Friday, December 15, 2006

How reliable was the Met Part II

Back in August I wrote about reliability of the pre-privatisation Met train services.

The main pre-1999 trends were vastly reduced cancellations from the early 1990s. Reliability also improved and has been sustained at a higher level than during the strike-torn 1980s.

What has happened since?

To find out, I compiled a table, drawing on PTC annual reports for the pre-1999 figures. Afterwards I used statistics from Track Record 1, 5, 9, 13, 17, 21, 25, 28. Because results were listed by operator, these were averaged for the pre-reunification years (1999 - 2003).

Metropolitan Trains: reliability and cancellations 1983 - 2006

Period | % OT(i) | % Canc(ii)
1983 ------ 93 ----- ?
1984 n/a
1985-6 ----- 87.8 ----- 3.7
1987 -------- 92 ----- 2.8
1988 -------- 92.1 ----- 2.5
1989 -------- 92.1 ----- 2.4
1990 -------- 88.3 ----- 6.3
1991 n/a
1992 n/a
1993 n/a
1994 -------- 92.3 ----- 0.3
1995 -------- 92.3 ----- 0.5
1996 -------- 93.3 ----- 0.5
1997 -------- 94.8 ----- 0.9
1998 -------- 93.7 ----- 1.4
1999 Q1 ---- 93.5 ----- 1.1
1999 Q2 ---- 93.6 ----- 0.7
1999 Q3 ---- 96.0 ----- 0.4
1999 Q4 ---- 97.2 ----- 0.5
2000 Q1 ---- 95.2 ----- 0.5
2000 Q2 ---- 94.8 ----- 1.3
2000 Q3 ---- 96.5 ----- 0.6
2000 Q4 ---- 96.6 ----- 0.6
2001 Q1 ---- 96.5 ----- 0.6
2001 Q2 ---- 96.5 ----- 0.6
2001 Q3 ---- 97.0 ----- 0.3
2001 Q4 ---- 96.9 ----- 0.5
2002 Q1 ---- 96.6 ----- 0.5
2002 Q2 ---- 96.1 ----- 0.6
2002 Q3 ---- 96.5 ----- 0.4
2002 Q4 ---- 96.9 ----- 0.4
2003 Q1 ---- 96.9 ----- 0.5
2003 Q2 ---- 96.9 ----- 0.4
2003 Q3 ---- 96.2 ----- 0.7
2003 Q4 ---- 96.2 ----- 1.2
2004 Q1 ---- 95.8 ----- 1.0
2004 Q2 ---- 95.0 ----- 1.9
2004 Q3 ---- 94.2 ----- 1.4
2004 Q4 ---- 94.0 ----- 1.3
2005 Q1 ---- 93.9 ----- 1.4
2005 Q2 ---- 93.1 ----- 1.2
2005 Q3 ---- 93.1 ----- 0.8
2005 Q4 ---- 93.2 ----- 1.0
2006 Q1 ---- 92.6 ----- 1.3
2006 Q2 ---- 93.2 ----- 0.6
2006 Q3 ---- 93.9 ----- 0.5

(i) Percent of trains on time to 5:59 min (all day)
(ii) Percent of trains cancelled (all day)


The post-1998 figures can be divided into four stages. The first occurred during 1998 and 2000 when the network was split (Bayside and Hillside) and then franchised. Apart from a poor Q2 of 2000, the rise in service cancellations experienced in 1997 and 1998 was arrested and then reversed.

The third quarter of 2000 ushered in a 'golden age' for trains in Melbourne, and not just for those who were taking advantage of the new increased Sunday services either. Reliability was consistently high (96-97%) and cancellations were few (0.5% approx). Good performance continued for nearly three years.

The (time?)tables turned sometime in 2003. The organisation of the system was falling apart with National Express pulling out and half the network reverting to government operation until new contracts could be negotiated with the remaining operator. Chronic driver shortages (due to a previous lack of recruitment and training) increased cancellations on the 'Bayside' part of the network. Major rail projects reduced operational flexibility while the consequences of delays increased due to patronage pressures (thought to be due to rising fuel prices and urban growth). These factors (plus the odd Metrol breakdown and storm) combined to double lateness and cancellations between 2002 and 2005. This put on-time running back to 1995 levels and wiped out the improvements of the early 2000s. However, cancellation performance, though poorer than in the recent past, was still at approximately half the level experienced during the Met days.

It's too early to say much about the last year. However there are some encouraging signs of a turn-around, notably sharply fewer cancellations (similar to those experienced during the 'golden age'). On-time running has also improved, with comparable figures to late 2004/early 2005 and the last few (best) years of the Met.

These figures are of value in several ways. Firstly they help to dispel myths one hears said about the network. The first is that 'things were better during the Met years'. Such an assertion is not borne out in the figures, even during less reliable years such as 2004 and 2005. Secondly they demonstrate what our network can achieve, ie a reliability exceeding 96% and cancellations around 0.5%. Thirdly, under a short-term management style, though current performance may be good, the seeds of later problems may be sown (eg not training drivers during the 2000-2003 period).

Monday, December 04, 2006

Testing tramTRACKER

You might have noticed the new tramTRACKER stickers on tram stops around Melbourne. Started on two routes last month, the real-time information system became effective across the whole tram network today.

Unless a tram is within sight, my common 1.2km afternoon peak-hour trip is often faster walking than tramming. However in the cause of science, I waited around to give the new service a go.

There are two services available - voice or SMS reply.

In both cases you dial a number (1300 698 726 voice, 1999 2772 sms) and enter a four digit tram stop ID number. Then it will tell you the time of the next three trams by voice or reply SMS message.

I tried the voice option first. This gave times as per the printed timetable, so it doesn't seem to have a real time function yet.

Then I decided to send an SMS. The reply came quickly; the next three trams were 14, 13 and 24 minutes away respectively. After about 10 minutes a second SMS was sent; now the answer was 4, 4 and 18 minutes.

And sure enough, in 4 or 5 minutes two (bunched) trams arrived. Based on this quick trial, TramTRACKER is accurate and it works. However at least for now, SMS beats voice.

To make it more useful one could save the number in your phone and memorise the four digit tram stop number. Then you can get information from home, bus or train, before you reach the stop.

Is this an exercise in transport geekery? No doubt! But for critical trips it's a useful service. And since tram on-time data is already collected for operational purposes, it may as well be made available to the public for minimal cost.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rethinking the Loop

When the Melbourne Underground Railway Loop was designed, its major intended purpose was to serve a distributor function for CBD commuters. Before the Loop, commuters to the north and east of the CBD had to transfer to (possibly) an overcrowded and gridlocked tram from either Flinders or Spencer Street Station.

For such commuters it did not matter very much which direction loop services went, or indeed whether they reversed in the middle of the day.

However demographics and travel patterns have changed since the loop opened in the 1980s and it is appropriate to review its current function, potential, service patterns and passenger information. Such a review may find that while the loop benefits some trips, it poorly serves others. Furthermore, it is possible that demand for trips it serves poorly is growing faster than those it serves well.

The following have changed since the Loop fully opened in 1985:

* The rise of city living. The resident population has virtually doubled in the last 10 years and there has been an associated retail boom. The CBD is no longer just a place to commute to from the suburbs. The CBD population is growing by between 3000 and 5000 people per year, or at a rate twice the state average. Transport systems increasingly must serve within-CBD movement as well as suburb - CBD trips.

* The enlargement of the Melbourne CBD. The City Loop is no longer the natural boundary of the CBD, with growth bursting over the river to Southbank and westwards into the Docklands precinct. Within-CBD trips are becoming longer and trains will become faster than trams for more of them. Significantly, the closest railway stations to the new developments (Flinders Street and Southern Cross/Spencer Street) are also the oldest and those sometimes disadvantaged by the Loop.

* The revitalisation of regional rail and expected increased patronage. Services to fast-growing commuter-belt areas are based around Southern Cross Station, which currently lacks direct loop services at certain times of the day.

* The growth of air travel and specialist airport bus services. Current services (particularly to Melbourne Airport) are of high quality, but are let down by the limited accessibility of Southern Cross Station from some CBD locations at certain times.

* More diverse travel patterns, including more weekend and evening travel. Whether due to de-regulated shopping hours, labour market changes, CBD living, tourism or the influx of international students, this has increased the amount of movement, especially around the inner-city. Much of this demand could be met by a revised City Loop in conjunction with surface tram and bus systems.

The above points require a new way of thinking about the City Loop's function.

Its original rationale, that of a high-capacity distributor for CBD/M-F/9-5 workers commuting in from the suburbs, though still important, is declining in relative terms. In contrast, the Loop's current usefulness is limited for all five travel growth markets identified above.

To make the Loop relevant again, it needs to be seen and used as an inner-city metro system, offering faster CBD-area travel than is possible by tram. Of course the Loop still retains its traditional distributor and collector role for suburb-CBD trips, but the new emphasis could appeal to whole markets that are currently poorly served.

What would a modernised metro-style City Loop look like?

Generally, very similar to today. The tracks and stations are already there, and the services already run.

Just two things would be different; one substantive and the other cosmetic.

The substantive difference would be service patterns. The following three points are most important:

* Scrapping the 12:45pm weekday reversal so that loop services would run in the same direction all day long. Tourists and lunch-time travellers will no longer need to shun the loop as they do today.
* Standard loop directions seven days per week.
* A loop operating pattern that provides for direct no-transfer services between all CBD stations.

The cosmetic change is passenger information. As well as traditional line-based information (again only really suitable for beyond-CBD passengers), extra passenger information for CBD-area passengers would be established. Examples are shown below:

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Note that the above platform numbers assume a weekend loop service pattern, with services stopping at Flagstaff.


Years of planning exclusively based on suburb to CBD commuter travel needs has left the City Loop poorly equipped to serve emerging passenger growth markets in and around the Melboune CBD. The midday reversal and differing service patterns have made full use of the City Loop impractical for many casual travellers.

A new-look Loop, based around existing services but easier to use and responsive to modern travel needs, has been proposed. It is hoped that train service revisions planned for next year will represent a step towards this aim.