There are many ways to measure the immense improvement in standard of living enjoyed by western countries over the millennia (although most especially over the last two hundred years). I think an important indicator – with implications for city managers – is the greater demand for physical privacy that comes with rising incomes.
Much attention is given to how much better off we are today in terms of basics like food, clothing, energy and shelter than our ancestors were. But there are many other measures. For example, in The rational optimist, Matt Ridley discusses the spectacular increase in the availability of time.
Part of the improvement came from dramatic reductions in the time taken – and hence the cost – of making things. Part also came from access to artificial light. He provides a fascinating example of how much the cost of manufacturing artificial light has fallen: this is how many lumen-hours (lm-hr) of artificial light could be obtained from an hour’s work at the average wage of the day:
1750BC: 24 lm-hr, sesame oil lamp
1800: 186 lm-hr, tallow lamp
1880: 4,400 lm-hr, kerosene lamp
1950: 531,000 lm-hr, incandescent light bulb
2008: 8,400,000 lm-hr, compact fluoro
If they haven’t already, LEDs will undoubtedly increase the amount of light an hour’s work buys by another order of magnitude. Modern lighting is also cleaner than the comparatively primitive methods widely used even a hundred years ago. It’s less of a fire hazard, doesn’t flicker and doesn’t create smoke within the premises (a leading cause of death in times past).
Although it isn’t discussed by Ridley, another aspect of the rise in living standards that should be of particular interest to anyone interested in cities is the increase in the demand for privacy and personal control.
With rising incomes, households who once shared a one-roomed hovel now have individual bedrooms. Twenty somethings who used to live in share houses a generation ago now live by themselves in studio or one bedroom apartments. Where once hotels and boarding houses had shared facilities, now even the most run-down motel offers a private bathroom and toilet. People who can afford it have babies or convalesce in private hospital rooms, not communal wards.
And look at transport. Around 90% of all travel in a city like Melbourne is by private car, much of it with only the driver present. Those who can afford it take taxis, fly in chartered or private jets or, if there’s no alternative to sharing, cocoon themselves in first class cabins on planes and ships.
Compared to a train, tram or bus, cars offer a lot of privacy and control: they’re available on-demand, go directly to the driver’s destination, are in most cases considerably faster, and are only shared by invitation. Car ownership usually costs more in terms of cash outlays than public transport, but people with a high standard of living are prepared to pay the price.
The increased demand for privacy and personal control might seem at odds with the growth of cities. People have been drawn to cities over the last 200 years on an unprecedented scale, so there’s no doubt they want to be closer to each other than ever. Indeed, a key reason why incomes have increased spectacularly is precisely because of the greater proximity of people.
But it’s clear they also want more privacy. Technology is one reason they’ve been able to live cheek-by-jowl and still increase their autonomy. Yet there are limits. Cars aren’t a very effective solution in dense environments. In response, cities have generally evolved by decentralising population, services and jobs at low densities, enabling residents to maintain their car-oriented lifestyle.
But cars have other downsides like pollution, carbon emissions, traffic accidents and noise. Moreover, a significant proportion of people now want to be close to key nodes, like the CBD and beaches – that requires density, the enemy of cars.
I think it’s very important that policy-makers, particularly those involved with public transport, understand and acknowledge the desire of contemporary travellers for privacy and personal control. Of course there’re many other improvements that need to be made to Melbourne’s public transport system, but this perspective suggests that, for example, safety, security and comfort are key values for existing and prospective public transport users. Read the rest of this entry »
The amazing thing about this footage is that it was filmed only yesterday at Montmorency on the Hurstbridge rail line. The truly shocking thing is apparently this section of track was upgraded to concrete sleepers last year.
It was uploaded to Youtube by Rocketboy 1950, who says:
I shot this footage on the Hurstbridge line at Montmorency. It is testament to how safe trains are and how they will handle extraordinarily bad track without going arse over head. This is of course not to say that some of the passengers will be going to see a chiropractor or orthopedic surgeon to have their backs put right after riding the trains through here.
Expertly placed on a curve.
Update: Channel 7 now on to this and ran this story on Friday evening news.
I’ve noted before that only 30% of commuters who work within the Hoddle Grid – i.e. the area bounded by Spring, Flinders, Spencer and La Trobe streets – drive to work. However only a block or two beyond the city rail loop, the share of work trips taken by car increases steeply to 50-60%, and above.
Peter Parker at Melbourne on Transit offers an explanation. Using Metlink, he found a journey from Laverton station to Melbourne Town Hall in the morning peak takes 33 minutes. However if the Laverton traveller is bound for nearby Docklands (Waterfront City), the trip takes an extraordinary 54 minutes. Anyone travelling from Greensborough station to the same two destinations would have to allow an additional 29 minutes to get to Docklands and if travelling from Cheltenham station an extra 30 minutes.
In other words, once a traveller gets off the rail system in the CBD, further travel to near-CBD destinations is very slow. This is in part because the rail loop was not designed primarily to move people around the CBD and in part because trams are slow. Peter explains:
We have trams but unlike some compact European cities we don’t have a dense metro in the job-dense 2-5km core that allows for fast local travel. Instead for the ‘last mile’ we rely on slow surface modes, notably trams and buses, often without their own right of way.
Public transport’s mode share in the vicinity of Waterfront City is just 22%. This is despite the area having a frequent tram service. Given the huge investment in public transport in the city centre, any mode share below 50% is very disappointing, but the figure for Waterfront City is appalling.
I suspect there are two key reasons for the low mode share of near-CBD areas. The first is simply that the cost of driving and parking in these areas is still reasonably low – so workers drive because they can. Perhaps there’s a high proportion of workers in the CBD fringe whose status attracts a “company car”. Perhaps also there are more institutions like hospitals with shift workers who drive off-peak. The second reason is that movement within the city centre by public transport is too slow. That’s partly because the rail loop is not configured well for intra CBD trips and partly because trams are slowed by cars, particularly at intersections.
The CBD is one of those places where I think it’s very hard to justify commuting by car, given the enormous investment in public transport infrastructure and the extremely high accessibility it provides to the rest of the metropolitan area. It’s such a vital asset to the city as a whole and to the State that its amenity should not be despoiled by the noise, fumes and danger of too many cars.
The Melbourne City Council has proposed some worthwhile improvements, such as a maximum speed limit of 40 km/hr in the CBD (although I’d prefer 30 km/hr) and a plan to eliminate cars, taxis and vans from Swanston Street (although I fear the potential for pedestrian/cyclist conflict has not been fully resolved). Read the rest of this entry »
I like the principle underlying Melbourne’s two zone public transport fares system – if you travel further, you pay more. Travel within roughly 11 km of Flinders St Station is a Zone 1 fare and travel within the area beyond that is a Zone 2 fare. Those who travel between zones pay a Zone 1-2 fare. Sensibly, there’s a three station ‘grace’ overlap between zones.
The logic of the tariff is premised on the idea that trips are to the CBD. If you live in Epping (say), you are 19 km from the CBD and in Zone 2, whereas someone living near Bell station in Preston is only 9 km out and is in Zone 1. The standard Two Hour Zone 1 fare is $3.80 and the Zone 2 fare is $2.90. If you cross zones, the fare for the longer distances expected with Zone 1-2 trips is $6.00.
That all sounds good, but inevitably there are anomalies. For example, a traveller boarding a train on the Epping line at Reservoir station can travel through 15 stations to Flinders St for a Zone 1 fare. However anyone boarding at the next station out, Ruthven, must pay a Zone 1-2 fare to travel to Flinders St.
Residents who live near the overlap stations and make short trips face a very high marginal cost. For example, someone boarding at Bell station on the Epping line can only travel 3 stations away from the CBD before incurring a Zone 1-2 fare. Similarly the four station inbound trip from Ruthven station to Bell is a Zone 1-2 fare. The same pattern happens on other lines.
Another anomaly is the cost of Zone 1-2 fares compared to Zone 1 and Zone 2 fares. With so much of the cost of operating a rail service tied up in capital items, it’s hard to see why a Zone 1-2 fare costs 60% more than a Zone 1 fare and over 100% more than a Zone 2 fare. That might possibly make sense for buses but seems a real stretch for trains.
These sorts of anomalies could be seen as unfortunate but inevitable compromises – after all, most travellers are bound for the city centre. However as discussed here, the great bulk of jobs are now in the suburbs, not the CBD. Moreover, most Melburnians live relatively close to their key travel destinations, usually in the same or a contiguous municipality.
We should expect that public transport travellers will increasingly be seeking to make intra-suburban trips via a grid of well coordinated train and bus services. Indeed, many advocate such an approach. A two-part tariff based on distance from the CBD makes less sense in that situation. While the CBD will remain the main market for trains for a considerable time yet, they nevertheless are likely to have a growing role in intra-suburban travel. Policy-makers should be thinking about how to make them work harder in this role. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s bizarre, but much of the contemporary debate about expanding public transport in Melbourne is focussed on building more rail lines to the CBD even though the great bulk of jobs are now in the suburbs. It seems we’re locked in an old way of thinking when the world long ago moved on to doing things in a very different way.
The proposed Rowville, Doncaster and Melbourne Airport rail lines are evidence of our preoccupation with radial train lines. They were key issues during last year’s election campaign and the Government promised to study the feasibility of all three. They all connect to the CBD. No one refers to any of them as, for example, the proposed “Rowville to CBD” rail line – the debate is so CBD-centric that’s taken for granted.
Yet the city centre now has only a fraction of all jobs in the metropolitan area. The traditional CBD – that area bounded by Spring, Flinders, Spencer and La Trobe streets – has just 10% of all jobs in Melbourne, as mentioned here. Even the entire City of Melbourne municipality has only 19% of metropolitan jobs.
But it’s not just jobs (although they’re very important because that’s where rail does best). The vast bulk of travel by Melburnians for non-work purposes – which involves considerably more trips than the journey to work – is also not directed at the city centre. It’s local and over relatively short distances.
One consequence of this ‘radial thinking’ mindset is the popular sentiment that ‘black holes’ in the network, like Doncaster, have to be ‘filled in’ with new rail lines to the CBD. This is despite the likelihood that the justification for a Doncaster-CBD line borders on the farcical. For example, Eddington estimated that only 8,500 workers living in the municipality of Manningham commute to the City of Melbourne, of whom 3,150 already take public transport (and this was before the new DART bus rapid transit system started!).
With 72% of jobs located more than 5 km from the CBD and 50% more than 13 km, it’s surprising that the focus of public transport expansion isn’t on improving services for cross-suburban travel. Why, for example, isn’t there more emphasis on improving suburban orbital services and feeder services to major suburban destinations?
The fact is Melbourne’s radial train system was never intended to deliver workers to suburban jobs. The existing rail lines are the ‘spokes’ in a radial system that’s designed for the high peak loadings generated by the CBD. In contrast, economic activity in Melbourne’s suburbs is quite dispersed – no more than 20% of suburban jobs are in the largest 31 activity centres – so something far more flexible than commuter heavy rail is likely to be required. Read the rest of this entry »
By the time of the economic depression in 1891, Melbourne and Victoria already had an impressive network of railway lines. The last significant addition to the metropolitan rail system – the Glen Waverley line – was built in 1930, just before the Great Depression.
It’s reasonable to ask why, with the threat of climate change and peak oil hanging over us, we can’t replicate the achievements of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and massively expand Melbourne’s rail network. If our forebears of four or five generations ago could do it, why can’t we — with our superior technology — do even better?
I think the answer is that circumstances were vastly different then and much more sympathetic to constructing a network of rail lines. I can’t bring an historian’s eye to this topic but here are some of the broad ways – consider them as hypotheses – in which I think the great rail-building era differed from today.
First, train patronage was very high in that era. Virtually everyone relied on trains to travel any sort of distance. The proportion of the metropolitan population that lived and/or worked in the inner city where rail access was best was much larger than today. Hence there was a real will to build rail lines.
Second, the railways covered their operating costs. All of the first lines built in the 1850s from Melbourne to the suburbs were financed by private money. I don’t know when it happened in Australian cities, but US railways weren’t subsidised directly until after the second world war. If lines are profitable – or at least cover their operating costs – getting funding for expansion of networks and services is much easier.
Third, competition was limited. Investors in rail, whether private or public, had to compete with horses and in some localities with trams, but they had nothing like the competition that contemporary rail lines get from cars. The widespread market penetration of cars, especially after world war two, strangled the demand for train travel in Melbourne, reducing it’s share of motorised travel to around 10%.
Fourth, many Melbourne train lines also extended beyond the metropolitan boundary to country areas and interstate. They did double duty, carrying not only suburban commuters but also country freight and passengers. As this was an era when a much higher proportion of the nation’s population lived in the country, it would have made the case for building new lines right into the heart of Melbourne considerably stronger. Of course, country trains didn’t have to compete against trucks or planes, either. Read the rest of this entry »
Now that the dust has settled, there seems to be a solid consensus in many quarters that public transport was the key factor in the demise of the Brumby Government. There’s no doubt it was important, but perhaps it wasn’t as significant as assumed.
The most frequently cited example involves the loss of four seats in particular – Bentleigh, Mordialloc, Carrum and Frankston – which neatly follow the path of the Frankston rail line. See the first chart (dark blue seats were won by the Coalition from Labor).
Frankston is the least punctual line in Melbourne, with only 71.2% of trains running on time (i.e. within 5 minutes of the scheduled time) over the 12 months to September, with a low of 62.6% in May. In fact these appalling statistics gild the lily – conditions on all lines are far worse than the official figures indicate.
As I pointed out back in July, train punctuality is measured over a 24 hour period, whereas the great bulk of passengers travel in the peak. Most delays occur in the peak because the headway between trains is considerably shorter than in the off peak and there is therefore much less margin for error.
Thus the way punctuality is measured does not describe accurately the experience of most passengers because it measures the proportion of trains delayed, not the proportion of passengers delayed. Peak period punctuality on the Frankston line in May must have been truly shocking. It should consequently surprise no one that trains were a serious issue in these electorates.
Yet Labor did not lose any electorates north of the Yarra even though, for example, punctuality averaged only 78.4% on the Werribee line over the last year and fell as low as 70.4% in March. Nor did Labor lose any electorates on the Pakenham line which, with a 12 month on-time average of just 72.5% and a low point of 63% in March, rivals the Frankston line for poor punctuality. Read the rest of this entry »
Personal safety on trains is a big election issue. Both major parties have promised to increase transit police numbers and to return more staff to stations.
This is not a beat up. Fear about personal safety – whether real or imagined – could seriously undermine usage of Melbourne’s trains, especially in off-peak periods. There’s a danger that negative perceptions will reach a ‘tipping point’ and assume epidemic proportions.
If the money proposed to be spent on building and operating a Doncaster rail line were instead devoted to improving security on the entire train system, I’ve little doubt it would give a much bigger pay-off in terms of replacing car trips with train.
But that highlights the other big issue with security – it adds significantly to the cost of running the train system.
The Government has promised an extra 100 transit police and 180 staff to provide a “presence” at all metropolitan stations. The Opposition is promising two armed police protective services officers on every one of Melbourne’s 200 plus stations after 6pm.
The Auditor General says there isn’t really a problem – passengers are apparently over-reacting. The number of crimes on the rail system remained constant over the last five years even though patronage grew 50%. Crime fell from 45 offences per million boardings in 2005-06 to 33 in 2008-09.
Yet in spite of these favourable numbers, perceptions of personal safety on trains and at stations have deteriorated over the same period. The proportion who rated the rail system as safe declined from 55% in 2005-06 to 51% in 2008-09. In contrast, perceptions of personal safety on buses were constant at around 71% over the period.
Train users might be delusional or irrational, but I doubt it. Read the rest of this entry »
A new report on the safety of Melbourne’s trains says they are getting safer. Reported offences fell from 45 per million passenger boardings in 2005-06 to 33 in 2008-09. That’s a phenomenal 27% reduction.
The report, titled Personal Safety and Security on the Metropolitan Train System, was prepared by the Victorian Auditor General and released publicly on 9 June 2010, shortly after a mob attacked a train at McKinnon station.
While the statistics look good, the report also says that passenger’s perceptions of safety on trains nevertheless got worse over the same period and are significantly lower than for trams and buses. Passengers feel reasonably safe during daylight hours but markedly less safe at night, not only in trains but also on stations and in car parks.
An initial observation is that 33 offences per million boardings is actually not that good. For example, crime is much lower on the New York City subway (see chart -shows absolute numbers), which carries ten million passengers on an average work day. The Boston rail system carries 350 million passengers per year with only 2.2 crimes per million boardings.
But what I want to look at is the puzzling matter of why passengers feel less safe on Melbourne’s trains even though crime is apparently falling.
Disappointingly, the Auditor General’s report doesn’t seek to explain why they are out of kilter. The implication seems to be that passenger’s perceptions are irrational and shaped by the media. Read the rest of this entry »
Actually they’re probably much less punctual than you think, no matter which major city you live in.
Consider the performance of Metro Trains, the new private operator of Melbourne’s metropolitan trains. Back in May, only 82.7% of services operated by Metro Trains ran on time.
This is well below the contracted 88% monthly punctuality target below which Metro is obliged to pay compensation. And it’s positively woeful compared to the 96% punctuality achieved by New York City’s commuter rail system last year.
The circumstances in May were probably unusual, but the standard 88% is hardly a high hurdle. Yet from a commuter’s perspective, it’s actually worse than this figure suggests. Read the rest of this entry »
I hope I’m proven wrong but I can’t help feeling Melbourne Bicycle Share is much more about political spin than about transport.
The PR material indicates the scheme is pitched at short-distance and short-duration travellers “running an errand at lunch or going across town for a meeting or lecture”. It extends “your public transport options and makes the CBD more accessible than ever before”.
The big question to my mind is what exactly is the need that this scheme is filling? Or more precisely, what is the justification for the Government subsidy it requires?
The very idea of a CBD is that it is walkable and if the trip’s too far then travellers take public transport. In fact public transport in Melbourne’s CBD, where we have the choice of the city rail loop and a dense tram system, is pretty good by world standards. Quite simply, the CBD doesn’t need share bicycles for transport.
I can’t see a lot of sense, either, in spending public money to take off-peak passengers away from public transport – that’s the very time when the system has spare capacity and should earn extra revenue with minimal extra cost. And why subsidise walkers to ride instead?
I’m not in any event confident that Melbourne Bicycle Share is even going to work. Read the rest of this entry »