Sunday, November 30, 2008

Buses replacing trains

Due to level crossing maintenance at Aspendale and Chelsea, buses replaced trains between Mordialloc and Frankston yesterday and today.

Here are some pictures of aspects of the occupation around Chelsea Station, showing the work done, substitute services and passenger information.

Information for motorists and passengers

Work on the level crossing

Substitute services

Other work at the station

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Meeting Our Transport Challenges: How's it travelling?

Perhaps the most tangible part of the Victorian Government's 2006 'Meeting Our Transport Challenges' plan is a program of service improvements to metropolitan bus routes.

To set the context to this, it should be recalled that despite extended trading and working hours, the average Melbourne bus ran every 40 minutes before going to bed at 7pm. Almost nothing ran on Sundays, meaning that if you lived away from trains and trams public transport simply did not exist for most hours of the week. At that time Melbourne's buses were easily the nation's worst; even smaller cities like Adelaide, Perth and Canberra ran more Sunday and evening services than we did.

MOTC changed this by introducing minimum standards to bring at least an hourly service to most areas until 9pm, seven days a week. Public holiday schedules on the upgraded routes were also standardised, improving usability and legibility.

While there were smaller earlier upgrades, the real gains under the MOTC policy started in late 2006. These ocurred over several phases, with Phase Three having just finished. Hence it's now a good time to look at the bus services available today and compare them with how things were three years ago.

The most striking difference has been the doubling of the number of routes with Sunday service. Almost as significant is the number of routes that run until at least 9pm. The greatest change is undocumented here but would be those services that (i) run at 8pm on a Sunday or (ii) run on Good Friday and Christmas Day. In both cases the increase in the number of routes with service would be five to ten times. The least change has been in after 9pm service; since these are outside MOTC standards the only significant increases have come through the introduction of two SmartBus routes (900 & 901).

Here are some raw figures. They should be considered approximate only, and in any case are not always fair; percentages are depressed by peak-only services and some very similar routes (eg 600/922/923) should probably be counted as one.

Number of bus routes by operating days/hours - November 2008

Routes that run Mon-Fri only and cease before 7pm weekdays: 22
Routes that run Mon-Fri only and cease before 9pm weekdays: 10
Routes that run Mon-Fri only but cease after 9pm weekdays: 1

Routes that run Mon-Sat only and cease before 7pm weekdays: 46
Routes that run Mon-Sat only and cease before 9pm weekdays: 35

Routes that run Mon-Sun but cease before 7pm weekdays: 20
Routes that run Mon-Sun but cease before 9pm weekdays: 17
Routes that run Mon-Sun and cease at 9pm (MOTC STANDARD): 120
Routes that run Mon-Sun and run after 9pm (ABOVE MOTC): 16

Peak period only routes: 16
Limited service and special routes: 5
Sunday only routes: 1

Detailed figures for 2006 are contained in a previous post here.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Transport: Visions for a Sustainable Future

Held in the ironically-named 'BMW Edge' at Federation Square earlier tonight this gathering attended by about 400 provided a stage for various academics and lobbyists to say their bit on transport. Thanks to Transport Textbook for the notice.

Here's a quick summary from each of the speakers:

William Mitchell (MIT Design Lab) advocated electric micro-cars aimed to satisfy last-mile 'mobility on demand' that existing bus services generally do not.

Like Flexicar they turn car ownership on its head, with 'swipe and drive' one-way rental replacing full-time ownership. They provide an intermediate position between no and full car ownership. Stackable like shopping trolleys with kerbside recharging depots dotted around the inner suburbs and near railway stations. Unlike Flexicar (which uses standard vehicles) their small size means that they're less useful for some errands that can't be done with public transport such as large-scale grocery shopping and bulky retail.

Rob Adams (City of Melbourne): Argued that nearly all non-housing infrastructure we'll have in 2020 is already built and we can't build our way out of congestion.

Blames the early 20th century Garden City Movement and later motorisation for our low densities which he says are unaffordable. Strongly advocates high housing densities (4-8 storeys) along every major road within about 20 kilometres of Melbourne CBD; this could accommodate an extra 2 million people within the existing urbanised area. These corridors would be served by trams or frequent buses. Housing in between these corridors (about 90% of the urban area) would be at existing densities but 'greener'. Cities such as Barcelona and Curitiba provided examples.

Like other speakers, high density was considered essential due to a claimed relationship between it and good public transport (similar to Newman/Kenworthy). Having single-family houses on tramlines (a common sight 5 - 10km from Melbourne) was considered a waste that this reurbanisation would address and bring more people closer to public transport.

Dr Jago Dodson (Griffith Uni) introduced us to his mapping work comparing fuel dependency with suburban location, transport infrastructure and incomes (called VIPER). When interest rates and fuel prices rose in 2007 the study got an M (for mortgage) and became VAMPIRE.

As would be expected, the lower income outer suburbs had the biggest susceptibility to fuel price increases due to more widely spaced services, poorer walkability and less public transport. Conversely the posh inner suburbs had high incomes, better public transport, lower car usage and thus high resilience to oil price hikes. Hence we had an urban structure that conspired to increase inequalities as cities grew larger and fuel prices rose. While he did not advocate a government housing program he did mention that private developers tended to seek highest returns by developing in (dear) inner city areas instead of outer areas (I assume this referred to unit development; there are plenty of private housing estates on the fringes).

Not mentioned tonight were two points; that mortgage holders are generally not the lowest income earners (most of these rent) and that the outer suburbs can be quite diverse and include high-service nodes such as central Werribee, Frankston and Dandenong where people can live without a car. Comparison between residents very close to those centres and those further afield (but in the same suburb) would have been interesting.

Dr Jago was a Melbourne 2030 skeptic for a couple reasons. Most activity centres are in the inner suburbs therefore they perpetuate existing inequalities, and much high-density development is of low quality and poor energy efficiency (which might even offset saving from reduced car use). A critic of large infrastructure projects, he saw planning, co-ordination and service as important and supported high-frequency buses. He also preferred local road/rail seperations to mega-projects such as road tunnels.

Nicholas Low (GAMUT) started off with a shopping list of transport projects that he claimed were to be in the Premier's transport statement next month. His particular list included: Tarneit railway line to Southern Cross, extension to South Morang, electrification to Melton, what was called Mees-style trains through central Melbourne, 100 new buses, Doncaster and SmartBus improvements, bike paths. Plus road projects like the Frankston bypass (already announced), Greensborough - Eastlink freeway and half the Eddington road tunnel (Sunshine to Citylink via Tottenham, Kingsville and Seddon).

Prof Low saw this list as being biased too heavily towards roads. Instead he (like Prof Currie but unlike Prof Mees) advocated Eddington's rail tunnel plus rail lines to Doncaster and Rowville. This could help stem car use in Melbourne, which had recently outstripped Perth (in average kilometres driven per year). He stated his opposition to the plan (before it has come out), instead favouring a 'no new roads' policy and bigger cuts to carbon emissions (350ppm suggested).

Cath Smith (VCOSS), like the previous speakers mentioned how lucky she was to live in a bikable inner city neighbourhood with trams, trains and buses. However with high rents and property prices such living was less available and affordable.

VCOSS' constituents comprise many who don't drive, the disabled, pensioners and the unemployed. While train crowding was important, it was clear that VCOSS' priorities were elsewhere, especially with regard to co-ordinating community transport, integrating country school buses and, in Melbourne, local bus route coverage. Industrial estates have no or little public transport and apprentices in particular can find jobs difficult to reach due to 'historical' bus routes that skip job growth areas. As with prevous speakers, the interplay between housing, jobs, transport, education and services was mentioned.

Faster DDA roll-out and higher multi-purpose taxi funding was advocated (the ministerial announcement today was praised) as well as minimum frequencies for buses. Every 30 minutes seven days a week was proposed; while this is a doubling of the existing MOTC safety net, it still may not necessarily guarantee connectivity with trains.

On the environment the point was made that transport modal shift was the key to carbon reductions, not more efficient cars. This was contradicted by Robin Batterham who said that our car fleet (amongst the least efficient in the world) could double its efficiency to European standards if only regulation was applied.

After the main speakers were two respondents; Robin Batterham (former Chief Scientist) and David Ettershank (Kensington resident and, like other speakers a self-confessed 'inner-city elite member of the chattering class').

Robin Batternham drew several threads together and saw a general consensus (at least amongst those there, an important qualification given the non-representative speakers and audience). These included support for higher density and a belief that (pace Mees) it is necessary for good public transport. This can be made to happen politically if those in power are convinced of sufficient support.

David Ettershank carried the political theme further. He claimed that the Labor Party was abandoning the inner-city (Andre Haermeyer was mentioned), and that ALP focus groups have such a construct called 'Cranbourne Man' (who always wants more roads), as well as a 'Shepperton Man' (who was not explained) to draft policy.

Questions from the audience were about housing, train over-crowding and one from left-field apparently advocating a high-speed ferry to Hobart. Jago Dodson said good houses cost no more than bad houses and all should have 6-7 stars (in energy rating). Nick Low said that more trains were needed, but we also needed more train paths as well so they could run. Rob Adams said that train infrastructure had long lead times and 100 'green' buses could be put on special bus lanes on major roads overnight. A Vicroads employee suggested an intermediate road network for human-powered and low-powered vehicles. Such a metro-wide network would cost about the same as a single freeway and overcome the main impediment to cycling - safety and cars. However one of the panel suggested kerbside lanes on all roads would be cheaper and provide a more extensive network.

Overall it was an interesting session, albeit predictable given the narrow inner-city pro-density panel. The attendance of 400 (estimated) indicates extreme interest in transport and city policy.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The new train timetable: (week)Day 1

Today was the first weekday test of the November 9 suburban train timetable. The main changes include (i) Single direction loop running on Epping/Hurstbridge line, (ii) Extra peak services, particularly on the Epping line, (iii) 15 minute service until after 10pm to Ringwood and (iv) Peak Werribee trains running direct instead of via the loop.

The Werribee changes, though necessary to permit increased services, was always going to create the most controversy, with some extended travel times or transfers needed.

The handling of this was exemplary so is described here.

Passengers alighting at Southern Cross (the recommended morning peak transfer point) firstly saw notices about the change on Platform 13/14. Frequent PA announcements were made. Platform staffing was provided; everyone departing the train was offered a brochure explaining the changes (below).

Loop trains were on Platform 9, so it wasn't a direct cross-platform tranfer. However signposting was provided, including arrows on the ground (below).

All up a good effort and an example for other service changes.

Passengers travelling today may have noticed the extra automated announcements on peak trains. As well as announcing next station, these contain messages to move down the aisle and to keep doors clear. Well meaning though these are, they aren't always relevant and are sometimes better not made.

An example was a peak Frankston line train this morning. At Bentleigh the train carried a fully seated load with few standees. However an automated announcement was still made when loading was comparatively light. The next announcement was made at Malvern, by which time the train was close to crush-loaded and there was little if any room to do as the announcement recommended. The optimum time to have made an announcement would have been somewhere between those two stations, but there is no way a programmed system can gauge this.

Much like trying to sell service improvements by advertising the weekly network number of trains added (instead of daily line-specific figures), unnecessary automated announcements do not exactly endear passenger confidence. The railways would do well to borrow a radio broadcasting maxim (especially relevant in this age of iPods) ie keep it live and keep it local.

This brings us to the human element. As with any job, how employees see and perform their role varies. Some train drivers make announcements above and beyond, while others say very little. Although automated announcements provide a 'tech fix' and a 'minimum standard' (if working), they are less personal (at best) and erroneous or irrelevant (at worst). Overall they are a 'second best' option. As seen with the Werribee loop change previously, keeping passenger communication live, local and human wins every time.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

10 years of Service Improvements: What and When

The table below shows the time and mode of the public transport service improvements by time of day and day of week. Thick lines are for major network-wide frequency and span improvements with thinner lines for more localised or smaller upgrades.

The largest changes in summary are:

* Improved span and frequency of regional trains (2006)
* Local buses running longer hours, particularly early evenings and Sundays (2006-)
* After midnight train, tram and bus services (2007 & 2008)
* Sunday trains and trams (2000)
* Five SmartBus routes (2002 - 2008)

The next large patronage gains are likely to come from a different set of improvements. These are likely to include: (i) shoulder peak and evening train and tram services, (ii) Orbital trunk and restructured local bus routes, and (iii) boosted weekend trains and buses.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

NightRider upgraded

The small hours of last Saturday saw the first operation of the upgraded after-midnight NighRider network. Frequency doubled from hourly to half-hourly and new routes extended reach to Doncaster, Healesville and Narre Warren/Cranbourne.

Over the last five years no part of Victorian public transport (except regional rail and local buses in some areas) has received bigger upgrades than NightRider. The improvements have been so great that some outlying areas now get a more frequent service from NightRider than on their normal daytime routes.

The recent NightRider service improvements follow fare reform about 18 months ago. Previously NightRiders were subject to a seperate (higher) fare and Metcards were not accepted. Now they are, with the same zones applying as with any other route. Route numbers are also being standardised and signage is being renewed (below).

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