Melb2016: Transport Related Observations & Signs (Part 7)

I’ve always been a fan of public transport, no matter where I go. It’s an economical way of travelling, although it’s not always convenient. I don’t mind though – I’m patient and tolerant enough. It’s always interesting to note the differences in how they operate. It’s also interesting to note down the unique sights and sounds. This post will be a little random as a result, as it’s a collection of observations.

Public Transport Victoria Ticketing

Public Transport in Victoria mostly falls under the Public Transport Victoria (PV>) branding. In Victoria, there are three modes of public transport, namely trains, buses and trams. Unlike Sydney, there are no ferries.

The only method of ticketing accepted is known as the myki. This is an NFC card, similar to, but pre-dating the Opal card. Unlike the Opal card in Sydney which doesn’t cost anything (i.e. obtain $10 Opal card, have $10 of transport credit), the myki card has a non-refundable $6 cost. Also, unlike the Opal card which expires after 9 years, the myki expires every 4 years. The system does share some similarities with Opal, including the ability to register the card online to view transactions, manage and protect the balance, and ability to do online top-ups which stay in a “pending” state until collected. The act of validating a card when boarding is known as “touching on”, and when disembarking, is known as “touching off”. Failing to perform this correctly can lead to the charging of a default fare. Where it differs is the online myki system is slow – updating overnight.

The fare structure is also different. Instead of worrying about modes, the most basic fare deducts from your money balance (i.e. myki money) and opens a 2 hour travel “window” for a set price regardless of modes. Once exceeding this window, you get charged a second 2 hour travel fare, which brings you to the daily fare (maximum daily cap). This daily cap is $7.80 for an adult travelling in Zone 1+2, which is about half the price of Sydney’s $15 cap. On weekends and public holidays, the cap is $6.00, and seniors have a $3.90 daily cap. Train trips completely made before 7.15am are free (Early Bird fare).

They also have a myki pass, which is a weekly or 28-365 day pass, depending on what options you choose when loading the pass onto your card. This is analogous to a weekly or periodical ticket, which covers consecutive days. The cost for a 7-day full fare Zone 1+2 pass is $39.00, offering 7 days of travel for 5 weekday daily fares. No “weekly travel reward” scheme is used.

I obtained my myki card in the first part, which is a “new” universal myki design, grey on the front. Concession cards are available for students – when I was roaming around the University of Melbourne, I saw someone that had lost their concession myki and concession card, and it was left outside on a sill for them to come back and collect it. This shows an old design myki, which had different appearances for different entitlements.

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The concession card itself is so old-fashioned. It is merely a printed card laminated in a pouch.

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myki-checkerVending machines for myki cards are numerous – every tram stop has at least one of the machines which can issue new full-fare cards, top up myki money and myki passes from cash or card, but they also can have a separate balance checking machine as well which uses several buttons to scroll through pages of past transaction history.

I found the myki system to be generally reliable, although sometimes with varying recognition lag when presenting cards to the reader. It makes a soft “beep” when successful. I did encounter one myki reader that was extremely odd – it said something along the lines of “In service, please wait” when it was actually not operative and frozen.

nextgen-myki-readerThe readers themselves are installed on the buses and trams, unlike in Sydney where the readers are on poles at the station for light rail. Similarly, the readers are at the ticket barriers for the trains. The readers are slightly similar to the balance checker above, but in yellow, with a small-ish LCD. If you’re lucky enough to board a “next generation tram”, you will find full-touch-screen style readers. Whether this is an improvement is hard to say, because they seem potentially prone to vandalism.

All of them seem to have a periodic changing of the display when idle to prevent screen burn.

Trams

2016051310054418Trams are presently run by Yarra Trams, and formerly was split into two – Yarra Trams and M>Tram. The present rolling stock is relatively diverse with W, Z, A, B, C, D and E-class trams.

Of all the transport modes on offer, I spent the most of my time on trams. This was particularly convenient, as the hotel I was staying at was at the corner of two relatively major tram stops, and a third major one was not far away either. If it’s getting around the CBD, trams are the main way to do it.

The main reason for this is the free tram zone which encompasses the central part of the CBD. This allows people to hop on and off as they please without needing to touch on or touch off. In fact, on trams, you don’t need to touch off at all, since all of the tram rides are in Zone 1. Because of this, many people seem to get lazy and don’t even walk short distances, instead opting to jump on the tram to get around. This results in vast overcrowding of the trams, especially during rush hours. The free tram zone doesn’t reach all the attractions – so you will need a myki to travel outside of it.

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The boundaries of the free tram zone are posted at most stops within the zone, and helpfully, at the border stops, the stations have a warning that you are leaving the free tram zone. The printing on the floor is green for free zone and grey outside of it.

Inside the trams, there are sometimes announcements (automated, depending on the tram), but often, these are not made or are manually made by the driver. The driver may be so nice as to let you know of the end of the free tram zone, and the next stop, but this wasn’t universally the case.

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Another drawcard for tourists is Route 35, the free city circle tram that runs around the city. This whole route is free, and has some historical tour information as well. These services are run by old vintage W-class single-carriage trams.

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tram-info-buttonThere is a lot to love about the trams. The tram network is fairly extensive, with many routes covering a fairly long distance. You might think of a tram as being a short distance thing, but Melbourne’s tram network is one of the most extensive in the world, and some routes take about 1.5 hours from end to end. Every stop has a real-time monitor (Tramtracker) which shows which routes are coming at what time. This seems to be operating on some UHF (probably cellular) network judging from the small size of the antennas.

If you’re blind or vision impaired, there’s no need to worry because there are green “pedestrian-crossing-button” style systems which announce the routes and times. I pushed the button and recorded the output – it’s loud, it’s a bit clumsy, but it seems to be local and gets the job done.

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Of course, being in the smart-phone era, there’s no need to rely on the infrastructure. You can download their own app which has all the information. I did use Tripview while I was down there, but I found the real-time tram information a bit hit-and-miss.

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tram-night-freezoneThey’re also particularly famous for their beware of the rhino campaign which seems to measure trams in terms of rhinos. A very imprecise form of measurement, but I suppose it gets the message across. They’re also doing some work to have night services along selected routes at 30 minute intervals, which probably mean good things for the nightlife.

The most impressive thing, in my opinion, is the service intervals on some of the largest roads served by multiple routes. The signage here is like a dream – if only we had trains or even light rail at this frequency, there would be no need for frustration or timetables.

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It’s easy to make a claim, but following up on that is the report card. Each route has a monthly report card publicly displayed inside the tram carriage which shows just how well the route is doing. Judging from the figures, they weren’t doing too well compared to say heavy rail, but that’s expected because of all the road crossings and patronage. This old tram also had an ABB & AEG plaque in it too.

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I suspect Sydney’s new light-rail line will probably run into trouble like this. Yarra Trams staff seem to be highly responsive at “putting out fires”, as any failure will have significant effects on their metrics. One night, I was walking down the road and saw some welding in the distance – it was a Yarra Trams maintenance van pulled up across the tram tracks with its side open making emergency repairs to the track. After the welding stopped, he quickly hopped back in his van and sped off, leaving the tram to continue along.

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I also spotted a network cleaning vehicle, which probably picks up all the sand and dust washed into the tracks from weather. On my way to Port Melbourne, I passed a tram depot and was very impressed with the large number of trams they had in holding at the time. The network is not a small pokey one like ours, or Hong Kong. Their maintenance also seems to get the desto panels working too – with obvious new LED module installed.

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Across the network, there are still some old artifacts. This seems to be an old waiting bay, currently closed.

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For another, you have the vintage trams running the City Circle Route 35 as well. Their bogies and suspension look rather interesting.

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As with every public transport network, you have your problems. In this case, vandals smashed up a tram stop, similar to how we have our bus shelters smashed.

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I also managed to snap a picture through the translucent panel of a tram to see the drivers’ cabin. Lots of push buttons and a single LCD display. Very schmick.

2016051309494365One thing I was particularly fascinated with was the electrification. It takes a lot of work to string pantograph wire throughout the city, and across many intersections. It’s not as simple as one thinks.

Examining the intersection between RMIT campus and Melbourne Central, it appears that there must be some supply “boost” connection here. Right next to the intersection, a box marked M&M TB has an insulated pair of wires sprouting out of it and up the adjacent pole.

This travels up the pole, and across to insulators, to provide supply it would seem.

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At every junction and periodically in the network, there are cut-off blocks. These appear to be insulators which lift the pantograph off of one wire and place it onto another, while insulating the two, thus separating the two supplies and limiting the magnitude of faults.

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These are often marked by signs and symbols, which alert tram drivers as to their existence. As trams carry only a single pantograph, there is a rare possibility that they could “stall” at one of these cut-offs if they stop mid-way.

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These are also the locations where the “flashes” of light can be seen by the arcing that occurs when the circuit is broken. In fact, you can infer the direction of travel just by the carbonization left on the insulator – trams were travelling from right to left.

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Fascinated by this, I spent some time trying to capture one of these flashes, but without any success. The second photo was rather interesting though, as it seems to show that the pantograph head is being held with the collectors parallel to the ground, and the front collector is “in the air” because it has hit a “pan”, a dish shaped pad which sits at every “crossing” of wires.

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When I did get a tiny bit of arcing, the camera focused on the background building. Oh well. It seems two types of pantograph are used on the Yarra Trams network, both from Austbreck.

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More trams will be shown in the next posting.

Trains

Although originally intending to take some time to “ride the rails”, I never really had enough time to do it. The only real reason I had to catch the train was to and from the city to Broadmeadows, to get to the connecting bus to get to the airport.

The trains are operated by Metro Trains Melbourne, a joint venture including MTR Corporation (yes, that one, in Hong Kong), John Holland Group and UGL Rail. It seems surprising, based on this, that the customer sentiment has been quite poor.

Regardless, I had to ride the train from Broadmeadows into the CBD to get to the hotel. It was then, at Broadmeadows, that I experienced some of what Metro Trains had to offer. On the platform, trains were running late due to a trespasser in the rail corridor. This seemed quite unusual, because it was broad daylight – that usually doesn’t happen in Sydney. Once I took a look around, I realized there were many sections of rail which are unfenced. Hmm.

The announcements on the platform were also quite peculiar. The system is basically a PA connected to a phone patch of sorts. The announcements would play-out, followed by the hang-up tone for a few seconds. Seemed quite odd to me. They also had “on platform” help points that had a red button to contact staff, and a green button for announcing services.

On the way back to Broadmeadows, I pushed the button and made a recording. The automated device picks up the line and dials out 58433 into the trunk. This indicates this is a PABX system – I suppose the good thing is if they use VoIP, they can always hook it up to an ATA and keep using the same gear.

Melbourne had four different types of electric rolling stock. I didn’t have the chance to catalogue them – but I did spot two sorts from the bridge near the MCG.

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This one appears to be an Alstom X’Trapolis 100.

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And this one appears to be a Comeng. All the electric trains seem to have three doors each side per carriage, and a total of six carriages. All of them are single-deckers as well. This contrasts with Sydney, which has double-deckers with two doors per side per carriage, and eight carriages per train.

IMG_20160509_120357It took me a little while to get used to this – when I boarded the train from the airport, it felt very much like a US Metro train with the single deck “open all the way through”.

This particular train had power doors with push button to open, to conserve air conditioning like our former intercity services and current light rail services have. In fact, it almost felt a bit light-rail-ey because many of the platforms along the way were relatively small, rough bitumen style platforms with chicken-wire fencing and a small sheltered area. A lot like our smaller stations. Others required users to pull the doors open once unlocked.

The seats are similar to bus seats, with a blue hue and “visual graffiti”. In their case, it was multi-coloured text of various station names across the network. Trains also featured in-carriage LED displays announcing the next stop. The digital voice announcements were also different – I made this recording from a Comeng train towards Broadmeadows. The recording features cuts of the announcement, doors open, doors close, another announcement, doors closing interrupted by an open and then a close, and some other announcements. The announcements are simple, and not overly annoying as can be the case with some of Sydney’s newer trains.

The train line map is relatively uncomplicated, and looks like a “star” shaped network with a city circle loop “hub”. Catching the train, however, did have some surprises – for one, a person and his non assistance dog boarded, and the dog sat on two seats and nobody seemed to mind. Another was the fact that whenever I caught it, it wasn’t really packed despite being single deck and relatively limited in seating. I suppose maybe it was good timing, or maybe their services are not as heavily patronized.

Bus

It was a similar story in regards to the bus. I didn’t catch any bus except for the one to and from the airport to Broadmeadows station – Smartbus Route 901. I was suitably impressed though, because the bus had internal destination indicators that worked, digital voice announcements that announced the upcoming stop, and the drivers were very helpful and friendly. They even performed cash top-ups of myki cards.

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Compared to Sydney’s metro-buses, we really need to lift our game. The bus stops have bus approaching indicators which update based on real-time information as well. It would be nice if our stuff could work reliably.

Taxis

Taxis are always an expensive option for transport in Australia, so I avoided the cabs this time around. Interestingly, there seems to be several taxi operators – I found it particularly funny that Black Cabs were virtually never black and Silver Top cabs … well, occasionally you get a silver one (but I didn’t manage to photograph one). Silver Service was silver though. Yellow seems to be the most common colour, although it’s not quite the deep yellow that you might see in American movies – this is more a banana yellow.

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Other Vehicles, Signs and Observations

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As is popular around the world, there’s a 24 hour hop-on/hop-off bus – City Sightseeing Melbourne with … well, a partly open top. This is similar to the one in Sydney. It costs $35 for 24 hours, or $45 for 48 hours with free airport transfers. A bit on the pricey side, and features 23 stops.

There is also a special bus for visitors known as the Melbourne Visitor Shuttle that costs $10 for 2 days, travelling through 13 stops at 30-minute intervals. That being said, because a myki pass covers you for all “normal” public transport which reaches further than the visitor shuttle does, and at greater frequency, I couldn’t really see the allure of it. You’re probably better off tramming around yourself in both cases, especially when you factor in the cost of a myki daily fare.

On my last day, I spent some time at Docklands Park, on a hill, photographing whatever came by. It was rather surprising to see this ACMA 4WD driving around – maybe he was seeking out some interference.

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I also managed to spot a motorcycle paramedic. Not very many of them around.

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Parking around Melbourne is not particularly easy – it seems that most spaces near the CBD are all parking metered. There were many smart-meters with phone paying capability. I didn’t bother taking photos of those. But I did find these, more old fashioned meters, which piqued my interest.

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Of course, there were some random photos of signs you would only find in Melbourne. Well, maybe not only in Melbourne, but they were somehow special.

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These signs seem to be counter-intuitive, but they are because of Melbourne’s (often claimed-to-be-confusing) insistence on hook turns. This makes turning right a slow and hassling process, often involving a lot of angry horn use especially when drivers aren’t packing into the turn bay properly.

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The signs above are obviously very Melbourne specific because we don’t really have trams in Sydney, although we have Light Rail which is pretty much the same thing. Anyhow, because of the alignment of the tram tracks, which in some city areas, is right next to a cycleway, passengers boarding and disembarking can be at risk of occupying the same space as a fellow cyclist. The top sign reminds cyclists to stop behind trams and let the people get on/off. The second sign gives people warning that when crossing, they should be alert for trams. The third sign is a sign indicating the route is a designated tramway, and cars should not drive on it. An alternative seems to be a worded sign saying “Fairway at all times”. On the second row, the give way sign reminds people crossing from platform to platform to give way to trams. It’s also good to see they have the same clean air style ban on smoking on platforms as well. The final sign was at Rod Laver Arena tram stop, where it is likely a lot of pedestrian traffic occurs. It reminds drivers to check their doors – although that’s probably what they do normally anyway.

tram-wires

chinatown-signThis one seems particularly ominous, warning of low tram wires and advising high loads to call 000 for assistance. I wonder what they would do besides giving them a detour … it’s not like they’re going to raise the tram wires.

While on some public transport, I came across this red sculpture which seems to be a multicultural/Chinatown thing.

I also came across a plaque for Melbourne’s Golden Mile. This is a heritage walk which I wasn’t aware of until I had already left Melbourne. It just goes to show that every city harbours many secrets which you don’t discover until later.

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Finally, this one was seen on Swanston Street – you don’t often see the Aussie abbreviation for McDonalds on a sign. At least, I don’t remember seeing one myself.

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Conclusion

This post has been a little bit random, but collects some of the random observations I made about transportation and signage when I was in Melbourne. Stick around for the next part, where I catalogue all the trams I have photographed, mostly from the last day I was there, when I had to sit around somewhere until it was time to head to the airport and head home.

About lui_gough

I’m a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!

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