One look at the planned EW route shows why it would have made yesterday’s #Citylink mess worse, not better

The claims that the East-West link would somehow help the road network cope with yesterday’s horrible Citylink accident are truly mystifying. It really does appear as if the motorway boosters have tried to make use of this high-profile event to promote their cause in the hope that nobody thought too much about what they were saying.

RACV public policy general manager Brian Negus said the crash amplified the need for an east-west tunnel connecting the Eastern Freeway in Clifton Hill and the Western Ring Road.

“You see it all the time if we have a major collision on the West Gate Freeway, the Bolte Bridge, the Tullamarine or the Monash and the whole city grinds to a halt. This crash has really amplified the need for the East West Link and a complete network of freeways. We need an alternative route,” he said.

Herald Sun: Truck crash on CityLink confirms the need for East West Link, say experts

One look at the map shows why this isn’t the case.

Melbourne East-West proposed route map
Proposed East-West link map, highlighting shared section with Citylink, where Friday’s accident happened. (Source)

Apart from the fact that “alternative routes” have their own traffic to deal with, in this case the East-West link would have been no help whatsoever. Why? Because the planned East-West route includes the section of Citylink where the crash was.

The presence of the eastern connection in particular would have made it worse, because it would have brought their own traffic into the picture. Traffic coming in from the eastern suburbs and wanting to head south on Citylink (to head towards the Westgate bridge or anywhere else south of Flemington) would have been joining the traffic caught up in the snarl.

Their only alternative motorway route they could have taken would be to head north via the Tullamarine, then the Calder then the Ring Road, then finally onto the Westgate. For a trip from say Flemington to Spotswood, this would blow out from 9km to 34km — hardly a realistic alternative, particularly in the face of that route’s usual traffic plus other displaced vehicles.

As one commenter on the 3AW web site said yesterday: “Thank God we don’t have the East-West Link, otherwise traffic would be backed up on the Eastern as well!!!!!!!”

Even on the best of days, this section of Citylink is congested already at peak times, simply because it is a completely inefficient way of moving people. Add extra traffic — even in the absence of a major disruption — and it would become daily gridlock.

Don’t be surprised if the EW link ever gets built that the road lobby immediately start asking for the next alternative route to link them up — yet another new freeway connection through inner-city Melbourne.

Of course, one should note Negus’s comment was not necessarily about this particular event, but more about wanting a complete network of freeways. Because apparently the best solution to something that doesn’t work is to build more of them.


The long and winding road

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.

Camping at Walhalla

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.

Late-night camp food

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.

Wow. So prestigious. Almost makes up for the Gulf Of Mexico Deep Horizon spill, doesn't it.


Fast cars

I was trying to get some photos and/or video for a blog post I’m writing. I’m having trouble finding a source for part of the post, so in the meantime here’s a snippet of video from the pedestrian overpass above the Nepean Highway at Moorabbin.

I might be wrong, but it does appear to me that there’s more than one rev head in amongst this lot. But I’d be reluctant to estimate how fast they were going. Any guesses?

I wonder if they realised they were passing Moorabbin Police station?


Special licence plates

Horse Drawn Vehicle number plate

The Wikipedia article on Australian licence plates highlights some special prefixes, but here’s a list I’ve tried to come up with that includes others they don’t show, from personal observations and gleaning information from the VicRoads web site.

Bus number plateSome of them are clearly abbreviations for what they are… some not so much.

AO (suffix) – accredited bus

CC – Consular Corps

E56 – trailers

HDV – horse-drawn vehicle

Mxx – state vehicles, such as (marked) police cars

M – metropolitan Melbourne taxi

U – Geelong, Ballarat or Bendigo urban taxi

PS (suffix) – peak period taxi

ST – substitute taxi (replacement for regular taxi which is out of service for repairs)

C – country/regional taxis

TOW (prefix ) / TT (suffix) – tow truck

VHA/VHB/VHC – hire cars (eg chauffeured)

S000 to S999 – hire motorcycles

I particularly like HDV.

Are there others?


The Rooster Tree

Those who regularly head up the Hume Freeway from Melbourne would know about this, but others may not: it’s the Rooster Tree.

The Rooster Tree

You’ll find it somewhere past Wandong and the exit for Clonbinane (which is one of those places I’ve never heard of apart from on the freeway exit signs), and it’s really only properly visible when heading northbound.

As you get closer, you’ll see it’s not really one tree, but a clump of trees.

One wonders if the owners of it know of its significance… my guess is yes, since it never seems to grow enough to look like anything other than a rooster.

Enough people know about the Rooster Tree that it’s got a fan page on Facebook — and in the aftermath of the horrific death and destruction of Black Saturday in 2009, many wondered if it had survived.

One more thing: local musician Mal Webb has written a very amusing song about the Rooster Tree:

(thanks to M for snapping the pic above as we drove up the other day)


Why do some stopped buses use indicators, and some use hazard lights?

It’s long been a bugbear of mine that a vehicle that has correctly stopped in a legal parking/stopping position should not use its hazard lights.

Some buses do this, despite being stopped in proper bus zones. Melbourne Bus Link appears to be one company whose buses mostly do this. Most buses from other operators seem to just use their left indicator.

I reckon use of hazard lights at bus stops is not only pointless, it actually causes problems when the bus driver wants to pull out.

Motorists are obliged by law to give way as a bus pulls out from the kerb, but the change from “hazard lights on” to “indicating right” is pretty much indistinguishable, because the motorist would have to be checking the bus’s left indicator and notice it stop flashing.

It also can cause problems if the bus driver forgets to turn off the hazard lights, and the bus continues down the road with them flashing.

Yes, the bus in the video above isn’t entirely within its lane — it looks like the lane simply isn’t wide enough. But the use of hazards happens everywhere with some bus companies. I don’t think it makes much sense in most cases.


Weekend traffic congestion + more frequent services = PT getting competitive with driving

It used to be that on the weekends, trips by car could safely be assumed to be faster than those on public transport, particularly crosstown trips that required a change of service to complete.

I’m not sure that’s always the case anymore. Over the weekend I took two crosstown train trips: Bentleigh to North Coburg (the superbly-named Batman, to be precise) on Saturday night, and Footscray back to Bentleigh on Sunday afternoon.

Batman station

Journey time

Frequent (10 minute) services meant the connection times in both cases were only a few minutes. (The Upfield line out to Batman is only every 20 minutes, but thanks to the Frankston line inbound running every 10, I was able to time my journey to minimise the connection time in the city.)

So how did the journey times compare to driving? Ignoring for a moment the trip to/from the station, pretty well actually.

(The driving times are estimated from Google Maps, using the times with traffic, rather than the hopelessly optimistic default estimates. Based on my previous driving trips, they’re pretty good guesses I think.

The train times are based on the timetables, which are theoretical, but in fact on both of these trips on the weekend, the trains were dead on time.)

For Bentleigh to Batman, the time was comparable. While the average speed in the car is expected to be higher, the route bypassing the city is longer.

Footscray to Bentleigh, train actually beats car, despite the distance in the car being slightly shorter.

Crow flies kms Train mins Train kms Train kms/hr Train cost Car mins Car kms Car kms/hour Car cost (petrol) Tolls Car total
Bentleigh to Batman 21.64 56 27.7 29.7 $3.28 49 32.3 39.6 $4.52 $6.31 $10.83
Footscray to Bentleigh 17.54 42 22.1 31.6 $3.28 45 21.4 28.5 $3.00 $2.43 $5.43


Despite the length of the trip, both these journeys fell within zone 1, which for me is included with my Yearly Pass. Otherwise, the cost (on Myki) would be $3.28 for a single trip. A return/day trip, on a weekday would be $6.56, but on a weekend or public holiday, you get a day’s travel in both zones for $3.30. Bargain.

Using an estimate of 10 kms per litre of petrol, and a rough figure of $1.40 per litre, the trip to Batman would have been $4.52 — more expensive than the train. Add the Citylink toll of $6.31 and it’s $10.83, or about three times the cost of the train trip. Avoiding tolls would blow out the trip time by about another third.

The trip from Footscray back to Bentleigh would be $3.00 in petrol. Adding the $2.43 toll makes it $5.43, though the speed advantage from paying the toll is negligible in this case — driving instead via King Street would probably only add a few minutes to the journey, and save almost half the cost.

Obviously in the case of the train, you need to pay a fare per person, whereas in the car you can fit a few passengers. But the car costs here exclude the standing costs such as registration, insurance and wear-and-tear/maintenance — these are difficult to calculate for individual trips.

And of course, on the train, I was able to read the newspaper and play with my phone.

The importance of high frequency

High frequencies make all the difference. In both these cases, the train connections in the city were just a few minutes — but if all services ran to the old 20 minute frequencies, the connection time would blow out the total trip time. A missed or badly timed connection could easily result in having to wait nearly 20 minutes.

Incredibly there’s been no promotion, but for those aware of them, the ten minute services are making a really positive difference to the experience of using public transport.

As one (envious) wit remarked:

trains every ten minutes is in a land I go to in my head. My happy place where there are unicorns and rainbows.

Politically, whichever party pledges to rollout higher frequencies onto the rest of the rail network, as well as trams and major/Smart bus routes, seven days-a-week, will be onto a winner at the next election.

PS. The beauty of higher frequencies is that outside peak hour, they can be achieved mostly by using the already-available fleet and infrastructure — no huge capital investment, it’s just additional running costs.


Parking promotion: “Why are you still on the train?” Lots of reasons actually.

"Why are you still on the train?" parking brochure

Someone was handing these out at Flagstaff station the other day. The bloke was in the exit area at ground-level, and was not on the public footpath. If it were Southern Cross station, where the security guards are super-vigilant about this kind of thing, he’d have been moved on unless he had a commercial arrangement with the station operator.

(It could be worse; 10ish years the original incarnation of Yarra Trams was encouraging people to give up on public transport for 90% of their trip; drive to Docklands Stadium, the Tennis Centre or Melbourne Museum, eg battle through most of the traffic, and park & ride a tram to work. For a while they promoted this by handing out brochures outside Parliament station, and via banners on fences outside the Tennis Centre that faced towards nobody but passing rail passengers.)

So, why am I still on the train?

Many reasons actually.

Because the heavy traffic I’d face while driving is a waste of my time. (Google maps estimates a travel time of 27-40 minutes depending on traffic; the train trip is about 25 minutes.)

Because not being able to play with my phone or read a book or newspaper while travelling is a waste of my time.

Because parking costs alone at around $7 per day is more than the cost of my daily travel (based on $1215 for a discounted Yearly Myki Pass and travel of at least 220 days per year = $5.52 per day).

Because petrol at $1.47 per litre (or whatever it is this week) is a waste of my money.

Because the wear and tear of an extra 30km round trip per day would cost me even more money.

Because I have no wish to add more smog and petrol burning emissions to the environment, nor add to the traffic.

Because despite problems, most of the trains turn up, and they are mostly (more-or-less) on time.

Because leaving my car in the driveway may be (hopefully, maybe?) a deterrent to burglars.

Because the walk to and from the station is doing me good.

And finally because, well, for me, it’d wouldn’t be a good look to drive to work :-)

Update: Dallas noted the text on their web site:

No more Public Transport, No more Parking Fines!

If you’re fed up with the stress that comes with catching public transport and you’re looking for a safe, secure and convenient place to park your car any time of the day or night, Secure Parking has the solution for you.

Thanks, I’ll give it a miss.


Evidently car sharing is getting more popular

…judging from these four lined up next to Flagstaff Gardens.

Share cars in William Street

From the front:

Unfortunately while they might be plentiful in the CBD and inner-suburbs, it might be a while until they reach spots further out.

I suspect that there’s not that many people in Bentleigh who would get rid of their own car and join up. I’d certainly be tempted.


Fringe Benefits Tax craziness: driving, going nowhere

The old FBT company car rules resulted in some quite ridiculous outcomes. In fact they still do, because apparently they still apply for existing leases.

Basically the rules meant that the further you drive, the less tax you pay. Which means people were strongly encouraged to drive long distances to save money — often driving for no real reason other than to make it into the next distance bracket and get a lower rate.

  • Less than 15,000km travelled a year – 26% FBT liability = 0.26 statutory fraction
  • 15,000 – 24,999km – 20% = 0.2 statutory fraction
  • 25,000 – 40,000 – 11% = 0.11 statutory fraction
  • Over 40,000km travelled in a year – 7% FBT liability = 0.07 statutory fraction.

I don’t know what genius came up with the way the tax laws worked, but really, what an utterly stupid system.

The other day I heard of a friend of a friend who has got her car doing the ultimate: I forget the precise numbers involved, but basically in order to avoid a big tax bill she needs to put thousands of kilometres on the clock by the end of the year.

Rather than spend the week going on a pointless long drive, her mechanic has devised a scheme whereby the car is up on blocks, and is set up so it can drive while stationary. Presumably they’ve put a brick on the accelerator and/or put it into cruise control, and the car is clocking up all those kilometres while not having to have a driver in it.

Quite amusing in a way, but this is the result when there are stupid laws.

Thankfully the tax system has changed, and for new leases signed since May, a more sensible flat rate system applies.