The Last Post (of the year)

One last post of miscellaneous stuff to mark the end of 2017.

Grandad

My Grandad was born on this day in 1924. He passed away on Boxing Day, just shy of his 93rd birthday. Being one of our UK relatives, we didn’t visit him much, but we did manage to see him during our UK trip this year. RIP.

Some blog stats

Total blog posts for 2017: 120 excluding this one.

Total comments for 2017: 1276 up to 6pm.

Most popular posts, by number of comments, are all transport posts:
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No Night Buses running for NYE

Night Buses are not running on New Year’s Eve tonight.

Most trams and trains are running all night — and it’s more trains than last year; half-hourly after about 2am, rather than hourly as last year. There are also some regional trains and coaches after midnight.

Night Bus routes are designed to fill the gaps between the trams and trains — especially the latter in the outer suburbs.

Not running them means many suburbs will have no public transport at all between about 10pm tonight and 7am tomorrow morning — including Mornington (and the rest of the Peninsula, population 155,000 people), Point Cook, Rowville, Mernda and others. Doncaster will have Smartbus routes extended until 2am, but nothing after that.

The Age ran a story on Friday: No way home for hundreds of revellers after Night Buses cut for New Year’s Eve

The story included this truly ludicrous response from the State Government:

A spokeswoman for Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan has argued that the Night Bus services would not run this year because New Year’s Eve falls on Sunday, and the late night services run on Friday and Saturday nights. … “As New Year’s Eve falls on a Sunday, Night Network services do not operate”

Um, what? Trains and trams don’t run all night on Sundays either, but they do for New Year’s Eve.

Why would you run the Night Buses every weekend, but not on the biggest night of the year?

After they’d had some time to think about their response, PTV changed their tune to something a little more plausible: they claimed to journalists that only 50 people used Night Buses last NYE… but they also claimed that normal weekend Night Buses are “very popular”.

Let’s assume the 50 people quoted excluded the Doncaster Night Buses. If that service was used by hardly any people, then this year they wouldn’t be running four Smartbus routes to Doncaster every 15 minutes until 2am.

Doncaster aside, if Night Bus passenger numbers are low on NYE, logic would imply they’re even lower on most weekends.

PTV Night Bus Network 2016

Does Night Bus need a re-design?

Most of the time, official patronage figures for Night Bus are very hard to come by.

But this claimed low patronage on NYE casts into doubt the entire Night Bus network design.

If Night Bus patronage is not reaching expectations, then authorities should review the network, which currently is completely different to daytime bus routes, and partly duplicates rail services.

There are some broader Night Network considerations, including:

  • more frequent trains — which would only incrementally increase costs, given so much investment in station staff and PSOs and other support staff to just keep the network running all night, and the current hourly timetable has some excessively long layovers
  • using buses instead of trains on the outer-ends and/or quieter sections of the rail network

On Night Buses specifically, one option would be running major routes (eg Smartbuses, or at least the busiest sections, and a few other bus routes targeted at gaps in the rest of the network) as 24 hour services on weekends and New Year’s Eve. Time them where possible to meet trains from the City.

Like the 24 hour trains and trams, 24 hour buses would be more understandable for users, and more likely to get good patronage. The current Night Bus network of different routes to daytime means someone heading out before midnight but coming back after midnight has double the work to figure out how to use the system.

(The way they are programmed into Journey Planners also seems to cause issues. Night Buses are limited pick-up, but will drop you off at any stop. This seems to be beyond the understanding of the JP algorithms.)

Indeed, if Night Bus patronage is generally poor, and Night Train/Tram usage is more healthy, then we’ve got the ironic situation that the train/tram routes designed by the ALP in opposition are performing better than the bus routes designed by the professional transport planners at PTV.

Keeping it simple is the key. After-midnight services should be (some of) the same routes that run in daytime, rather than a completely different network.

Chadstone’s Boxing Day bus debacle

Chadstone’s new bus interchange opened in late-2015. Today I got to sample how well Chadstone’s buses run on what is perhaps the busiest shopping day of the year: Boxing Day.

(I wasn’t there to shop. I was there to watch Doctor Who — Hoyts at Chadstone had $12 tickets, and more of them available, than Village at Southland which was $20 and sold out.)

Chadstone is the biggest shopping centre in Australia, and was expecting 170,000 visitors on Boxing Day.

The first signs of trouble: the bus to Chadstone was running late. And more people than you’d normally see were waiting at the bus stop.

The last seats filled as we boarded, and from there, it quickly got packed. Like most suburban bus routes, this service runs only once an hour on Boxing Day, and all public holidays as well as weekends — half the weekday frequency.

626 bus to Chadstone, Boxing Day

Our bus driver, at the stop before Chadstone, wisely suggested we get out and walk to avoid a long delay in the traffic… which was chaotic.

There were long queues of cars waiting to get into the centre, delaying buses as well, and numerous private vehicles parked in bus stops.

You can see from these aerial shots that the car parks were packed full. Note how much space (about 40%) is used simply for moving the cars into and out of car spaces — this underscores just how inefficient this mode is for moving large numbers of people. Multi-storey parking like this is also incredibly expensive to build.

Chadstone car park, Boxing Day (Channel 7)
Chadstone car park, Boxing Day (Channel 7)

Exiting the centre a couple of hours later, the bus interchange was a sight to behold. Many people queuing at the various bays.

There seemed to be long delays on most routes.

623 bus boarding at Chadstone, Boxing Day

Rather than wait for a specific bus, we caught the first one going broadly in our direction; a 623 to St Kilda. The queue to board looked hopelessly long; then a 624 to Kew also showed up, sharing some of the load — they both go to Carnegie. (The 623 departed at 2:25pm; 20 minutes late. The 624 would have been a minute or two behind that, so appears to have been about 40 minutes late.)

Here’s a quick video showing the scene as we departed:

Just to twist the knife, for much of the afternoon, buses on one of the busiest routes through Chadstone, route 903, actually bypassed the Chadstone and Essendon DFO shopping centres completely! Ridiculous.

The text of the PTV travel alert, and the fact that Essendon DFO also had issues, appears to point to problems for bus routes right across Melbourne, at all the major shopping centres dominated by car parks and car access.

Chadstone official centre map. Where's the bus interchange?

So where to from here?

Some things for authorities to think about:

First an easy one: get the bus interchange put onto the official centre maps. I mean for heaven’s sake, who designed this?

More significantly: a centralised bus interchange is a good idea, but if it doesn’t include bus priority lanes to ensure buses don’t get caught in centre traffic, it’s a failure. Today the access roads filled with cars queuing for non-existent parking spaces.

Even if they couldn’t get bus lanes in place temporarily for these peak times, they should have deployed more buses. If trains or trams suffer major disruptions, they call in buses. Why couldn’t they have called in more buses to support the regular services?

Equally, why not extra services? When special events are on, extra trams and trains run. Why isn’t it done for Boxing Day shopping? The government could easily organise with the bus companies to run the higher weekday frequencies on all weekends and public holidays during December, on routes to Chadstone and other major shopping centres, to cope with demand from shoppers.

In fact, Chadstone and other centres put a lot of event planning into Christmas and Boxing Day sales. Are these considered special events under the state legislation related to events? Given the impacts, they should be.

If you are organising an event which is likely to have an impact on public transport services, then you are required under Victorian legislation to notify Public Transport Victoria (PTV). — PTV

In fact, for commercial events (and they don’t get more commercial than the Boxing Day sales) it appears the cost of additional services would be borne by the event organiser: the shopping centre. Perhaps if this was enacted, it would help them focus on the need to get buses through the traffic more quickly.

… the focus of the legislation is only on those events that are likely to have an impact on regular public transport services.

Commercial events – run primarily for profit. These events are generally feepaying activities organised by business or commercial entities. In these cases cost recovery may be made a condition of approval of the Public Transport Plan. — PTV Information Kit for Event Organisers

Longer term, better bus services, tram (routes 3 or 67?) connections, or even heavy rail (one idea is extending the Alamein line under Chadstone to Oakleigh) need to be looked at. Continued car domination of huge centres like this isn’t scalable, and isn’t sustainable.

767 bus boarding at Chadstone, Boxing Day

Fundamentally, Boxing Day also underscores that the current hourly services (on most routes) or half-hourly (on the Smartbus routes) simply isn’t good enough for a huge centre like Chadstone on weekends and public holidays. It defies belief that compared to weekdays, services are halved on the busiest shopping days.

While billions is to be spent on tollways that will inevitably cause more traffic, the few people that dared to use buses instead of adding to traffic were treated like second-class citizens.

Boxing Day sales happen every year. It’s been traffic chaos every year for well over a decade, and it’s getting worse as the centre continues to grow.

This is both a challenge: managing delays, and an opportunity: encourage more people to use public transport. Do it well, and you win new customers.

The rest of the week most likely won’t be quite so bad. Shopper demand will reduce a bit, and weekday services will kick-in on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Just watch though. Bet you the same mess happens again next Boxing Day.

Some thoughts on CBD street design and safety

Thursday’s awful incident brings back memories of January’s attack, and authorities are rightly saying that it will be investigated from all angles.

One issue is road infrastructure that allows a vehicle to reach high speed in a constrained, pedestrian-dense area like Flinders Street.

The speed limit is 40. But apart from the placement of tram superstops (one of which finally stopped the vehicle) there’s been little change to this section of road in decades. It’s wide and straight, with no form of traffic calming; no speed humps or other treatments that you might see in a suburban school zone, for instance.

Not that the road was clear. The traffic was apparently congested, but the driver apparently veered out onto the tram tracks to speed towards the intersection.

The Prime Minister commented:

“[Melbourne] has big wide streets, wide footpaths and of course, it has trams, and the tramways enable a [car] driver, as this driver did to pull out of stopped traffic, get into the tramway and then make an attack. This is an issue for protecting, for example, the Bourke Street Mall.”

In Flinders Street, it shouldn’t be too difficult to make it harder for motor vehicles to get onto the tracks. A small separation, preferably with the tracks raised slightly, would do it — such as this design I spotted in Brussels in July:

Separated tram track on Avenue Fonsny, Brussels

The beauty of this design is that it helps stop all sorts of unauthorised vehicles getting onto the tracks, or turning across them. This would improve tram safety and cut delays to trams.

It does come at the cost of convenience for some motorists (frankly, not a priority in the city centre) and making it trickier for emergency services to use the tram tracks, as well as limiting where people with wheelchairs or other mobility aids can cross. These issues would need consideration.

Apparently none of this is impossible to resolve, because you can already find this design in central Melbourne — in Spencer Street:

Separated tram track in Spencer Street, Melbourne

Depending on the precise design, it doesn’t make it completely impossible for a vehicle to get onto the tracks, but it could make it a lot more difficult.

The PM is right to note the Bourke Street Mall presents some challenges. But it would be wrong to assume it can’t be solved.

Permanent bollards have recently been placed either side of the tramway, at both ends.

Bollards in Bourke Street, Melbourne

But the tramway itself remains open — to trams, obviously, but also to other vehicles, including unauthorised and/or clueless motorists.

What do other cities do? Some of them use retractable bollards, to let through only authorised vehicles.

Here’s a quick video of them operating in Cardiff. This is the main bus route between the city centre and Cardiff Bay.

This has potential, though in this case, you can see it’s a little problematic:

It’s far too slow to respond. I assume it’s controlled remotely from an operator somewhere watching on CCTV. To cut delays, the bollards should retract as the bus approaches, not wait for it to stop and wait.

If bollards like this were placed at either end of Bourke Street Mall, hopefully engineers could come up with a system that sees them retract automatically as trams approached or waited in the tram stop.

Another issue might be the risks of putting them in areas of heavy pedestrian traffic. Careful placement (between tram stop platforms, or away from the footpath, on the edge of the intersecting roadway) might resolve this.

Trams on Bourke Street

Getting this right brings numerous benefits, not just for safety from vehicle attacks, but also keeping pedestrian areas free of unauthorised vehicles, and also preventing them disrupting trams.

Authorities shouldn’t give up. Other cities have solved similar problems. I’m sure we can too.

Melbourne’s fares rise above CPI again

As expected, fare rises have been announced to take place on January 1st.

It’s a rise of 4.7% — which is CPI+2.5%.

(At least, 4.7% is the claim. Some fares, such as a Zone 1 two-hour fare, are rising by more: $4.10 to $4.30 is almost 4.9%, thanks to the price being rounded to the nearest 10 cents… which makes no sense, because you can’t directly buy these fares with cash.)

Just as this was emerging on Saturday, the Caulfield group of lines suffered major unplanned disruptions. Channel 9 was out for the fare rise story, but captured the train chaos as well:

Here’s the official PTV price list (which oddly doesn’t list the Weekend/Public Holiday Daily Cap, believed to still be $6 adult/$3 concession, or the Seniors Weekday Cap, which in 2017 is $4.10).

Here’s the State Government press release (which tries to temper the anger by announcing minor reforms such as free rides for primary school groups at off-peak times).

So how much have fares gone up over the years?

I thought I’d do a quick graph of the last 20 years.

Melbourne fares 1997-2018

Notable:

  • 1998 and 2010 saw no rise, as prices were frozen those years
  • 2007: Zone 3 is merged with zone 2, resulting in 3-zone trips dropping in price
  • 2013: single fares (on Metcard) were abolished, switching everyone to the slightly cheaper Myki fares, which were equivalent to 10×2 hour discounted fares under Myki
  • 2015: Zone 1 and 2 fares were capped at zone 1 rates, resulting in 2-zone trips dropping in price to the nearly-flat fares we have now

What if we look at the rises in those fares, and compare them with CPI?

Melbourne fare rises since 1997

  • 2004 saw a whopping 9.8% increase in fares, about three times CPI, the same year that Short Trip tickets were abolished, resulting in a huge jump for non-CBD short trips
  • 2012 and 2013 saw rises of CPI+5%, budgeted by Labor, implemented by the Coalition
  • 2015 to 2018 saw rises of CPI+2.5%, budgeted by the Coalition, implemented by Labor. What a team.

As you can see, for trips formerly covering three zones, these are still cheaper (just) than they were before 1997. Two zone trips are still relatively cheap, rising at well below CPI.

Zone one trips were tracking a bit above CPI until 2012, but when Metcard was abolished the switch to bulk rates brought it back down pretty much in line with CPI since 1997. Rises since have it well above.

There are still Ways to save. Options include Earlybird, and Myki Pass if travelling most/all days of the week. In fact you can buy a Myki Pass before January 1st and pay the pre-rise price, then use it later.

Additional fare revenue adds up to a lot of money, which can go into upgrades — we all understand that.

But the fare changes to a largely flat fare have resulted in some people benefitting enormously with fairly cheap fares for long trips, at the expense of others, who are paying a lot for short trips.

Upgrades to infrastructure and services are important to get more people using public transport. But affordable fares are also important — with repeated above CPI rises, for many people, this is going backwards.

With this fourth CPI+2.5% increase, Labor implemented the Coalition’s budgeted rises. They can argue that if they hadn’t, they’d have had to find the money elsewhere. Question is: what will happen next?