Posts Tagged ‘Ferries’

Sydney still lacks true integrated fares. In Melbourne, a single ticket allows you 2 hours of unlimited travel within a certain zone. You then decide how to get from your origin to your destination, what sort of vehicle or combination of vehicles. In Sydney, passengers are generally penalised financially if they transfer from one vehicle to another (unless it is from a train to another train). Someone travelling from Enmore to Circular Quay would be better off changing at Newtown for a train (as would the network as a whole as it would allow the removal of buses from the CBD), but doing so requires paying for an additional train ticket or upgrading to a more expensive myMulti ticket and so virtually all stay on the bus the whole way.

Image: Adult Opal smartcard Source: Transport for NSW

An adult Opal smartcard (Source: Transport for NSW)

One possible solution, possible now that the Opal smartcard is being rolled out, is to charge passengers based on the total distance of their journey (point to point fares). It wouldn’t matter which, how many, or what combination of vehicles was used, the fare would remain the same. Alternatively, the existing zonal system used for myMulti tickets could be retained (zonal fares), but set at the same price for single or multimodal journeys. To do so for either the point to point or zonal methods means changing the relative fares of single mode and multimodal tickets. This is a relative change, so it could be an increase in the former, a decrease in the latter, or a combination of both. Further cuts in fares is difficult, due to a falling farebox recovery ratio (explained below using the example of Cityrail).

IPART sets fares so that farebox recovery (what passengers contribute in fares) is roughly 28% of Cityrail’s efficient operating cost, but none of the capital cost. So things like the North West Rail Link, South West Rail Link, and new Waratah trains are paid for entirely by the government, but things like staff salaries or electricity to run the trains are partly paid for by ticket sales and a government subsidy. The efficient costs refers to the total operating costs less any non-fare revenue (government concessions, rental income, etc) received.

This 28% target has not been met in recent years. It was 27% in 2008/09, falling to 25% in 20011/12 (Source: Review of maximum fares for CityRail services from January 2013, IPART Nov 2012, page 13).

There were a number of reasons for the drop. The introduction of myZone in 2010 saw a number of fares cut, but almost none increased. No fare increased was made for 2011, though the following year’s increase was a double up to make up for that. The current government has promised no fare increases above CPI without any improvements in services, and has stuck to the CPI limit since 2011. Also in 2011, an additional discount of 9% was provided on periodicals (monthly/quarterly/yearly tickets).

More recently, the government effectively increased fares for ferries by removing them all from Zone 1 and some from Zone 2 in the myZone system, forcing myMulti users up to a myMulti2 or myMulti3 if they wanted a multimodal ticket. The current Opal fare system also does not include periodicals, which if retained could increase fares for some by hundreds of dollars a year. However, most fares will remain cheaper under Opal than under the the current magnetic stripe tickets, particularly for off peak users.

So if cutting fares further is difficult, assuming a limited transport budget that is not increased, then the government would have to increase fares in order to achieve integrated fares. Recent reports suggest that this is not the government’s priority, and that there remains a preference for charging different fares for different modes due to the varying cost structures of different modes. Some minor improvements have been made – such as integrated fares for a single mode (e.g. ferry to ferry, or train to train while temporarily exiting the station), or the daily $15 cap and weekly free travel after the first 8 trips.

This might be enough for now, but will create problems come 2019 and 2020 when the North West Rail Link and South East Light Rail Line are opened. These two projects will in part rely on feeder buses and passengers transferring to second mode of transport in order to reach their final destination. This integrated network approach is a more efficient one, allowing a higher capacity of passenger movements along a central spine using rail based transport. But it needs integrated fares to be truly successful.

The danger remains that Sydney will get integrated ticketing and an integrated network, but no integrated fares.

Correction: An earlier version of this post showed a map of the proposed Opal rollout as including stations between Granville and Liverpool. This has since been clarified by Transport for NSW as being stations between Strathfield and Liverpool via Regents Park. The map now been corrected.

Sydney’s Opal smartcard will be expanded into the rail network on 14 June 2013. It has currently operated on only 2 ferry routes, to Neutral Bay and Manly, and just 700 cards have been distributed thus far. However, passengers will not enjoy integrated fares, paying a separate fare for a journey involving both trains and ferries rather than a single fare for a single journey.

On 14 June, Opal will operate on limited sections of the ferry and rail network. (Source: Opal website)

On 14 June, Opal will operate on limited sections of the ferry and rail network. (Source: Opal website)

A trial of Opal will initially operate on the Eastern Suburbs Line and City Circle, starting at Central Station. In the fourth quarter of 2013 this will be extended north to Chatswood and expanded to include all ferries. Then in the first quarter of 2014 Opal’s coverage will spread further, first to Strathfield and Wyong, then to Richmond, Emu Plains, and Liverpool (Source: Opal website).

After the initial trial on the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle Lines, Opal will then be rolled out progressively onto the North Shore, Inner West, Northern, Western, and South Lines. (Sources: Cityrail, Transport for NSW, Opal website)

After the initial trial on the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle Lines, Opal will then be rolled out progressively onto the North Shore, Inner West, Northern, and Western Lines. (Sources: Cityrail, Transport for NSW, Opal website)

The expansion of Opal into a multi-modal ticketing system will not be accompanied by multi-modal fares. Opal users who travel on just a single mode of transport will pay less than one who travels on two modes, even if their origin and destination are exactly the same. This penalises passengers for having to make a transfer via higher fares, despite this being an added inconvenience to them. An ideal fare system, one which uses integrated fares, would charge passengers based on the distance they travel, regardless of which and how many modes they use to get there.

The reluctance to integrate fares at this point may be due to the government’s choice to focus on rolling out Opal first, and fixing the fares second. The recent decision, on the advice of IPART, to correct the anomaly on ferries where a myMulti ticket was cheaper than a myFerry ticket supports this view. Fixing the other anomaly that was introduced with myZone, cheap long distance bus tickets for Northern Beaches and Northwest bus services, could be the other prerequisite to introducing full integrated ticketing.

Despite this, the $15 daily fare cap, along with the unlimited free journeys each week after the first 8, together act as a kind of integrated fare. Passengers currently need to determine the best ticket at the start of each week in order to pay the lowest fare, be it single tickets, a weekly, or a myMulti. With Opal they will be able to travel first, and then the cheapest possible fare will be charged at the end of the week. These are definitely improvements, but still retain what remains an unnecessarily complicated fare structure.

Opal cards can be obtained by ordering them online from the www.opal.com.au website. The smartcard is free, but requires a minimum $40 deposit.

Two years since the last state election and two years until the next one, it’s time to evaluate how the O’Farrell government has performed on the issue of transport. Given the scale of time it takes to implement changes and additions to such a large system (a new rail line take almost a decade from inception to opening), it would not be fair to judge the government on things it has not yet had a chance to reform. At the same time, 2 years is enough to take advantage of low hanging fruit, make operational improvements, and begin the process of changing the direction of the heavy ship that is Sydney’s transport system.

This is a long post, so here is the summarised version:

  • The good: The government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing, Gladys Berejikliian is a good Transport Minister, the rollout of integrated ticketing (Opal) is on track, there will be a big increase in train services later this year, the South West Rail Link is running 6 months ahead of schedule, the creation of an integrated transport authority (Transport for NSW) will allow an integrated transport network, the government has prioritised public transport ahead of roads, the government learned from the PPP mistakes of the past, and new transport apps are making getting around easier.
  • The bad: Overcrowding on Cityrail is up, on time running on Cityrail is down, no congestion charging, and no committment to a second Sydney airport.
  • The uncertain: Integrated fares, sectorisation of the rail network to untangle it, and driverless trains??

The most important parts at this point in time, in my opinion, are a Second Harbour Crossing (good), integrated fares (uncertain), sectorisation (uncertain), creation of Transport for NSW (good), Opal (good), overcrowding (bad), on time running (bad), Transport Minister (good). our good, two uncertain, two bad. The two bad points could be improved with the October 2013 timetable changes, if some hard decisions are made, whereas the two uncertain points will require a decision some time this year. It will be worth revisiting this in 12 months time to see if the government delivers on those four points, but until then I would rate the government as a B overall (on a scale of A to F). This is giving them some benefit of the doubt, based on a good overall performance in other areas. Without the benefit of the doubt, bump that down to a C.

This is obviously quite subjective, so I welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.

Capacity improvements

The best way to improve capacity into dense employment centres, like the CBD, Parramatta, or Macquarie Park, is with rail, preferably heavy rail. It is pleasing to see, therefore, that the government has committed to a Second Harbour Crossing, a new light rail line down the CBD through to Randwick, and the North West Rail Link (NWRL), in addition to the South West Rail Link (SWRL) and Inner West Light Rail extension, both commenced under the previous government. The Second Harbour Crossing in particular, expensive and opposed by some as necessary given the cost, will result in a 33% increase in capacity across the network by adding a fourth path through the CBD.

The decision to dump the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL) is unfortunate, but was the right call as the priority right now is with the projects listed above. Similarly, the decision to build the NWRL with smaller and steeper tunnels, thus preventing existing double deck trains from using them, could be seen as short sighted. However, it also guarantees that the line will remain separate from the Cityrail network, opening up the possible benefits of a new operating model that has a lower cost to operate and therefore can provide more frequent services (see: Private sector involvement). It also has the benefit of lower construction costs, which would be very beneficial should the Second Harbour Crossing go under the Harbour, as seems likely.

  • Conclusion: A committment to expand the rail network, a Second Harbour Crossing in particular, will improve capacity by 33%. The decision  to make the NWRL tunnels narrower and steeper remains controversial.
  • Grade: B

Service quality

The Cityrail network, which forms the backbone of transport in Sydney, is under a lot of pressure at the moment. Overcrowing is up, while on time running is down. February was one of the worst months in Cityrail’s history, with 5 major disruptions during peak hour causing a suspension of services, which often spilled over onto other lines in the network. You have to go back 4 years to find operational figures this bad. It urgently needs additional train services to ease overcrowding and a more simplified network to improve reliability.

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Interior of a Sydney tram. Overcrowding is up on the Cityrail network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Part of the cause of these problems is the network that the government inherited. But 2 years in, it is now incumbent on the government to fix it. So far, this has meant 63 new services per week in 2011, and then 44 new services per week in 2012, for a total of 107 new services per week. This is a good start, but baby steps at best. What is really needed is an increase on the scale of the 2005 timetable, which cut 1,350 weekly services. Previously there have not been enough train drivers or rolling stock to do this, and it remains uncertain whether it’s possible now. Older, non-airconditioned trains may need to be used if the government does not order more Waratah trains to increase capacity.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has continually pointed to October of this year as the moment that a new timetable, re-written from the ground up, will be introduced that features a streamlined network with additional services. But few details have been officially released, though some proposed changes have been leaked. Once that is implemented, it would be worth revisiting this issue. Service is also still better than the horror years of 2003-05. These two factors give the government a slightly more favourable rating than would have otherwise been the case.

There have been some minor improvements that are worth mentioning in passing. Quiet carriages have been introduced and phone reception is now available in the CBD’s underground rail tunnels.

  • Conclusion: Overcrowding and reliability are at 4 year lows in the rail network, though there have been minor improvements such as quiet carriages and phone reception. Overall, it’s a poor result.
  • Grade: D

Ticketing and fares

The major issues here are the Opal rollout and integrated fares.

The implementation of Opal appears to be on track, with the new smartcard set to expand to the Manly Ferry on April 8, and then to the Eastern Suburbs and City Circle stations in the second half of 2013. Up to now it appears to have proceeded without any major hiccups, and has gotten further in the rollout than the T-Card did.

There remains little detail on integrated fares other than that cabinet will consider fares at some point in early 2013. This is a potential game changer, and it seems likely that it could be implemented once Opal is fully rolled out.

The government has made a committment to not increase fares beyond CPI unless service levels improve, and has also incorporated the light rail into myZone. Both are positive, though the former is problematic in that it will erode the ability of fares to recover operating costs, as fares only account for about a quarter of the cost to operate Sydney’s transport network.

  • Conclusion: Good progress on Opal, but not on integrated fares. Limiting fare increases and putting the light rail on myZone are also some good minor improvements.
  • Grade: C

Transport Minister

Gladys Berejiklian has been a good Transport Minister for 2 reasons: she supports public transport and she is a strong advocate of it.

She strikes the right balance between public transport (trains, buses, ferries, trams) and private transport (cars, roads). It’s worth pointing out that, despite numerous claims that this government is pro-car and anti-rail, the current government spends more than half of its transport capital works budget on public transport. It’s also worth remembering that private motor vehicle trips will continue to play a key role in providing mobility to Sydney residents, and therefore the road network should still be expanded. But the focus should be on public transport, as it currently is.

As an aside, this support for public transport is unusual for a politician from the conservative side of politics. But both Ms Berejiklian and the Premier Barry O’Farrell are not your traditional hard conservatives, both more accurately described as moderate pragmatists. They both seem to recognise that congestion is costing the NSW economy money and the best way to improve the situation is to focus on public transport.

The Victorian Liberal Government’s top transport project is a road tunnel under the CBD, while the recently elected WA Liberal Government rejected the opposition’s 75km expansion of the rail network in favour of a short airport rail link and light rail for the inner city with a greater focus on improving the road network. Across the Tasman, the Auckland Transport Blog speaks favourably of conservatives in Australia (though really it’s more a comment on NSW, because as seen this is not a view necessarily shared by Liberal Parties in other states):

“I guess this is what happens when you have a centre-right government that isn’t completely insane in its ideological dislike of public transport…I do wonder why centre-right politicians in Australia don’t seem to have the same ideological dislike of public transport as seems to be the case in New Zealand.”Mr Anderson, Auckland Transport Blog (23 December 2012)

The other, and arguably more important, reason why Ms Berejiklian is a good Transport Minister is her strong advocacy. It’s not enough to support something if the cabinet or Premier overrule you. And Ms Berejiklian has demonstrated an ability to get her agenda through the cabinet where it’s been needed. She got cabinet to support an expensive Second Harbour Crossing, despite opposition from Infrastructure NSW Chairman Nick Greiner and took the light rail issue to cabinet 3 times until it accepted her preferred option of George St light rail over the CBD bus tunnel. These two major items, along with numerous other minor ones, were not a fait accompli, and are a testament to Ms Berejiklian’s influence.

  • Conclusion: Gladys Berejiklian is supporter of and effective advocate for public transport
  • Grade: A

Funding, costs and scheduling

Public transport projects in NSW seem to come in over budget and behind schedule all too often. That appears to have been partly continued. The Inner West Light Rail extension has been delayed by 18 months and its cost blown out by $56m, while the cost of the South West Rail Link (SWRL) went from $688m to $2.1bn. However, the SWRL is running ahead of schedule: the new Glenfield Station was completed 4 months ahead of schedule, while the new line is on track to open 6 months early. While this project was started by the previous Labor government, it’s delivery has been overseen by the current Liberal government and that’s what matters. The North West Rail Link has seen some blow outs in costs, but these are tens of millions of dollars in a multi-billion dollar project, so here it’s too early to make any judgement.

On the revenue side, the government has spoken about value capture as a way of funding infrastructure improvement, where property owners whose land values increase because of government built infrastructure contribute to the cost of building it. This is welcome, but no action has yet been taken. It has also openly committed to making users of any new or improved freeways pay tolls to contribute to their construction. This move to a user pays system, where the users of motorways pay for them rather than all taxpayers whether they use them or not, is a welcome one. What is unfortunate, is that the government has refused to introduce congestion charging, as pricing roadspace would allow a more efficient use of it, reducing congestion and the need to build more roads.

  • Conclusion: Cost blowouts and delays remain, though a possible early finish to the SWRL is a welcome surprise. Tolling and funding is a mixed bag, but mostly positive.
  • Grade: C

Governance

The two big reforms made by the government in the area of governance are the creation of Transport for NSW, which brought all transport related departments and agencies under the one umbrella, and the splitting of Railcorp into Sydney Trains and NSW Trains.

Transport for NSW’s creation is a game changer. By centralising planning into one department, rather than independent “silos” in separate departments that rarely communicate with each other, it will allow transport in Sydney to be fully integrated as one network, rather than a collection of separate networks. This extends to things like timetables and fares, but also adds roads to the mix – changing a transit department into a true transport department. All of this which will allow commuters to get from A to B much more easily than is currently the case. It will make examples like the following a thing of the past:

“For example, a customer could travel from St Ives to Sydney, via a private bus to Turramurra, a Cityrail train and walking along the city streets… The journey requires 2 separate tickets and therefore revenue streams, which never meet. The two vehicles are owned, maintained and driven by vastly different staff working for different silos.

The station facility is provided by Cityrail. If they’ve thought to accommdate the bus in the design of the facility, it would be the exception rather than the norm. The timetabling, if it is done at all, would be by a third silo in a distant building, remote from the reality of what’s happening.” – Riccardo, Integrated transport planning – what is it really? (11 June, 2011)

The Transport Master Plan put a great deal of emphasis on moving towards an integrated network, one where it would be much more common practice to take a feeder bus to a transport interchange and then take train, tram, or another bus to your final destination, with all coming frequently and all day, in order to maximise mobility. This would be a big improvement on the current network design, which is designed more around a single seat trip to the CBD than on connections to get you from anywhere to everywhere. However, this will be difficult to implement without integrated fares (discussed above), as currently commuters are penalised for making a transfer as though it is a premium service, when really it’s an inconvenience.

Evidence of the benefits of centralised planning can be seen in the recent decision to house metrobuses in separate depots in order to minimise dead running. This was not previously possible, as planning was done at the depot level, and so shifting buses from one depot to another was not feasible.

A Metrobus on George St in the Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

A Metrobus on George St in the Sydney CBD. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

The changes to Railcorp are not set to occur until July 1 of this year, so the jury is still out on that.

  • Conclusion: The creation of Transport for NSW, centralising the planning function and creating a true transport department.
  • Grade: A

Planning

NSW has had no lack of plans in recent years, if anything it’s had the problem of too many plans but not enough action. When it comes to just planning, the government had 2 competing visions: the Transport Master Plan from Transport for NSW and the State Infrastructure Strategy from Infrastructure NSW.

To its credit, every time the two plans disagreed, the state government sided with the Transport Master Plan every time. That means it has committed to building a Second Harbour Crossing for the rail network and light rail down George Street rather than the ill-fated bus tunnel idea.

It also dogmatically refused to commit to a light rail line to Randwick until a feasibility study was completed, but then got totally behind the project once it was completed and put before cabinet.

That is not to say that there aren’t concerns about the planning process. For example, the government has committed to the Second Harbour Crossing before having done enough work into it to name a cost or set a timetable for its completion. It was this sort of behaviour that contributed to the $500m spent on the aborted Rozelle Metro by the previous government.

  • Conclusion: The government has sided with Transport for NSW, rather than Infrastructure NSW, leading to a greater focus on public transport, rather than private transport. However, it has a mixed history of committing to projects before having done its homework.
  • Grade: B

Private sector involvement

The failure of PPPs like the Airport Line as well as the Cross City and Lane Cove Tunnels mean that government’s should approach private sector involvement with caution. But that does not mean that it should avoid it entirely.

In NSW, the government has opted to adopt the WA model, rather than the Victorian model. In WA, the government plans and owns the network, but puts the operation of various lines or regions out to tender, allowing competitive practice to drive down costs while maintaining a minimum contractual level of service. The government then pays the operator, but keeps all fares, ensuring that the operator can increase profits only by operating more efficiently, rather than by cutting service. The Victorian model sees the operators keep farebox revenue, which is then topped up by a government subsidy. The disadvantage of the Victorian model is that the operator can increase profits by cutting services with low patronage, even if these services are part of an overall network such as feeder buses.

The chosen model has proven successful in NSW, having been used on the bus network for almost a decade. It allowed the government to put some bus contracts out to tender, resulting in $18m of annual savings for the tax payer. It has also recently been expanded, when Sydney Ferries being franchised last year. The NWRL is also planned to be privately operated, while the Sydney light rail line was recently re-purchased by the government but will remain operated by a private company.

Sydney Ferries were franchised in 2012. (Source: Author)

Sydney Ferries were franchised in 2012. (Source: Author)

The decision to turn the NWRL into a completely separate and privately operated line, but one where commuters still pay the same fare as if they were on a Cityrail train, has the potential to finally stem the bleeding in Cityrail’s costs, perhaps through the use of driverless trains that would allow very high all day frequencies.

The recently introduced unsolicited proposal process has also allowed a proposal for an M2-F3 link to be constructed by the private sector at no cost to the taxpayer. While the outcome is uncertain, the process has been shown to work, and is a great way to increase the stock of infrastructure in Sydney. (Setting aside the involvement of this process for another Sydney Casino, which has raised some controversy.)

  • Conclusion: The government has learned from the bad PPPs of the past and appears to be using private sector involvement as a means, rather than as an ends.
  • Grade: A

Second Sydney airport

The current government has not only ruled out the preferred site of Badgerys Creek for a second airport, it has ruled out a second airport altogether, suggesting that a high speed rail line to Canberra airport could be used as a substitute. Not only is this unlikely to happen, given the high costs involved, but it means passing up on the opportunity to bring jobs to Western Sydney and revitalise its economy, which currently has a huge jobs shortfall that is only predicted to increase.

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

Current and proposed Sydney airports. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps)

Given the lack of support for a second airport, it is then disappointing that the government has not sought to reduce or elimiate the access fee for users of the airport train stations in order to ease the ground transport congestion around the airport, cited as the biggest constraint on Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith Airport at the moment.

  • Conclusion: The government does not support a second airport, and has not done enough to improve the capacity of the existing airport.
  • Grade: F

Transport apps

The makers of transport apps have seen an increase in the amount of transport data available to them. This has allowed for Google Transit to expand to all forms of public transport (previously it was just light rail and the monorail), and has also now included bike paths (though it seems Google did this on its own, rather than with help from the state government). More recently real time bus data was provided for STA buses, and will hopefully later be extended to all buses and also trains.

  • Conclusion: The government has been proactive in improving transport information to commuters by involving third party developers.
  • Grade: A

Opal trial

Posted: November 26, 2012 in Transport
Tags: , ,

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, announced yesterday that the trial of Sydney’s new electronic ticketing system, Opal, will begin next week on Friday 7 December on the Neutral Bay ferry route. This will be followed by the Manly ferry in the second quarter of 2013, with all ferry routes to be Opal compatible by the end of 2013. The Cityrail network will come next, starting with a trial on the City Circle in the second half of 2013, then buses and light rail. Opal will be fully rolled out by 2015. Transport for NSW has made a video outlining some of the features, which is included below.

Yesterdays announcement included a number of new details on how Opal will function. Fares will be capped at $15 per day, or $2.50 for Sundays, and all trips after the 8th are free each week. Commuters will need to “tap on” when they board and “tap off” when the disembark, and failing to do so means they will be charged the maximum possible fare for that journey (no tapping off is required on the Manly ferry as there are only 2 stops and so the second stop is assumed to be where passengers tap off). This suggests that Opal will be a point to point system for calculating fares, but it remains to be seen what the multi-modal impact will be (e.g. when you catch a bus and a train as part of one journey) and whether you will be charged a single fare for the trip or are penalised with two individual fares (resulting in a higher overall fare) for each leg of the journey. Given that Opal will be restricted only to ferries until mid-2013, it might be a while before this becomes apparent.

The black adult Opal card. Click on image for an image of the 5 different Opal cards. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Only adult Opal cards are available at the moment, with various concession Opal cards to be introduced in future, each distinguished by different colours (the adult Opals are black). There will also be non-reloadable Opal cards to allow single trips, for occassional users and tourists, which suggests that the magnetic stripe tickets will be phased out quite quickly and that Sydney might avoid the teething problems that Melbourne had with its simultaneous operation of Myki and Metcards.

Transport for NSW staff will be signing people up to Opal at ferry wharves, with no word yet on whether it costs anything to buy an Opal card. Opal credit can be added at shops (like those where you can currently buy pre-paid tickets), over the phone, the internet (once the http://www.opal.com.au website goes live), or an automatic top-up (similar to e-tags).

It remains to be seen whether the cautious trial approach that the government is taking is a good one or not. My gut tells me that it’s the right move, and will allow any glitches to be ironed out early without it negatively affecting commuters heavily. That’s the reasoning behind starting with ferries, and even then just the one ferry line at first. And while Opal was set in motion by the previous Labor government, this was a government that started 2 electronic ticketing systems but delivered none. It will be the delivery of Opal that this government will be judged on. If they want to be truly successful, then they will use this as an opportunity to introduced integrated fares as well as integrated ticketing.

Media Reports

Transport card ready to be rolled out in Sydney, ABC

Sydney’s new transport friend not far off, Sydney Morning Herald

Opal card trial to start on ferries after 15-year delay, Daily Telegraph

New Sydney transport ticketing – by 2015, The Australian/AAP

Three things came up in the news in the previous week which are worth touching on just quickly – a new Cityrail timetable, the report by Canberra Airport recommending the construction of high speed rail between Sydney and Canberra rather than building a second airport in the Sydney basin, and the NSW Budget Estimates hearings.

New Timetable

A few extra train services are being added to the timetable. (The associated Transport for NSW press release says it is 44 services per week, while the Telegraph reports 36 new services per week, but I count only 34.) It includes 4 new services each day (weekdays only) to the Illawarra/Eastern Suburbs Line as well as 2 new services each day (weekdays and weekends) to the Blue Mountains Line (all the way to Bathurst, which until recently was served by buses rather than trains). This is on top of the 63 new services per week introduced last year, bringing it up to about an extra 100 train services per week since the Coalition won the 2011 election.

However, word is that it is the next timetable change, coming at the end of 2013, that will deliver real changes to service levels on the Cityrail network and will also involve a complete re-write of the timetable from the ground up. This is when the Liverpool turnback platform and Kingsgrove to Revesby track quadruplication are set to be completed, allowing for a significant increase in the number of trains operated. This is particularly the case for trains that use the City Circle, which currently is not being used to its full capacity during either the morning or afternoon peak.

Canberra High Speed Rail

A report released by Canberra Airport suggests that High Speed Rail (HSR) could enable Canberra Airport to function as Sydney’s second airport, eliminating the need to build a second airport in the Sydney Basin. Given the $11bn price tag of HSR, compared to $9bn for a second airport, and a total travel time of 57 minutes into the Sydney CBD, the plan appears to be quite reasonable. However, Alan Davies points out that the $11bn figure comes from the federal government’s HSR feasibility study, which found that:

“the report says there’s only a 10% chance that estimate wouldn’t be exceeded. No one uses that figure – the preferred estimate is $19 billion because at least there’s a 90% chance it won’t be exceeded” – Alan Davies (10 Oct, 2012), The Urbanist

A HSR link was also quickly rejected by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who said it was “some time away” from being viable.

Hopefully one or both the state and federal government will bite the bullet and accept the conclusion of the both the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity and the Infrastructure NSW report, which recommend a second airport be built at Badgerys Creek. This location provides improved transport links and employment opportunities for the growing Western Sydney region. It’s an unpopular decision, but it’s the right one.

Budget Estimates

The Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, fronted the state budget estimates hearing on transport on Tuesday. Major information arising from that hearing included points below.

Heavy rail:

The portion of the hearings that made the headline news was about non-air conditioned trains being kept on, despite these being scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2014 once all the Waratah trains are delivered. It comes from the following question and answer:

“Are you planning beyond 2014 for the C and K sets and other non air-conditioned sets to have to remain on the network to meet the timetable changes…Mr Wielinga are you confident that the C, K and S sets are not going to remain on the network beyond the rollout of the Waratahs?” – Penny Sharpe (9 Oct, 2012), Shadow Transport Minister

“No. We are being as flexible as we can be. The question that needs to be asked is: How many additional services do we want to put on? If our customers are seeking additional services and we want to increase that above what is programmed at the moment, we will use whatever rolling stock is available to us to provide those customer services.” – Les Wielinga (9 Oct, 2012), Director General of Transport for NSW

Some confusion remains as to what this means, primarily due to Ms Sharpe’s questions, and whether she was asking only about non-air conditioned trains, or about the old silver sets (each given a letter classification, with C and K being air conditioned, while L, R, and S are not air conditioned). This led to the following back and forth on Twitter:

What could potentially be happening is that all non-air conditioned trains are being withdrawn from service, but kept warehoused for use in case of emergency, should a situation arise in which Cityrail was short on trains. In these cases, a non-air conditioned train is better than a cancelled train. Mr Wielinga’s response would be consistent with such a scenario. Or alternatively, it could just mean that increased numbers of services each day means that some non-air conditioned trains will be kept on in regular service in order to meet timetabling requirements.

Ms Berejiklian was asked if a second harbour crossing that is not in the form of an under-harbour tunnel was being considered, but she did not directly address the question (page 30). She instead pointed out that 15 different options had been considered for Sydney’s rail network once the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) is completed, but these were high level options (such as converting the existing harbour crossing to single deck metro, rather than building a new one, or maintaining double deck rolling stock on the entire network) that did not include specific alignments. She did, however, reaffirm that a second harbour crossing will be built (page 14).

A figure cited by the Sydney Morning Herald of $4bn of extra work which would be required to handle the NWRL once it is completed is not new money, and these costs are already budgeted for.

The narrower tunnels on the NWRL, large enough for single deck rolling stock but not double deck rolling stock, will result in cost savings. However, the cost savings are less than the cost of refitting the existing Epping to Chatswood section of the line to run the single deck trains (page 29). The real savings would occur when building new tunnels, most potentially an under-harbour tunnel, as single deck trains can handle steeper gradients than the heavier double deck trains.

Light rail:

The Greenway – a pedestrian and bicycle path, which was originally part of the Dulwich Hill light rail extension before being deferred, would have costed $37m to build (page 34), compared to the cost of the light rail extension of $176m. The $176m figure includes $24m for rolling stock (page 16), and was revised upwards from $120m under the previous Labor Government, which (along with the delay in its completion) Ms Berejiklian says is because the previous government had not done any geotechnical work, considered where the rolling stock would be acquired from, etc.

A final decision on George St light rail will be made in the final transport plan (page 33), to be released by the end of the year.

Miscellaneous:

Opal is on track to be rolled out on ferries in December of this year.

The Director General of Transport for NSW, Les Wielinga, was never a full director of Infrastructure NSW, he was only ever a temporary “guest” (page 9). Mr Wielinga also argued that the differing conclusions made by his organisation (Transport for NSW) and Infrastructure NSW was due to each taking a different approach, and so different solutions were inevitable but that he also did “not think this is a problem”.

There are many things missing from the Draft Transport Master Plan. While defining it by what it doesn’t have, rather than what it does, would result in a never ending list, there are some major omissions that deserve some specific mention. They are, in no particular order:

Integrated fares

While integrated ticketing is being introduced with the rollout of Opal, allowing commuters to use just one ticket to get around Sydney, there is nothing in the transport plan suggesting that they will be charged an equal fare regardless of which (or how many) mode (or modes) of transport they use to reach their destination. In other words, if you are going from point A to point B, then it shouldn’t matter which way you get there, you should be charged the same fare.

At the moment Sydney does not have integrated fares. In fact, if you use 2 vehicles (unless it’s trains or you have a weekly MyZone ticket) then you are charged a premium fare despite the fact that having to make a transfer is a reduction in the quality of your journey. This has led to many anywhere to anywhere bus routes all over Sydney, as commuters refuse to pay extra to change from one bus to another, resulting in the available buses being spread thin and leading to low service frequencies.

Sydney currently has a radial bus network, as seen on the left. Proposed changes to a radial and circumferential network that emphasises transfers, as seen on the right, would improve connectivity but also require integrated fares. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 55.)

The transport plan seeks to change this model, moving to a grid (or cobweb) style network that requires transfers, but provides both frequency and connectivity. However, to work effectively, integrated fares are required to ensure that commuters are no worse off for having to transfer. This currently does not appear to be in the plan.

The Parramatta to Epping Rail Link
The O’Farrell government went to the 2011 election promising to prioritise the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) ahead of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link (PERL). Initially, this meant deferring the PERL until 2036, with a NWRL completed in 2019 and a Second Harbour Crossing completed some time in between. But when the Sydney’s Rail Futures plan was completed in the middle of this year it was missing any mention of the PERL, the first indication that this project had been dropped altogether.

Forward planning (unless it’s roads)

The Master Plan lists 3 new freeways that it would like built (an M4 East, an M5 East duplication, and an F3 to M2 link) plus another 3 new freeways for consideration beyond the 20 year scope of the plan (an F6 linking Waterfall to the airport, an Inner West Bypass between the M4 East and M5 East, and a freeway linking the M4 East to the M2). It then also recommends that the government begin planning reserving land in outer suburban areas so that freeways can be built there many decades into the future. This is fantastic forward planning, and should be commended as it will avoid huge tunneling costs in the future that we are contemplating today.

The transport plan has recommended reserving corridors for future roads, but does not include a similar recommendation for reserving corridors for future rail lines. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

And yet when it comes to public transport, no such recommendations are made. Where is the action on reserving land for future rail lines, light rail corridors, bus rapid transit, etc? This included in the 20 year rail plan, so why is it missing from the transport plan? Why has it been removed?

It’s hard to imagine a transport plan since the height of the automobiles golden age back in the 1950s that has felt so biased towards roads and away from public transport. Previous plans have ended up seeing more roads built than public transport, but at least they made an effort at planning for public transport before abandoning those plans. This one just skips that step entirely!

UPDATE (9 September 2012): Some further reading reveals that planning has been included for reserving corridors for both roads and public transport. The following diagram illustrates the locations of the corridors. The report, at 370 pages, was quite long and limited time meant I was unable to go through it in as much detail in the days following its release and I unfortunately missed this.

Transport corridors, both road and public transport, that are being investigated or reserved for future transport infrastructure projects. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 197.)

Funding and costings

There are some details on this, but it tends to be broad statements with some token details around the edges. For example, costings for individual projects are not included, although a figure of $100 billion over the next 20 years has been mentioned in the media. If this is accurate, then it is actually within the scope of the existing transport capital expenditure budget, which is equal to $25 billion over the next 4 years (Transport Master Plan, page 323), or roughly $125 billion over the next 20 years with some simple estimation.

The report has some interesting ideas. These include: increasing parking levies inside activity centres to discourage car use while funding public transport, reforming car registration to take into account road use (code for km based fees, rather than a flat fee regardless of how much you use the road), reforming public transport agencies (e.g. the creation of Transport for NSW, franchising Sydney Ferries, and splitting Railcorp into Sydney Trains and NSW Trains), allowing more commercial sites into existing transport interchanges, and capturing value created from transport investment. The last one is probably the one with the greatest scope to raise additional revenues, and one that I have written about previously.

However, other than these few points (not many for a plan this big), details on funding and costing remain general in nature and are lacking in specific details, examples or case studies much beyond saying “we will investigate this further”.

Light rail to Sydney University or to Barangaroo

Although the government has not decided what it will do with the results of the Light Rail Feasibility Study yet, the study has been completed, and this is evident by inclusion of details of light rail in the Master Plan. It suggests light rail for George Street in the CBD and a line on or under Devonshire St that then goes along Anzac Parade to UNSW. But gone is any mention of light rail to the University of Sydney or, more importantly, to Barangaroo. It is true that Barangaroo will have a new walkway to connect it quickly with Wynyard Station, and that it will sport a new ferry wharf. But it will be intriguing to see why the decision has been made to not extend the light rail line through to Barangaroo via The Rocks.

Bus priority

This has been talked about ever since the Unsworth Review into buses back in 2004. With most buses now equiped with GPS tracking teachnology, it is possible to work out when a aprticular bus is running late. In order to get that bus back on time, priority can be given to it at traffic lights, giving that bus a green light earlier than would normally happen. To ensure buses don’t run earlier than the timetable, this would only happen when a bus is late. This would be a huge improvement in reliability for Sydney’s bus network, and it’s unfortunate to see that little progress has been made in the last decade on implementing this.

Congestion charging

This has been ruled out by the government, despite such measures having worked well in places like London or Singapore. The idea behind it is that by charging road users a premium to use CBD roads during peak hours it will encourage some car users to travel at other times or to take public transport, thus giving those who do pay a faster trip with less traffic. It would also help to fund public transport. Instead, we have a situation where it is free to use surface streets which causes noise and pollution as well as danger for pedestrians (remember that 93% of CBD trips are on foot). Meanwhile, if you want to use the Eastern Distributor or Cross City Tunnel, you are charged. It really should be the other way around.

However, the government is looking at raising the parking levy, a tax on parking spaces in the city (I think it only applies to off-street parking). This would be a bit like a congestion charge, but would only discourage trips by people travelling into the CBD, while doing nothing to discourage trips through the CBD. And it is the latter that should be discouraged the most, as it congestion caused by people who aren’t even going into the CBD.

A second Sydney airport

The Premier Barry O’Farrell has made a strong stand on this. He doesn’t want a second airport in Sydney, and is not planning for one. This is a bit like when the Wran Government sold off land intended for the M4 East in an attempt to prevent the construction of that freeway. And while this seems to have delayed its construction, now we find ourselves with a government looking to pay $10-$15 billion to build that freeway in an underground tunnel instead, which has the effect of sucking funds away from public transport projects. Similarly, not planning for a second airport will not remove the need for one, it will only increase the problems and costs of one when it is eventually built.

Project priority and a timetable for completion

Some idea of priority is given in terms of whether a project is short term (0-5 years), medium term (5-10 years) or long term (10-20 years) in nature. But this is quite vague, and only applies to some projects. Road projects in particular, have no sense of priority at all, and await Infrastructure NSW’s report before some idea of which order they will be built in will happen.

Some of the smaller transport stories from the last 2 months. In chronological order:

Moorebank intermodal freight terminal (23 April)

The Federal government is to build a $1.6bn freight terminal in Moorbank in Sydney’s Southwest. The site will connect to a freight rail line with a direct link to the Port Botany, Chullora and Enfield industrial areas as well as the Southern Sydney Freight and Northern Sydney Freight Lines currently being constructed. The end result will be an estimated 3,300 truck trips taken off roads and onto rail each day.

Moorebank Intermodal

The proposed Moorebank Intermodal freight terminal will be located in Southwest Sydney, with rail access to take trucks off the road. (Source: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

The decision to go ahead with this project has been criticised by Qube Logistics, a group headed up by Chris Corrigan, which wanted to build and operate such a site itself. The advantage of Qube’s proposed terminal would be that it could be built at no cost to the taxpayer. However, the government site is both larger and closer to the freight rail line and it would also avoid the problem of a player in the logistics industry (Qube Logistics) owning a key piece of infrastructure and thereby being able to deny access to its competitors.

Crowding on trains is increasing (3 May)

Morning peak hour trains have an average of 1.23 passengers per available seat, an increase on 1.19 in the last year. According to the Cityrail report, the most crowded trains are on the Bankstown Line and the Western Line carries the most passengers, with only trains from the Eastern Suburbs and Blue Mountains having spare seats on average.

Train patronage March 2012

Train patronage March 2012. (Source: Cityrail)

Sydney Ferries will be privately operated starting July (3 May)

Veolia Transdev and Transfield Services will take over operation of Sydney Ferries as soon as next month. Ownership and planning of ferries, as well as the setting and collection of fares, will remain with the government and the Sydney Ferries brand will remain unchanged. Making ferries operate under a franchising model will bring them into line with the system used for the private bus network aswell as the light rail line, both of which are (mostly) publicly owned but privately operated. If this change results in a reduction in the cost to the government of operating the ferry network then expect speculation on whether the government will look to expand franchising to Sydney Buses and the rail network (particularly CountryLink).

Railcorp to be split into 2 entities (15 May)

Railcorp will be split into Sydney Trains (which will run the suburban part of the Cityrail network) and NSW trains (which will run the intercity part of the Cityrail network and the entirety of the CountryLink network). As part of this, 750 back office staff will be offered voluntary redundancies in order to cut costs and responsibility for cleaning will be put into a new subsidiary unit in order to improve cleanliness on trains and at stations. Nationals backbencher Andrew Gee denies that this is a step towards privatising CountryLink/NSW Trains. However, this would not appear to extend to a franchising of NSW Trains, as is being done with Sydney Ferries, particularly if the ferries plan is a success financially.

Quiet carriages made permanent (23 May)

After a trial of so called quiet carriages, they are to be made a permanent feature of Newcastle and Central Coast trains. A trial will now be done on the Blue Mountains and South Coast Lines.

1,200 new park and ride spots (29 May)

An additional 1,200 car parking spaces will be built at stations in order to encourage train use, as well as improvements to transport interchanges such as lifts, kiss and rise zones, and bus interchanges. Big winners are Sutherland (300 spaces), Oak Flats (230 spaces), Lindfield (240 spaces), and Gordon (160 spaces).

I sometimes wonder if park and ride is the most cost effective way of improving train patronage. For example, each new parking spot in Oak Flats costs $25,000, and is quite reasonable. But the cost for the other 3 stations ranges from $123,000 to $275,000 per parking space. (These amounts are inflated as they include the cost of other improvements, but are a good rough guide.) Above a certain price it surely must make sense to re-direct that money towards funding feeder buses rather than parking spaces.