternative routes rather than assuming catching the replacement buses is the quickest way to get where you’re going.

Mentone station March 2019 - bus interchange next to station entrance

Cheltenham and Mentone crossings

Last week some details of the Cheltenham and Mentone grade separations were released.

Mentone: One thing I’m less than happy about is that the station entrance will be a long way from the bus interchange. Currently the buses stop right next to the entrance to platform 1.

Mentone level crossing removal - design 2019

I hoped this might just be an issue with the artists impression. It’s not.

Cheltenham: I haven’t had a close look at this one yet (there’s precious little detail on either, in fact) but they have gone ahead with the plan to include a third platform.

The existing station has a third platform already. The difference is this one will be connected to the main line from both ends – enabling more operational flexibility. That why there are some references to a “third track” – this will not include an actual third track to Southland (to the north) or Mentone (to the south).

Dandenong area crossings

Designs have also been released for South Gippsland Highway at Dandenong South (Pakenham line) and Evans Road in Lyndhurst (Cranbourne line).

In both cases these are elevated road over rail – sky road!

LXRA: South Gippsland Highway bridge design

The problem with road over rail is it’s generally terrible for pedestrians, making them walk a long way in a hostile environment to get over the rail line.

I don’t know the area well, but this might be more of a factor in Lyndhurst (mostly residential?) more than Dandenong South (mostly industrial?).

Again, the lack of detail means it’s unclear to me if either of them include bike lanes over the bridges.

They both seem to only have a pedestrian path on one side of the bridge, and on South Gippsland Highway, it’s not clear where the existing bus stops will be moved.

If you’ve got feedback about the newly released designs, be sure to send it in via the Level Crossings web site.