Categories
transport

What Mini Metro can teach us about real life public transport

My friend Andrew put me onto the game Mini Metro – it’s a rather addictive (at least to me) game where you design and run a metro (or tram) system. The game provides station locations, and travel demand patterns, and you have to work out how the lines should connect them.

Gradually more and more locations and people are added. The game finishes when the system gets overloaded and the stations get too crowded.

The game is available on numerous platforms – I play it on iPad, which seems very well suited to it.

The game is really more like buses than metros. Why? Because you can easily change the routes, and if nobody is waiting or needing to alight at a station, the vehicles don’t stop. And vehicles can overtake each other anywhere.

The more difficult “Extreme” mode is more restrictive – you can’t change routes. You can’t even move vehicles from one line to another.

The game has various scenarios based in different cities – including Melbourne.

Mini Metro: Melbourne

Meanwhile in the real world

I was pondering what the game can teach us about real life public transport.

Frequency is good. In the game, passengers may have to change from line to line to reach their destination. If trains come through frequently, they’re not waiting for long, so crowds don’t grow too large.

Bunching is bad. In the real world it’s important to maintain even frequencies, and not let services bunch. This causes problems in the game too.

Diversity of destinations is good. The game creates different shapes, and may force you to have sections of line with the same shapes. This is analogous to lots of commuter stations which are a source of passengers, but rarely a destination. It means trains quickly become crowded in those sections.

A winning strategy in the game is to try and build your lines to have a mix of the station shapes – avoid the same shape multiple times in a row. This increases the chances of using your train capacity efficiently.

This is also true in real life – Melbourne’s CBD dominates train travel demand, but lines that serve intermediate destinations (for example Caulfield or Glenferrie which have university campuses, or Southland with its shopping centre) can mean some seats on the trains serve multiple passengers during one trip, making the system more efficient.

Passenger trips can be unpredictable. Sometimes the simulated passengers take unexpected routes to their destinations. So too in real life.

Lines with very busy and very quiet sections are difficult to manage. Capacity is wasted in the quiet section. You see this on Melbourne’s tram system – the CBD is very busy (in part due to the Free Tram Zone), but the suburban ends are relatively quiet (for the capacity provided), in part because many of them terminate in the middle of nowhere rather than making a logical connection to a railway station or other traffic generator.

Interchanges are useful, but challenging. If you can’t efficiently provide passengers with a one seat ride, then separate lines serving different destinations can help. But if something goes wrong, then queues of interchanging passengers can grow, overcrowding stations. If you want to see this in Melbourne, check the Federation Square tram stop in peak hour.

Station precincts develop over time. Part of the game has stations changing shape, such as from a common-or-garden circle to one of the rarer shapes. In real life, this happens – rail transport in particular often prompts development in the area immediately surrounding the station. It helps in the game because it adds diversity into a line – same in real life.

Playing Mini Metro at Caulfield station

Larger vehicles can help. In the game you get the opportunity to add carriages, which can relieve crowding. This is analogous to replacing small trams or buses with larger (such as is happening around Melbourne’s tram network at present) or introducing longer trains (coming sooneventually).

Crowding can develop very suddenly. Not to excuse government planning, but patronage growth can be unexpectedly fast, quickly overwhelming services. If the only fix is major infrastructure, this can take some time to resolve.

In Mini Metro, if stations get too crowded, the game ends. In real life, the government can get voted out.

The game is quite abstract, but good fun. Worth a look if you’re interested in such things.

Categories
transport

Bike parking: the next generation

This caught my eye: a commuter at Aircraft station:

…uses the station five days a week and said she had given up trying to get a park at the station.

“Because of the traffic congestion on Point Cook Road and because of the lack of car parking facilities at the station, I choose to walk or to cycle to the station

Star Weekly, 2/4/2019 “No love for Aircraft train station

Aircraft is not unique in this regard. No suburban railway station has enough car parking to meet demand. It’s basically impossible to achieve. It’s extraordinarily expensive, and doesn’t scale up.

Car park, Laverton station

If someone walks or cycles to the station instead of driving, is that actually a bad outcome?

The caveat:

“The footpath’s broken, it’s very narrow, the railings either side of the footpath are inadequate and inappropriate.

“I lock my bike to the fence … there’s just no bike security.

All of these could be fixed without just giving up and expanding the car park at huge cost, so it fills up a few minutes later each morning, and generates more car traffic into the precinct.

Unfortunately, it looks like the nearby level crossing removal won’t provide upgrades to the station either way.

Singapore MRT: bicycle parking

Bike cages? Or something else?

In Europe and Asia, you see huge numbers of bicycles parked at railway stations. Could we get the same outcome here?

(The image above is from Singapore; the image at the top of the post is from Bruges, Belgium.)

I’m not sure a cage is necessarily much more secure than locking a bike to a fence. Almost anybody can get a bike cage card key. And bike cages are pretty expensive to install en masse – around $100,000 for a standard cage (fitting 26 bikes). That’s a lot cheaper than car parking, but still quite pricey.

I’ve been reliably informed that bike theft can be a problem, but it almost never happens if a D-lock is used – because D-locks can’t be cut through with bolt cutters.

(Angle grinders are a different story. This is why many people use a cheap bike to park at the station, not an expensive one that may attract thieves.)

The Aircraft commuter’s situation is not unique. Many people would like to drive to the station. They’ll never be able to do so, because providing a car spot for all of them is completely impractical.

Station car parks are often very prominent, usually taking up more space than the station itself, but that’s because cars take up so much space. The statistics show that most people don’t drive to the station. Not even in Zone 2.

Most people walk, cycle, or catch a bus or tram to the station because it’s the best (or least worst) option for them. Given costs of providing station parking make it impractical on a large scale, it’s good that most people can find another way.

But the article is right – bicycle parking could be a lot better than it is.

The next station out from Aircraft is Williams Landing, which has 666 car park spaces [1] – also full early each morning.

It turns out that a lot of people are cycling to Williams Landing.

Williams Landing station - bike cage

When I took a look one weekday afternoon, I found the bike cage was packed full of bikes.

…and nearby, this fence had a long row of bikes along it.

Williams Landing station - bike parking

This is good. The more people cycling, the better.

So what’s the best way to encourage even more people to cycle?

Better bike lanes and paths will help, but if every fence already has a bike chained to it, what about more station bike parking, on a large scale?

The Wheelie

If more Parkiteer bike cages are expensive, are there cheaper options?

Turns out the Department of Transport and Monash University have been working on something: The Wheelie.

It’s a simple metal structure that is compact – designed to fit into an area the size of a parking space – and can cater for up to nine bikes.

It looks quite ingenious, and could help cater for a lot more bike parking around stations as well as places like university campuses.

I’m told the cost is under $1000 to manufacture it, plus some installation costs – kept low by not needing excavation (which in turn can impact underground services) – it’s just anchored to a block of concrete. Unsophisticated, but effective. And the design is Creative Commons, so anybody can make and deploy them.

The key is to target installation sites carefully: probably better at staffed stations, in view of CCTV, in a well-lit spot, and preferably undercover.

Cycling’s not for everyone. (I don’t currently have a bike.) And connecting buses should be better.

But if this new design provides a cheap affordable way to get more people to railway stations without them having to drive and add to local congestion, then that’s a win for everybody – even those who do have to drive.

  • [1] The new PTV web site just says the station has parking, with no detail. Only the old web site specifies the number of spots.
  • Lead photo: bike parking at Bruges station, Belgium
Categories
transport

The Myki mobile trial is progressing

Last year the government announced that Myki would be coming to mobile phones. Early testing happened late last year, and last week PTV opened up the trial to up to 4000 participants.

The technology allows you to load a “virtual” Myki card onto your Android phone within Google Pay, and use it for travelling on public transport.

Apparently there are people out there for whom the holy grail of everyday life is being able to carry their phone but leave their wallet at home. I’m not one of those people, but this could help them meet that goal.

What you need to join in

The basic requirements are:

  • Android 5+, supporting Google Pay
  • NFC (Near-Field Communication) on your phone
  • Gmail account – this seems to be used to whitelist your account for the trial
  • Credit card – this is added to Google Pay to load up the virtual Myki card

You can apply on the PTV web site.

Mobile Myki: touching at a reader

How it works

Once you’re accepted, your Google Pay account is whitelisted. You can then go into Google Pay, then to Passes, Travel cards, and you should be able see a Myki option.

If that works, from there you can create a new Myki card on your phone. It simulates a real card, though unlike a real card, it’s free – at least during the trial.

Just like a real card it can be loaded with Myki Money or Myki Pass. (The latter is limited to 60 days, the length of the trial, but this limit will be removed when Mobile Myki publicly available.)

Curiously, the virtual card expires in two years. Not sure why.

It looks like, as with other Google Pay functionality, the phone just has to be awake and unlocked when you touch it to a reader. The phone and the reader talk to each other and Google Pay figures out that it wants the Myki card, and applies the touch.

(Someone on one of the forums reckoned it doesn’t even have to be awake. I couldn’t get that to work.)

What’s impressive here is that it works with most of the existing Myki hardware:

  • Fare readers (old and new);
  • Myki Checks;
  • handheld devices used by Authorised Officers and V/Line conductors.

This is important, as it means a full rollout can occur without expensive and time-consuming replacement of the tens of thousands of devices out there. Given the older fare readers are 10+ years old, this is almost miraculous.

PTV tells me that it doesn’t work with:

Thankfully none of these are essential to allow people to travel around the network.

Poster showing Myki equipment
Myki equipment (from an old staff poster)

Using Myki mobile

I already have a Myki card with a brand new Yearly fare on it, so I’m unlikely to use it for everyday travel at the moment.

But I’ve tried it a few times with Myki Money loaded.

As you’d expect, the fare charging is identical to a real Myki card.

Response times: initially I found it very patchy. But for I also tried (for the first time) Google Pay at the supermarket, and found the same issue.

Eventually I figured it out: it helped a lot to discover that for my Motorola phone, the NFC antenna is right at the top.

So you don’t hold the phone to the reader in the middle, and flat like a Myki card. In the case of my phone, you point the top to the reader – then it works much better.

So it’s definitely worth checking where the NFC antenna is on your phone.

Once you’ve mastered your touch technique, it seems about the same speed as a physical card: pretty fast on the new readers; somewhere between fast and slow on the old ones.

The virtual card can be registered to a Myki account, so you can then use it to top-up online, or even set up Auto Topup (which for Myki Money users is great).

Important: if you can’t be sure that your phone battery will last while you’re travelling, you may want to stay away from this. PTV tells me it’s the passenger’s responsibility to ensure that if ticket checked, their phone has enough juice.

Things that they could improve

You can top up instantly within Google Pay, which is a big plus over a normal Myki card.

But you can’t set up Auto Top-up, which would be helpful.

I’d personally love to see Auto Top-up combined with weekly and/or monthly fare capping. That would completely remove the requirement for regular passengers to ever buy Passes or top-up again, while knowing they aren’t paying more than necessary if they travel every day including weekends.

Mobile Myki: transaction history

The travel history within the app isn’t perfect – sometimes it just says “Public transport”, though usually it figures out the mode.

The mode icons are apparently Google’s, not PTVs – because it’s within Google Pay, there are limitations.

Transferring existing funds and Passes from a physical card to the phone app’s virtual card does not appear to be straightforward – this is a hangover from Myki’s existing policies and procedures. It’d be good if this was resolved in some way.

And ideally the mobile Myki could be used with any of the existing devices, opening up more top-up options such as cash or EFT/ATM cards using a station vending machine. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who periodically takes all my change to the railway station to load up onto my Myki card.)

And of course the additional payment option of using a phone doesn’t abrogate them from fixing issues with the physical Myki cards.

Why doesn’t it work on iPhone?

It’s all a bit technical, but it seems to be an issue with the different approaches from Google and Apple.

From what I can gather:

Google is happy to let developers make full use of the NFC functionality in phones to do whatever, including doing things outside Google Pay.

Specifically, PTV and others use a feature called “Host Card Emulation“, so the phone can impersonate a Myki card.

In contrast, Apple provides only limited access to NFC functionality in phones, because they want all transactions to be within Apple Pay, from which they take a cut (something like 0.15%). They won’t allow Host Card Emulation.

Here’s some technical discussion on Whirlpool about it. Don’t take it all as gospel, of course.

Elsewhere…

In some places like London (which uses the Oyster system) and Sydney (which uses Opal, which is Oyster technology), iPhones/Apple Pay can be used because they are actually impersonating a credit card, not a transport card.

This is apparently impossible in Melbourne because the readers can’t read credit cards, though I’m not sure if that’s all readers or just the older ones. You would hope the newer ones are capable, and gradually they would replace the old ones.

Simply using a credit card which charges the appropriate fare is obviously a lot easier for tourists: no mucking about to set it up; no trying to calculate how much money to load so you don’t end up over-paying with little hope of easily getting a refund.

In other places like Shanghai and Beijing, the local transport authorities are beta testing with Apple, and have presumably found a way to work with Apple’s technology and conditions.

Mobile Myki: creating a card

Leading the world?

What’s interesting is that there are actually very few jurisdictions using Google Pay for their public transport — Google only introduced it last year. Las Vegas (which shows up as an option), Birmingham (UK), and a few Asian cities apparently. And us.

So if it goes well and gets a wider rollout, we might be one of the first big systems using it.

That’s might be something you didn’t expect from Myki!

Public transport needs to be simple to use, so services need to improve, but opening up easier payment options is also important. So it’s good to see this progressing.

Categories
driving transport

The desire to drive, and how we must counter it

I am discovering that there’s some powerful psychology going on when you get a new car.

Playing into this for me is that my old car was wearing out, and was getting difficult to drive, plus the change from manual to automatic.

This means the new car seems like a breeze to drive.

The “new car smell” is real, and somehow makes it seem pleasurable to sit in the driver’s seat.

The extra features – even on this model which was as cheap as I could buy in the size I wanted – are (I’m guessing) designed to appeal, to make you want to be in the car (and thus to drive it).

Some designers have identified cupholders specifically as desirable, with some perhaps unlikely explanations:

Rapaille says women love cup holders because — and this is really what he told her — cup holders mean coffee, and coffee means safety, because of the memories we all have of our mothers preparing coffee with breakfast.

And this: Anthony Prozzi, design manager for Ford in Michigan, explains that “part of a designers job is to play psychologist, anthropologist and sociologist, and knowing those things helps you read consumers and know what puts a smile on their faces.”

Lancer manual: cup and bottle holders

My new car has a spot to put a bottle in the door (like my old car did) plus cupholders in the centre between the front two seats. So I can have two drinks within easy reach if I want… while the manual warns you not to actually use them while driving. Plus it’s got a spot for a packet of tissues, in case I have a spill.

I suppose car manufacturers have been at this game for a long time. You’ve bought their product for thousands of dollars – they want you to feel good about it, so that in time you’ll want to upgrade to another one.

The net result is that – even for someone like me, who understands the consequences of driving, and doesn’t like driving – I feel like I want to drive it.

I’d never drive it to work. Parking is too expensive, traffic is too soul-destroying, and (usually) the train is too good.

But it’s tempting to drive it other places where PT options are fewer – and I can understand why some people would be tempted to drive every day, even into horrible traffic. Combined with (Australian) governments who keep building big roads, even though it doesn’t solve congestion (it expands it), the desire to drive is powerful.

Just get in, turn the key and go. It’s so easy. Mostly the noise, air quality and traffic impacts are Somebody Else’s Problem. The motorist doesn’t pay for them; society does.

Governments are complicit in this, especially in Australia, where they build ever more roads as cities get bigger – despite this being not how the world’s biggest cities solve their mobility problems.

So the desire to drive is powerful.

CBD traffic, Lonsdale and William Streets

Fighting back

All this means that those of us who believe in the importance of solving those impacts through alternative transport modes have to make sure that they improve enough to fight back. If everybody who could afford to and was able to was on the roads, it’d be a disaster.

Perhaps to an extent cars are self-defeating. The more crowded the roads become, the better the alternatives look.

I also associate the car with first escapes, driving nowhere in particular in the middle of the night with a friend, movement being a goal in its own right. … Countless trips have been made by car since then, and we (still) own a small car today. However, trains became our favorite transport mode a long time ago, and as a family, we nowadays associate highways with congestion and stress, places to avoid.Stefan Gossling

Ultimately to fight back against the car, the other options need to improve.

Gossling again: There are powerful interests at work to psychologically engineer car addiction—addicts, conveniently, never question their behavior. Other insights pertain to the role of cars with regard to emotions, sociality, sex and gender, speed, authority, and death. We need to understand these interrelationships to unlock the possibility of alternative transport futures.

Caulfield station, inbound passengers during evening peak

Can public transport improve?

One could focus on the psychological aspects of public transport, but what about the basics – making the system easy and pleasant to use?

Cleanliness, crowding, information, security and easy to use ticketing all come into it. But seamless connections and cutting waiting times to reduce door-to-door journey times are fundamental requirements.

It would be easy enough to despair. Progress is so damn slow.

Most suburban buses are still running to frequencies from cuts 25 years ago. The last tranche of the better quality orbital Smartbus routes were implemented in 2010, almost a decade ago.

Trams have seen capacity expansion (big trams replacing smaller trams) but few route extensions, and remain slow due to a lack of progress on traffic priority.

The noises about public transport expansion are positive, but the actual progress isn’t.

Particularly frustrating is that literally billions are being spent on new rail tunnels to fix peak hour (great!) but most suburban train lines continue to run only every 20 minutes at most times of day, 30 minutes evenings. There are still gaps of 40 minutes on some lines on Sunday mornings.

A few have improved, but on most lines at most times they are much the same now as they have been for 30 years.

Let’s face it, with some exceptions, outside peak, most of the public transport system remains pathetically infrequent and slow, especially for a city of nearly five million people — despite increasing all-day demand.

Really, it’s no surprise that most people continue to drive.

The car industry is doing its best to coax us in, and on the other side, every signal from authorities, every pathetic half-baked public transport upgrade, every poorly-programmed pedestrian crossing, every non-existent bike path tells people to drive.

To curb the many problems of the car, they have to do better.

Categories
transport

We need better public transport, not free public transport

From time to time the topic of free public transport comes up, most recently because of changes in Estonia.

I think it’s a distraction from far more important issues.

I just wanted to address a few points about it. Apologies for the rambling.

Would it be a good idea in Melbourne and/or Victoria?

I don’t think so.

The first point is the cost: the PTV Annual Report indicates around $800 million is collected in fare revenue every year.

Even allowing for the running costs of the ticket system and fare enforcement, hundreds of millions of dollars would have to be found to cover that.

That’s money that wouldn’t be available for upgrades, which are a far higher priority, because the main reason people don’t use public transport isn’t the fares, it’s the service quality.

If the system goes free, assuming that at least some of the shortfall is via higher taxes, you’d have a lot of people paying more for a service they can’t practicably use, which brings me to the next point.

Free Tram Zone

Would free PT get more people on board?

Melbourne’s existing free public transport is an indicator of what would happen if the whole system was free.

The usable, frequent services would be swamped with people. They’d need upgrades to keep up with growth — upgrades which would be far more difficult if revenue isn’t growing with patronage growth. Example: the Free Tram Zone; free New Years Eve trains.

You’d also lose any peak/off-peak pricing mechanism that can moderate peak demand and help encourage off-peak travel. This is used heavily on V/Line (30% discount outside peak, and for all trips that don’t go through Zone 1), and also on Metro (100% discount before 7:15am on weekdays), though arguably this could be used more extensively.

The infrequent, less usable services — such as suburban buses — still wouldn’t get a lot of use. Example: Seniors and Myki Pass-holders on weekends. Some use the buses, but plenty would rather drive, even if they can use public transport for free (or for no extra cost with their weekday ticket).

And that’s a problem if one of the prime aims is to increase public transport usage. Those middle and outer suburban areas where most people travel day to day is where public transport is failing to win market share, thus driving dominates. It would continue to be the case.

If a suburban bus is once an hour (and plenty are), then it’s not suddenly a compelling service if it becomes free. They need more services, not free services.

Myki, Smartrider, Go card, Opal public transport smartcards

It costs more to collect fares than the revenue

No, completely wrong.

Myki was an expensive system to build; around $1.5 billion including ten years running costs = $150 million per year.

It’s still expensive. The recently signed operations contract is $700 million for seven years = $100 million per year.

(Sydney’s Opal card system is also expensive, at $1.2 billion for 15 years. That’s a bit cheaper, but these systems can be very expensive when they involve coverage of a large network, requiring lots of hardware — whether or not it’s established technology or being built afresh.)

So yes, ticket systems cost a lot of money. But even if you supposed that on top of the $100-$150 million per year for the ticket system, ticket inspections were costing another $50 million per year (and assuming those staff aren’t needed anyway for other purposes such as safety), that’s still around $600 million per year lost if fares aren’t collected.

Or to put it another way: if Myki hadn’t been built, instead the system could have been fare-free… but only for about two years.

There would be some benefit from going fare-free: better passenger flows in and around stations, as fencing and gates are removed, and on and off trams and buses. But at a huge cost, and these issues can be ameliorated in other ways.

New Myki signage on trams, October 2015

But Estonia has free public transport!

No it doesn’t. If you look beyond the headlines, you’ll discover that recent changes have made regional buses in Estonia free.

Free journeys will be available for all Estonians using county buses, but won’t be available on trains (although enhanced subsidies will make tickets on the state-owned rail network cheaper). And in Estonian cities outside of Tallinn, all passengers will still have to pay to use all modes of public transit, including buses. — Huffington Post

It’s apparently not even all county regional buses:

To date, not all Estonia’s 15 counties have taken up the offer, though the free-fare zone is set to cover large areas of the country. — European Sting

So it excludes rail services, and city (suburban) buses — which would account for the majority of passengers.

Tallin, the capital of Estonia (population 610,000) does have free buses, trolley-buses, trams, ferries and trains within the city limits, but only for residents.

People still use a smartcard, but the cards issued to local residents give them free rides. Which means the system still incurs the cost of running the ticketing system. In fact Wikipedia notes that services are stopped during ticket checks (though this practice may not still be current) — so it’s really not a fare free system at all.

Problems aside, was Tallinn’s free public transport a success? That depends on how you define success:

a 2016 analysis of the Tallinn scheme found it didn’t really encourage many people to stop driving.

In 2014, a year into the experiment, the use of public transport had increased by 14%. However, car use only declined by 5%.

In fact, it was walkers who hopped on buses, as the number of trips made on foot dropped by a staggering 40%.

And while the share of car use marginally decreased, the average distance travelled by car actually went up. — European Sting

Cardiff Bay: Pierhead building and Millennium Centre

Wales has free public transport!

No it doesn’t. Wales has free bus services on weekends only… but only for 9 bus regional routes run by one operator, the Welsh government-owned Travel Cymru. It appears to be a measure designed to stimulate tourism.

The scheme excludes rail services, and all other bus services — including bus services within cities.

Hasselt, Belgium has free public transport!

No it doesn’t. They had free buses (not other modes) from 1997 until 2013 when they scrapped the scheme because of cost — in part the costs of running services to cater for higher patronage. The buses are still free for those under 19.

Hasselt isn’t a big city, in any case – it has a population of only about 71,000 people. That means it’s not a good example to point to when arguing for a large city to go fare free.

Paris…

The (socialist) Mayor of Paris has proposed it, but the idea has been opposed by others.

As far as I can make out, as of 2018, there is no major city in the world (of say more than a million people) where all public transport is free.

But the roads are free

Toll roads are an obvious exception, but even “free” roads aren’t actually free. They are heavily subsidised, but motorists still have to pay fuel tax at the pump, and registration and licencing fees.

Public transport is subsidised too of course. This is no reason to cut out fare collection and make the subsidy even bigger.

Crowded train, Richmond

Priorities

Chris Hale recently wrote in The Age that: “a public dollar frittered on fare discounting is invariably a waste, whereas that same dollar invested in better off-peak service gets great results.”

Fares certainly need to be affordable. Part of that is addressed ensuring there are concessions to those who need them.

But in any big city, even those hailed as having great public transport, service and infrastructure improvements are needed.

In fact the best public transport cities tend to get into a growth spiral of patronage – they need ongoing investment. It costs, but it’s good for their city.

All of which means that in any city, with even a moderately successful public transport network, given the huge amount of money raised from fares, it’s very difficult to envisage a time when making the service free would be a priority, or even desirable.

Categories
transport

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?

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport TV

Sense8’s public transport. Can you name the cities?

I’m always interested to see portrayals of public transport in popular culture.

I’ve been watching the Netflix series Sense8 — I’m a bit over halfway through it. (And I just realised the Wikipedia article includes spoilers, so watch your step if you’re planning to watch it).

It’s pretty good — at least, I’m intrigued enough by the story to keep watching. It’s scifi, created by the minds behind The Matrix and Babylon 5, and set in the present day, with eight (hence the name) main characters in different cities around the globe.

In the title sequence they seek to highlight different parts of the world with lots of different shots from the cities featured. Here’s the video if you feel so inclined (it’s about two minutes long).

If you’re trying to highlight different cities, what helps distinguishes them apart from their skyline and famous buildings? Their public transport systems!

Public transport can visually differentiate cities a lot more than, say, freeways, given that motorway signs and cars look pretty much the same across the (western) world.

Perhaps they (at least subconsciously) thought a bit about this, because in the title sequence there are numerous shots of public transport. … Or perhaps there aren’t really that many, and it’s just me that notices them. (Actually there are shots of freeways and road bridges as well.)

Can you guess the cities? Some of them are pretty easy. They’ve doubled up on some, and I think they’ve missed one of the eight cities here.

Here they are in the order shown in the titles:

1.
PT in the Sense8 titles 01

2.
PT in the Sense8 titles 02

3.
PT in the Sense8 titles 03

4.
PT in the Sense8 titles 04

5.
PT in the Sense8 titles 05

6.
PT in the Sense8 titles 06

7.
PT in the Sense8 titles 07

8.
PT in the Sense8 titles 08

9.
PT in the Sense8 titles 09

10.
PT in the Sense8 titles 10

Those who have actually watched the series would know that one of these actually features heavily in the plot.

What are some other TV shows or movies that have prominently featured the PT systems of their cities (without it necessarily being the basis of the plot, such as Pelham 123) ?

Oh damn. Someone’s catalogued all the locations in the Sense8 titles (with assistance from the program makers).

Never mind — have a guess. No cheating now.

Categories
transport

Farewell MX

Freebie afternoon commuter newspaper MX finishes its run today after 14 years of publishing in Melbourne (and shorter runs in Brisbane and Sydney).

Melbourne Express was its awkward morning competitor for a short time in 2001 — it was never going to last because morning distribution is so difficult. That brand name lives on in The Age’s morning updates.

Some may mock MX for being overly filled with show-biz news and lifestyle stories, but for years it had a good team of local reporters, and their focus on public transport-using readers meant they always gave the PTUA a good run, often on the front page. It was a great way to reach a key demographic… for advertisers too, of course.

Here are some of the more (for me) memorable stories:

30/8/2005: East-west tunnel? Or public transport? It’s a debate that’s been around for a while.
MX: road tunnel, or public transport (30/8/2005)

11/10/2006: Celebrating the PTUA’s 30th anniversary
MX: 30 years of PTUA (11/10/2006)

23/5/2011: When the PTUA’s “Problem Of The Day” poked holes in the new tram network map, MX went Full Tabloid on it:
MX: Map of crap (23/5/2011)

2/6/2011: And this one, critiquing in detail the screens at Southern Cross Station:
MX: Southern Cross screens (2/6/2011)

Alas, their coverage of local news changed somewhat earlier this year when MX had a revamp. Recently there’s been little local content in it; indeed it appears much of the paper has been a generic Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane production.

MX of course had other uses. Some would get it every day just for the crosswords. You could wave it angrily at cars that failed to stop at zebra crossings. You could use it to cover that horrible-looking stuff on the train seat.

Litter could be a problem on evening trains, though MX probably helped the push for recycle bins to be installed at suburban stations. (And litter on trains is unlikely to just vanish when MX is gone.)

Perhaps with the recent proliferation of smart phones (iPhones were still six years away when MX launched) it’s not surprising it’s wrapping up.

It’s hard to break news if you go to press at midday for distribution to people at 4-5pm when many of your readers will have seen the same stories at lunchtime on their phones and computers.

Notably, News Corporation has been advertising news.com.au heavily around public transport recently.

So long MX, it’s been nice knowing you.

And to all the journos there I dealt with over the years, past and present: Erin, Hanna, Inga, Lachlan, Maria, Michelle, Nadia, Rebecca and any I might have forgotten (and/or not saved in my phone!) — thank you and good luck!

PS:

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport

A quick look through PTV’s 2015 network revenue protection plan

I noticed there’s a 2015 version of PTV’s network revenue protection plan on their web site.

It’s a lot less detailed than the one The Age FOI’d in 2010… perhaps because it was intended to be made public.

Some points of interest, with my notes in italics:

Pages 5-6 talk about the background — total loss of $51.6 million in revenue in 2014.

“Metro Trains and Yarra Trams hold revenue risk, sharing 70 per cent of the total metropolitan farebox revenue.”

There are a couple of important points in this section:

“[Passengers] are not fare evading if they have a statutory defence for travelling without a valid ticket; i.e. they took all reasonable steps to obtain a valid ticket before their journey, there was no reasonable opportunity to obtain a valid ticket during their journey, and they took all reasonable steps to obtain a valid ticket after completion of their journey.”
this is worth remembering. What is “reasonable” has long been a bit wibbly-wobbly, and ultimately decided by the courts, but the fact is if you are pinged and genuinely believe you took all reasonable steps to buy a ticket, you should be able to appeal it.

“It is not regarded as fare evasion if a passenger has breached the ticketing conditions without loss of revenue (e.g. by failing to touch on at the start of their trip when they have a valid myki pass for their trip).”
so whereas the conditions say you’re meant to touch-on every trip, if there’s been no loss of revenue, you’re not the person they’re chasing. However! I’d suggest it’s well worth touching-on every time, to verify that your fare is still current, your Pass hasn’t just expired, and your card is functioning correctly.

Page 11 notes they’re monitoring a number of recent changes… the January 2015 changes (free tram zone, and zone 1 metropolitan price capping), on-the-spot fines (introduced August 2014), Multi-Modal Authorised Officers (primarily to boost checks on the bus network), and the use of Behavioural Economics.

Myki gates being repaired

Cutting to the chase, from page 13 onwards they note actions. Some of the significant ones include:

Changes for a User-friendly ticketing system, which includes

  • encourage off-system use of Myki channels, eg retail and online — presumably the aim is to help reduce queuing, which is still a problem at busy stations
  • possible changes to vending machines to improve the interface — good move. Maybe they’ll finally fix the unwanted receipts issue
  • more monitoring of Myki device reliability — I remember being told that there’d be a level of automated monitoring, but if it was ever implemented, it’s not acted upon. If a reader or gate at a busy location is getting zero cards read when neighbouring devices are getting lots, it should trigger someone to go check it.
  • promoting card expiry and free replacements — this is still a problem, particularly for people who have never registered their cards. Do the on-system prompts even mention imminent card expiry?

Compliance

  • auditing station barriers — barriers being left open has been an issue in the past, though it seems to be improving
  • an interesting one: “include revenue protection considerations in special events planning” — perhaps this is one that’s led to the closing of barriers at AFL games
  • close ticket barriers; direct people to go buy a fare if they turn up when AOs aren’t present — this is common sense, of course, though how AOs deal with honest people who have been defeated by Myki system problems is also a big issue.
  • “support (bus) drivers in encouraging passengers to touch on” — again, makes sense, while ensuring bus drivers don’t put themselves at risk
  • “trial an alternative location for bus fare payment devices” — the current default placement of readers is in an illogical position, where the bus driver often can’t see if people touch on or not, and (on metro buses at least) they don’t let you touch-on using the touch pad next to the driver’s console.

Enforcement

  • “Behaviour change” work via regular visible AOs swarming over specific rail lines — I seem to recall one of those Brit railway documentaries showing this, with the additional effect of making it harder for fare evaders to just go to the next station and hop off there to avoid a fine
  • “Review AO training and guidelines with continued focus on customer service and incident management” — important given some highly-publicised incidents
  • New hand held Myki readers — sounds like the existing ones have problems. No surprise, given most of the originally deployed publicly-used Myki hardware has problems.
  • Develop a single AO uniform across all operators — good idea; like vehicle liveries, to have a recognisable uniform, and preferably not an intimidating paramilitary-style one.
  • Continue “cross-deployment activities” — AOs on and around buses have certainly been more visible recently, and it also mentions V/Line
  • “Undertake corralling exercises (banners and bollards) at platform tram and bus stops to increase ticket checks – tram” — hmm that should be fun. Of course it doesn’t happen in the busy Free Tram Zone anymore (apart from the first inbound stop). Note the first combined bus/tram platform stop outside the Casino opened recently.

There’s also a section on marketing and education, as well as one on measurement and monitoring, which ties into the regular fare evasion stats published.

Authorised Officers at a tram stop

What’s the fare collection strategy?

There’s not a lot of detail in the document. Fair enough, they don’t want to give away all their detailed strategies to potential fare evaders.

But there’s really not a lot on the higher-level strategy: specifically the nature of fare collection.

They hint at it on page 6:

“While it is not practical to achieve 100 per cent fare compliance across an open public transport system such as Victoria’s, there is scope to significantly reduce the cost of fare evasion.”

Right. But why do we have an open system?

We’ve moved to an open, mostly self-serve system since the late-1980s. A failed attempt to use scratch-tickets, and then removing most station staff and all tram conductors in the 90s. More recently we’ve seen the removal of all ticket purchase/top-up options from trams — as a result of a 2011 consultant’s report which has never been published.

But what decisions went into this, and given huge patronage growth since those decisions in the 80s and 90s, do those reasons still apply?

Some new suburban stations have been getting fare gates (for instance Williams Landing, Springvale, Mitcham). What’s the strategy there? I’ve heard it’s to increase the proportion of trips starting and/or ending at a fare gate, but where is this spelt out?

Could we have tram conductors back? What would be the costs? Would it be affordable? Or would modern cash handling, safety issues and today’s much larger trams make it impractical?

Presumably they’ve thought about these issues, but if the strategy is documented somewhere, it’s not public.

Recently I found this interesting bit of text on the UK Network Rail site, which attempts to explain similar decisions:

“On long-distance trains, it is often possible for the on-board staff to check every passenger’s ticket. On rural routes, trains stop more often but as they usually have fewer coaches and carry a smaller number of passengers, on-board ticket checks can also be effective.

However, on urban and suburban routes, where station stops are frequent and the trains are often busy, it is not always possible to check every passenger’s ticket between every station.

In the past, tickets have been inspected by staff at ticket barriers but it is very expensive to provide staff at every ticket barrier and also inconvenient for passengers.”

Agree or disagree, at least they’ve tried to explain the logic behind their fare collection regime.

Authorised Officers at a bus stop

Nonetheless, the PTV document is an interesting peek into the world of fare compliance. It makes sense for them to (fairly) improve compliance to ensure revenue loss to the system is minimised.

But it makes you wonder how thoroughly they’ve looked at the big picture.

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Handling big events – the real problem is a lack of services

The Herald Sun had an interesting article describing the trip home from the football on Friday night, and the delays suffered by those in the crowd.

Apart from the football at the MCG, there was also a concert in the tennis centre, and soccer at Etihad Stadium. Edit: plus rugby at AAMI stadium.

In fact an earlier Age story had explicitly warned that the city would be busy.

Richmond station, NYE after early fireworks

The Herald Sun article notes a variety of issues: delays at the Richmond station gates, crowded platforms (and queues on the ramps), screens with wrong information, and trains too full to board.

Here’s the annoying thing: getting a hundred thousand people home should be easily handled by the public transport network, the trains in particular, if it’s planned right. The system deals with over double that every evening peak hour, and also on New Year’s Eve (though fare collection is waived then).

Obviously there are a few problems here…

Richmond station doesn’t handle crowds well. The current station is 55 years old; in 1960 it replaced a smaller station built in 1885.

Although the subway (at the MCG end) connecting the platforms is pretty wide, the ramps and platforms aren’t, and crowding tends to occur at the western end (particularly on platforms 9+10) when large numbers of people arrive at once. This is difficult to solve without expensive upgrades, which are needed, but probably aren’t going to happen any time soon. Encouraging people to move along to the far end of the platform will obviously help.

Yes, the gates slow people down, but this is probably not a bad thing if there’s crowding inside the station anyway — regulating the flow of people (and stopping them if necessary — a scenario common in places like London) helps stop it getting worse. So I suspect the populist calls to “throw open the gates” are a little simplistic.

Revenue collection is important — and large numbers of people using the service helps pull in the kinds of Real Money needed to keep it running and to upgrade it. On weekends in particular, just leaving the gates open would lead to a large amount of fare revenue lost.

One solution would be to include fares in the costs of event tickets — this is common in other cities around Australia, and might also make it possible to permanently close Yarra Park to car parking. Obviously this would mean even more provision being made for crowds using PT — and it probably needs to be shown first that this is a viable option.

It’s worth noting that free public transport (and a venue parking ban) was included with Commonwealth Games tickets in 2006. This didn’t prevent long queues getting back into the station after big events, as shown below.

Richmond station, Commonwealth Games 19/3/2006

For the Commonwealth Games, they had someone with a PA making frequent announcements, making sure the crowd was kept informed. If they’re not doing that now, it would also help.

I’m told there’s also signage around the MCG entrance pointing “parents with children” to the wide gates. What they really mean is “prams and wheelchairs”. The current wording creates unnecessary cross-flows, and should be re-written or removed.

Richmond station, Swan Street entrance, before an MCG game

PTV/Metro are encouraging people to go the long way around to the Swan Street entrance, and this is a good thing — though maybe they need to try harder, and remind people that apart from it only being an extra 2 minutes’ walk, it’s also likely to be quicker overall, as there is less queuing.

But the real problem here is the lack of extra trains.

You can get away with few extra trains if the base level of service is frequent, but at 10-11pm at night, it’s simply not — it’s a 30 minute service. (Notice how the reports of problems have been primarily at night, not after day games when the base timetable is every 10-20 minutes?)

Here’s how the timetable looked on Friday night: this is the Frankston line timetable being shown, but it also shows Dandenong line trains as far as Caulfield. The yellow shows the extra services.

Frankston/Dandenong line timetable showing extra services, 8/5/2015

On Friday night, PTV and Metro put on just a single extra train on the SE/E/NE lines after the Etihad soccer (crowd: 50,871), and another 1-2 extras on each of the SE/E/NE and Sunbury lines after the MCG AFL game (crowd: 52,152).

But the Herald Sun cited soccer crowds still heading home when the AFL finished almost an hour later, so it’s self-evident that it wasn’t sufficient. And this specific AFL game was a big win for Geelong — how many Collingwood fans left early, reducing the crowd size after the game?

It’s not just a Richmond problem either. Here’s Jolimont a couple of weeks ago (picture from Shane Shingles on Facebook)

Crowds at Jolimont after the football. (Pic: Shane Shingles)

I don’t get to the football a lot, but I’ve been to other big events which should be served well by public transport, and it’s often disappointing how long the crowd waits on the platform for a train home.

I know a bunch of planning goes into big events, but it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that more trains are needed, and they may need a few trains (and drivers) on standby to run if crowds are larger than expected, or the event finishes early or late. This in turn requires the operational flexibility to deploy resources independent of a set-in-stone timetable.

If they were really smart, just after the events start, they could crunch the Myki system data and work out how many people had arrived, and where they were likely to be travelling home to afterwards (their originating station that day), and check that against the services running on each line. At the very least, they should be analysing it for following weeks (though obviously it varies according to who is playing).

Clearly if the PT system is to maintain and grow its market share to big events, it’s going to have to provide a better service, or people will start to switch back to their cars.

A single train can move 1000+ people, and each track can run a train every 3 minutes or so. There’s no better way of moving tens of thousands of people out of the sporting/events precinct — if the system is planned and operated well.