The week in transport

This is an occasional series, when a few things happen during the week and I want to put a word in…

ABC: Ticket inspectors taking tram user’s phone to seek proof of identity unacceptable, PTV says

This is a concern, but context is important. It’s a matter of degrees. I think whether it’s acceptable or not depends on how they do it.

If the AO has to verify an ID, and no other proof is able to be presented and they say “Hey are you able to show us your name and address from an app, otherwise we’ll have to wait for police to attend”, and the passenger agrees, then I don’t see a big problem with it.

On the other hand, if the AO demands to see it, and/or grabs the phone and/or intimidates the person into logging on, and/or watches them do so (eg observes their pass code) then that’s definitely a problem.

Authorised Officers at a tram stop

Age: Level Crossing Removal Program business case released: the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) is 0.78

As the business case documents reveal, the problem is that the standard methodology used for BCRs uses a discount rate that may not be appropriate, and also doesn’t count many of benefits that are commonly associated with level crossing removals.

The core benefits anticipated as a result of the program include travel time savings, reduced vehicle operating costs, road travel reliability benefits, public transport user benefits and avoided collisions. As a standalone program, the LXRP is expected to deliver a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 0.78 using a 7 per cent discount rate. Using a discount rate of 4%, the BCR is 1.34.

The BCR has been calculated using a standard appraisal methodology. This excludes other significant benefits that the LXRP can be expected to deliver, including:

  • Wider economic benefits (WEBs), such as agglomeration benefits and additional tax revenue from increased
    labour supply, which are expected to be $555 million using a 7 per cent discount rate
  • Additional Benefits โ€“ such as improved network resilience to incidents, reduced perceived congestion benefits
    and the related benefits and costs of land use changes occurring as a result of the project โ€“ are expected to be
    $175 million using a 7 per cent discount rate
  • Local amenity benefits, increased activity centre connectivity/ consolidation, and benefits for emergency services.
  • Avoidance of wider social impacts (ie. to families and communities) caused by accidents at level crossings

There’s a heap of other interesting stuff in the report… I haven’t read it all yet, though I did find a familiar photo, originally used in this post.

Not hard to see why pedestrians, cars, buses, ambulances get delayed in Clayton. Grade separation needed!

Leader: Westfield Southland shopping centre will introduce paid parking in preparation for the opening of the station.

Charging after 3 hours not unreasonable. As I understand it, at other Westfields such as Doncaster, they charge beyond 3 hours, but you can get parking validated at the cinemas and so on so you’ll still be able to see a long movie and not get charged.

Something had to be done — either a hard limit, or charging — before the station opened, or the shopping centre car park would inevitably fill with commuters’ cars.

Leader: City of Port Phillip is to ban motorcycle parking along parts of Acland Street.

Good. The current laws, which allow motorcycles to be parked basically anywhere on a footpath, are getting out of control. Motor vehicles take up too much space to be allowed in busy pedestrian spaces. Commonsense guidelines are not communicated to riders, and are unenforceable, and thus widely ignored. The lesson for the council here is to ensure that there is plenty of signage for the ban, and that it’s enforced — unlike similar bans in the City of Melbourne.

Age: New Metro train timetables in August.

The government had already announced that V/Line would get a boost. Geelong trains will run every 40 minutes on weekends (currently hourly) should help relieve crowding, though it looks set to mess up bus connections (if they don’t get a wriggle-on and re-write those timetables to match), and really, who decided the non-clockface frequency of 40 minutes is a good idea? Half-hourly would have been better.

The Bendigo and Ballarat lines will also get more services, including an upgrade to hourly on weekends, and there’ll also be more trains to Ararat and Shepparton.

Train arriving at Bentleigh

The Metro changes include an end to the much-hated weekday off-peak Altona shuttles — these will now run all the way into the City. It’s not clear yet whether the Werribee trains will continue to stop all stations, or if these will run express part of the way; otherwise all the stations from Newport in will have 9 trains per hour, which is probably overkill for off-peak.

There will also be a handful of extra peak services on the Craigieburn, Werribee, and Sunbury, though much of the capacity freed up by Regional Rail Link on the latter two will remain unused.

Full details of Metro and V/Line timetables will be released in July.

The month in transport: Night network, tram bustitution, train crowding, Punt Road

Covering the last few weeks, which started off pretty quiet, so let’s see how this goes as a monthly post. But I’ll post on V/Line issues and elevated rail separately.

Night Network performance

This seems to have been pretty good in the first few weeks.

Overnight/early morning services on the 2nd and 3rd of January reportedly attracted about 10,000 touch-ons, which is about three times the use of Nightrider on a weekend in 2015. So off to a good start, though a long way from where you’d want it to be on an ongoing basis.

The second weekend (9th and 10th of January) the government says 15,000 people used the services, so around five times a Nightrider weekend… bearing in mind the weather in October generally isn’t as nice as in January.

It’s not perfect: some temporary signage is still in place:

…and it was unclear where Nightbus 978 ran during the closure of North Road for level crossing works, with no information online, no signage up at stops, and the operator apparently unaware it was happening.

Overall though it seems Night Network is off to a good start.

What will be interesting to see is how the government tweaks it to improve the service and its cost-effectiveness.

  • Update: Herald Sun on 4/2/2016 reported 19,400 users on the weekend of 22-24 January

Tram bustitution mess

Extensive works at Port Junction to install platform tram stops (and, it appears, upgrade track and overhead wire along Clarendon Street) ran overtime earlier in the month, with routes 12, 96 and 109 continuing to be replaced by buses for some of their length for an extra day or two.

Some excellent information and maps were provided by Yarra Trams:
Yarra Trams tram disruption map

Apart from running about a day overtime (which as I understand was due to a workplace safety issue), unfortunately what let it down was the bus replacement routes.

I unhappily experienced the tram 96 buses one Friday afternoon, on my way to Albert Park. The tram terminated at Batman Park, just south of the river. From there we had to walk back to Flinders Street, then wait for a bus, which we piled onto. From there it did a U-turn east down Flinders Street, left into King Street, right into Flinders Lane, right into Queen Street, then across Queensbridge, south past the Casino and then right into City Road, then under the tram 96 bridge and left into Ferrars Street and finally able to parallel the tram route from there.

There was heavy traffic, which could be reasonably anticipated on CBD streets, so it probably added half an hour to the journey, which is pretty horrible for a short trip. In retrospect it would have been quicker to walk from Batman Park south to the temporary route 12 tram terminus at City Road and use the 12 from there, but that information was sadly lacking.

It beats me why they came up with such a poor bustitution route, particularly outbound. I’d have thought taking the Charles Grimes Bridge and Montague Street would be much quicker, at the possible expense of missing the City Road stop by a couple of hundred metres.

There’ll be plenty more of this kind of thing as more tram stops get upgraded for level access. They really should do better.

Yarra Trams route 96 bustitution

Metro crowding

The Greens FOI’d the raw data from the PTV Metro load survey from May 2015, claiming that the government had understated crowding, because figures during cancellations and long delays are filtered out.

The figures perhaps have no real surprises: the strongest train passenger growth is in Melbourne’s growth corridors to the south, southeast, west and northwest.

As for the massaging of data, I think it’s valid to look at the raw data, and the extra attention on crowding issues was welcome, but it’s also important to remember why the load surveys exist in the first place.

They are not to measure crowding for the sake of measuring crowding. They’re to use as a planning tool to work out where and when to schedule extra trains.

We don’t need a survey to tell us that crowding occurs when there’s a cancellation. That’s obvious — and it’s a different problem — one of service reliability (which might be improved by better maintenance, more resilient infrastructure, stabling security, etc).

Packed Comeng train

The primary point of the load survey is to say: when the network is running more-or-less to time, where is there still crowding/unmet demand? Which lines need more services — and thus, investment in fleet, stabling, better signalling, upgraded power supply, and so on?

Punt Road clearways

Punt Road to become a 24 hour clearway.

I suspect it’ll have some short-term traffic flow benefits. Long term? We’ll see. It’s better than widening the road.

Long term a boost to the 246 bus (including bus priority) and nearby routes would help.

The government statement claiming it would improve things for people driving to the footy is a bit odd.

“When you go to the footy finals this year, youโ€™ll no longer be frustrated by being stuck behind a parked car on Punt Road.” — yeah, you’ll be stuck behind a stopped car instead of a parked car. And why would we want to encourage people to drive to the footy?

Also a bit odd is the idea of a 6 week consultation period, after which they’ll go ahead and do what they’ve already announced.

The week in transport

The experiment continues. This time it’s turned out to be short posts, rather than a ream of news.

Southland Station delayed

Monday 2015-12-21Southland construction pushed back into 2016. Completion is now expected in early 2017.

The Opposition said the construction should have been at the same time as the North/Mckinnon/Centre level crossing removals, but that might mean large sections of the line out of action all at the same time. It’s probably less pain for passengers to stagger it.

Outer end of Belgrave line closed on Code Red days

Monday 2015-12-21 — Apart from hot weather policies from Metro and V/Line imposing speed restrictions, it was announced that Metro intend to completely close the outer section of the Belgrave line (beyond Bayswater) on code red days. Replacement buses will run as far as Ferntree Gully, but the four outer stations will be left with no services.

A PTUA member was told by local bus company Ventura that similar policies apply to them on Code Red days.

This is a difficult one for Metro and the other operators. The official advice for a Code Red day is: “Leaving high risk bushfire areas the night before a Code Red Day or early in the morning of a Code Red Day is the safest option for your survival โ€“ do not wait and see”

…So basically it means everybody except emergency services should be evacuating the area due to extreme fire danger, so in that context, it’s not unreasonable to abandon public transport services. But will people know about it? How do those dependent on PT get out? And assuming no services run at all on those days, it’s a little out of whack with official advice allowing for leaving early in the morning.

PTV rejects regular Flemington trains

Wednesday 2015-12-23 — A plan for 1136 apartments close to Flemington Racecourse railway station raised the prospect of running trains full time, rather than just during special events. But PTV rejected the idea, citing the connected Craigieburn line as already too full.

There are actually a few questions here:

  • Can it be done operationally? They manage Royal Show services, including during peak hour, every September without impacting peak services (though these don’t run during AM peak). Oaks Day race services are similar, but have impacts some lines — in part to free up drivers and trains. It’s unclear if this is also for track capacity reasons.
  • Would there be enough demand to warrant a train? Arguably not. It’s not like adding a stop to an existing train service (see Southland) — a service to Flemington, even if it also served Newmarket and Kensington, would have limited catchment. High-frequency bus or tram connections to an existing rail line might work better… but PTV doesn’t seem to have considered or proposed any of this.
  • Is it a good spot for a major development like this? Ideally it would be adjacent a railway station with an existing service. But it’s not like PTV/government would get away with no transport impacts then — for instance the apartments around South Yarra have added to crowding on trains there. And density aside, 1100 new homes in a built-up area is better than putting them on the fringes, as with many other new developments. (Head out of Melbourne by car and you’ll see all the signs for the various remote estates being created.)

Frankston line, 11:50pm Friday night

24-hour PT brings a 24-hour city

Thursday 2015-24-12This article is an interesting read: Some experts believe that Melbourne’s after dark culture will permanently change when the all night public transport system begins next week.

It’s worth noting that the Night Network is weekends only, and of course Nightrider has operated for more than 20 years. But this is a more comprehensive network, with all suburban trains running, even though the frequencies are mostly only hourly.

Is there something about rail (tram and train) that will get people on board where buses couldn’t? Perhaps there’s something about the predictability of already-popular services running 24 hours that will get people on board where the unfamiliar Nightrider routes couldn’t?

It can be a bit hard for some of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s (and earlier) to understand, but there’s a sizeable (and growing) part of the population who are used to life without cars, and this will open up late-night (and early Sunday) options.

Night Network is a trial for a year only, but it’ll be fascinating to see how it runs.

The week in transport

Monday 2015-12-14 — Delays on numerous Metro lines (Frankston, Cranbourne, Pakenham, Craigieburn, Sunbury, Upfield, Werribee, Williamstown) following late-running weekend rail works. If you watch the Brit rail docos, this is the sort of thing they are constantly stressing about, so it’s unfortunately but perhaps not a surprise that it sometimes happens here.

Monday 2015-12-14 — A Caulfield local is complaining about train horns approaching level crossings. My initial reaction was that obviously he wouldn’t have lived there since trains started running in 18xx, so why would he be complaining? But there are other factors; X’Trapolis train horns seem to be noticeably louder, and they’re about to hit the Frankston line in a big way. And do modern operational guidelines call for more use of the horn? Don’t know. But bear in mind the specific location is close to the Neerim Road (Frankston line) and Grange Road (Dandenong line) crossings, both of which are on blind curves when approached from the city. It is important to ensure trains are heard, if not seen, by people waiting at the crossings.

The complainant may not be delighted to know that from next week trains will run hourly all night on weekends. On the other hand, at least the Grange Road crossing is set to be removed in coming years.

Street art in Mckinnon

Monday 2015-12-14 — More detail came out about the tragic death of Mitchell Callaghan at Heyington station in early 2014. The court heard Mr Callaghan’s friends held open the doors as the train left the station, which allowed one young man to jump aboard safely. James Mulcahy, one of those holding the doors, told the court that moments later he “saw Mitch fall down the side of the train”.

Monday 2015-12-14 — Plenty of coverage of Tony Abbott’s involvement in the cancelled East West Link project, following the release of an Australian National Audit Office report. The Guardian’s opening sentences sum it up nicely:

The Abbott government inflated the deficit during its first year in power by transferring $1.5bn to Victoria for the East West Link despite โ€œclear adviceโ€ the payments were not yet needed, an audit report has found.

The government approved the funding even though it had received departmental warnings that neither stage of the Melbourne project had proceeded through a full assessment of its merits, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) said in the report issued on Monday.

Basically Mr Abbott played politics with $1.5 billion of taxpayers money.

Monday 2015-12-14 — More detail of proposed freight rail around the Port Of Melbourne has emerged, via concerns about increased freight traffic on local level crossings. The rail link would connect the Port with a freight hub at Altona, and is part of a project to also connect freight hubs at Somerton and Dandenong. It’s been funded $58 million, but for some reason hasn’t happened yet.

Tuesday 2015-12-15 — Public transport research hub opened at Monash. It’ll be interesting to see the type of stuff that comes out of this. There’s huge potential for research and development of new ideas which can bring benefits to passengers, operators, and the state as a whole.

Tuesday 2015-12-15 — Metro using track sensors to detect temperature fluctuations. They’ve also spelt out their speed restriction policies, as have V/Line. Yarra Trams has a good information page on using trams in summer, including explaining how the air-conditioning works.

The first really hot days have been Friday and especially Saturday. There were some speed restrictions imposed, but no mass cancellation of services as we’ve seen in the past. I suspect the huge investment in upgrades over the past few years has largely resolved the kinds of problems we saw in 2008-09.

Trivia: the Australian railways term for speed restrictions due to heat is WOLO. It’s not an acronym, it’s an old telegraph code which has managed to stay in usage well after Morse code has fallen out of use!

Southern Cross Station, trains arriving

Friday 2015-12-18 — An interesting read from The Age on “value capture” in rail projects, focussing on the Hong Kong practice, which MTR (part owners of Metro) is trying to bring to Australia.

Related: in a podcast I listened to this week, there was some talk of value capture only really working on previously undeveloped land.

Oddly the week was top-heavy… perhaps things are quietening down in the lead-up to Christmas, so not much seemed to happen towards the end of the week.

Full timetables for NYE were released. If you can navigate PTV’s confusing timetables online (they’ve grouped together Monday 28/12 to Thursday 31/12, but put in lots of exception codes), then you’ll see this presents some interesting quirks, as services out of the city after the fireworks (eg between about 12:30am and 1:30am) run more frequently on some lines than during a normal peak hour: Upfield every 15 minutes, Werribee including Altona Loop every 10 minutes.

In the case of Altona, to cope with the single track, they have some inbound trains bypassing the Altona Loop, meaning gaps of up to 45 minutes. It’d be quicker to go outbound to Laverton and then change. The Hurstbridge line peaks at every 20 minutes — a similar situation, with the single track running for a time in only one direction, which happens every peak hour.

The week in transport

Consider this an experiment… a post each weekend summing up a few things from the week.

Tuesday 2015-12-08 — Flagstaff station to open on weekends from January. The Victorian Government finally confirmed what we already knew. Not before time.

Tuesday 2015-12-08 — Ventura Buses has its Christmas bus out and about again, and a competition if you post a selfie with it.

Tuesday 2015-12-08 — The state government announced the Western Distributor has been green-lit. It’s certainly less evil than East West Link, but Yarraville residents are rightly concerned, and it may flood the north-west end of the CBD with more cars — precisely what isn’t needed.

And remember, there was on mention of this road during the election. It’s $5.5 billion, so it’s a huge project, but as with East West Link, we didn’t vote for it.

Part of the plan is to further widen the Westgate freeway west of the bridge. Over the years it’s gone from 6 lanes to 8 lanes… now it’ll be 12. Funny how they always seem to fill up with cars.

And make a note of the government claim of a 20 minute trip saving. From what I can see of the Business Case, that seems very tenuous, and even if achieved, is unlikely to be lasting.

Wednesday 2015-12-09 — City of Port Phillip gave approval to their Acland Street redevelopment plan. It’s not perfect (tram stops will be further away from the bus stops, making interchange more difficult) but it’ll be a big step forward in providing accessible tram stops and reducing cars from what should be a very pedestrian and PT-friendly area.

Wednesday 2015-12-09 — The Auditor General published its report into the East West Link debacle. It makes for some interesting reading.

The Age published a blistering criticism of the State Coalition over this, and notes that Labor doesn’t come away unscathed — it’s well worth a read. The Herald Sun managed to completely blame Labor, at least in their headlines. Amazing. (The actual article was a little more well-balanced.)

Wednesday 2015-12-09 — PTV announced the fare rise for January 2016. Oh sorry, fare “adjustment”. Most fares are up about 4% — as expected, this is CPI plus 2.5%. It was originally budgeted by the Napthine government for each January from 2015 to 2018, and has been continued by Labor.

PTV is taking the opportunity to remove some quirks: two zone regional trips will drop in price — at present they’re more expensive than three zone trips! And trip time allowances will be increased slightly for three or more zones, which may help reduce the current problems with default fares triggering.

Thursday 2015-12-10 — Crikey uncovered (pay wall) that Lend Lease had suggested to both major parties that a rail alignment be included in the East West Link. Both rejected it. Rail doesn’t really make sense along there. For rail to work effectively it needs to directly serve major destinations. Having trains bypassing the busiest part of the metropolitan area wouldn’t work.

Thursday 2015-12-10 — The new Night Bus network timetables are online now, following the Night Train and Night Tram timetables which went online some weeks ago. If you take a look at the network map, then search the PTV web site for the route number, they’ll come up. The routes originating in the CBD are mostly half-hourly. The suburban routes are mostly hourly, and seem to be synchronised with train arrivals from the CBD at the most obvious station — for instance the 978 departs Elsternwick five minutes after the train arrives. Routes aren’t necessarily well timed for other station connections, and it’s not yet clear what protocols will be in place to handle train delays.

By the way the hourly strains are staggered on some lines to provide half-hourly services to Caulfield, Footscray and Clifton Hill.

Thursday 2015-12-10 — It was reported that City of Knox had fined a real estate agent for blocking footpaths with advertising. Good. The agent has shown no remorse. Perhaps someone needs to explain to him that no, not everybody can walk around the signs.

Friday 2015-12-11 — The state government announced a review of fare enforcement (See also: Age story). It makes sense to overhaul this — too many people are getting caught in the net, having tried to do the right thing to pay their fare and either making an innocent mistake or being let down by the unreliable Myki system. One big problem is the lack of discretion allowed for by Authorised Officers and in the Departmental appeal process.

Penalty fares in particular need reform — they were supposedly modelled on Britain, but in fact are quite different. UK penalty fares vary, but for instance in London aren’t paid on the spot — you have 21 days to pay the cheaper rate, then it increases. This allows time to appeal.

Friday 2015-12-11 — Rail Futures released a report proposing tram/light rail expansion across Melbourne. (Herald Sun article, paywalled). I’m not sure why this has gained prominence now — the report seems to have been published in March.

Some in the media seemed to assume the report had some kind of official status, but alas no. Hopefully the government will respond, but they’ve shown a remarkable reluctance in recent years to acknowledge the need for any tram route extensions, even blindingly obvious short affordable extensions to trams so they terminate at local railway stations instead of in the middle of nowhere. Those would improve network connectivity and help balance out passenger demand, which is heavily skewed towards the CBD ends of routes.

Edit — additional item:

Friday 2015-12-11 — the woefully named Bendigo Metro (stage 1) timetables have been released. It consists of a handful of extra services, all weekday (and most weekend) trains stopping at Kangaroo Flat in suburban Bendigo, and some trains extended to either Epsom or Eaglehawk. It starts on January 31st, in conjunction with Bendigo local bus service changes.

It makes sense to maximise the potential of Bendigo’s V/Line services for local travel, but with most services at best once an hour, it’s not of course a suburban “metro” service anything like that seen in Melbourne. Later stages are apparently likely to increase services.

Thankfully they haven’t gone down the road of dedicated Bendigo local trains, which would be incredibly expensive to provide for little benefit. I know people probably prefer rail to bus, but really for local travel I suspect introducing Smartbus services (eg every 15 minutes) to Bendigo’s busiest PT corridors would be much more successful, and probably far cheaper.

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