Crosstown traffic / Bacchus Marsh stopover

All of us have data being captured about us all the time.

For many of us that includes Myki travel data (though even that is tiny compared to the myriad of information captured by our smartphones).

Mostly for me it’s the drudgery of everyday work commuting, but every so often there’s something of interest.

Crosstown traffic

26/01/2018 13:49:14 Touch off  Train 1/2 Bentleigh Station - - -
26/01/2018 13:09:15 Touch on   Train 1   Footscray Station - - -

This is not a typo. On Australia Day (public holiday timetable) we managed to do Footscray to Bentleigh in 40 minutes.

There was a little bit of trickery involved. The train from Footscray ran into the Loop clockwise (being a weekend), and as we came into Melbourne Central the app told me a train from there clockwise to Richmond was imminent, so we swapped onto it, then just managed to get a connection at Richmond onto the Frankston line to Bentleigh.

Jumping through that hoop saved us about 10 minutes — a timetabled journey with just one change should take about 48 minutes.

Still, it shows that good frequencies along direct routes mean a fast trip, even when it involves connections.

You’d struggle to get across town that fast in a car. Google Maps reckons 30-50 minutes on the weekend if driving — there’s frequently congestion in King Street if you drive through the CBD, and taking the Bolte or Westgate then Kingsway is no better, as the exit onto Kingsway is often clogged.

Melbourne, like any big city, has transport demand from many places to many places. Public transport needs to cope better with this.

The more routes (be they train, tram or bus) go to frequent (10 minutes or better) services, the better connections will be, and the more trips will be competitive with driving, and the more people will choose public transport instead.

Ballarat station

Copycat from Ballarat

08/02/2018 23:02:22 Touch off  Train 1   Southern Cross Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 21:34:15 Touch on   Train -   -                      - -     -
08/02/2018 21:28:04 Touch on   Train 8   Ballarat Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 19:39:43 Touch off* Train 8   Ballarat Station	- $6.72	$26.98
08/02/2018 19:04:15 Touch on   Train 2/3 Bacchus Marsh Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 18:29:49 Touch off  Train 2/3 Bacchus Marsh Station	- -     -
08/02/2018 17:23:46 Touch on   Train 1   Southern Cross Station	- -     -

I thought I was being so clever.

I wanted to get to Ballarat, but I had missed the 17:10. The next train all the way was at 17:50.

But the timetable also showed a 17:35 to Bacchus Marsh, arriving there at 18:18, just ahead of the next Ballarat train. So perhaps I could have a quick stop-off at the Marsh?

That went fine until by Sunshine the train was running late. No need to panic though, it’s just one track each way; they can’t overtake, right?

Wrong. The train was held at Melton for a few minutes to let the Ballarat train fly past. D’oh. That’s a lesson for next time.

So I had an unscheduled half-hour in Bacchus Marsh. Which was charming.

The kicker is this made me late for a PTUA Ballarat branch meeting. Oh well, they welcomed me when I eventually got there, and we had an interesting discussion.

After some dinner I headed back. The 21:34 touch-on was the conductor checking the fare. (When conductors check fares, they also set the default fare to the end of the service, making it important that you touch-off after using V/Line.)

Also notable: breaking the trip at Bacchus Marsh meant my Myki Pass covered part of the trip, and I got charged just $6.72 the rest of the way to Ballarat, rather than the usual $21.60 (minus $4.30 for Zone 1/2 on my Pass). This is the anomaly facing V/Line users thanks to changes to metropolitan fares — some trips are dirt cheap, some are expensive.

That $6.72 also seems to have covered my fare home afterwards: Marsh touch-on at 19:04 to commencing the trip back at 21:28 is more than 2 hours, but because it’s a trip across six zones, the “fare product” is 3 hours, not 2.

Cheap with the stop-off? Yes. But I’d have preferred to be there on time.

Reports of Myki’s death have been greatly exaggerated

There’s something of a disconnect between the headlines today and the reality.

“THE death of the trouble-plagued $1.5 billion Myki ticketing system has begun with commuters to use bank cards and even their smartphones to ride from the middle of this year.” — Herald Sun (paywall)

We shouldn’t get carried away. New options for payment of fares will supplement smartcards, not replace them.

London and other cities have led the way here, with the London Oyster system’s contactless payment option. I used it in July, and it’s incredibly useful.

It won’t work the same way in Melbourne. I’m hearing the initial trial involves phones rather than credit cards, as the technology is a closer match to what’s deployed with Myki.

The Herald Sun reports that the Victorian trial will initially be on E-class trams, which indicates the newer Vix Myki readers that are installed on that fleet (as well as in some stations) will be involved.

So it doesn’t require scrapping the entire Myki system. The question will be whether this functionality can be retrofitted to older Myki equipment, or whether all readers need to be replaced to roll out the enhancements networkwide.

Anyway, bearing all that in mind, the following may be of interest…

How London’s contactless option works

Transport for London calls their Paywave/Paypass credit card payment option “contactless“.

It sits alongside the smartcards, it doesn’t replace them. Even adding phone payment options, some users such as children won’t have any of options available, and will always need smartcards.

The credit card functionality is programmed into the smartcard equipment, reflecting that the basic technology is the same — which is one reason why Myki cards often don’t work well when credit cards are nearby.

Users touch on and off as normal at the Oyster gates and readers with their Paypass/Paywave credit card. The system accepts most local and overseas cards, which is an absolute boon for tourists — as well as other occasional users.

It assumes you’ll be good for the first trip when you touch-on. This avoids a time consuming back-to-base credit check that may not be possible on a bus if there’s no connectivity at that instant. If there’s a failure of some kind, your card won’t work on the next trip.

They track your touches around the system during the day, then the next day charge the total fare to your bank credit card account, subject to which zones you travelled in and daily caps. The fares are identical to Oyster card pay-as-you-go (the equivalent of Myki Money).

You don’t get individual trip amounts billed to your credit card, just the one transaction per day. If you want to see the detail, you use the Oyster web site:

London Transport contactless credit card statement

There’s also a weekly fare cap, to ensure you’re not paying more than the Weekly Travelcard rate. However London’s contactless option isn’t capable of handling longer season passes such as Monthly fares. It also doesn’t handle any type of discount/concession fare. Those are all still on Oyster cards.

Ticket inspectors have portable readers, similar to those currently used by Victoria’s Authorised Officers, that can see the status of your credit card, and whether it was touched-on. We got ours checked on a London suburban train. The exception seems to be river boats, where a member of staff must see you touch-in.

London Bus ticketing notice

I’m not sure whether the credit card providers have had to make big changes to accommodate these systems, but even if so, you wouldn’t think they mind one little bit if it helps them get all those transactions via their cards instead of cards issued by the public transport authorities. Possibly they’re also getting a transaction fee or some other type of cut.

It also helps the public transport authorities, as a lot of the headaches of issuing their own cards reduce in magnitude, they need less ticket machines, and they gain access to potential customers who don’t want to buy a PT card.

The important thing here is that it’s an option. People who value their privacy and prefer an unregistered smartcard, topped-up only using cash, can continue to do so. People who don’t have credit cards can still use smartcards.

What exactly the Melbourne trials will involve hasn’t been announced yet. It’ll be interesting to watch.

Meanwhile, other enhancements that could be made to Myki include: weekly and monthly capping (once planned, never implemented), differing touch-on and off sounds to reduce confusion, finally eliminating unwanted ticket machine receipts, and continuing roll-out of the faster readers.

Other questions? Leave a comment.

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?

Is it time to buy a Yearly Myki fare?

Generally every January, public transport fares in Victoria go up.

This year it’s expected to be a 4.3% rise — this is CPI of 1.8% 2.8% (for the year to September), plus a 2.5% 1.5% rise that was first announced by the Coalition in December 2013, to be implemented in January 2015-2018, and dutifully followed by Labor each year.

(Did the Coalition plan that rise to cover the Free Tram Zone and Zone 1+2 capping? I’m betting yes; they announced the zone changes as an election policy just three months later in March 2014, which was quickly matched by Labor. I wonder how long it’ll take for zone 1+2 fares to reach their previous levels?)

Just before the price rise is a good time to decide if buying a Yearly Pass is good value.

These are available for any combination of Myki zones, provide a discount (365 days for the price of a 325 day Pass) — and because you pay up-front, you’ll be getting travel during 2018 for the 2017 price.

Cheaper than buying a Yearly Pass at the retail price is buying it through Commuter Club. CC is a discount scheme offered by a number of large corporate employers, particularly government departments and universities.

The biggest seller of CC tickets is the PTUA. PTUA membership plus the cost of the ticket is still a saving compared to the full price — $84 cheaper at 2017 prices. And by being a PTUA member, you’re supporting the organisation and its campaigns.

PTUA CC orders at the 2017 price will close on 30th November. This is imposed by PTV on all CC re-sellers, though some may have slightly different close dates.

  • PTUA CC tickets are paid in advance. Some employers who offer CC will do it by regular salary deductions, which could be a better option.
  • Unfortunately CC tickets are only available for Zones 1 and 2. (That said, if you’re a V/Line user living further afield, you could probably buy a Zone 1+2 CC ticket and load Myki Money onto it for your travel further out.)

New Myki signage on trams, October 2015

So, how much can you save? It varies, according to how much you usually travel. Here’s a couple of ways of working it out.

Cost in days – this compares the cost of 365 days on a Pass, with the cost if you’re paying for individual days

What this means is that if you buy a PTUA Commuter Club Yearly for $1515, you’re getting 365 days of travel for the same cost of 184 days of Myki Money, or 308 days of Myki Pass days (assuming you buy Passes of between 28 and 325 days).

In both cases, the cost in days goes down in 2018 if you’ve paid in advance, because the prices go up.

Another way of working it out is Cost Per Day (inspired by this Reddit post).

So a PTUA CC Yearly will cost you $4.15 per day if you travel every single day, or $5.83 per day if you travel on weekdays only — compared to a Myki Money price of $8.20 (2017) or $8.55 (2018).

A secondary saving might be if, because you’ve prepaid your travel, you end up using public transport more often instead of driving.

Flagstaff: extra standalone Myki readers to take gate overflow

If you think this all sounds more complicated than it needs to be, you’re right. Myki was originally designed with automatic weekly and monthly capping which would have made it a bit easier to pay-as-you-go on Myki Money but still get the discounted Pass rate.

Perhaps one day it’ll be re-instated, but until then, for regular users it’s worth doing a little research to find the cheapest option.

The CBD bus ride that #Myki thought was in Brighton

So apparently the installation of GPS equipment to track buses stop-by-stop in realtime hasn’t helped Myki zone detection at all.

On Tuesday at lunchtime I caught a bus from Queensbridge Street (aka Casino East, the brand new tram/bus platform stop) to Queen Street.

Tram/bus stop, Queensbridge Street, Casino East

It’s all within 1 kilometre of the city centre — about as far from zone 2 as you can get. And it’s on a route with realtime information, so at least some of the equipment in the bus knows almost precisely where it is.

So, what happened? Myki charged me for a zone 2 fare.

It thought I was in Brighton, in the zone overlap area.

Myki charging: I was in the City, but it thought I was at Brighton

It seems to have got the route number right. “out” indicates it thought it was an outbound trip, though given it’s a crosstown route, I have no idea that’s correct or not. Perhaps they should have different indicators for crosstown routes, such as “se”/”nw”?

The silver lining is that the zone 1 fare cap meant I was charged the correct amount for the day’s travel: a total of $7.52.

(I normally use a Yearly Pass, but it’s run out, so I’m using Myki Money for a while.)

Zone detection on buses (and trams) has been a problem for years, and it’s only the zone changes in January that have hidden the issue for Melbourne users, but it remains a problem on regional town buses — there are regular reports of overcharging.

Clearly it’s is something they still need to work on.

Oh, and the new platform stop? Nice, though some of the bus drivers seem a little uncertain about how close to the platform edge they should stop. The bus/tram lanes seem quite effective at helping them get past the traffic.

And I wonder if, when commissioned, the realtime screens there will show bus as well as tram?