Category Archives: News

In defence of buses

From time to time politicians and others push the misleading line that passengers don’t like buses, and that they’re only a last resort form of public transport. It’s true that​ patronage on many bus routes is poor, but this is because the service is poor, and because bus​ routes are poorly understood by potential passengers.​ ​

The solution to this is to roll out more SmartBus style bus routes, and upgrade existing routes​ to SmartBus standards, which provide direct, high frequency “tram like”​ services. SmartBuses run at least every 15 minutes through the day on weekdays, and more frequently​ during the peaks. They also provide quite direct routes with no meandering through the back​ streets. That’s why they’re popular.​ ​

The parts of the SmartBus network which serve major activity centres, and Doncaster Area Rapid Transit ​ (DART) SmartBuses, prove that good bus services can attract high patronage. In recent times DART routes ​ have suffered severe peak period overcrowding. Some orbital SmartBus services in the Box Hill and ​ Chadstone areas also have overcrowding problems. If good services are provided, people will use them.​ ​

Many other bus services run every hour or less, and take roundabout routes. That’s why people ​ don’t use them. It’s not about rubber wheels or diesel engines – it’s about frequency and directness.​ ​

Comparing SmartBus experience on weekends versus weekdays is also instructive. On​ weekdays, when SmartBuses run every 15 minutes, patronage is far better than on weekends when they only​ run every 30 minutes. In the DART case, this frequency issue is exacerbated by the fact that Ringwood ​ line trains run every 10 minutes on weekends. It appears that quite a few people who would catch a ​ SmartBus on weekdays, drive to a train station on weekends. Weekend SmartBuses must be upgraded to at least every 15 minutes. Again, it’s not about rubber wheels or ​diesel engines. It’s about frequency.​

Another important problem is most people’s lack of understanding of bus routes and frequencies. Most​ people have some level of familiarity with Melbourne’s train and tram routes, and once you find​ a train station or tram stop, you can generally expect a train or tram to show up within 20 minutes (during​ the day at least). By comparison, most bus stops are a lottery. Even with a bus tracker app in hand, just​ showing up at a bus stop is brave. Research in advance is mandatory!​ ​

SmartBus routes are again an example of how this can be much better done. SmartBus stops​ typically have maps of the SmartBus routes, and people know these routes have reasonably​ frequent services. Similar maps of direct, higher frequency bus routes across Melbourne more generally​ are needed. Bus routes should be colour coded for frequency, so people can see what combination​ of routes is likely to be “interchange friendly”. These maps should be provided at bus stops as​ well as online.​

SmartBus electronic signage should be enhanced to indicate when there are alternative bus routes between major hubs on SmartBus routes. This will help in some situations where passengers are being left behind because buses are full, but other buses have empty seats which could have been used, e.g. between Chadstone and Oakleigh Station. ​

Interchange is another area where Melbourne’s bus system desperately needs improvement. Even​ where high frequency routes cross, e.g. where DART routes cross orbital SmartBuses, often no​ effort has been made to put bus stops on intersecting routes close together, no signage to​ other bus stops is provided, and no services are provided at interchange points. Even​ a convenience store which sells coffee, newspapers and Myki topups, and has a big map of the ​ SmartBus network on display, would be a big improvement.​

Other road infrastructure enhancements which can significantly speed up buses, are dedicated bus lanes, jump start lanes at traffic lights, and traffic light priority for such lanes. ​

New train and tram lines are great when the political will and funding can be found, but realistically such​ new lines will be built only rarely. For the two thirds of Melbourne which doesn’t have train or tram​ services, high quality bus services are the only option. We can’t afford to let politicians dodge this​ necessity by claiming that people don’t want buses.

Stories of Growth: car traffic driven by new roads

What’s worse than when population growth puts strain on our transport systems?

When road traffic grows even faster than population.

But that was the reality in Melbourne for nearly four decades.

No matter how much or how little Melbourne grows, we’ll need to be smarter in future.

Read the study: Stories of Growth – Population, Transport and Melbourne’s Future (November 2018) — PDF, 184 Kb

What year did your railway station open?

What year did your local station open? Before you were born? Probably before your grandparents were born! Our population is growing, and our public transport network needs to keep growing too.

Click here to view the map larger.

The rail network grew rapidly between 1854 and 1930… but since then almost nothing. Expansion of rail, tram and Smartbus services is far too slow for Melbourne’s huge population growth. No wonder the roads are congested!

Melbourne railway stations vs population growth

Join PTUA today to help the campaign for better public transport.

Inside Melbourne’s new trains

Last week we took a look at the mock-up of Melbourne’s new train design, to give feedback to the project team.

The mock-up is one and a half carriages, designed to show stakeholder groups the layout, including the inter-carriage connections.
New train mock-up: It's made up of one and a half carriages, to show the differing layouts throughout the train

The platform alongside the mock-up has different heights, to simulate actual conditions around Melbourne’s rail network. This model of train will initially run between Sunbury and Cranbourne/Pakenham, but eventually will run on other lines too. (We think the front destination sign is very clear, but not so readable from an angle as the train approaches the platform.)
New train mock-up: Front of train

Ramps are also in use for testing with accessibility groups. They are testing different highlights around the doorways to assist people with vision difficulties.
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A “gap filler” is being tested, attached to the doorway of the train. We’re a bit concerned that this is rubbery, and may move under-foot – it’s also incompatible with similar devices on some station platforms. The external passenger assistance button is also only a test, and may not be on the final trains built.
Doorway, showing gap filler, external passenger assistance button - these may not be on the final version of the train

Inside, there is open space near the ends of the carriages, providing allocated spots for wheelchairs. Happily, the hand straps in the standing areas are soft, and don’t squeak like on the Siemens trains.
New train mock-up: standing area showing wheelchair allocated spaces and hand straps

The middle sections of the carriages have a lot more seats. The total number of seats in the 7-car train will be about the same as the trains in the current fleet. The mock-up has more places to hold (rails and hand straps) on than on the Comeng and Siemens train, but we think there could be even more provided.
New train mock-up: Seating

Above each doorway is a “Passenger Information Display” screen showing the next station and other information. They’re trying out different designs, including colour, and white on black (which isn’t as “pretty”, but is much more readable).
New train mock-up: interior Passenger Information Display

The inside walls have a “dynamic route map” showing the route the train is taking, and its current location. Of course these will have to be more reliable than the current fleet.
New train mock-up: Interior dynamic route map

A display on the outside of the train also shows the destination. This is more readable than similar displays on the X’Trapolis trains.
New train mock-up: Side of carriage will have a destination sign

Overall the mock-up looks pretty good to us, but we’ve provided some feedback on areas where we hope to see improvements in the design, as have other groups.

Anything you see here may have changed by the time the real trains start service.

Here are some more details of the mock-up, provided by the government:

The High Capacity Metro Trains Project is currently two weeks into the final train design consultation phase, which has been running all year.

14 accessibility groups, 3 passenger groups and technical experts are all now evaluating the mock-up train.

The High Capacity Metro Trains Project ran a passenger simulation exercise a few days ago, where almost 100 members of the public were brought in to experience the mock-up.

On 3 October, Guide Dogs Victoria were evaluating the mock-up – including their suggested change for more flip down priority seating as guide dogs are trained to sit beneath their owner’s seats.

Passengers, accessibility and transport user groups have already provided feedback on features such as the doors, seats, lighting, electronic signage, straps, and handrails.

More than 600,000 Australians currently use mobility aids and the design of the High Capacity Metro Trains has factored in their need for more space for mobility devices, including scooters and wheelchairs.

The final number of seats is yet to be determined and will be decided once the extensive stakeholder consultation that is underway concludes – however, the new trains will have more seats than the current fleets, which have between 420 to 432.

The feedback from stakeholder groups will be consolidated at the end of this evaluation phase, with the train design to then be finalised over coming months.

PTUA welcomes new Track-free Airport Trains to Tullamarine

PTUA president Dr Tony Morton today welcomed news of the Skybus Citylink Airport Maxi service – an innovative partnership between the state government, Skybus, Transurban and Melbourne Airport.

“We have seen a massive increase in demand for transport to the airport, and something had to be done. This new service makes great sense, it’s immediate and it’s cost effective”, said PTUA president Dr Tony Morton.

The PTUA understands that the State Government and Transurban have agreed that the recently added lane on Citylink and Tullamarine Freeway will be a dedicated lane for the track-free trains.

It is understood the state government will subsidise passenger fares, and that Transurban will receive a “toll” for every passenger carried in the train-lane. Transurban said the train-lane would carry far more people than cars, with capacity for up to 9000 people per hour. “This will benefit all Citylink users. More people will use the reliable express track-free train, meaning less cars clogging up the road to the Airport, which is great news for our Citylink customers.”

Passengers will not be required to carry eTags.

PTUA understands the track-free train fleet will be “all electric” and locally built, benefiting both the environment and local industry. An insider hinted that gantries would be installed at Southern Cross and Melbourne Airport, allowing the track-free trains to recharge as they pass through the terminals.

“Melbourne is growing rapidly, and passenger volumes through Melbourne Airport have increased by 13% in the past 2 years”, said Melbourne Airport. “We have been calling on the government to build a rail link, but something needed to be done sooner. The track-free train service is a fantastic response, and we look forward to working with the state government to make it happen.”

Dr Morton said that “The PTUA still wants to see a rail line to the airport. Although a track-free train might not be as effective as an actual train, this is a big step forward.

“The dedicated lanes will make a huge difference. You’d have to be stark raving mad to widen a motorway but leave one of Melbourne’s busiest public transport routes stuck in the traffic jams.”

The Skybus Citylink Airport Maxi (SCAM) service is expected to commence with the opening of the new Citylink lanes on 1 April.

Are we actually paying more for transport?

Figures produced for the Australian Automobile Association give the impression that transport costs to households are rising.

But overall they’re actually falling. Official statistics show that household expenditure on transport fell from 13% of household income in the 1990s to 11% in 2009-10:

Average percentage of income spent on transport
(Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Household Expenditure Survey 2009-10 Summary of Results)

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Not only are petrol prices down on pre-GFC levels, but cars themselves have been getting cheaper in real terms for decades.

Some costs such as tolls and insurance have gone up, but for motorists at least, they’re more than balanced out by savings elsewhere.

What the AAA’s figures don’t convey is how much more we’re paying for public transport. The official figures show that since 1990 public transport fares in Australian capital cities have increased around threefold in absolute terms, and by 60 per cent above inflation.

Transport costs vs CPI, 1990-2013
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics (June figures). All other capital cities show similar results – details here

The contrast with car transport costs is stark. In real terms it costs on average between 5 and 10 per cent less to run a car today than it did in 1990, while public transport costs have gone up much faster than CPI.

Cars do cost a lot of money to run in absolute terms – but that’s because they’re an inherently expensive mode of transport, which is why people shouldn’t be forced to drive everywhere. The nation’s transport policy needs to give more weight to providing fair access to multi-modal transport networks.

One way to do this is with budget repair for transport across Federal and State governments. The road lobby has argued for decades that only a quarter of petrol tax revenue comes back in road spending. This is nonsense: in very broad terms, about $35 billion a year Australia-wide is collected in road-related revenue but $38 billion a year is directly spent to support road use, and external costs like pollution account for another $14 billion. (More details)

Petrol tax is just a fraction of what our governments spend on roads every year. And for every dollar the Federal government collects, it actually gives more than 70 cents straight back in the form of motor vehicle tax concessions.

The transition to electric vehicles may accelerate over the next decade, resulting in dwindling petrol tax revenue. With the need to ensure equity of access to both roads and public transport, we really do have to think carefully about how we fund the transport systems Australia needs. There’s no way we can continue to jack up public transport fares and allow generous tax breaks on salary-packaged imported cars.

We need to come up with charging schemes in future that are fair, equitable and simple to understand – and that don’t encourage more people to drive more often – that’s the last thing our cities need.

Bus and cars on Eastern Freeway

It’s time for Fairer fines – Please take our survey

On December 11th 2015, Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan announced a review of public transport infringements including the 18 month-old $75 on the spot fines, handed out by the Authorised Officers that frequent our trains, trams and buses.

After hearing stories of people feeling pressured to pay $75 to avoid receiving a full fine of $223, and waive their right to appeal, Melbourne Barrister Julian Burnside has built up a 40-strong group of pro bono Lawyers who are working hard to defend people who seek to appeal their fines.

Myki card

We know there are many glitches in the Myki system and often people who receive a fine are caught up in these glitches, or other failings like being unable to buy a ticket on the tram, or innocent mistakes such as forgetting to bring your concession card with you that day. But instead of having a system that accommodates these issues and allows for people to have their situation reviewed before having to present in court, we presume people are guilty and have to prove otherwise.

Public Transport Users Association and Public Transport Not Traffic will be given the opportunity to submit to this review and we want to hear from PT users about your experiences and issues you have faced when greeted by an Authorised Officer on public transport.

To join the campaign for fairer fines take our short survey and let us know your experience.

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What to do if you are fined?

Check our web page of helpful advice about contesting your fine.

PTV’s new rail map – comment on the draft!

PTV are asking for further comments on their draft rail map. Just to recap – it’s not a proposed network of new lines/extensions, it’s a new map design for the current network, so you won’t see all the lines we’d like to see built on this!

PTV rail map draft 2014
(Click to view larger)

They plan to release when Regional Rail Link opens next year. (Obviously then the RRL line on the map will be made solid.)

We think it shows the rail network much more clearly than the current map, but what do you think? Leave a comment on our Facebook page.

Google Transit includes every state and territory except Victoria

From Gladstone to Kalgoorlie, from Darwin to Hobart, and many other towns and cities across Australia, if you want to take a trip by public transport, you can use Google’s world-class mapping tools to help plan it. In fact Google Transit now covers public transport timetables for every state and territory in the country… except Victoria, including all the other capital cities.

slides-viral-google-transit

This week Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder wrote in reply to Twitter user Tim Cooke, saying PTV is expecting to be able to provide Google Transit with data from early 2015. We’d love to believe it, but having heard the same promise many times before, we’re not holding our breath.