Posts Tagged ‘Transport apps’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTE: Apologies for the lateness of this week’s post. It was written up, but then not posted immediately.

Thursday: Opal card fare hack discovered

Opal users can reach their weekly travel reward for $13.86 in under 30 minutes on Tuesdays if they have made 2 journeys on the previous Monday. The “hack”, as it has been dubbed by the Opal Card App developers who discovered it, comes less than 3 months after the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian encouraged the public to seek ways of cutting their fare costs using their Opal card.

VIDEO: Opal Card Hack

The method requires customers to have already made 2 journeys on a previous day, due to the $15 daily cap. Customers must also travel during off-peak (outside of (7:00AM-9:00AM and 4:00PM-6:30PM) in order to receive the off-peak discount. It also makes use of the fact that Macdonaldtown Station and Erskineville Stations, the two stations that are the closest on the network, are only 350m apart.

An adult Opal card. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

An adult Opal card. Click to enlarge.
(Source: Transport for NSW)

By tapping on at one and tapping off at the other, customers simulate catching a train and making 1 trip. By returning to the original station and tapping on again, a new trip is initiated. However, these 2 trips do not appear to be linked, thus making them independent journeys for the purpose of reaching the weekly travel reward. Normally customers must wait 60 minutes between tapping off and tapping back on in order for trips not to be linked and thus count as 2 separate journeys.

The 2 stations must also be ungated, ruling out any CBD stations as well as major suburban stations.

Thursday: Pedestrian countdown timer trial

The NSW Government is set to trial pedestrian countdown timers at six intersections in Sydney to determine if the timers help improve safety for pedestrians. A yellow countdown timer, displaying the number of seconds left for pedestrians to cross the road, will replace the red flashing “don’t walk” signal.

VIDEO: Putting pedestrian countdown timers to the test

Friday: Real time data comes for ferries and trams

Real time locations for ferries and light rail is being introduced to transport apps, in addition to the existing real time vehicle information previously available for buses and trains. Real time data will be available on six transport apps: NextThere, TripView, TransitTimes+, TripGo, Triptastic, and Arrivo Sydney.

Saturday: Second Harbour road crossing planned

The NSW Government is planning a second Harbour road crossing, linking the Balmain peninsula to the M2 at Lane Cove. The plans, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald and yet to be officially announced, are reportedly contingent on the 99 year lease of the NSW electricity distribution network. It will link up to the Northern extension of WestConnex, which will link up WestConnex to the Anzac Bridge.

Commentary: Why a 2nd Harbour road tunnel is a good thing

WestConnex and its new North-South extension to the Anzac Bridge and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact Sheet 4, p. 1.)

A new Harbour crossing would begin at the current end of the proposed Northern extension to WestConnex and end at the M2 in Lane Cove. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact Sheet 4, p. 1.)

Sunday: 60,000 apartments for Parramatta Road

Plans for 60,000 new apartments to be built along the Parramatta Road corridor are set to be released by the NSW Government. One quarter of the new homes would be built in Granville, while a third would be built in Homebush. The plan includes improved bus connections between Burwood and the city, set to coincide with the completion of the M4 East portion of WestConnex parallel to Parramatta Road. Though the existing M4 is set to be widened between Parramatta and Concord, no details have been announced about any public transport improvements in this part of Parramatta Road. Over two thirds of the 60,000 apartments are to be built in this Western portion of Parramatta Road.

This follows a push by the opposition for these plans to be made public immediately, rather than in 2015.

Monday: High speed rail costs could be halved

The Australasian Railway Association has released a report showing that, based on international construction costs of $35m/km, a high speed rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne could be built for $63bn. This is significantly less than the $114bn in the Australian Government’s recent high speed rail study.

Tuesday: 4 routes shortlisted for Parramatta light rail

An initial list of 10 possible light rail lines from Parramatta has been cut down to 4, with a final decision to be made in the near future. The government is set to pick a line connecting Parramatta to either Castle Hill, Macquarie Park, Olympic Park, or Bankstown.

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Tuesday: Fuel excise indexation introduced via regulation

The indexation of the fuel excise is to be introduced by the Australian Government despite the Senate having blocked legislation to enable it. Reintroducing indexation will cause the price of petrol to rise by about 1c per year and is expected to raise $2.2bn over 4 years. The move is expected to put pressure on Senators to pass the measure so that the additional revenue raised does not have to be refunded to petrol companies.

Tuesday: Mobile apps to help with accessibility

The Government is calling on app developers to help create a series of apps that will meet the needs of people with a disability using public transport. This is aimed at ensuring compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act to provide better services for people with a disability. “Planning a journey, knowing that our stop is coming up next or even knowing which side of the train to alight from are tasks that most of us take for granted,” a Transport for NSW spokesman said, adding that “for customers with disability or impairment it can be a huge cause of anxiety”. Selected app proposals will receive seed funding, ongoing access to real time transport data as well as promotion of their product by Transport for NSW.

Thursday: Gold Opal card to be released

A Gold Opal card for seniors and pensioners is to be released on Monday 3 November. The card will feature a $2.50 daily cap and also offer free travel after the first 8 journeys each week. Speaking about existing paper tickets for seniors and pensioners, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said that “the paper Pensioner Excursion Ticket will continue to be available on Monday November 3, and well into the future”. Gold Opal cards can only be obtained online or over the phone.

Thursday: 50,000 new homes for Parramatta Road

An additional 50,000 homes will be built along Parramatta Road over the coming decades, with over two thirds of homes slated for the Western end of these Parramatta Road between Granville and Strathfield. The NSW Government is planning to widen the M4 alongside this portion of Parramatta Road while building the M4 East Tunnel underneath the Eastern portion of Parramatta Road as part of its WestConnex project.

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

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

Friday: Whitlam Station proposed for NWRL

The terminus station on the North West Rail Link (NWRL) could be named Whitlam, after Blacktown City Council proposed naming a new suburb after the former Prime Minister. The station is currently known as Cudgegong Road.

Monday: Real time train and parking capacity information coming soon

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

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

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

Tuesday: Airport access fee deal for regular airport commuters

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

Wednesday: Majority of Opal rollout on buses complete

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

Wednesday: Maldon to Dombarton Line back on the agenda

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

VIDEO: Dancing Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy

Monday: WestConnex construction to cost $473m per km

Analysis done for the Sydney Morning Herald finds that the WestConnex freeway will cost $473m/km to build. The high cost has been attributed to the high level of tunnelling required to build it; large parts of the 33km freeway will be entirely underground. Comparable surface only roads have a much lower cost per km, such as the M7 ($58m/km), or the planned roads to support an airport at Badgerys Creek (ranging in cost from $50m/km to $89m/km). Roads in other states that make heavy use of tunnels came in with higher price tags than WestConnex, such as Melbourne’s East-West Link ($1,000m/km) or Brisbane’s Airport Link ($747m/km).

Monday: Lane Cove Tunnel court case begins

Courts have been told that initial traffic forecasts for the Lane Cove Tunnel (LCT) of 57,686 cars per day were inflated up to between 150,000 and 187,000 cars per day in a bid to win over investors for the project. The LCT ultimately opened in 2007 with 66,000 cars per day, a figure much closer to the abandoned projection than the final one used. The forecasters, Parsons Brinkerhoff and Booz Allen, are being sued by two funds, AMP Infrastructure Equity Fund and the Retail Employees Superannuation Fund, who claim they relied on the forecasts when making investment decisions about the LCT. The funds are seeking over $144m in damages, more than half of which is interest on the initial loss.

Wednesday: Treasurer calls petrol tax progressive: poor people don’t drive as much

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey described proposed changes to the fuel excise as progressive, telling ABC radio that “the poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases”. His comments were strongly criticised and Mr Hockey apologised for making the comments 2 days later, saying that “I can only apologise for any hurt I’ve caused”.

Wednesday: M4 widening EIS released

The Environmental Impact Statement for the M4 widening, the first part of the WestConnex freeway, was released. The M4 widening will see the existing M4 between Parramatta and Homebush widened up to 6 or 8 lanes, from an existing 4 or 6 lanes. The EIS forecasts that Eastbound peak hour travel between Parramatta and Homebush is expected to rise from 12 minutes (2014) to 19 minutes (2031) if nothing is done, or drop to 5 minutes with the M4 widening. Westbound peak hour travel between Homebush and Parramatta is expected to rise from 5 minutes (2014) to 15 minutes (2031) if nothing is done, or rise to 9 minutes with the M4 widening. (Source: M4 Widening EIS, p. 14.)

The M4 will have additional lanes added between Parramatta and Homebush. Click to enlarge. (Source: Roads & Maritime Service, M4 Widening EIS, pp. 16-17.)

The M4 will have additional lanes added between Parramatta and Homebush. Click to enlarge. (Source: Roads & Maritime Service, M4 Widening EIS, pp. 16-17.)

The number of vehicles per hour on Parramatta Rd in the morning peak fell 18.9%, from 3,960 (2008) to 3,210 (2011), following the removal of the toll on the M4. The return of a toll will see some cars shift from the tolled M4 to the free Parramatta Rd, while other cars will shift from the slower Parramatta Rd to the faster M4. This will see a predicted 4.3% increase in cars on Parramatta Rd, from 3,210 (2011) to 3,350 (2021). (Source: M4 Widening EIS, p. 21.)

Thursday: Premier seeks crowdsourced solutions to traffic problems

The people of NSW will have the opportunity to suggest ways to deal with Sydney’s traffic problems under a plan by the Premier Mike Baird to crowdsource solutions to this problem. The plan follows similar initiatives in cities such as Los Angeles, Toronto, and London.

Friday: Finance Minister supports Uber

The NSW Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet spoke favouorably of ride sharing app Uber, saying that NSW “should welcome the sharing economy as something profoundly conservative”. This contrasts with the existing NSW Government policy, which puts strong limits on apps like Uber. “Services must be provided in a licensed taxi or hire car, by an appropriately accredited driver, authorised by Roads and Maritime Services” a Transport for NSW spokesperson said, adding that those not following these rules could be fined up to $110,000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: SWRL extension to Badgerys Creek in the planning

Planning has begun to preserve a corridor for a new rail line to the proposed new airport at Badgerys Creek. The new corridor will extend from the currently under construction South West Rail Link at Leppington through to Bagderys Creek Airport and then North to St Marys, with another line branching South at Bringelly to Narellan.

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian explained that this was more than just the airport, pointing out that This work isn’t just about servicing an airport, it’s about servicing Western Sydney communities with appropriate transport links, now and into the future”. The new line will pass right through the South West Growth Centre, which is expected to house an additional 300,000 residents in coming decades.

Consultations will run for 6 weeks from 28 April to 6 June on both the alignment and station locations. Currently there are no indicative station locations North of Badgerys Creek, despite one station in this area having been earmarked in a 2013 draft strategy.

Tuesday: NWRL brings 18 storey apartments to Kellyville

Plans for high rise residential buildings up to 18 storeys are being opposed by a local residents group, who want the project restricted to 15 storeys. The project, adjacent to the Kellyville station site that will form part of the North West Rail Link set to open in 2019, was originally proposed to have a maximum height of 25 storeys. Height reductions were achieved by converting the project from a mixed use residential/commercial/retail development into primarily a residential development. The 7,000 to 8,250 square metres of planned office space was removed entirely, the amount of retail space was reduced from 3,000 to 1,900 square metres, and the number of apartment units was cut from 746 to 660 (Source: Hills Shire Council, 29/04/2014 EGM Minutes, pp. 35, 40).

Plans for 18 storey residential apartments next to Kellyville Station on the NWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Hills Shire Council, 29/04/2014 EGM Minutes, p. 40.)

Plans for 18 storey residential apartments next to Kellyville Station on the NWRL. Click to enlarge. (Source: Hills Shire Council, 29/04/2014 EGM Minutes, p. 40.)

The Hills Shore Council has also designated areas around the proposed Bella Vista and Showground railways stations for high rise developments in order to house the expected 100,000 new residents expected over the next 25 years.

Wednesday: Ride sharing apps restricted to taxis and hire cars

Private drivers cannot use ride sharing apps like Uber to carry paying passengers according to a clarification by Transport for NSW. These apps can allow individuals to book a driver directly, bypassing the taxi booking companies which currently enjoy close to monopoly status in the market. A Transport for NSW spokesperson said that Under the [Passenger Transport] Act, [ride sharing] must be provided in a licensed taxi or hire car, by an appropriately accredited driver, authorised by Roads and Maritime Services (RMS)”. Any driver authorised by RMS undergoes a police check.

Thursday: Multiple incidents cause transport chaos

Sydney’s road and rail transport network saw significant disruptions after a number of incidents across the city. These included a fatal collision with a cyclist by a bus on Military Road in Neutral Bay, a car crash on the M1 on the Hawkesbury River Bridge, a 2 car crash in the Harbour Tunnel, and a power outage on the light rail line between Dulwich Hill and Lilyfield.

Thursday: School contest to name tunnel boring machines

School students from Sydney’s North West will have the opportunity to name the tunnel boring machines used to create the tunnels for the North West Rail Link. Given the long-held tradition that tunnel boring machines around the world are named after women, the theme will be “Women who have made a positive contribution to life in Sydney”. Competition entries close on May 25, and will only be accepted via the North West Rail Link project website, where there is also more detail about the competition.

Friday: ARTC listed as potential privatisation target

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has been listed for potential privatisation in the long term, with a predicted sale value of $500m. The ARTC is owned by the Commonwealth Government, which in turn owns and operates much of the interstate freight rail network on the East Coast of Australia. It has made a financial loss in all but one year since 2007, however these have all been primarily due to asset impairment write downs and not due to losses from ongoing operations. The ARTC has earned $200m to $300m per year in the last 3 years when measured from an operating cashflow perspective, a measure which strips out non-cash transactions such as asset impairments and depreciation (Sources: ARTC, Annual Report 2013, p. 58 and Annual Report 2011, p. 48).

Friday: Cyclists may require licenses, bike paths lead to more bike usage

Cyclists would be required to hold licences and avoid major roads under a proposal being considered by the Roads Minister Duncan Gay. Meanwhile, documents obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald show that bike paths in the Sydney CBD led to a doubling in the number of cyclists but a reduction in injuries. The documents also show that more bikes use Kent St, King St, and College St each morning peak hour than cars do. These are the 3 streets in the Sydney CBD with separated bike paths currently installed.

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

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

The government announced its preferred bike path network last year as part of the Sydney City Access Strategy (see image above). It involved removing the College St bike path, but adding new bike paths on Castlereagh St, Pitt St, and Liverpool St while also extending the existing bike paths on Kent St and King St.

Monday: NSW Labor promises feasibility study for Western Sydney Light Rail

NSW Opposition Leader John Robertson committed the Labor Party to a $20m feasibility study into a Western Sydney Light Rail network if it wins next year’s state election. Parramatta Council has been pushing for a light rail network linking Parramatta to Macquarie Park and Castle Hill, and has funded its own pre-feasibility study into such lines. This mirrors the CBD and South Eastern Light Rail, currently under construction, where Randwick Council funded its own pre-feasibility study before the the then Opposition Liberal Party committed itself to a full feasibility study if it won office in the 2011 state election

This also follows revalations that the NSW Government is considering a Western Sydney Light Rail network after the publication of an official government document showing the light rail lines on a map of Parramatta. If this is the case, support for such a network could receive bipartisan support.

Wednesday: Dulwich Hill light rail extension boosts patronage by 30%

Patronage on the Inner West Light Rail Line has increased by an estimated 30% since being extended to Dulwich Hill last week. Although an additional 4 trams were obtained to maintain 10 minute frequencies on the line during peak hour, the increased demand has led to overcrowding and meant some passengers have not been able to board a tram.

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

The 30% increase in patronage on the Inner West Light Rail Line has led to overcrowding, similar to that in this image taken in 2013. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author)

It has also dampened the likelihood of school students being given free travel on trams to get to and from school until overcrowding is addressed. An additional 12 trams are currently scheduled to enter service over the next 18 month to replace the original 7 trams used on the line. Peak hour frequencies are set to increase to one tram per 7.5 minutes from 1 July this year, which will ease overcrowding.

Thursday: Real-time data for ferries and trams coming to transport apps

Real-time data, currently available for trains and buses, will soon be expanded to ferries and trams. There is no fixed timetable for when these will become available, but a spokesman from Transport for NSW hopes that they will be rolledout “within the next year”.

Thursday: Mobile phone reception now available on Eastern Suburbs Line

The Eastern Suburbs Line has joined the City Circle and North Shore Line in having mobile phone reception available in its underground tunnels. Sydney’s other major underground rail tunnels, for the Airport Line and Epping to Macquarie Line, were designed to include mobile phone reception for when the lines opened in 2000 and 2009 respectively.

Friday: Opal rolled out to South Coast and Southern Highlands Lines

Opal readers went online in the South Coast and Southern Highlands Lines, with the Blue Mountains and Hunter Lines to go online next week. 165,000 Opal cards have been registered to date. Opal readers are now being rolled out onto buses, starting with the Upper North Shore and Eastern Suburbs.

 

Mini Metro (alpha) review

Posted: March 6, 2014 in Transport
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Mini Metro is a game in development for PC and tablet by Dinosaur Polo Club (run by New Zealand developer Peter Curry) where players must build a transport network and keep passengers moving in a city. Three lines and two tunnels (used for crossing rivers) are initially allowed to connect up 3 stations. The city then grows, with additional stations being added over time, requiring the player to expand the transport network. Over time, additional resources are provided, including extra lines or tunnels as well as additional carriages or faster vehicles. The game ends when too many passengers have been waiting at one stop for too long.

2014-03-05 Mini Metro 4

The game is currently in the alpha phase, and can be played at the developer’s website. It can be supported by visiting its Steam Greenlight page and voting for it. This is free, but requires a Steam account.

The game is similar to other smartphone/tablet games like Flight Control, requiring the player to last as long as possible as the game environment being managed becomes more and more complicated over time. Stations are each given a different shape, the most common being triangles and circles, with each station producing passengers destined for a different shaped station. There is no peak vs off peak travel times and only 1 vehicle is allowed per line, though two lines can run side by side – effectively doubling frequency. It is also possible to upgrade vehicles later on to increase their capacity or increase their speeds.

2014-03-05 Mini Metro

Quite interestingly, although the game refers to stops as “stations”, and will make the occasional mention of terms like “subway” or (quite rarely) “train”, it is quite a generic interpretation of a transport network. The lines could just as easily be bus rapid transit or light rail as much as underground heavy rail or metro trains. In fact, the ease at which a line can be re-routed or completely removed and replaced with another line is more a feature of bus based rather than rail based transport.

It’s therefore quite fascinating to see a game demonstrate transport as a question of mobility and geometry, rather than a question of what sort of vehicle a passenger takes. This is a concept that Jarrett Walker has mentioned many times on his transport blog, and is worth a read for those who have not.

Public transport in Sydney is going through a complete re-vamp, with “The Hop” becoming the universal brand for public transport. This is an essential part of creating a system that is seen as a complete and unified public transport network, rather than one which is just a collection of networks (rail, ferry, various bus operators, etc) cobbled together. It also presents an opportunity to create information for the passenger (or “customers” as the government now insists on calling them) that is prepared in a way that is most logical and useful from their perspective.

This food court is connected to the train station via an underground walkway, though it still takes 1-2 minutes to reach the platform on foot. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

This food court is connected to the train station via an underground walkway, though it still takes 1-2 minutes to reach the platform on foot. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

The introduction of real time data for transport apps (first for buses, then later for trains) is a definite improvement. Providing passenger information displays (PIDs) on the Sydney Trains network in locations other than on the platforms or next to the ticket gates is another good move. Two examples of the latter include the PIDs that were put into the Westfield food court adjoining Parramatta train station many years ago (see image above), allowing passengers to see when the next train arrives before beginning a walk to the platform which could take a number of minutes; while a more recent installation of PIDs near the street entrance of the shopping arcade that leads into Wynyard Station (see image below) tell passengers when the next train to a particular station arrives and to which platform, removing the need for them to check all upcoming trains to work out which one will get them to their destination first.

Wynyard Station itself is located within a shopping arcade, so the distance from the entrance at the street to the station proper involves a not insignificant walk. That makes this passenger information display at the arcade's entrance a valuable addition for passengers. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Wynyard Station itself is located within a shopping arcade, so the distance from the entrance at the street to the station proper involves a not insignificant walk. That makes this passenger information display at the arcade’s entrance a valuable addition for passengers. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

This final example is actually a step back in time to the 1990s, when PIDs were often organised in this way. At major stations, passengers could look up their station from an alphabetically ordered list to see which train would get them to that destination fastest. This is important, as the quickest journey may not simply be the next train to arrive, such as if a subsequent train is an express that overtakes the earlier train.

Today this system of communicating information is all but gone. Even the example above from Wynyard isn’t as straightforward and logical as first appears. Rather than ordering stations in an easy to look up manner, it orders them in chronological order of soon to arrive trains. It also only lists major stations.

Someone taking a train on the Western Line or T1 must now look at 3 different screens to work out which train to catch. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Someone taking a train on the Western Line or T1 must now look at 3 different screens to work out which train to catch. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

On top of this, the process of looking up train services by line has been complicated by the re-naming of lines to numbers (T1, T2, T3, etc).  Someone who wants to reach Westmead from Central, for example, should take a train on the Western Line (T1). But there are 3 different PIDs for T1 (see image above), and each of them lists all the line names (Western/Northern/North Shore), rather than the more logical choice of labelling them T1 – North Shore/Northern (left), T1 – Western (middle), T1 – Northern (right). This would allow the passenger to focus on the middle PID to find when the next train to Westmead is and which station they need to go to. Given that this very information is available a short walk from where these PIDs are (see image below), giving this information in that format should not be a difficult thing to achieve.

Some station information does split out the new amalgamated train lines into their component parts, to allow passengers to work out which platform their train departs from. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Some station information does split out the new amalgamated train lines into their component parts, to allow passengers to work out which platform their train departs from. Click to enlarge. (Source: Author.)

Even better, Transport for NSW could return to providing information to passengers by first asking them where they want to go, then telling them the best way of getting there. This would be a big improvement of the current system where the passenger must also work out how to reach their destination, then look at the relevant PID and wait for all the stations to scroll along before determining when and where to go for their next train.

Note: As an iPhone and iPad user, this post has an iOS tilt to it. Some comments may not apply to non-iOS device users.

Real time data on transport apps was recently added for trains, in addition to government operated buses. It achieves this through the use of GPS tracking devices installed on all trains as well as all stations on the suburban rail network other than Waterfall and the Carlingford Line. As with the real time bus data, this functionality does not apply to either the Google Transit or 131500 apps.

Correction: The train data uses information from the rail network signals, not GPS as previously stated.

There are 6 apps in total. TripView and TripGo, screenshots of which are included below along with some descriptions. Arrivo is only available on Android phones. Triptastic requires iOS6 and has received positive reviews, but has no free version. TransitTimes is available for various cities around the world, whereas the other apps are Sydney specific. The final app, Hidden City, is less a transport app and more a random trip generator, suggesting activities in Sydney after providing details such as group size and budget which also provides transport details and information about the cost.

The TripView app displays train locations in an easy to view manner and has also added a function which informs you whether a particular train is air conditioned or not. It appears to be the only app to provide this feature.

TripView rail map

TripView street map

TripView aircon trains

TripGo benefits from having an iPad version of the app as well as an iPhone one. It’s also seen a few improvements since the version looked at previously. You can, for example, select a specific bus stop and cycle through all buses that depart from it, rather than having to select each bus route individually before seeing it. It also displays the actual bus route, and not just the bus stops, which is particularly useful for express or limited stops bus routes.

TripGo bus stop

Like before, it provides both multimodal journeys together with real time information, while providing various comparisons on price, trip duration, and even carbon emissions. It even lets you prioritise which of these are more important to you in choosing how to get to your destination. However, it still has some teething issues (as it did last time), such as the different trip options disappearing from the trip list and requiring you to flip through them in the itinerary. The ability to flip through was not initially apparent, so it appeared that it was only showing the “best” trip, rather than giving you a list of different modes to choose from.

TripGo empty trip list

In addition, the name of the train is an abbreviated line name, such as ESI for the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line or WNS for the Western Line, which while logical in hindsight, wasn’t initially clear given the depth of information provided by the app. Train trips were also sometimes shown on the map as continuing through to the end of the line, rather than stopping at the destination. This appeared to be the case when the journey was made up of 2 or more trips (including a journey involving 2 trains), such as this one for Bondi Junction to Strathfield which continued all the way to Penrith.

TripGo end of the line

It also once recommended taking a train from Central past Strathfield to Lidcombe and then backtracking to Strathfield.

TripGo backtrack

If these issues get ironed out, then TripGo has the potential to be a better transport app than TripView, given all the additional information it contains. But for now you’re probably better off sticking to Google Transit for trip planning and TripView for real time information.

Another recent app, Triptastic, has also received positive vibes. It has no free version, only a $2.99 download, which probably turns off many potential users. It also requires iOS6, which the author has held off from upgrading to, so is not covered in this post.

The point of interest throughout the evolution of transport apps is the government’s response to them. When TripView first came out, the Transport Department tried to have it shut down as it competed with its 131500 Transport Info service. Since then, the government has become actively involved with private app developers, resulting first in the rollout of Google Transit to Sydney and then the addition of real time bus and train information to what is now half a dozen transport apps.

It is this sort of collaboration, one that brings in private developers, that has produced the sort of innovation that wouldn’t be possible had it remained a government only monopoly. It unleashes the dynamism of the private sector, while maintaining government control over planning and oversight needed to make the network function as a complete network, rather than various independently operating agencies or organisations. This has been a welcome move that will see benefits for commuters, just as contracting out cleaning services and franchising of transport operations have the potential to control out of control operating costs.

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

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

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

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

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

Capacity improvements

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

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

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

Service quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ticketing and fares

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

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

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

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

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

Transport Minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funding, costs and scheduling

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

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

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

Governance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning

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

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

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

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

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

Private sector involvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Sydney airport

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

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

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

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

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

Transport apps

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

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

One of the first posts I made on this blog in mid 2011 was about real time location services for public transport. At the time, this was limited to an SMS service where you send a message with a bus stop number and receive a response with all buses set to arrive there in the next half hour, achieved by installing GPS devices on buses to track where they are at any given time. There was also the 131500.info trip planner, but it did not provide real time data nor was it the most user friendly system out there. Mobile apps like TripView did provide a better user interface, but did not provide multi modal functionality (so if you had to catch a bus and train then you needed to do 2 separate searches). Meanwhile, the easy to use Google Transit function on Google Maps was limited to trams and the monorail in Sydney.

At the time, I lamented that there was not some more user friendly, perhaps more graphical form of providing this service, and one that provided the actual real time location of your bus/train/ferry/tram rather than just what’s on the timetable. There was little reason why either wasn’t possible at the time, in fact the former had already been achieved by Fink Labs before being shut down by the Transport Department (see image below).

Fink labs bus app

A discontinued real time bus location app. (Source: Fink Labs.)

Thing have changed significantly since then. Google Transit expanded to all modes of transport, while real time data (currently only for for government buses, but hopefully set to be expanded to all buses next year) was introduced to transport apps. So here is a summary of some of the major transport services: 131500, Google Transit, TripView, and TripGo.

Note: One of the mobile apps (Arrivo Sydney) that recently added real time information is Android only, and as an iPhone user I was unable to try it out.

131500

Pros: multi-modal, offers a call center service

Cons: Interface could be easier to use, no real time data

This is the official government transport information service. It was great when it first came out years ago, but has seen little improvement since. In almost every case, you’re better off going with Google Transit. Google’s service is easier to use, has a better display, and everything that Google is missing is also missing from 131500. The one exception is the phone service for those luddites out there, where someone at the call center will let you know the details you need.

Strangely enough, despite this being the government service, it lacks real time data for buses.

131500

Google Transit

Pros: easy to use interface, good for people unfamiliar with transport network, multi-modal

Cons: no real time data

All bus, train, ferry, and light rail timetable data in was incorporated in July of 2012. It provides multi-modal information, so you do not have to do a separate search for a bus trip and a train trip, you just did a single search that gave you the information for both. The user interface is very easy to use, both on a computer or a mobile device, particularly for people who only know the origin and destination, but aren’t sure where nearby bus stops or train stations are or what the best bus route to take is. The main downside is the lack of real time data, and thus does not take into account delays to services (similar to its traffic function, which recommended the fastest way to drive given the road traffic at any particular time and day).

Google Transit

The Google Transit function of Google Maps shows multi-modal trips, in this case a bus followed by a train. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Google Maps.)

TripView

Pros: easy to use interface, can use offline, real time bus data

Cons: not multi-modal, need paid version to save trips for later, assumes some knowledge of transport network

Prior to Google Transit, this was arguably the best mobile transport app. A free version is available, with a premium version which allows you to save trips for easy access later on. It now contains real time bus data, and this is displayed in an easy to read format. It is also the only app I’ve seen that allows offline use by downloading all the timetables to your device (handy when you’re in a black spot or out of data).

20121219-013825.jpg

The new TripView app shows the actual time above and the original timetabled time below, next to a square coloured to indicate whether it is early (blue), on time (green), or late (red).

The real time data can also be displayed in map format, in a similar manner to the Fink Labs app from 2011, but with one important improvement – it now tells you the direction the bus is going.

20121219-013903.jpg

TripView also includes a map showing the actual location of all the buses that will go from the origin to the destination of your designated trip, indicated by the green line. A triangle indicates which direction the bus is moving in.

The main shortfalls of TripView are that it does not allow multi-modal trips, and you need to know the exact origin and destination of your journey. For example, if you are going from the city to Castle Hill, it won’t tell you whether the best way to get there is to get a direct bus, or to take a train to Parramatta and then change for a bus. You have to work that out yourself. And if a train and bus is the faster option, then you have to do 2 separate searches. Also problematic is that if you tell it that you are going from a specific bus stop, then it won’t consider telling you to walk around the corner to catch a bus from another bus stop, even if that is a quicker option. But if you are familiar with the bus and train network, then that’s less of a problem.

TripGo

Pros: multi-modal, real time data, very informative, includes taxis

Cons: Interface is clumsy

At first, TripGo looks like the poor sibling of TripView. In actuality, it’s something inbetween Google Transit and TripView. Like Google Transit, it provides multi-modal trips (including driving and bicycles), and like TripView it provides real time bus data. In addition, it also has taxis as an option, and allows you to sort the alternatives by cost in dollars, trip length, carbon emissions or first to arrive at destination if you leave now. This also means you don’t need to have an understanding of the transport network. It also makes use of your address book and calendar when setting up your trip.

This app is new, and has some teething problems. For example, it sometimes complains that the origin and destination are too far away, doesn’t factor in the airport station access fee in the cost of getting the train to the airport, or recommends driving to and parking at central station before getting a train from there.

TripGo

Where it misses the mark is on the user interface, which just feels a bit clumsy. That in itself is enough to keep me from using it on most occassions. Though if I’m making a trip to or from an unfamiliar location for the first time, I’d consider using it just that once to gather my bearing. But after that I’d probably stick to either Google Transit or TripView.

Google has added bike paths to its Google Maps service. You can now plan your trip to take bike paths into account. They are separated into off-street, on-street and “bike friendly streets”.

Google Maps bike paths

Some quick browsing through it reveals that it is still a work in progress, with some bike paths missing or inconsistent (i.e. in some places a shared pedestrian/bike path is classified as off-street and sometimes as on-street). Still, this is a big improvement, along with the addition of traffic that was added recently.

What Google Maps is still missing in Australia is good Google Transit functionality. It’s almost non-existent in Australia, with Sydney having only the light rail and monorail built in. Sydneysiders can use something like 131500 or the TripView app to get directions, but I found neither of them to be as user friendly as Google Transit was when I used it while travelling in the US.

Sydney Buses SMS service

Posted: August 21, 2011 in Transport
Tags: ,

Technology is making transport a lot easier today. When I lived in Baulkham Hills, the local bus would come once or twice per hour. Missing it, and having to wait 30 or 60 minutes, was bad enough. But worse was not knowing if you had missed it or if it was just running late.

Earlier this year Sydney Buses introduced their SMS service, where you send them a text message with the bus stop number and then get a response that tells you all the buses that will be stopping there in the next half hour, along with an expected arrival time. Importantly, thanks to GPS technology, this arrival time is the actual time rather than the timetabled time.

Bus stop timetable and information

This detailed bus stop timetable has the bus stop number and the phone number to SMS on the bottom right. Smaller bus stop posts have this information on a sticker placed on the pole.

Whenever Google can get its hands on real time transport information, it incorporates it into the directions function of Google Maps and is called Google Transit. It does exist in Sydney, but only for the Light Rail and Monorail, thus making it almost useless. Luckily, the 131500.info service is generally quite good, and though it’s not quite as user friendly as Google Transit, it’s good enough.

Ideally we would have everything graphically displayed on a map, with real time information on where all the buses are, where they are going and how long they will take to get there (as discussed by Jarrett Walker over at his Human Transit blog). That looks something like this:

Real time bus locations

Buses in inner city Sydney, as shown on a map