Posts Tagged ‘Melbourne’

VIDEO: Shaun Micallef: Australia’s NBN proposals

A High Speed Rail (HSR) network connecting Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane has been shown to create more benefits than costs while fares would pay the operating costs of trains on such a network. Yet there seems little appetite in the government to build one. Initially, this may appear to be due to the high initial costs of $114bn to build it; but on closer inspection it may be necessary to re-evaluate the way we look at HSR as something for regional Australia rather than just for travel between the capital cities.

Cost benefit analysis suggests that HSR is worth building. The Phase 2 Study found that HSR has a BCR (Benefit Cost Ratio) of 1.1 when a 7% discount rate is used. Thus, the benefits of building HSR are greater than the costs. However, the bulk of these benefits would accrue to the users of HSR in the form of time savings. In 2028 dollars, HSR users would receive $141bn of the total $180bn of benefits that HSR is expected to create. An additional $14bn of benefit go to operator benefits, which help to pay the operating costs and up to $16bn (14%) of infrastructure costs, but this still leaves the government paying for $98bn (86%) of infrastructure spending on HSR. (Sources: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, pages 42, 9).

This means the government would be subsidising the travel costs of HSR users to the tune of $98bn. This is unlike the NBN, where the initial infrastructure spending is expected to be eventually recouped. The majority of users (65%) would be leisure travellers; however the bulk of the benefits would be realised by business travellers (the remaining 35%), who would receive $93.6bn of the $141bn of benefits. That is because of the higher value attached to their time. This point was raised by Alan Davies in Crikey, who proposed that “if the [time] saving is so valuable to business travellers, they should pay the full cost of constructing the line”. The Phase 2 Study even recognises that these travellers would be willing to pay a higher fare:

“Increasing the cost of fares would increase the financial returns and reduce the funding gap, although doing so would reduce the number of people using the system. Even so, the economic benefits of the program would remain positive.”Source: HSR Phase 2 Study Executive Summary, page 9

Higher fares would have the benefit of reducing the government’s cost below $98bn. However, it would do so by impacting leisure travellers the most, with many choosing not to travel on HSR. Business travellers would mostly still continue to use HSR, but the loss of many leisure travellers would see the total benefit of the project reduced. Although the Phase 2 Study claims the economic benefits in such a situation would still remain positive (i.e. a BCR greater than 1), this may be based on the less conservative 4% discount rate, rather than the more conservative 7% discount rate that is normally applied to transport infrastructure projects. The 1.1 BCR that a 7% discount provides is dangerously close to falling below the 1.0 required for the project to be economically viable. Therefore, as it stands HSR does not appear viable without a $98bn government subsidy, most of which would flow to business travellers who least need government welfare.

An alternative perspective

The Phase 2 Study emphasises that HSR accrues more benefits as time progresses, given the growth in population. If governments work collaboratively and actively to preserve potential HSR corridors then HSR cost increases should be limited. Therefore, HSR becomes more viable as time progresses with benefits growing faster than costs.

Since HSR gains most of its benefits from additional users, one way to increase the viability of HSR is to add additional population to the corridor. This would be much easier to achieve around the regional stations where constraints are much more limited than in the major cities. HSR could act as an enabler, allowing a greater number of people to live and work in regional areas without becoming isolated from those services only available in major cities. The Phase 2 Study’s assumptions of modest population growth in regional towns situated on the HSR route show that this was not considered as part of the feasability for HSR.

In fact, the Phase 2 Study finds that HSR will produce $73.2bn in benefits from intercity travel, more than the $67.5bn in benefits from regional travel (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 43). This finding that most of the benefits accrue from intercity travel rather than regional travel suggest that not enough is being done to massively develop regional Australia. HSR provides this opportunity which in turn makes HSR more viable.

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)

Proposed East Coast High Speed Rail alignment. Click to enlarge. (Source: Department of Infrastructure, page 17.)


This idea was floated by the ABC show Catalyst in its 4 December 2014 episode “Future Cities“, in which Dr Julian Bolleter says:

“So, what we think is really important, as the capital cities grow beyond mid-century, is that we begin to think not so much in terms of mega cities, but mega regions. Essentially, it means chains of smaller cities connected with very good public transport infrastructure. So we could conceive of a mega region running from Brisbane to Sydney through Canberra to Melbourne which is bound together by a high-speed rail link, and those cities will have access to affordable land, and they’ll also be able to be designed from the ground up around the principles of 21st-century sustainability. High-speed rail can travel at about 350km/h, so there’s no city along this mega region that is further than two hours commute on a high-speed train from a capital city.”Source: Dr Julian Bolleter, ABC

Achieving this would require us to rethink how HSR would work in AustraliaShadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese recently wrote on HSR in which he concluded one well thought out and one not so well thought out point. His statement that “people could live in regional Australia and commute to work in the city” was not well thought out; this is true only to the extent that people can currently commute to work in Sydney by flying into Kingsford-Smith Airport, or any other major city airport. However his point that “companies could establish themselves in the regions, taking advantage of lower costs but comfortable in the knowledge the city was a short train ride away” hits the nail on the head.

In order for HSR to be a success in spurring regional development people need to live, work, and spend leisure time in the same place. Employment opportunities as well as services that are needed on a day to day basis such as health and education would be provided locally. But the existence of HSR provides convenient access to services which are not needed day to day, such as medical specialists or major cultural festivals.

If the 1,700km HSR corridor had a station every 100km or so along major regional cities, and these cities were allowed to grow to 800,000 residents each (as Dr Bolleter suggests in the Catalyst video), then it would be roughly equivalent to a doubling of the existing populations of Sydney and Melbourne combined. Once it becomes prohibitively expensive to retrofit the necessary infrastructure into our growing major cities, it will become cheaper to build it in regional cities even after the cost of HSR is factored in. Australian cities have not reached that point yet, but it remains a question of when rather than if they do reach that point.

VIDEO: Malcolm Turnbull announces new Cabinet (ABC News)

The new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will abandon the ban on urban rail funding and have a Minister for Cities instead of an Assistant Minister for Infrastructure. In a 14 minute press conference yesterday announcing his new ministerial line up, Mr Turnbull dedicated almost 3 minutes to cities and urban transport in which he stated that “infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits” and that “there is no place for ideology here at all”.

Malcolm Turnbull in Perth before becoming Prime Minister, about to take the train to Mandurah. Click to enalrge. (Source: Malcolm Turnbull.)

Malcolm Turnbull in Perth before becoming Prime Minister, about to take the train to Mandurah. Click to enalrge. (Source: Malcolm Turnbull.)

Mr Turnbull, an avid promoter of public transport who still intends to catch public transport as Prime Minister, is famous not just for taking public transport but also announcing to the world that he takes public transport.

“Livable vibrant cities are absolutely critical to our prosperity. Historically the federal government has had a limited engagement with cities. And yet that is where most Australian live. It is where the bulk of our economic growth can be found. We often overlook the fact that livable cities, efficient productive cities, the environment of cities are economic assets.

You know, making sure that Australia is a wonderful place to live in, that our cities and indeed our regional centres are wonderful places to live is an absolutely key priority of every level of government. Because the most valuable capital in the world today is not financial capital, there’s plenty of that and it is very mobile. The most valuable capital today is human capital. Men and women like ourselves who can choose to live anywhere. We have to ensure for our prosperity, for our future, for our competitiveness that every level of government works together constructively and creatively to ensure that our cities progress.

That federal funding of infrastructure in cities, for example, is tied to outcomes that will promote housing affordability. Integration is critical. We shouldn’t be discriminating between one form of transit and another. There is no ‘roads are not better than mass transit’ or vice versa. Each of them has their place. Infrastructure should be assessed objectively and rationally on its merits. There is no place for ideology here at all. The critical thing is to ensure that we get the best outcome in our cities.

Now of course, we have a Minister for Regional Development in the Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss. But cities have been overlooked, I believe, historically from the federal perspective. So within the Ministry for the Environment I’m appointing the Honorable Jamie Briggs MP to be the Minister to Cities and the Built Environment to work with Greg Hunt, the Environment Minister, to develop a new Australian Government agenda for our cities in cooperation with states, local government, and urban communities.” – Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister (Press Conference, 20/09/2015)

The former Assistant Minister for Infrastructure Jamie Briggs will become the Minister for Cities and Built Environment. Transport and urban development consultant Alan Davies points out that this moves the cities portfolio out of the Department of Infrastructure, where cabinet member and Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese held responsibility for the then Major Cities Unit; shifting it into the Department of the Environment. Mr Briggs will not be in cabinet, and will instead rely on his senior: the Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt.

Mr Davies raises concerns that yesterday’s announcement was mostly symbolic and that he wants to see action, saying “I don’t think it can just be assumed the appointment of Mr Briggs heralds a new dawning for cities that goes beyond rhetoric”. He adds that Mr Briggs “is neither personally influential – he’ll have to rely on Greg Hunt’s efforts in Cabinet – nor pushing policies that most in his party think are critical issues. Mr Briggs administrative support will come from the Department of Environment; in terms of the Commonwealth’s influence on urban policy that’s a much less relevant portfolio than Infrastructure”.

This is a big turnaround from the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who refused to fund urban commuter rail and abolished the Major Cities Unit. Mr Abbott argued that the funding of public transport was not in the government’s knitting, preferring to leave this to the states. He promoted himself as the infrastructure Prime Minister, committing billions of dollars to transport infrastructure so long as that infrastructure was roads or freight rail. This was consistent with the views on transport outlined in his 2009 book Battlelines.

“…there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads.”Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition (Battlelines, p. 174)

But this was not a unanimously held view within the Coalition. The Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss, who also holds the title of Minister for Infrastructure, has voiced his willingness to provide funding for rail projects: “The Federal Government is quite happy to fund metro rail projects” (Source: Herald Sun, Regional Rail Link unites state and federal MPs, 14/06/2015). Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Government has been willing to provide funding for urban rail projects as part of its asset recycling program; under this program it has provided funding to the NSW and ACT Governments for the Sydney Metro and Capital Metro projects.

NSW has a number of rail projects currently being planned which lack funding: the CBD and South East Light Rail extension South of Kingsford, light rail around Parramatta beyond the first line currently being planned, and a heavy rail line out to Badgerys Creek from the current South West Rail Link terminus at Leppington. But, these projects are all still in the planning phases and none will be shovel ready for many years. So the real test for the change of policy is likely to come from outside of NSW, with projects like the Melbourne Metro in Victoria and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail in Queensland.

However the most immediate project, which is both ready to go from a planning perspective and could be completed in the next few years, is the extension of the Gold Coast light rail. The Queensland Government is seeking to complete it in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but has been unable to find sufficient funding for it. The initial line was funded jointly by the Commonwealth, Queensland, and Gold Coast Governments. The extension has the support of local MP Stuart Roberts, a member of the LNP and Turnbull supporter, and also the Queensland Government.

Queensland Deputy Premier Jackie Trad has called on Mr Turnbull to commit to funding the extension within a week, otherwise she argues that construction will not be able to commence in time to complete the project before the start of the 2018 Commonwealth Games. If this is the case, then Mr Davies’ question as to whether Mr Turnbull’s move is purely symbolic or not will be answered very soon.

Sydney maps: real and fictional

Posted: February 12, 2014 in Transport
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Maps have the power to shape the way we look at places. The London Underground map famously took on its iconic form that resembled an electrical circuit in the 1930s. It did away with a geographically accurate representation, opting instead for one with more evenly spaced stations and lines that all ran horizontally, vertically, or at 45 degree angles.

It isn’t the only option for a non-geographically accurate map. Max Roberts created maps in different styles for a number of different cities, large print copies of which are available for purchase from his website. A circular map for Sydney’s Cityrail network was one of them. It places Central Station in the middle and then has all lines radiating outwards. Though some design choices were made for asthetic rather than informative reasons, it also does show where Sydney has orbital lines, which connect outer parts of Sydney to each other rather than directly to Central. The Cumberland Line joining Blacktown to Liverpool, the Northern Line joining Hornsby to Strathfield, the Carlingford Line joining Clyde to Carlingford, and the Bankstown Link joining Lidcombe to Bankstown are all orbital lines. With an actual map that has most lines running horizontally (East-West) away from Central, these lines are ordinarily shown vertically (North-South).

Click to enlarge. (Source: Tube Map Central)

Click to enlarge. (Source: Tube Map Central)

More recently, the creation of Sydney Trains to replace Cityrail has meant a new rail map for metropolitan Sydney. The new Sydney Trains map lacks much of the detail of the previous Cityrail map, such as locations of transport interchanges, accessible stations, park and ride facilities, etc, opting to go for a more streamlined map. Even putting aside the decision for how much information to convey, this new map suffers from a number of shortcomings, demonstrated by a “fixed” version of this map posted on the Transit Maps blog.

But what about opting for something in the opposite direction? The following map, created by Bernie Ng, shows what the Sydney public transport network may look like by 2020. The North West and South West Rail Links are shown as completed (though the NWRL is shown as connecting up to the Sydney Trains network, rather than operating as an independent shuttle as is planned), along with both the extension of the existing Inner West Light Rail to Dulwich Hill and completion of the CBD and South East Light Rail. In addition, major bus routes, such as metrobuses and the 2 T-Ways radiating out from Parramatta are also displayed.

The rail network shows not only all the different lines that formed part of the old Cityrail network, but shows separate lines for different stopping patterns. The Illawarra Line out to Cronulla, for example, shows 2 lines, one for all stop services and another for express services. This is possible following the revised 2013 timetable, with its harmonised stopping patterns. It also uses a clockface icon to denote any stations with frequent all day services, and also whether this is 7 days a week or just on weekdays. The other major change is the creation of a “Destination Wheel”, with letters instead of numbers for all the different lines.

This map shows the Sydney network as proposed for 2020, with new rail lines in the outer suburbs and new light rail in the inner city. It also displays major bus routes. Click to enlarge. (Source: Bernie Ng.)

This map shows the Sydney network as proposed for 2020, with new rail lines in the outer suburbs and new light rail in the inner city. It also displays major bus routes. Click to enlarge. (Source: Bernie Ng.)

Some maps take the existing layout and leave it unchanged, merely altering the labelling. The Icy Trail map does exactly this, Icy Trail being an anagram of City Rail. Every label on the map, from station names, to line descriptions, to usage instructions, are anagrams. This leads to some very interesting place names like Inverse Acquarium City (Macquarie University), Scream Qualified (Macquarie Fields), Thy Nerdy Son (North Sydney), and Civic (Civic).

Click to enlarge. (Source: CharonX)

Click to enlarge. (Source: CharonX)

The labels on a map can even be changed to match those of a different map. For example, the following map takes the map of Metro Trains in Melbourne and replaces the labels with ones more familiar to a Sydney audience. Here, the station close to the MCG, home of the Melbourne Olympic Games, has been renamed “1956 Olympic Park”, while the City Loop is now called “City Circle”. Even the arrow meant to indicate the Northern orientation has been changed to point towards “Sydney” instead. There are many other examples in here, many of which only someone familiar with both the Sydney and Melbourne rail networks would notice.

Melbourne for Sydney train users. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author withheld)

Melbourne for Sydney train users. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author withheld)

And though completely unrelated to rail maps, the following set of maps, first published as the front page of the UNSW student newspaper Tharunka back in 2011, shows show people from different parts of Sydney view people in the rest of Sydney.

Sydney from the perspective of different parts of Sydney. Front cover of Tharunka, the UNSW student newspaper. Click to enlarge. (Source: Unknown)

Sydney from the perspective of different parts of Sydney. Front cover of Tharunka, the UNSW student newspaper. Click to enlarge. (Source: Tharunka)

Comparing Opal to Myki and TCard

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Transport
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The Opal rollout has progressed with little to no major issues. To see exactly how well it has progressed, it can be compared to Sydney’s previous attempt at smartcard ticketing – the TCard, and also Melbourne’s Myki.


The NSW Government initially promised a smartcard ticketing system in time for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In what became the first of many delays, this did not happen in time for the Olympics and the contract with ERG (now known as Videlli) to develop what was then called the TCard would not be signed until 2002.

A TCard reader. Click to enlarge. (Source: Todd Milton)

A TCard reader. Click to enlarge. (Source: Todd Milton)

Plans for a commuter trial also saw delays, and so the first to trial the TCard were school students in the School Student Transport Scheme (SSTS) that provides free public transport to get to and from school. 285,000 TCards were given out starting in January 2005 for the purpose of collecting data. However, students were still required to show their paper bus pass due to potential glitches in the system and could not board the bus with their TCard alone. In addition, they could not be denied on to the bus if they did not have their TCard. This, along with the originally anticipated glitches meant that by the third year of the SSTS trial, only 12% of students were still using their TCards.

A commuter trial finally began in October 2006, not 2004 as was agreed to in the contract, starting with government STA buses from the Kingsgrove depot that used the King St corridor through Newtown and buses from the private operator Punchbowl Bus Company. Once again, the trial encountered major glitches, and by June 2007 STA drivers boycotting TCard and the Punchbowl Bus Company refusing to extend the trial beyond an initial 6 routes until the glitches were resolved.

Part of the reason for the glitches was the unnecessarily complex fare system in place in NSW, with hundreds of different fare options available. This was further complicated at the time by the fact that each private bus operator also ran its own independent fare structure (which would later be streamlined when myZone was introduced in 2010). The government was urged to simplify the fare structure, but refused to do so [6].

The TCard was dumped a few months later in November 2007.

Though never used as a ticketing system, the development of the TCard did provide a silver lining in the form of bus vehicle tracking. Thus, the work done in the development stage formed the foundation for the real time bus tracking and PTIPS (which provides the potential for buses to be given traffic light priority when running late in order to improve on time running).


Like Sydney’s TCard, Melbourne’s myki suffered from delays. Originally announced with a planned completion of 2007, it was soon pushed back to 2009. Myki was introduced onto Melbourne’s entire train network on 29 December 2009, apparently to satisfy the political promise of a 2009 rollout, with myki rolled out on to buses and trams 6 months later.

The rollout was rushed, with then head of Melbourne’s Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) Daniel Bowen finding a number of problems. These included faulty top up machines at the first 2 stations he went to (the first was out of order while the second didn’t accept coins or credit cards), an online top up process that could take up to 24 hours, and slow reader response times of almost 2 seconds (about twice as long as Opal readers in Sydney).

In addition, the website was full of problems, from transaction report pdfs that would not be produced but then unexpectedly be emailed out much later through to incompatibility issues with browsers like Chrome and Safari.

“The simple truth is the government has rushed this thing to the table while it’s still half-baked. After foolishly having promised it by the end of the year, they’ve switched only part of it on, but even that part doesn’t work properly.”Daniel Bowen (January 2010), PTUA President

The rollout’s progress was frozen in mid-2010, months before the November 2010 state election, with no further progress made on expanding myki’s coverage to regional trains or starting the removal of paper metcards. The election resulted in a change of government which then ordered a full review before any further progress could be made. It ultimately decided to continue the rollout, with metcards finally phased out within the Melbourne network by mid-2013.

But by then the damage had been done. Melbourne’s travelling public didn’t trust myki, which had developed a reputation for being unreliable with its long reader response times, difficulties with top ups, and glitches from a rushed rollout. Some went as far as to question whether myki, with its $1.5bn price tag, was ever necessary at all given that metcards had been meeting the requirements of Melbourne’s ticket system for some decades, providing integrated fares and integrated tickets without the need for an expensive electronic ticketing system.


Compared to Myki and TCard, the rollout of Opal has been virtually scandal free. A kind assessment of the reasons for this would conclude that those behind Opal learned from the mistakes of Myki and TCard.

Sydney might be ready for integrated ticketing, but is it ready for integrated fares? (Source: Beau Giles)

Sydney might be ready for integrated ticketing, but is it ready for integrated fares? (Source: Beau Giles)

Mistake 1: The rollout timetable was ambitious and based on political rather than technical considerations.

The TCard contract was signed in 2002 and given a 2005 deadline (3 years) whereas the Myki contract was signed in 2005 and given a 2009 deadline (4 years). Meanwhile, the Opal contract was signed in 2010 and given a 2015 deadline (5 years), despite the technology being far more mature and being trialed in numerous other cities by that stage. Under-promising and over-delivering has brought forward the estimate completion of the rollout to the end of 2014.

Mistake 2: Poor choice of trials.

The TCard trial failed because it required students to continue to use their paper bus passes and did not mandate the use of TCards. Soon only 12% of students were using their TCards due to glitches in the system. By not using their TCards, these glitches became harder to fix, and this was seen when the limited commuter trial continued to see problems. The commuter trial turned out to be the final throes of the TCard.

In Melbourne, Myki was trialled in regional centres, but then rolled out onto the full train network overnight. Not only did the lack of trams and buses mean that Melbourne’s long standing multi-modal integrated fares not apply to Myki, but the large scale trial made it difficult to deal with what soon became large numbers of problems.

The Opal trial began with the Neutral Bay ferry. This was the least patronised route of the least patronised mode of transport. But importantly, it was in Sydney, was a paid service, had readers on the wharves rather than the ferries, and was easy to isolate.

Mistake 3: Long response times for readers.

Myki readers took 1-2 seconds to read a Myki card, about twice as long as that for Opal readers. Read times of over 1 second significantly increase the chances that passengers will not have their card recognised appropriately, risking the wrong fare or a fine for fare evasion. Additionally, it can also cause delays if large numbers of passengers try to pass through limited readers.

Mistake 4: Difficult top ups.

The long (24 hour) online top ups for Myki, which sometimes blew out to days or weeks if there were issues, mean that many Melbourne Myki users refuse to rely on automatic top ups to this day.

In comparison, Opal top ups become available about 1 hour after being made online.

Mistake 5: Complex fare system.

The TCard was introduced into an environment that pre-dated myZone. It was complicated, featuring completely different fare structures for different modes and operators, of which there were a multitude of private bus operators (particularly prior to their amalgamations from 2005 onwards). These no doubt contributed to the glitches that were partly the cause of its failure.

Yet even under myZone, the fare structure for Sydney remains complicated. It retains a separate fare structure for each mode of transport, plus an additional multi-modal fare in the form of a myMulti (but a CBD centric one that is only available as a periodical unless obtaining the very expensive daily ticket). On top of that, there are mode specific discounts, such as travel tens for buses and ferries or off-peak tickets for trains.

This led the director of fares and ticketing at Transport for London, in charge of the Oyster smartcard system on which Opal is based on, to remark that:

 “The fare structure in Sydney is definitely in need of simplification. The system will deliver you any fare structure you want, but it is insane to have a fare structure that complicated because you are putting a lot of risk in the technology in implementing a fare change every single time. But more than that, if your customers don’t understand what these rules are, what is the point of having this fare structure?” – Shashi Verma (July 2011)

It was also supported by ERG’s legal claim against the NSW government, in which it claimed that the failure to simplify the fare structure was a contributor to the demise of the project.

This need to simplify the fares appears to be a major driving force in Opal’s seemingly basic fare structure. For example, it lacks periodical, multi-modal, or multi trip fares (e.g. monthly, myMulti, or travel tens respectively). It replaces these with an 8 paid journeys a week and then the rest are free policy, which acts to mimic the eliminated fares. But this still leaves some passengers worse off, particularly occasional users or anyone using more than one mode (e.g. a bus plus a train).

Most importantly, the new fare structure lacks any form of multi-modal fare. Such a decision is not a technical one, the technology is more than capable of handling multi-modal fares that eliminate transfer penalties. Indeed, it does exactly this with single mode transfers, where passengers can now catch 2 buses consecutively and pay a fare as though they had travelled from their origin to their destination on a single vehicle. Instead, this decision is a policy one.

So despite having few problems from a technical perspective, the Opal is not entirely without issues. The only question that remains unanswered is if multi-modal fares will happen after the Opal rollout is complete, or whether the government has merely put that into the too hard basket. If it is the latter, then Opal’s $1.2bn price tag will be quite high for an integrated ticket that is not accompanied by integrated fares.

24 hour transport

Posted: January 21, 2014 in Transport
Tags: , ,

The Victorian Opposition announced on Sunday that if elected it would introduce a $50m trial of all night public transport for Melbourne on Friday and Saturday nights for one year. Daniel Bowen wrote a good summary of it, and it’s worth reading for more details.

The main selling point of the proposal appears to be all night running of train services. Melbourne, like Sydney, currently shuts down its train network overnight and runs rail replacement nightride buses instead. However, as the previous link points out, shutting down the rail network is quite common around international cities (listing Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Amsterdam as examples). Those that do run all night tend to do so at 15-30 minute frequencies (Chicago, New York, and Berlin are given as examples here, while London will soon join that list). Meanwhile, the proposal is only for hourly services, which Daniel Bowen criticises for being too infrequent for the trial to be successful. The danger, he argues, is that it will fail if the trial is not with 15-30 minute frequencies. In other words, it should be all or nothing.

Decent frequencies are important in case a bus is missed and passengers are left waiting for the next one. This could occur either because a passenger arrives at the bus stop late or because the bus is full. Replacing nightride buses with trains may resolve the second problem, but only higher frequencies will resolve the first.

So how does Sydney compare?

While Sydney shuts down its trains overnight, it retains a strong overnight transport network made up of rail replacement nightride buses as well as regular bus services that run all night. In particular, additional services were recently added so that there would be a bus every 10 minutes between Kings Cross and Central Station between 1AM and 5AM on weekends. These were boosted as one part of a response to the alcohol fueled violence that has been getting mentioned a lot in the media. The NSW Opposition’s response to alcohol fueled violence involved a similar call to run trains all night on weekends between Kings Cross and Central, while committing to investigate doing the same on other lines too.

Much of Sydney enjoys 30 minute frequencies early mornings on weekends, with nightride buses running every half hour out to Blacktown, Macarthur, Hurstville, Bondi Junction, and Gordon. Virtually the rest of the rail network maintains hourly buses all night.

Nightride bus network with weekend frequency: 10 minutes (purple), 15 minutes (blue), 30 minutes (green), 60 minutes (orange). Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains.)

Nightride bus network with weekend frequency: 10 minutes (purple), 15 minutes (blue), 30 minutes (green), 60 minutes (orange). Click to enlarge. (Source: Sydney Trains.)

Areas not served by rail generally retain existing bus services overnight, many of them half hourly frequencies again. Buses go out to Bondi Beach at 15 minute frequencies until 2:30AM, then 30 minute frequencies for the rest of the night. Buses to Mona Vale operate at 30 minute frequencies. Past Mona Vale through to Mona Vale, as well as to Coogee Beach, Maroubra Junction, and Castle Hill buses initially run at 30 minute frequencies, reducing to 60 minute frequencies somewhere between 2AM and 4AM. Past Maroubra Junction through to Little Bay bus services run at 60 minute frequencies. And buses to Abbotsford run all night, but with a 2 hour gap between 3AM and 5AM.

All night bus network on weekends. Frequencies: 15 minutes until 3AM then 30 minutes (blue), 30 minutes all night (green), 30 minutes until 2AM-4AM then 60 minutes (yellow), 60 minutes all night (orange), all night but with a 2 hour gap from 3AM to 5AM (red). Dashed lines indicate express service which does not stop. Click to enlarge. (Source: Open Street Map, author.)

All night bus network on weekends. Frequencies: 15 minutes until 3AM then 30 minutes (blue), 30 minutes all night (green), 30 minutes until 2AM-4AM then 60 minutes (yellow), 60 minutes all night (orange), all night but with a 2 hour gap from 3AM to 5AM (red). Dashed lines indicate express service which does not stop. Click to enlarge. (Source: Open Street Map, edited by author.)

Other than the train shutdown, Sydney’s current overnight network appears to be exactly what Daniel Bowen recommends for Melbourne.

2013-07-15 STA bus time lapse

Visualisation of STA buses in Sydney at 9:01AM on a typical weekday. The bright vertical line in the middle is the Harbour Bridge. (Source: Flink Labs)

Some interesting time lapse visualisations of commuter transport from around the world. All of these show vehicle movements (trains, buses, etc), as opposed to passengers movements, unless otherwise stated.


This first video is STA buses only. That means the government Sydney Buses, as well as the Parramatta-Liverpool T-Way buses. Despite the limitations of its data, and that it is now a few years old, it’s also quite clear and easy to watch.

Major corridors like Anzac Parade, Oxford Street, Parramatta Road, Victoria Road, and Military Road stand out quite well. They are the brightest during the day, and the only ones still operating late into the night. By showing busier corridors as brighter, you really get a good idea of what frequent services look like, as opposed to a bus map where all lines look the same.

This is another video of Sydney. It is more recent, includes all modes of public transport, and goes out as far as Newcastle and Wollongong. Trains are shown in the same colour as the line they operate on. It’s also a bit crowded, and harder to follow than the previous video, so it’s recommended that you watch it directly on Youtube with the settings set to 720p(HD) for better quality if it doesn’t do so automatically here.


A similar video to the earlier Sydney bus video, but this time from Melbourne for trains. Blue is for city bound, while yellow are outbound.


This video was created by Chris McDowall, but the blog post associated with it no longer appears to be working. So instead, here is a short piece about it from Human Transit, in which the vehicles are described as “tadpoles”.


This video is from an article over at the Atlantic Cities, which is worth a read for some background. This shows passenger movements via the collection of Oyster smartcard data. Inbetween the morning and evening commute, passangers are shown as a red dot while at work.

New York City

This video of New York City includes the subway and bus system, as well as some longer distance commuter rail trains (these are most noticeable in Long Island on the right hand side of the map which is otherwise mostly blank). New York has one of the few transport systems in the Western world that runs 24/7 at decent frequencies, with most subway lines running at 20 minute frequencies all night. You can see this in the video, as unlike other cities here where transport is almost non-existant between 2AM to 5AM, because at no point do the dots stop moving around. New York really is the city that never sleeps!

As with before, best seen on Youtube with 720p(HD) settings.

Washington DC

The Washington Metro trains are shown as the colour of their line, while buses are the white dots. Long distance commuter trains (mostly to the North of Washington) are large dots with a while tail. Once again, if it doesn’t show up well here, then try it on Youtube with the maximum 720p(HD) settings.

More videos

If you’re interested in seeing more, the second Sydney video, as well as the New York and Washington videos are from a group called STL Transit, and their Youtube page is full of many other videos. And for a more detailed description of their Vancouver video, make sure to check out the Human Transit post on that particular video.

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.

Video: The Not Zach Braff $2mil Global Short Film Project. For more details, check out You’ve Never Heard of Me.

The North West Rail Link (NWRL) as currently planned, will require many passengers to get out and change trains at Chatswood. Based on government estimates, two thirds of passengers from The Hills in Sydney’s North West would have to do this in order to reach their final destination on the Lower North Shore or CBD. This would continue until a Second Harbour Rail Crossing is built, something which currently lacks a start date, end date, or funding.

The Northwest Rail Link will include a new railway from Epping to Rouse Hill, plus a retrofitted Epping to Chatswood Line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NWRL EIS - Introduction, page 1-3.)

The Northwest Rail Link will include a new railway from Epping to Rouse Hill, plus a retrofitted Epping to Chatswood Line. (Source: Transport for NSW)

One alternative would be to build additional capacity through the CBD first, and then extend that capacity into the outer suburbs second. In other words, build the Second Harbour Rail Crossing now, and the NWRL and South West Rail Links some time next decade. From a purely engineering perspective, this makes perfect sense – there’s no point in building new lines in the outer suburbs, if all they are going to do is dump passengers in the inner city once they reach a bottleneck.

Melbourne is doing exactly this. It’s current proposal is the Melbourne Metro, a new underground line through the CBD. And it is building this despite calls to build lines to places like the airport or to Doncaster (the latter has similar transport challenges to Sydney’s North West). Not only that, but this has put the Melbourne Metro at the top of Infrastructure Australia’s priority list, resulting in the Federal Government committing $3bn in funding to its overall $9bn cost.

A strong case can be made that the Victorian Government has got the policy right, while the NSW Government has not. But what could be argued is that the NSW Government has got the politics right. This is for a number of reasons.

Building a Second Harbour Rail Crossing will not guarantee that the NWRL will be built, but building the NWRL will force a future government to build a Second Harbour Rail Crossing. In a world where political realities make long term planning a dream rather than a reality, and where transport projects are announced, cancelled, changed, re-announced, and then cancelled again, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

The narrower and steeper tunnels, which force the new line into being run completely independently from the rest of the network, will also allow the government to trial new methods of service delivery, such as franchising or driverless operations on trains. The former has allowed for Sydneys bus network to see improvements to services, lower fares paid by passengers, and reductions in operating subsidy paid by the government to provide them. The latter would reduce the marginal cost of each train service, allowing the government to increase services without as large an increase in operating costs. Neither of these could work effectively if the NWRL was integrated into the rest of the network.

Vancouver Sky Train

The SkyTrain in Vancouver is a driverless metro with frequencies that mean you never wait more than 8 minutes for a train. (Source: Jeffery Simpson)

These sorts of changes are possible on an existing line, and the Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line has often been touted due to it operating virtually independently from the rest of the network. But it is much harder to convert an existing line compared to a new one. Unions are likely to resist change, and existing passengers may have fears of the unknown. Both of these fears would be eased by seeing such changes in operation first, and if they work then they can be rolled out to the rest of the network.

Of course, for those who consider a Second Harbour Rail Crossing an expensive and unecessary expense, then there is little reason to support what the government is doing. The same goes for those who oppose one man or driverless operation. For everyone else, while this may not be smart policy, it certainly looks like smart politics.

I had the chance to see Vivid on Saturday night. I found it interesting, but it was far too crowded for my liking. Still, it’s great to see cultural events in Sydney that bring so many people in. Such events are what make Sydney such a vibrant place to live in and what makes so many people want to come here.

Vivid at Circular Quay on the night of Saturday 8 June 2013. (Source: Author)

Vivid at Circular Quay on the night of Saturday 8 June 2013. (Source: Author)

The problem caused by large numbers is the transport problems that it creates. It was pretty bad on Saturday night when I went – George St was closed Northbound past Wynyard and we had to get out of our bus early and walk the rest of the way. But it was even worse the following night on Sunday.

The rail system was overwhelmed, with weekend timetables being run despite the huge numbers of extra people:

Video: byupyu

But crowds had an impact even before the final weekend. It affected me almost 2 weeks ago when I was trying to catch a bus home from Fox Studios, as numerous buses went by full without picking anyone up. It reached the point where some people waiting at the bus stop gave up and walked off before a bus let us on.

It soon became clear that Vivid was causing peak hour like crowds in the CBD, but without peak hour capacity.

This is not the only time when big crowds converge into the CBD and then try to get home, it happens twice a day in the morning and evening peak hours as well as during the New Year’s celebrations, but generally handled well in each of those cases. Given the quantity of people, public transport is the best way to move them. But in this case, there doesn’t seem to be enough capacity to keep up with demand (as well as other occasions – the Christmas party season comes to mind, particularly given the alcohol consumption that forces people into either public transport or a taxi in most cases).

Demand for public transport is a good thing, but only if it is met with sufficient supply. This was the problem faced in Melbourne a decade ago, and this is how the PTUA, their public transport advocacy group, was instrumental in fixing the problem of insufficient public transport. Hopefully we can achieve something similar here in Sydney for major events like Vivid.

Video: PTUA

Update (7:59PM, 10 June 2013) – There were some additional bus and ferry services timetabled for Friday and Saturday nights, though no additional trains nor anything for the Sunday of this long weekend that just passed. Roads Minister Duncan Gay has reportedly told 2UE that  “We’ve now got effective New Year’s Eve [crowds] and frankly we need to treat it that way”.

The second phase of the federal government’s High Speed Rail (HSR) study, released earlier today, finds that a 1,700km long East Coast HSR line could cost $114bn and will not be completed until the second half of this century. The line will not require any ongoing government subsidy to pay for operational costs or asset maintenance, with fares comparable to the equivalent air fare. The report finds a benefit to cost ratio of 2.3 (indicating that every $1 spent provides $2.30 of economic value), which is much higher than in the report commissioned by the Greens earlier this year that reported total benefits of $48bn, an amount less than the $114bn cost.

Cost and completion dates for HSR broken down by stage, based on the optimal timetable. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report - Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 20)

Cost and completion dates for HSR broken down by stage, based on the optimal timetable. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report – Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 20)

If built, the project will be broken up into stages, with the Sydney to Canberra leg being the first. Even then, the earliest that portion will be operational is 2030, with an optimal commencement date of 2035. Brisbane may not be connected to Melbourne until 2058. The 1,700km of track includes 144km of tunnels, with 67km of this in Sydney. All up, tunnelling accounts for about one third of the cost of this project. The line will require a 200m wide corridor.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese was quick to dismiss the notion that this would eliminate the need for a second Sydney airport, pointing out that it was already congested and that overseas travellers will still require air travel. He also downplayed the possibility of medium speed rail, such as in Britain, arguing that journeys must be under 3 hours or else people will choose to fly instead and that this was why Britain was now upgrading its medium speed rail to HSR. He also accepted that the high construction cost was the most sensitive part of any potential HSR line and ruled out any funding for it in this year’s budget.

Cost benefit analysis shows that benefits would outweigh costs using both a 4% and 7% discount rate. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report - Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 21)

Cost benefit analysis shows that benefits would outweigh costs using both a 4% and 7% discount rate. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report – Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 31)

The cost, roughly 4 times the cost of the National Broadband Network, is the biggest hurdle to building HSR in Australia. The interest expense of such a capital outlay alone would pay for the Gonski education reforms into perpetuity, and probably deliver far greater social and economic benefits to the nation. The discount rate of 4% also seems low, given that even the federal government’s long term borrowing costs, but a much more conservative 7% still provides a benefit to cost ratio of 1.1. This is above 1.0, but only barely, and suggests that this money could be spent on other more worthy infrastructure projects – such as the backlog of urban commuter rail improvements which Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has ruled out funding.

Ultimately this was certainly a study worth undertaking, if only to confirm that Australia is not yet ready for HSR. However, it has done much of the preparation required for it, thus allows the federal government to revisit the idea again in 10 or 20 years time when some of the assumptions currently used may no longer be valid. But until then, the video below probably best describes HSR in Australia.

The federal Liberal Party's transport policy consists exclusively of road projects, with no committments to public transport. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Our Plan Real Solutions For All Australians, Liberal Party, page 32)

The federal Liberal Party’s transport policy consists exclusively of road projects, with no commitments to public transport. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Our Plan Real Solutions For All Australians, Liberal Party, page 32)

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared last week that he would be committing no funding to public transport ahead of this year’s election, despite having committed $4bn to road projects in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.

“We spoke to Infrastructure Australia and their advice was that the most pressing road priority in Melbourne was the east-west link. The Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads. We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.”Tony Abbott, Federal Opposition Leader (4 April 2013)

His first point, about the highest priority road project in Melbourne, is correct because he is talking about road projects specifically rather than transport projects in general. However, according to Alan Davies at The Urbanist, the East-West Link road is only on Infrastructure Australia’s “Real Potential” stage, the second of four categories, while the Melbourne Metro rail project is in it’s top “Ready to Proceed” category. At best, Mr Abbott is asking the wrong question, at worst he is committing money to a project with a benefit cost-ratio of only 0.50 (i.e. the benefit is less than the cost), when he could be funding the Melbourne Metro with a benefit-cost ratio of 1.30 (figures from Alan Davies’ article linked to previously).

His second point, on the Commonwealth government having no history of funding urban rail, is just flat out wrong. As Daniel Bowen points out when listing just some of the urban rail projects funded by the Commonwealth, “perhaps the Federal Coalition has no history of funding urban rail, but the Commonwealth most certainly does”.

“I think all but the most car-centric person would see that in modern growing cities, you can’t move everybody around by road — that rail, particularly in inner-city areas, is much more efficient. Unfortunately unlike some of his Liberal colleagues (and unlike conservatives in such places as the UK), Tony Abbott does appear to be the most car-centric person. It comes down to this: if you want more people on public transport, provide more public transport. If you want more people on the roads, build more roads. Abbott is clearly backing the latter.”Daniel Bowen (5 April 2013)

The decision to fund road projects over rail is not a merit based decision, it is a politically based on (and one which I have criticised the Labor Party for doing in the past on both WestConnex and the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link). As a comparison, urban rail has received a majority of Infrastructure Australia funding when merit is used as the criteria.

“Fifty-five per cent of Infrastructure Australia nation-building money went to urban rail on merit.” –  Professor Peter Newman, Infrastructure Australia advisory board member (4 April 2013)

The state governments in Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia, all governed by Mr Abbott’s Liberal-National Coalition, have also all publically voiced their opposition to his decision.

“We will continue to vigorously pursue federal government funding for this important infrastructure development.” – Denis Napthine, Victorian Premier (4 April 2013)

“Given the current Federal (Labor) Government’s support of $236 million for rail infrastructure at the Perth City Link and $3 million towards planning of the MAX light rail project, we expect that future Federal governments, whether Liberal or Labor, would consider the benefits of funding such important transport initiatives based on merit.”Colin Barnett, WA Premier (4 April 2013)

“The reality is if there is not federal funding for these projects, they cannot proceed, we cannot afford to do them alone. We’ll continue that process of lobbying the federal coalition and federal Labor.”Scott Emerson, Queensland Transport Minister (4 April 2013)

Feeling the heat, Mr Abbott later clarified his statement, pointing out that his government would still fund freight rail and interstate transport, and that it was only commuter urban rail projects that he was referring to. On his side is the division of powers set out in the Australian constitution, where the Commonwealth government is responsible for freight and interstate transport, leaving state governments responsible for urban transport. While Mr Abbott is well within his rights to follow a strict interpretation of the role of the Commonwealth government, it is also true that such a view would preclude federal funding of schools and hospitals, given that they are a state responsibility. This is why the days of health, education, and transport being funded solely by the states has now long gone.

This is where his argument starts to fall apart on constitutional grounds, and it becomes clear that it is ideologically driven. He seems much like American conservatives, who see public transport as a socialist means of transport “for the masses” requiring government subsidy while seeing the private motor vehicle as a form of transport that is liberating and free and more in line with their small government philosophy. He looks at the inner city areas which most heavily use public transport and sees Labor and Greens leaning voters, then at the car dominated outer suburban areas are where the swinging voters he needs live and decides that the politically astute thing is to build more roads.

“Public transport is generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable and still [a] hideous drain on the public purse…Mostly though…there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads”Tony Abbott, Battleline, page 174 (2009)

Not all conservatives still think this way. NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has successfully championed public transport despite opposition from Infrastructure NSW Chairman Nick Greiner and CEO Paul Broad, while London Mayor Boris Johnson is pushing an ambitious £913m expansion of his city’s bike network. They understand that you can’t build your way out of congestion with more roads and that, while roads play an important role, so does public and active transport. It’s disappointing to see that Mr Abbott hasn’t worked this out yet.

Note: This post was starting to get a bit long, so I’ve split it up into 3 parts. Here is part 1.

A new Cityrail timetable is released each year, and while usually this means adding a couple of extra services or moving some trains a few minutes either way, this year’s will be the most dramatic change since the 2005 timetable.

“a brand-new rail timetable is being written from scratch, and will be released this year to provide more express trains, quicker travel times and ultimately improve the customer journey”Gladys Berejiklian, Transport Minister (15 January 2013)

Writing a timetable is a balancing act involving trade offs. One way of looking at it is by breaking it down to 3 different variables, and a decision that needs to be made on which of these 3 to prioritise. Given the problem of limited resources, you need to pick two of those three and forget about the third. If you try to get all three, then you might end up with only one. Those variables are:

  1. Capacity – the number of trains that can be run on a particular track of rail line per hour
  2. Flexibility – the ability to get from A to B without having to transfer to another train (generally this means being able to get from anywhere to the CBD, and vice versa, on a single train)
  3. Reliability – how well trains run to timetable (rather than being delayed or cancelled)

Take the 2005 timetable as an example. Cityrail had become notorious for its unreliability. On time running data shows that in 2003, 80%-90% of trains ran within 4 minutes of the timetabled time. But in 2004, this figure had dropped to 50%-60%, and remained that way until mid 2005 when 2 things happened. First, on 1 July 2005, on time running was redefined from being within 4 minutes of the timetable, to within 5 minutes of the timetable. This resulted in an immediate statistical, though not actual, improvement to reliability (from 65% in June, to 77% in July). Then in September a new timetable was introduced, cutting 1,350 weekly services and slowing down the remaining services. The government had decided to cut capacity in order to improve reliability, while maintaining flexibility. And it worked, with on time running improving right away (from 78% in August, to 94% in September). It then stabilised in the low 90% range. While many complained about the longer journeys and lower frequency of trains, the 2005 timetable did finally return Cityrail to a reliable service.

2013-01-17 On time running 2005

Fast forward to today, and on time running is again on the decline. This time it has been caused by overcrowding on trains, leading to higher dwell times on major stations. This overcrowding is in turn due to rising demand for public transport, and also a lack of capacity to deal with the higher demand. Ironically, one of the biggest constraints on capacity was the timetable changes from 2005. Clearly, the 2005 timetable has run its course and needs to be revised again. Whereas last time the government chose flexibility and reliability over capacity, this time it looks to be opting for more capacity at the expense of flexibility in the hope of reverting to improved reliability.

These problems are not exclusive to Sydney. Melbourne has seen similar problems, and has also been tackling it via a more simplified, albeit less flexible, rail network. The video below outlines these problems and the solutions to these problems from Melbourne’s perspective.

Note: You can also get additional capacity by building new infrastructure. But the problem of limited resources and the trade off mentioned earlier still exists. The difference is you now have more resources to allocate between those 3 priorities, but a choice will still need to be made on how to allocate them.

A recent piece on Channel Seven’s Today Tonight program discusses transport usage across a number of Australian cities over the last 35 years, and finds that Sydneysiders have the highest public transport use of any Australian city. (This isn’t really new information, given that transport is one of the questions asked in each 5 year census.) The video of the story is included at the end of this post.

Public transport mode share vs population density for various Australian cities. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Charting Transport via The Urbanist.)

Public transport mode share vs population density for various Australian cities. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Charting Transport via The Urbanist.)

The report correctly points out that this fact would probably surprise many Sydney commuters, as would the assertion made by Dr Lucy Groenhart, an RMIT academic and author of the report, that Sydney is “built around a strong heavy rail network” and has buses which “are better co-ordinated than in other cities”. Dr Groenhart appears to be comparing Sydney to Melbourne, where one major flaw in the network design was separate train and tram networks that competed rather than complemented each other (so it’s quite common to see a train and tram line running in parallel). Conversely, in Sydney the network has been designed around the rail network, with feeder buses that link commuters from their home to the nearest station or transport them between stations on different lines. This expands the catchment of the transport network considerably.

Countering this view is Kerryn Wilmot, Research Principal for the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS, who points out that Sydney lacks integrated fares. It’s true that while Sydney has an integrated network, it lacks an integrated fares system. That means that users are penalised if they make a transfer (unless it is train to train), which prevents an integrated network from working most efficiently. Having a myMulti ticket does get around this problem, but these are currently only available as periodicals (there is a daily ticket, though very expensive at $21) and are city-centric, meaning that if you only intend to travel within one of the outer zones then you must also pay for the inner zones even if you aren’t heading into the CBD or inner city. However, Ms Wilmot’s claim that “you can’t get a yearly that just allows you to become a public transport user to do all of the stuff you want to do during the week” would appear to be incorrect, as you can get a yearly myMulti ticket which would allow you to do that (unless you just wanted one for one of the outer zones only, which as mentioned earlier is not currently allowed).

Towards the end of the piece it makes the point that taking the toll roads from Northwest Sydney only saves one minute of travel time, yet costs $12 in tolls. What it does not point out is that most of this trip is along the M2, which is being widened and where the associated road works have virtually eliminated the travel time savings until the construction has finished (which just so happens to be some time early this year). This is just sloppy journalism, but while that’s normally the norm for Today Tonight, this time it appears to be the exception. That, and the bit where the reporter is walking on the bike path, which is just as illegal as bikes on footpaths not designated as shared paths.

Dr Groenhart concludes that “the government’s priorities are not with sustainable transport so they are with roads”. She doesn’t state which government she is referring to, and given that Today Tonight did a Sydney and Melbourne version of this story, it is possible that she was referring to the Victorian government. This would make sense, given the Victorian government has made a road tunnel under the CBD it’s top priority, with a smaller CBD rail tunnel being the next most important transport project. Compare that to NSW, where the top project is the Northwest Rail Link (a public transport project), and the next most important projects are WestConnex (a road) and a Second Harbour Crossing (another public transport project).

A funny musical cartoon has been doing the rounds on the internet about passenger safety on trains. It’s by Melbourne’s train operator, Metro, and at the time of writing had over 9 million views on YouTube.

As I’ve described earlier, humour is one of the best ways of getting through to users of public transport, who generally tend to be quite dismissive and cynical about public transport. While Metro’s campaign seems to have been successful, another recent campaign by Queensland Rail in Brisbane that allowed the public to create their own etiquette posters soon turned into a meme where people would create satirical posters mocking the original concept.

Original train etiquette poster. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Rail.)

Original train etiquette poster. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Rail.)


Satirical parody of the above poster. (Source: College Humour.)

There were a lot of things in Infrastructure NSW’s First Things First report that I didn’t like. Whereas the Transport for NSW Transport Master Plan tried to look at each transport corridor objectively, considered how it fit into the bigger picture, and then suggested the best possible solution for it, Infrastructure NSW almost seemed like it just wanted to build more roads and approached each transport corridor with that vision in every case.

CBD Bus Rapid Transit Tunnel

This idea needs to die an unholy death. I almost hate that I need to explain why this is such a bad idea, but here goes.

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.)

The idea behind the underground bus tunnel is that light rail on George Street between Central and Circular Quay is flawed, and that a better option would be to link up buses that normally travel through the city and send them under the CBD instead. Light rail, the report argues on pages 97 and 98, would be incompatible with a pedestrian boulevard on George Street, and the presence of large numbers of pedestrians on the relatively narrow stretch of road would require light rail to run at slow speeds. Light rail would also require people to interchange from buses to light rail to travel through the city, and make trips that originate and end outside the city but are on buses that travel through the city require 2 interchanges (one at each end of the city). The report also argues that the bus tunnel would have a maximum capacity of 20,000 passengers per hour, compared to only 9,000 for light rail.

While the report generally does a good job of prioritising projects based on cost, this is the one exception where it has opted for a $2bn bus tunnel, rather than a $1bn surface light rail. To put that into perspective, for $2bn you could build light rail along George Street, extend the Northwest Rail Link to St Leonards to reduce interchanging problems at Chatswood Station, and build the Northern Beaches BRT through to Mona Vale.

This plan also eliminates one major benefit that buses currently have, which is frequent bus stops that connect passengers with the streetscape. Instead, they will be required to get off at one of two super interchanges, then struggle to find a way to their ultimate destination.

The last point appears to be the most dubious, the figures just look fudged. Brisbane’s extensive busways network (one of the largest BRT networks in the world) and underground CBD bus stations are cited almost as inspiration for this bus tunnel, yet the peak load for Brisbane is 9,000 passengers per hour (source: Harkness, 2003, page 4). Meanwhile, Melbourne’s tram network (one of the largest light rail networks in the world) sees 1 tram per minute travel along Swanston St during the peak hour (source: City of Melbourne, 2009, page 19), which at 300 passengers per tram (the same figure used in the report) gives 18,000 passengers per hour. That’s twice the capacity of BRT. In practice, the gap in the realistic capacity of BRT vs light rail is likely to be narrower, but the idea that BRT has a higher passenger carrying capacity than light rail in practice is fanciful.

Now in theory, buses have an hourly capacity of close to 100,000 passengers, assuming one full bus every 3 seconds. This works on a freeway with no traffic impediments, but runs into trouble as soon as you start to need enormous amounts of kerbside space for passengers to get on and off the bus. This problem currently exists, particularly along York Street in the morning, where 600 buses enter the CBD via the Harbour Bridge each morning peak. The lack of kerbside space dedicated to bus stops (it’s about 200m at Wynyard and Town Hall) means you get a conga line of buses waiting for their turn to turn into the kerb and open their doors. That is the biggest capacity contraint at the moment, and is one reason why the government is trialling double decker buses (which have longer dwell times, but use up less kerbside space than the longer bendy buses). Yet somehow the bus tunnel plan would handle this better with 2 platforms, each 55m in length at each of Town Hall and Wynyard. In other words, it would halve the kerbside space available at the moment. This will not end well.

The one good part of this proposal is the overhaul of Town Hall and Wynyard Stations that it also recommends. This part of the proposal should definitely happen, whatever ends up happening to the rest of it.

Roads, Roads, Roads

The report provides a lot of statistics about transport use, and then uses these to support its conclusion that more roads are the answer. But we all know the old saying: “lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Here is an example of 2 statistics that paint starkly different pictures

  1. 93% of all motorised transport each day is on roads.
  2. 81% of all CBD journeys to work each day are made on modes other than cars.

The first makes it look like everyone drives everywhere. But motorised trips excludes active modes of transport like cycling (2% of trips) and walking (18% of trips), while also counting bus trips (6% of total) as road trips. The second, on the other hand, looks only at peak hour into the very dense core of the city, the part of Sydney with the best public transport links at the time of day when they are most plentiful.

A better question would be, what is the problem we have with transport? The top two answers to that would be:

  1. there is too much congestion, which is slowing down my journeys, and
  2. there is no public transport (or it is infrequent) to where I need to go so it is easier to drive

The first occurs mainly during the peaks, and mainly heading into dense activity centres. In these cases, the best way to reduce congestion, is to get more people out of cars and into high capacity transport. This is where public transport shines – predictable, twice daily large scale migrations of people to and from dense activity centres. You would need 10 lanes of road traffic for every track of rail to move the same number of people, so it just doesn’t make sense to make more roads the answer to this problem.

The second occurs mainly during the off peak and for journey that start and end in low density suburban areas. Both of these tend to occur in areas and road corridors that have spare capacity, so not only is congestion less of an issue, but additional road capacity is not needed.

Unfortunately, the Infrastructure NSW report does not make this nuanced differentiation, and instead lumps it all together, sees that there is congestion in the peak to dense activity centres on one hand and that car trips dominate travel in the off peak and to non-activity centre locations, then suggests that the answer is more roads. But in reality, in many cases, more roads are not the answer.

The pro roads agenda can be seen best when any mention of public transport is almost immediately assumed to be buses. The report sees little to no role for rail to play in Sydney’s transport future. This should not be a road vs rail debate, each mode has its place and people who constantly argue for a metro or light rail even where a road based transport solution is a better fit are as much of a problem as those who advocate for roads.

No Second Harbour Crossing

Had the O’Farrell Government not made the Northwest Rail Link (NWRL) its signature infrastructure project, then this report would probably have told the government not to build it. In fact, the NWRL barely even rated a mention in the report, potentially because it was originally only mentioned in the context that it should not go ahead, and when you got rid of all of that then there was nothing left to say. But what the report was able to say was that a Second Harbour Crossing is not needed, and won’t be needed for a number of decades. This puts is directly at odds with the Transport Minister Galdys Berejiklian and Transport for NSW, which argue that a Second Harbour Crossing should be the next project to commence once the NWRL is complete.

The report points to the cost of a Second Harbour Crossing, which is estimated at $10bn, and argues that improved efficiency can increase the capacity of the existing crossing sufficiently to warrant deferring a second one. Strangely, it cites the large number of buses crossing the Habour Bridge (so many that more passengers cross the bridge by bus than do by train) as a success for buses, when the same fact could be used to argue that the rail bridge crossing is currently capacity constrained and that lack of capacity is flowing over onto buses, which have now also reached saturation point (as discussed earlier).

This is a more complicated issue that it initially seems. For example, about half of the passengers who will use the NWRL are expected to travel to a destination North of the Harbour (i.e. North Sydney, St Leonards, Chatswood, Macquarie Park, Norwest). This does lessen the apparent need for a Second Harbour Crossing, and is why the government is able to build the NWRL first and the Second Harbour Crossing second, rather than the other way around. At the same time, that still leaves half of the passengers staying on through to the city. A Second harbour Crossing also has the benefit of increasing capacity into the CBD not just from the North, but from the South.

A new rail line has been built through the CBD roughly every 25 years: the Harbour Bridge (1932), Circular Quay (1956), the Eastern Suburbs Line (1979). It’s now been 33 years since the last expansion of CBD heavy rail capacity, and probably another 2 decades before another one can be built.

Postscript: It’s getting late and this post is getting quite long. There are other areas that probably deserve mention, but they are not as important, so in the interest of not turning this into a novel and I’m going to leave it here for now.

Submissions to the Transport Masterplan were due by midnight tonight.I’ve included my submission to it below. The questions are in bold, with my responses in after that. I got in with an hour to spare. It’s quite long, so if you just want the highlights, read my responses to the second and last questions.

TRANSPORT OBJECTIVES : Are the objectives for future planning for transport in NSW appropriate and comprehensive?

Overall the discussion paper is quite comprehensive, and I’m generally quite happy with the direction that it lays out for transport in NSW.

TRANSPORT OBJECTIVES : Do you have any other objectives to suggest for both public transport and roads?

A number of issues were not raised in the discussion paper (or I could not find them):

1. Congestion charging and uniform tolling. Currently there are countless different tolling systems throughout Sydney, ranging from free to distance based to flat fee to time of day. There is a significant potential to set tolling in such a way as to provide funding for additional transport spending AND as a form of congestion charging to discourage private car use during peak hour.

2. Car share. This has taken off in the inner city parts of Sydney, with some limited expansion into the North Shore and Parramatta. Though it is supported at the local council level, there is huge scope for car share policy to be expanded to the city-wide level in order to encourage take up, and thus discourage car ownership/use.

3. Bike share. As a “last mile” strategy, bike share can greatly expand the catchment area of public transport by allowing commuters to ride a bike after alighting from their public transport vehicle. This is a much better option than encouraging commuters to take their own bike on buses/trains, as this uses up valuable space onboard the vehicles. Helmet laws should be considered, and if any rollout is ever done then it should be done at a large scale. Small scale bike share schemes have been shown to fail due to insufficient coverage (e.g. Melbourne) whereas successful schemes invested in a substantial and wide fleet of bikes (e.g. Paris and London).

SYDNEY TRANSPORT : In solving the transport problems in Sydney, what transport mode should be the first priority for new investment, bearing in mind the need for a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable transport sector?

Transport modes are a transport solution to a transport problem. To pick a mode first is putting the cart before the horse, as it seeks to pick a solution and then go looking for a problem. Ideally we should be highlighting the problems and then selecting the most appropriate solution (and hence transport mode), which will be different depending on the exact problem. In some cases, the solution may be buses, in some cases it may be rail, in some cases it may be a re-organisation or upgrade of existing services.

But the key thing is to work out the problem first, and find a solution second.

SYDNEY TRANSPORT : What do you consider to be the main priorities for investment in Sydney’s transport infrastructure?

Public transport should be a priority. In the last 2 decades, many public transport projects have been deferred or cancelled. Meanwhile, every single new freeway that has been proposed has also been built. Freeways need to go to the bottom of the pile for the next 20 years in order to being public transport infrastructure back to square one.

SYDNEY TRANSPORT : How can the road network be better utilised and enhanced?

Get people out of cars and into public transport or out of the peak and into the off-peak. There is enough existing road capacity out there to transport Sydney’s population without having to build more roads.

There are many roads that are currently used for travelling through, rather than used for arriving at a final destination. For example, many people drive through the CBD without actually stopping there. This sort of traffic belongs on a freeway of some sort. Perversely, there is a freeway that people could take (the Cross City Tunnel), yet people choose not to use it because there is a toll. A logical solution would have been to toll the surface roads via a congestion charge, which would then fund a free CCT journey.

SYDNEY TRANSPORT : What are your priorities for public transport services in terms of frequency, reliability, cleanliness and safety?

Frequency is freedom. I love turn up and go public transport that is frequent enough that I don’t need a timetable. Depending on the context, this may mean 5, 7, 10, 15 or even 20 minute frequencies.

SYDNEY TRANSPORT : What criteria should determine whether light rail or bus transport should be preferred?

Light rail has a few benefits over buses, such as higher capacity, more popular appeal, faster acceleration/deceleration, less noise, certainty, etc. However, many of the benefits normally attributed to light rail, such as exclusive rights of way of better stops/stations, are actually also available to buses and are not technology based. Such things should not be considered when deciding between the two technologies.

SYDNEY TRANSPORT : What are the current barriers to using multiple transport modes to complete a journey? How can the barriers be addressed?

Integrated fares exist with myMulti tickets, but they are limited to weekly tickets and are CBD centric (a daily ticket also exists, but is far too expensive for all but a few users). Additional myMulti tickets should be available, such that Zones 1, 2, 3, 1+2, 2+3 or 1+2+3 are available, for users in outer suburbs who do not commute into the CBD.

Fares should cost the same to get from A to B, regardless of the number of vehicles used to do so. Currently, using 2 vehicles costs more, despite the fact that this is an inconvenience, not a premium service as the cost would suggest.

Resolving this can take either the form of point to point fares (which can be done once Opal is rolled out) or simple zonal fares (as myMulti tickets operate). Either is fine, but whichever option is taken the fare system should be built up from the ground up to be simple. Grandfathering the existing fare structure would complicate things unnecessarily.

SYDNEY TRANSPORT : How can the transport requirements of Sydney Airport and Port Botany be best addressed?

A second airport should be built at Badgerys Creek, where the joint NSW-Federal study into a second airport recommended it be built, in order to relieve the pressure on Kingsford Smith Airport and to provide jobs to Western Sydney, where the majority of the population growth will occur.

SYDNEY TRANSPORT : If there are to be more greenfield land release areas in Sydney, should there be a focus on developing public transport options as part of strategic land use planning for Metropolitan Sydney? How should this policy be given effect?

Future developments should be designed more like Rouse Hill, which has a dense town centre at its core which acts as a transport hub/interchange, rather than Kellyville, which is streets upon streets of houses and little else, forcing residents into their cars as the only transport option. Such a strategy, along with reservations for future rail corridors, allows for buses to serve these new areas until sufficient population/funding is available to extend heavy rail into the area.

Good planning for public transport also increases land value, and accessing some of the increase in the value of the land can help to fund this new transport infrastructure through, for example, additional levies on developers of these greenfield sites.

REGIONAL TRANSPORT : What are the key transport objectives for your region?

Rail lines have been poorly maintained and trains today run no faster than they did for most of the past century. There is little reason why trains in non-urban areas should not be able to go at 160km/hr (the maximum speed of an XPT train). Such an improvement could make living in Wollongong or Newcastle and commuting into Sydney a viable option, or getting a train between Sydney and Canberra competitive with air travel.

FUNDING : How much would people be prepared to pay for further investment in the transport system and what would be the expectation flowing from these investments?

I can’t put a number on this, or speak for the entire population of NSW. But there does seem to be an increased appetite for government spending on critical infrastructure, such as transport infrastructure, given the infrastructure deficit that has built up over recent years and the cost pressures that it has caused.

FUNDING : Given the limitations on funds available for future transport investment, what mechanisms should be employed to manage demand?

Congestion charging could help to manage private vehicle flows to limit congestion.

Also, encouraging employment in centres outside of the CBD, to make use of existing capacity on public transport from vehicles going in the counter flow direction during peak hour could allow unused capacity to be used, rather than having to invest in increasing existing capacity.

FUNDING : Should new revenues or charges be explored to deliver the transport infrastructure needs within a realistic timeframe?

Absolutely. Now is not the time to be ruling things out.

FUNDING : If further road user pricing were to be introduced, how should this operate? For example, by distance travelled? By vehicle type? Or should it be area based?

Distance travelled is a much more effective method of tolling, now that the technology exists to do it that way. Time of day tolling (congestion charging) should also be considered, as a way to discourage peak hour traffic and also to fund additional transport infrastructure.

OTHER COMMENTS : Are there any other comments about the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan Discussion Paper that you have?

The federal government is currently offering $2.1 billion in funding for public transport. Unfortunately, due to the political constraints of neither the state nor federal governments wanting to break a political promise, this $2.1 billion is not currently available. At a time when so much infrastructure needs to be built, losing this funding should not be considered an option.

It is therefore imperative that the NSW government do what it can to negotiate a compromise solution to this problem. This could involve offering to build some sort of high capacity transport link between Parramatta and Macquarie Park, which could be done at a fraction of the cost of the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link and thus allow the construction of the Northwest Rail Link (which is the current government’s priority). A number of proposals to do this (through BRT, light rail, etc) are currently on the table, and ultimately I care less about the option taken as I do about a compromise being struck.

But the worst outcome would be for both governments to stick to their guns, because then we all lose out.

The reason is simple – if you increase the supply of road space then you also increase the demand for its usage (what’s known as induced demand). It encourages people off public transport and into their cars until eventually the increase in car usage saturates the road space and congestion returns. These were the findings of a University of Toronto study into widening of roads – “In particular, if you had 1 percent more roads, you had 1 percent more driving in those cities”.

In fact, the converse is often also true. If you remove road space, then much of the time the number of cars using the road space also drops. Hence, congestion does not actually get worse either. Jane Jacobs explains it in this way:

“in a dense and active city that is rich with mobility options, there will be as much car traffic as the city chooses to make room for…[When a road is closed] the traffic that used the formerly busy road disappears, through countless private readjustments, so long as there is an abundant grid of alternate paths into which traffic can disperse, and other modes, such as public transit, to which it can convert, and other times of day to which it can shift its travel” – Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities (Chapter 18)

This is why the proposed pedestrianisation of major city streets in Australia, such as Swanston Street in Melbourne or George Street in Sydney, is not the horror idea that you might first imagine it to be.

Swanston St Tram Superstop

A few decades ago, Swanston St was a 6 lane road right through the centre of Melbourne’s CBD. Today it is being converted into a pedestrian, tram and bicycle corridor with no cars allowed on it. This is what it will end up looking like once the transformation is complete. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

The city of Seoul in South Korea went one step further, and removed a major highway from the city (see video below), replacing it with a stream that was originally there. But rather than a massive increase in traffic and congestion, people moved to public transport or changed their travel times to work around the new road space availability. This phenomenon was described (at around 11:45 in the video) by comparing traffic to a gas – it expands or compresses to fit into the space provided, rather than a liquid – which spills over and floods other areas when not enough capacity is provided.

If you want to reduce congestion, the way to do it is to invest in public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure, all things that encourage people out of their cars, rather than merely building new roads or widening existing roads.

There is one big exception to this, and that’s new roads that take traffic off local roads. The Lane Cove Tunnel, which took cars off Epping Road, and the Cross City Tunnel, which took cars out of the CBD, are both recent examples that meet this description. All new freeways do this to some extent, so the question is whether this is the primary function of the road or merely a by-product.

The finalisation of the new transport master plan for NSW is one step closer, with the release of a discussion paper outlining the current context and key challenges for transport in NSW. The next step is public consultation on the masterplan, which will be considered and incorporated into the actual masterplan that is to be finalised later this year. To make a submission, you can contact Transport for NSW on by 27 April.

The key points raised in the discussion paper (relating to commuter transport in Sydney – I have skipped over freight and rural transport), along with the page references are covered below. The main points that I thought were missing, and will mention in my submission, are congestion charges for driving in the CBD and bike share, both of which I discuss briefly below.


There are a number of corridors in Sydney which will see capacity constraints over the next 20 years. These include (1) CBD to Northern Beaches, (2) CBD to Inner West, (3) CBD to the airport, (4) airport to South-West Sydney, and (5) Macquarie Park to the Northwest Growth Sector (pp. 39-40).

Corridor capacity constraints over next 20 years

Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan Discussion Paper, page 40.)

530,000 new jobs will be created in Sydney in the next 2 decades, 50% in Western Sydney and 20% in the global economic arc covering the Macquarie Park -Chatswood-St Leonards-North Sydney-CBD-airport are (p. 34).

When deciding what should be done in order to meet transport needs, the first priority should be small enhancements to existing infrastructure (such as track duplications, platform extensions, creation of bus lanes, improved timetables, better interchanges, etc) to deal with bottlenecks/pinchpoints rather than expensive construction of new infrastructure. Where this cannot be done, new infrastructure should be the solution (p. 41). All current projects across Sydney are also displayed:

Current transport projects 2012

Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan Discussion Paper, page 14.)

Integrated transport system

To be successful, the transport system in Sydney needs to be a single integrated network, rather than a patchwork of competing networks that do not allow for an easy and simple trip from point A to point B. To this extent, the NSW government has created a new transport authority: Transport for NSW (seemingly modelled on Transport for London) which puts customers at the centre of planning and decision making (p. 3). It also accepts that an integrated public transport system uses buses and light rail to compliment and support the heavy rail system, rather than compete with it (p. 3).

Roads and driving

The freeway network in Sydney still has a few missing links, including the M4 East between Strathfield and Sydney Airport/Port Botany/Sydney CBD, a connection between the Sydney Orbital on the M2 and the F3 at Hornsby, and the Sydney Orbital on the M5 and the F6 in the South (p. 46).

The discussion paper was noticeably silent on the issue of congestion pricing for the CBD, which has been used in places like London to reduce traffic congestion and act as a source of revenue for public transport.

Heavy rail

The Cityrail network is quite extensive, with half of all residents living within 2km of a train station and half of all jobs being within 1km of a train station (p. 58). But while coverage is quite extensive, the network is fast approaching capacity constraints, and the discussion paper says a few things about how the heavy rail network can be made to run more efficiently:

One way of tailoring services to customer needs is to separate services so that the high frequency all-stop services can operate on different tracks to the express services. This can be achieved through improved timetables linked to the development of new rail infrastructure projects. Timetables need to be customised to the different needs and priorities of customers. Increasing the frequency of trains will reduce crowding and speed up journey times. Increased service frequencies will enable those making short trips within inner Sydney, such as on the Inner West, Illawarra and Bankstown Lines, to ‘turn-up-and-go’ without needing to consult a timetable.

Sydney has a highly complex rail network. Fifteen outer lines feed into eight inner lines, which in turn feed into six lines converging through the Sydney CBD. This results in constraints where rail lines converge. Further consideration about how to separate major lines is required.

Automatic Train Protection and Automatic Train Operation systems can be used to automate acceleration and deceleration of trains as well as manage the distance between them. These systems increase safety and can enable increased capacity on each line. Automatic Train Protection is currently being introduced to the rail system and a trial of Automatic Train Operation [i.e. driverless trains] will be undertaken to test the capacity that could be gained. These systems will support the improvements in timetables to increase frequency and reduce journey times. (p. 43)

Single deck metro style trains and a second harbour crossing are also discussed, almost to the point where it seems like a certainty that these change will be occurring and that the only question is when, not if (p. 45).

Rail infrastructure construction timeline

The SWRL, NWRL and City Relief Lines appear to be the next 3 major expansions to the Cityrail network. After that it’s a question of which order a second harbour crossing or metro conversion will occur, not whether either or both will occur. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan Discussion Paper, page 45.)

Light rail

Any new light rail lines constructed in the inner city will be designed to fit in and compliment the bus and train network rather than to compete with it. As a result, it will replace a number of bus routes and see a redesign of the bus network to fit in with light rail (p. 49).


There is currently a significant amount of congestion in the CBD caused by buses, particularly around Wynyard (from the Harbour Bridge) and Circular Quay (via the CBD). A short term solution of re-routing some lines is provided (p. 48), though nothing is mentioned about long term solutions (though this is likely to involve replacing buses from the Northwest with trains on the Northwest Rail Link and buses from the Eastern Suburbs with light rail). Nor is there any mention of re-organising bus routes to have them travel through the city (as many metrobuses currently do), rather than merely terminating at one end of it, which could potentially eliminate about half the buses travelling through the CBD itself.


The ferry system is to be privatised, starting with new private routes that were recently announced, then followed by franchising out the government owned Sydney Ferries to a private operator (p. 51).

There was no mention of any other possibilities of privatisation, such franchising out any potential future metro style rail network or for private operation of the Northwest Rail Link, both of which have been rumoured in the press.

Cycling and walking

Both cycling and walking are also said to need to be promoted, but nothing is mentioned about integrating it with rail as was mentioned with buses and light rail (p. 5). Significant work has been put on constructing large (and expensive) park and ride facilities to allow commuters to drive and park their car to the local train station, but relatively little for cyclists to ride their bike and store it before getting on the train, which could significantly increase the catchment area around train stations for people who live too far to walk, have limited bus connections and/or do not to drive to the station for whatever reason.

Also not mentioned is bike share (p. 52). Such a scheme was implemented in Melbourne (600 bikes) and Paris (20,000 bikes), but to a much lesser extent in Melbourne than in Paris and therefore never quite reached a critical mass for it be as successful as it was in Paris (click on the link to read Alan Davies’ article about it at The Melbourne Urbanist). Obviously, one challenge to bike share in Australia is the mandatory helmet laws. That aside, imagine how much easier it would be if you could ride your bike to the train station, leave it in a locker, catch the train into the city, then hire one of the bike share bicycles to get you to your final destination. (A similar outcome can be achieved by transporting bikes on buses/trains, but this only works if few people do it and is therefore not scalable to being done by large numbers of people.) This leads to an increase in the area which you can get from and to the train station at both ends of your journey, making public transport a much more attractive option. Jarrett Walker over at Human Transit refers to this as the “last mile issue” and has some interesting further reading on the topic.

Tangara design testing

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Transport
Tags: , , ,

An interesting video from the 1980s that shows planning for the design of the Tangara trains, it shows how long it takes for large number of people to board and disembark from a train, based on different carriage designs.

The first is the traditional silver set carriage, which has bottlenecks that prevent people walking up and down the stairs more than one person at a time. The improved Tangara design has wider stairs, which allows people to go 2 abreast, thus increasing the speed at which they can board and disembark.

This is important for dwell times: how long a train has to spend at each station. The longer this is, the fewer trains you can run per hour (the headways, time between trains, is longer) and the more one train’s delay impacts on the trains behind it.

Almost 20 years on, the Cityrail network is on the cusp of retiring almost all silver sets once the new Waratah fleet comes online. Doing so could allow network wide improvements to speed and reliability due to shortened dwell times.

(This video was produced by Comeng, who produced the silver L/R/S Set trains in Sydney and a number of trams in Melbourne. However, Tangaras would eventually be produced by Goninan, the same company that made the OSCARs. I’m unsure as to the reason why the Tangara project was shifted from Comeng to Goninan. If you know, then feel free to post in the comments section below.)

The state government recently officially declared that George Street is now the favoured route for a CBD light rail extension, with trams likely to soon travel from Central to Circular Quay via George Street, before continuing along Hickson Road to Barangaroo. Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, has been pushing for such a route for a few years now, and hopes that light rail will transform George Street. Part of this transformation will be to pedestrianise a large part of George Street, banishing cars (and probably buses too), leaving only light rail, bicycles and pedestrians.

Melbourne has recently decided to take such an approach with Swanston Street, its main tram route through the city. Swanston Street has been car free during certain times of the day for many years now, but will soon be entirely free of vehicle traffic – currently one block has been completed, with a tram super stop installed.

Daniel Bowen wrote a piece about the new tram super stop shortly after it opened last month. If Clover gets her way, Swanston Street would give us a good idea of what a future George Street might look like.