Melbourne’s tram fleet: accessibility and air-conditioning

Two seemingly unrelated things are occurring this week:

Today, Saturday, is expected to be the hottest day of Melbourne’s summer so far this season, with a forecast high of 42 degrees.

And… the 60th E-class tram just came into service.

In fact these two points are related, because only Melbourne’s newer (post-1987) trams are air-conditioned. Another new tram in service means an old one out, and the proportion of air-conditioned trams goes up.

And of course new trams means more low-floors: they now constitute over a third of the fleet — though for those with mobility issues, this isn’t very useful unless accompanied by tram stops providing level boarding.

Accessible tram

Using the VicSig tram fleet page, and making some adjustments for the newest E-class trams in service, I’ve tried to graph where things go from here.

Given W-class trams are no longer used in service except on the tourist-oriented City Circle, I’ve excluded them for the purposes of this discussion. (Apparently there are 38 of them.)

Precise information is a little hard to come by. There are no official fleet figures made public. VicSig figures seem to include some trams that are fit for use, but kept in storage.

So these figures may not be quite right, but I think they’re pretty close. (I’ll make modifications if I find corrections.)

Class First introduced Low floor Air-conditioned Load standard 2018 fleet size
Z3 1979 N N 70 108
A1 1983 N N 65 27
A2 1985 N N 65 42
B2 1987 N Y 120 130
C1 2001 Y Y 110 36
D1 2002 Y Y 90 38
D2 2004 Y Y 130 21
C2 2008 Y Y 150 5
E 2013 Y Y 180 50
E2 2017 Y Y 180 10

So, excluding the W-class trams, and noting again that this is my estimate:

  • A total of 467 trams
  • 34% are low-floor
  • 62% air-conditioned
  • Based on the load standard, which is not really the capacity, the total fleet can carry about 49,000 people (noting that there are always some trams out of service for maintenance etc)

Given the deadline of 2032 for accessibility compliance (DDA/DSAPT), how do things need to progress from 2019 (when the current order of E-class trams comes to an end, and 80 will be in service) to make the entire fleet low-floor?

The answer is about 22 new trams every year until 2032 — which is almost double the current rate of delivery of about one per month.

This assumes:

  • That they’ll continue the broad pattern of each new tram replacing an old one — which is not quite right — the Rolling Stock Strategy from 2015 says: As new larger trams will replace smaller old trams the total number of vehicles will drop in the short term, although passenger capacity will continue to increase.
  • That the new trams will continue to be E-class trams — they might look for a new design sometime next decade, or at least incremental improvements.
  • It also assumes all of the post-2000 low-floor trams remain in service — some of these will be getting pretty old as well by 2032.
  • And it assumes they’d wait as long as they could before reaching compliance!

Assuming all that, on this theoretical trajectory:

  • Z-class trams would disappear in 2023.
  • The last of the non-air-conditioned trams (A-class) would disappear in 2026.
  • The one-for-one replacement of older, initially smaller trams with larger ones, has a side effect: total capacity will increase from about 49,000 people now, to about 77,000 people in 2032.
  • Larger trams replacing smaller ones is also why it’s a huge project in terms of depot space, and additional power substations being built.

Will the fleet meet the 2032 deadline? It depends on the State Government continuing to order more new trams.

Their own rolling stock strategy from 2015 says: Two hundred and forty new trams will be needed over the next decade.

There are rumours of another order coming, but nothing firm yet — something to watch for in the State Budget in May.

Three good reasons for accessible tram services: luggage, mobility issues, prams

Even more intimidating than the fleet is the infrastructure. DDA/DSAPT includes a number of requirements (for instance, signage and announcements), but accessible stops are a key requirment. There are around 400 accessible tram stops out of a total of about 1700 (eg 25%). And many of those done so far have been the easy ones, along segregated track.

The benefits of a more accessible tram system are obvious — both to those with mobility difficulties, and also parents with prams, and anybody with luggage.

Reaching the target of full accessibility by 2032 is going to be tricky. It needs to be a key focus for government in the years ahead.

* * *

Notes:

“Step-free” doesn’t mean DDA-compliant

All of Melbourne’s suburban railway stations have step-free access to the platforms.

Except one: Heyington. To get to either platform involves steps.

Heyington is set into the side of a hill. From the street you go down some steps to the citybound (“up”) platform. Or if you want the outbound (“down”) platform, that’s down some steps, across a walkway, and then down some more steps. (The outbound platform is accessible directly from the adjacent St Kevins College, but that appears to be a private entrance.)

Heyington Station

Heyington Station

Other rail networks

So, every Melbourne station except one has step-free access.

That’s a long way ahead of many of the bigger old rail systems around the world.

In Sydney, by my count, 109 out of 178 (61%) are accessible (following huge investment in lifts), though the proportion across New South Wales as a whole is around half.

In London, it’s around a quarter of Underground stations and about half the Overground stations. It’s also pretty dire in Paris.

Earls Court station, London Underground

It’s not that hard to see how this happened. Much of Sydney is very hilly, so many stations hug the side of hills (like Heyington does), which would have made it quite difficult/expensive to provide ramps, back in the days when accessibility for wheelchairs or prams wasn’t seen as a concern.

(For similar reasons, Sydney never had very many level crossings. Sure, they’ve done a good job at getting rid of theirs, but they never had that many to start with. Melbourne in comparison is fairly flat, so we ended up with lots of level crossings.)

On old underground systems like London and Paris, some of the stations were built before lift/elevator technology had really matured, and it would have been expensive, and not seen as a priority. Providing ramps to station platforms deep underground would have cost a fortune, so to this day they’re very reliant on steps. Some cities are spending up big on retro-fitting lifts.

How did Melbourne end up with ramps almost everywhere? There must have been a policy in place, because stations going back well over a hundred years have them — the MATHS stations rebuilt in the 1910s are a good example, but you can also find photos of Flinders Street Station from the 1890s with ramps.

Whatever the reasons for the policy, it showed foresight.

Ramps at Sandown Park station

DDA compliance doesn’t just mean ramps

So, all Melbourne stations except Heyington are step-free. But this doesn’t make them compliant with the latest legislated standards.

The Disability Discrimination Act, and the subsection, the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport are far more specific than just “no steps”. Melbourne’s station ramps, particularly the older ones, are too steep for some people in a hand-operated wheelchair to use, and can cause problems for people with other mobility difficulties.

Here’s a summary of the relevant DDA standard (AS 1428.1):

Summary of DDA building standards

So basically you need ramps to be no steeper than 1:14, and at that gradient, you need a landing every 9 metres.

DDA probably isn’t perfect. But it mandates a pretty good standard, which if followed, makes more public spaces accessible to most people, not just the able-bodied.

Some upgrades coming

The current state of many of the stations means, even though there are no steps, it’s difficult for some people to use them.

In the past, some stations have been proposed for upgrades; some have happened, some have faced fierce resistance.

Fortunately, the level crossing removal program is resulting in many stations being rebuilt to modern standards. This is a ramp down to the platforms at Bentleigh station — note the gentle gradient, and landing midway along.

Bentleigh station ramp

Accessibility information

If you have specific mobility needs and you’re looking to travel — for instance, you might be capable of using modern DDA-compliant ramps, but not the older steeper ones — there’s not very much official information online.

The rail network map simply says that only Heyington lacks step-free access.

The detailed station information on the PTV web site doesn’t distinguish between a station with fully-DDA-compliant ramps and lifts, and one with steep ramps.

In fact it cheerfully notes stations that have steps, without telling you what this means:

  • Heyington has steps which means you can’t access the platforms any other way.
  • Box Hill and Ormond are also listed as having steps… but platforms are accessible via lifts and/or ramps.

It mentions if station parking, phones and toilets are accessible, but again, doesn’t clarify what this means. Accessible from where? Caulfield’s new accessible toilets are on platforms 2/3, reached from the street via two steep ramps.

Worse, it claims Heyington’s toilets and phone are accessible — I didn’t notice a telephone, and there are certainly no toilets available there.

PTV Journey Planner options

Planning journeys

The PTV Journey Planner can be told:

  • You can’t walk very far
  • You need services and/or stops with wheelchair access

(The Journey Planner seems to know which trams are accessible and which aren’t — eg 96 normally is, 57 normally isn’t. Just don’t bother trying to look at the tram timetables online, which don’t show it.)

But you can’t specify that you need:

  • Unassisted/DDA-compliant wheelchair access
  • Visual displays on the platform (eg hearing difficulties) to confirm you’re boarding the right service
  • Tactile guidance paths (even though these are in the PTV database)

(I’m not trying to catalogue every specific need people might have, just show some examples.)

Google Transit doesn’t have any options other than being able to preference less walking, even though the GTFS data specification includes accessibility information.

Ultimately if you need more information than is available online, the only thing I can suggest is contacting PTV and Metro for that information… if they have it.

Perhaps we should be thankful that most of the train system is accessible, at least with assistance.

Most buses are compliant. Trams… that’s another story altogether.

Clearly a lot more is needed to improve the transport system as a whole to achieve full DDA-compliance.

* * *

Further reading:

Thanks to Karen for inspiring this blog post via discussion of her mother’s mobility needs.

What do you think of the Easy Access tram stop in Macarthur Street?

This is the new “Easy Access” tram stop in Macarthur Street.

It’s not the first of its type — there’s been one in Albert Park for some years. But it’s the first on a moderately busy street, and it’s claimed it could be the new model for providing accessible tram stops around Melbourne.

I think it’s got some advantages over platform stops, eg cost, and the layout is more suited to narrow roads — which may help accelerate the roll-out of badly-needed accessible tram stops, which benefit everybody, not just those with mobility difficulties, heavy luggage and parents with prams, through faster boarding.

But I also see a problem in that motorists who ignorantly or wilfully fail to stop for tram passengers still present a danger.

What do you think?

How many tram routes have low-floor trams?

Platform stop with high floor tramBy my count… (please flag in the comments if I mess it up)

Most trams on routes: 96, 109

Some on routes: 5, 6, 8, 16, 48, 72, 112

None on routes: 1, 3/3a, 19, 30, 35, 55, 57, 59, 64, 67, 70, 75, 78/79, 82, 86, City Circle

Some (minor routes) 24, 42

Some (minor routes not counted on Metlink site) 11, 31, 95

Total 30 routes; 16 have none

(There are always exceptions to these rules of course. Sometimes trams get moved around and put on different routes.)

Together with a lack of platform stops and alternative services (eg buses and trains), this leaves large areas of Melbourne inaccessible to those who need level boarding.

In some cases, quite a few platform stops have been built on routes where no low-floor trams stop (eg routes 59, 64, 86).

And as I noted the other day, none of the tram routes that serve the hospitals precinct (19, 55, 59) have low-floor trams, though there are some platform stops in the area (particularly along routes 55 and 59), and more being built. Hopefully eventually they’ll get trams that can make full use of them.

Why a Z-class tram was used for the Queen’s visit

A lot of people have asked why a Z-class tram was chosen for the Queen’s tram ride (rather than Melbourne’s traditional and iconic W-class, for instance).

Here’s the answer:

W and A-class trams don’t have handrails in the middle of the doorways, which can be a big help for older people. B-class trams do, but they may not have wanted to take a high-capacity tram (or two; they had a spare) out of service for this event.

C and D class trams are low-floor, and have few handles — this would have been easier at the Federation Square platform stop, but perhaps not where the Queen alighted near Government House, where there is no platform.

Over time the tram fleet needs to switch to low-floor vehicles, and more tram stops need to be accessible. It does matter for the mobility of those in wheelchairs. As these roll out, they will be able to use more of the tram system.

Accessible tram

After all, some parts of Melbourne are most easily reached by tram (including the hospital precinct, which unfortunately and ironically, has no accessible trams serving it at all).

No-step boarding is also faster for able-bodied people, and those using shopping jeeps and prams.

Update Monday morning: There also seems to be some talk that a high-floor tram was requested to ensure more of the crowd could see the Queen at the window as it travelled along.