Skipping all stations

Metro’s strategy of “altered” services should be applauded as the stroke of sheer strategic genius that it is. And the lift in performance bonuses isn’t the half of it. The possibilities for efficiency enhancement are nearly without limit. Think about it. Skip one station .. two .. three .. twelve, and the resultant timetable Nirvana will have even Thomas and the Fat Controller grinning.

Not only that, but crowded carriages will be a thing of the past too. With such reduced probability of the train stopping at any given station on the network, fewer people will gather on platforms. That means fewer complaints about Myki … and fewer police needed at Richmond Station on Grand Final Day. Some services could even finish up early, which would logically lift bonuses exponentially.

Of course, road rage could increase somewhat. But hey, that’s a different department …

Trying to look annoyed

Until recently I thought the hardest thing about being snapped (by a camera) was putting on a smile that actually lasted, looked sublime, didn’t make me look a dork, and ticked all the above boxes while looking “natural” (whatever that is). But now I know differently. Yesterday I spent about 30 minutes at the local Werribee Train Station, trying to look annoyed to the satisfaction of a local newspaper photographer and her (future) consumers. At least with smiling, I do actually do it now and then, like those times when no one but me got my joke. So my face is accustomed to the required muscular contortions, even if my teeth aren’t quite Hollywood standard. However looking annoyed, facially and staturely (made up word, there) and doing so for 30 minutes, in numerous poses, on a (stationary) train, off the train, in front of the slowly moving train, and all to the entertainment of bemused onlookers … ’twas nothing if not challenging.

Fellow Wyndhamites will shortly be treated to the spectacle of my severely misshapen face, torso and spindly legs somewhere in the vicinity of an article in one of our local rags about the delights of public transport in our fair city. (Just watch the “Wyndham Weekly”, formerly “the Banner”). Please don’t let your children or grandchildren see it, however. Anyone looking as mad as I apparently succeeded in doing on this occasion would produce nightmares aplenty, I’m sure.

What was that you asked? …. Oh, you’re wondering as to the cause of my time in the sun? Well it all started the day I contributed to a smartphone-based survey of travelling on Melbourne trains during peak hour. You know, the great waltz of the sweating sardines … One thing led to another, climaxing with a recent e-mail submission to a local journo. It went like this:-

Hi Grant,

Photos at train stations are fine, if desired.

My main passions on the subject are more directly about local buses, but rail infrastructure is a major feature in the equation. I’ll raise a smaller (relatively) issue first, followed by a more ‘macro’ one.

Bus service

Until sometime in the past maybe 2 years, our local bus route (443) ran services 40 minutes apart, meaning a bus for every second train. We all thought that was lousy and couldn’t imagine it getting any worse. Even with the services at that level, we generally needed to drive our children to the station for their train journeys to school, despite the presence of a bus stop a few hundred metres away at the end of our street.

Now the bus services are hourly, whilst train services have actually increased (during peak). So you might strike it lucky if the train you want happens to connect to a bus, but usually not.

Then you add to the mix the low level of patronage on the bus service, which I’m sure is directly linked to its infrequency. i.e. you can’t factor the buses into your commuting routines or strategies, so the few buses that come are an irrelevance, so no one rides on them. And partly because so few people catch the buses, we frequently have buses running early (yes, that’s right). I’m told this happens due to the drivers not noticing that they’ve reached point ‘X’ on the route 2 minutes ahead of schedule. That presumably happens because the scheduling has been calculated on the assumption of stopping ‘Y’ times. But with so few patrons to pick up or let off, there are hardly any stops made. So then the few intending passengers miss their bus as it sails past the stop in the distance, 2 minutes ahead of schedule.

So the end result: our local bus route is functionally irrelevant to our lives and routines, so may as well not run at all. (And btw – we live 5 minutes from the Werribee train station.) So whenever we or any of our neighbours catch a train (our adult children do so most week days for work; my wife and I do so occasionally), we have no option but to drive … which leads to my second point:

Rail commuter parking

With no effective / reliable bus service, commuters in our neighbourhood have to drive themselves to catch a train. But where do they park? Well if they’re an early bird, then no worries – they park in the train station carpark. But the carpark, despite being one of the biggest station carparks I’m aware of anywhere, is full by about 7:30am. Any one of the hundreds (more?) wanting a train after that has to fight for a kerbside parking space in one of the residential streets around. We’ve watched over the past few years as parked cars have taken over suburbia like a hungry and growing metallic blob emanating out from the station and local CBD. Our kids used to park in a street a minute’s walk from the station carpark, which is on the opposite side of both the station and the CBD from the side we live in. But that was before the local residents, quite understandably, rose up in arms about their constantly congested street. So the council installed 2 hour parking signs, meaning the day-long commuters have to park in other streets further out.

So our kids (and their peer hordes) now park in streets this side of both the station and the CBD. That’s where I also park if needing a train. I have long legs and a swift walk, and can get to the station from my car in maybe 5 minutes (depending on traffic at the two sets of pedestrian lights in between). I reckon it would take many people closer to 10 minutes. With Wyndham’s rate of growth, it can only be a matter of time before large swathes of our neighbourhood have become an extension of the station carpark, due to a combination of more cars needing to be parked and more streets out from the CBD getting parking signs.

In short – it’s clear to me that some combination of multi-level parking at the train station and a major funding increase for local bus services is essential to prevent inner Werribee from becoming a congestion nightmare in the next decade. But I doubt that any such investment is even on the state government’s radar.

Train carriage crowding

All of that, of course is before one even gets to the station to catch a crowded train. I have less personal testimony on the train carriages themselves. But I can comment from a handful of experiences where I’ve found myself on an evening peak train returning to Werribee from the city. I’m likely to start my journey at Flinders Street or Southern Cross, meaning I’ll usually get a seat. But I’ve observed fellow travellers in my own carriage, also bound for Werribee, actually standing sometimes right through as far as Hoppers Crossing (the last station before Werribee, which is the end of the line).

Ticket to ride, and ride, and ride, and ….

Those folks who say Melbourne’s Skybus isn’t good value just haven’t considered the technology. Granted the tickets have barcodes. But from my experience yesterday, the limited barcode scanning capacities of the nineteenth century holepunch used on my ticket offer excellent value for minimum enterprise.

A grinch for New Year!

Raining on others’ parades is not normally my style. But the $256,000 budget for the fireworks over the ‘G rates at least a casual question. Impressive? Spine-tingling? Jaw-dropping? City exalting? Undoubtedly, and much more.

But just so we can say “the biggest ever”? The same was trumpeted last year. So are we to expect a still grander pyrotechnic largesse for 2012? And that’s not to mention the legendary rivalry with the harbour city to our north. Heaven forbid that their’s might be more impressive, wowing and glorifying than ours! (Even if they do have the bridge, and a seven-figure budget.)

And if the show-me-yours-and-I’ll-raise-you passion really takes hold, what then? Are the citizenries of the two state capitals now unwitting participants in a perpetual Olympics-style bidding war for an annual 30 minutes’ luminescent supremacy?

Let’s just hope the trains can get us home.

Very touching

There’s a lot to like about Myki, and many travellers who’ve been willing to persevere with some of its early foibles have been rewarded with a (mostly) functional and certainly convenient tool. However for public confidence, a thorough review by a new incoming government is essential.

If I were to name one feature most critical to Myki’s longterm viability, it would be the touch-off. Touching on is rarely a problem; touching off is another matter. Two practical examples will suffice …

  • Tram confusion: Travellers must remember to touch off on trains and buses but not on trams – unless travelling entirely in Zone 2 (requiring intimate knowledge of zone boundaries);
  • Sports crush: Picture the scene of mayhem at Richmond station on the day of a major fixture at the ‘G in sport-obsessed Melbourne. A surging mass of adrenalin-pumped fans, one exit tunnel, ten Myki readers if that … (Dare I say more?)


Metro’s Twitter feed must be one of the least digestible reads in Melbourne. I literally cannot recall a day since subscribing when there hasn’t been at least 2 or 3 tweets about delays on one or more train lines, usually due to a failure in some component of the transport network’s worn out infrastructure. Now we’ve the had the “morning from (transport) hell”, and if anyone’s surprised it won’t be the longsuffering commuters who subscribe to transport updates.

Now would be a very good time for Messrs Brumby and Pakula to come clean. Please, no more spin, fudging or blame shifting. Let’s have some straightforward transparent honesty. Something like “We admit that we and our predecessors, left and right, have failed to invest in public transport. It won’t be a quick fix, but if elected … ” Who knows, it might even win some votes on shock value.

Pardon our regress

If Metro must rewrite their contract, I’m happy to serve as an English language consultant. Fortunately I won’t be requiring public transport during evenings next week. A Metro notice in The Age (29/4), oddly headed “progress”, informs me as follows:

“Due to track improvement works, buses will replace train services between Newport and Laverton stations after 7:30pm … [next week]. Train services will run express between Newport and Laverton, and stop all stations to Werribee.”
Shank’s pony may be a little slower, but at least you’d know what to expect.

Myki music

The Comedy Festival could hardly be more timely. With a little creativity, even the Brumby government could still get Melbourne commuters chuckling .. and maybe even voting too.

I propose “Myki – The Musical”. To save a quid state cabinet members could sing the roles themselves. They’ve been so off key lately, no one would notice the mistakes. And at least we’d be entertained. Here are some seed thoughts to get things moving:
• Opening scene: John Brumby attempting to touch on, only to find his Myki account $350m in the red.
• enter Steve Bracks (guest appearance), Octopus card in one hand, Oyster card in the other, singing “We did it our way”.
• backdrop: a series of ghostly black and white video clips of Peter Batchelor, Lynne Kosky, Jean Ker Walsh and Claus Jensen (carrying a bulging money bag) – all played in an endless loop.
• closing scene: Martin Pakula tries to touch off, tries again, gives up, and uses a Metcard.

The show could be performed live at Fed Square, and beamed to screens on station platforms. A gold coin donation from every frustrated traveller should see Myki in the black. After the show we all have a good laugh. Then the premier buys drinks and brings back the connies.