Did poor public transport give Baillieu the election?

Seats won by Coalition (dark blue)

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 »


Are Melbourne’s trains really dangerous?

"You are not alone" - discouraging suicide in Belgrade (click)

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 »


Are Melbourne’s trains really getting safer?

Offences on NYC's subway have fallen

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 »


How punctual are our city trains?

Waitin' on a train

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 »


Is Melbourne Bicycle Share all spin?

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 »