Saturday, July 30, 2005

A timetable feast

With the opening of Perth's new Thornlie line and service improvements on some of the others, a host of new train and bus timetables have appeared on the Transperth site.

You have until August 8 to view both old and new timetables.

The timetables show four major improvements to Perth train services:

1. 15 minute (or better) clockface service at nearly all stations 7 days a week.

The only stations with lesser service are Loch St, Grant St and Thornlie (on Sundays). Some south-eastern stations have four trains an hour but these are not clockface on Sundays. Before this change only two lines and a small minority of stations received a 15 min service on Sundays.

2. More peak express services on all lines.

Instead of an ABAB alternating pattern of peak and stopping services, there are now more expresses between 'all stations' services. At major stations service headways can be down to 4 minutes but as high as 20 minutes for smaller stations. Perth is a two-track system so expresses cannot overtake stopping trains as occurs on the longer Melbourne lines.

3. Travel times on the Armadale line reduced by up to 5 minutes, with express services running 7 days a week.

This is achieved by stopping Thornlie services at all inner stations to permit express running on Armadale trains.

4. The opening of the Thornlie line. Services are every 15 minutes Monday - Saturday and 30 minutes on Sundays and evenings.

The '15 min x 7day' running is nationally singificant for several reasons. (i) Perth now has consistently higher service levels than other Australian cities, (ii) Apart from some exceptions on the Armadale line, Perth effectively has a '7 day timetable' with consistent service frequencies and depature times and (iii) these improvements were achieved in a city that bans much Sunday trading (reaffirmed by referendum earlier this year).

Transperth is to be congratulated for this substantial improvement to train services which has grown the network while making rail services faster and more frequent.

Now onto buses. Many bus timetables have changed. Thornlie Station is now shown, with one route (228) now starting there. Apart from that there was no wholesale truncation of routes at Thornlie (instead of Cannington), probably due to the desirability of direct services to Cannington via Carousel.

Perth makes extensive use of circular route feeder buses serving stations along the Armadale line. 231/232 was the best of these, with what is effectively a 15 min service through the staggering of two 30 min routes. This achieves the desirable aim of having every train met by a bus.

(this message appeared earlier but was revised after the new Armadale timetable came out)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Bus info via SMS

Via Matt Cook, an article on a UK service where passengers can get text timetables recently appeared in Australiasian Bus News.

To quote from the story:

To use the service, bus users simply enter the seven-letter code from any bus stop into their mobile telephone. Within seconds they will receive a reply detailing the next departures from that stop, together with the number of the bus service, the time of the message and the name of the selected stop.

What I wasn't sure about is if it provided real-time information or not.

If not, such a service may have some use if people know their bus stop number and can store it in their phone. But for people already at the stop people can look at a paper timetable for free (if there's one there), so what's the point?

Real-time information is more useful but more expensive. To do it accurately would require fitting all buses with GPS receivers and automatic position reporting system transmitters.

A less high tech approach could be to provide a (non real-time) timetable if the bus is running on time, but allow the bus depot's radio operator (who is in contact with drivers) to alter SMS times if services are delayed. Passengers would still be informed of delays but information may not be completely accurate. An example could be '8:45am 627 bus from Stop 45678 delayed 10 min'.

Locally Connex has an SMS Updates service to inform passengers of late and cancelled trains. Passengers can also get train timetables by SMS.

Railway stations normally have 'green button' next service information and PA announcements if services are disrupted. Trams are mostly fairly frequent, so unless there is a major road blockage waits seldom exceed 20 min.

So buses probably need real-time information more than trams or trains. The Smartbus project attempted to redress this by providing real time 'next bus' displays at selected stops. However due to their high failure rate these cannot be considered a success. Also their expense makes it impractical to provide them at all bus stops. Vandalism is a constant risk, and maintenance costs are high.

In contrast, the cost of numbering all bus stops so that they could potentially be made part of a future SMS alert system is negligible. This is especially if it is made part of the current Metlink signage project.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

We're getting smartcards

Firstly the official announcements from the DOI's Transport Ticketing Authority.

The members of the winning project team are Keane Corporation, Ascom, ERG Group and Giesedke & Devrient.

Some background

Melbourne has an excellent integrated multimode zonal fare system that other cities (eg Sydney) would do well to copy. However it's in the implementation where Melbourne has come unstuck, not once but twice.

This history explains why public transport ticketing, ticket purchase and validation is much more contentious in Melbourne than almost anywhere else, where it attracts a much lower profile.

The ticketing problems started with the 'scratch ticket' debacle of the early 1990s. Scratch tickets proved unworkable, fare evasion thrived and the system was abandoned soon afterwards (though not before enough tickets to last for many years were printed!).

Next was the automated Metcard system introduced in 1996. Taxpayers paid dearly for cost and time over-runs. An early assumption that most passengers would buy tickets at retail outlets (as is common in other cities), a design unsuited to passenger needs and frequent machine breakdowns led to public hostility and widespread fare evasion, particularly in the first five years.

More recently, anti-vandalism modifications, better maintenance and allowing tram machines to sell daily tickets eventually made Metcard workable. However, maintenance is not cheap, and even if only a few days are missed, functionality quickly declines. In its FAQ the DOI recognises that Metcard is merely 'tolerable', not 'world class', which it hopes Smartcard will be.

The Smartcard challenge

Provided above is the historical context in which Smartcard finds itself. Its success depends on some as yet unanswered questions answers to which will eventually become known.

These include both machine and human elements, such as the extent to which passengers will adapt to the 'tag on tag off' regime (especially in crowded buses and trams), the design of vending machines for the disposable tickets (given that current Metcard machines do not accept common note denominations for commonly purchased tickets) and handling of breakdowns (given the extra passenger faith required).


Another opinion.

Transport smartcards around the world.

Proposed transport smartcards for Australia.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Is this Victoria's cosiest bus shelter?

With today being almost exactly midwinter and temperatures plunging, passengers are probably thinking about comfortable bus shelters. Here's one found outside Ashleigh House in Bergen Crescent, Sale.

Shelter and sign. There's no timetable but Viclink
shows the stop is on Sale's town route and gets three buses a day.

Closer up. All glass is intact and generous seating is provided.

Inside. Spotless!

Friday, July 08, 2005

London transport blasts

A most horrifying and shocking terrorist attack that has taken the lives of ordinary people going about their business. My sympathies are for the bereaved.