Metro’s paper timetables mess

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that fewer people use paper train timetables than used to.

The proliferation of departure information via the official web sites, Google Maps and the official Journey Planner, as well as the official app (with its real time information) and many other apps, means people can get that information far more readily than they used to.

Some stations also have frequent services all day, so why would you even bother checking?

Here’s my totally unscientific Twitter poll the other day:

— It’s doubly unscientific because a poll online will get responses from people who are online. Many of the people who do use paper timetables are unlikely to see it and respond.

But it’s still interesting to see how many respondents never look at paper timetables, preferring online — 85% total — options that didn’t exist a generation ago.

It’s also interesting that quite a few people just go to the station — with or without assistance from apps — thanks to high-frequency services.

Anyway… some people still use paper timetables, so they need to be produced, and should be up to a high standard.

Which brings me to the current timetables. A new Metro timetable started on Monday, and Metro has duly published paper timetables, as well as pushing the information via all the other media.

But flicking through the paper timetables, I found a number of issues. Here’s a few scans from the Craigieburn and Upfield line timetable booklet.

Actually apparently they’re not a timetable anymore, they’re “Train guides”. But no matter.

Metro train guides (timetables) August 2017

Here’s the abstract map in the front of the booklet. I suppose these are trying to give you a context for where in Melbourne each line runs. But they over-simplify the line’s direction (the Upfield line runs almost due north), they only list a station or two, and the kilometre distances (a bit hard to see in the scan) are inaccurate in some of the other line booklets.

Craigieburn Upfield timetable August 2017

Why are these two lines in the same booklet anyway? Despite the description, they are not part of the same line. They share no stations outside the central area (if you include North Melbourne). Online, neither PTV nor Metro treat them as one.

Do local train users treat them as one line? Judging from the number of peak services (Craigieburn has three times as many as Upfield), it seems the demand in peak is totally different, so I’d guess not.

Listing Craigieburn and Upfield together makes the timetables harder to read. I seem to recall these lines have been lumped together since at least The Met days. It appears to be for operator convenience, not for the benefit of passengers.

And why only mention interchange to the Sunbury line? What about Werribee and Williamstown?

The text describing the operating hours appears to be correct, but overly-complicated. I wonder if a better way of presenting this could have been found:

Train timetable August 2017 - Operating hours

The line map showing all the stations on the line/s is severely broken. These are presumably inspired by the new(ish) network map:

Craigieburn Upfield timetable August 2017 - Map

Let’s leave aside the tiny coloured train interchange dots, which I doubt are very useful to people.

The problem is the map itself. In reality, travelling citybound, if you turn left from North Melbourne, you’ll head into Flagstaff, not Southern Cross.

If you’re going outbound and turn left from North Melbourne, you’ll be headed towards Craigieburn, not Upfield.

The whole thing is backwards. If you flipped it horizontally, it’d be accurate!

It turns out that many of the booklets have things muddled up. Here’s Cranbourne/Pakenham. The City Loop is right, but the outer branches are the wrong way around:

Cranbourne Pakenham timetable August 2017 - map

All the booklets for lines through North Melbourne have the City Loop oriented the wrong way around. And the Werribee/Williamstown booklet has shuffled its branches around too:

Werribee Williamstown timetable August 2017 - map

Train maps are often abstract, and not to scale. But they should at least present the stations in the correct order, and reflecting actual geographic directions, not getting them backwards or back-to-front.

The Werribee/Williamstown issue has at least been acknowledged, but how do these things get into print?

Moving on… This description of the City Loop tells you how the trains on this line run when Citybound, but not Outbound. Until the Loop runs in a consistent manner, this will be confusing. Would a diagram with arrows have been better?

Craigieburn Upfield timetable August 2017 - Information pages

I know that Night Train services (introduced 2016) are technically different to the Midnight to 1am services (introduced 2006), but they operate on exactly the same nights, so to reduce passenger confusion, it’d make sense to brand them the same, and show them the same way in the timetables. For now however, only the services introduced in 2016 are shaded blue.

Craigieburn Upfield timetable August 2017

They do get marks for indicating that Night Train services continue over the page.

I’ll just mention again that putting Craigieburn and Upfield train times in one booklet makes it harder to read.

In my skimming, I haven’t found errors in the train times themselves, but they usually do a good job on this bit.

However bus timetables are another matter. Craig Halsall on Twitter is logging scores of errors in timetables and maps around the network. PTV should offer him a job.

Many may be getting their train timetable information elsewhere, but print train timetables will be with us for a while yet.

And no matter what the medium, authorities need to clearly and accurately convey service information. The colours and fonts chosen mean the booklets look nice. But there are so many little issues — they really need to do better.

New timetables on 27th August, as Southland Station nears completion

New public transport timetables kick in on August 27th. Last week (or maybe it was the week before), PTV released details, including full timetables for the routes affected:

Altona Loop users rejoice! (A bit)

There will be no more Altona Loop shuttles. Weekday Altona Loop services will run through to Flinders St.

This also means Werribee trains will run express Newport-Footscray-North Melbourne, so both Altona and Werribee people win from this.

Of course the mostly single track through Altona means bypasses are set to continue. At least we now know the Kororoit Creek Road grade separation will include some duplication. Hopefully that makes a difference.

There hasn’t been a wholesale re-write of the timetable, so peak Williamstown and Altona services remain at every 22 minutes, while off-peak is 20!

V/Line V/Locity train on viaduct between Flinders Street and Southern Cross

More Geelong trains

The Geelong line will go to every 40 minutes on weekends. With constant overcrowding on the current hourly trains, this was only a matter of time, though heaven knows why they didn’t push the upgrades a little further to half-hourly, which would have meant more trains, a clockface timetable (40’s alternating hours has always been problematic) and preserving the bus connections, many of which are every 30-60 minutes.

As it is, bus connections will break. The premier Geelong bus service, route 1 from North Shore to Deakin, is every 30 minutes on weekends, and will remain so. It doesn’t take a genius to see that buses every 30 minutes don’t interface well with trains every 40 minutes.

V/Line have said in response to queries that it’s because the Sunbury line is every 20-40 minutes on weekends, and the Bendigo line is tied in with that, because they share some tracks… and the Bendigo line in turn interfaces with the Ballarat and Geelong lines. V/Line claims this prevents the Geelong line going to every 30 minutes.

But then, this is the organisation that has three out of four hourly services currently meeting at Deer Park Junction within a few minutes of each other, so I don’t think it’s unfair to say that their timetabling leaves something to be desired.

So has that been fixed? Well, yes and no:

  • Ballarat line at Deer Park, inbound: 15 past the hour. Outbound: 34
  • Geelong line at Deer Park, inbound: 12 and 52, or 32. Outbound: 07 and 47, or 27

So if the inbound Geelong train is 3 minutes late, every second hour it’ll delay an inbound Ballarat train. If it’s even later, it’ll delay an outbound Ballarat train as well, thanks to the flat junction.

You’d think they could have figured out better spacing between the Geelong and Ballarat trains. Aside from junction conflicts, Deer Park passengers will have 2-3 trains per hour: either at 12, 15, 52 past the hour, or at 15 and 32. Hmmmmm.

It remains to be seen whether V/Line continues to run their daily game of Mystery Platforms at Southern Cross.


Southland

The August 27th timetable for the Frankston line already includes Southland times:

Frankston line timetable showing Southland times

For those wondering about stopping patterns, the full timetable shows peak expresses will still run to/from Cheltenham, not stopping at Southland.

On Sunday afternoon I went and had a quick look at the station. It’s looking good. These views from the top of the shopping centre carpark.

The platforms are looking close to complete. Even some signage is now up.
Southland Station under construction

View looking towards the City. I’m guessing the structure closest the camera is the PSO pod and/or toilets. There seems to be plenty of coverage on the citybound platform; less so on the outbound platform.
Southland Station under construction

View looking towards Frankston. The southern ends of the platforms (as well as the entire citybound platform) are adjacent to houses, but it appears you won’t be able to see much from the platform. A few better view from the top of the Southland carpark :-/
Southland Station under construction

It’s good to see the pedestrian route through the carpark has been modified recently; it now heads more-or-less directly to the station entrance.
Southland Station - shopping centre car park

I’m not sure you’d say the station looks beautiful. I guess we’ll see what it looks like when it opens.

The station may look close to completion, but that is not to say that it is opening imminently. While the structure looks more and more functional every week, I’m hearing November is the likely opening date, with electrical and signalling works still underway.

I suppose until the station actually opens, the extra minute or two allowed in the timetables will be one less excuse Metro has for train delays.

It’ll be good to finally have it open – hopefully in time for the Christmas shopping rush.

Other timetable changes

Other changes on August 27th include additional trains on a number of lines: Werribee, Craigieburn (with all peak trains now via the Loop), Sunbury (some peak trains direct via Southern Cross), and some trains extended to Eltham.

There are also more V/Line services to Shepparton, Traralgon (approaching hourly on weekends, but not quite there yet), Bendigo, and Ballarat/Ararat. A number of local buses, both in metropolitan Melbourne and around Victoria, also have timetable changes.

All in all, some good upgrades. Enough? No, of course not – missing in action is any hint of a rollout of PTV’s 10 minute suburban train plan – but this is a step forward.

Melbourne buses: many less frequent than 25 years ago

The Public Transport Not Traffic campaign organised a story in this week’s local paper, via campaigners Tony, Danita and Oscar setting up a fake bus stop to call for better bus services.

Leader: Fake bus stop

Among the quotes in the story from locals is this one from me:

“Bentleigh has less frequent buses than it did 25 years ago.”

I’ve been (quite reasonably) asked if this is actually true.

Yep, it is (though not universally). Let me present some examples — some within the Bentleigh electorate, some just beyond.

The quote deliberately says 25 years, not 20. This is because in late-1991 (towards the end of the Kirner state government, before Kennett arrived on the scene in October 1992) there were sweeping bus service cuts to middle and outer-suburban routes right across Melbourne. Some routes were changed, combined, and renumbered, but the overall move was towards reduced frequencies.

Just in case you think I’m relying on my shaky memory, I’ve linked to scans of some of the old timetables that I’ve somehow managed to keep in my collection. (It’s not a huge collection. I’m not a timetable collector per se.)

It’s worth remembering that in those days, most shops, including at centres such as Southland, closed at 1pm on Saturdays and weren’t open on Sundays.

Bus 822 — Chadstone to Southland and Sandringham, and in 1992 some trips also extended to North Brighton to through-route to the 823.

  • In 1992, this ran every 20 minutes in morning and afternoon peak hours, which helped commuters making train connections at Murrumbeena and Sandringham, particularly in evening peak when it’s harder to accurately guess what time you’ll need the bus. Today this is every 30 minutes in peak hours.
  • Going further back to 1987, the route was known as the 655, and extra buses ran between Murrumbeena station and East Bentleigh, meaning a bus about every 15 minutes in peak — double today’s frequency.

Bus 617 — Brighton to Moorabbin and Southland. This has become part of route 811/812 from Brighton all the way to Dandenong (it was also re-routed through the industrial end of Moorabbin, making for a much slower trip from Brighton to Southland):

  • Back in 1991, this ran every 20 minutes on weekdays. It’s now every 30.
  • In peak it was about every 15 minutes. It’s now every 30.
  • On Saturday mornings it was every 30 minutes; in the afternoons about every 50 minutes. It’s now hourly.

(Note also the mention of buses to/from the football at Moorabbin. This sheet also shows the timetable for route 616 from Brighton to South Caulfield, which was scrapped and hasn’t been replaced.)

Bus 618 — from Brighton to Southland, now route 823.

  • Back in 1991, this ran every 40 minutes on weekdays. It’s now every 60.
  • It also ran about every 45 minutes on Saturday mornings. Now there is no weekend service.

Bus 641 — from Hampton to Highett, with most buses also going to Southland. This route became part of route 828 (Hampton to Berwick):

  • The timetable from circa 1990 shows it running about every 12 minutes in afternoon peak between Hampton and Highett stations, with most buses extending to Southland — this is now every 20 minutes.
  • For Friday night shopping buses were every 20 minutes to/from Southland. These are now every 30-40 minutes.
  • On Saturdays, buses were every 20 minutes in the morning, every 40 in the afternoon. They are now about every 30 minutes in the morning, and every 60 in the afternoon.

Bus 623 — from St Kilda to Chadstone and Glen Waverley:

  • Back in 1990, this ran every 30 minutes on Saturday mornings. It’s now hourly.

So as you can see, many buses are less frequent now than they were 25 years ago. In particular, peak hour frequencies dropped markedly — pretty much killing a lot of these routes as effective peak hour feeders to/from the rail system. You can time your walk to the bus stop in the morning, hopefully knowing the train might be frequent enough to avoid a long connection time. But in the evening, with train punctuality not being terribly reliable, it’s risking a long wait if you try and time your connection to a half-hourly bus.

As I said, this is not unique to this area. Cutbacks occurred right across Melbourne, and in most middle and outer suburbs, to this day, bus frequencies are poor.

Not all bad news

It’s not universally true that all buses are less frequent. The Centre Road bus 703 was upgraded from 20 minutes to 15 minutes between the peaks on weekdays as part of the Smartbus program, originated by the Kennett government and largely implemented last decade by Labor.

The 703 also ran only every 40 minutes on Saturdays; it’s now every 30 minutes. It was only hourly on Sundays, compared to about every 45 minutes now. (Hourly is of course easier to memorise). But locals may be intrigued to know that back in 1991, Sunday services did run between Brighton and Bentleigh (but not north of Monash), with some buses extending to Brighton Beach — nowadays there are no buses between Brighton and Bentleigh on Sundays.

Bus route 703 - Sunday timetable towards Brighton, dated 11/11/1991

Mostly better operating hours: Sundays and evenings

Also: On most routes, operating hours are now longer than they were in the 90s, thanks to funding from the 2006 MOTC (“Meeting Our Transport Challenges”) transport plan under Labor. This introduced (or re-introduced) Sunday services on a lot of bus routes, as well extending hours in many cases to 9pm (though mostly with only hourly services).

These extended hours apply to most of the routes above — the 703 being the exception; despite being tagged as a Smartbus, this route fails to meet the government’s Smartbus standard.

MOTC also resulted in some additional Smartbus upgrades, including the Doncaster area “DART” routes.

Bus 822 navigating a side street in Bentleigh East

Changing times

The 80s and 90s were a time of cost-cutting and mostly declining patronage in public transport. Of course cost cutting and declining patronage feed on each other.

It’s only in the last ten years or so that patronage began to climb again, helped along by factors such as in-fill development (and population growth) in established suburbs.

In this time, a lot of attention has been paid to trains, with those running through some parts of middle and outer Melbourne now every 10 minutes, seven days-a-week. This huge (but largely unadvertised) boost could scarcely have been dreamt about 25 years ago, when Sunday trains were only every 40 minutes, and generally with short trains. Since then, improvements have been delivered by both sides of politics.

But most people are beyond walking distance to trains (and the other frequent mode, trams), and many major destinations (such as Monash Clayton, Chadstone, and including, for now, Southland) are also. Apart from the few Smartbus routes, they remain mostly unusably infrequent.

Better buses — more direct, and more frequent — are vital for helping people make those trips via public transport, as well as providing connections to the train network without people having to drive to over-crowded station car parks.

How to print your own personalised train/bus/tram timetable

One side of my fridge has my local train and bus timetables on it.

It’s very handy, and pretty easy to do.

Bentleigh station to the City timetable

Method one (quicker for trains, a little haphazard for buses and trams)

1. Go to www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au.

2. In the right hand side Station / Stop search, type the name of your station (or street for trams and buses) and click Go.

3. If more than one option comes up, click on the one you want and then click continue.

4. Choose the direction you want and click on the appropriate Stop Timetable PDF.

5. Print it, stick it to the fridge.

Method two (good for buses and trams if you’re not sure which is your stop):

1. Go to www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au/timetables.

2. Click the option you want: Trains, trams or buses.

3. Select the route you want, then click Get Route Timetable.

5. Click on the direction you want, eg “To city”

6. If bus or tram and your stop isn’t on the default list of timepoints, click the plus symbol as appropriate to get the complete list, then click on the stop name.

7. Choose the direction you want (if required) and click on the appropriate Stop Timetable PDF.

8. Print it, stick it to the fridge.

Notes and quirks

You can also search using the Station and Stop page, but you have to know precisely what suburb it’s in and the cross-street or location name used in Metlink’s database, which can be difficult for tram and bus stops.

Sadly the CBD to suburbs train timetables are pretty buggy. In the case of Melbourne Central to the Sydenham line, for instance, which should be straightforward, it lists trains only up until 12:29pm on weekdays , and claims there are no services on weekends — indicating it has some kind of phobia about services that run anticlockwise.

Other combinations from the CBD outbound sometimes indicate trains terminate at odd places such as Footscray and Caulfield; what it means then is that it’s showing you trains for other lines that service part of the line you asked for (which is probably useful in some cases, and not in others).

Oh, and watch out… the system has some stations in there twice, once for V/Line and once for Metro… even though they’re the same physical stations of course.

Quirks aside, it’s handy to have the timetable on the fridge rather than have to look it up online each time, or find the booklet.

Timetable Mastermind: confusion on the Frankston line 6pm-7pm

One of the things planners should be aiming for in making public transport easy to use is ensuring that the choices are few.

The new Frankston line timetable does this in the off-peak (and evenings) with a consistent pattern: Frankston to Flinders Street (direct), stopping all stations.

In peak, in theory, there are two patterns: Frankston to Cheltenham, then express to Caulfield, to South Yarra, then to Flinders Street (direct); and Frankston to Flinders Street via the City Loop.

On weekends everything stops all stations and runs via the Loop (fair enough given lower frequencies are unlikely to cause Loop congestion, and cause long waiting times if changing trains — arguably this should also be the case on weekday evenings after 7pm).

So that’s three main patterns.

The problem is there are lots of other variations, particularly during peak-shoulder periods.

Siemens train at Glenhuntly

In peak hour

If you’re going into the city it’s not too onerous. Go to the station, catch the next train to the City. If you’re at Cheltenham or further out and it’s peak hour, you might want to wait for an express for a quicker trip.

If you’re coming out of the city, and you’re going to a station closer than Cheltenham, you’ll probably just jump on the first train stopping at your station. If not, you’ll want to go to Flinders Street or Richmond, as most of the express trains (eg, faster) don’t run via the Loop, and overtake the stopping trains.

Okay.

Shoulder-peak

But the peak-shoulder period is a mess. Between about 3-5pm, and again between 6-7pm, they’re all over the place. The patterns are such that if you miss a train at Southern Cross or a Loop station, you’re likely to wait longer than is necessary for the next one.

In detail…

Between 6pm and 6:59pm (timed at Richmond), there are 8 trains to the Frankston line; the basis for a pretty good service. Even if they were evenly split between expresses and stoppers, that would be an average wait of 15 minutes between trains.

But they’re not evenly split.

There are expresses from Flinders Street, some of which also serve Southern Cross, but some don’t.

And there are stopping Loop trains. But there are other stopping trains direct from Flinders Street, and again, some of them also serve Southern Cross, some don’t.

If you’re at Flinders Street going to Cheltenham or beyond, it’s easy:
You get on an express: 6:09, 6:26, 6:46.
But it may not be obvious that you could also get the direct stoppers at 6:32 or 6:52, which don’t get overtaken by expresses.

If you’re at Flinders Street going to before Cheltenham, you want a stopper.
5:53 (via loop)
6:11 (via loop)
6:31 (via loop)
6:32 (direct, so it beats the 6:31 by 8 minutes)
6:51 (loop)
6:52 (direct, ditto).

If you’re at Southern Cross going to Cheltenham or beyond, and we assume that those trains running via Southern Cross really do work (they often don’t), we have:
5:56 (stopper via loop, platform 12; it doesn’t get overtaken)
6:16 (express via Flinders St, probably platform 13)
6:19 (stopper via Flinders St, probably platform 13; it doesn’t get overtaken)
6:38 (express via Flinders St, probably platform 13)
6:46 (stopper via Flinders St, probably platform 13; it doesn’t get overtaken)
7:00 (express via Flinders Street, probably platform 13).

If you’re at Southern Cross going to before Cheltenham, the stoppers are:
5:56 (via loop, platform 12)
6:14 (via loop, platform 12)
6:19 (via Flinders Street, probably platform 13)
6:34 (via loop, platform 12)
6:46 (via Flinders Street, probably platform 13)
6:54 (via loop, platform 12).

If you’re in the Loop wanting Cheltenham or beyond, you’d do best to go to Richmond and change to the first express that comes along; unless the stoppers at 6:35 or 6:55 turn up, as they don’t get overtaken by expresses.

If you’re in the Loop (say at Melbourne Central) wanting before Cheltenham, you’ve got the 6:01, 6:18, 6:38, 6:58. But you’ll wait longer than necessary because some of the stoppers are running direct from Flinders Street.

Are you following all this so far?

The upshot of it is that although there are 8 trains in that hour, because they’ve split them across three patterns, it’s confusing enough that most people will give up and wait up to 20 minutes — which is longer than they would have to wait if they’ve managed to decipher the timetable and know exactly where to go and where to change trains to get home quicker.

But nobody is likely to figure that out. It’s like the timetablers are trying to play some kind of mind game with the passengers.

The official route description

Just to illustrate how confusing the whole thing is, here’s how the Metlink web site describes the service patterns on the Frankston line:

To City

Trains will depart Frankston Station, Kananook Station… [list of stations snipped]… South Yarra Station, Richmond Station, City. Express services operate during peak periods – see below.

City stations are: Flagstaff Station (weekdays only), Melbourne Central Station, Parliament Station, Flinders Street Station and Southern Cross Station (Spencer Street).

City Loop: Direction of travel through the City Loop depends on the day of week and time of day. From 8 May 2011 most weekday services will operate direct to Flinders Street.

The main exceptions are weekday morning peak all stations trains which will operate to Flinders Street via the City Loop. Weekend trains will also operate to Flinders Street via the City Loop.

Weekday am peak direction services: Operate two main stopping patterns: A. Stop all stations to Flinders Street via the City Loop. B. Express service direct to Flinders Street. Most express trains stop all stations to Cheltenham, express to Caulfield, Malvern, express to South Yarra, Richmond and then direct to Flinders Street, with some extending to Southern Cross. Passengers for loop stations are advised to change at Flinders Street or Southern Cross.

Weekday off-peak, weekend and evening services: Stop all stations to City. From 8 May 2011 Weekday interpeak services will operate direct to Flinders Street, continuing to Southern Cross Station and then Werribee or Williamstown. Some counter-peak services operate express between Malvern and South Yarra. Note: the above is a general guide and some service variations exist. Please consult timetables for detailed information on stopping patterns.

Please note, I added paragraph breaks to that to help make it clearer. Ha! Oh, and I’ve excluded the description for the other direction.

In conclusion

You shouldn’t have to be a genius to get the most out of public transport: to get the quickest trip possible, and to minimise your waiting time.

The Frankston timetable isn’t too hard to understand during off-peak and the rush hour, but in shoulder-peak it’s utterly diabolical.