PAX Australia – overall a success, but the public transport arrangements let it down

An article in The Age today notes that while there were a few issues, last weekend’s inaugural PAX Australia video game festival went well.

PAX Australia: XBox One demonstration

PAX Australia: Wizard Of Wor on the Commodore 64

We went along on the Sunday, and had a good time. We avoided the sessions with long queues, and instead saw an XBox launch event, played some games in the retro area, had some lunch, and looked around the expo hall.

Not being hardcore gamers, that satisfied us. And that’s I think where the planning for this event slipped-up.

Someone had obviously decided that most people would be staying all day, and the transport planning clearly reflected that.

The trains to the Showgrounds only ran every 20 minutes until 10:40am… then at an appalling 40 minute frequency until midday.

Trains to PAX Australia at the Showgrounds: infrequent, and delayed

Worse, we and others found there were train delays. The 10:04 was about 10 minutes late, meaning we spent 25 minutes waiting in the cold at Southern Cross. It then crawled to North Melbourne before finally getting up a decent speed the rest of the way to the Showgrounds. The 12:04 train was 20 minutes late.

At Showgrounds station there were long queues for the few Myki validators available. (We didn’t bother to queue — it barely matters on weekends when the fare cap is $3.50 anyway, and even on a concession fare, two 2-hour fares will get you to that cap.)

After 12:04 (well, 12:24 if that service was 20 minutes late) there were no trains at all until the late-afternoon. Instead people were advised to catch a tram back, with extra trams running.

The reality was that lots of people didn’t stay all day… while many may have come first thing in the morning and stayed until everything finished up, many others arrived and departed at various times across the day.

And what few extra trams ran were sporadic, resulting in the utterly predictable problem of the regular route 57 short (Z-class) trams being packed:

The tram coming back from PAX Australia

Apart from making many people who’d arrived by train find a different exit and stop to get home again, it was a slow crowded ride back into the city. Thoroughly unimpressive.

The PAX programme booklet noted the support of the Victorian Government, and I happened upon an episode of Byte Into It on Triple R last Wednesday which noted that PAX came to Australia because of enthusiasm from the locals — and to Melbourne specifically by that government support. Which is great.

But this kind of cooperation should include adequate transport arrangements. Public transport can and should do special events like this very well, but on this occasion, the system let people down. The danger is that next time more people will drive, clogging up streets around the venue. And given that special events are sometimes the only times people use PT, they may also be put off using it for other travel in the future.

How much extra would it have cost to run 20 minute trains all day? Surely not much more than the extra trams they ran all day, given the labour costs (drivers, and signalling people for trains) are the main cost.

If PAX returns to Melbourne, and I hope it does, if it’s at the Showgrounds again, they clearly need to do better.