Deer Park PSOs

This is Deer Park station. (Superb pic snapped a few years ago by my friend Tony.)

Deer Park station (pic by Tony Malloy)

And this is the new pod for Protective Services Officers at Deer Park station.

Deer Park station

According to the official list, PSOs are now deployed there.

Marcus Wong’s PSO tracking spreadsheet says they started there on July 1st.

Deer Park of course is one of the stations that gets the least frequent train services in Melbourne. It’s served by V/Line’s Ballarat line trains, and about every second service runs express through the station.

Given PSOs are only on duty after 6pm, they’ll see very few trains and people compared to their cousins at Metro stations.

People: The official PTV station stats don’t include the V/Line stations, but the unofficial stats I got a couple of years ago had a figure of 79 boardings at Deer Park every weekday, the fourth-lowest in Melbourne. It’s probably reasonable to assume that many of them board at the station in the morning, and come back and alight there in the evening.

Trains: The station is adjacent to the fast-growing suburb of Derrimut, but the few people using the station is reflective of the small number of trains stopping there.

After 6pm:

  • Weekdays from the city: 6:08pm, 6:28pm, 7:47pm, 8:45pm, 10:15pm and 11:45pm (Friday only)
  • Weekdays to the city: 7:08pm, 8:25pm, 10:18pm
  • Saturdays from the city: 7:33pm, 9:08pm, 10:33pm and 12:08am
  • Saturdays to the city: 7:05pm, 8:11pm, 10:10pm
  • Sundays from the city: 7:33pm, 9:08pm, 10:33pm
  • Sundays to the city: 7:05pm, 8:11pm, 10:11pm

The PSOs are professionals of course. But gee it must be dull waiting up to an hour and a half between trains, and seeing barely any people pass through the station.

On the bright side, those few people hopefully feel safer. Anecdotal evidence matches a recent survey by UniPollWatch which found 85% of passengers believe PSOs have made the rail network safer, and The Age’s online survey said 77% feel safer.

So from that point of view, the scheme is working. But it’s an expensive policy to have two officers at every station, no matter how busy or quiet. It’s unclear if it’s actually reducing crime, and it’s also unclear if it has increased evening patronage on the rail network — particularly at places like Deer Park with hopelessly infrequent train services.

The officers are rotated around through different stations. Just as well — they’d be bored out of their skulls if they were at quiet stations like Deer Park all the time.

  • From the sounds of it, many locals use the 400 bus to Sunshine, rather than the local train. The bus runs much closer to housing in Derrimut, about every 20 minutes in peak on that part of the route. Only every 40 minutes off-peak and weekends, but that’s heaps better than the trains. No doubt many others drive.
  • When Regional Rail Link opens next year, trains through the station will increase markedly, but it’s unclear if any extra will stop. The possible 2021 V/Line timetables suggested a train every half-hour from Melton during off-peak daytime hours, which would be a vast improvement, though nowhere near the service level of Metro stations a similar distance from the city.
  • PTUA analysis of crime stats from before the PSOs were introduced was based on Metro/Connex data, and didn’t include Deer Park or other V/Line stations, but it did make clear that Melbourne-wide, about half of all reported assaults at stations aren’t after 6pm; they’re during the day.

Mckinnon, site of a pivotal moment in the railway security debate, looks set to get PSOs #SpringSt

Mckinnon station was the site an infamous incident in 2010 that perhaps, more than any other, solidified popular support for the state Coalition’s policy of two Protective Service Officers on every station after 6pm. It was an unusual event, but very frightening for those involved: passengers coming home from Friday night football.

Passengers had to fend for themselves for several minutes as the train sat idle while a mob brandished broken bottles and hurled rocks at the windows.

Passengers who were attacked by a group of youths have questioned why they had to defend themselves for so long, only for the train to move on once police reached the scene, carrying away dozens of potential witnesses with it.

Police defend train attack response

I would think it’s entirely likely that the presence of PSOs would have nipped this in the bud, or prevented it from happening entirely.

So it’s significant that Mckinnon’s PSO pod looks to be complete. There might be internal works going on, but I won’t be surprised if PSOs start duty there soon.

Mckinnon station: new PIDs and PSO pod on the platform

As I’ve written before, the anecdotal evidence is the increasing presence of PSOs is increasing public confidence in the railway system at night… but it’s not clear if this is translating into increased patronage. Time will tell if this and other measures help (a few years ago, evening trains on this line went from 30 to 20 minutes until about 10pm, for instance).

One incident in a blue moon doesn’t necessarily justify a permanent, two-person, armed presence, of course. It remains a concern that at relatively quiet stations like this, little or nothing will happen, while other stations continue to suffer through security incidents, including before 6pm when there is no security presence. (The 2009 stats showed just one assault recorded at Mckinnon, and it was before 6pm.)

There’s still an argument to be made that security around stations is better and more cost-effectively served by fulltime regular staff, backed up by a rapid response force that can be quickly deployed when required, along with a fulltime security presence at hotspot stations where security is a genuine concern, as well as more patrols on the trains themselves.

Meanwhile, PIDs (Passenger Information Displays) are also appearing at Frankston line stations. Bentleigh got them last week (on the main two platforms only; not on little-used platform 3), and as you can see in the picture, they’ve also been installed (but are not yet running) at Mckinnon. Hopefully this will be part of upgrades at every station along the line — it is likely to be of more long-lasting benefit than the lick of paint stations are getting.

At Bentleigh the PIDs is a nice accompaniment to the “rainbow” network status board, though notably the Smartbus sign just outside the station still isn’t showing train times after more than three years.

As with all such useful upgrades (particularly the 7-day 10 minute frequencies, but also the improved realtime information) the hope would be that in time it gets pushed onto all the other lines and stations.

Of course, truly reliable services, and good, frequent, connecting buses remain elusive.

Are the PSOs having an effect? Survey suggests no, but anecdotal evidence suggests yes.

Interesting article: PSOs do little for train passenger confidence:

Data from a survey conducted by the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency shows in 2012-13, 24.2 per cent of Victorians reported feeling safe or very safe on public transport at night. This was a small increase on the previous year, in which 23.7 per cent of Victorians said they felt safe. But the proportion of Victorians who said they felt safe on public transport at night in 2012-13 is significantly lower than the number who reported feeling safe in 2008-09 (27.9 per cent) or in 2009-10, (25.8 per cent), prior to the introduction of protective services officers.

In contrast to the research (and it appears it was not limited to the stations which actually have PSOs) the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard from around the place is that many people do feel safer with them around.

From what I understand, Labor now considers the PSO deployment so far gone and so popular that they won’t be rolling it back.

Perhaps we’ll see a change in survey attitudes when the rollout is complete and there’s a consistent presence of PSOs on every station after 6pm.

For me personally, I’ve used the trains at night for many years without incident, and while I’ve never felt unsafe, everyone’s aware that incidents can and do happen from time to time. To me, the presence of PSOs has made little difference, though at otherwise unstaffed stations, it’s nice to know there is now an official presence one could turn to if help was needed.

And certainly as a parent with a kid old enough to be heading out at night, it’s nice to know more stations now have a stronger staff presence at night.

PSO at Richmond station

But more broadly, there are still questions to be answered:

Is the PSO rollout leading to more people being willing to use trains at night? I recall the Coalition saying before the 2010 election that they expected to see a patronage/revenue jump as a result of it. Has that happened? Or are other factors (generally low frequencies, and very poor connecting services after dark) holding back growth?

Is it reducing crime? The article notes that crime stats are up, but given there’s been no widespread reporting of crimes against the PSOs themselves, the logical conclusion is that more crimes are being reported.

These are the sorts of questions that need to be properly answered before we will know if the program is truly worth the $212 million (over four years) cost to the taxpayer.

Until then, I continue to take the view based on the assault statistics — that some stations need a security presence, not just at night, but from first train to last. And that at other stations, two armed guards from 6pm onwards is over-the-top — the funding for those positions is better used for more regular staff (who provide passive surveillance and customer service), and more train drivers and the other personnel needed to run more frequent public transport, including more trains running more often.

After all, it doesn’t matter how safe you feel, waiting 29 minutes for a train — after dark or in broad daylight — is still not fun.