Politics and activism

Ambulance membership fees drop by half this Friday

I missed the media coverage of this: Coalition cuts ambulance membership fees in half:

“From July 1, ambulance membership costs will drop from $150 to $75 a year for families and $75 to $37.50 a year for singles – that is just 20 cents a day for families and 10 cents a day for singles,” Mr Davis said.

Ambulance stuck at level crossing - another reason for grade separation

While some might have concerns that the ambulance service needs more investment to keep up with demand, I thought this was a good policy. For many people, $150 is enough for a family subscription that you’d think twice before paying it. Halving it to $75 makes it pretty much a no-brainer.

I’m not even sure if a measure like this necessarily means a lot more demand for ambulances. In fact it might well attract a lot more subscribers (apart from the increased government subsidy to cover the price drop).

So… if you were thinking about joining or renewing, given they don’t seem to have announced anything around refunding or extending existing memberships, you might want to wait until Friday when the prices go down!

(Knowing the Coalition had this policy, this is why at the start of this year I renewed for one year, not three as they were suggesting.)


Commuter Club Myki

Last week I started using my shiny new Commuter Club Myki.

It’s worked well, and as I would expect it… with some exceptions, documented in this short video:

1. It beeps twice at the readers. This is the case at the standalone readers, on trams and buses and at Myki gates (currently seen at Parliament at Melbourne Central) and retro-fitted Metcard (“Frankenbarrier”) gates.

It’s unexpected because two beeps normally means a Concession, and it has me wondering how many people within hearing range think I’m cheating by using a Concession fare. Yearly/Commuter Club Metcards do not do this.

I have enquired about this with the Transport Ticketing Authority. It is unclear when and if it will be fixed.

2. Unexpected credit. Before the March price rise, when travelling on a Zone 1 Pass in Zone 2 on a weekend (or public holiday), the system would use a nominal amount of $2.94 (the Zone 1, 2-hour fare), calculate the difference between that and the weekend daily fare of $3.00, and charge you the result: 6 cents.

Now that the Zone 1, 2-hour fare has gone up to $3.02, one would expect the system to not charge you anything, right? Well it goes one better: it actually charges you minus 2 cents; in other words it credits your account with 2 cents.

Myki credit for travelling in zone 2 on a weekend with a zone 1 Pass

I would call this totally counter-intuitive, and I’m betting it was not as intended. Again, it’s not clear if this will be changed.

(The precise charging is slightly more complicated than as noted above; it apparently goes through a couple of steps before getting to that end result.)

Myki Pass details3. The expiry date.

Never mind. I thought it was wrong and missing a day, but it isn’t, because 2012 is a leap year.

I first used (activated) this pass on Wednesday 16/3/2011. It’s a 365 day pass, which means it should expire at the end of the day on 15/3/2011. The business rules say that the end of the day for the public transport system is 3am, so the precise expiry time should be 03:00 on 16/3/2012.

That’s not what the system is telling me. Both the web site and the on-system readers say 03:00 on 15/3/2012.

I haven’t queried this with TTA yet, but will do so.

None of these are huge issues of course, but while Myki mostly works fine now, it doesn’t exactly instil confidence in the system.

Perhaps it’s little niggly things like this which has the Baillieu government reluctant to make a call on whether they’ll keep or scrap the system.

Realistically, any new system will have problems. Metcard certainly did. If the government keeps it, they can probably get plenty of mileage out of blaming the previous government for it, as long as they can get it working well before the 2014 election rolls around. At that point, if they played it right and it was humming along (which with the right effort, it could be), they can cover themselves in glory by claiming credit for it.

But sooner or later, they have to make the call (whichever way) and get on with the job.

(Thanks to Nathan for tipoffs on the 2 cent credit and the double-beep.)

Update 9:45pm: Removing the stuff about pricing; will put that in another post; it just distracts here.

Update 9:50pm: Thanks to Nathan, figured out the expiry date issue is not an issue.

Update Monday lunchtime: For those playing at home, Myki Commuter Club cards cause a double-beep, but not a flashing light at the Myki-only gates. Marvellous. Inconsistency in its inconsistency.

Update Tuesday morning: The Age: Smartcard miscalculation gives travellers 2¢ worth

Update Tuesday evening: An update from the TTA:

2 cent credit for Zone 1 myki pass customers

myki customers who use a Zone 1 myki pass will see they receive a 2 cent myki money credit when travelling into Zone 2 on weekends.

The 2 cent myki money credit is not an error, but a result of the system working as it should to calculate the correct fare. While it may appear to be a quirky outcome, the fare calculation is the same as that made prior to the recent fare adjustment.

The system calculates the difference between the weekend daily cap and the Zone 1&2 fare, taking into account the fact that the Zone 1 portion of the journey is covered by the customer’s myki pass. In the past this has resulted in a fare of $0.06 and under the current fare structure it results in a fare of -$0.02, or a 2 cent credit.

I had a look in the Fares and Ticketing Manual; it is true that the way the system works doesn’t contradict what it says in there. But it’s still not logical. Claiming it’s exactly to plan is… well, it’s an interesting interpretation of how a cap should work.

Politics and activism transport

Baillieu and the Clearways

Seems the more cynical (especially on the left) are panicking about the new Coalition government in Victoria, including with regard to public transport — trams in particular.

Remember Kennett!

Well no, hold on. Baillieu is not Kennett, this is not 1992, and the economy is not stuffed. There is no mandate nor need to drastically cut government debt, nor cut government spending.

And unlike any time in the last few decades, public transport patronage is increasing, there is public demand for investment, and there is not even the scope nor opportunity for Kennett-style work reforms (such as the mass removal of staff). On the contrary, the Coalition has come in pledging 940 security officers for stations, as well as 40 more trains, and feasibility studies for four new rail lines (Doncaster, Rowville, Tullamarine and Avalon).

Removal of Clearways is anti-tram!

First of all, no Clearways are being removed. Rather, the hours they apply is being rolled back to how they were a couple of years ago. Under Brumby these crept into off-peak business hours, up to 10am in the mornings, and from 3:30pm in the afternoons.

Secondly, there are questionmarks over whether the benefits of Clearways is compelling against the pain suffered by shopping strips — not just removal of parking, but general poor amenity — window shopping and al fresco dining are not very pleasant with cars zooming by at 60 km/h. Parked cars provide a buffer.

Shops on Centre Road, Bentleigh

In strip shopping centres with no clearways, such as Centre Road (where widened footpaths physically prevent it) there is activity on the street as early as 8am, with cafe patrons sipping coffees and eating breakfast.

The obvious question must be: are streets just for traffic, or for everybody?

In any case, opinions differ on how much travel time is saved with Clearways. Some tram drivers say there’s a noticeable difference. But the only hard figures that have come out are that on High Street there is saving 5% time for trams, and 9% for cars. So it benefits motorists more than tram passengers. And for trams, that adds up to just 36 seconds along the affected section. (It’s not even clear if this applies to the peak of the peak, or the 9am-10am and 3:30pm-4:30pm periods now rolled-back, when traffic is much lighter. It’s also not clear if it’s in the AM peak direction, which includes a tram-only lane, or in the PM peak direction as well, which has no tram lane.)

Tram on Sydney Road, Brunswick

On Sydney Road, where the Clearway is not accompanied by a tram-only lane, a study indicated the time difference for trams was next to nothing: just 7 seconds — with adjoining section along Royal Parade actually being slower, despite it having a dedicated tram lane.

This reflects the fact that most of the delays are at traffic lights; in fact Yarra Trams figures indicate delays at traffic lights account for 17% of travel time across the tram network, much higher than in many other tram cities — including those similar to Melbourne, with older networks running in mixed traffic.

Traffic light priority, if done well, could be highly beneficial to tram users, but barely noticeable to most other people.

Other solutions (particularly relevant for the south end of Sydney Road) would include traffic metering, to reduce the number of cars able to enter the street ahead of the trams (which could easily be carrying 150 cars-worth of passengers), and subtly encourage (but not force) motorists onto other (non-tram) roads.

Don’t panic

The Coalition said little about trams (or buses) during the election campaign. Neither did Labor. Let’s face it, trains get most of the publicity. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic just yet.

Of course, they’ll probably need some nudging, particularly with regards to issues like traffic light priority for trams.