Melbourne’s station parking problem

Melbourne’s rail network already has some huge car parks, up to 1000 spaces at some stations, as many as a medium-sized shopping centre. There are more than 40,000 spaces across the Metro network, and thousands more on V/Line. Unlike in some cities, they’re all free.

The common complaint is that all station car parks fill up between 7 and 8am each weekday.

Presumably because car parks are so visible and politically popular, the politicians love building more. Here’s Labor’s pledge:

The problem is that building big suburban car parks is not an efficient way to get more people onto public transport.

  • It takes away valuable land around stations
  • It adds to local traffic congestion
  • It undermines more efficient alternatives by slowing down buses and trams, and making walking and cycling less pleasant
  • It requires that users can drive and have a vehicle that want to leave there all day, meaning it’s expensive for commuters
  • Like all solutions involving individual motor vehicles, it doesn’t scale due to the space required
  • It’s really, really expensive. The 1600 planned spaces for western suburbs stations will cost an average of $14,000 each, but at Tarneit it’s an eye-popping $37,500 per space (presumably multi-storey).
  • And worst of all, it’ll STILL be full by 8am (because demand always outstrips supply — Tarneit is a station that didn’t even exist 4 years ago, and it already has 1000 spaces) — so it won’t actually fix the problem
  • This means it only caters for (some) peak commuters, and undermines the efficiency of the whole train system by providing poor access for the rest of the day

I’m not going to tell you to vote for the other guys, because they want to do the same thing.

For example the Coalition has pledged $30 million for an additional 450 spaces, an amazing $66,000 per space. That’s about 7,600 daily fares, or more than 30 years of Monday to Friday commuting — almost 40 years if using a Yearly fare.

It’ll never even come close to recouping its costs. How is this seen as a sensible investment?

The Greens notably have policies around better buses, rather than more car parks, but are unlikely to be running the government anytime soon.

Sure, bigger car parks will get a few more people onto trains, but it’s far from the most efficient way of doing it. What about finding a method that’s cheaper, causes fewer problems, is more scalable, and doesn’t assume train passengers have a car?

Tarneit station

Park and ride has its place. It’s appropriate for urban fringe areas where land is cheap and not suited to other uses such as residential or commercial development, walking and cycling distances for people are too far, and density doesn’t support good bus services.

Perhaps it’s time to consider applying a small fee to help offset the cost and discourage those with alternatives, combined with a rebate for those driving to the station from areas with no other options?

There is one arguable benefit from big car parks at stations that someone well-connected pointed out to me the other day: it’s a method of land banking for future development.

Elsternwick might be an example. Some years ago, the decades-old ground level parking got converted to multi-storey, freeing up space for apartments and retail. I don’t think the retail has been a raging success, but the theory is good… though in practice, given the cost of multi-storey, I’m not surprised it doesn’t happen very often.

Alternatives to driving to the station

The mystery to me is: in suburban areas, when the walking/cycling and bus options are all crap, but could be viable with a little more investment, how come the answer from both sides is always “spend $$$ on more parking”, given it doesn’t solve the problem, and creates others?

“But Daniel, nobody wants to use the bus”. Nope, completely untrue. Here’s a crowd at Tarneit who are more than willing to catch a bus home, but they’re left waiting. Route 167 only runs every half-hour. Apparently the solution is to pay millions to get them to drive to the station instead.

Tarneit station bus stop

“But Daniel, most people drive to the station!” No they don’t. Even in zone 2, a minority of people drive to the station.

The stats for 2013-14 show 27.9% of weekday access to stations (excluding the CBD) was by car. It was higher in zone 2, lower in zone 1, but driving to the station is a minority mode in all areas, with only some individual stations having a majority of arrivals by car.

It just looks like most people drive, because the car parks take up so much damn space.

Station access 2013-14 (PTV data)
(This graph is from the 2015 post, which used slightly older figures. Unfortunately there are no figures after 2015 showing the effects of zone changes, and none for V/Line stations like Tarneit and Wyndham Vale.)

Now, I’m not about to tell people they should go and walk along terrible unlit footpaths, or use a second-rate bus service.

People will use what’s most convenient. Remember, transport is supply-led.

But the infuriating thing is that every time the government has tried upgrading connecting buses, people have flocked to them. Even my local 703 route, which is okay during peak but very poor after the PM peak, gets a crowd every morning and every night.

703 bus arrives at Bentleigh station

Other stations with feeder buses running at good frequencies also get lots of people connecting by bus.

  • Bayside City Council is currently trialling a free commuter bus service, running every ten minutes each morning and evening peak to/from Middle Brighton station. Details

Some stations also have substantial levels of bicycle access, often outstripping capacity of bike cages. At Newport, where the Parkiteer cage is regularly full, locals resorted to the Pick My Project initiative to try and get another one… it wasn’t selected. Given one cage storing 26 bikes takes the space of about 2 cars, and is something like an eighth of the cost, why isn’t government just routinely installing more bike parking, either cages or another design, as demand grows?

And at almost all stations, more people walk to the station than drive, despite often adverse walking conditions.

All these can be improved at far less than $37,500 per car space. Why are these modes not getting more investment?

Public transport shouldn’t require that users own a car. There are proven fixes that are cheaper, can get people to the station even if travelling after morning peak, that don’t take up lots of space around stations, and don’t contribute to local traffic congestion.

If only the politicians could see it.

More level crossing removals?

Things have been busy, so I’m a bit behind on blogging things. A few things in brief, then the big news.

Wednesday night delays

Last night saw major delays affecting the Mernda and Hurstbridge lines between about 4pm and 5:30pm, impacting peak hour. This was due to a track fault at Flinders Street, and it appeared that Metro re-routed those trains to other platforms, which caused flow-on effects onto the Burnley lines.

Big delays for tens of thousands of people.

But there was a silver lining in a very dark cloud: other lines (those via North Melbourne and South Yarra) were largely unaffected. This is a huge improvement from a few years ago, when the operational practices of sharing drivers and trains across line groups would quickly cause delays to snowball across the network.

The question of compensation has come up again, of course. My sense is that the higher priority is to invest to avoid these problems in the future, and that the compensation scheme needs a broad review. The current threshold of cancellations/delays across the entire network across each calendar month is not appropriate — it means any people affected by huge delays like last night’s invariably get nothing.

Paul Mees Award

Last week the PTUA presented the Paul Mees Award for contributions to the transport debate to Channel 9’s Andrew Lund and The Age’s Clay Lucas. Both doing sterling work. Well deserved.

Paul Mees Award 2018: Andrew Lund and Clay Lucas

More X’trapolis trains on the way

On Sunday the government announced that more X’trapolis trains are to be ordered for the Metro fleet. The design will be updated first, and I’m told they will be compatible with the existing carriages. Hopefully they will fix the worst of the problems, such as poor suspension, lack of stainless steel, and information displays blocked by handles.

It might also be logical to build them as semi-permanently coupled six-car sets, with no middle driver cabs, given these now rarely get used.

They will help bolster the fleet as the Comeng trains start to get retired next decade, and the government tells me they see benefit in having trains other than just HCMTs — probably makes sense given the large size of the fleet, the problems in the past when much of the Siemens fleet had to be taken out of service, and wanting to keep multiple rolling stock vendors with local facilities viable into the future.

Glenhuntly level crossing

Labor pledges more crossing removals

The big news: On Sunday the state ALP pledged to extend the level crossing removal program by another 25 sites if re-elected — on top of the 50 promised by 2022. (51 actually because Park Street, Cheltenham got added due to proximity to Charman Road.)

In my opinion, this is a good policy – there are numerous benefits to motorists and public transport users alike from crossing removal. And we’re finally making progress in getting rid of the worst ones.

The Coalition has re-affirmed that it will complete projects already started, but will not expand the level crossing program. It’ll stick to its proposal of road intersection grade separations.

In my opinion, this is a bad policy – these mini-spaghetti junctions (see St Kilda Junction for an example) will be disruptive and expensive to build, result in cyclist and pedestrian-hostile environments, won’t actually fix traffic congestion (because you’ll just end up queuing at the next set of lights) and in fact won’t get rid of traffic lights – they’ll still be needed for turning vehicles.

Traffic lights might be irritants, but are never as unpredictable as level crossings, they can be overridden/ignored by emergency vehicles, they can be overridden by controllers, and the major roads that would supposedly benefit from this idea already tend to have green lights synchronised along their routes.

I guess this means voters have a clear choice.

I asked my Twitter followers about it. They may lean a particular way, but even I was surprised at how one-sided was the result: 90% preferred level crossing removals.

Underneath the skyrail near Grange Road, Caulfield

For the Coalition’s list of intersections in their proposal, see this post from November last year when they announced it.

The extra level crossings on the ALP’s list

15 of the 25 have been announced so far. Many of them are grouped – I’m told a key learning is the benefits of doing adjacent sites.

  • Sunbury line: Gap Road, Sunbury
  • Werribee line: Old Geelong Road, Hoppers Crossing. Potential to do this at the same time as the two Werribee crossings already on the list, and avoid multiple train shutdowns
  • Mernda line: Cramer, Murray and Oakover Roads, Preston. Likely to be rail over road (eg skyrail). These are either side of Bell Street, which is already on the list, so presumably all four would be done at once
  • Frankston line: Neerim and Glen Huntly Roads, Glen Huntly, and Chelsea Road, Argyle and Swanpool Avenues, Chelsea. All likely to be rail under road.
  • Upfield line: Reynard and Munro Streets, Coburg. Also likely to be skyrail. Given the proximity to Bell Street, which is already on the list, one would hope all three are done as one project.
  • Belgrave/Lilydale line: Union and Mont Albert Roads

Glen Huntly Road? Hallelujah. This tram/train crossing delays trams, and forces trains to crawl across at 20 km/h, even when they’re expresses. It slows down journeys for every single Frankston line passenger. As a former local, I’m a bit disappointed it won’t be skyrail, as it could provide additional open space adjacent to the shopping centre, but I hope at least they’ll look at moving the station to between Glen Huntly and Neerim Roads, to improve connections to local buses as well as trams.

Citybound platform at new Ginifer station - Nov 2016

The government has also released a document showing how sites are prioritised. At least, it shows the methodology. What it doesn’t show is how each site comes out when evaluated in this way. But it’s still well worth a read.

On grade separation of level crossings vs intersections, the choice the major parties is stark. It’ll be interesting to see which way the election goes.

See more in this Age article: Here’s how your vote will shape Melbourne’s transport network

Rail plan leaked

Channel 9 and The Age got hold of a previously unpublished rail plan, or at least the summary maps from it.

Age: Leaked rail plan shows few extra services for regional commuters

Channel 9: I assume the headline-writer got a little carried away. Metro 2 isn’t really a secret.

The stages

The staging appears to be very similar to the PTV plan release back in 2013; it’s obviously evolved over the past five years. (Let’s assume that the swap of Spotswood and Seddon is an error.)

To me it all seems reasonably sensible. Channel 9 has a good summary of the projects involved, which is well worth a read.

Here’s how things will sit when the Metro (1) tunnel opens. Dandenong and Sunbury are connected via the tunnel. Frankston takes the Caulfield Loop. Sandringham is connected through to Newport.
Victorian Rail Plan - leaked version October 2018 - Metro 1 tunnel

Also by this point, the Upfield line has been extended to Craigieburn, with Seymour/Shepparton/Albury trains using it instead of the Craigieburn line – does this mean the Albury line would be converted to broad gauge? Not sure.

By stage 4, the western portion of Metro 2 (Werribee line, Newport, Fishermans Bend, Southern Cross, Flagstaff, Parkville) is in place, as well as electrification to Melton and Wyndham Vale (planning works for these were pledged by Labor yesterday).
Victorian Rail Plan - leaked version October 2018 - Stage 4

By this point the Frankston line has been extended to Baxter, and the Cranbourne line to Clyde. The other big change is the City Loop is re-configured to route the Frankston/Baxter line through to Craigieburn. Glen Waverley is running direct and is routed through to Upfield/Craigieburn, which has an extension to Wallan. The Airport line is in place via Sunshine, and there’s a connection from Werribee to Wyndham Vale. Laverton (Altona Loop) and Williamstown trains are disconnected from the Werribee line, and continue to run via Footscray.

Also note the annotations showing the number of peak trains. This is the catalyst for The Age’s headline. Some people on Facebook have assumed that’s an all-day frequency. It clearly isn’t — the Dandenong line is not going to have 22 trains per hour all day.

Stage 6 completes the Metro 2 tunnel, connecting Parkville to the Mernda line, which also has a branch north from Lalor to Wollert. This line is connected through to Werribee and an electrified Geelong line, with Warrnambool passengers changing at Geelong.
Victorian Rail Plan - leaked version October 2018 - Stage 6

A big change here is the Cranbourne/Clyde and Pakenham lines have been separated. Clyde now runs via the tunnel, then via Chadstone, with a branch at Huntingdale to Monash Uni and Rowville. This obviously differs from State Labor’s view of light rail serving Caulfield/Chadstone/Rowville. Additional tracks from Huntingdale to Dandenong (where the alignment is wide) allow Pakenham and V/Line trains to run express. At the city end, Pakenham is connected through to Wyndham Vale, if I’m reading the fuzzy out-of-focus lines correctly.

There’s some final twists in the “Long term” vision.
Victorian Rail Plan - leaked version October 2018 - Long Term

Seymour/Shepparton/Albury trains now run via the Airport instead of via the Upfield/Wallan line. The suburban Airport line no longer connects to Sunshine, but runs direct to somewhere near South Kensington – but without any intermediate stations, which seems a waste.

Also note the City Loop configuration. It appears the Hurstbridge line would run via the Loop then out to Ringwood. By this point, no metro services would terminate in the City – they’d all be connected through to other lines.

So what’s not in here?

The Suburban Rail Loop is the obvious one. It was prepared separately from the rest of this plan before being announced last month. It does have limited interaction with the main network, particularly in the east, though there’s talk of it sharing parts of the Airport and/or RRL alignments.

The other glaring omission is the Doncaster line.

The focus for service frequencies is all based on the maximum. I know there’s good work going on to move towards frequent all-day services, and you’d hope that a full plan (with explanations for these leaked maps) would detail that.

Despite the leak, I don’t expect the full plan to be released this year. But hopefully in coming years, well after the dust from the election has settled, and the bureaucrats have had time to properly digest and incorporate the plans of their political masters.

Forward planning is vital, and the enthusiasm for rail from the politicians is very welcome — it’s vital as our city continues to grow. Let’s hope that whoever wins in November, things can move forward in a coherent, logical manner.

Update: The Frankston Leader reported on the diversion of the Frankston line away from Southern Cross and Flinders Street:

Liberal public transport spokesman David Davis said the plan would โ€œmake life very tough indeedโ€ for Frankston line commuters trying to access the southern or western side of the city.

Mr Davis accused the government of โ€œhypocrisyโ€ for removing the two major stops from the Frankston line after criticising the former Liberal government for a similar proposal.

Mr Davis is referring to the 2014 “Melbourne Rail Link” plan, the Coalition’s version of the Metro tunnel. But before that, the Frankston to Craigieburn plan was seen in the PTV Network Development Plan back in 2013. So he’s criticising a plan originally released when the Coalition was in power.

It’d be nice if the politicians looked at these plans on their merits rather than supporting or attacking them based on which side was in power when they came to light.

Passenger Information Displays (PIDs) at stations are evolving

Just a quick post while I work on something more substantive.

I want to talk about Passenger Information Displays (PIDs for short) at Metro stations.

For a while, it looked like suburban stations would all be getting two line LED PIDs.

They show the scheduled time, destination, minutes to departure, and a summary of the stopping pattern, but no individual stations are listed.
Station PID taken with DSLR with Time Value setting on 1/30 second

Around 2016 with many stations being rebuilt, more elaborate flat screens started to appear, which add every station the train serves, and the following two trains, as well as the current time. (Larger versions of these appear at central city stations.)
Bentleigh station platform 2

More recently, at some stations the two line LEDS (only installed in 2014) have been replaced by the screens… with a twist. Some of them have been switched to a different design, which shows less detail, but in a larger font size.
Armadale station, platform 2

This makes sense, particularly where there’s only one screen per platform. They are far easier to see from a distance.
Armadale station, platform 1

They still show more information than that two line LEDs, including the current time and the following train, and can be switched to show different messages when relevant.
Armadale station, platform 3

Here’s a comparison with Sydney, where they’ve gone for a two screen display, which shows the next train on one screen, complete with a full (scrolling) list of stations, and following trains on the second screen. Overall it’s got more information, but I think (partly due to the colours used) is less readable, particularly from a distance.
Sydney station platform PIDs

By the way, most of the above pictures are from Armadale. It and the other MATH stations have another older type of display on the concourse listing departures from all platforms:
Armadale station, concourse

Good accurate timely information is important on the public transport network, and while apps now mean a lot of this is now available on smartphones, it’s good to have it displayed around the stations.

Getting details of the following train is particularly important in morning peak, when the train at the platform may be delayed and packed. People may choose to let it go if they know the next one is only a few minutes away.

Not including a list of all stations… perhaps that’s okay at suburban stations, though unfamiliar users may still have issues, particularly outbound — for instance, a Frankston line train may be terminating at Frankston, Carrum, Mordialloc, Cheltenham or Moorabbin — it’s high time major interchanges like South Yarra and Caulfield got screens with all the stations listed.

But at least each new version has been an improvement. No doubt the PIDs will continue to evolve and improve.

PT crowding increasing – but we can do better

The May 2018 Metro and Yarra Trams passenger load surveys were released last week.

Media coverage: Herald Sun (paywall); The Age

It’s worth noting that load surveys are measuring what happens when the service is running as planned. It’s not designed to look at crowding during disruptions, it’s designed to guide future investment.


Here’s the TL;DR for Metro: After a reduction in the past couple of years, crowding is on the rise again. 9.8% of AM services are above the threshold, and 4.8% of PM services.

To me, this indicates that patronage has kept increasing, and the reduction in crowding in 2017 was thanks to the removal of some seats to increase standing space. Unfortunately on some lines there hasn’t been a huge number of new services added to the peak timetable in some years — only 5 across the networkwide AM peak between May 2015 and May 2018 according to the graph.

Metro load survey May 2018

Here’s a summary of the state of the lines. Rather than use the figures concerning the number of trains that are overcrowded, I’ve pulled out the percentage of peak passengers travelling on overcrowded trains:

Line AM peak PM peak Notes
Alamein 0.0% 0.0% Steady since 2012
Glen Waverley 0.0% 16.6% Crowding increasing
Ringwood 7.4% 6.8% Crowding increasing marginally in AM peak
Dandenong 16.8% 10.8% Crowding dropped markedly from 2016 to 2017, but is on the rise again
Frankston 16.1% 5.3% AM peak has been consistently more crowded since 2012. Dropped between 2015 and 2017, but rising again
Sandringham 0.0% 0.0% In the past has been consistently more crowded in AM peak, but has improved a lot since 2016.
South Morang 24.0% 27.2% This survey was before the Mernda extension opened, though that added extra services: AM peak increased from 15 trains in May to 20 now.
Hurstbridge 22.1% 0.0% Increased crowding in AM peak. Continued duplication of the line will help run extra trains.
Craigieburn 23.6% 10.7% Peaked in 2016 and has been dropping, but clearly still very crowded
Sunbury 18.4% 0.0% Peaked in 2016 but has improved… for now.
Upfield 0.0% 0.0% Crowding has dropped since 2016 despite no extra services; not really clear why. (The AM peak switch from 20 minute frequencies to 18 minutes was in 2012.)
Werribee 17.6% 5.7% Similar to the Dandenong line; crowding had been improving, but has increased recently
Williamstown 0.0% 0.0% As with Alamein, no crowding recorded since 2012

Basically, crowding on the lines serving the growth areas of Melbourne (especially Sunbury, Dandenong, Werribee and South Morang/Mernda) can be expected to worsen over coming years if nothing is done.

Also worth noting: the focus is on peak hours, but there are now real problems outside peak hours, including weekends. Some lines run as little as every 40 minutes on Sunday mornings, and are packed. This should be an easy win to fix, but seems to be a blind spot for the government.

The load survey notes say that counts are actually done between 6am and midday, and 2pm and 7pm. It’d be interesting to see the data from the middle of the day, when some lines see a big service frequency reduction.

Crowding on tram 48


Tram crowding has also worsened, with load breaches primarily on Swanston Street/St Kilda Road, and Elgin/Lygon Street (routes 1 and 6), particularly in the morning peak.

Other hotspots in the AM peak include Wellington Parade (routes 48/75 — I’m betting mostly the 48, which usually uses small trams), and on Clarendon Street (route 12, another with small trams).

And there’s a twist: for the first time, they measured a “non-cordon” (eg non-CBD) location: route 82 at Droop Street and Ballarat Road — and found that too is overcrowded in the AM peak.

Perhaps this should be no surprise: despite huge urban renewal around Maribyrnong, this route is one of the least frequent in Melbourne (only every 15 minutes in peak) and runs all small trams.

Crowded train, Richmond


One can understand where the debate about population and decentralisation is coming from – prompting talk of (among other things) fast rail to the regions.

But if decentralisation just means fewer people moving into Melbourne (which at least has some semblance of a public transport network) and more moving into regional areas (many of which really don’t have any public transport, apart from a small number of buses and trains) then that’s not a good outcome. It just means more car dependence and sprawl in towns around the state.

Plus our local decision makers haven’t yet learnt that big cities can and do deal with congestion… just not by building more motorways. They can’t necessarily eliminate congestion, but they can ensure that more people can get around without being caught in it, by providing alternatives to driving.

Can PT cope?

You can argue that public transport in Melbourne and Sydney isn’t coping with our growing population.

But it’s incorrect to claim it can’t cope… because we haven’t really tried.

  • Australia has no metro systems (Sydney’s one line under construction doesn’t make a system) — frequent services all day until midnight, with dedicated routes? Suburban rail can transition to it, but it’s a frustratingly slow process
  • There’s almost no proper light rail with real on-road and traffic light priority — the Gold Coast is the only example in the nation.
  • Frequent buses with priority? Very rare. Brisbane is perhaps the only city doing this seriously, and even there the busways are arguably doing the job that should be done by trains.

Meanwhile, Melbourne’s recently opened major rail projects were very welcome, but:

  • Tarneit/Wyndham Vale/Caroline Springs/Melton etc need a metro or a suburban service, but got a regional train service which is predictably struggling
  • Mernda got a “Metro” connection that runs as little as every 30-40 minutes

None of this is good enough in a city of 5 million people and growing.

Waiting to board a Geelong train at Southern Cross, PM peak

While successive Victorian governments haven’t really tried in a serious way to fund high frequency high capacity public transport, they’ve tried everything they can to get the motorways to cater for growth.

More and more lanes, “managed motorways” (metering aka traffic lights, dynamic speed limits, automated lane signage).

It doesn’t work. Ultimately, moving millions of people around in their own metal boxes simply doesn’t work… which is why the smartest big cities have fewer motorways than we do.

The time has come for proper, turn-up-and-go, big city public transport. Our government must do better.

  • On Wednesday I participated in a forum on ABC Radio. The full audio is here. Transport is the middle section, but the whole thing (also covering housing and crime) is worth a listen.