Thursday, April 20, 2006

A new online 'toy' to play with

Melbourne's now got a proper online journey planner!

It's still in experimental test mode, so don't expect it to be 100% just yet. Try it for trips you commonly make and let them know what you think.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Train bingo and timed transfers

I don't know if there is an official term for when up and down trains happen to pass one another at a station. However these scheduled coincidences interest me for reasons that will become obvious later.

Coincidences

The general rule is that coincidences occur at stations spaced half the service headway along the line. In other words, if trains run every 30 minutes and up and down trains have just crossed at your station, the next crossing points will be at stations 15, 30, 45, etc minutes down the line from you.

Looking at the Pakenham/Cranbourne evening timetable, we find trains cross near the following stations:

Hawksburn: ups arrive :16 & :46, downs arrive :15 & :45
Oakleigh: ups arrive :01 & :31, downs arrive :02 & :32
Noble Park: ups arrive :17, :47, downs arrive :17 & :47

On the Frankston line we have:

Hawksburn: ups arrive :16 & :46, downs arrive :00 & :45
Bentleigh: ups arrive :17 & :47, downs arrive :16 & :46
Parkdale: ups arrive :02 & :32, downs arrive :00 & :30
Seaford: ups arrive :17 & :47, downs arrive :15 & :45

In addition Frankston ups meet Dandenong downs at Caulfield and vice versa.

I haven't looked at the other lines except to note that there are passings between Blackburn and Nunawading (:13-16 & :43-46).

Application

What use is this, apart from being a curiousity for gunzels?

The answer is that stations where both up and down trains arrive within a minute or two of one another present great opportunities for bus connections. And not just for one or two trips, but for all. I have identified two main approaches to transfers. One optimises transfer speed and the other optimises service reliability.

Timed transfers: 'shortest wait' method

With the existing evening train timetable at Oakleigh, a bus pulling in at :29 (:59) and departing at :34 (:04) is able to achieve the following transfers:

bus > up train
bus > down train
up train > bus
down train > bus

Let up assume that, like the existing route 700, there are both northbound and southbound buses via Oakleigh. Furthermore, suppose that we can schedule buses from both directions to arrive at :29 (:59) and depart at :34 (:04).

The number of transfer combinations increases to the following:

northbound bus > up train
northbound bus > down train
southbound bus > up train
southbound bus > down train
up train > northbound bus
up train > southbound bus
down train > northbound bus
down train > southbound bus

In other words, there isn't just one train connecting to one bus, making one possible connection, but instead there's eight.

Imagine what this would do for bus patronage. Even though some transfer combinations might only be used by a handful of passengers, the power of careful connection planning should now be apparent and worth the extra bus dwell time at Oakleigh. Also the time saved by transferring passengers (which can approach an hour in the example here) should outweigh the extra few minutes for through passengers.

Timed transfers: 'best reliability' method

Though it delivers the shortest interchange times and fastest travel speeds, the 'shortest wait' method may not be ideal in every case, even at interchanges where up and down trains arrive simultaneously.

The 'best reliability' method schedules buses halfway between trains. At Oakleigh, buses in both directions would arrive at :16 and :46 minutes past the hour, given the trains are h:01/:02 & h:31/:32. The above eight transfers would still be possible, but the waiting times would be extended from a snappy three minutes to half the service headway, ie fifteen minutes.

To be fair this is not without its advantages. These include (i) more robust connections even if services are delayed (a train that is 10 minutes late will still allow a 5 minute connection), (ii) permit easy transfers by mobility-impaired passengers, (iii) not require buses to be held back for late-running trains, and (iv) avoid the need for buses to wait 5 minutes (or more) at Oakleigh, and so increase travel speeds for through passengers, assist on-time running and even aid bus utilisation.

Because of the desirability to keep waiting times to 10 minutes or less, the 'best reliability' method is suited to times when train headways are 15 or 20 minutes and/or there are large numbers of through passengers on the bus you don't wish to delay.

An example of where 'best reliability' scheduling would be ideal is weekend services at Oakleigh. As with evenings, the up and down trains coincide, but due to the 20 minute service, the times are h:13/:14, h:33/:34 and h:53/:54. The 'best reliabilty' method would have buses arriving at h:03, :23 and :43. This gives a constant 10 minute transfer time, which is acceptable though not 'seamless'. However the shorter dwell time at Oakleigh benefits through passengers and makes connections more robust.

Conclusion

Both timed transfer methods have their place. Fortunately both can be used on the one route at different stations or even at different times. Their common point is equal treatment of trips in all directions; there is no attempt to 'second guess' complex travel patterns. This starting point is more in accord with modern transport (and driving) patterns than old-style planning which relegated public transport to a CBD-based radial function.

The topics raised here are the sort of things that intelligent service design should be all about. To date we've seen less genuine service planning in Melbourne than in other cities like Perth, where innovations such as service co-ordination, timed transfers and headway hierachies are everyday realities. Given the benefits obtainable, the time for it to be done here is ripe.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Quick whip around the blogs

Plenty of reading this week, especially if transport economics is your thing:

Ari on the Web proposes various ways of taxing car use. Civil Pandemonium lampoons 'TV current affairs' shows, with petrol prices the topic.

Both Urban Creature questions whether privatised public transport has given value for money. On the Broad Gauge agrees and provides links to the main news articles. Though less current, a contra view is put by Michael Angelico who gives some possible advantages of privatised running.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

V/Line site improvements

Since the V/Line website was reorganised last December some users said they had difficulty using it and preferred the previous format. At the time I agreed and replaced some of my site's V/Line links with links to the more usable Viclink site.

However all this may change with the appointment of Garry McGhie as V/Line's new webmaster. He's encouraged users to make suggestions and has set up a blog to discuss improvements.

The establishment of a blog to engage with the public may be somewhat of a first for this field in Victoria. However it follows a trend where people in responsible positions (most notably Jim Betts) are becoming more active on enthusiast web forums such as Railpage. Though the quality of such discussion varies greatly, it can take up much time and those professionally employed have to be careful about what they say, expert participation can only be to the good for all concerned.

(Thanks to Craig for putting me onto this)

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tax and public transport

It's common knowledge that the national tax and super system doles out hundreds of millions each year to support profligate private motoring, while discouraging public transport use. FBT benefits, car leases, salary sacrifice, mileage allowances and other nonsense are just some of the hidden subsidies that provide perverse incentives to drive more.

So what to do about it?

Labor's Tanya Plibersek wants to keep the car subsidies intact (does she have union mates in the car industry with vested interests?), but allow people to buy public transport yearly tickets.

Crikey's Christian Kerr takes a different view, preferring not to subsidise either and return the savings to people in the form of tax cuts.

Though I have misgivings about the quality and benefit of tax cuts that might be offered, in principle I'm with Kerr. Plibersek wants to keep a major rort and offer a small countervailing benefit. Whereas Kerr wants to remove a major rort and not offer a small benefit. That's a much better approach, especially if some of the savings can be invested in public transport services.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Review: Time-line history of Melbourne's Government Cable and Electric Trams and Buses

By Barry George, Don Storey, John Birch, et al, published by the Association of Railway Enthusiasts, 1997

I picked this up from the Railfan Shop and it's exactly as described; a chronology of significant government tram and bus developments. The book covers horse-drawn, cable and electric trams, the VR street railways as well as government buses from the 1880s to the 1990s. Its writing style is terse and no pictures are contained within.

Though the general reader may find other books of more interest, the 'just the facts ma'am' format makes it an invaluable digest for the transport historian, researcher or activist. Given that we often forget changes ocurring as recently as a few years ago, the authors have done a valuable service in documenting these (with exact dates no less) for posterity.

Highly recommended!

(see below for my interpretion of its contents)

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Some common threads

Though hundreds of dates and events are documented in Time-line history of Melbourne's Government Cable and Electric Trams and Buses there are a few common threads that unite most. The more significant include:

Transport technology

In very broad terms, the 1880s-90s and 1910s-20s stand out as periods of massive change in all transport modes. The expanding suburban steam train and cable tram networks became dominant in the late 19th century, with horse tram services also operating but eventually being replaced.

The 1920s saw suburban train electrification (beyond the scope of the book), widespread replacement of cable trams with electric trams and the use of motor buses.

Network

The 1956 to 1962 period saw closures of all non-MMTB tram services, notably the Footscray system in 1962 and VR-run services in the southern bayside suburbs. Geelong closed around this time, while Ballarat and Bendigo services lingered longer.

However the MMTB system continued to evolve, with trams returning to Bourke St, double tracking in sections, new crossovers and (later) extensions to Bundoora and East Burwood being constructed. MMTB's bus operations also steadily expanded. This was in the sense of taking over routes abandoned by private operators (eg in the Brighton area), expanding route coverage of developing suburbs (eg Doncaster/Templestowe), and boosting service levels (eg Melton/Sunshine/Footscray and West Heidelberg areas).

Service levels

The big story here is the halving of tram service frequencies as car ownership and use grew after WWII. The trend can be seen from this table (exact dates not reproduced here):

1936: Sunday morning services commenced on cable & electric trams
1937: All-night trams introduced
1941: All night trams expanded (note wartime shift work)
1954: Off-peak and after 6pm Mon - Thurs service cut from 10 to 12 min
1957: After pm peak services cut from 12 to 15 min
1959: Saturday night services cut from 10 to 12 min
1960: Some Sunday trams cut from 10 to 15 min
1962: Sunday afternoons cut from 12 to 15 min, weekday after 6pm services cut from 12 to 15 min, Saturday pm service cut from 10 to 12 minutes, Saturday night services cut from 12 to 15 min
1963: Sunday service cut from 15 to 20 min (evenings) and down to 30 min (am)
1967: Sunday service cut from 20 to 30 min (evenings) and 15 to 20 min (pm)
1969: Mon - Sat evening trams cut from 15 to 20 min
1989: 'Staff cut' alterations made permanent
1992: 'Special weekday service' introduced and made permanent

(table contents much abridged from the reference)

Just about all this decline took place in the 1954 - 69 period. However this should be viewed in the context of the time; during this period all other Australian capital cities closed their tram networks and may have had even bigger service reductions on the replacement buses.

The service decline was largely halted in the 1970s, but the strikes during that decade would have made service unreliable and further encouraged driving. Though not shown on the table, overall service levels probably reached their nadir in the 1990s as there have been Sunday and off-peak improvements since.

There have also been several smaller themes that buck the larger trend of postwar service decline followed by a modest upswing. These include continual experimentation with (and eventual abandonment of) all-night trams. This was mostly in the 1940s and 50s, but the last tram experiment was Route 99 in the late 1990s. Another has been more uniform services seven days a week. The practice of replacing trams with buses during quiet periods ceased in the 1990s. More recently, the Sunday only route 68 has been replaced by extended services on 55, which now becomes a standard 7-day route.

Trammies' working hours

The campaign to reduce weekly working hours was a major effort from the 1880s. This push largely lost momentum after 1950, and there has been no change since 1983. Significant milestones include (exact dates not reproduced here):

1885: 60
1908: 54
1911: 48
1939/40: 44
1948: 40
1983: 38

(table contents much abridged from the reference)

Industrial unrest and service disruptions

Not unrelated to the previous strand, there have been two significant periods where trams were commonly disrupted due to industrial unrest. These were the 1940s and the early 1970s to early 1980s period. Some of the difficulties in the 1940s were caused by coal shortages and strikes in the power industry which required trams to operate to reduced timetables. The last major disputes were the 1990 'tram blockade' and the Grand Prix stoppage a little later. More recently, changing attitudes towards industrial action, trade unions and privatisation have coincided with a long period of industrial peace and more reliable services.

Key industrial issues seem to have included the abovementioned working hours, pay and allowances, conditions and manning (particularly single versus two-man operations).

Political, organisational and economic changes

These matters did not feature prominently in the reference, so I won't cover them here. However, there would be themes of private operation, competition, operators strugging, government subsidies or takeovers, etc. Also such observations would not be complete without examining similar chronicles of Victorian Railways, private bus companies and even motoring.

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