Monday, November 30, 2009

Out with the old, in with the new

Rail staff worked around the clock as Melbourne rebranded its rail system from Connex to Metro. Trains got programmed with the new announcements on Saturday night. Sunday night and early Monday morning saw old logos covered, new posters posted and even an information centre reclad. Metro managers enthusiastically rode their first train (the 4:17am from Frankston) studying passenger boardings along the way.

The previous operator, Connex, exited with little fanfare; few partied like it was 1999. That is except for staff and enthusiasts who held internal functions or rode final trains to mark the operator's ten years in Melbourne.

Below are some photos from yesterday and today.

YESTERDAY

11:17pm: The last Connex service from Frankston at Chelsea

TODAY

5:30am: Remodelled Flinders St Station information centre

5:35am: Metro posters

6:30am: Connex banner has just been lowered, Metro banner raised

6:35am: half Connex, half Metro

7:00am: Remodelled Flinders St Station information centre - almost ready for business

7:30am: Metro both sides

BACKGROUND READING

Train Franchising Contracts

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Our last Sunday-only route - the end of the 769

One requirement of a legible transport network are routes that are the same seven days a week.

Cities with less developed or patronised public transport (eg Canberra) often break this rule. In such places weekend and evening routes are combined loop services that cover the same area as two or more straighter weekday routes. Such routes may be introduced to save money as they allow a given frequency to be maintained with fewer buses. Unfortunately their reduced directness can slow travel and the extra routes and numbers can confuse passengers.

In contrast, Melbourne has generally avoided seperate weekend routes and route numbers. Instead when Sunday service was introduced it was largely provided through improved existing routes instead of new Sunday-only routes. This makes for a more legible service.

There were however two recent exceptions.

The first was Dysons Route 569. This ran from Greensborough to Epping Plaza, and operated in place of Route 566 to Lalor on Sundays. It ceased when 566 gained Sunday running on 4 June 2007.

Then there's Route 769. This served Frankston, Karingal, and initially Langwarrin. It commenced on 7 March 1999 and replaced routes 770/771 (Karingal area) and 790/791 (Langwarrin area) on Sundays and public holidays.

Route 769 changed on 30 March 2003 when Sunday service commenced on Route 791. 791 provided the Langwarrin service so 769 was pulled back to Karingal and extended north to Dalpura Circuit. Hence its function became strictly a Sunday and holiday-only substitute for routes 770 and 771, which operated Monday to Saturday only.

The final Route 769 departed Frankston at 5:05pm this afternoon with 15 passengers on board. Most had alighted by Centro Karingal with only a few staying on until the terminus in Dalpura Circuit (see picture). After a brief pause the bus returned without fanfare to Frankston via Centro Karingal, arriving at 5:47pm. A final wave from the driver drew this route to an end, with a new 7-day timetable for routes 770 and 771 commencing tomorrow.

A few metres away at Frankston Station, Connex, itself on its last day as Melbourne's train operator, serendipitously and apparently unknowingly saluted the 769's end. For, waiting at Platform 1, was a consist containg carriage number M769. This formed the next city-bound train, which departed at 5:52pm. So at least two passengers made the connection between the final bus route 769 and carriage M769.

What was 769's significance? Introduced at a time when very few Melbourne buses ran on Sundays, it demonstrated a demand existed for Sunday travel. Even though it only ran every two hours it showed that if a service is there people will use it. It may not be too much to say that its success paved the way for later more significant Sunday bus service improvements. However in 2009 the route had served its purpose and it was only fit that it was replaced by Sunday services on the regular routes in the area.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

A frequent service map for Melbourne's south-east

As a fan of Adelaide's Go Zone concept, I've been following its application in other cities, eg Jarrett Walker's frequent network discussions on Human Transit.

Here is my attempt at a similar map for Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs. This area was chosen due to its concentration of major trip generators (often off the rail network) and the number of high-service bus routes (including SmartBus routes).

Unlike other maps, I vary the lines to reflect the service level on each route (or related group). A continuous line indicates a wide span, whereas a broken line operates for less of the day (and/or fewer days of the week). Line thickness reflects service frequency; thick lines reflect a service that meets my criteria for a frequent service.

Shown on the map are some routes that by themselves do not meet the criteria of being a frequent service. However where these overlap other routes to provide a high combined service I decided to show them along the common sections only. I believe this is useful for passengers unsure of whether to board that bus or not.

This map is is intended to supplement rather than replace existing information, particularly at interchanges. There will still need to be maps for individual routes, preferably showing major trip generators along them. Equally critically, alighting passengers still need high-quality geographically-based maps to guide them to their destinations (something often missed). Nevertheless, I think this schematic style successfully simplifies what is a complex network dominated by a large numbers of less frequent routes.

Comments would be appreciated.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

System Review: Hobart Metro - Part 2

Hobart's bus routes and services were discussed in Part 1. This time we look at the Greencard smartcard ticketing system, which has recently started in Hobart after earlier commencement in regional cities. This is particuarly topical for Melbourne as we are introducing our own smartcard ticketing, due to start later this year.

I ordered a Greencard through the Metro website last month. Like Perth (but unlike Victoria which currently has a seperate website for myki), smartcard ticketing is an integral part of the main operator or transport agency website.

This went smoothly except for the question which asked the customer to nominate a default trip, which is the travel they most regularly make. As a visitor, I had no regular travel patterns so couldn't easily answer that question. I can't remember whether I ended up leaving that section blank or nominated the shortest trip as a default. Greencard's FAQ states that passengers making other than the default trip must tell the bus driver before touching on so he can adjust the fare accordingly.

The requirement to nominate a default trip (and advise the driver if different) is the single biggest difference between Hobart's Greencard and other systems such as Perth's SmartRider and Victoria's Myki. The latter two are genuine smartcard systems that require the passenger to tag off so that they can automatically calculate the fare. Instead of being a genuine smartcard, Greencard is more like an 'electronic purse' that relies on passengers to tell the driver if their fare will vary from the default. However this means that unlike SmartRider or Myki, Greencard passengers do not need to tag off at the end of each trip. One wonders about the potential for fraud - ie passengers making longer trips boarding with a Greencard set up for a shorter fare and not telling the driver.

Greencard arrived in the post a couple of weeks later. Its covering letter explained how to add credit (on the bus, at agents or online - allow 2 days for the latter) and create an online account (similar to registering a SmartRider or Myki). It also stated that the nominated default trip had been programmed. The card was free but had no credit loaded.

On arrival in Hobart the first job was to top up the card. I did this at the Metro Shop inside the GPO. Unlike Melbourne's Myki, with a $1 minimum top-up, Greencard requires $5 minimum. Happily this was not too much more than the off-peak daily fare ((4.50) as I didn't need use for more than a day. As stressed to me at the shop, those staying longer can top up with a larger amount for an extra 25% credit (eg $20 buys $25 worth of credit).

The first boarding was not successful. Although the driver could see I had $5.00 on the card (added about five minutes before), the fare could not be deducted so he waved me on. This had been his third case whe he'd seen this happen.

This brings us to another difference between Greencard and SmartRider/Myki. Buses in Perth and Melbourne have multiple touch points near both front and rear doors. With Greencard buses only have a single touch point on the driver's console (see below).

The consequence of this is that boarding passengers must form a single file past the driver, and those with a ticket must queue behind cash passengers. The result is slower boarding than with other systems, that as a minimum have a validator or reader on the right of the front door, and often readers elsewhere in the bus as well.

Greencard operated successfully on all subsequent bus trips. I saw the remaining balance on the validator's display fall as my fare changed from a single to a daily.

How many passengers use Greencard? My guess is that a quarter or less used it. However all my travel was during off-peak times, where most passengers were youth or pensioners. Greencard penetration may well be higher during peak school and work commute times.

How is Greencard promoted? Some buses carry all-over Greencard advertising, as pictured. There is also prominent mention on the Metro website and the Metro shop has a brochure explaining Greencard.

To conclude, Greencard is as bare-bones as a contactless RFID-based ticketing system can get. The manual 'tell driver' method of fare calculation means that it is not a genuine automated smartcard. The lack of card readers away from the driver is another short-cut that cannot deliver the full reduction in bus boarding times that automated ticketing can bring. However my experience is that Greencard (mostly) works, and it may be adequate for a small city's bus network.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

System review: Hobart Metro - Part 1

I've been spending much of the past week in Hobart and, while time was limited, rode the buses for half a day. Here's some observations about the city and its bus network, called Metro.

1. The city

Hobart is a hilly city, with settlement in long and narrow strips along both banks of the Derwent River. Distinguising features that affect the transit network include (i) one-way streets in the CBD, (ii) the limited number of east-west river crossings and (iii) often due to topography, a limited permeable grid street layout. Hobart's population is roughly 200 000, ie a little smaller than Geelong. Hobart has very good roads largely built with federal government funding.

2. Network coverage

Metro buses cover most built up areas, with this branding applying to urban bus systems in Hobart, Launceston and Burnie. There are however some exceptions, with Metro operating far out into the country side and regional operators serving some trips that would normally be regarded as metropolitan. More later.

Metro routes offered are a mix of regular services, express routes (notably to far northern suburbs such as Bridgewater) and weekday shopper trips. Some of the latter operate as 'Doorstopper' services, for which an extra fare is required for off-route diversions (similar to Melbourne's Telebus).

3. Service spans

7-day running is provided in most areas but there are also many weekday-only shopper and school routes. Major routes arrive in the city before 7am Monday to Friday, with first arrivals after about 8am on Saturday and after about 10am on Sunday. Last services from the city finish around 10pm Monday to Thursday, with a later finish on Friday and Saturday night. In common with the the smaller capital cities Sunday service is essentially daytime only.

4. Service frequency

As a rough average for a local route, this would be about half-hourly on weekdays, hourly on Saturdays and every two hours on Sunday. Monday to Thursday evening frequencies are about every two hours, with extra service on Friday and Saturday nights.

5. Fringe area legibility

A weak point of some transit systems is information, especially where there are multiple operators. Some country areas can be in the 'metro' system (with Metro format route numbers and fares) while other destinations nearer the CBD may be served by regional coaches only.

An example of this fragmentation is that Metro operate both Channel and Bothwell services feature on the Metro website despite their considerable distance from the CBD (these are considered 'non-urban' services). Conversely the Cambridge Homemaker Centre (near Hobart Airport) has urban-type travel needs but receives a limited country service to Richmond. Not being a Metro service details need to be looked up on the Tassielink site and attracts country fares. Redline and O'Driscoll are other operators that serve Hobart fringe areas.

This is much like Victoria before Viclink/Metlink started. Ten years ago there was limited fare integration, no single comprehensive timetable website, no journey planner, and fragmented or sketchy information. There are however signs of progress; a brochure dated September 2009 advises that Metro non-urban routes will move to a zonal fare system with free transfers to Metro services.

6. Identification of frequent service corridors

Hobart has a number of frequent service routes, with buses every 15 minutes or better on weekdays. As far as I can tell, these apply on the following groups of routes:

* Hobart - Glenorchy
* Hobart - Rosny Park - Shoreline Central
* Hobart - University of Tasmania (with some gaps)
* Hobart - Kingston (with some gaps)

In some cases the frequent service applies along a common corridor (eg Hobart - Rosny Park) but in others services have common origins and major intermediate stops (eg Hobart - Kingston) but fan out in between.

The coverage of this 'frequent service network' is one of Metro's strengths and the main difference between the transit networks of Hobart and Geelong.

Steps Metro has taken to develop and promote its high-service network include:

* Service scheduling: Routes have clockface timetables. The timetables for related routes are meshed to provide an even (or at least frequent) combined headway over the common section of route.

* Interchanges: Routes that form part of the frequent combined service depart from the same stop at interchanges. Departure times are given in composite form to emphasise the frequent service offered.

* Timetables: In some cases simplified timtables showing only the high frequency portion of the route are printed (eg Glenorchy - Hobart). In newer cases (eg Hobart - Shoreline Central) the fact that it's a high frequency service is emphasised on the cover - both in words and the letters 'HF' where the timetable number would normally be.

The above represents a partial development of the high-frequency concept compared to Adelaide's 'Go Zones' where the concept is well established and promoted. Examples where Hobart could develop further include signage at stops, identification on maps (due in part to the lack of maps at all), limited promotion on the Metro website, more consistent weekend and evening service levels and improved printed timetables.

7. Interchanges

These get a thumbs up. Hobart CBD, Rosny Park and Glenorchy all have 'transit malls' in the heart of local shopping precincts.

Timetables there are well maintained and there wasn't much vandalism.

Another appealing feature of Metro interchanges is that at every stop there is a clear map showing the location of every other stop in the interchange, along with the route numbers and destinations served. This saves transferring passengers from having to walk all over an interchange to find the stop if they want to change to another bus route.

This shows that Metro understands the following:

* bus to bus interchange is important
* alighting passengers have information needs as much as boarding passengers
* passenger information needs at interchanges are more complex than regular bus stops so the information at them deserves extra effort

I also liked the location of stops within the interchanges visited, especially for related routes that form a turn-up-and-go frequent corridor to a major destination. For instance at Rosny Park you just need to wait at one place for all the direct services to Hobart, and it's never very long until a suitable service arrives.

Metro's parsimony with route maps has been noted elsewhere and applies equally to interchanges where area maps would be desirable (such as done in Perth). However precint maps are sometimes provided, as with this example from Rosny Park.

8. Signage

The typical Metro stop has a flag showing the stop number only. This is opposite to Melbourne, where we use this space to list route numbers and destinations instead. While the Melbourne approach is more expensive to produce and maintain, I have no doubt as to which is more informative for the passenger.

A substantial minority of stops have timetables but none seem to have maps. As an spacial navigator, I found this disconcerting at stops, interchanges and in some printed timetables.

9. Printed timetables

A bit of a dogs' breakfast at the moment. It looks as if Metro is part way through revising their format and I happened to visit when they were half way through the change.

As an example the Glenorchy frequent service timetable (24/9/2007) is a printed A3 sheet with no map. Glenorchy local timetables are in A5 format and maps are sometimes hard to read due to their lack of colour and the number of routes shown.

In contrast southern and eastern services are a conventional coloured DL-sized format with much improved geographically-based maps (though with less detail than Sydney or Perth timetables). Changes in 2009 include a Perth-style numbering of timetables by region (eg S1, S2 etc), and in some cases but not others, listing route numbers on the front cover.

10. Customer service

Much like Melbourne's Met Shop, Metro operates a retail outlet inside a major civic building, in this case the General Post Office. This contains ticket sales and Green Card top-up facilities, along with self-serve timetables for Metro and Tassielink routes.

11. Patronage

Buses travelled on seemed reasonably well used. As would be expected around noon on a weekday, most passengers were either old or young, with working age almost absent.

Conclusion

For an Australian city of its size, Metro Hobart offers a relatively high level of service. In Australia/NZ it would be superior to Geelong and Darwin, about on a par with Canberra and inferior to Christchurch (which has 'big city' service levels).

While Hobart is not growing as rapidly as other Australian capitals, Metro seems to be moving from a 'small town' transit system to one suitable for a larger city. Evidence of this can be seen by its new timetable format (with maps), the steps taken towards a frequent service network and its early adoption of a basic form of smartcard ticketing. The 'small town' features we currently see, eg lack of maps at interchanges, a reluctance to use route numbers in some places and poor service integration in fringe areas will hopefully disappear in due course.

Routes taken

The following are recommended as a good sample of Hobart services. These form an anticlockwise circuit around both bridges. You need to be in the city shortly after 10am to make all connections as 682 and 694G run infrequently.

Airporter: Airport - City Airport shuttle
615: City - Camelot Park One of the Rosny Park high frequency constituent routes. With river views.
615: Camelot Park - Rosny Park see above
682: Rosny Park - Lindisfarne Weekday shopper service
682: Lindisfarne - Rosny Park see above
694G: Rosny Park - Risdon Vale - Glenorchy Interesting route up east shore and over Bowen Bridge.
180: Glenorchy - Hobart Circuitous route covering the older part of Moonah and West Hobart

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Scramble Crossings: Friend or foe for passenger interchange?

London got a new pedestrian crossing earlier this week. Instead of waiting twice when a diagonal crossing is desired, the new 'scramble crossing' clears all roads of vehicles during the walk cycle. This allows pedestrians to cross diagonally on a single 'green man' and in turn increases road space available exclusively for both cars and pedestrians.

London was by no means the first; busy crossings in Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia (to name a few places) had them before. Having all cars stopped while the entire intersection fills with pedestrians is a striking sight compared to existing crossings where cars are always moving somewhere and pedestrians are confined to narrow lines. Instead of having to wait for two red men, diagonal crossers only need to wait for one. And they're safer. So the idea has allure and may have applicability in Melbourne CBD.

The BBC report missed mentioning any possible downsides of scramble or 'barn dance' crossings. Their cycles can be longer so you may wait more. The safety gains may be negated by increasing impulsive crossing.

Although the proportion of people who cross straight versus those who need to cross diagonal depends on trip generators around the intersection, my own observations of Perth show that most pedestrians are not making a diagonal crossing. While this comment is subject to what changes are made to cycle times, changing from a conventional crossing to a scramble crossing disadvantages those crossing straight, ie the majority.

A trend in Melbourne in the last ten years has been reduced direct access to city stations. A remodelling of Melbourne Central reduced direct access from Swanston Street while the reconstruction of Spencer Street/Southern Cross Station closed the subway under Spencer Street.

Increased waiting and access time increases end-to-end trip times, as shown on the table below:

The difference between the two lines is that the first trip takes longer as passenges need to cross a road to get to a tram stop. In the second example they do not; the tram stop is directly outside the station. A zebra crossing is near enough to a seamless crossing but a signalised pedestrian crossing, especially one with long cycles, is not.

For the purpose of examining end-to-end transit times, it may be useful to regard a road crossing just like a short but frequent bus or tram service. After all familiar transit planning concepts like as span, frequency, reliability, forced transfers, DDA access and overall service levels all equally apply to pedestrian crossings.

For example, a CBD traffic light crossing may have the following service characteristics:

Service Span: 24 hours
Frequency: 120 seconds*
Max Wait time to walking/transit time ratio: 120 seconds/20 seconds (ie equivalent service level to an hourly bus route for a 10 min trip)
Reliability: 100% (you will always get a green man within the advertised frequency)
Forced transfers: Present for diagonal crossings on non-scramble crossings

(*) This represents the maximum frequency, not the average frequency. 120 seconds is clearly 'turn up and go' so there are no timetables for pedestrian crossings. Given that we are dealing with tranfers to scheduled services, we must always use the maximum wait figure to guarantee a 'connection', even if the average will be less.

What about other types of crossings?

A zebra crossing is the 'highest and best' form of pedestrian access. This is because its frequency is effectively infinite since you have right of way when you step on it (after previous cars have gone). While there is a forced transfer (you can't go diagonally through an intersection) in practice this doesn't matter as the frequency is effectively infinite. The same is true for a quiet unsignalised street as the delay caused by one or two passing bicycles or cars is neligible.

Conversely a busy road near a roundabout will have a constant stream of traffic. There is no minimum 'service frequency' for pedestrians - this is set by traffic speed, traffic volume, and the risks they are willing to take. Some times there may be a lucky break in the traffic, other times one may walk to the nearest traffic light, or simply give up. Hence both service span and reliability are both undefined, with service level being lowest during busy traffic times (up to a point - if traffic slows to a crawl this may aid pedestrian access).

In this extreme example the overall level of service provided is like an unreliable bus or train that does not reliably feed passengers to the real bus that picks up on the other side of the road. In other cases, although direct walking time to a bus stop might be 5 minutes, passengers may need to double or triple this to increase the likelihood (but never an assurance) of finding a gap in the traffic. This of course increases end-to-end travel times and reduces both overall speed and reliability.

Let's extend our service level parallel to scramble crossings. Being a traffic light type crossing their service characteristics are like those mentioned above. But there is a parallel with bus network design that I wish to tease out further.

Consider a signalised crossroads with four corners. From any one corner you may wish to go to any one of the three others.

With a conventional intersection if you want to cross diagonally you need to wait, cross one road, wait again and cross another. The extra waiting is effectively a forced interchange if we continue the transit system analogy. You didn't want to go to the intermediate spot, but the signals and traffic require you to.

In contrast, if it was a scramble crossing, you can go straight to the corner you want. There is no forced transfer via an unwanted corner and the trip is more direct.

But this comes at the expense of frequency or cycle length. Just like with buses. For a given route kilometres budget you can either have multiple infrequent routes that run to each of your preferred destinations, or you have one frequent service from which you will need to change (to other frequent services) for some trips. The infrequent option is inflexible and doesn't suit many people's needs, although those who it does satisfy get a direct trip. On the other hand the frequent model provides an attractive service for most people to most places, but at the cost of transferring.

The analogy is only partial since while scramble crossings may result in reduced frequency through longer cycles, the level is still at 'turn up and go' levels. This is unlike a bus system where the choice might be between 60 minutes for the direct service network or 15 minutes for a transfer hub based network. Still, the 60 minute approach is roughly akin to a scramble stop on a long cycle (but where you can go anywhere on the 'green man'), while the frequent service approach would be like zebra crossings or short-cycle lights where it's one at a time but the wait for each is short.

For best public transport interchange, it is essential that the act of transferring from train to bus not be regarded as a trip in itself (with its own 'forced transfer' disincentive). This requires direct 'infinite frequency' pedestrian access with a platform to stop transfer time of (say) thirty seconds rather than two minutes or more. Such 100% reliability access could be provided by a stop directly outside the station, a zebra crossing or buses that enter a train platform or Perth-style overhead ramp connected by escalator.

How does this answer the original question about the appropriateness of scramble crossings at interchange points? The answer is that, as with good transit networks, frequency is key. Scramble crossings are good if their cycle times are not significantly lengthened. But if offered the choice between shorter cycle times and scramble crossings, the importance of frequency makes the former look more attractive.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Track reconstruction works at St Kilda

Luna Park's tram terminus has been reconstructed these last few days with buses replacing trams in the area. Below are pictures of the works, taken last night.

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