Posts Tagged ‘Buses’

VIDEO: Transport for NSW COVID-19 Response: Essential Service (23 March 2020)

Social distancing has seen the movement of people in Sydney drop by about 90% in recent weeks. The Citymapper Mobility Index shows mobility beggining to slow on the weekend of Saturday 14 March, shortly after the government announced its first set of restrictions, but before those restrictions came into effect on the following Monday. Transport agencies have since responded in order to enable the safe movement of people around the city, whether that be by car, by foot, or by public transport.

In terms of road traffic, a comprehensive ABC article uses Google Maps traffic data to show that “peak-hour gridlock has virtually vanished”, with the same article using TomTom Traffic Index data to show a trip that typically takes 30 minutes would now take 26 minutes. The same TomTom Traffic Index shows the biggest drop occurring during peak-hour, with only a minor drop in off-peak road travel. Transurban, which owns most of Sydney’s toll roads, has reported a 36% drop in traffic volumes on its toll roads in the final week of March.

Push buttons in CBD pedestrian crossings have been automated since Monday 23 March, to prevent these normally high touch surfaces from becoming transmission zones for COVID-19. This is a limited time change and was restricted to the Sydney CBD.

Public transport usage has likewise seen a dramatic drop. Occupancy data published by NextThere for the 4 weeks to Sunday 22 March show demand for real time planning journeys began falling on Tuesday 10 March and was down to about half their regular volumes by the end of that 4 week period. Meanwhile, during that time peak-hour trains on the T1 Western Line went from over three quarters being standing room only to none being standing room only (see image below, Source: NextThere). Bus occupancy levels appear to have also fallen in the same time period, with the proportion of peak-hour buses passing through Neutral Bay Junction on the North Shore’s Military Road corridor with a majority of their seats available rising from about one in three buses to almost all buses.

Other than minor changes to the L1 light rail line, the government has yet to cut back on service levels; which combined with the fall in patronage has enabled members of the public who must travel on public transport to better observe social distancing when they do so. Additional changes include regular deep cleaning of public transport vehicles, a suspension on the sale of single use Opal tickets from buses, and closure of Opal readers and seats near bus drivers.

Despite this, there are actions that have been taken elsewhere which have not happened in Sydney. The most extreme of these responses occurred in the Chinese city of Wuhan, believed to be the epicentre of COVID-19, which suspended its public transport network in late January. Brisbane has moved to rear door boarding on its buses, with the front door only available for passengers requiring assistance and to maintain disability access. Advocacy group Walk Sydney is calling for the automation of push buttons to be extended to all of Greater Sydney. So far the automation is being extended out to crossings near many of Sydney’s hospitals, but not the entire city.

Lachlan Drummond is a past guest contributor to this blog (you can read some of his other posts here and here). He has investigated the current bus network and timetables, comparing them to the new L2 light rail line that opened in December 2019. Below is part three of his findings.

In my last two posts, I looked at journey times for a typical city commuter. The first post looked at services into the city in the AM peak. The second looked at outbound trips in the PM peak.

We concluded that the L2 service was an inferior option to most regular bus services in the AM peak, but for many journeys in the PM peak it was a faster option, especially from Central station back to Randwick. However, that’s only half the story.

As we already know, many people make journeys in the opposite direction – needing to travel from the city to Randwick for work or study in the morning (to UNSW or Prince of Wales Hospital), and then back to the city in the evening (often connecting with Sydney Trains services at Central).

So how will the tram help?

Outbound Journeys

The Randwick Health and Education Precinct is an area where tens of thousands of people need to travel for work and study every day. It houses two major employers – firstly, the Prince of Wales Hospital (Public and Private), where over 3,000 staff work, and the main campus of the University of New South Wales, where up to 8,000 staff and almost 60,000 students are enrolled. While not all will be on campus at once, it would be fair to say that during session times, tens of thousands of people are on the campus.

We also know that the tram line goes past two major Sydney event spaces – the Moore Park-SCG-Fox Studios Precinct (L2 and L3), and Randwick Racecourse (L2 only).

So – will the tram get you there faster? Well… in order to answer that we need to consider a few variables.

The Bus Capacity Problem in Randwick and UNSW

For a long time, UNSW has struggled with public transport capacity constraints. Every single day, tens of thousands of students and members of staff try to get from Central to UNSW in the morning.

Special express buses to UNSW have struggled to keep up with demand – you only need to look at the extraordinary 891 bus timetable for evidence. Here are some key facts:

  • Between 7AM and Midday – 154 regular express 891 buses leave central and go to UNSW. That’s a bus every 2-3 minutes.
  • If we assume that all of them are regular sized 70-person buses, that’s a carrying capacity of no less than 10,710 people travelling to UNSW by express bus in the morning.
  • Of those buses, 52 of them run in the AM peak – a total of 3,640 passengers.
  • During the AM peak of 8:15AM-9:30AM, an 891 bus leaves just about every minute.

In addition to the 891, the 393, 395 and M10 also go down the Anzac parade corridor. The 372 and 376 also go to Belmore Road Randwick (although not to UNSW – most students would not use these to get there). In total there are 99 of these buses between 7AM-12PM.

The table below gives a summary of the total outbound bus capacity from Central to Randwick/UNSW in the morning between 7AM-12PM.

So – assuming that we only use standard buses (and assuming we count the 372 and 376 as ways to get to UNSW) in the 5 hours between 7AM-12PM, the total minimum bus capacity to Randwick and UNSW – a precinct where up to 70,000 people work and study – is only 16,940… or 3,388 per hour from Central. (NOTE: there will obviously be more Anzac Parade Buses from Elizabeth street.)

For a precinct that needs tens of thousands of passenger seats from Central, especially in peak hour – that’s not good.

Keep in mind that approximately 1/3rd of this 16,940 capacity comes in the 8AM-9AM period – about 5,500 within that peak hour (or slightly more if they were all bendy buses).

Some have suggested that the sheer volume of potential passengers would have justified the construction of a heavy rail or metro line to Randwick and/or the UNSW precinct. This is an entirely justifiable position based on the patronage numbers – indeed the original Eastern Suburbs line was supposed to do just that.

Putting that to one side, let’s look at what the L2 and L3 lines might actually be able to do.

How Will Light Rail fix the capacity problem?

According to a Sydney Light Rail Factsheet (November 2019), the L2 and L3 lines will deliver the following:

“Current planning would see a combined light rail and bus network deliver citybound morning peak capacity increases of more than 10 per cent from Kingsford and 30 per cent from Randwick, and a doubling of morning peak capacity from the CBD to UNSW and the Randwick hospital precinct”.

Both the L2 and L3 lines will have stops at UNSW – the L2 line at High St, and the L3 Line on Anzac Parade. But will they really double AM peak capacity?

The factsheet claims the following:

“Moore Park and every eight minutes to and from Randwick and Kingsford between 7AM and 7PM. Each vehicle will carry up to 450 people, equivalent to nine standard buses with a capacity of up to 13,500 passengers per hour (up to 6,750 in each direction).”

Let’s unpack that claim a little:

  • The L2 line will run a tram every 8 minutes to Randwick via High St.
  • The L3 line will do the same down Anzac Parade.
  • This means there is an outbound Tram to UNSW from central every 4 minutes – one to UNSW High St, and the other to UNSW Anzac Parade.
  • With 15 trams every hour in the peak, at a maximum capacity of 450 passengers – that gets you to the 6,750 figure claimed by the operator.

This compares very favourably with the minimum 5,500 in the peak that current express and regular services can do (assuming we count the 372 and 376). In order for buses to beat that, you’d have to find a way to run bendy buses every minute – a practical impossibility given road capacity constraints at Central.

So – even if every express and regular bus service to UNSW was removed, the combined L2 and L3 lines would alone indeed represent a large improvement to capacity. That’s not bad. However, for a doubling of capacity, clearly some of the buses will need to be kept. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the timetable is rewritten, and whether the 891, 893 and 898 buses stay.

It’s important to note that the benefit in the PM will be much more substantial, because there are fewer express 893 and 898 shuttle buses back to Central (these leave every 2-3 minutes). Going back to Central, the tram will offer way more carrying capacity at certain hours of the day.

Interchange and boarding times

If you go to UNSW each day, ask yourself a simple question:

“How long do I usually spend in a bus queue at central or UNSW?”

If the answer is “longer than ten minutes”, then the light rail may very well be a better solution.

This is because one of the most notorious problems with the 891 bus service is the long queues that can sometimes form at Central (and even at UNSW for the return journey).

As the UNSW student newspaper Tharunka recorded in a thorough article:

“Students report that the bus lines – or, rather crowds that are often eight to ten people deep and stretch back for tens or hundreds of metres – fail to move for up to half an hour, especially during peak times.”

This problem has been long standing – even back in 2008, there were complaints in the same newspaper of overcrowding, even with a student cohort closer to 40,000 (rather than today’s 60,000).

There are two reasons for overcrowding – bus boarding and dwell times, and a lack of capacity.

Light rail has three distinct advantages over buses:

  • Firstly – it can carry more people – 450 of them, compared to 115 on a bendy bus or 70 on a standard bus.
  • Secondly – you tap on at the station, meaning that there are no delays when boarding the vehicle (when people are tapping their opal cards).
  • Thirdly – every doubled up LRV has 8 doors that can be entered.

This compares favourably to a long queue of buses that can get stuck behind each other at the roadside, and can only board people by the front door (who also have to tap their opal card while they do, slowing it down even more). Even if you tried to use bendy buses, you wouldn’t necessarily have enough road space when boarding to make it work – and the other two problems would still exist.

The video below from Adelaide shows what can happen when too many buses try to use the same bus stop – when one bus is boarding (or stops for some other reason), another one behind it gets stuck and either can’t leave or can’t get into the stop. This backs up all the traffic behind it on multiple lanes, causing congestion.

For this reason they should also be at a distinct advantage when shuttling people to major events at the SCG or Randwick Racecourse as well – not only will the 8 minute journey time to Moore Park be reasonably quick, but they’ll carry more people at once.

Okay, I get all that. But is it faster than the bus?

In short: when factoring in interchange times at central – possibly yes.

And remember – do the buses run to timetable? Often no.

Here’s the golden rule – If it takes you 10-15 minutes just to get on an 891 bus, but only 4-8 minutes to get on a tram – then when factoring in the interchange time the tram should actually win the race.

It also won’t get stuck in traffic to nearly the same extent because it runs on its own dedicated corridor for parts of its journey.

We don’t know yet what the L3 timetable will look like, but it won’t belong before we find out – the L3 line will open some time in March.

What happened to Sydney’s Bus Future?

Posted: April 26, 2018 in Transport
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VIDEO: Northern Beaches B-Line Bus Service, Transport for NSW (25 November 2017)

In December 2013, Transport for NSW released Sydney’s Bus Future. It outlined plans to restructure bus services in Sydney, developed as a legacy system of public and private operators, into a clearly branded and structured service hierarchy.

Three service levels would be provided: rapid, suburban, and local. 13 rapid routes, with long stop spacing of 800m to 1km and high all-day frequency of 10 minutes or less, together with 20 suburban routes, with shorter stop spacing of 400m and all-day frequency of 15 minutes of less, formed the core of the new services that would be provided by high capacity articulated or double decker buses capable of carrying over 100 passengers each. Some of these would involve converting existing routes, mainly Metrobus routes, but some new routes would also be introduced.

The first set of new services were expected for 2014/15. However, it was not until late 2017 that the first, the now B-Line branded service to the Northern Beaches, began operation as B1. All buses on B1 are yellow double decker buses with clear B-Line branding and offering services like indicator boards, stop announcements, and USB charging ports under the seats.

Were rapid bus services to be expanded then logically their rollout would also coincide with a rebranding and restructure of the entire bus network. Currently there are a wide range of route numbers, with little sense of a unified system. Express services can sometimes be designated with X, either replacing the first digit (such as the X73) or by adding it to the end (such as the 610X), and sometimes with E (such as the E70); limited stops services are sometimes designated with L (such as the L90) or sometimes not at all (such as the 400); Metrobus services are designated with M (such as the M10); T-Way services are designated with T (such as the T80); and B-Line services are designated with B (such as the B1).

Also problematic is that wayfinding in Sydney has designated B for Sydney Buses, F for Sydney Ferries, T for Sydney Trains, L for Sydney Light Rail, and M for the future Sydney Metro. Yet these final 3 (T/L/M) are currently used for various bus routes in Sydney. This reason, together with the recent rollout of a B branded bus route, gives some suggestion of what may come: the removal of non-express branded routes and the introduction of additional B-Line services to the corridors identified for rapid bus services.

Proposed rapid and suburban bus routes for Sydney. Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Bus Future, pp. 18-19)

Of the 13 rapid bus routes, 6 pass through the Sydney CBD. Considering the route numbers that run on each of the corridors of these proposed new routes, there is clockwise from the North East:

  • A line to the Northern Beaches via Military Road and Pittwater Road, a corridor containing bus routes numbered 100-199. B-Line route B1 is currently operating here.
  • A line to Kingsford via Anzac Parade, a corridor containing bus routes 300-399. Sydney Light Rail will begin operating on this corridor in 2020.
  • A line to Bondi Beach via Oxford Street and Bondi Road, a corridor containing bus routes 300-399.
  • A line to Burwood via Parramatta Road, a corridor containing bus routes 400-499.
  • A line to Parramatta via Victoria Road, a corridor containing bus routes 500-599
  • A line to Castle Hill via the M2, a corridor containing bus routes 600-699.

It would therefore be possible to bring in new B-Line routes into these final four corridors that follows the route numbering pattern observed by B1. For example B3 could replace the 333 to Bondi Beach, B4 could be a new service to Burwood, B5 could replace the M52 to Parramatta, and B6 could replace the M60 to Castle Hill.

Despite all of this, 2015 came and went with little evidence of Sydneys Bus Future’s signature improvements of rapid and suburban routes being implemented. Although B-Line was introduced late last year, there was no mention of bus improvements in the Future Transport 2056 strategy released around the same time.

Commentary: Why this matters

The new branding, together with additional metro and light rail services coming online in 2019 and 2020, could provide an easy to navigate network for infrequent passenger or tourists. Such a network already exists in the form of rail, ferry, light rail, and B-Line, which has been seen displayed at Circular Quay (see Tweet below). Adding a few additional B-Line routes to such a map would be a simple and easy exercise, especially considering that the 333 could be converted to B-Line with little more than a rebranding exercise.

Sydney University transport academic David Hensher once lamented that public transport improvements tend to focus on new projects and even then on rail based projects, leaving improvements to the bus network ignored. Children play with toy cars and trains but not buses, he would point out. That is not to say that rail improvements aren’t needed – they most definitely are; but with almost half of all trips in Sydney made by bus and many parts of Sydney set to remain out of reach of rail transport even after the rail network is expanded, improvements to the bus network is a cost effective first step in increasing mobility for many in Sydney. With a plan to do so already in place, all that’s needed is for it to be implemented.

Transport for a London has recently begun a trial of carriage passenger utilisation at one station on the London Overground. The idea being that if passengers at the station know which carriages are crowded and which aren’t, they will opt to enter the carriages with fewer spaces. The more even distribution of passengers would then reduce dwell times at stations, improving on time running and journey times.

Train enthusiast Geoff Marshall tried it out in the video at the top of this post and Diamond Geezer explains some technical background as to how the system works here.

The results of the trial were mixed, but it raises the question of whether such a system would be possible in Sydney.

It is understood that all Waratah trains, which comprise about half of the Sydney Trains fleet, have weight sensors similar to those used in the London Overground trial. This means it would be technically feasible.

However, when asked about it in 2014 while state’s Transport Minister, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian replied that it was not something the government was planning. She did mention that Opal data could be used to achieve a similar result. The same year, Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins echoed that view; but suggested that train carriage weight, rather than Opal data, could provide passengers with information on which carriages have more available space.

To the Government’s credit, Sydney’s real time transport apps now do provide information on how crowded each bus is, allowing passengers to opt for a less crowded bus.

Real time data showing how full each bus is estimated to be. Click to enlarge. (Source: Next There.)

The difficulties encountered by the London trial suggest that providing this information may not be worth the benefits. For example, it uses a combination of expected loading based on historical data to estimate how full each carriage will be. That is because the weight sensors will not be accurate until the train leaves the station prior to the one where passengers are. This could give passengers as little as 2 minutes to move to the ideal spot along the platform, which in the case of an 8 carriage train is 160m.

So if the estimate is not accurate and passengers aren’t checking for updated information, it could be of limited benefit to its users.

Despite the risks, Sydney Trains and the NSW Government should pay attention to the London Overground trial. The potential to squeeze a little more juice out of a network that is straining under no new CBD capacity until 2024 is well worth investigation.

VIDEO: Sydney’s Ghost Railways – Part 1 (Bambul Shakibaei)

Lachlan Drummond visited the Transport Heritage Expo on Monday 13 June 2016, the final day of the 3 day event. Below is his account of the event, which he wrote shortly after the event and would have been posted a week ago had this blog’s regular author not allowed it to sit idly during that time.

On the Monday public holiday, my partner and I decided to go down to the Transport Heritage Expo. I had been meaning to go for a few years but something had always crept up.

What is the expo?

The Transport Heritage Expo is a collaboration between Transport Heritage NSW, Transport for NSW, and a number of other NSW transport heritage organisations who are involved in operating and restoring old transport. It has been running for a few years now at Central Station over the June long weekend.

Central station allocates four platforms on the main concourse to display vintage steam, electric and diesel trains and carriages and to run vintage train rides on the actual Sydney trains network.

Steam engine 3642. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Steam engine 3642. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The event begins on the Saturday with the now traditional Great Train Race, where 3 vintage trains race down the Western Line from central to Strathfield. After this, the trains come back to central and continue to run services on other city rail lines every two hours or so over the long weekend.

At the station there are vintage trains and carriages on display that have been lovingly restored and maintained by the various transport heritage organisations. You can book a Devonshire tea cooked inside an original 1950s train carriage, and you can even hop into the driver’s cab of a Waratah train on the platform. There’s also a merch stand, a jazz band, and some vintage buses running outside on the colonnade.

The great thing about this expo is you don’t just get to see the trains and buses as a static museum piece. You get to see the trains leave and arrive at a real train station. You get to jump inside the carriages, hop into the drivers cabs and have a look around. And best of all – it’s mostly free. It does cost $25 to ride one of the vintage trains or to have Devonshire tea, but you don’t have to pay anything to climb around them while they’re back at the station. It’s also free to ride the buses. It’s a really great event for train enthusiasts, families and kids in particular.

The trains and carriages

This year the expo showed off a variety of different trains. The big highlight for most people was probably to see a fully operational steam train – engine 3642, hauling vintage carriages down to Hurstville (with an assist from a vintage diesel engine). This train has been beautifully restored, and it was a real joy to see it at the station (unfortunately I didn’t get to ride this one as tickets sold out very quickly). When it pulled into the station you could jump into the drivers cab and have a look around.

A variety of organisations also had some lovely diesel engines on display. The blue engine 4001 was a standout – beautifully painted, and sitting on the platform with its engine open so you could see the inner workings.

Red Rattler F1 with diesel engine 4001 in the background at Central Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Red Rattler F1 with diesel engine 4001 in the background at Central Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

The guys at 3801 Limited also showed of their excellent restoration job on an old lounge and sleeper car, including the sitting area and bunk cabins. They are looking for some financial assistance to restore the toilet to full working order – if you want to give them a hand you can visit their website. Diesel engine 42101 also looked great.

Sydney Trains also came to the party with a very new Waratah set sitting at the station with the driver cab open. Kids young and old got to sit in the front seat and were shown by a driver how it works.

Riding on the Red Rattler

For me, the train that really stole the show was the recently restored “F1” red rattler electric train, returning to heritage service for the first time in 15 years. We hopped on the 9:30AM Monday service to East Hills and back.

Red Rattler F1 at East Hills Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Red Rattler F1 at East Hills Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

A collection of 4 carriages built in the 1920s in Clyde and Newcastle, the set features three driver cabins and one passenger cabin, which we travelled in. Amazingly, one of the driver cabins (C3426) was part of the first scheduled service across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932. Some of the carriages saw some renovation work in the 1980s as they were kept in service until 1992 due to the delay of the Tangara trains. After this, Sydney Trains grabbed them and restored them for heritage services in about 1999, but they hadn’t been seen since 2002.

These carriages and interiors were in fantastic condition, with the seats containing the old NSWGR logo on them and the windows and (manual!) doors were fully functioning. An old 1970s network map was still on the wall above my head, featuring stations such as “Goodyear” (Goodyear tires) and “Hardies” (James Hardie) on a spur line near Clyde. An interesting insight into Sydney’s industrial past.

Best of all, this train is in fantastic working order and was an absolute joy to ride. We travelled down the Erskinville-Sydenham-Tempe line, slowly through stations due to the width of the train and rebuilt platforms. Once we hit Wolli Creek and the East Hills express line, the driver opened the throttle and we were soon overtaking local Waratah train services at what must have been close to 70kph. It was seriously impressive stuff.  At East Hills we got out to admire the train before we turned around and went back to central. Plenty of the heritage guys were on the train and were happy to answer questions.

The restoration work on this set is absolutely top notch and full credit must go to Transport Heritage, Heritage Express, Sydney Trains, Howard Collins, and everyone else who worked on it and helped get it back on the rails. Have a ride on this if you get the chance- it’s a real gem.

Riding on a Vintage Bus

The guys from the Sydney Bus Museum are currently going through renovations (and will be reopening in August). This didn’t stop them from bringing out a collection of four vintage double decker buses for some joyrides through the Sydney CBD.

A vintage Sydney double decker bus. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

A vintage Sydney double decker bus. Click to enlarge. (Source: Lachlan Drummond.)

Their collection included two sky blue Sydney double deckers, a Green one, in fantastic condition. They also had something pretty special – a genuine Leyland London Routemaster from the 1960s, complete with the great old red colours. By chance we were lucky enough to get on it, and we drove up Pitt street up to Park street, and then around Hyde park and back. These rides were free and very popular, although I did chuck 5 bucks in their donation box (and I hope others did too). It was great to see the city from another angle.

Overall

Last year the Transport Heritage Expo won first prize in the NSW Heritage awards, and it’s not hard to see why. This really is a great day out for everyone, whether you’re a kid, a train enthusiast, or just an older person wanting a bit of nostalgia. While there’s plenty of great stuff to do for free, I really recommend spending the 25 bucks (adult) to ride on one of the old heritage trains. It’s not often that you get the chance to get on a vintage train at central and go somewhere far away on the network. You know the money will be used to keep these great machines running.

This expo is a credit to all the transport heritage organisations who put aside their differences for a weekend to create something really special. It’s an example of what can be achieved when everyone works together. I can see it growing into the future – hopefully in a few years we could get some vintage Sydney trams running through the CBD when the new line is built. How awesome would that be?

The last bus on George St

Posted: October 4, 2015 in Transport
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The new CBD bus network removes buses from George Street as of 4 October 2015. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The new CBD bus network removes buses from George Street as of 4 October 2015. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

At around 6AM on Sunday morning of 4 October 2015, the last bus on George Street pulled up at Circular Quay Town Hall. The N50 from Liverpool had 3 passengers (EDIT: Tony in the comments section states that the actual last bus was a late running N70). This blog’s author set out last night in an attempt to catch the last bus on George Street, but without knowing which bus it was going to be. Below is a summary of the events of that night. In the end, the thrill of the chase did not end in glory.

VIDEO: Ancient river system discovered under Sydney Harbour, 23 September 2015 (Transport for NSW)

This week sees a large number of changes to the Sydney CBD. Though it ended the week with the most significant: the closure of George Street to buses, it began the week with some changes too: the opening and closing of bike paths through the CBD. New bus lanes have been added on Elizabeth Street while another bus lane is soon coming to College Street.

George Street

Construction of the CBD and South East Light Rail will commence on George Street on 23 October, at which point the road will become progressively closed off to all vehicular traffic. It will eventually re-open as a pedestrian only street, with trams on George Street taking passengers from early 2019.

In anticipation of this closure, buses are being removed from George Street as of 4 October. Some will terminate outside of the CBD or on its fringe (including some buses that do not use George Street), while others will be moved to Elizabeth street or are merged with other buses so that they will now through-route in the CBD and come out the other end.

Elizabeth Street

In order to accommodate the additional buses using Elizabeth Street, the bus lanes on it have been moved from kerbside bus lanes to centre bus lanes. This will prevent buses from getting stuck behind other buses waiting at bus stops or getting stuck behind cars waiting to make a left hand turn. These had previously slowed down buses that would otherwise enjoy an exclusive right of way.

Bus lanes on Elizabeth Street have been extended and moved from kerbside bus lanes to centre bus lanes to increase bus capacity on them. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Bus lanes on Elizabeth Street have been extended and moved from kerbside bus lanes to centre bus lanes to increase bus capacity on them. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

College Street

The College Street bike path is no more. It is to be replaced with a bus lane. This will allow additional Northbound bus capacity now that George Street is no longer available. Additional Southbound bus capacity exists on the Castlereagh Street bus lane, while Elizabeth Street has two way bus lanes.

The bike path on College Street remained open until the Castlereagh Street and Liverpool Street bike paths opened, which now provide North-South access through the CBD. Cyclist groups have protested the removal of the College Street bike path, pointing out that the Castlereagh Street bike path stops at Liverpool Street, which is the same place the College Street bike path starts; also pointing out that the York Street bike path is on opposite side of the CBD to the College Street bike path.

The College Street bike path is now closed and set to be turned into a bus lane. It has been controversially replaced by bike paths on Castlereagh and Liverpool Streets. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

The College Street bike path is now closed and set to be turned into a bus lane. It has been controversially replaced by bike paths on Castlereagh and Liverpool Streets. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Plans are in place to extend the Castlereagh Street bike path further north; but these plans have been put on hold until 2019, after construction on the light rail has been completed.

Castlereagh Street and Liverpool Street

New bike paths opened on Castlereagh and Liverpool Streets, replacing the College Street bike path. Together with Belmore Park near Central Station and the York Street bike path on the Northern half of the CBD, these now allow bike users to ride from Central Station to the Harbour Bridge entirely segregated from road traffic.

The full CBD bike path network will include an extension of the Castlereagh Street bike path to King Street, which would also see its existing bike path extended from where it currently ends at Clarence Street. However, work on this portion of the bike path network, as well as other extensions such as a bike path North along Pitt Street to Circular Quay or a bike path West along Liverpool Street to Darling Harbour, has been put on hold until 2019 to minimise disruptions  while construction on the light rail on George Street occurs.

Sydney's planned bike path network. Some has been completed, the rest is on hold until 2019 when light rail construction is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Centre Access Strategy, p. 45)

Sydney’s planned bike path network. Some has been completed, the rest is on hold until 2019 when light rail construction is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Centre Access Strategy, p. 45)

There have also been concerns raised about potential plans for loading zones on these bike paths, turning them into what has been called “part time” bike paths. The new bike paths have also drawn criticism for ending one block short of two way traffic on Liverpool Street, requiring East bound bike riders on Liverpool Street to dismount or take alternative routes along Bathurst or Campbell Streets.

Note: For the second time this year, this blog has taken an unannounced hiatus for a number of months due to the pressures of real life. This post was written up at the end of June but never properly finished and thus not posted. It will probably be the final monthly round up, at least for the foreseeable future. This blog will not be ending, posts will still continue. But instead, the focus will be on specific issues or events as they occur with no set frequency of posts. For now, please enjoy the breaking news from 3 months ago…

VIDEO: Urban Taskforce Research- Who Lives in Apartments (31 May 2015)

2 June: $50m cost blowout for NWRL

The budget for constructing the skytrain portion of the North West Rail Link, an elevated viaduct between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill, has blown out from $340m to $390m. Despite the cost blowout, a project spokesperson said that there has been no change to the completion date for the skytrain, while the Transport Minister Andrew Constance stated that variations in cost had been factored into the full $8.3bn budget and that the overall budget remained unchanged.

The skytrain portion of Sydney Metro, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The skytrain portion of North West Rail Link, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

 4 June: Sydney Rapid Transit renamed Sydney Metro

Sydney’s single deck train network will be known as Sydney Metro, replacing the previous name Sydney Rapid Transit. This follows the passage of legislation authorising the privatisation of state owned electricity assets, which passed both chambers of Parliament the previous day.

4 June: NSW Opposition dumps support for light rail because of Infrastructure NSW Report

The new Shadow Transport Minister Ryan Park, who together with the Opposition Leader Luke Foley recently withdrew their support for light rail down George Street, announced that the change of heart on light rail came after reading the 2012 Infrastructure NSW Report that opposed George Street light rail. The alternative bus tunnel option suggested by the report was criticised by Transport for NSW, with Infrastructure NSW later supporting George Street light rail.

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click to enlarge. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

6 June: Transport corridors in Western Sydney to be reserved

Work to reserve transport corridors in Sydney’s West for an Outer Sydney Orbital motorway, Bells Line of Road to Castlereagh Connection, and South West Rail Link extension is moving into the public consultation phase. The NSW Roads Minister Duncay Gay said that work on the 2 roads was not expected to begin for decades; with the SWRL corridor set to be identified by late 2016.

8 June: Olympic Park becomes preferred light rail option

A light rail line connecting Parramatta to Olympic Park has firmed as the favourite option for a new light rail line in Sydney’s West. The line could extend out to Wesmead in the West and Strathfield in the East. It gained favour after a campaign by businesses and developers who touted the possibility for development of the corridor and the potential for value capture from that development to fund the cost of building the new line. However, local councils have labelled the line a white elephant and are calling for the Government to build a line to Epping instead.

11 June: Opal only gates installed at Wynyard Station

New Opal only gates have been installed as part of the Wynyard Station upgrade. Opal only gates have recently been installed at Olympic Park Station. No date has been set for the full phase out of ticket gates that accept magnetic stripe paper ticket.

12 June: SWRL connection to CBD via Granville?

Transport blogger Nick Stylianou suggests that Leppington trains may be connected up to the T2 South Line, travelling to the CBD via Granville. This may happen as soon as the end of this year, with Campbelltown to city services running exclusively on the T2 Airport Line.

12 June: 65 new transport officers

Sydney’s existing 150 transport officers is set to increase to 215, with an additional 65 transport officers to be hired.

15 June: Trial of backdoor boarding on CBD buses

The Government is set to trial boarding of buses via the back door for 2 weeks. The trial will be restricted to Opal card users between 4PM and 7PM at 7 bus stops in the CBD. Marshals will be present to ensure boarding occurs safely. It is hoped that the trial will see lower dwell times for buses by allowing customers to board more quickly.

VIDEO: Seven News Sydney – Trial of back door loading on buses (15/6/2015)

19 June: Reduction in minimum parking requirements

The NSW Government has announced a watered down version of a minimum parking requirement policy that it announced last year. The new policy allows new apartment blocks in areas well serviced by public transport to have fewer off-street parking spots than is currently mandated by local government regulations. The previously announced policy would have eliminated the requirement for off-street parking entirely and has not been adopted. Supporters of the move argue that it will help to keep construction costs down and help with housing affordability. Opponents of the move claim that it will cause cars to spill over into existing streets where parking is already scarce.

23 June: Barangaroo Station confirmed

A Station at Barangaroo has been confirmed in the Sydney Metro City and Southwest. Stations still to be determined are Artarmon, St Leonards/Crows Nest and either Sydney University or Waterloo.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro Barangaroo Station

VIDEO: Sydney Light Rail Flythrough – May 2015

The announcement on Thursday of the construction schedule for the CBD and South East Light Rail has seen the debate over the line re-open. Construction of the George St portion, set to occur between October 2015 and May 2017, will last over a year and a half. Closure of streets during this time will hurt businesses operating in the area. Meanwhile, changes to bus routes and timetables, set to change in October to co-incide with the start of construction, remain a secret to the public.

VIDEO: Sydney Light Rail Construction Schedule – May 2015

Earlier in the week, the Opposition Leader Luke Foley had declared his opposition to light rail down George Street, while supporting light rail from Central to Randwick and Kingsford. When the construction schedule was announced, Mr Foley said “the Liberals will deliver a Berlin Wall down the central spine of Sydney, dividing the CBD into east and west…Sydney needs light rail – but not down George Street. The Liberals should listen to the experts and terminate light rail at Central Station”. Mr Foley supported the full light rail project prior to the last election, committing to build it in full if elected Premier.

The Premier Mike Baird defended the decision to go ahead with construction, stating that despite the disruption “if we say we’re going to build it, we’ll build it”. The Transport Minister Andrew Constance reinforced this view, saying that “we’re not in the business of cancelling contracts”.

The former Premier Barry O’Farrell, who was Premier when the current project received approval, also criticised Mr Foley for relying on Nick Greiner’s opposition to George St light rail in order to make his case. Mr O’Farrell has previously distanced himself from Mr Greiner, a previous Chairman of Infrastructure NSW, arguing that Mr Greiner may oppose rail based public transport but Mr O’Farrell and his government support it.

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Commentary: Just build it

Sydney is set to continue to grow and that growth needs an increase in transport capacity. For dense areas like the inner city, that means public transport should be prioritised ahead of private motor vehicles; while for the CBD, that means rail needs to be prioritised. When it comes to high capacity, almost nothing beats rail. Right now, that means light rail down George Street and Sydney Rapid Transit under the CBD. That is current government policy.

But not if Mr Foley had his way. In his world you not only see light rail terminate at the outskirts of the CBD but also no new funding for SRT under the CBD, effectively killing the project. Meanwhile, Mr Foley went to the last election commiting to extend the M4 all the way into the CBD. He would expand road based transport for the CBD, but not rail based transport. He has it the wrong way round.

Compare this to the government’s plans for WestConnex, bypassing the CBD and connecting the M4 and M5; with future plans for a Western Harbour road tunnel to connect Rozelle to North Sydney, further bypassing the CBD. Add this to the previously mentioned 2 major rail projects for the CBD and you get the right solution: cars out, trains and trams in.

Monday: Massive CBD delays caused by road closures and accidents

Long delays were felt by people travelling into and within the CBD on Monday morning, particularly by bus passengers on the Harbour Bridge, following a number of simultaneous incidents. A number of roads were closed during 27 December to 12 January as part of the CBD and South East Light Rail project. A cable that manages traffic signals was hit by work crews at the corner of Bridge and Grosvenor streets, preventing traffic light phasing from being changed and causing further delays. A breakdown during peak hour in the southbound lane of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel diverted more cross-harbour traffic on to the bridge. In addition there was a crash at 8:15AM approaching the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a motorcycle breakdown that blocked the bus lane at 9:00AM for a short period.

Transport for NSW issued a statement apologising for the delays, later announcing changes to prevent similar delays further into the week. These changes included opening one lane in each direction on Grosvenor and Bridge streets every day between 6am to 10am and 3pm to 8pm, while also rerouting buses on the Harbour Bridge via the Cahill Expressway or Western Distributor,

Wednesday: Bus network changes still not finalised

Changes to the CBD bus network, required due to the imminent closure of George St to allow for construction of the CBD and South East Light Rail, have not yet been finalised according to a report by the Sydney Morning Herald. Construction is to begin shortly after the Centenary of Anzac Day in April of this year. George St is also set to be pedestrianised, meaning that buses will not be able to travel along George St even after construction is completed.

Thursday: Construction to begin on Castlereagh St and Liverpool St bike paths

Work is to begin this month on separated bike paths on Castlereagh St and Liverpool St in the Sydney CBD. Separated bike paths already exist on Kent St and York St, while a third bike path on College St is set to be removed once the Castlereagh St bike path is complete. Previous plans to make the Castlereagh St bike path a “part-time” bike path by allowing loading zones on them at certain times of the day appear to have been dropped following opposition to the proposed plans.

Sydney Strategic Cycle network, much of which is currently being planned or under construction. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Access Strategy, p. 45.)

Sydney Strategic Cycle network, much of which is currently being planned or under construction. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Sydney City Access Strategy, p. 45.)

Sunday: Salmon for the South West

The South West Rail Link will be represented by the salmon on the rail map. Passenger indicator boards installed at Liverpool Station in preparation for the 8 February opening of the line display the colour salmon, with trains stopping at Glenfield, Edmondson Park, and Leppington. Trains will initially run as a shuttle service between Liverpool and Leppington.

VIDEO: Man races a train to the next stop

Tuesday: Parking minimums for new developments scrapped

New developments near transport hubs in and around the inner city will no longer be required to include parking spaces as part of government reforms to planning laws. Including a parking space can add an additional $50,000 or more to the cost of a unit, with the changes designed to allow inner city residents who do not need or want a parking space from being forced to pay for one. Developers can still choose to include parking spaces, should market demand for them exist. Opposition to the plan prevented it from being extended to outer suburban locations, with critics worried that it would result in cars spilling over into streets and using up the limited amount of available on-street parking in the inner city.

Tuesday: Replacement Epping to Chatswood Line bus routes announced

Five indicative bus routes have been identified which will run while the Epping to Chatswood Line is shut down during 2018 and 2019. The line is being upgraded as part of the North West Rail Link and will not operate for 7 months. During this time, additional bus services will operate to connect the T1 Northern Line and T1 North Shore Lines that are currently linked by rail between Epping to Chatswood.

5 bus routes will replace the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link in 2018 and 2019 during the 7 months that it is being upgraded as part of the North West Rail Link. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

5 bus routes will replace the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link in 2018 and 2019 during the 7 months that it is being upgraded as part of the North West Rail Link. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Thursday: Registration of Interest for Maldon to Dombarton Line opens

Update: Northern Line added (10:52PM, 28/09/2014)

The NSW Government has called on private sector investors to show their interest in building and operating the 35km Maldon to Dombarton Rail Line. The freight line would connect Port Kembla in Wollongong to the Southern Sydney Freight Line, potentially removing freight trains from the T4 Illawarra Line that currently travel via Sutherland to reach Sydney from Port Kembla. This could mean a completely segregated freight and passenger rail network in metropolitan Sydney outside of the Western Line and Northern Line, much of which consists of 2 pairs of tracks and can better handle disruptions to passenger services caused by broken down freight trains, while also allowing more freight to operate during the busy commuter peak hour during which curfews are in place for freight trains on much of the passenger network.

Construction on the Maldon to Dombarton freight line began in 1983 but was never completed due to an economic downturn and the forecast growth in coal traffic not eventuating.

Saturday: Rail line building plan to be scrapped

Plans to build high rise buildings close to the CBD by utilising the airspace above the rail line between Central and Redfern Stations looks set to be abandoned. The plan has proven to be too risky and too expensive. This made it unlikely that the private sector would be willing to bear the risk of the project, leaving the Government the risk burden. The plan, which would also contain a redevelopment of industrial areas on either side of the rail line near Redfern, had been compared to Barangaroo in size and scale.

VIDEO: TBM1 Elizabeth assembly and start of tunnelling, Transport for NSW

Monday: NWRL tunneling begins 4 months ahead of schedule

The first of 4 tunnel boring machines (TBM) began work on the 15km twin tunnels that will form the core of the 23km North West Rail Link. Tunneling was expected to begin by the end of this year. The current TBM, along with a second when it is ready, are beginning from Bella Vista and will cut a pair of 9km tunnels through to Cherrybrook, where a second pair of TBMs will cut another pair of 6km tunnels to Epping.

Tunneling is likely to take about 2 years, with station and tunnel fit outs to take an additional 2 years, and a final year to bring the line to operational rediness in time for a 2019 opening.

4 tunnel boring machines like these will be used on the NWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

4 tunnel boring machines like these will be used on the NWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Monday: Sydney Trains cancel cleaning contract midway through

An agreement with Transfield to manage cleaning services for Sydney Trains has been cancelled 2 years into the 4 year contract. The cleaning will still be contracted out, but the management of the private contractors has been brought in house within Sydney Trains.

Thursday: Opal bus rollout two thirds done

Opal readers have been enabled on buses in Sydney’s Inner West as well as in the lower Hunter region. This brings the number of Opal enabled buses up to 3,290. There are 5,000 buses in NSW that are on track to be Opal enabled by the end of the year.

850,000 Opal cards have been issued, a large increase on the 500,000 Opal cards that had been issued at the start of August.

Friday: Granville parking and bus interchange upgrade complete

Granville Station’s bus interchange upgrade has been completed, along with an increase in 40 car spaces for commuter parking. Construction on an additional 20 car parking spaces is also planned to commence soon.

Saturday: SWRL completed, will open in early 2015

The South West Rail Link has been completed a year ahead of schedule and $300m under budget. The line was originally announced in 2005, with a $688m budget and an expected opening date of 2012. However, by the time it had been scheduled to be completed in 2012, the budget had blown out to $2.1bn and the opening date pushed back to 2016.

The line will be opened early next year, with January being rumoured as the planned date. The new line’s timetables and operating patterns will be worked out between now and when it is opened.

Map of the SWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Glenfield Transport Interchange Review of Environmental Factors, page 2)

Map of the SWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Glenfield Transport Interchange Review of Environmental Factors, page 2)

VIDEO: South West Rail Link complete, Seven News (14 September 2014)

The Pensioner Excursion Ticket dilemma

Posted: September 10, 2014 in Transport
Tags: ,

VIDEO: Anger about pensioner tickets no longer being sold on buses (Seven News)

NSW Government changes to the sale of Pensioner Excursion Tickets (PET) have been described as “very difficult” and “unnecessary” following the discontinuation of their sale on the government operated State Transit buses on 1 June this year. As a result of the changes, pensioners must now pre-purchase a PET prior to boarding a State Transit bus, as the pensioner Opal card has not yet been released.

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has dismissed these descriptions, arguing that the changes will affect only a very small number of pensioners.

“The vast majority of seniors and pensioners already buy their tickets before they board the bus – so the change will only affect a small percentage of customers.”Gladys Berejiklian (24 April 2014)

The issue stems from the consoles used on board buses to both read and sell magnetic stripe tickets. These were removed from State Transit buses once Opal readers were activated, replaced with new consoles that had to simultaneously accept both the new Opal cards and the old magnetic stripe tickets. A side effect of this appears to be that they can no longer sell PETs onboard the bus. Private buses never adopted magnetic stripe ticket readers and continue to sell PETs onboard.

A datafare console (right) with an Opal reader (left) and a green magnetic stripe ticket reader (bottom). Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

A datafarer console (right) with an Opal reader (left) and a green magnetic stripe ticket reader (bottom). Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

The first 2 bus routes to trial Opal, the 594/594H and the 333, were unaffected by this. The former was privately operated and so continues to sell PETs onboard, while the latter was prepay only and never sold PETs in the first place. It was not until the Opal bus trial expanded to other State Transit buses from 28 April that it began to become an issue.

This presented a choice of which technology to roll out first: pensioner Opal cards or Opal readers on State Transit buses.

Rolling out pensioner Opal cards before the entire network is Opal enabled risked having pensioners with an Opal card board a non-Opal enabled bus expecting to be able to use their Opal card. While this was unavoidable for regular Opal card users, it is even more problematic for pensioners who have always been able to travel on a single ticket.

Waiting for the Opal rollout to be complete before releasing pensioner Opal cards risked having pensioners being unable to purchase a PET onboard an Opal enabled bus. This was the option taken by the government, requiring pensioners to pre-purchase their tickets at a train station or retailer. In fact the government went beyond that, ending the sale of PETs on all State Transit buses from 1 June 2014, rather than just the Opal enabled ones, in order to reduce confusion.

Pensioner Opal cards will be made available later in 2014. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Pensioner Opal cards will be made available later in 2014. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

A different perspective is that had the Government gone with the first option, it would now be facing criticism from Opal card holding pensioners boarding non-Opal enabled buses and discovering they have to pay an extra fare. Until all 5,000 buses in NSW have Opal readers installed, an Opal card will not provide the coverage that a PET does.

Yet another perspective is that of the Transport Minister: this has all been blown out of proportion. PETs are still being sold, just not on State Transit buses. Those residing near a retailer will face few problem, as will those in areas serviced by private buses or any non-bus public transport. For those remaining, if they obtained a second PET for the next day they needed to travel, and then used any subsequent trip to purchase an additional PET from a retailer, they would always have a PET ready to go just like many Travel Ten holders do.

Failing that, there’s always the option of going back to just describing it as unnecessary and very difficult.

Monday: Real time train and parking capacity information coming soon

Sydney Trains customers will soon be able to work out how full trains and station car parks are on their smart phones if CEO Howard Collins has his way. Mr Collins explained “we know on a Waratah train how many people are in each carriage by how much it weighs” and that this information can be passed on to customers to more evenly spread customers on trains. Waratah trains account for about 40% of the Sydney Trains fleet. Mr Collins also hoped that similar information could be provided for car parks at train stations.

Real time information could soon also include how full each train carriage is based on their weight. Click to enlarge. (Source: TripView)

Real time information could soon also include how full each train carriage is based on their weight. Click to enlarge. (Source: TripView)

Tuesday: Airport access fee deal for regular airport commuters

Regular users of the airport stations will pay no more than $21 a week under a $10m deal when using their Opal cards. Previously those travelling to and from the airport stations on a regular basis, usually airport workers, paid a $12.60 access fee each time they entered or exited one of the two airport stations. However, customers purchasing a weekly ticket would pay an access fee of only $21 for the whole week, on top of the regular fare. This concession did not exist for Opal users, but now their access fee will also be capped at $21 if using Opal. This was seen as necessary given the retirement of weekly train tickets starting from 1 September. The Government will pay the private operator of the airport line a one off $10m payment as part of the deal.

Wednesday: Majority of Opal rollout on buses complete

More than half the NSW fleet of buses will be Opal enabled, with 2,890 buses accepting Opal cards from 26 August. NSW has around 5,000 buses in its public transport fleet.

Wednesday: Maldon to Dombarton Line back on the agenda

A Registration of Interest for the Maldon to Dombarton freight railway line has been approved to see if there is private interest in building the $667m line. The line would complete the missing link that would connect Wollongong and Port Kembla to the Southern Sydney Freight Line running through Southwest Sydney. This could remove or at least reduce the number of freight trains using the T4 Line through Sutherland and Hurstville, reducing their impacts on passengers trains on that line.

Gladys Berejiklian should be called the Minister for Change rather than the Minister for Transport, while her main mission should be to drive change. This is how Ms Berejiklian described her role to the Future Leaders Sounding Board, which was launched on Thursday at the Powerhouse Museum by the Committee for Sydney.

Ms Berejiklian used the forum to outline her quick wins strategy, emphasised how she has made her department more customer focused, explained how Opal is changing the way people travel, hinted about a light rail line from Parramatta to Macquarie Park, described how Sydney Rapid Transit will increase CBD rail capacity, and announced that shorter buses are coming to Sydney.

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian used the Powerhouse Museum's Transport Exhibition as a backdrop to her speech outlining her achievements and future vision. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian used the Powerhouse Museum’s Transport Exhibition as a backdrop to her speech outlining her past wins and future vision. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

She framed her quick wins strategy around her desire to be seen as driving change, as it was designed to demonstrate a willingness to change. It included the introduction of real time transport apps, quiet carriages, and mobile phone reception in CBD rail tunnels.

The Transport Minister described Sydney’s transport system as not being customer focused enough when she became a Minister. Customers were previously referred to as passengers, but Ms Berejiklian said “if you pay for something you are a customer”. Meanwhile, customer service was not one of the key performance indicators that customer facing staff were judged on. Both of these have now been changed.

“Transport access is a lifestyle choice” Ms Berejiklian said, adding that good access to and use of public transport “is now a first choice rather than a last choice” for Sydney residents. She pointed to Opal’s free travel after the first 8 journeys as having led to an increase in public transport usage on weekends. “This will put pressure on me to put on more weekends services and that’s good” she said. Opal could also provide real time information on crowding on transport services, which was not possible under the previous ticketing system that only collected ticket data from point of sale rather than actual customer entries and exits.

Speaking about light rail in Parramatta, she said that it was important that it connect to the health and education precincts in the area. This may have been a hint that the Westmead to Macquarie Park alignment, the only one to pass through both Westmead Hospital and the University of Western Sydney’s Parramatta campus, is the preferred alignment. The NSW Government has committed $400m in funding for a light rail line from Parramatta for an as yet undecided route.

Looking towards the future, she said the proposed Sydney Rapid Transit network set to link Rouse Hill to Bankstown via the CBD will add 3 much needed stations in the city centre, while confirming it would eventually be extended to Hurstville. Meanwhile, Sydney’s new double deck buses will soon be joined by shorter buses that are more manoeuvrable around Sydney’s smaller streets.

VIDEO: Opal Man is Transport for NSW’s newest advertising campaign for the Opal card

Tuesday: Woman on train filmed being abusive and racist to other passengers

A woman on a Central Coast train was filmed abusing other passengers, including children, after asking the children to give up their seat so that she could sit down. Another passenger then offered his seat to the woman, but she did not take up the offer and instead called the police. The video, uploaded to YouTube by user Kareem Abdul, shows the woman calling the police about the incident before she begins calling other passengers “bogan” or “gook” (a derogatory term aimed at an Asian woman on the train) as well as mocking an Asian woman and asking her “what’s wrong with Hong Kong, why did you come to this country”. At the time of writing, the video has over 800,000 views.

The woman later apologised for her actions, claiming that she had a “rotten day”. It also emerged that the name “Sue Wilkins” that she gave on the phone to the police was not her actual name.  She was later arrested by police over the incident and taken to Wyong police station.

Transport for NSW issued a statement over Twitter, stating that they would work with police to keep customers safe.

Tuesday: Sydney Trains turns 1 year old

Sydney Trains had its first anniversary, following the creation of Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink on 1 July 2013 from the old Railcorp and CountryLink. Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins spoke to radio station 2GB about his 12 months on the job in which he cited clearer train and station announcements as one of his successes. He also called for more capital investment in the rail network, and urged that it be continued investment rather than one off investments.

The news was followed with an announced $33m refresh of 28 stations across the network, on top of 19 stations already announced that are to be refreshed. This will involve a deep clean and overhaul of facilities, including upgraded toilets, new furniture, energy-efficient lighting, repainting and landscaping. The move has received criticism for including stations which have just been upgraded in recent years, such as Newtown (2013), North Sydney (2008), or Seven Hills (2008). The 28 stations include: Ashfield, Auburn, Cabramatta, Fairfield, Rockdale, Macquarie University, Bankstown, Mount Druitt, Liverpool, Edgecliff, Campsie, North Sydney, Rhodes, Chatswood, Hornsby, Epping, Eastwood, Artarmon, Westmead, Gordon, Newtown, Campbelltown, St Peters, Sutherland, Seven Hills, Sydenham, Turramurra, and Milsons Point.

Tuesday: Road tolls increase

Tolls on most Sydney freeways increased, with the biggest increase found on the M7 where the maximum toll rose 19c to $7.56. License fees for 3 and 5 year drivers licenses also increased by $4.

Wednesday: Opal Man campaign introduced as Opal rolls out to almost 1,000 buses in a month

A new advertising campaign involving “Opal Man” (see video at the top of this post) has been introduced, with 5 actual Opal Men deployed to various stations on the network to encourage individuals to get their Opal card. 360,000 Opal cards have now been issued, with over 15,000 more cards issued every week.

Opal Man is the new TV advertising campaign for the Opal Card. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Opal Man is the new TV advertising campaign for the Opal Card. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The rollout will see Opal readers enabled on 600 Hillbus buses on 30 June as well as a further 300 buses in South West Sydney and Hurstville on 14 July and 16 July respectively. A total of 5,000 buses across NSW will be Opal enabled by the end of the year, with light rail set to be Opal enabled in early 2015.

The purpose of this post is to provide some information on the history of the Opal rollout in Sydney since its introduction and to speculate on its future over the coming 12 months. It does not cover anything before Opal was introduced in December of 2012, but for those who are interested then the post Comparing Opal to Myki and TCard is well worth a read. For the purpose of clarity, some things have been simplified, for example only the rollout within Sydney is covered and when Opal was extended to multiple lines/routes in a short period of time they have been lumped together. Rollout information was gathered from Transport for NSW Media releases.

Opal’s Past

Ferries

Opal was introduced on 7 December 2012 on the Neutral Bay Ferry, with 200 people signing up for the initial trial. By 25 March 2013, 550 Opal cards had been registered. It was later expanded to include the Manly Ferry on 8 April 2013, and finally all ferries by the 30 August 2013.

Trains

However, take-up of Opal cards did not begin to gain traction until the rail network begun to be Opal enabled. The City Circle and T4 Line to Bondi Junction were the first to become Opal enabled on 14 June 2013. This was later expanded to Chatswood on 30 September 2013; then along T1 to the Central Coast via Strathfield, Macquarie Park, and Gordon on 31 January 2014; to Emu Plains a month later on 28 February 2014; and finally the entire Sydney Trains network the subsequent month on 28 March 2014. This was the moment that Opal take-up rates began to take off. In its first full year (2013), about 38,000 Opal cards had been registered. By 28 March 2014, just 3 months later, this had risen to 150,000 and by 23 June 2014 it had more than doubled to 340,000.

Opal card take-up and number of trips made - both total trips and free trips after daily/weekly travel cap reached. Logarithmic scale used. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author, data obtained from Transport for NSW media releases.)

Opal card take-up and number of trips made – both total trips and free trips after daily/weekly travel cap reached. Chart goes through to 23 June and does not include 30 June Hillbus rollout. Logarithmic scale used. Click to enlarge. (Sources: Author, data obtained from Transport for NSW media releases.)

However, this was slower than Transport for NSW had projected, with leaked documents showing that it had expected to reach the 150,000 figure by mid-February, at which point the actual figure was only 80,195.

Buses

The first bus route to be Opal enabled was the 594/594H route on 30 September 2013. This is a long route that goes into the Sydney CBD, but is also quite lightly patronised, making it a good first choice to test out Opal. It was soon joined by the more heavily patronised 333 route on 2 December 2013, then by routes serviced by buses from the Kuring-gai depot (14 April 2014), Waverly depot (28 April 2014), Forest Coach Lines (10 June 2014), and Hillsbus (30 June 2014).

Buses are the first mode of transport to have mobile Opal readers installed. Trains and ferries have Opal readers installed at stations and wharves which have fixed line connections, whereas the readers on buses are on the actual vehicles and transmit travel information via the mobile network. This means information is updated quite promptly compared to other smartcards, such as Melbourne’s Myki where Myki readers on trams and buses do not transmit their information until they reach a wifi spot back at the depot.

Fares

In 2011, Sydney had 443,000 bus users, 366,000 train users, and 27,000 ferry users each day (Source: Bureau of Transport Statistics, Public Transport Users in Sydney, p. 1). Opal has now been rolled out to the entire train and ferry network, and only a small part of the bus network, which suggests a captive market of just under 400,000 daily users. As of June 2014, the take-up of Opal cards reached 300,000. Not all holders of Opal cards would be daily users of the transport network, which suggests that there are over 100,000 users that have not yet taken up an Opal card.

This is likely due to a combination of a lack of awareness, concession holders and seniors whose Opal card have yet to be released, and a fare system that makes some users worse off under Opal compared to traditional magnetic stripe tickets. The issue of awareness is likely to take some time to flow through the system while concession and senior Opal cards is discussed at the end of this post.

The stumbling block in terms of fares for the take up of Opal is that there are 3 users who were worse off under Opal: ferry passengers, periodical ticket holders, and multimodal travellers.

Ferry passengers: When myZone was introduced in 2010, the new myMulti tickets gave unlimited ferry travel. This meant that a myMulti1 was actually cheaper for a regular ferry user than a myFerry Travel Ten. Opal fares were cheaper than the Travel Ten, but still more expensive than the myMulti, leading to a very low usage of Opal by ferry users (as low as 5% at one point). The Government responded by removing all ferries from the $46 myMulti1, and removing longer distance ferries such as the Manly ferry from the $54 myMulti2. The backlash from commuters led to a discount being offered, where ferry users were given a $52 weekly cap, rather than the normal $60 weekly cap, until 29 June 2014.

Periodical ticket holders: Shortly after the 2011 NSW election, the Government announced a 9% discounts for periodical tickets: monthlies, quarterlies, and yearlies. The purpose was to encourage pre-payment and reduce waiting times to obtain tickets. However, this also meant that these tickets tend to provide a bigger discount than Opal can, and switching to Opal can mean paying more. Even factoring in days lost to time off for holidays/being sick, it is still generally cheaper to go with a periodical ticket rather than Opal largely due to the 9% discount. This appears to be the thinking behind the retirement of periodical tickets from 1 September 2014 – it will force public transport users (train users in particular) to make the switch to Opal by making it the de facto cheapest option.

Multimodal travellers: Arguably the biggest drawback of Opal is its lack of integrated fares. While it is an integrated ticket – the only ticket a public transport user needs, it lacks fully integrated fares – the same fare from Point A to Point B regardless of which or how many modes of transport are used. To it’s credit, Opal has provided integrated fares within modes for the first time – someone catching two buses sequentially will be charged only a single fare rather than two. But continuing to charge a separate fare for each trip made on a different mode means many users will pay extra on Opal compared to a myMulti ticket. The future of this issue is covered further towards the end of this post, and has been covered in quite some detail by David Caldwell at his blog (well worth reading for some detailed background information).

Opal’s Future

Buses

Having to install Opal readers on each bus, generally progressing depot by depot, means the rollout for buses is much less predictable from a user perspective than the ferry or train rollout was. One bus is not necessarily assigned permanently to one specific route, and a bus route is often serviced by multiple depots. So unlike with trains and ferries, where users of particular stations and wharves began to be able to use their Opal cards, in the case of buses an Opal card can be used if that particular bus is Opal enabled (as shown by the ‘Opal Bus’ sticker on the bottom right of the bus). As a result, the weekly NSW Government Gazette often indicates that Opal can be used on more routes than have been announced by Transport for NSW. This is because the former includes all routes on which any bus may be Opal enabled, while the latter includes all routes on which all buses are Opal enabled.

Opal enabled buses can be identified by stickers on the front. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Opal enabled buses can be identified by stickers on the front. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The bus rollout is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.

Light Rail

The rollout of Opal to light rail is currently scheduled for 2015, with the rest of the transport network set to be completed by the end of 2014. This coincided with announcements that new trams would be delivered during 2014 to cater for the Inner West Light Rail extension to Dulwich Hill and the increased demand that it created. It suggested that Opal readers would be installed on the trams themselves and, with the original Variotrams almost 20 years old, speculation was that readers would only be installed on the new trams. This appeared to explain why Opal would not be available on trams until 2015.

However, poles for Opal readers have been spotted at multiple tram stops, which suggests that Opal readers will be installed at the tram stops themselves. This may not preclude them from being installed on the vehicles too, one possibility would be that only the busy stops have Opal readers installed. But it does raise the probability of having off-vehicle Opal readers.

Seniors and Concession Opal Cards

Opal cards for Seniors will arrive later in 2014. Already buses have stopped selling Pensioner Excursion tickets, requiring pensioners to pre-purchase their tickets. Supporters of the move argue that pensioners could just buy 2 tickets, keeping a spare for getting the bus in cases where no retailer is available nearby, and then purchase a replacement ticket for the next day while they are out; particularly given the change was announced months ago. Critics argue that the move is premature, given that Opal cards will become available for Seniors in a few months, and that this change should be delayed until they are made available.

No specific timetable has been made for Concession Opal cards, though they are most likely going to be issued by the relevant educational institution like current concession cards are. Whether institutions are just given a stack of Opal cards to hand out, if they issue dual student card/Opal card hybrids, or something else is unknown. It appears that they will not be rolled out until the entire network is Opal enabled at the start of the next academic year. High school students between the ages of 16-18 will be able to use the Child Opal card.

Fares

The retirement of yearly tickets on 1 September 2014 means that the earliest date for retiring all paper tickets is 1 September 2015. This is the stated end goal. Changes to ferry, train off peak, and periodical fares mean that Opal fares are now the cheaper option for those who currently use those ticket types; this will be a big incentive in pushing these people to adopting Opal.

But there still remains one type of fare that often remains cheaper with paper tickets than with Opal: multimodal fares. This will prove to be the government’s biggest challenge. Transport advocates in Sydney have called for integrated multimodal fares for a long time, but governments have done little more than take baby steps in that direction. It’s not the Opal technology that is preventing this, but political will and a decision on who will bear any economic cost (the government or the travelling public).

So far the government has announced that trams and buses will enjoy integrated fares, with users charged a single fare based on the origin and destination of their journey. This is to prevent fares from increasing on the CBD and South East Light Rail which will force bus users to interchange to complete their journey. The North West Rail Link too will require users to transfer from a bus to a train, with buses from North West Sydney to the CBD to be converted into feeder services for the new rail line. It would appear logical that a similar fare integration would also be extended to heavy rail too, which would then mean that the 97% of public transport journeys not using ferries would enjoy fare integration. Given the similar per km fare cost for bus and train trips at the moment, this would also be relatively easy to do.

Video: Sydney’s Trains – Flashback Report, Seven News (21 June 2014)

Monday: Opal rolls out to buses in Northwest Sydney

600 buses in the Hillsbus fleet covering Castle Hill, Rouse Hill, Pennant Hills, Parramatta, Blacktown, and express services along the M2 Hills Motorway to the City will become Opal enabled starting from Monday 30 June. There are now more than 340,000 Opal cards issued, with the bus rollout expected to finish by the end of 2014.

Friday: Ashfield Park saved from WestConnex while WestConnex saved from inquiry

Plans for a tunnel connecting Parramatta Road to the M4 East portion of WestConnex that would have impacted on Ashfield Park have been abandoned as part of a deal between the NSW Government and the Shooters and Fishers Party. The tunnel will now emerge at another location, as yet undecided, which will leave the park untouched. In exchange, the Shooters and Fishers have agreed to not back a proposed Parliamentary inquiry into WestConnex.

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Saturday: WestConnex access roads around Parramatta abandoned

Previously planned links between the M4 and local roads around Parramatta have been abandoned as not “cost effective”. A number of the M4’s on and off ramps around Parramatta only provide access in one direction or only from certain roads. The planned widening of the M4 between Parramatta and Strathfield will still go ahead as planned.

Tuesday: Budget includes $60bn for infrastructure

The NSW Budget included funding for $60bn of planned infrastructure spending over the next 4 years. The spending includes new heavy rail lines (North West Rail Link, South West Rail Link), light rail lines (CBD and South East Light Rail, a yet undetermined light rail line from Parramatta), roads (WestConnex, NorthConnex, roads around Badgerys Creek in Western Sydney, Northern Beaches roads and Bus Rapid Transit), and new public transport vehicles (trains and buses).

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Wednesday: NWRL Skytrain construction begins

Construction has begun on the 4km Skytrain viaduct for the North West Rail Link (NWRL). Two stations, Kellyville and Rouse Hill, will be on this portion of the NWRL, elevated above the ground. It will also include a rail bridge crossing Windsor Road.

Video: NWRL Building Skytrain, Transport for NSW (17 June 2014)

Friday: New Rail Operations Centre for Sydney Trains

$11.4m will be spent this year to create a new Rail Operations Centre, which will consolidate the operations and communications functions that are currently geographically dispersed across Sydney. The concentration of these operations will allow for improved communications in responding to incidents on the network.

However, concentration of operations has been criticised in the past. Last year a fire at one of Sydney’s signal boxes (there are 19 in total, with most equipment concentrated in 2 depots) caused a virtual shut down of all trains for 30 minutes on the Sydney Trains network (other than the T4 line). The lack of contingency was blamed for the shut down, with no back up plan available to take over once the signal box was evacuated.

Friday: Transport Police make 5,000 arrests in 2 years

The Public Transport Command (PTC), police responsible for safety on public transport, was established in May 2012 and since then have issued 92,000 infringements, laid 9,000 charges, and made 5,000 arrests. Along with Transport Officers (responsible for checking that tickets are valid) the PTC replaced the old transit officers. Police and Transport Officers now patrol all forms of public transport (Transit Officers were only found aboard trains) but have been criticised for being fewer in number than the old Transit Officers.

The 2014-15 NSW Budget contains $60bn of spending on infrastructure over the next 4 years. Major projects being funded are shown below.

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Highlights, along with the level of NSW Government funding and estimated completion dates, include:

  • $8.3bn on the North West Rail Link, to be completed in 2019.
  • $2.8bn on 65 new trains, to be completed in 2024.
  • $1.8bn on the South West Rail Link, to be completed in 2015.
  • $1.8bn on the WestConnex freeway: M4 East/M4 South/M5 East (topping up $1.5bn in Federal Government funding), to be completed in 2023.
  • $1.6bn on the CBD and South East Light Rail, to be completed in 2019.
  • $633m for roads improvements to the Northern Beaches, including kerbside Bus Rapid Transit, to be completed in 2019.
  • $600m for roads around Badgerys Creek Airport (topping up $2.9bn in Federal Government funding), to be completed in 2024.
  • $400m for light rail from Parramatta once a priority route has been identified (Parramatta to Macquarie Park shown in the map as a potential option) with no set timetable for completion.
  • $400m on the NorthConnex freeway: M1 to M2 (topping up $400m in Federal Government funding), to be completed in 2019.
  • $91m on 199 new buses to replace ageing buses and expand the fleet, announced in 2014.

Infrastructure contingent on the sale of the electricity distribution network: an under the Harbour Rail Crossing (previously cited at around $10bn) and Northern/Southern extensions to WestConnex ($1.5bn) have been omitted from this list, as has the Opal rollout ($1.5bn) and an M9 Outer Orbital freeway (uncosted).

Commentary: Is this worth it?

This budget appears to be seen as quite popular. So much so that the Sydney Morning Herald began the losers portion of its “Winners and Losers section with “There are few obvious losers in this year’s pre-election budget”. Ultimately this budget provides a way of achieving the infrastructure that Sydney desperately needs in order to sustain the additional housing construction that is required to accommodate the millions of new residents it will have by the middle of the century. Asset recycling, the sale of 49% of the electricity distribution network seems to be the only way to achieve this. However, as the Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Clennell quoted a “senior Labor MP [who said]: The poles and wires gives you 10 years, then what do you do? The sale of Sydney Water? Then what?”.

That question of how to fund infrastructure long term on an ongoing basis does not appear to have been answered yet. If it does get answered, the most likely response is higher taxes. So it that worth it? Quite possibly, though privatisation does give the state a decade or two before it needs to be answered.