Category Archives: Transport

Backward steps.

Myki is the Victorian government’s answer to NSW’s T-Card; an expensive white-elephant, highly likely to end up on the scrap-heap and with a cringe-inducing name that presumably marked the high-point of the career of some pony-tailed marketroid.

Myki is supposed to make the public transport user’s life easier, by being a contactless smartcard with the ability to always calculate the lowest possible fare for any given journey (I imagine whoever came up with this line was turning a blind eye to the likely cost of $15-$20 per user for the privilege of being able to hold the card itself).

Unfortunately, Myki’s mode of operation is going to make travelling quite inconvenient. If it ever passes its trial (conveniently chosen to be performed in Geelong, where they only have one bus, whose sole purpose is to transport workers between the Ford factory and anywhere-but-Geelong), travellers will not only have to validate their ticket when starting a journey, they will have to “tag off” when they complete it, or they will be charged a higher fare. Brisbane’s Go-card system (what is it with these marketing people?), which started not all that long ago, operates in a similar way and has resulted in an absolute killing for the government’s annual revenue.

Ultimately, the part that annoys me most about this is the social engineering of commuters; forcing users to adapt themselves to the system, rather than making the system fit them. If they have a ticket that is already paid for and valid for a period of time, then they just want to get on a frigging tram and sit down, preferably a long way away from the derro inhaling solvents on the back steps.

And when they get to their destination, they want to get off. Quickly, and easily, without being stuck behind the old dear who has lost her ticket somewhere in the bottom of her handbag, probably underneath that pile of used tissues that she’s pulling out right now.

Validating tickets at every turn makes that a pain. And if the government isn’t willing to put conductors back on trams, or staff back in railway stations, then no amount of money spent on technology is going to halt fare-evasion in Melbourne. Those people who don’t want to pay will continue to play gestapo-lotto with the roving thugs ticket inspectors and probably come out ahead.

Furthermore, one of my favourite bloggers, Daniel Bowen (who just happens to be the President of the Public Transport Users Association in Victoria) has noted that transitioning towards Myki is also going to herald another retrograde step. Melbourne’s weekly, monthly and yearly tickets have long had a nice lurk in that they are valid in all zones over the weekend. From January 1st, 2009, this feature will be gone.

I can’t see this doing anything to improve Melbourne’s weekend traffic congestion which, at least from my admittedly non-participatory point-of-view, appears to be worse than it is on weekdays and doesn’t even ease up in the middle of the day (at this point, insert standard complaint about soccer mums, four-wheel drives and private school Saturday sport. Make the bloody kid walk to his soccer match, Mrs Robertson-Smythe).

Lynne Kosky, expect a piece of my mind in your mailbox very soon.

Screen-scraping Melbourne’s TramTracker information.

Melbourne’s tram operator, Yarra Trams, provides a web and sms system called TramTracker, that can tell you the time of the next tram that will arrive at any given stop, using a combination of real-time information and scheduled timetables. It uses the same system that drives the passenger information displays that can be seen around inner-city tram stops.

The web-service is pretty nasty, however. It doesn’t render very well for me using Galeon, and worse, it doesn’t keep any state information, so you have to keep retyping the tram-stop code every time you want to look up the information on your tram. And having to launch a web-browser to just look up the time of the next tram is annoying; it would be nicer to have either a command line interface, or perhaps even a small application running in a docked window.

It also assumes that you only wish to catch a tram from one stop; if, like me, you’re within walking distance of two or more different tram lines that can take you to a particular destination, then you have to do multiple lookups, which is a waste of time.

So, with this in mind, I pulled out Wireshark and had a look at the HTTP traffic that was being passed when making a request to the service. The following was the most interesting part:

%252C%2520Culture%253Dneutral%252C%2520PublicKeyToken%25 [blah blah blah…]
&__VIEWSTATE= [blah blah blah…]

The number 1919 was the tramstop code that I’d entered. So I quickly threw together a small web form, with hidden variables txtTrackerID, ddlRouteNo and btnPrediction, which sent a request to the tramtracker interface, but unfortunately this wasn’t enough and it kept returning to the start page.

After a bit of trial and error, I found that it also needed to be passed these variables: tkScriptManager, __EVENTTARGET, __EVENTARGUMENT, __LASTFOCUS and __VIEWSTATE. Fortunately it didn’t need any of the long-winded variables with public key tokens in them.

I was rather happy to find that the output from the service was XHTML, however this feeling soon dissipated when I discovered that whoever wrote this clearly didn’t have a clue that XML would only work if well-formed and that they hadn’t closed off any of their br or img tags. Sigh, so many useless “web programmers” out there, so few jail sentences. This ruled out using XML::Simple to parse it, and I had to settle for kludging it with HTML::TableExtract.

The upshot of all this is the NextTram perl script, which will return the times of the next trams arriving at multiple tram stops, sorted by time:

$ ./nexttram 1419 1259 1216
1:Sth Melb Beach:0
19:Flinders St City:6
55:Domain Interchange:10
1:Sth Melb Beach:13
19:Flinders St City:18
55:Domain Interchange:26
19:Flinders St City:31
55:Domain Interchange:39

While I realise that it has a limited potential audience (Linux/Unix users in inner Melbourne suburbs who actually care about what times trams run, ie, probably just me), I’ve released it under the GPL in the hope that it might go onto bigger and better things. Of course, it will probably just break next time Yarra Trams upgrades their website…

What’s wrong with Melbourne’s public transport (part 1A)

I hadn’t planned on writing the second installment of this series just yet, but I’ve just spotted this:

MORE than $10 billion will be spent on infrastructure – including $2 billion rebuilding the state’s public transport by electrifying the city’s rail network, extending tram lines and buying new buses – in one of the biggest shake-ups contained in any State Budget.

The 10-year, $2 billion transport program outlined in Treasurer Kevin Foley’s seventh Budget will deliver 50 new electric trains, 58 converted electric trains, 15 hybrid tram/trains which can use both lines and 80 additional buses.

Where? Not Melbourne. Rather, it’s Adelaide, the capital of a state which – only a couple of years ago – was considered an economic basket case. Of course, there’s no doubt that the work needs to be done; Adelaide easily has the worst metropolitan rail system in the country. During the 2004 conference, I took a short trip about four stations north along the Gawler line at about 7pm, and then was stuck there for almost an hour waiting for a return train. Frequencies that bad, even at night, simply aren’t going to get people out of their cars.

Kudos to the South Australian government, showing Victoria’s do-nothing-but-build-roads-and-sports-stadiums government just how infrastructure spending should be handled.

What’s wrong with Melbourne’s public transport (Part 1): Trains

Ok, enough. I am utterly over the whinging about petrol prices. Cutting tax on petrol is not going to make it cheaper, because it will merely encourage lazy people to use more of it, which will push up the price further.

And despite Rudd giving up on it all, there is one sure fire thing that would work: stop using it. How? Invest in public transport. Make it usable.

Melbourne has an efficient, well maintained public transport system with frequent services, which lets passengers travel from A to B quickly and cheaply. (Pause for laughs)

Of course, this is only true if:

  • You live in the inner city
  • You’re trying to commute only to or from the CBD
  • You only go out late on Friday and Saturday nights; and
  • “Quickly” is never actually quantified.

If you’re unfortunate enough to live outside that zone bounded by Coburg to the north, Camberwell to the east, Footscray to the west and St Kilda to the south, then you have my sympathy. I put up with the hour long bus-train-tram commute from Melbourne’s east to Melbourne Uni every weekday for most of the 1990s before I moved to Brunswick and swore I’d never move back.

The really sad part is, my commute at the time was one of the easier ones to make on Melbourne’s system, which is extremely skewed towards radial trips. If I’d have lived in a hellhole like Knox (ok, it’s not quite hell, but Satan has a quarter acre block there) the trip would have at least half an hour added to it, simply because there’s no railway station there.

Some of the problems with Melbourne’s railway system can be neatly summed up by this map:

(See here for Wikipedia’s larger version)

As you can see, there are vast areas of Melbourne, notably the north-east (Doncaster) and the south-east (Rowville, Knoxfield) that aren’t even remotely close to rail at all.

The proposed railway line to Doncaster has now become a running joke; successive governments have reneged on promises to build it, that they made while in opposition. The problem here is one of demographics: Doncaster is a blue-ribbon Liberal party seat. The Labor party won’t build the line, because they know that the residents won’t vote for them anyway; the Liberal party won’t build the line because they know they’re a shoe-in (let’s face it, the people of Doncaster weren’t even discerning enough to kick Kevin Andrews out, federally). Memo voters: make your seat marginal if you want things done.

The result is a hotch-potch of bus routes running from various areas around Doncaster and Templestowe, down the Eastern Freeway towards the city, which then come to a screeching halt in the Hoddle St or Alexandra Parade traffic. The government claims this is sufficient, but won’t even match the bus services with those provided on a regular railway line; you can get from the city to anywhere in Melbourne serviced by a railway line after 10pm on a Sunday night, but you can’t get to Templestowe or Warrandyte, because the buses have stopped long before then. It’s no wonder people drive.

The most ridiculous thing about this is that land was set aside for the railway line. The median strip running down the centre of the Eastern freeway is wide enough to accommodate two sets of railway tracks, and was designed for this purpose. Building this line – at least out to Doncaster Rd, is a no-brainer. From there to Shoppingtown is more difficult, especially given that the land earmarked for building it was sold off back in the 1980s. This problem, however, is certainly not insurmountable.

What is more difficult, however, is ramming home the need to build new railway lines into the thick skull of the Victorian government. They have noted their opposition to building new lines time and time again, preferring to repeat the tired old line that buses are adequate substitutes. Memo John Brumby: no-one wants to travel on buses. They are crowded, uncomfortable, noisy, smelly relics of a bygone era. If anyone wants to really see what’s wrong with relying on buses as a major mode of transport, just go and stand in Sydney’s George St, at almost any time of day. The noise is almost deafening. Then compare it to Flinders St, in Melbourne.

The map above doesn’t show the large growth areas to the north of Epping (South Morang, Mernda, Whittlesea) where there is no rail transport, or to the west, around Melton, where passengers are stuck using infrequent, crowded diesel services. The Labor party promised to start building a line to South Morang in 2001, before they were elected in 1999. This has now been put off until 2021, without adequate explanation. A recent study into Melbourne’s east-west traffic plan made no recommendations whatsoever for electrifying the line out to Melton; rather it advised the construction of yet-another whopping great freeway (and a rail tunnel, the need for which certainly isn’t a top priority).

Aside from the construction of the city-loop in the 1970s, there has been no new railway construction in Melbourne since the Glen Waverley line was finished in 1930, only the occasional electrification of existing lines. What I don’t understand – and maybe some economists within my readership could explain this to me – is why, in the past, Victoria (and Australia, more generally) was able to spend vast sums of money building extensive rail infrastructure, along with some very nice, aesthetically pleasing and very expensive looking railway stations; and yet today, in the middle of a mining boom, the state government can barely be convinced to string up a few wires above a pre-existing railway line and then build the cheapest possible concrete platform alongside it to act as a station, resulting in a construction that looks like it came straight from a Soviet architect’s nightmare:

I’m sorry, I don’t believe that we can’t afford to build these railway extensions. I don’t believe that it would cost almost $350 million to extend the Epping Line to South Morang, especially when the cutting from the previous line is still there. Forward looking cities like Amsterdam are tunnelling an entire friggen metro under the city, and we can’t even build a 5km extension before 2021?

Overreactions: banning bikes on trains and Australian internet censorship.

2007 closed with a couple of government overreactions, which mostly escaped scrutiny because the governments involved announced them at a dead time when no-one really gave a bugger:

  1. The Victorian government has banned bicycles on peak-hour trains in Melbourne, and on any V/line service which originates or terminates in Melbourne during peak hour. Now, I hate bicycles on trains as much as the next person (probably more so, given the number of bikes I had to squeeze past on the crowded Amsterdam metro, while I was living there) – but a complete ban seems overly heavy-handed.

    Wouldn’t it be more sensible to remove a few seats from the end of each train and restrict bicycles to the final carriage? It’s not like our public transport operators haven’t stooped to removing seats in order to cram more passengers aboard, in the past.

  2. The new Federal government is channelling the ghost of the old Federal government, dredging up a discredited internet access policy to appease a small group of Christian fundamentalists, who are too irresponsible to monitor what their own children are doing. ISPs in Australia will be compelled to supply a “clean” internet connection (read: no pr0n, violence or anything “inappropriate”) to all customers, and anyone who does not wish to be subject to this must explicitely opt-out (whereupon their ISP may well decide to charge a fee, and presumably flag the connection for easy targetting by Australia’s security services).

    Our new Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, then went on to show he comes from the same fine pedigree that produced our previous Communication Ministers, by deliberately confusing pornography (which is legally available) with child pornography (which is already, as it should be, illegal):

    “If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree.”

    Apples and Oranges. As mentioned earlier, this is all being done to appease the Fundies First party, because the government may well need their one vote to kill off Workchoices. A saving grace may be that the government hasn’t got the ISPs on side, as Paul Montgomery notes. The previous government announced these plans several times, and never did anything about it; with luck, this will be just more bluster – because if it’s not, then either their plan will be unworkable, or Australian internet connections will become unusable.

Where are the public transport promises?

For an election in which environmental considerations have been claimed to
be high on the agenda of both political parties, there has been extremely
little talk of providing any funding to state governments for improved public transport in the major cities. It’s hard
to imagine any solution to the problem of carbon emissions without also attempting
to remove the large number of cars on our roads that simply do not need to be there.

I had a brief look through the transport policies of both the Labor and Liberal parties in the five biggest
states, and found the following policies all directly involved in building or upgrading roads:


  • Westgate Bridge strengthening (Liberal & Labor)
  • new Frankston Bypass (Liberal)
  • Calder Highway upgrade (Liberal)
  • Geelong Ring road completion (Labor)
  • Western Ring Road upgrade (Labor)

South Australia:

  • South Road upgrade (Liberal & Labor)
  • Southern Expressway duplication (Liberal & Labor)
  • Northern Expressway upgrade (Liberal)
  • new Portwakefield Road (Liberal)
  • Gepps Cross intersection upgrade (Liberal)

New South Wales:

  • Building the F3 to M2/M7 Sydney Orbital Link (Liberal & Labor)
  • Widening the F5 (Liberal)
  • F6 Freeway extension (Liberal)
  • Upgrading the Great Western Highway (Liberal)


  • Brisbane ring road (Liberal)
  • Port of Brisbane motorway upgrade (Liberal)
  • Pacific Motorway upgrade (Liberal & Labor)
  • Toowoomba Second Range crossing (Liberal)
  • Gateway motorway southern link (Labor)
  • Northern Link tunnel (Labor)

Western Australia:

  • Upgrade Tonkin Highway (Liberal & Labor)
  • Upgrade Kwinana Freeway (Liberal & Labor)
  • Duplicate Leach Highway (Liberal & Labor)
  • Upgrade roads around Perth airport (Liberal)
  • Upgrade access into Fremantle Port (Liberal & Labor)

I then looked for all policies that directly improved public transport in some way, and could only
come up with the following:


  • Whitehorse/Springvale Rd/railway grade separation (Liberal)
  • Mill Park/South Morang overpass for future railway line (Liberal)

New South Wales:

  • Upgrading Sydney rail freight system to ease congestion on commuter rail (Liberal & Labor)

So, there we have it. The commitment of both major parties comes to … well, not very much at all. Three of
Australia’s major commuter railway systems are currently in crisis (Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide) and desperately need
upgrades. Melbourne needs new railway lines to Doncaster and Rowville, and line extensions to Whittlesea. Adelaide’s system
needs to be electrified (diesel is so 1920s). Sydney … well, NSW needs a completely new government before anything can
be done about that mess.

Perth’s system is the only one that has had any major investment put into it; and I confess not to know anything
about the state of Brisbane’s railway network.

It’s well known that building roads does nothing
to fix congestion
; it simply encourages more cars onto these roads, which leads to demands for more freeways to ease the resulting congestion. Hence, the roads policies of the two major parties
listed above demonstrate just how little commitment that either of them have to reducing greenhouse gases.

The policies of the Democrats and Greens don’t go into specifics, as the major parties do, but they do at least demonstrate their commitment to public transport:

Australian Democrats

  • Substantial funding for integrated public transport – rail, light rail and bus networks and transit lanes on urban freeways with a priority for those metro areas where transport services are poor.
  • Improved public transport frequency, amenity, safety, reliability and accessibility, particularly in outer metropolitan areas. Better scheduling and ticketing coordination.
  • Rail services extended to residential developments on the city fringes and modernised and high quality sub-regional feeder and circumferential bus services provided
  • Fast train services extended to all major airports and regional centres and linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide for rapid, low emissions passenger ad freight travel.


  • a comprehensive, integrated public transport system, with critical components publicly owned and controlled.
  • a transport system, including roads, railways, airways and sea-lanes, that is safe, environmentally sound, efficient and reliable.
  • increased opportunities for the community to participate in transport planning.
  • a public transport system that is more attractive than private car use.
  • public transport services to be provided under community service obligations where demand is too low for economically viable services.
  • public ownership of the national rail system.
  • train services that are competitive with road transport – reliable, safe, fast and inexpensive.
  • major airports located to minimise social and environmental impacts.

This election has been a wasted opportunity. The frustration of commuters with delays and cancellations of trains, combined with congestion and petrol prices, added to mounting fears of global warming would have meant a fantastic reception to a comprehensive plan for public transport from one of the major parties. If properly costed – and let’s face it, we can afford it, especially with those huge surpluses that the current government keeps stealing from us – it would have blown the opposite party out of the water.

Sydney’s public transport ticketing to get worse.

Every time I’ve been to Sydney, I am reminded how much of a dog’s breakfast the public transport ticketing is there. Some of the many problems include the most confusing zones that I’ve ever seen (and I have travelled on a considerable number of public transport systems), the fact that train and bus zones aren’t even consistent with one another; and that there isn’t an integrated ticketing system for all modes of transport (the light rail, the monorail and certain buses out to the west only accept their own tickets). Even the one ticket that will get you around the city for an entire day is about 50%25 more expensive than the equivalent ticket in Melbourne – it’s aimed at ripping off tourists, rather than making life easy for regular commuters – and it still won’t let you on the light rail.

Successive NSW governments have done nothing about this, despite the other major Australian capital cities having shown how it can be done properly; Melbourne has had a fully multimodal ticketing system since 1981 – the one ticket will let you travel on buses, trains and trams, within the metropolitan system. Even Brisbane, after a long period of having disjoint rail and bus tickets, has now mostly got its act into gear. Adelaide, while having one of the most botched railway systems around – not electrified, and unlikely to be any time soon – still makes it easy for commuters to change modes of transport with just one ticket. And Perth is light-years ahead of everyone, with a functioning smart card system (while Melbourne and Sydney plunge hundreds of millions of dollars into re-inventing the wheel).

Well, it appears that Sydney’s system is to get even worse. According to a report in the Herald, the new T-card system, should it ever see the light of day, might be dumping periodical tickets, such as weeklies, and relying instead on distance based fares. Hardly a good move for a city choked with traffic and desperately needing to get more people onto public transport.

Red light.

I can’t see why The Age is getting so uppity in this story about thousands of people being on the brink of losing their licence, due to speed and red-light cameras:

“MORE than 45,000 Victorian drivers are on the brink of losing their licences — and the proliferation of speed cameras is being blamed.”

Personally, I find that first paragraph somewhat inaccurate. It should say:

“MORE than 45,000 Victorian drivers are on the brink of losing their licences due to their impatience and poor driving skills.”

Melbourne’s two newspapers waste an awful lot of newsprint complaining that speed cameras in Victoria are there for no other reason than to raise revenue. While I can’t really see how this is a problem (don’t want to pay? Don’t speed), it intrigues me that a paper can then find issue with people losing their licences over such offences.

Sounds like the perfect solution to me, I’ll be glad to see them off the road. I drive very rarely, but it still scares the heck out of me that whenever I do, someone in the oncoming traffic shoots through red lights as I’m trying to make a right-hand turn.

And as for this line:

The Sunday Age can reveal that thousands of drivers are only just hanging on to their licences, sparking fears that jobs and family mobility are in jeopardy.

My heart bleeds. Maybe they’ll just have to use public transport, like the rest of us.

Sydney Train Debacle

It’s not surprising to see that Sydney has had another bad episode on the trains. Anyone from Melbourne who has travelled on public transport in Sydney knows just how terrible it is – from incredibly infrequent trains, to vast areas of the inner city with nothing but bus transport. When I was in Sydney last year, scoping out places to live, I sat waiting at Newtown station for about 40 minutes – on a Saturday morning. Even the least frequent railway lines in Melbourne aren’t anywhere near that bad, when the trains work.

This debacle is, however, quite well timed, given that there is a NSW state election being held in just over a week’s time. Voters will have no-one except themselves to blame if they limit their choices to the current Labor government who have done nothing for public transport over their previous three terms and the Liberal opposition who seem more interested in stacking themselves with fundamentalist Christians, than attempting to solve commuters’ problems.

As we’ve seen in Victoria, the major parties simply aren’t interested in providing frequent, efficient public transport. If the voters of NSW don’t opt for one of the alternatives, then they can expect to follow Victoria into another four years of clogged roads and faulty trains.