Tuesday, April 09, 2024

PT service lagging apartment builds (RMIT research)


Nothing from me today but there doesn't need to be. 

Instead I recommend this RMIT paper by Chris De Gruyter, Steve Pemberton and Eric Keys tracking apartment growth versus public transport service growth. 

https://cur.org.au/cms/wp-content/uploads/2024/04/longitudinal-analysis-working-paper-final-april-2024.pdf

It reaches similar conclusions to me, when I noted Melbourne was in a per capita service recession for its busiest modes (Age article here). 

The moral is that public transport service counts, and can make or break a network. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Welcome to new readers

A warm welcome to those seeing Melbourne on Transit for the first time due to The Age article examining Melbourne's public transport service levels over time

If you'd like to learn more about these trends, including viewing some tables and graphs, then please head over to PT service levels - Are we better served now?

Once done there browse the rest of this blog, which has items going back nearly 20 years. If you live on a quirky bus route the chances are I'll have written somewhere about it - the search function could be useful. 

At other times I describe public transport services in an area and examine how they might be improved, with an emphasis on cost-effective bus upgrades. You'll also find profiles of various transport ministers, reporting on state budgets, examinations of hour other cities do transport planning and much more. 

If maps are more your thing, you might like the Frequent Network Maps for Melbourne's public transport. These show you which areas get the best service on various days of the week and times of day. This is handy for anyone from home hunters to demographers in examining the differences in transport service across Melbourne's suburbs. 

Also, while less prolific than this blog, I also have a small YouTube channel with nearly 100 videos on various aspects of public transport in Melbourne.

Finally, for a bit of fun enjoy this Public Transport marketing ads video playlist and the recent '40 minute city' Metro Tunnel April Fools gag that apparently got a few people. 

Monday, April 01, 2024

The '40 minute city': A look at Melbourne's new Metro Tunnel timetables


Last month Minister Williams confirmed in Parliament that trains will operate every 3 minutes through the Metro Tunnel. Being the first public indication of what part of the new Metro Tunnel timetable might look like, this was a noteworthy statement. 

What about the rest of the Metro Tunnel timetable? While key to how people use a rail network, its development, like most transport service planning in Victoria, was done in high secrecy. Not even have broad specifications, like maximum headways at various times, been released.

Several of my usual internal sources separately hinted that the timetable is pretty much finalised but gave nothing away. Thus all I could do last month was to
speculate on three options with the middle (reference) choice most plausible most of the day.

All that's just changed. It is my pleasure that you will be the first to know the contents of this radical document that will transform the way millions move around Melbourne. 


A draft obtained

It was very late Good Friday evening outside the Banana Alley vaults. More than a few rungs below the Qantas lounge, it is not the most salubrious place to do business. Anyone there at a small hour would be on a mission, probably nefarious. The normally rumbling viaduct had just the occasional night train passing over.

At this spot two men exchanged several boxes of 7-Eleven sprinkled donuts for a nondescript four ring binder with white, yellow and green pages. They shook hands and parted. The man with the binder loosely wrapped it with a kebab-stained Herald Sun fished off Elizabeth Street - apparently its cover was sensitive. With obscured binder under shoulder, the intermediary, known to mingle in rail planning circles, made haste past the Milk Dock to just make an hourly night train to a second, suburban handover destination. 

That's the background on how an 'advanced draft' of Metro Tunnel Group Working Timetable 2025 Day 1 came to reach my hands. But content is king so that's what will be discussed next. 

The timetable's peak service reflects the minister's undertaking so needn't be shown. But below is an off-peak extract. Most notable is the 40-minute off-peak interval on this and all other lines. "Unbelievable!" you might say? No, there's reasons for this so good that DTP hopes will make you not just a convert but an evangelist for a new way of experiencing Melbourne.  

Melbourne the 40 Minute City

Just like the Suburban Rail Loop is considered more a 'city building' than purely a rail project, the same applies to the proposed Metro Tunnel timetable. It's part of a plan to make Melbourne a 40 Minute City, with synchronised public transport all running once every 40 minutes. 

Unlike Victoria's money-hungry Bus Plan, the 40 Minute City is actually money saving with nothing to stop it happening. For example, a huge slice of Melbourne's transit already runs every 40 minutes. This includes Ballarat weekday and Geelong weekend trains, most buses in Melbourne's west and north plus Sunday morning Metro timetables on the Sunbury, Craigieburn, Upfield, Mernda, Hurstbridge and Sandringham lines. 

Most SmartBuses on weekends are close, with their timetable just needing to be tweaked from every 30 to every 40 minutes. That frees resources to upgrade hourly local buses to every 40 minutes, which will become the new service standard. A state government spokesperson added that a flat statewide 40 minute frequency complemented the flat statewide fares introduced last year in furthering its transport equity objectives. "City fares with Country service" was how they put it. 

"Current off-peak timetables, notably the 10 minute all-day frequency the Frankston line enjoys, were unfair to passengers on other lines like Craigieburn and Mernda", they remarked. "Frankston's generous timetable also required replacement buses we don't have on the many days its trains don't run. Thus every 40 minutes to everywhere makes a lot of sense".      

With such solid arguments and a widespread precedent, it was logical that the Metro Tunnel also runs every 40 minutes outside the peak. That would move us towards 'One Network, One Frequency' (ONOF) and thus deliver 'simple, safe connected journeys'.  As opposed to the current cacophony of 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 and 60 minute headways that plague our network. 

Frequency-based marketing is something that only the Swiss have done well, in conjunction with their Taktfahrplan. The Metro Tunnel Day One Communications Plan brings such best practice to Melbourne.  It suggests the slogan 'Life begins at 40' to sell the new rail headways (and appeal to Gen Ys). 


Service rationale

The pink explanatory pages for the working timetable quote Deputy Secretary Service Planning Mr Ray James, who said that the worth of 40 minute headways was demonstrated by their persistence in Melbourne timetables for over 40 years. "If there was something wrong with them they'd have been fixed. But there's not so they stay.".  

DTP considered that every 40 minutes was adequate for Melbourne's low density since we were not Paris and loved our cars. The Dep Sec also wrote that "by lacking 40 minute train headways cities like Sydney and Perth had no idea what they were missing out on".

"Just like any living being has just one pulse, so should a transit network". It was also a matter of city pride. "With other Australian cities basing their trains and buses on 15, 30 and 60 minute headways, nothing screams Melbourne more than service every 40 minutes. Thus 40 it is.". 

City of Melbourne councillors, who received a private briefing last week, are said to be strongly backing the move. Lord Mayor hopeful Darren Hunch added that off-peak trains every 40 minutes will supercharge CBD commerce at a much needed time, especially if the Free Tram Zone was made the Free Train Zone and extended to Pakenham East. With council elections soon lord mayoral candidates are starting a bidding war over policies they don't control, with the Lord Mayor incumbent firing the first salvo on cheap fares last month via the Herald Sun

A senior Melbourne council officer explained their thinking as follows: 


Managing expectations

PTV realises that the way passengers use a train line that operates every 40 minutes is different to one with services every 5 or 10 minutes. Accordingly it has hired user experience professionals to develop a 'perception management plan'. This would help passengers manage and eventually modify 'unrealistic' expectations with regards to train waiting times that they might have picked up in Europe, Asia or even Sydney. 

During a transition period labour hire staff (dubbed "Forty Minute Friends") will be on platforms to offer tips on journey planning, fun activities while waiting and time management. Rail photographer Marcus 'everywhere' Wong just happened to get this shot of a training exercise at Southern Cross. 


Zen Buddhists and yogis will also be engaged to help those who panic if the train they are connecting to does not arrive within a few minutes. It turns out that the singing PTV funded last year was a test exercise for such diversions.  

Marketing

Marketing will be a joint venture between the City of Melbourne, Visit Victoria and PTV. Tourists will be urged to try a slower approach to life, including embracing our 40 minute waits between trains and for coffee and airport taxis. It is understood that this will give Melbourne a major point of marketing difference over Sydney and other cities that are more rush-rush-rush. Expect to see the logo below around the CBD and beyond as a symbol to attract longer staying higher-value visitors.   


Demonstrating its astute commercial acumen, the Department plans to use $500k (a repurposing of almost the entire Bus Plan budget) to buy the rights of the under-appreciated 1983 NZ No 1 hit Life Begins at 40. It believes that playing this after each off-peak train at Metro Tunnel stations will lift the spirits of late-arriving passengers who have 40 minutes until the next.  



Frank talk on the Suburban Rail Loop

The 40 Minute City is not just about Metro Tunnel off-peak timetables. It is also a game changer for the Suburban Rail Loop, ensuring the project's survival amid recent uncertainty over state finances.

During a tense pre-Budget meeting with Treasury officials, who, as the Grattan Institute's biggest private fans, never really liked the SRL, project head Ms Carol Frank reached an agreement that would save the massive project. Economies included shortening the tunnelling to run more directly via Mt Waverley instead of Glen Waverley and consolidating Clayton and Monash stations into one under the Monash Childrens' Hospital.

These changes would cut journey time from 22 minutes to 18 minutes, increasing speed yet massively reducing costs. For example value engineering would reimagine the SRL from two tracks / twin tunnel to single track / single tunnel. Portions could be elevated due to the reduced width. 

In a major reduction of project risk, the need for signalling would vanish since the SRL's new 40 minute headway could be run with a tight but doable 2 minute turnaround time using a single 2-car set, much like current operations on the Stony Point line. That works because if there's no other trains to collide with you just need a single track, no signalling and only half the tunnelling. Also the proposed Heatherton stabling yard would become a minor siding for the one train plus spare, assuaging most local concerns. 

A crack team of Spanish and South Korean project managers would speed construction to ensure completion by the 2030 state election so we'll get SRL benefits sooner.  Overall about $15 billion could be shaved off the SRL's cost, making it cheaper than the North-East Link and contributing to budget repair. 

Ms Frank is understood to be delighted that the SRL could participate in the 40 Minute City program by adjusting its frequency to the new network standard. Preserving the state's finances while still building the SRL was considered a win-win. The agreement also protects thousands of jobs whose workers and families would have otherwise faced a bleak Christmas.   

User reaction

In contrast to support from local and state governments, passengers have slammed the proposed 40 minute frequencies, calling it a 'Poor Useless' plan that only Spring Street bureaucrats could dream up. Here's the Public Transport Users Association's reaction, as exclusively captured by 6 News.  


Conclusion

The 40 Minute City and resultant off-peak intervals between trains is possibly not what many were expecting from the Metro Tunnel. However it is consistent with present widespread operational practice and 'infrastructure first' state government priorities, so no one should be too surprised. 

We'll know in a year how this pans out. It is understood that the Metro Tunnel will commence service (for a free family fun day) on the morning of Tuesday April 1, 2025. 'Metro Tuesday' will be proclaimed as a one-off public holiday given the significance of the Metro Tunnel's opening for all Melburnians.

Just remember to plan travel carefully as, in a nod to some historic (and still current) public holiday bus timetables, there will be no afternoon service. More so than other cities, Melbourne loves to preserve its past while building the future and its Metro Tunnel timetables will be no exception.