Last refuge of Melbourne’s high floor buses

Low floor wheelchair buses are nothing new – it was over two decades ago that they first appeared in Melbourne. You might expect finding an accessible bus shouldn’t be too hard, but unfortunately for anyone who has trouble making their way up stairs, high floor buses are still common in one part of Melbourne.

Sita bus #73 rego 2373AO departs Yarraville with a route 431 service

The Public Transport Victoria website has this to say about accessible buses.

More than 80 per cent of Melbourne’s bus services are wheelchair-accessible on weekdays. Most bus services are wheelchair-accessible on the weekend and public holidays, except bus routes 453, 455, 457, 458 and 459, which operate in the Melton area and bus routes 431, 432 and 404, which operate in the Footscray / Yarraville area.

However the above raises more questions – why should Melbourne’s west miss out on wheelchair accessible buses on weekends?

When you look at who operates the listed bus routes, a possible reason soon starts to emerge.

Route Operator
453 Sita Buslines
455 Sita Buslines
457 Sita Buslines
458 Sita Buslines
459 Sita Buslines
431 Sita Buslines
432 Sita Buslines
404 Sita Buslines

The common factor is Sita Buslines – which raises the questions as to why they don’t have wheelchair accessible buses.

Sita #28 rego 2328AO picks up route 404 passengers at Footscray station

Digging deeper into the company’s fleet is easy – on the ‘Australian Bus Fleet Lists‘ enthusiast website you can find a list of every virtually every single bus in Australia, broken down by bus operator – the fleetlist for Sita Buslines is here.

After some time spent massaging data in Excel, I came up with this table.

High floor Low floor Total
34 73 107

I then collated the delivery dates of the current Sita Buslines current fleet, broke it down by high and low floor, and then graphed the results.

Buses delivered to Sita Buslines (as of 2015)

So what does that tell us about the Sita Buslines fleet?

  • over thirty percent of their buses are still high floored,
  • as late as 1999 brand new high floor buses were still being purchased,
  • it took until 2001 for Sita to receive their first low floor bus,
  • widespread adoption of low floor buses didn’t start until 2008.

For the purposes of comparison, in 1995 Melbourne’s first low floor bus entered service, and by 1999 virtually every operator in the city had at least one in their fleet. In the years since, high floor buses have been progressively retired as they reach their end of life, being replaced by the low floor buses that are seen in service today.

It makes the Sita Buslines of the late-1990s look a little backwards, doesn’t it?

Accessibility targets

The Victorian Government ‘Accessible Public Transport Action Plan 2013-17‘ included the following table showing current progress against the DSAPT (Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport) targets.

Victorian public transport DSAPT milestones and progress (as of 2013)

From an initial inspection it looks like Sita Buslines had no trouble meeting the 2012 target, despite their apparent early dislike of low floor buses.

Footnote

Note that Sita Buslines isn’t the only bus company in Melbourne still with high floor buses – Transdev has a handful of buses dating back from the early 1990s still in service, albeit only in peak hour.

Transdev bus #298 rego 1196AO on a route 237 service outside Southern Cross Station

Over on the Australian Transport Discussion Board ‘venturatiger’ posted a section of photos of Melbourne’s early low floor buses – at the time operators treated them as the pride of their fleet, and painted them in special liveries to promote the lack of steps.

Theft from Metcard and Myki machines

One might think that leaving steel boxes full of cash on an empty railway station platform would be a temptation for criminals – and it is. So how much damage have they inflicted for their meagre returns?

Armaguard crew do a cash pickup at Southern Cross

In 2015 two men were jailed for breaking into Myki machines – causing $600,000 of damage to retrieve less than $6000 in cash. However, the older Metcard ticketing system wasn’t immune to being targeted by criminals.

Armaguard staff swapping over the cash vaults from the Metcard machines at Flinders Street Station

The Auditor Generals’ May 1999 ‘Report on Ministerial Portfolios‘ included an entire section on the problem:

‘Corporation’ below refers to the ‘Public Transport Corporation’ – the government entity once responsible for running Melbourne’s trains, trams and buses; and ‘ATS’ is the automatic ticketing system better known as Metcard.

Impact of criminal damage to ATS dispensers

In early November 1998, the operators of the train businesses faced severe disruption in the availability of the ATS dispensers following a spate of crimes which exacerbated the risk of fare evasion.

At that time, the train businesses were advised that 8 ATS dispensers at 7
metropolitan train stations in the eastern suburbs had been damaged during attempts to illegally remove the cash collections held within the equipment. The offenders had used a corrosive liquid to damage the electronics of the equipment, triggering the discharge of money and rendering the equipment inoperative, requiring their withdrawal from service for major repairs.

The damage to equipment escalated over a period of 2 weeks after the initial wilful damage was reported until 70 machines were out of service. In response, the Corporation in conjunction with the private consortium, responsible for the installation and operation of the ATS, devised modifications to the machines which rendered the use of the corrosive liquid ineffective. The consortium also appointed a security firm to initially guard machines located at 9 major suburban stations and to provide mobile security services at unstaffed stations on one particular train line. However, the attacks continued as perpetrators became aware that the intermittent security presence provided opportunities to access the equipment.

In response, in late December 1998 the Corporation engaged a security firm
to provide both security guards at selected stations and roving security services to cover other stations between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. The timing of the attacks again shifted to those times when perpetrators were aware that there would be no security presence. As a consequence, the Corporation immediately engaged security services to provide 24 hour protection, initially at 97 train stations and then increasing to over 200 stations by February 1999. During January 1999, 137 machines were out of service and every metropolitan train line was affected by the incidence of offence, however, the deployment of such security resulted in a rapid reduction in these offences. All damaged machines were back in service by the end of February 1999 and no security guards have
been employed since that date.

In the period from November 1998 to February 1999, items of ATS equipment totalling 243, mainly dispensers, were damaged by corrosive liquid attacks at 142 metropolitan rail stations and 39 dispensers were damaged by other means. During this period the Corporation paid $3.4 million to security firms engaged to protect the ATS dispensers. In addition, at the date of the preparation of this Report, the Corporation has been unable to provide a specific estimate of the loss of fare revenue collections resulting from the non-operation of the ATS equipment.

At the date of the preparation of this Report, the Corporation has not sought compensation from the consortium for the financial impact of the non-availability of the ATS dispensers or for costs it incurred for the provision of security services. The consortium has also not lodged a claim with the Corporation for the costs it has incurred for the modification of the ATS dispensers.

The agreement between the Corporation and the consortium for the ATS
states that the loss of cash collections from ATS dispensers is to be borne by the latter. However, the agreement also states that costs incurred due to vandalism are initially to be met by the consortium to a maximum of $2 million, with related costs in excess of this amount shared equally with the Corporation.

Unfortunately for Metcard, fixing the liquid induced cash jackpot problem wasn’t enough – old fashioned vandalism was also taking ticket machines out of serivce.

At the peak of the problem, the damage bill was running into the millions of dollars per year, which lead to the State Government in May 2002 renegotiating the contract with OneLink, operator of the Metcard system:

In the past 3 years, the PTC and OneLink have shared the costs of vandalism, estimated between $6 million to $7 million per annum. As part of the settlement, the PTC will be required to pay $3 million per annum to OneLink and that company is to assume responsibility for payment of vandalism costs and operational machine failures.

Eventually another round of security fixes was deployed to the ticket machines, and the vandalism rate fell, as detailed in the October – December 2006 edition of Track Record:

The progressive strengthening of the ATS equipment (making it more vandal resistant) from December 2001 to June 2002, coupled with increased surveillance and policing, delivered significant reductions in the weekly incident rate for vandalism.

Weekly incidents of vandalism to ATS equipment – January 2001 to March 2004

A relatively constant level of ticket equipment vandalism has occurred over the past three years. There were 1,055 reported incidents in the December quarter 2006.

It puts the problems of Myki into perspective, doesn’t it?

Footnote

Back in December 2002 a particular brazen criminal broke into the tram depot at Glenhuntly, and stole a cash vault from the Metcard ticket machine onboard tram Z1.45. At least Myki isn’t vulnerable to that problem!

First weekday for Regional Rail Link

On the weekend the last part of Regional Rail Link finally opened, with Geelong trains moving onto the new line via the back of Werribee, serving two new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit. I went for a ride on Monday morning to see how the new commuters took to their new serivce.

Geelong bound service pauses at Tarneit station

The new bus network was up and working, including the new double decker bus for the route 190 service that links Wyndham Vale station with suburban trains at Werribee station.

Double decker bus at Wyndham Vale

But there were also plenty of opening day glitches. The first thing I noticed was that none of the next train displays were working – they were either showing inaccurate data, or the default ‘Listen for announcements’ message.

'Listen for announcements' message on the next train display at Wyndham Vale

Platform length is also a problem at the new stations. V/Line is currently only operating trains up to a maximum of six carriages long on the line, but Footscray, Tarneit and Wyndham Vale are all setup for nine carriage long trains.

'VL9' - nine-car VLocity set stopping mark on the RRL platform at Footscray

Painted markings indicating where train drivers should stop, but they appear to be used inconsistently – some trains pulled up to the departure end of the platform, while others stop near the platform entrance. Combine that with the lack of information is given to waiting passengers, and dwell times blow out, as waiting passengers run down the platform to meet the train.

Passengers board a citybound train at Tarneit station

Finally, today was the first time that many commuters from Wyndham Vale and Tarneit had ever stepped onboard a V/Line service, so there was some confusion as to how to open the train doors!

A few more points:

  • I travelled on a citybound service that commenced at Wyndham Vale, and it was almost empty, while elsewhere there was reports of Geelong services becoming overcrowded once they reached the new stations.
  • V/Line now has nobody to blame for themselves for en-route delays, yet my citybound train got held outside the junction at Sunshine, presumably for another V/Line service, and then crawled into the city, arriving 5 minutes late at Southern Cross.

The glitches with the next train displays are hopefully just an opening day bug, as do passengers not knowing how to open the doors. I’m also hoping that once passengers from Wyndham Vale and Tarneit get used to the new service, they will discover that the dedicated short working services are their best bet for getting a seat, reducing crowding on the Geelong services.

However, the inconsistent stopping locations at platforms is something that V/Line needs to address – the Chief Investigator of Transport Safety flagged it as an issue following a ‘signal passed at danger’ event in 2011.

So to summarise – I’m glad to see a new rail line built to serve a growing area of Melbourne, but V/Line and PTV really need to pull their finger out and make sure the public get the most out of the new infrastructure.

Headed off to the CBD at Tarneit

Some timetable quirks

Under the new timetables, for much of the day Metro Trains services to Sunshine station are now outnumbered by those provided by V/Line!

  • V/Line: 3 trains an hour to Geelong, and 2 trains an hour to Bacchus Marsh, with every second train continuing to Ballarat.
  • Metro Trains: 3 trains an hour to Watergardens, with every second train continuing to Sunbury.

In addition, services to Geelong in peak hour now outnumber those on the ‘suburban’ line to Upfield, which only receives a train every 20 minutes.

Property developers and Regional Rail Link

If there is one thing that property developers love to spruik, it is the proximity of their new housing estate to public transport. In the case of Regional Rail Link, the companies developing land adjacent to the new railway line didn’t even have to wait for the trains to start running.

Looking south towards Lollypop Creek and Greens Road

‘The Reserve’ is located across the road from the future Tarneit station, and in 2013 proponent Asset1 Developments were selling the connection hard.

Billboard for 'The Reserve' at Tarneit, advertising the future railway station

The same applied down the road at ‘Manor Lakes’, where the Regional Rail Link tracks run through the middle of the Dennis Family Corporation developed estate.

Billboard for Manor Lakes estate promoting the future railway station

As work on the project progressed, artists impressions of the actual station appeared in their advertising, such as billboard at the estate entrance in December 2013.

Advertising for the Manor Lakes housing estate, featuring the future railway station

Back in 2013 research by real estate agent PRD Nationwide found a $40,000 difference in median prices for houses in Melbourne’s western suburbs with rail access, versus those without. I wonder how much property prices have risen around the two new Regional Rail Link stations?

Footnote

I took the lead photo back in 2009 from Manor Lakes Boulevard, looking south towards Lollypop Creek and Greens Road. Back then it was just a future ‘transport link’.

Initially planned for the 'Middle Ring Road' (Melway 2007) it will now be for a railway

While today it is a ten metre deep concrete walled cutting, with a pair of railway tracks running down the middle.

Looking south along the completed concrete crash barrier along Clarence Street

Arbory Bar eats Flinders Street Station

Back in March 2015 a new bar and restaurant opened at Flinders Street Station, located on the site of the dismantled platform 11.

Looking across to Flinders Street platform 10 from Arbory Bar

It is right on the banks of the Yarra River.

Arbory Bar on the banks of the Yarra River, built on the former Flinders Street platform 11

With two entrances – one at Elizabeth Street end, and the other outside Princes Bridge.

Entrance to the new Arbory Bar, built on the former Flinders Street platform 11

And a big fence separating the station from the bar.

New 'Arboury' bar located at the former platform 11

Let us ignore the fact that a better use for the site would be to reopen the platform to cater for increasing patronage, and look at the actual bar and restaurant itself.

While building the bar, the west end of platform 10 was blocked off, with passengers having to squeeze through a single narrow walkway to exit the station.

Congestion at the west end of platform 10, with passengers having to squeeze through a single narrow walkway to exit

Thankfully the area beside the exit ramp is now clear.

Western end of platform 10 taken over by the new bar as a storage area

But the rest of the platform isn’t – the western end has been taken over as a storage area!

Western end of platform 10 taken over by the new bar as a storage area

The piles of beer kegs keep on going and going.

Western end of platform 10 taken over by the new bar as a storage area

Until the platform verandah runs out, and waiting passengers are left out in the bloody rain.

Western end of platform 10 taken over by the new bar as a storage area

There are a million places in Melbourne where you can get a beer, and only so many places where you can catch a train. So why the hell are empty beer kegs stored in middle of a railway station?