Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Myki now taking orders, accepted on trains

In less than an hour Melbourne residents will be able to order a free registered Myki online. Delivery is promised within seven days. Availability is advised on the Myki website, as below:

Effective today, Myki is valid for train travel within both Melbourne zones. Official public use on trams and buses will follow once the Minister is satisfied with its reliability.

Today's announcement represents a 'soft start' for Myki and a response to the government promise to have it operational by the end of 2009. For now, the average Melbourne passenger is probably better off with Metcard due to its acceptance on all modes. Nevertheless, the free Myki offer will appeal to curious train-riding 'early adopters'.

This larger body of users should also mean more rigorous 'real passenger' testing and better maintenance of Myki machines and readers at stations. Up to now much of the system had been live but with only 'first users' testing it, hardware maintenance had not always been given due urgency.

Today's announcement is a significant milestone for a project that has more than usual 'behind the scenes' work. However in many people's minds it won't have fully started until availability is widened and cards are accepted on all modes. The roll-out to bring this about over the next six months or so promises to be very interesting indeed.

Myki videos

A selection of videos shot during Myki's test phase in Melbourne. Note that some features may have changed or improved since these were made.

Myki ticketing coming to Melbourne

Myki under test in Melbourne

Myki card history machine

Labels: ,

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Public transport operators around the world conveyed the Christmas message through decorated trains and buses or writing their own carols.

Below are some of the best.

Chicago:

Sydney:

West Midlands (UK):

Vienna:

Brisbane:

Sweden:

Local operators such as Ventura got into the spirit, with a decorated bus operating Route 903 around Melbourne suburbs. No holidays for the drivers though; thanks to recent bus service improvements, there will be free Christmas Day service operating on over 200 of the city's 350 train, tram and bus routes.

In almost all cases a standard Sunday timetable will operate, with special reduced Christmas-only timetables having being made extinct. With few exceptions in metropolitan Melbourne, routes that run on Sundays will almost always be running on Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas to all readers, commenters and their families, and best wishes for a safe and happy 2010.

Labels: ,

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bus service upgrades: 'grafting on' versus 'network' thinking

Since late 2006 many Melbourne bus routes have had their operating hours extended and new weekend services added. There have also been new SmartBus routes and revisions arising from local area bus reviews.

Changes can range from extra services on an existing route to an entirely new network in an area. Even small timetable changes to one route can have implications for nearby routes.

Worldwide, the strongest transit authorities take a network view. They see additional resources as an opportunity to provide new connections, remove wasteful duplication and allocate saved resources to needed improvements elsewhere.

The long-term result of such 'network thinking' is a simple and legible network with consistent service levels appropriate for a route or corridor's role.

In contrast, authorities without a network view can miss opportunities for improvement even when given additional funding. This could be for several reasons. Firstly some in transport departments may see themselves more as contract managers than network planners. Secondly, a legacy of route or operator-based planning may obscure a wider view. Thirdly, contractual arrangements in some cities may restrict the ability of transport agencies to reallocate resources between routes and operators.

Whatever the cause for a lack of 'network thinking', the result over time is the same; a system of increasingly illegible, infrequent and overlapping routes as improvements are simply grafted over an unchanged existing network.

The following examples from Melbourne suburbs are offered to show the big differences between 'grafting-on' and 'network' thinking and why it matters for passengers.

Network thinking example 1: Yarraville/Newport/Altona North

Three years ago the local bus network around Yarraville, Newport and Altona North was a mess. The area's routes (429, 430, 432 and 471) only ran during the day and not at all on Sundays. Routes teminated either in quiet suburban backwaters (429 and 430) or at closed railway stations (432). Legibility was poor, particularly in Altona North, where the combined route 432 and 471 took a different route on Saturdays. And to cap it off, only some areas had service to the the nearest major shopping centre at Altona Gate.

The area's bus service review recommended network changes which were introduced during 2008. This may have been easier because the one bus company ran all routes. 429 and 430 were deleted, to be replaced by a new route 431 and improvements to 432, which now served Altona Gate Shopping Centre. 432 and 471 were made more consistent throughout the week and given 7-day service. These provided the area with a much better local bus network and patronage has increased strongly.

Network thinking example 2: Carrum Downs/Frankston North

Frankston North is a low socio-economic residential area located just beyond easy walking distance of Kananook Staion on the Frankston Line. Carrum Downs shares similarities but with newer privately-built homes and higher average incomes. Until 2008 both areas only had very limited public transport, particuarly on weekends. Routes were circuitous and, like Altona North, there were confusing weekend-only deviations and routes.

24 March 2008 brought substantial service increases to the area. Route 901 SmartBus started, providing a more frequent direct service between Frankston, Dandenong and Ringwood. This replaced the slower and less frequent local routes 830 and 831 that went a slower way via residential areas.

Instead local coverage was provided on routes 832 and 833, operating between Frankston and Carrum Downs. These routes run until 9pm 7 days a week and represent roughly a doubling or tripling of overall service (more on weekends).

Interchange with 901 is possible at Carrum Downs, and headway harmonised timetables (15/30 min weekdays and 30/60 min weekends) provide constant scheduled connections between this and local routes. The thinking behind this was to reduce the transfer penalties for passengers who lost their previous direct service to Dandenong.

Connections to adjoining suburbs such as Seaford and Carrum were not included as part of the changes but a new route to the industrial part of Seaford (778) commenced recently.

The Carrum Downs service changes can be regarded as 'Network Thinking' as local routes were altered upgraded on the same day that SmartBus was introduced. This minimised duplication and allowed connections to be planned. Hence, unlike Yarraville it involved a SmartBus as well as local routes. Also although all routes are now run by Grenda Group operators, at the time of its commencement route 901 was shared with Invicta (which Grenda bought).

'Grafting on' example 1: Sunshine/Sunshine West/Sunshine Park

The Wright Street pocket of Sunshine remains served by a complex series of routes that shows what can happen when new services are grafted on without the question being asked about existing services.

Wright Street is mainly served by the Sunshine Park/Sunshine West portion of the 219. The 219 forms a high-frequency pair with Route 216, with the routes overlapping between Sunshine Station, the city and the Brighton area. 216/219 is a direct and well-used route along busy roads that offers above-SmartBus service levels, particularly on weekends and evenings. It is operated by Melbourne Bus Link.

219's Sunshine end is tangled and confusing, as can be seen from the map. On weekdays and Saturday mornings from Sunshine it runs via Hampshire Road, Boreham Street, then back to Wright Street where it terminates at First Avenue. On Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday the route serves Fairbairn Road as far as Talintyre Road, hence missing some stops off Ardoyne Street and east of Hampshire Road. The result is that one set of stops receives a service 5 1/2 days a week while other stops receive service 1 1/2 days of the week (see map below).

Sunshine West is not the most affluent area. It contains families without one car per adult. Such residents near Fairbairn Road would no doubt appreciate the Saturday afternoon and Sunday bus service, as provided by this 219 extension.

However Fairbairn Road is served by another route, the 471, which like 219, also runs to Sunshine. In 1997 the 471, run by Sita, operated six days a week with a limited Saturday service (last bus from Sunshine was 4:10pm). By 2006 this service had improved, with the last departure being 4:50pm. As 471 did not operate on Sundays and public holidays, the Fairbairn Road portion of 219 was still needed to provide a service then.

Further large improvements to Route 471 were introduced on 25 February 2008. This included a 9pm finish, Sunday running and service on public holidays.

Except for some late evening weekend trips, the 471 upgrade made this variation of Route 219 redundant. But the 219 extension was not deleted. Hence it continues to duplicate Route 471 along Fairbairn Road for 1 1/2 days of the week.

The next major service change in the area was the Route 903 orbital SmartBus. This new route started on April 20, 2009. 903 overlaps the 219 along Wright Street east of Hampshire Road (Monday - Saturday morning section) but again the duplicated section of 219 remains intact.

'Opportunity cost' is a helpful concept for the transport planner, and in this case I doubt that retaining the 219 past Sunshine stacks up compared to other uses for the drivers and buses. 219's justification for remaining in the area is weak since almost all of it is within 500 - 800 metres of either 471 or 903.

Running times for the Sunshine to Sunshine West portion of the 219 can range up to 13 minutes. When multiplied by the number of services run per day this represents several driver/bus hours per day that could be put to better use if the service terminated only at Sunshine rather than Sunshine West.

It is all well and good to recommend the deletion of a route portion, as recommended here, but it does not help passengers unless a better use can be found for the resources saved. Examples in the area are not hard to find. Resources saved by terminating 219 at Sunshine could be put towards one or more of the following improvements:

* Increased City - Sunshine running time for the 216/219 between Sunshine and the City (both routes are known to suffer late running due to traffic) to permit better timetable adherance (though bus priority would be better still).

* Upgrading 471 from its non-harmonised 25/50 min weekday/weekend frequency to a harmonised 20/40 min weekday/weekend headway to properly mesh with trains at both Sunshine and Newport.

* If justified, retaining the late weekend evening services provided to Sunshine West, but instead operate as either a 454 or 471 to improve both legibility and coverage.

'Grafting on' example 2: Altona/Altona North

Altona is a coastal residential suburb that in itself contains only local shopping. The nearest large shopping centre is Altona Gate in Altona North. This is linked to Altona via Routes 411 and 412 which are identical except for a section in Altona North.

Route 411/412 has a combined 20 minute frequency on weekdays and 40 minutes on weekends. This is harmonised with trains in the area.

Earlier this year Route 903 between Altona and Mordialloc was introduced. It runs every 15 minutes during the weekday interpeak and every 30 minutes on weekends. It substantially overlaps with 411/412 between Altona and Altona Gate Shopping Centre.

The end result is a very frequent service between Altona and Altona Gate when measured by buses per hour (7 on weekdays and 3.5 on weekends). The weekday service in particular is probably excessive. However because daytime service frequencies are not harmonised to the same headway hierachy (903 is 15/30, 411/412 and local trains are 20/40) the intervals between services vary, reducing the possible gains of the frequent service provided (eg an even 3 buses per hour on weekends with a 20 minute maximum wait is better than an uneven 3.5 buses per hour with 30 minute gaps).

Unlike the case with 219 extension towards Sunshine West, 411/412 cannot simply be deleted as it fulfills other functions in the Geelong Road, Laverton and Altona Meadows areas.

I have no straightforward solution here. For instance, in retrospect it might have been desirable to to have terminated 903 at Newport or Williamstown rather than Altona. The thinking here is to avoid duplication with 411/412 and save resources by allowing part of the 471 to be deleted. Keeping the 903 as is, but truncating 411/412 at Altona Gate doesn't appeal as this removes direct access to there and Footscray from Laverton or Altona Meadows; both areas not known for their surplus of local shopping. Given the 903 is now running, I suspect that the chance of a route change is slim given its profile and popularity.

Of the examples here, this is most comparable to the Sunshine one due to the multiple operators involved and the interaction between SmartBus and local services. The main difference is that a solution is not immediately obvious.

Conclusions

The above comparisons show that where implemented 'network thinking' has delivered both improved system efficiency and better services for passengers. Where network thinking is absent and the 'grafted on' model of service change prevails the result can be less than economical (Altona) or, at worst, be illegible for passengers (Sunshine).

The successful Yarraville area changes only involved one operator and local bus routes only. The successful Carrum Downs changes was slightly different, involving a SmartBus and local routes. While there were initially two operators, one ran all services except a half share in the SmartBus.

The Sunshine case especially may indicate that the presence of multiple operators may make it harder for authorities to take a network view when introducing service changes. Instead the 'grafted on' approach may be followed, with all its attendant inefficiencies and potential lost opportunities.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Pictures from North Melbourne

Taken this morning from the recently redeveloped North Melbourne Station. Click to enlarge.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Miscellany from the web

Several items spotted on the web lately are too good to pass up.

National Library of Australia archive of Australian newspapers allows you to read articles from a selection of Australian newspapers between 1803 and 1954. Even better is that it has a search engine that you can refine by cities. User 'travla' has been posting a sample of articles on the various transport forums, but searching yourself on the NLA site will reveal many others. A goldmine!

Passionate Parisian bus drivers have got together to produce a website all about their Route 38 bus, which can trace its history all the way back to 1632. Available in both French and English, you've find it fascinating, even if you've never visited France.

Some cities, such as Perth, have allowed Google use their transit schedules. Clicking on bus stop locations gives you the times of the next two services from each route departing from that stop. I'm not sure how it copes with service updates and disruptions, but again it's interesting to have a play.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Snippets from the new train contract

Yesterday's media initially concentrated on 'soft' stories such as the transition to the new rail operators, statements from politicians and train rebranding. However today's service disruptions on some lines reminded us that the basics of running a railway are (and should never be) very far away.

How Melbourne's railways are to be run is prescribed in the Franchise Agreement, Projects Agreement and an Infrastructure Lease Agreement.

While their contents is often too specialised for the mainstream media, long-term these documents will prove more important than the name changes and media conferences in yesterday's news.

What are some of the notable points in the train franchise agreement?

Definitions

The first 48 pages are definitions, conditions and warranties. While there are some odd definitions like the meaning of weekdays (Labour Day on a Monday isn't) it's still worth a skim since tantalising terms like planned delayed services, Platform Assistant Withholding Amount and Maintenance Cost Saving Amount are all defined.

The most discussed definition would be 'on-time running'. This is now defined as within 4:59 minutes instead of 5:59 minutes under Connex. However the Metro website has dual standards; 92% within 5:59 minutes (same as the old Connex standard) and 88% within 4:59 minutes, which depending on the number of trains between 4 and 5 minutes late is pretty close to being the same thing.

'Must Dos'

Page 50 lists performance requirements against what are called 'Year 5 benchmarks'. The two fixed ones are for 'reliability' and 'customer experience'. Further details of reliability standards, their quarterly review and various levels of non-compliance appear from page 76. Information on the 'customer experience' benchmark appear in an appendix but their general aim is to capture some of the 'customer service' facets not in previous franchise agreements.

Page 53 requires the formation of a Network Development Partnership to discuss issues, monitor performance and agree on a Strategic Operations Plan. Both directors of public transport (ie the Department) and franchisees can propose changes to the Master Timetable (more detail starting page 70).

Page 59 discusses load breaches (ie overcrowding). The train operator may receive load breach notices from the department but 6.1(b) states that the department is not obliged to issue them. Generally the department needs to approve reductions in carriage seating capacity. This is topical due to the trial of a reduced seating Comeng train and announcements that new trains will have fewer seats to carry more passengers and improve flow (hopefully reducing station dwell times).

Major events

The use of short (3 car) trains on some lines, especially on weekends with special events, has proved insufficient for passenger numbers. Connex responded by increasing 6-car running on the longer busier lines. Page 63 requires the franchisee to use full consists (if reasonably practicable) on all but quiet shuttles on the ends of some lines.

New Years Eve trains will be provided and will be free, as in previous years (page 66). Shutting down the ticketing system that evening may be required to allow updates (fares normally rise on January 1). As happened in some previous years but not others, the agreement entrenches free trains on Christmas Day (page 67).

Trains and major events almost go together in Melbourne. Melbourne's ability to run big events without hitch is a major part of the city's self-image, at least amongst state and city leaders. Train network failures during major events is regarded very seriously (more so than disruptions to regular commuter travel). Hence significant space is devoted to transport for major events, with notification and planning starting 18 months prior (Page 67).

Timetables

Who determines what's in the timetable? Part 7 (Page 70) discusses this. The Director of Public Transport (ie the Department) can specify requirements in the form of numbers of added or deleted services by time band and even their approximate times. However timetablers are franchisee employees and it is these who shedule the service (noting the need to find train paths, trains and drivers and possibly juggling other services to form and accommodate them). The train operator can also initiate Master Timetable changes but must put proposals through the Network Partnership process and secure the Director's approval.

Provision is made for a Daily Timetable that is different to the Master Timetable to sometimes operate. These may be for planned occupations (required due to track maintenance), for safety reasons, special events or disruptions.

Planned and unplanned disruptions

Service disruptions have risen to prominence as patronage gains made the network more fragile. These are either planned or unplanned, with, as would be expected, tougher requirements for 'planned disruptions' eg buses replacing trains due to trackwork. Page 78 specifies requirements for replacement transport, with the standard being 'reasonable endeavours' and passengers being transported to the end of their 'intended journeys'.

What happens if running is persistently not to the timetable? Page 76 refers to three escalating thresholds: 'call in', 'breach' and 'termination' with judgement made every quarter. The standards have been set that the 'breach' or 'termination' levels require extremely poor performance to be triggered. As has been the case since 2004, these sorts of figures are averaged network-wide, so lines can suffer periods of severe underperformance (eg Stony Point) but this in itself is insufficient to trigger these sanctions if other lines are performing to standard.

Disruptions are sometimes not entirely within the operator's control. Page 79 lists circumstances that if the Director (DoT) agrees then the operator need not be called in, given a breach or terminated. Examples include disruptions due to 'force majeure', 'excluded rolling stock repair' (I'm thinking Comeng air conditioners here) or major projects.

Shuttles and connectivity

Some interesting comments on page 82, which deal with other operators' connecting services and shuttles. This explicitly mentions the Stony Point train and the ferry service to Cowes and French Island. Here there is duty ('reasonable endeavour') to consistently achieve connections.

That same page also requires consultation and co-operation with bus operators regarding facilities and information. However this section is both brief and scrappy; there is no similar requirement to co-ordinate with tram services and specific measures that would assist passengers, such as requiring the display and stocking of bus timetables at stations are omitted.

Clause 7.18 discusses shuttles, such as those that operate between Williamstown and Newport, or Alamein and Camberwell. I couldn't understand this paragraph. The first part requires both timetabled and actual co-ordination. However to my mind this is contradicted by the second part which does not even require the shuttle to be delayed.

Information

Timetables used to be hosted on both the Connex and Metlink websites, with different formats in use. Metro now links to its timetables on the Metlink site. However as real time information is only provided on the Metro site, Metlink cannot yet be regarded as a single source for service information (although it can be for timetables).

Page 83 of the agreement deals with this. While the operator can provide real-time information direct to passengers, it must also provide it to Metlink, apparently with the intention that Metlink will also carry live information.

A very unusual service improvement

Page 84 contains an obscure service improvement that as far as I know has gone unpublicised. On Good Friday and Christmas Day trains have always run a Sunday timetable, with a Saturday schedule applying on other public holidays. Since Sunday train services were upgraded about 10 years ago, their main difference compared to Saturday schedules was that first services were 2-3 hours later.

7.21a of the agreement says that Christmas Day and Good Friday services must run to the master timetable for Sunday except that services must be provided as per the weekday timetable until the Sunday timetable kicks in. If this is correct, we have the anomaly of early morning services as frequently as 10-20 minutes, then every 30-40 minutes around 8am and then back to 20 minutes after about 11am. Similar changes also apply if Australia Day and ANZAC Day fall on a Sunday, though at least in the latter case there may well be higher patronage, depending on the timing for early services.

Extra money will need to be found for drivers to run frequent trains in the early hours of Good Friday and Christmas Day that few passengers will use. I am not convinced that this necessarily represents the wisest use of resources given that other service improvements (eg daytime frequencies extended to 8-9pm, consistent Sunday evening train frequencies and/or earlier trains on Sunday mornings) would all deliver better patronage gains.

Passengers and staffing

Passengers get their own section (p85). This relates to the publication of a Customer Service Charter in specified languages and formats, a compensation code, refund policy, complaints process, DDA compliance, an ill passenger protocol and lost property.

Crowd Management is a major new area. The Franchisee must have a Crowd Management Plan and employ more platform assistants at inner-city stations. Also new are surveys and quarterly monitoring of customer satisfaction (note that quarterly is consistent with Track Record reports). Big drops must be explained.

Increased staffing has been promised. These include 22 staffed stations (these will be host). The Franchise agreement also specifies that there will be a minimum of 350 Authorised Officers (page 95).

Fares and ticketing

Fares are set by the Department (and approved by the State Government). Contrary to what some claim in the letters pages the operator does not set fares. Hence the fares and ticketing section of the contract is brief and requires working within the fares structure, current and new ticketing systems and an obligation to counter fare evasion.

Relationships

Section 11 deals with interoperator relationships. It is hard going. But there are some items of interest, such as safety, branding obligations, track access for heritage rail groups, operator accreditation and more. 12 to 14 are financial and administrative aspects.

Electricity procurement is the topic of Section 15. This came up in the Parliamentary Inquiry into train services. An important issue is security of supply, especially on hot days when loads are high.

Rulling stock and availability

This post is more than long enough and few will have read this far. But the contract gets no less important. Part III deals with rolling stock. Very topical since last summer's disruptions were exacerbated by inadequate air conditioning on Comeng trains. 'Faulty trains' are at least a partially preventable cause of service cancellations. Topics covered in this portion include repair, renewal and peak availability. Peak availability requires improved performance over time - 92% at contract commencement and 94% in 24 months (page 174). Low availability constitutes a 'call-in' event. The current Master Timetable requires 145 trains, with possible variations when new timetables are introduced.

Non-performance

What happens if the operator doesn't perform? Read Part IV for this. The first level is a 'call-in', ie a 'please explain' for which a remedial plan may be required. Next is a 'franchisee breach'. For this a 'cure plan' must be presented and the Director may impose a penalty. Finally there is termination. The department may use 'step in' powers for terminations or severe breaches. These appear to be 'reserve powers', only to be used sparingly and in exceptional circumstances.

Annexures including loading and frequency standards

The second part of the franchise document contains the annexures. These contain the more detailed standards, formulas and methods. Still it's worth a look for the passenger weightings (can compare relative patronage of lines) and frequency standards (termed 'maximum delay minutes' - Schedule 7). These are low 'minimum standards' that in some cases are both non-clockface (eg 25 or 40 minutes) and represent less service than currently runs.

Against this should be compared Victorian Transport Plan and other statements about moving to a 'metro-style service'. If the agreement fully reflected this it could have defined a core network across which a high minimum service frequency (say every 10 minutes) would apply after a program of upgraded services over several years. If we take the authorities at their word, we can only assume that any plans for service improvement will be contained in other (more easily revised?) documents and the low minimum standards have been inserted in the franchise agreement to give the franchisee and the Department significant 'wriggle room'.

Conclusion

Overall these contracts are a difficult but rewarding read that will inform the reader of the broader operating context for Melbourne's trains. Highly recommended.

Labels: , , ,