Thursday, October 22, 2009

Customer service counters at city stations

In two months or less Victoria will have an (almost) statewide ticketing system based on durable Myki smartcards and short-term cardboard tickets. Ticket machines will dispense tickets for both metropolitan and country trips and staff will be able to sell tickets to any destination. Smartcard users on non-reserved services will not need to visit a booking office at all.

This stands to change the way customer service is delivered, especially at the larger stations with multiple ticket offices. We may end up with fewer locations that do more as the distinction between V/Line and metropolitan blurs.

For posterity, I though it would be worthwhile to document counter service at the CBD's second and third busiest stations immediately before Myki commences. Approximate usage is given, but this is a rough guide only and some (like luggage for long distance services) may be very 'peaky'.

Melbourne Central

A CBD station served by suburban trains that operate via the City Loop (ie most of them). A significant mid-city hub underneath a shopping centre.

Main entrance to platforms (well-used)

Here you see a full-service metropolitan train counter and a limited-service counter for V/Line (ie country services). The latter's opening hours are limited (closing during the pm peak) and not all payment methods are accepted.

Access from Swanston Street and the City Loop's midday reversal both work against the V/Line booth at this location. For most of its opening hours there are no direct trains to Southern Cross and passengers must join their train at North Melbourne. This makes either Flinders Street or Southern Cross more suitable locations than Melbourne Central for starting a V/Line journey.

Southern Cross

The city's newest station building served by nearly all of Victoria's suburban, country and interstate trains. Located next to the growing Docklands precinct and sees heavy use during sporting events.

Collins Street end

Metropolitan Tickets (well-used)

Regional Tickets (currently busy with long queues at popular times)

Information (well-used)

Myki (currently quiet but likely to become much busier)

Bourke Street end

Metropolitan Tickets (well-used)

Regional Tickets (quieter and well worth the walk from Collins St)

Luggage (generally quiet)

I will not speculate on what will happen when Myki is introduced and more of the routine purchases are done by machine or automatically. At a large multi-level site like Southern Cross there is a trade-off between the number of service locations, efficiency (expressed in customer waiting time and staffing) and fast, convenient access to a service desk.

A smaller number of service locations may increase average walking times but reduce waiting times and their variability. For instance two differently located booths might each have a window open but one might be quiet and the other busy. In contrast one booth with two windows open is more efficient as it reduces variability in waiting times. Walking time may be longer but the waiting time saved may exceed that during busy periods. Rostering is also easier for a single location and more staff can be more readily be put on (in busy times three people may be justified). However care nees to be taken that the number of windows open is as near as possible to staff present to speed service.

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