Monday, February 04, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #8 - Evening Metro train services: 1975 vs 2019

The most important factor that determines the usefulness of a public transport service is not whether it's a train, tram or bus but its timetable, route and stops.
In 1975 metropolitan Melbourne had about half its current population. Tourists, international students and temporary workers were rare. The shops shut at midday Saturday. Few worked evenings and even fewer lived in the Central Business District. Eating out was a special occasion. Theatres struggled as people spent evenings at home watching their new colour TV or huddled in their panel vans down at the drive-in, Wages were high and unions strong. Every young adult had or wanted a car and random breath testing was not yet a thing.
2019's Melbourne has seen two decades of accelerating population growth, largely due to immigration. Working and trading hours have been freed. Civic leaders spruik major events and our night time economy. CBD living is booming. Eating out is routine for many. Apartment renting is more common. A vast army of student and migrant labour caters for the personal transport, food and entertainment needs of locals and visitors alike. And, compared to 1975, youth are delaying their first car, their first home and their first child.
Which of the above is more conducive to public transport use, especially at night? You'd be right if you picked 2019. Long time train travellers talk about evening trains with only the front carriage open. It was apparently better for safety and there were so few passengers. Whereas today not only are all carriages open but crowding can exceed weekday peak periods, especially after major events.
Do our train timetables reflect all these changes? Today we'll have a look. Rarely will you find a question settled so decisively as you will see today.
I could survey timetables on all lines. Or I could look at different evenings. But I won't. Instead I'll just talk about Saturday nights on some of our busier lines. Presented are extracts from the working timetable (1975) and the PTV website (2019).
Compare at least one 1975 with 2019 if you don't have time to check all. In particular note the service frequency drop from every 20 to 30 minutes.
Dandenong 1975

Dandenong 2019
St Albans, Broadmeadows, Upfield 1975

Sunbury 2019

 Craigieburn 2019

 Glen Waverley 1975

Glen Waverley 2019

Frankston 1975

Frankston 2019

No, you're not reading it wrong. Saturday evening trains in 1975 ran more frequently than they do over 40 years later. Then they were every 20 minutes. Now they're every 30 minutes. A 33% cut. Or, expressed relative to the doubled population, a 66% reduction per capita.
The cuts occurred around 1978 when train patronage appeared to be in terminal decline. Service was never restored despite patronage doubling since. Hence today's passengers remain subject to timetabling decisions made 40 years ago when the city and travel patterns were very different. Some lines got daytime upgrades but (with one exception) Saturday evening timetables were never restored.
It's not just about Saturdays. Weeknight train frequencies, while not shown, have fallen similarly. Upgrades in the last 10 years only partially restored service on some lines. Sundays have fared better thanks to network-wide upgrades from 1999. However the unimproved 40 minute morning frequencies on some lines are inadequate for current demand.
What's the take-home message? Train (and many bus) timetables often don't reflect modern travel needs.
The opposite to what one thinks should have happened can happen. This is despite favourable social, demographic, population and patronage trends. And we can be stuck with the consequences for decades in a political climate that celebrates infrastructure while starving service.
The importance of inertia in shaping many of our transport timetables, and thus the network's usefulness, cannot be overstated. In fact 1970s decisions to cut service, presumably made to balance the books at a time when our city was very different, have been of more enduring influence than any of the dozens of transport plans and strategies since.
It's over to you. What would you do? Are train frequency upgrades important? Should we add one trip each way per hour to get evening train service to every 20 minutes as it was in 1975? Is Sydney's 15 minute frequency standard more appropriate? Or should we aspire to true metro frequencies all day, with 10 minute or better service on all metropolitan lines all day?

Timetable Tuesday originally appeared as an article on the Urban Happiness Facebook group. Maps and timetables are from the old PTV website . 

1 comment:

Pierre said...

brilliant post, poor evening frequency sh*ts me up the wall.
fingers crossed it's rectified soon