Saturday, June 28, 2008

Multimode network maps

Some interesting comments on public transport maps are on Phin's blog to which the reader is referred for a fuller discussion.

I thought it worthwhile to provide further examples of multimode maps used in Melbourne and Victoria. They were not universal around the system and the pictures below are the main types available.

Many Melbourne railway stations had maps installed by a private company, with about a third of the space devoted to advertising. The maps themselves were high quality Melway types, showing trains, trams, buses and local streets. However while the advertising portion was updated the maps were not; hence there remain maps from Melways Edition 25 (1998) or older.

Some trams had an inner city travel map produced by The Met. This showed the CBD and near inner suburbs. It was a high quality map showing trains, trams and buses. These have become out of date and have been replaced by tram-only maps.

The Melbourne Public Transport Map was sold for $2.00 (or $2.20) at railway stations. This was a comprehensive network-wide map showing the whole metropolitan area on a single sheet. Hence while it covered all modes its scale was insufficient to travel to a particular suburban address without also carrying a Melway.

Two Melbourne-wide maps (dated 1992) are located at Flinders Street Station (Degraves St Subway and behind Platform 1). These were viewable when last visited (May 2008) but were underneath other material when the photo below was taken.

Below is a recent multimode map, showing train, tram and some bus routes. As far as I know there is only one on public display - it is inside the Met Shop in the Melbourne Town Hall.

Regional areas have had maps system-wide provided as part of the Viclink project. Below is Geelong's.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why don't they just get along?

It has been my privilege to observe, know or work with people in various parts of transport. This has exposed me to competing (and often strong) views on the merits and limitations of other people or organisations.

I might be talking to Y and they might be proposing many things that Z supports. But when I ask Y's opinions about Z they might be quite dismissive. In return Z might be similarly contemptuous of Y, even though the people concerned haven't even met. But on the substantive issues (in my possibly naive opinion) I find more similarities than differences between the protagonists.

This leads me to the following conclusions:

* Transport policy, planning and debate is a play. All the key individuals act and say things largely determined by their set role (eg operator, bureaucrat, academic, activist, media etc).

* There is consensus amongst all the above actors that a larger role for public transport is in the public interest.

* There is a somewhat lesser agreement on the projects and policies are most needed to handle increased patronage. Nevertheless there is more commonality than some would have us imagine. For example, I believe that important things like (i) reforming the way the City Loop runs, (ii) tram priority, and (iii) buses headway harmonised with trains would command broad support - probably 80% or more. And even the bigger debates (Dandenong triplication and Eddington's rail tunnel) are more about means than ends.

Having established that there is more agreement than is generally acknowledged it now remains to explain the intensity of some of the squabbling.

I attribute this to the three Ps; Politics, Position and Personality (and background).

First politics. Public transport (like roads) is largely publicly funded. The proportion that isn't (ie fares) is publicy collected through the Metcard system. Franchisees look after the operations but policy, planning and new projects rests with the government. As public transport involved politics, we need to have an idea of how the system works.

There is always more demand for public services than taxpayer dollars to fund them. The democratic political system provides a mechanism for the people to elect members (mostly from a political party) to form a parliament. Some of these members (nomally from the largest party) get to be ministers with responsibility over a portfolio such as transport. Senior ministers are also a member of cabinet which sets the general direction for the government and approves major decisions.

The department oversees contracts with the operators, develops policy, plans for future needs and provides advice to the Minister. A minister can also refer matters to her department for its advice.

Policies and proposals can be developed by departmental staff, come to the department from outside or be requested by the minister. For example, an innovative manager could introduce a revised ticketing rule, or the government might reduce fares. Overcrowding might force action such as additional train purchases.

The exit of an operator might cause a revision to franchising arrangements. Matters may get in the media or be the subject of lobbying; these might force action (eg New Years Eve) or the Minister to ask for a review (bicycles on trains). Operators themselves might press for change, for instance the 2003 campaign by BAV to improve bus services (leading to the MOTC bus improvements from 2006).

The point is that democratic politics can be adversarial. There are always more demands than resources to satisfy them. if politicians are convinced there is broad support for public transport then they might put more resources into it. Lobbyists might seek to grab media headlines to demonstrate support for their cause. Then the government commits additional resources and instructs the department to implement.

A more co-operative style of advocacy relies less on megaphones and media. It is more technocratic than political. This is the one that seeks to forge relationships with bureucrats rather than speak to their masters through media sound-bites and public rallys. Graham Currie exemplifies the first approach; Paul Mees the second.

Position is to do with acting the roles in the big play mentioned above.

Key actors, with some quick notes, include: Operator professionals (Connex, YT, bus operators)

Work for one of the operators, often for many years. Experienced in operational matters. Respect own technical rigour and proud of what they do. Sometimes view media reports, activists and some academics with suspicion because they 'get it wrong'. Because of where they work, they might not always see 'bigger picture', the passengers' view or view transport system as a whole. Variations exist between the 'lower level', 'skilled technical' and 'managerial' strands.

Bureaucrats (eg DOT)

Good knowledge of political process, policy, contracts and regulations. Network knowledge varies greatly. Favour a co-operative method of working over 'megaphone lobbying' that speaks over the department's heads or worse. May be variations between the 'skilled technical' and 'managerial' strands.

Activists (eg PTUA)

Good overview of system as a whole (as seen by passengers). Value independence highly. Articulate and effective relationships with media. Perceived within the industry as being 'negative' with limited relations with middle levels in bureaucracy and operators of most modes. Distrust some bureaucrats and professionals as belonging to an 'entrenched culture of failure' from the PTC days.

Academics (attached to one of the universities)

See bigger transport picture well. Generally strong media profile and contributors to public debate. Not always good with technical details. Either 'collaborators' or 'crusaders' - depending on personality.


Either (i) already work in the industry, (ii) aspire to work in industry, (iii) don't work in industry or (iv) unemployable. Network knowledge is excellent, though can sometimes be single mode only. Mindset ranges from being able to see things from a passenger's perspective to 'the operator is always right'. Impatient when the media or activists get it wrong.

The above groups are not necessarily fixed; there are people who've belonged to two, three or more. Academics have become activists, gunzels have got industry jobs, and industry people have joined the Department.

However it is possible to find some differences that (mostly) hold up and might further explain why people with similar views in a similar field don't get along.

This is personality and background. Here I will make some quite sweeping generalisations that nevertheless might account for some of the irrational reasons for difference.

As a general rule, the operators are 'blue collar'. They contain large numbers of 'frontline staff' who man the stations, drive the trams and service the buses. These jobs do not need university degrees as all the specialist skills are taught in-house and on-the-job. Unionisation is high and incomes aren't bad. This is the Labor of Chifley and Calwell.

In contrast, bureaucrats are 'white collar'. Almost all have degrees. This is Whitlam or Keating Labor, though you might find some Greens in there as well. There will also be some Liberals, but 'tertiary educated', 'urban' and 'government employee' all point to a left-liberal majority.

That's the two groups of insiders. What about the two groups of outsiders?

Gunzels (who aspire to run the operators). There's exceptions, but I think most are blue-collar-ish.

Activists (who aspire to run the Department or tell it how it should be run). Well they've all got degrees, just like the bureaucrats.

See a pattern? It's almost like there's two strands, most clearly identified by formal education. I could go on about Zone 1 versus Zone 2, values intellectual vs practical, refugee rights vs border protection, art vs sport but won't for lack of evidence.

I can't help wondering if there's some sort of socio-cultural thing that pits each group against one another and makes them hate each other. Just look at many Railpage discussions if you want any doubt of how the gunzels view the activists. Higher up the tree (operators versus bureaucrats) similar differences may exist, but discussed with more decorum, always about substantive issues and generally not in public view (unless one counts subleties in media comments).

But it's not just differences that can cause conflict; commonality can lead to 'competition'; for instance between the degreed 'insiders' and 'outsiders'. Insiders might support a particular 'outsider' policy but be unable to get it through the department. Then it might make a big splash in the media, the government adopts it and the 'outsider' claims all the credit.

Similarly operator people can be (often rightly) dismissive of the more 'feral' gunzels. However the door should not be completely closed since some gunzels have made successful transport careers.

To sum up, those involved in transport, whether as operators, bureaucrats, activists, academics or enthusiasts have more in common than some arguments you hear indicate. Thus the differences must be due to other factors. I have attempted to describe some them, including the nature of the political process, the roles people have and the characteristics and backgrounds of the participants.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Doing the Tram Stop: Transferring between train and tram at Glenhuntly

In all cases time is of the essence so you must be on the rear carriage (train from city) or front carriage (train towards city) for any of this to work.

(i) Westbound tram (to Elsternwick)

Easy. There are stops near the station both ways you go. The closest one (B - east) requires crossing a road, the further one (C - west) doesn’t. Look for trains, check gates are open and:

From city-bound train walk east (assuming gate on down lines is open). From Frankston-bound trains walk west (assuming gate on up lines is open).

Glenhuntly is a train crossing point (see timetables where they’re normally 1 minute apart off-peak) so both might be closed.

But if you alight from a city bound train and then a Frankston bound train comes along you’re in luck as the boomgate will have held back the tram as well, while the up line will be clear to cross (gates open) on the pedestrian crossing.

(ii) Eastbound tram to Carnegie

Dicey! Again there are two stops - west and east of the line.

The west stop (D) requires backtracking and waiting at a pedestrian crossing. If there is a tram in sight you will almost certainly miss it by the time you’ve walked 4 times the most direct distance and waited for the crossing lights to change.

Unlike in the westbound direction, the stop east of the railway line (E) is about 200m away, near Subway on Grange Rd.

However if stepping from a city-bound train the rear carriages of the train will be passing by the time you’re out of the station. This (just) gives time to cross. Don’t blush as you walk past the dodgy-looking 'adult' shop or the condemned former restaurant (now empty). Then bolt along Glenhuntly Rd towards Grange road AFAP. Even assuming the tram was visible at the boomgate when you crossed, you’ll (just) be able to catch it.

The other choices (ie the nearest stop or crossing at the Grange Rd lights) will probably cause you to miss the tram unless you’re saved by another train keeping the gates down longer (or a wheelchair passenger for ditto).

If a down spark and then a Stony or Long Island comes through then your exertion will have been wasted as you’ll have close to 5 min waiting at the stop, but that’s probably better than missing it, especially during peaks when tram times vary.

Going from a Frankston-bound train to the tram has a much lower chance of success. This is because the train will have cleared the boomgates which will be up again. If you see a tram the chance of boarding it is low unless you’re saved by another train to hold it for you at the boomgates. Again the Subway/Grange Rd stop will probably be superior as you'll be moving while the tram is waiting.

If you miss the tram, don’t despair. Though its shops are decayed, unloved and scummy, Glenhuntly is a great viewing spot if you wish to watch darwin award contestant auditions. Don't become one - obey the rules and use pedestrian lights if within 20 metres of one.

Who is the unsung hero in this story? The answer is the much cursed railway boom gate. In some directions they can be the pedestrian’s friend as they open the barrier of unbroken road traffic and make train/tram access easier than it might be without them. Advocates of grade seperations (though currently popular) need to ensure that their not-that-cheap proposals benefit pedestrians and passengers at least as much as they do motorists.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Doing the Bus Stop: how the class of '92 learned bus safety

Almost every child gets lessons in road safety at some point in their schooling. Students may learn through police visits, on-road demonstrations or educational videos.

One of the latter was recently bought in a Hobart junk shop for very little. Called 'Doing the Bus Stop', this 1992 VHS video features 'Hail the Bus Driver' set to catchy rap lyrics popular at the time.

It's cheesy, it's dated and some in it will groan when viewed now ('were we really like that?!'). However as well as the laughs it's got a serious side and is well-worth reviving on today's media. Total play time is about 15 minutes, with each part around three minutes.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6 (ending and credits)

(Apologies for the poor video reproduction - images photographed direct from TV screen with digital camera)

Note: Video (C) Vicroads 1992. Reproduced with permission.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Transferring at Chelsea: A case study

Today we look at Chelsea for an example where a poor stop location discourages passengers from catching buses or transferring to them from trains. Read a previous item for more information about easy and hard interchanges.

For those who haven't visited, Chelsea is a coastal suburb 30 kilometres south of Melbourne on the Frankston railway. As the largest commercial centre between Mentone and Frankston on the Nepean Highway, Chelsea is designated as a 'major activity centre' in the Melbourne 2030 plan.

As well as the train, Chelsea is the southern terminus of the 888/889 premium service SmartBus route that runs to Nunawading via Springvale Road. It is the access to this major bus route from the shops and station at Chelsea that is the subject of this post.

The following two videos show the access arrangements between Nepean Hwy Chelsea and the 888/889 bus stop to Nunawading.

Part 1

Part 2

As shown the barriers for intending passengers to reach the stop from the shops on Nepean Highway are formidable. Passengers must wait at no less than four pedestrian actuated crossings to reach the stop. Even with a clear level crossing, typical access time is over four minutes for a stop that should be reachable in one.

Because they don't have to cross the highway, transferring train passengers do slightly better; they only have three waits for the 'little green man'. However they still need to complete three sides of a square and the indirect access only encourages risk taking behavour across the unsignalised portion of the intersection (map below). Uncertain bus times may exacerbate this as bus timetables are not provided at station exits.

How can access be improved to provide the sort of well-connected hub that Melbourne 2030 advocates for places like Chelsea? We'll assume that Nepean Highway is there to stay, so that crossing will always remain. Ditto for the railway line. So that leaves the location of the bus stop, which is discussed in the next part.

Part 3

Moving the bus stop to the south side of Chelsea Rd would reduce the number of road crossings required from 4 to 1 for passengers arriving from Nepean Highway. Those transferring from the train fare even better with a reduction from 3 to 0. Train-bus interchange times could fall by 80-90%. Position relative to the existing underpass is also better; this could reduce pedestrian congestion at the current rail crossing and improve access to the southern part of the Chelsea retail strip, including the proposed Safeway Centre redevelopment.