Saturday, January 21, 2006

Different approaches to summer timetables

This coming Monday marks the return to normal weekday timetables for Melbourne's trains. Trams finished their summer timetable a week earlier.

Except for the last two years both modes finish their summer timetables on the same date. Last year the resumption of normal services was delayed a week to cope with a driver shortage. This year the same happened, but this time to provide extra driver shifts for the enhanced Commonwealth Games timetable.

Train and tram have taken vastly different approaches in their summer prunings of services. It is these variations that I'll discuss here.

In summary, the train reductions were milder but prolonged, whereas the tram cuts were deeper but were over quicker.

Summer train timetables left off-peak services unscathed, which I count as a big benefit. On each line it withdrew a couple of peak hour services each way (on average) and changed stopping patterns for a few more.

The majority of passengers could still use their old timetable, and in most cases the services would run at the printed time. So it's easier to communicate the changes for passengers by just saying that services X, Y and Z won't run but everything else would be as normal.

The disadvantage of simply removing services is the big gaps this leaves between services. At some Frankston line stations, for instance, intervals during the height of peak hour were up to 24 minutes; more than off-peak weekdays (15 min) and weekends (20 min). Because a service with 24 minute gaps does not constitute a 'turn up and go' service (which requires a 10-15 minute frequency or better) passengers must learn to become time conscious to avoid long waits.

Trams were done differently. As well as less frequent peak services, off-peak weekday services were reduced, with a modified Saturday timetable applying. On my route this was a fall from every 12 to every 15 minute, or a reduction of about 16 percent. This pruning was heavier than for the trains, but 'turn up and go' is still practicable as services were rescheduled to cover timetable gaps.

The liability of the tram approach is that it affected nearly all services (and not just a handful as with trains). However due to frequent services, the consequences of not knowing are less and a change from 12 to 15 minutes is relatively minor. The exception are those depending on a particular tram service to meet a train or bus, who may have had their journey time extended due to the lower frequency of the latter. But even here service frequency covers a multitude of sins, and the extra travel time is never more than 15 minutes, and will usually be less.

Buses were a mixture of the train method (take out a few peak service only) and the tram method (reduce peak and off-peak frequencies). Still others have had no summer timetable at all, and have run full weekday services all through January.

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