But first I need to get these points out of the way:
Climate change is real.
If you think climate change is a hoax because you think you know more than the 97% of climate scientists who say it’s real, that’s up to you – but I’m not interested in your theories. Don’t bother leaving a comment.
Australia’s share of emissions isn’t that big, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have influence, that we shouldn’t set a good example, or that we shouldn’t make an effort with everybody else.
So often it seems the politics of climate change in Australia comes down to cold hard cash: the cost, the impact on jobs.
Meanwhile effective large-scale battery systems have emerged that are overcoming store and dispatch issues with renewables, contributing to stabilisation of the grid, which in turn demonstrably cuts power costs.
This means I’m not convinced anymore that clean means unaffordable and unreliable.
(People like to talk about baseload power, but what’s really important is dispatchable power – in other words, available when and where it’s needed.)
Britain recently went a week without coal power. Okay, so it included 46% gas and 21% nuclear, but they still think they can regularly get by without coal and gas by 2025.
The cost of PV panels is dropping, making both large-scale solar farms and household solar a good investment.
Given labour is becoming the biggest cost in many industries, it makes sense that over time, the once-off installation and maintenance of renewable energy generation will end up being cheaper that paying people to continually dig stuff out of the ground and burn it.
In fact the economics of it means that even people who don’t believe in climate change are jumping on this bandwagon.
Tony Pecora, the now disendorsed Clive Palmer/UAP candidate for Melbourne, who believes that the IMF and the World Bank “are pushing the idea of climate change so strongly … because having a global-based carbon taxation system is one of the most effective ways of centralising financial power” (his actual words) and yet his day job is installing solar panels!
Meanwhile the cost of electric vehicles is dropping, with some models set to drop to the same price as their petrol counterparts by next year. That’s high-end vehicles initially, but even for models such as Toyota Camry it’s likely to be between 2022 and 2024.
The key claim that electric vehicles are under-powered is just simply wrong. Here’s a video of a Tesla pulling a Boeing 787.
That time we towed a plane with a Tesla - YouTube
With other countries moving on this, vehicle manufacturers are also moving off petrol. Mercedes just announced half of their new vehicles will be electric by 2030, with all switched by 2039.
Electric vehicles won’t fix traffic problems, but do reduce pollution in cities, and if combined with renewable energy, will help cut overall pollution and emissions.
Transport investment has outcomes in emissions.
Because transport is supply-led, funding more road infrastructure results in higher emissions (especially while the bulk of the car fleet is petrol) whereas providing better public transport (particularly when powered by renewables) gives people options to leave the car at home more often, helping to cut emissions.
Victorians who consider transport infrastructure important have a stark choice in Saturday’s election. The Coalition says they’ll fund the East West Link. Labor says it’ll fund the Suburban Rail Loop.
SRL isn’t perfect. Most would agree it isn’t as important as Metro 2. And the whole concept still needs fleshing out. But I’d rather have it than EWL any day.
Follow the money
Lots of people want action on climate change, but the way the economics are going, even those who don’t particularly care will soon be choosing to buy electric vehicles and rooftop solar – because it’ll be cheaper.
And power industry investors will be building renewables, not coal, because it’ll be cheaper. The dinosaurs will be left behind.
So I suspect climate change action will come, with of course plenty of other benefits from cutting pollution.
But this is not an excuse for our political leaders to do nothing. On the contrary – they should be pushing harder for change, to help us ride the wave, not swim against it.
It’s not just good for humanity, it can also ensure that Australia doesn’t miss out on opportunities to be at the forefront of a huge technological shift as the world decarbonises.
More action needed
So the good news is that money will force progress.
The bad news it it won’t be enough.
The science says CO2 needs to get down to a level of 350 parts per million to stabilise the climate. It’s just gone above 415, the highest in human history.
Recently our planet hit a new all too serious record – 415ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. (If you remember from our name, 350 is the safe level to be at). The human species have NEVER experienced this before.
It’s all very well for us to just follow the money to cleaner energy and reduced emissions, but stopping dangerous climate change should be a higher priority for our political leaders and policymakers.
2017 Air-conditioning (a backwards step for energy efficiency, but a giant leap for comfort on very hot days)
This week it was wall insulation.
Obviously this is best fitted when the house is built, but in a house built circa 1930, the only way is to retrofit it.
They do this by drilling small holes in the walls all the way around the house, then spraying in filler stuff into the wall cavity.
They’ve filled the holes, but they’ll need sanding and painting, which leaves me somewhat regretting I didn’t do this before I got the house painted in 2015. Not to worry, but for now the house looks like it has measles.
Last year’s winter gas bill (covering 15th June to 15th August) was a whopper, at $489, for 354 MJ of gas, or $7.87 per day, similar to 2016. (In 2017 we were away on holiday for some of winter.)
I’m hoping that by getting the new insulation in time for winter, the gas bill for winter this year can be reduced quite a bit – hopefully daytime warmth can be better retained into the evening and overnight.
It might be a while before the investment (not insubstantial) pays off, but already there’s a noticeable difference, which is good.
Future options around the house include:
double-glazing on the windows
PV panels for the roof
replacing gas cooking with electric
replacing gas central heating with more reverse cycle units
I’m making a trip that’s impractical using any other mode, alongside thousands of others, many also making trips impractical using any other mode.
It’s not about options along that particular stretch of road. It’s about the whole transport network, supporting people’s trips end to end.
On an overpass I see a train go by. It’s so crowded people are standing.
If a road suffered 20 minute delays, it would be shown on real-time maps as a major delay. On Melbourne’s rail network, that’s the standard wait between trains on Saturday on most lines, and has been for decades. And they’re crowded.
And 20 minutes is a good frequency on the weekend PT network. Most suburban bus routes are hourly. An hour in the car is a long trip, but it’s the wait just between buses for so many areas.
Decades of road building made suburbs car dependent. Decades of neglect and cutbacks in public transport left no other options. Weekend traffic congestion in our city is a totally expected outcome.
As I drive, I look at all the cars, my own included, stuck in the traffic, all burning energy. It just makes me angry.
Giving people viable options is not about billion-dollar infrastructure. Better infrastructure helps (especially in the areas of walking, cycling and tram accessibility), but the biggest change needed (whether money is spent on infrastructure or not) to just get PT running more frequently right through the day, every day.
All possible with the current assets.
Waits of 20, 30, 60 minutes are simply not good enough for a city of our size.
Wednesday morning’s commute for me was one of those made easier via good quality real-time information.
My usual train was cancelled. I knew this before I left the house thanks to checking the PTV app.
The app also told me that other trains were delayed. It was going to be a messy commute. Bleugh.
Sometimes in morning peak when there is a cancellation, you can backtrack from Bentleigh to Moorabbin and pick up an express train that gets you into the City sooner than if you just waited at Bentleigh. (It’s a trick that probably applies at a few other places on the network, and incurs no fare penalty now that Zone 1+2 costs the same as Zone 1.)
The app lets you check departures at any station. Checking Moorabbin told me that no, this trickery wasn’t going to help today.
At Bentleigh station the screens and announcements confirmed the delays.
The next train arrived – heavily delayed, and crowded as expected. Completely packed? No. But with another six stops before the City (not served by other trains) it’s not hard to predict that there were sardine times ahead.
Crucially – the screens on the platform confirmed what the announcements were saying: another train was 4 minutes behind it.
Some of us on the platform used this information to decide to wait and catch the following train, which was near-empty as it had just started its trip. Scored a seat! Much better than being in a crush-loaded train a few minutes earlier.
This kind of real-time information can make a big difference to your trip. So why isn’t it provided more widely?
The good news is: there’s progress. The design seen last year at some stations is now appearing at more locations – recently at Parkdale, Moorabbin, Balaclava, Malvern, some of the platforms at Caulfield, and no doubt others.
The app is helpful too of course – for trams and buses as well. And apart from the official PTV app, a few others have real-time departure information fed from the same API.
But even if you’re not inclined to check an app, hopefully the improved screens are coming to your station soon!
Good information can’t fix delays or undo cancellations, but it can help passengers make the most of a bad situation.
This turned out to be a bit of a bumper crop – a few months before I’d got the Nokia N95 phone, my first with a decent camera, so perhaps no surprise the number of photos was increasing.
Melbourne’s first wind-powered tram had launched in 2008. Note the “Gone With The Wind” reference, and the pre-platform “safety zone” Elizabeth Street (at Bourke Street) tram stop.
Bentleigh – directional signage for bus drivers. This one for rail replacement buses inbound into the City.
A trip down to Geelong one Saturday…
…to visit the special Myki Shop in Ryrie Street, so I could try it for the first time.
I got to try out a Myki card, which you can read about here. I also came home with these amusing Myki wristbands, I guess to get The Kids on-side with the concept. Note the “scan on, scan off” messaging which later became “touch on, touch off” when they realised just how slow the first generation readers are.
Spotted in Footscray: a special bus stop for Regional Fast Rail project rail replacement coaches. RFR had finished about five years earlier.
An excursion to the in-laws farm. Like many farm practices, burning off a field was a bit of an eye-opener for this city boy.
Federation Square. Note the pre-renovation mustard colour of Flinders Street Station.
Flinders Street from another angle, showing the red Tourist Shuttle (not a shuttle) bus that was funded by the inner-city parking levy. When the bus was free, it could be quite crowded, but was virtually unused once they introduced a $5 fare.
The Parkiteer cage at Brighton Beach Station was getting plenty of use, as was the fence outside. Prior to 2015, a lot of people from further out would use zone boundary stations like Brighton Beach to avoid paying a Zone 1+2 fare which was about 55% higher than just Zone 1.
The old Bentleigh station in the autumn fog.
Also at Bentleigh station, where walkway crowding was becoming an issue, authorities made an effort to discourage bike parking.
I got Connex’s Lanie Harris to introduce the new layout.
Connex Melbourne demonstration train - YouTube
The students are revolting! I don’t recall how big this protest was.
One of the contenders for the prize of most confusing bus route was the 627. It has since been split into two separate routes, and is much easier to understand. This was one of few recommendations of the 2010 bus reviews that actually got implemented.
I got to take a look at the data, focusing on Night Bus routes.
The current Night Network commenced in January 2016, following a 2014 election pledge by Labor to introduce all-night trains (on all suburban electrified lines) and trams (on 6 routes), as well as coaches to regional destinations. Night Network started as a trial, but was made permanent in 2017. Night Bus routes were designed to complement the Night Train and Tram routes.
Data has been scarce, but anecdotally the trains and trams have had reasonable patronage. In 2016 it was reported that there were 35,000 people using the Night Network each weekend.
This newly available patronage data reveals details of how the Night Buses specifically have been performing.
Here’s how it looks – the source data included patronage for the entire year, and an estimated average per weekend night. I’ve compared the latter to the number of services, which gives us the average number of passengers per service.
2016-17 tota boardings
Passengers per weekend
Passengers per service
City, Footscray, Sunshine North, Taylors Lakes, Watergardens
Footscray, Sunshine, Deer Park, St Albans
Caroline Springs, Melton
Newport, Altona, Altona Meadows, Point Cook
Geelong Road, Tarneit, Hoppers Crossing, Werribee, Wyndham Vale
Moonee Ponds, Brunswick West, Pascoe Vale, Glenroy
Footscray, Maribyrnong, Airport West, Gladstone Park, Broadmeadows
Meadow Heights, Roxburgh Park, Craigieburn
Brunswick, Ivanhoe, Bundoora, Mill Park, South Morang, Mernda
Collingwood, Eastern Freeway, Templestowe, Doncaster
Endeavour Hills, Hampton Park, Cranbourne
ALL NIGHT BUSES
Oakleigh – Bentleigh via Mackie Road & Brady Road (For comparison – see below)
Some conclusions from this:
The City routes do better than the suburban ones. No real surprise there – the suburban routes are timed to meet trains, but obviously people favour a one trip ride, especially at night. (See also footnotes below.)
The most-used routes are those running every 30 minutes (rather than hourly) except for the 941/942 which each run every 60 minutes but provide a combined 30ish minute service between the City and Braybrook.
But even the most used routes are only averaging 2-3 boardings per service. That’s really not very good.
Passenger numbers are probably higher for outbound services, lower for inbound services. But even 6 people per service isn’t outstanding for what are mostly quite long routes.
Hourly suburban Night Bus perform very poorly. Those routes are timed to meet hourly trains, so upgrading them to half-hourly may not help unless the trains switch too (which would be good).
For comparison I’ve included figures for regular daytime route 701, one of my locals. It only runs every 30 minutes on weekdays, 60 on weekends/evenings, but it gets 7 times the number of boardings per service of the best performing Night Bus route. And on a typical weekend that one route gets 369 passengers; more than 60% of the number of passengers on the entire Night Bus network.
The worst performing Night Bus routes are only getting a passenger on one in every ten services. 90% of trips don’t pick up anybody. That’s an absolutely appalling waste of money.
The total number of Night Bus boardings per weekend in 2017 was 1,133.
The Age reported in 2016 that there were 35,000 boardings each weekend across all of Night Network: train/tram/bus. If we assume these figures are comparable (at least for the purposes of a rough estimate) then that means only about 3% of night trips are on Night Buses. (And that’s with only six Night Tram routes, and Night Train running only hourly!)
In comparison, for all public transport boardings, buses usually account for about 21% of trips around Melbourne.
So what can be done?
It’s not hard to conclude that the Night Bus network urgently needs a shakeup.
As noted in a previous post, a big part of the problem is that the route structure, unlike the trams and trains, is completely different to the daytime routes.
This means that the routes are unfamiliar to passengers. It also means in some cases people can’t get a bus before midnight, but can after midnight. This makes no sense.
They would do better to scrap the Night Bus routes and start again, by using those resources to convert the busiest daytime routes into 24-hour routes. This could include both buses and trams – since Night Tram only covers 6 of the 24 routes that run during daytime.
Even running as nighttime variations of existing daytime routes would be better than the current situation.
For instance, route 966 is similar to daytime route 207 (one of the busiest bus routes), but diverts along Tram 48 (which does not have Night Tram service) for some of the distance, and terminates at Box Hill at the outer end. So call it 207, or even 207a or N207 so that people know it’s basically the same route.
And if service coverage is absolutely needed to areas which are barely getting any passengers, maybe other cheaper options can be examined, such as on-demand buses or carefully targeted taxi/Uber subsidies.
With so much pressure elsewhere on the public transport network, including on buses, resources have to be carefully allocated. There’s no point running buses that nobody uses.
Some notes on the data as provided:
Any transcription errors are entirely my own fault
The data set included all Melbourne bus routes, with boarding data provided for 2016 and 2017. (I’ll look at non-Night Bus routes in a later post.)
It was broken up by weekday/Saturday/Sunday. In the Night Bus context, this appears to mean before 3am Saturday; Saturday 3am to Sunday 3am; and Sunday after 3am – this is complicated, which is why I’ve used total numbers for the whole weekend.
A few numbers appeared in the 2016 data for old Nightrider routes. This might be because it was by financial year. I’ve concentrated on the 2017 data, which only shows the Night Bus routes.
It is, of course, possible that some quiet routes have seen patronage growth since 2017. But I wouldn’t bet on it.
Some services only run part of the route. This is one reason I avoided trying to measure boardings per service kilometre, which is sometimes used to evaluate bus service performance.
Suburban hourly Night Buses are timed to meet outbound trains. But some Night Bus stops are located too far from “connecting” stations to provide a seamless connection.
What happens when Night Trains are replaced by buses for planned works? Well here’s an example: outbound Craigieburn Night Trains normally reach Broadmeadows at 55 past the hour, and the 953 bus departs five minutes later. But this weekend it’s bus replacements – arriving at 12 past the hour. The “connecting” 953 schedule hasn’t been changed. And planned works are not a rare thing at the moment.
Thanks to the Victorian Greens for FOIing this data, and to The Age’s Timna Jacks for passing this it on.
Aircraft is not unique in this regard. No suburban railway station has enough car parking to meet demand. It’s basically impossible to achieve. It’s extraordinarily expensive, and doesn’t scale up.
If someone walks or cycles to the station instead of driving, is that actually a bad outcome?
“The footpath’s broken, it’s very narrow, the railings either side of the footpath are inadequate and inappropriate.
“I lock my bike to the fence … there’s just no bike security.
All of these could be fixed without just giving up and expanding the car park at huge cost, so it fills up a few minutes later each morning, and generates more car traffic into the precinct.
Unfortunately, it looks like the nearby level crossing removal won’t provide upgrades to the station either way.
Bike cages? Or something else?
In Europe and Asia, you see huge numbers of bicycles parked at railway stations. Could we get the same outcome here?
(The image above is from Singapore; the image at the top of the post is from Bruges, Belgium.)
I’m not sure a cage is necessarily much more secure than locking a bike to a fence. Almost anybody can get a bike cage card key. And bike cages are pretty expensive to install en masse – around $100,000 for a standard cage (fitting 26 bikes). That’s a lot cheaper than car parking, but still quite pricey.
I’ve been reliably informed that bike theft can be a problem, but it almost never happens if a D-lock is used – because D-locks can’t be cut through with bolt cutters.
(Angle grinders are a different story. This is why many people use a cheap bike to park at the station, not an expensive one that may attract thieves.)
How to lock up your bike securely - YouTube
The Aircraft commuter’s situation is not unique. Many people would like to drive to the station. They’ll never be able to do so, because providing a car spot for all of them is completely impractical.
Station car parks are often very prominent, usually taking up more space than the station itself, but that’s because cars take up so much space. The statistics show that most people don’t drive to the station. Not even in Zone 2.
Most people walk, cycle, or catch a bus or tram to the station because it’s the best (or least worst) option for them. Given costs of providing station parking make it impractical on a large scale, it’s good that most people can find another way.
But the article is right – bicycle parking could be a lot better than it is.
The next station out from Aircraft is Williams Landing, which has 666 car park spaces  – also full early each morning.
It turns out that a lot of people are cycling to Williams Landing.
When I took a look one weekday afternoon, I found the bike cage was packed full of bikes.
…and nearby, this fence had a long row of bikes along it.
This is good. The more people cycling, the better.
So what’s the best way to encourage even more people to cycle?
Better bike lanes and paths will help, but if every fence already has a bike chained to it, what about more station bike parking, on a large scale?
If more Parkiteer bike cages are expensive, are there cheaper options?
Turns out the Department of Transport and Monash University have been working on something: The Wheelie.
“The Wheelie” A bike parking device (BPD) co-developed by Transport for Victoria and the Mobility Design Lab @MonashUni.
It’s a simple metal structure that is compact – designed to fit into an area the size of a parking space – and can cater for up to nine bikes.
It looks quite ingenious, and could help cater for a lot more bike parking around stations as well as places like university campuses.
I’m told the cost is under $1000 to manufacture it, plus some installation costs – kept low by not needing excavation (which in turn can impact underground services) – it’s just anchored to a block of concrete. Unsophisticated, but effective. And the design is Creative Commons, so anybody can make and deploy them.
The key is to target installation sites carefully: probably better at staffed stations, in view of CCTV, in a well-lit spot, and preferably undercover.
Cycling’s not for everyone. (I don’t currently have a bike.) And connecting buses should be better.
But if this new design provides a cheap affordable way to get more people to railway stations without them having to drive and add to local congestion, then that’s a win for everybody – even those who do have to drive.
I could moan on about Friday night’s experience with the replacement buses (a combination of poor night-time service provision and inaccurate passenger information) but you can read about that on Twitter, so instead let’s look at Monday night’s south eastern train problems.
It often takes multiple factors to result in a real mess.
So it was on Monday.
The Frankston and Cranbourne/Pakenham lines were closed for scheduled works, replaced by buses between the City and Caulfield
In the past, they would have been able to run trains from the City out as far as at least Elsternwick.
If this had been possible, it would have had numerous benefits.
At least half the passengers could still catch a train to their destination
Far fewer passengers would need to be moved by the limited buses available
Buses wouldn’t have got stuck in inner-city traffic
Bus round trips would have been quicker, allowing them to move more passengers more quickly
Could they have run trains as far as Brighton Beach? It’s not clear. Some AM peak trains originate there, but sources say trains can only terminate on platform 1, which is not normally used, and is fenced off. This in turn would require the train to be emptied at Middle Brighton, where there are no staff – and this is not a great location to change large numbers of people onto bus replacements.
So what was the problem at Elsternwick?
Until recently, terminating trains at Elsternwick for planned works or unplanned incidents was a common occurrence.
We have a turning point at Elsternwick, but it’s a manual turning point, it requires people to go out under safeworking orders. It’s something that you can’t activate on the spur of the moment. … It’s an old-fashioned manual set of points. That introduces a number of risks for people working in that environment. … It requires people to be working on a live railway, and when you do that without going through a safe and effective planned process, mistakes get made, and things get a lot worse.
Jeroen Weimar, 16/4/2019 on ABC Radio Melbourne (46 minute mark)
So is it really more difficult to get the right staff on-site at Elsternwick to go through the process, or to conjure up hundreds of buses to move thousands of train passengers, knowing they’ll never cope with demand?
In light of Monday’s mess, are they going to fix it? It turns out, yes. Jeroen Weimar again:
There’s some work that we’re doing next month at that location in Elsternwick, so there’s an upgrade program in place, which … will replace and update that set of points into an automated system so that we can turn around trains…
Jeroen Weimar, 16/4/2019 on ABC Radio Melbourne (48 minute mark)
I doubt this upgrade is directly in response to Monday, but rather with the knowledge that during May and June, they’re going to close the Sandringham line for more metro tunnel works.
The upgrade is good news. It makes sense to make Elsternwick capable again of terminating trains.
Obviously the less of the line gets closed, the less impact and the easier it is to manage.
How many points?
What of the broader network?
In recent years, Metro have been removing points around the network, on the basis that less complicated track layouts result in fewer locations where trains need to slow down, and also mean fewer infrastructure faults.
This has some merit, but some level of flexibility is needed. (Recent changes at Caulfield mean trains from Dandenong can only terminate on platform 3, for instance. This has contributed to long delays in peak during bus replacements.)
Unfortunately, accidents will happen. An accident near one end of the line shouldn’t close the entire line – especially at the City end.
Ultimately, when incidents or planned closures take place, the infrastructure and the broader network needs to be able to cope.
This is a bus stop on Jasper Road in Bentleigh, opposite Our Lady of the Sacred Heart College.
Normally it’s used by local bus route 701. It’s also used when there are planned rail replacement buses running, as the designated stop for Patterson station. These ran this weekend just gone, and will run again over the coming Easter long weekend.
Back in 2006, under a government plan called Meeting Our Transport Challenges, route 701 was one of the first to get extended hours, with services until about 9:30pm, and the introduction of a Sunday service – only hourly, but better than nothing.
When the rail replacement buses run, they are scheduled until about 1am outbound, with services all night on weekends.
Here’s the bus zone for this stop:
These hours apply on both sides of the road.
Not only can someone park their car in the bus stops after 7:30pm, two hours before the last bus, but they can also park here all day on Sunday and on public holidays, blocking buses.
This could make it near impossible for someone with mobility difficulties to board or alight the bus.
Most other stops in the area have been changed to full time bus zones. It’s only this one (one of few that actually gets 24-hour buses during rail replacements) that hasn’t been updated.
Some local stops have just a bus stop sign – no specific bus zone is marked. This is actually better than having a part time bus zone – regulation 195 prohibits stopping/parking there, regardless of the time (though plenty of people don’t understand this rule).
I’m not even sure whose responsibility it is to update the signs to reflect bus timetables. In this case it’s not the council; it’s a Vicroads-managed road.
Over the years I’ve raised this multiple times with various people via back channels, but today I’ve tried putting it into Vicroads directly. Will see what happens.
But I’m amazed it’s gone unnoticed for more than 12 years. And I’m wondering how many more there are like this?