A quick look at the new Metro and Yarra Trams contracts

It’s no huge surprise that the State Government has announced incumbent operators MTM and KDR will continue to operate Metro Trains and Yarra Trams respectively.

The current contracts started in 2009, and expire in late-2017. These new contracts will run through to 2024, with an option for another 3 years to 2027.

Despite an RTBU campaign, clearly the state government didn’t want to take the system back into public ownership.

The new contracts resolve several weaknesses in the old contracts, including unplanned service alterations such as station skipping, Loop bypasses, short shunting, with penalties applying for these.

It’s important to remember that these are sometimes justified. For instance if a counter-peak train carrying few passengers is delayed, and that train will subsequently form a peak hour service, is it better to let it run late for both of those services, or to skip some stations (with due advice to any passengers affected) to get it back on time to carry a peak load?

There will be a ban on intrusive advertising will ban all-over ads that block windows, making it difficult to see in or out. It sounds like some limited covering of windows will still be allowed, so we’ll have to see the fine detail of this, and how the operators and their advertisers actually implement it — it’s not like most tram and train exteriors don’t offer a lot of other real estate.

There will be an automatic refund for network-wide incidents such as the July train shutdown — though again, the precise details will be significant. In July, some people who were turned away from railway stations by staff and didn’t touch-on were therefore not eligible for compensation.

(I suspect the tram system is likely to be more resilient, as central control might be a less essential part of everyday operation.)

And there are “passenger experience” measures with penalties attached, tracking things like cleanliness.

One particularly interesting snippet: apparently Metro will put buses on standby at five strategic locations, in readiness for major disruptions. I’m assuming that would just be during peak hour when it’s difficult to get buses deployed. I wonder how many rail operators do this — though I also wonder how many rail systems this busy have 150+ level crossings regularly causing disruptions due to suicides or accidents.

These infographics from Transport For Victoria highlight a number of the changes — scroll across to see more:

Presumably the planned Comeng train refurbishment includes these previously flagged changes to interior layouts and seating, and inter-carriage connections. It’s unclear what the planned upgrades to B-class trams, and other train types will entail — note the X’traps and Siemens refurbs are getting a lot more money than the Comengs.

The performance targets are rising. What’s perhaps significant is that the targets are above the figures achieved by the operators for much of the past year, so they’ve set themselves a challenge to improve.

Here’s a comparison of Track Record figures from the past 13 months (August 2016 to August 2017), to the new thresholds:

MTM has missed the new train Delivery target twice (including July, when the big shut down occurred) and missed the Punctuality target 9 times.

KDR has missed the new tram Delivery target three times (March, April and May 2017), and missed the Punctuality target 6 times.

Unfortunately, compensation will still not be automatic, except for network-wide disruptions. For monthly breaches of the target, it’ll still only apply for Myki Passholders who bother to put in the application.

And unlike some compensation in the past, it will still only apply if the network-wide average falls below the threshold, so if your line is crap but the rest are okay, no compo for you.

Punctuality is particularly a problem for the trams, because they fall victim to other road traffic, which is outside their control. The operator can only do so much when it’s ultimately up to government to institute measures such as dedicated roadspace and traffic light priority to get trams moving. (As noted in this recent post, Melbourne’s trams spend an incredible 17% of their time simply waiting for traffic lights.)

William St tram prang

The increased spend on proactive maintenance and renewal is also likely to be important, to help prevent issues such as track, signal and fleet faults that regularly cause cancellations and delays.

Some things don’t appear to have made the cut this time around — I would like to have seen a move towards headway running (maintaining a service frequency, rather than strict departure times) when high frequency services are running — more on this in an upcoming blog post.

And in the information published yesterday, there’s been no mention yet of planned service upgrades (such as PTV’s plans for 10-minute services), timetable consolidation (eg PM peak on the Ringwood line is still a mess of different stopping patterns), infrastructure projects to be included, or the move towards “metronisation” that was flagged in the 2009 contracts.

Hopefully the full contracts will be published soon.

From what we’ve seen so far, it looks like a step forward. Now let’s see if it all results in an improvement in service quality.

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PS: This from ABC Online today:

Thatcher and her privatisation legacy

It’s inevitable that the passing of Margaret Thatcher would provoke mixed responses. Such polarising figures often do.

She may have been a trailblazer for women in power in the western world, but I don’t remember her time as Prime Minister fondly. I was young and perhaps it was a naive viewpoint, but I remember the early-80s under her and Reagan as a time of real fear from nuclear war.

The real situation probably wasn’t that fraught (people cleverer than me could theorise how tough-talking from the west helped bring down the iron curtain), but some have pointed out that Thatcher was against German reunification and did not support sanctions for South Africa against Apartheid.

In terms of lasting legacies, the one that sticks out for me was that her privatisation of numerous nationalised industries.

Wikipedia notes:

Thatcher always resisted rail privatisation and was said to have told Transport Secretary Nicholas Ridley “Railway privatisation will be the Waterloo of this government. Please never mention the railways to me again.” Shortly before her resignation, she accepted the arguments for privatising British Rail, which her successor John Major implemented in 1994. The Economist later considered the move to have been “a disaster”.

Disaster indeed. My mother recounted how, on a visit to Britain after it happened, at a railway station a staff member couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give her any information about a different train company that also happened to serve that station.

Half the train network

In transport and in other sectors, this mess was later replicated here in Victoria — perfectly illustrated by this on-board train map from the early Connex days. It not only excludes the half of the network that Connex didn’t run, it also excludes the underground Loop stations where Connex did run, because these stations were managed by the other operator.

Later reforms, both here and in the UK, fixed many of the issues around privatisation.

Some industries, including public transport, can’t rely on companies that only compete, and never co-operate. PT operators need to work together to form a network — because their real competitor is the private car.

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit off my original topic. But that’s blogging, right?