We went to Walhalla for a night to camp on Sunday (it’s been about a year since last time). Apart from a little rain on the way up, nice weather — though a little hot when the sun got going.
The rain didn’t affect the camp site when we were there, but had other consequences.
After you get off the freeway and head through Moe towards Walhalla, you end up on twisty, windy roads for quite a way. A ute with a P-plate came up behind me… I figured it was a local driving who would probably know the road better than I, so I came to a straight section and slowed down and indicated left to let him overtake me, which he did.
Only a few seconds later he skidded down into a tight curve, and smashed into a safety barrier.
We stopped and I called out to him to ask if he (and his passenger) were okay. He said yeah, but he didn’t sound too happy. The barrier was bent, and so probably was his car.
The barrier wasn’t saving him from falling down a ravine or anything, but it does emphasise the importance of driving to the conditions… no matter how well you might think you know the road, it’s not a great idea to zoom along when it’s been raining and is slippery.
Camping itself was terrific fun, just like last time. Good company, fun times around the fire, and improvised camp food which this time around resulted in a wondrous creation: chocolate and strawberry jaffles. Yum.
On the way home we had the honour to stop off at the prestigious BP Officer inbound freeway service centre, opened by Mr Dean Salter (vice-president of BP Australia) himself in 2011. Gosh. Such an honour.
The Federal government’s High Speed Rail study assumes a route from Melbourne via Canberra to Sydney of between 823 and 842 km (mostly following existing highways), with trains reaching up to 350 km/h, and a three hour trip time from Melbourne to Sydney.
Some people who argue against the idea like to claim there is no way this estimated three hour travel time could be competitive with air, when the plane trip is only a bit over an hour.
But if the train was Melbourne CBD to Sydney CBD, how does plane compare to that?
On Thursday, I had a quick trip up to Sydney. Here’s how the trip up panned-out (times as close as I can estimate from photos, receipts etc).
9:04am. Step off suburban train from home at Southern Cross. Briskly walk towards the Skybus terminus.
9:10am. Skybus departs towards airport. (There were five more people aboard than seats available.)
9:31am. Skybus makes first stop for international and domestic flights other than Qantas/Jetstar. I stay aboard, though given the traffic in the airport, and the fact that the second bus stop is actually a little way past the Qantas terminal entrances, I always wonder if I should jump off here and walk the rest of the way to Qantas.
9:34am. Alight Skybus at the Qantas stop.
9:38am. Attempt to check-in. This doesn’t work and the machine tells me I need to seek assistance from staff. I don’t know what went wrong, but the staffer got it figured-out. It might have been because my boarding pass for the trip back was linked to a colleague’s who’d flown up earlier in the day.
9:45am. Go through airport security.
9:55am. Board plane.
Just after 10:00, after the last stragglers board and squeeze their barely-fitting carry-on suitcases into the overhead lockers, the plane pushes back.
11:20am. Plane lands. Apparently it’s a distance of 713 km (more or less, obviously since the exact flight path would vary), so if it’s a 75 minute flight, that would be a speed of about 570 km/h.
We (eventually, after aforementioned people struggle to get their suitcases sorted out) alight.
11:33am. Find and enter the Domestic Airport station entrance.
11:37am. Buy rail ticket from the vending machine. By the way, it came with a compulsory receipt (which I needed to claim back from work), which unlike Myki receipts, did not include my name nor the bulk of my credit card number.
11:38am. Go through station gate and down to the platform.
11:43am. Board train to city.
11:54am. Train arrives at Central station. (I stayed on for another 4 minutes, or two stops, to St James, which dropped me in the heart of the CBD.)
By air: 164 minutes. By rail: 180 minutes?
So in fact, the Melbourne CBD to Sydney CBD trip took from 9:10am to 11:54am, or 164 minutes, and that was without having to buy a Skybus ticket (I always buy them online to avoid the queues), without checking in baggage, without long queues at security (there were about 3 people ahead of me in the line), nor any significant delays on the flight, and with a short wait for the train (but I didn’t just miss one, for instance due to buying the train ticket).
I’m not a regular business traveller, but to my untrained eye, this trip appears to be close to the ideal Melbourne to Sydney plane ride. But CBD to CBD, it was only 16 minutes shorter than the theoretical fast train travel time of 3 hours — though one would need to take into account check-in and waiting time for train, of course.
On the train it is likely you’d be able to make phone calls, use the internet and any portable electronic devices one might have handy — with no “turn everything off” blackout period during departure and arrival, as on a plane. You’d also be able to move around more freely.
Certainly it would produce less carbon emissions. And the government’s study is predicated on a train also serving Canberra along the way, making trips to/from there more convenient.
There are significant hurdles to getting High Speed Rail built, of course, particularly the huge infrastructure cost. But in a busy air corridor like Melbourne to Sydney, it’s not hard to imagine that it might work quite well.
I suspect that once they proclaim me emperor, I’ll tell the airlines that starting in, say, 10 years, their flight paths between Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney will be cut by 10% per year. And I’ll recommend they start investing in and building a high-speed rail line to replace their planes, on condition that it’s a joint venture to maximise train frequencies (rather than split them between companies).*
Some people will tell you that rail lines down freeways are a great idea, because “the train overtaking cars is a great advertisement for public transport.”
Perth has done this, primarily because it’s been the easiest way of extending the train network. So the Clarkson/Joondalup and Mandurah lines both run down the middle of freeways.
And it’s long been proposed to build Melbourne’s Doncaster line this way, which I think makes a lot of sense.
But having seen the Perth examples up close recently just re-inforces my view that it’s only a good idea if there is no viable alternative — for a number of reasons…
Stations on freeways are very pedestrian un-friendly
As I’ve noted in the past, you are pretty much killing off any pedestrian use into the stations… and this is actually how the bulk of people reach railway stations in Melbourne at present.
You either end up having to put in lots of car-parking (which on level ground can cost tens of thousands of dollars per space, let alone the astronomical cost of multi-storey — and severely limits your patronage, as well as denying access to those who don’t/can’t drive) or you have to bring in people by feeder bus — which needs a lot of effort/cost to make it work well.
Perth has actually made the effort to put in reasonable connecting buses at some of its stations, and (from what I saw waiting around at Murdoch in the evening peak) these are pretty well used, though the adjacent car parks were busy too.
Stations in freeway reservations are also unlikely to be destinations, because shops, universities, businesses and so on — all the things that have grown around most of Melbourne’s suburban railway stations — won’t develop. These are important to make stations and trains well-used at times other than peak, and make the whole thing more viable, by catering for more than just CBD 9-5 commuters.
It’s worth noting that the Mandurah line diverges away from the Kwinana Freeway at both ends — the CBD (at a cost as it included tunnels and two underground stations) to ensure people hopping off could walk to work, and the Mandurah end, presumably because (some) land was available and cheap, so they didn’t feel constrained to just the freeway. (That said, the Mandurah line doesn’t actually reach central Mandurah; you have to catch a bus the last little bit of the way.)
Trains only overtake cars in peak hour
Let me tell you, it was great being in a train overtaking all the peak hour traffic on the Mandurah line. The trains were fast, frequent, and very popular.
Frankly, it was equally great being in a car in peak hour traffic being overtaken by trains.
But this only happens when the traffic is heavy. At all other times, including the peak-shoulder, trains don’t overtake cars because the traffic is moving faster.
Trains are at a particular disadvantage in off-peak hours, when the cars zoom along, and trains are less frequent. The result is — especially if you’re sitting at a station — the disheartening sight of waiting for 10, 20, 30 minutes while the traffic whizzes past you. That’s not a great advertisement for public transport; it’s a great advertisement for driving.
And if you’re driving and the average speed of the train is about the same (eg car at 100 kmh versus train at 130 kmh but with regular stops) you might not see any trains in the direction you’re travelling (only in the opposite direction). Again, that’s not a great advertisement for public transport.
Don’t get me wrong — a railway line down a freeway is better than no railway line. For instance in the case of Melbourne’s Doncaster line, a very obvious easy affordable project would be a “phase 1” from Victoria Park to Bulleen, with a bus interchange at Bulleen. That would get thousands of passengers on scores of at-capacity buses out of inner-city traffic on the freeway and Hoddle Street, and encourage thousands more to get out of their cars.
But overall, down freeways is not the first choice for where you should build railways.
All good things come to an end, and so it was with our Perth trip.
We had a sleep-in, then packed up our stuff into the car and headed out.
The flight wasn’t until lunchtime, but we had one more place to go before heading home: the boys have a strong interest in retro video gaming. (I can’t imagine where they got THAT from.) There are two retailers you can buy this kind of stuff from: Cash Converters, and a small chain called Gametraders.
So we arranged for my aunt to drive us to the only Gametraders in Western Australia, which is in a shopping centre called Centro Galleria, in the suburb of Morley, fortunately not too far from the airport. “Kate” (the name my aunt has given to her GPS unit) guided us there, and the boys had a happy time looking through the range, and buying a few ancient cartridges to play at home when they got back.
(I should note at this point that my cousin Justin also has an interest in video games, and in fact at my aunt’s house is his enviable collection, most or all of it still in boxes, in various cupboards. Very impressive.)
From there we headed back to the airport. I’d checked-in on my mobile phone earlier, but this time we were able to check-in our suitcase (arguably it’s quicker at your destination to leave it as hand luggage, but it’s less hassle wheeling it around the airport while you wait if it’s checked-in), and we also elected to get printed boarding passes, since on the mobile it had been a bit laborious calling up the three of them onto the screen when boarding.
While we waited we got a snack: some wedges (a reasonable-sized tray; enough for the three of us) and a drink.
Brigands! Pirates! Buccaneers! Gyroscopes! $13.70 for a bottle of water and some wedges?! #PerthAirport
I got a copy of The West Australian to read on the plane, and Qantas were giving away The Australian as well, so I had plenty to read. The flight itself was fine; no delays.
The in-flight movie was Game Change, about the 2008 US Presidential Campaign, and Sarah Palin in particular. I found it interesting, though the kids were completely bored by it. Fair enough.
After landing, we did our usual thing: luggage, Skybus, then train home. The two-hour time-difference resulted in a little jetlag, but it certainly didn’t detract from a great holiday — thanks in no small way to the extraordinary hospitality of my aunt. Thanks Aunty!
We’d be heading from Margaret River back to Perth today, so we packed up the serviced apartment and loaded everything into the car, then headed to cave number two of our tour: Lake Cave.
Lake Cave has guided tours, and while we waited for it to begin, we pondered the displays and the new-fangled terminology used. Their “Caveworks” display is not a museum exhibit — it’s an “eco interpretive centre”. And these are not just caves inside national parks that you can look around — no, they’re “living windows”.
The cave itself, like Jewel Cave the day before, is quite spectacular, particularly the steps down to the entrance mouth, which is itself a collapsed cave. Inside there were some amazing formations, and the guide noted that in the early days of cave exploration and tourism some damage had been done as there wasn’t much care taken by visitors.
On to Mammoth Cave, which includes no mammoths. It’s self-guided, using an industrial-strength iPod, and again, was spectacular in quite a different way, with vast caverns to explore. The way out reminded me a little of the Mines of Moria in the Lord Of The Rings film.
After all those caves, we craved lunch, and after a quick look at the Leeuwin winery (where I took a photo of some very wary cows), we ended up stopping off at the very impressive Voyager winery for food. It was so amazingly pristine that it gave me the impression of being a product of the slave trade, and they had the most massive Australian flag you’ve ever seen. We had a very nice, very posh lunch there, then headed north.
Our next stop was the amazing Canal Rocks formation, near Yallingup. We clambered all over them to have a look. My aunt reckons the same rock formations can be found in Madagascar, showing that we were all once part of Gondwanaland. It’s hard to describe them, so I’ll just post a few pictures.
North again, and another brief snack and toilet stop at Dunsborough, with each of us devouring something tasty from the bakery there. The boys, despite their unfavourable review of Spearmint milk a few days before, were rather impressed with the wide variety of flavoured milks in the bakery fridge.
Then it was the drive back to Perth, happily against the peak hour traffic, which was pretty busy at that time of day.
After arriving back at my aunt’s house and unpacking and having a rest, we headed out for dinner: at Sizzler.
Sizzler is something that used to be common in Melbourne but has disappeared now… according to the Sizzler web site, they’re only now in WA, Queensland and NSW.
It’s all-you-can-eat buffet, surely words of joy to two hungry teenagers. The pricing is such that you basically order a main meal and get bottomless salads, pasta, soup, desserts and other yummy stuff all included.
My recollection is that Pizza Hut restaurants in Melbourne used to do a similar deal (but more pizza-oriented, obviously)… but Pizza Hut seems to have got out of the restaurant business; they only really do takeaway now.
Sizzler was pretty busy, even on a Tuesday night. Cunningly, they feed you “free” cheese-on-toast while you wait for your meal to arrive, surely a strategy to get you to fill up on the cheap stuff and eat less from the buffet.
The food itself is reasonably tasty. We all know that the deal is it’s not going to be fine cuisine, but neither is it horrible greasy euchy fast food.
I lost count of the number of times we went for refills of everything, but by the time we finished we were thoroughly stuffed full of food, and waddled out, very satisfied after a long day of travel.
Another in a series of posts about Perth PT and how it relates back to Melbourne.
Perth’s city centre (and town centres of Fremantle and Joondalup) have CAT buses — Central Area Transit — free services running (reasonably) frequently in loops that people can hop on, hop off to get around.
They are very popular; those I saw in Perth and Fremantle were often busy, and one Red CAT we caught in Perth got close to capacity at one point.
Alongside the CAT buses, central Perth also has the Free Travel Zone, which gives you free travel on any train or bus within the central area using a SmartRider card.
Those who rave about CAT buses reckon they’d be terrific in Melbourne may have missed some vital points about why Perth has them (and the FTZ):
Firstly, they are used for high-volume hop-on, hop-off trips. If the drivers had to check or sell tickets, they’d be too slow. In Melbourne this isn’t a problem, because almost all CBD travel of this kind is performed by trams, where drivers don’t have to attend to tickets.
In fact, many of Melbourne’s trams are much higher capacity than Perth’s CAT buses, the main CBD routes run more frequently (about every minute in some cases, compared to every 5 minutes for the best CAT buses), and are consistently busier.
Secondly, Perth has no daily fares like Melbourne. In Melbourne a suburbs to CBD commuter or visitor pays no more than two journeys thanks to the Myki daily cap (the same applied with Metcard 10×2 hour tickets) or you use a Weekly/Monthly/Yearly Pass which includes travel all day.
So if you’re paying for your trip to and from work, then travel around the CBD at lunchtime costs no more. In Perth this doesn’t apply, unless you hit the DayRider cap — but this only applies for travel after 9am. So Perth commuters would pay extra to travel around the CBD during the day if they had no free services such as the CAT and the Free Travel Zone.
Thirdly, if as in Melbourne you can provide CBD travel which gets around the above problems, then who would benefit from providing free services? I’ll tell you who: motorists who have driven to the CBD. (Tourists benefit too, admittedly.)
Indeed, I suspect that one reason Perth retains CAT buses is because of a long tradition of welcoming motorists into the central city — the slogan at one stage was “Your car is as welcome as you are“. I think we know Melbourne’s public transport system has its faults, but frankly, motorists who have driven to the CBD don’t deserve a free ride.
Of course, Melbourne has the City Circle tram, and the Tourist Shuttle (which isn’t actually a shuttle). Doesn’t mean we need more free services though.
I’d rather see that money go towards the outer-suburban areas where most PT services are unusable.
After breakfast we had a walk around the beach close to our accomodation. It was windy, and pretty bleak to be honest. What we hadn’t seen the night before thanks to it being so dark was that there was a considerable amount of recent fire damage to the surrounding scrub. Apparently the fires late last year had got very close to where we were.
We jumped in the car and headed initially south back towards Augusta, filling up with petrol at an old-style service station (though not so old-style they served you) at Karridale. In fact there was another one nearby branded Ampol — a name I haven’t seen in quite some time; I thought they’d all become Caltex.
I had to laugh at a dingy wooden shack adjacent to the service station, which was a bus shelter for TransWA (the government operator) and also bore a sign proclaiming it to be a South West Coach Lines/Veolia (the parent-company of departed Melbourne train operator Connex) “luxury express coach stop”. I can only hope the coaches are luxurious, because the stop wasn’t.
About 90 minutes on the road headed east (the Brockman Highway, I believe named after Kent Brockman from the Simpsons… or possibly not) brought us to our destination, the town of Pemberton. A quick stop off to use the loo and pay a national park entry fee, and we headed for the Gloucester tree.
I must thank the readers of this blog, who had suggested the Gloucester tree. We looked up and around it, and finally decided that Jeremy and I would go up; Isaac and my aunt decided to stay on terra firma.
The steps are just metal bars stuck into the tree. There’s also wire — I’d hesitate to call it a mesh because it’s so wide — to prevent you falling out or off the steps.
If you go all the way up, it’s 61 metres. Yikes. (It appears that some consider 61 metres/200 feet to be the minimum height for a building to be considered a “skyscraper“.)
Once I’d started, I tried not to look down. In fact if I’d been on my own there, after a few metres I probably would have been tempted to stop and go back down, but I kept climbing.
We encountered another group coming down, and “hugged the tree” while they went past. One guy remarked that he’s terrible with heights, and if he could do it, we’d be fine… so we kept going.
We reached first platform at the top. From there you go a bit higher via more steps and a ladder until you reach the very top.
The view was terrific. You’re above the tree tops (which is the point of course; it was designed as a fire lookout). I could see the other trees moving in the wind, but the viewing platform appeared to be rock-steady.
Then I realised we were above the tree itself, which made me a tad nervous.
Another kid arrived at the top, having left his parents at the bottom and climbed up.
After a while we headed down, which was harder, because you can’t see the next step without looking down. I tried to focus on just the steps, not the fact that we were many metres off the ground.
It was something of a relief to get back to ground level.
We headed a few kilometres over to the next tree: the rather less-regal sounding Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, which is even taller. Alas, it was closed for climbing (though secretly I was rather relieved, as my legs were still wobbly from the Gloucester Tree.)
Nearby we found something odd: an old arcade game cabinet in a shed by the side of the road, with the signage “Fruit and Veg”. Odd.
We went back into town for some lunch. In perhaps a scene which you see more often in country Australia than in the big cities, two cops strode in, ordered lunch and ate it with their families, one holding his tiny baby on his shoulder.
The intention was to then ride on the Pemberton tramway, which (similar to the one in Walhalla) heads out for a tour around the nearby forest. Alas, like Dave Evans, it wasn’t functioning on the day we were there. The lady in the booking office said there was some problem down the line, aluding to tree branches having fallen on it or something of that kind. Oh well.
We took a look at some of the old trains stored nearby… there was one familiar logo on a diesel locomotive.
So we headed back towards Margaret River to start our run at the “Grand tour” of three of the caves in the area. There are many, many more, but my aunt reckoned these would give us a good taste of three distinct caves, without being overwhelmed/bored by them. First was Jewel Cave.
The tour guide moved us through the various parts of the cave, while explaining the features as we went. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside a cave before, but Isaac has — on a school camp. He said this was quite different, and much bigger. Quite spectacular.
After that, back to our hotel room for some relaxation before out for dinner in Margaret River — yes, the Settlers Tavern with its free wifi again. (Hint: don’t get the nachos if you’re very hungry. They’re tasty, but not a big serve. Other than that, no complaints about the food though, and they gain extra bonus points for the wifi and prominently placed free water. I’d go back.)
We packed up the car and headed south along the Kwinana Freeway out of Perth. Heading towards Mandurah, my aunt gave me a pronunciation lesson: it’s not pronounced “Mandurah”, it’s pronounced “man-drah”.
Eventually we left Perth’s suburbia behind us. Farmland and forest predominated, with the occasional huge billboard, including for something you don’t see advertised so much in the eastern states: the mining industry.
We had to slow down for an accident scene at Myalup. Lots of emergency vehicles on the scene – checking online news a little later, we found it had occurred an hour or two earlier. It didn’t look too good on the road — thankfully not fatal.
Otherwise of note when driving: I noticed plenty of stretches of 110 kmh limits, even on two-lane non-divided roads, which as far as I know is not something we see in Victoria. Also notable was that most Western Australians indicate left when leaving a roundabout — even small suburban ones. Interesting. My aunt said that there have been extensive publicity campaigns to encourage it, so most people do.
We made a pit stop at Bunbury, noting the striking checked lighthouse, then continued on to Busselton, which sounds like it should be a twin to Richard Scarry’s Busytown.
Busselton has an extra long jetty which goes almost 2km out from the foreshore. It’s another one of those biggest/longest/tallest in the southern hemisphere things — in case, the longest timber-piled jetty in the southern hemisphere. It’s long enough that there’s a (rubber-tyred) train you can ride out there, if you can’t be bothered walking. We walked.
Near the end of the jetty is an underwater observatory, which we’d intended on visiting, but it was closed for the day due to the water being too murky to see anything. While this was disappointing, at least they said so up-front, rather than taking our money and then having us stare at cloudy water.
After the jetty we found a fish and chips place in the town to chow down some lunch, before jumping back in the car.
As we headed south and neared Margaret River, there were more and more wineries; practically every turn-off had a sign pointing to several.
We passed initially through Margaret River, and on through Augusta to Cape Leeuwin, which is the south-western most point of Australia, in the Cape Naturaliste national park (which, let’s be honest, sounds like a nudist colony, but isn’t).
At Cape Leeuwin there’s a lighthouse dating back to 1895, and we did the tour of it, which involves climbing up all 176 steps to the top. Our tour guide, Bruce, must have been used to the cold and/or made of stronger stuff, as he was in short sleeves — the rest of us were wrapped up as warmly as possible, but still found it exceptionally cold in the strong winds at the top.
There was a great view from the top of the lighthouse, and it was a fascinating sight. The two oceans — the Indian and the Southern — meet there, and Bruce noted that you can actually see the currents of each splashing against each other.
Nearby we found an old water wheel, also built in 1895, once used to bring water to the lighthouse, but has since become encrusted in limestone.
We headed back to Margaret River to find our accommodation. It was now dark, and the pitch-black roads out towards Prevelly Beach where we were staying didn’t make it too easy. On the way we did notice a sign pointing to Isaac’s Ridge — in passing it a few times the next day, Isaac didn’t seem interested in exploring it, but apparently it leads to a resort which sadly burnt down last November — in fact there was a fair bit of obvious fire damage to trees in the local area.
Eventually we got to our serviced apartment near the beach, having (by my rough calculations, with help from Professor Google) covered 348km in the drive from Perth.
After a rest we headed back to Margaret River for dinner in the Settlers Tavern, where (once we’d solved some issues with the password) we availed ourselves of the free wifi, and had a delicious dinner to boot — a good ending to a long day.
After running some errands, we were dropped at Cannington Station, which unlike some of the others we’d used, is unstaffed. A small group of smoking teenagers was hanging around the station, but they didn’t get in the way of the actual passengers. I bought tickets for the kids, and pretty soon the train arrived, and zoomed us into town.
Happily the weather was much nicer than the previous evening, allowing us to explore the mall and surrounding streets a bit. Then we wandered back towards the station and caught a CAT bus for a bit of a tour of central Perth.
After a ride around on the CAT bus (which went from relatively empty to very very full quite rapidly) we jumped off and looked through some of the streets and arcades. It was getting on for lunchtime so we stopped in a food court and after the customary walk around the perimeter, opted for burritos from a Mexican outlet — very tasty.
Heading vaguely towards the river, we dropped into a Woolworths supermarket. The boys were intrigued by advertising for Masters (apparently a cousin of Big M, also sporting the M logo), and in particular a flavour which I don’t believe has graced Victoria: Spearmint milk. We picked up a couple of cartons for them to glug down, and the did so. Their reaction? It’s like toothpaste… but milky. And not in a good way.
We walked via Esplanade station to the Bell tower, an odd-looking modern landmark by the river, where we’d agreed to meet my aunt.
While waiting, two cars full of oddly dressed people with wigs and make-up pulled up and asked to have their photos taken in front of the Bell Tower. Evidently they were on some kind of scavenger hunt… or they were the strangest-looking tourists ever to frequent the Perth waterfront.
My aunt arrived in her car and we jumped in. First she took us to look around the University of Western Australia main campus. Some very impressive buildings which make it look like it was built earlier than 1911 when it was actually founded.
After that we headed north towards Whiteman Park, which is in Perth’s outer suburbs. Its distinguishing feature is that it has a narrow gauge railway (with a diesel train) and an old Melbourne tram. Both were running, and while my aunt settled down for a read of a newspaper, myself and the boys took a joyride on each.
The old W-class tram got up to a fair speed — probably faster than Melbourne’s ones do these days — and amusingly had to stop at one stage and ding at a family of ducks crossing the track.
Elsewhere in the park were amusement rides, a playground, and a small transport museum called “Revolutions” (which we elected not to look inside, as we needed to move on). I had actually thought there might be a tram museum, but it looks like the workshop is not open for tours. Perhaps there were some on display in Revolutions.
Given that WA’s trams all operated on narrow gauge (like most of the trains still do) and Melbourne’s were standard gauge, I assume there’s nowhere to see actual Western Australian trams in service, which seems a shame from a heritage point of view.
After the park, we headed back to the car and headed west towards the beach for a quick stop off at the Joondalup campus of Edith Cowan University. My aunt wanted to show us the spectacular architecture — and indeed it was, in quite a different way to the UWA campus we’d seen earlier.
Then we headed north… well out of Perth itself, and via a road which my aunt told us is not on any GPS (Military Road; it wasn’t in Google Maps on my mobile either, though I can see it in the main web version) to the Gingin Observatory for the 6pm stargazing session. They started with a presentation, which was cut short when it was flagged that cloud was starting to come across. At that point we headed out to the observation area to look through the various telescopes they had set up.
With the lights off, it was pitch black, and only after a few minutes of becoming accustomed to the dark could we fumble our way around. Some of the views through the telescopes were very interesting — obviously it was possible to see things simply not visible to the naked eye. Perhaps most inspiring was Saturn; its rings visible through the telescope.
They also showed us Alpha Centauri — our nearest neighbour, and one of the Southern Cross pointers. Through the telescope we could see that it was in fact not one star: you can see two (though there are actually three.)
The observatory session ended about 7:30, and we drove through the dark back into Perth. Perhaps we’d underestimated the time it would take to get back — by the time we got to our intended dinner location it had shut for the night. Instead we found a Japanese restaurant to sit and eat and ponder the stars we’d seen.
Then back to base camp for a good night’s rest — in the morning we’d be heading south towards Margaret River.
So I thought I’d compare Perth’s SmartRider against Melbourne’s Myki card.
Short term ticket options
This issue is critical for tourists and other occasional users of the system, who may have no wish to buy a reusable card. Judging from the initial response to Myki’s withdrawal of short term ticket options, I suspect there’s something of a pyschological barrier to buying a Smartcard for a small amount of travel — even if it costs as little as $3 (for a concession).
Perth: No problems here; paper tickets (printed by vending machines which appear to be the same hardware as Myki’s vending machines) are widely available. They are more expensive than travelling on SmartRider, and at gated stations require you to line up for visual inspection — thus another encouragement for regular users to switch to smartcards.
Melbourne: Once Myki is completely rolled-out, there’ll be no paper/short term ticket option. This is already a reality at all unstaffed railway stations, and is already causing complaints, particularly for concession users who don’t yet have a Myki, because you can only buy a concession Myki from a human (eg at a staffed station or retail outlet).
Perth wins on this point.
Perth: Before our trip, I’d checked up in advance. The web site implied I could get a full fare one for me, and that the kids, as interstate students, would be eligible for a concession fares via a tertiary Smartrider. This is because only WA students are eligible for the extra-discounted 50 cent fare available to primary/secondary SmartRider holders:
Interstate primary or secondary students may purchase a Tertiary SmartRider. Interstate students are not entitled to the 50 cent student fare.
The weakness of Smartrider is the availability. You can’t buy them from machines; you buy them over-the-counter from a relatively small number of stations, or from retail outlets. In the case of Fremantle, it’s a retailer in the station, who reckoned we couldn’t get any kind of non-full-fare card at all without paperwork stamped by the kids’ school.
I wasn’t going to get into a debate with the lady, so we just got paper tickets for the kids — fortunately they are easily available from the station vending machines in Perth.
Melbourne: adult cards are available from any station vending machine, plus hundreds of retailers, and station booking offices. Concessions are only available from retailers or station booking offices (which is causing problems for some people, given the lack of a short term ticket option). Buying a concession doesn’t require paperwork, though if you encounter inspectors, you may have to prove your eligibility.
Myki cards are cheaper than SmartRider cards; $6 for an adult Myki vs $10 for a SmartRider.
Even leaving aside the confusion over concession SmartRiders, Myki wins the points here for much wider availability.
Both systems allow “set and forget” auto load — in SmartRider’s case this gets you an additional discount on your fares.
Both systems also let you load credit via BPay. Myki also has options for credit card top-up online, which SmartRider doesn’t appear to have.
Perth: you can add value to your card on any bus or ferry, but at railway stations it’s a lot more restrictive — in fact you can only add value onto your card at 18 stations. There are also 4 “TransPerth Info Centres”, and about 60 retail outlets.
SmartRider is somewhat restrictive in the topup amounts. There’s a minimum of $10 on buses and ferries (which makes sense to prevent delays, especially on buses), but this also applies at station topup machines and retail outlets.
Melbourne: eventually it’s expected you’ll be able to top-up a Myki on a bus, but not on a tram. You can top-up at any railway station, and at about 800 retail outlets.
Myki retail outlets do impose some limits on top-ups (generally $1 according to the web site), and it’s not clear what rules will apply on buses (regional buses have the same lower limit, but this results in delays as some people top-up their Myki with their fare amount every day). For station machines it needs to be at least $1 — I know of some people who when passing, if there’s no queue, simply dump all their coins in. A good way to get rid of change.
Despite no tram top-up option, Myki wins on this.
Touch on/off speed
SmartRider wins this hands down. I found it consistently lightning fast.
In contrast Myki is patchy — sometimes fast (but I’ve never seen it as fast as SmartRider) and sometimes painfully slow.
With SmartRider I was able to walk through the gate without breaking step. Try that with Myki, even with the new gates, and you’d collide with the paddles.
SmartRider continues to use the terminology “tag on, tag off” — Myki originally used “scan on, scan off”, but moved to “touch on, touch off” in part due to slow response times.
I dare say if Myki was as fast as SmartRider, there’d have been less need to remove touch-off from trams… which would mean City Saver fares could have been kept (and indeed more flexibility with regard to future fare structures could have been maintained).
I suspect it’s in part because Myki devices are built on top of a general-purpose operating system (Windows CE)… I get the sense that many Smartcard devices in other cities are pretty much custom designs, without the overhead of that same kind of general-purpose operating system slowing them down.
Fare structure and discounts
The fare structure is somewhat independent of the ticketing system, but of course do influence each other.
Melbourne is two zones with overlaps, though some outer-suburban areas such as the farthest reaches of the Mornington Peninsula will become the new Zone 3 and zone 4. More zones will cover most of the rest of Victoria.
The old 2-hour and daily fares (“Myki Money”) still apply, with Weekend/public holiday discounts/caps. To get the further discounted weekly, monthly to yearly (28-365) “Pass” options, you have to buy these in advance.
Perth has nine zones, but this also covers some surrounding areas, for instance Mandurah which is about 70 km from the CBD (a bit further than Pakenham is from Melbourne’s CBD, is zone 7. Zones they don’t seem to have overlaps, which probably doesn’t matter given the larger number of them, and makes the system a bit easier to understand. With more zones, the cost increment for crossing a zone is much smaller — as little as 80 cents (cash fare) — which probably reduces the issues with Melbourne’s zone 1 — lots of people drive to the zone boundary to get a much cheaper fare.
A fare is 2 hours if it covers up to 4 zones; for more zones it’s 3 hours. A daily cap of $11 applies. There are no weekly or monthly discounts or caps, and there appear to be no off-peak or weekend/holiday discounts.
When buying a cash/paper ticket from a ticket machine, you tell it how many zones you want. The resultant ticket has the originating station and the number of zones. It’s not crystal clear to me how you are prevented travelling in both directions from there — I guess not many people take advantage of it.
SmartRider gives you a 15% discount on the cash fare, but switching to auto top-up makes it a 25% discount.
Melbourne: Many would know that Myki has been troubleprone, and is still not fully rolled out. The cost is huge ($1.5 billion over ten years, including running costs — about two-thirds of it is the start up and installation).
Perth: SmartRider is also not without its problems. The system was cheaper to rollout (apparently $35 million, presumably excluding running costs), but the public transport network is smaller, and there are much fewer vending/top-up machines around the system, as well as a much smaller network of retail agents. With a little research, one might be able to come up with a “per device” figure comparing the two systems.
I got the impression that fewer Perth railway stations are staffed, and even at those that were, the staff won’t sell you tickets — though they did offer to help me with the machines.
I also noticed that on a SmartRider add value machine, the card is inserted into the machine, which avoids the Myki problem of it sitting in a cradle on the front of the machine, and the possibility of it being removed before the transaction is complete — and also the issue of transactions not being cancelled properly.
Myki is actually better in a number of ways. It’s significantly cheaper and easier to get a card, and to top it up once you’ve got it, and these factors are undoubtedly important.
But SmartRider is better on a couple of really critical areas: on speed of touching/tagging and on the availability of short term paper tickets for those who don’t have a card.
An ideal system, I suppose, would have the wider availability of Myki, but the high-speed response times and short term ticket options of SmartRider.