Rebalancing Melbourne Bike Share bicycles

Managing the Melbourne Bike Share system should be easy – users pick up a bicycle from their local station, go for a ride, and then check it back in at their destination. However in the real world it is more complex, as there needs to be a mix of spare bikes and empty docking bays available at each location.

Businessman rents a Melbourne Bike Share bike

As times goes on, some stations start to collect bicycles, like this one down at Docklands.

Melbourne Bike Share station down on Collins Street in Docklands

Others stations in busy locations (like Federation Square) see a mix of incoming and outgoing riders.

Melbourne Bike Share station at Federation Square

While stations like this one never see people drop off bikes – riding to the top of the hill is too much work!

Empty rack at the Melbourne Bike Share station on Bourke Street

The solution to the problem is a fleet of staff to shuffle bicycles around the city.

Melbourne Bike Share ute transferring bikes between stations

They visit the docking stations with too many bikes, and load up their ute.

Relocating Melbourne Bike Share bicycles between stations

Then ferry them to locations lacking bicycles.

Ute transferring Melbourne Bike Share bikes between stations

Further reading

Last week Gizmodo ran an article about the science behind reallocating bicycles in bike share systems – inspired by a journal article by Chelsea Wald title ‘Wheels when you need them‘.

Local traders not understanding car parking

When you run your own business, making things easier for your potential customers is always a good move. However one trader in the northern Melbourne of Niddrie has missed one of the simple ways to do this, as this article from the Weekly Review Moonee Valley shows:

Niddrie: Keilor Road trader vows to fight council over parking fines
Sue Hewitt
21 July 2014

A Niddrie trader has vowed to see Moonee Valley Council in court over 15 parking tickets because it has refused to issue him with a traders’ parking permit.

Steven Tsaousidis said he worked more than 10 hours a day, six days a week at his Hooked on Fish & Burger Bar in Keilor Road, but he had no all-day parking nearby.

He said he usually got a two hour car park at 10am, but had to move his car at midday, then 2pm and 4pm.

“More often than not, I have to leave the shop and customers unattended in order to move my car,” he said.

Since he started his business in September he had received 15 parking fines at $72 each, which he was taking to court to highlight the problem faced by traders, he said.

“I realise that it may cost me more by going to court, but it is a principle,” he said.

“My business and others on Keilor Road continuously bring people to the shopping strip to enjoy the various cafés, eateries and speciality shops.

“I believe that as a ratepaying tenant, I should be provided with a permit or allocated parking spot to be able to park my car here.”

The local council had the following to say:

Moonee Valley Council’s chief executive Neville Smith said the council understood traders’ desire to park near their shops and their frustration at having to move their cars.

“As Keilor Road is a busy shopping precinct [which] is a [council] designated activity centre, it is important that there is a good supply of parking for customers – and that this supply is regularly turned over,” he said.

“Unfortunately this demand for customer parking means that traders without on-site parking do need to consider alternative parking options rather than relying on street parking in this busy shopping area.

Regular columnist in the same newspaper, Alan Murphy, had the following to say the next week:

Murphy’s Lore: Selfish traders drive out customers
Alan Murphy
4 August 2014

Selfish traders and their staff continue to deny customers every opportunity to park vehicles in shopping centre car parks. Frustrated shoppers in turn probably head to Highpoint and Westfield, denying much-needed business for local retailers.

Although most local parking is restricted to one and two hours, a study of the areas confirms many motorists simply ignore the restrictions. Just as significantly, few if any motorists are hit with parking infringement notices. Just watch the exodus of staff from shops and offices when traffic officers descend on a strip. The offenders simply drive around the block and repark their vehicles.

It appears that some local traders know what effect that occupying a car park near their business will have:

As one trader puts it, if a car parks in a one-hour area all day, they effectively prevent at least eight shoppers from parking near the shopping strip.

However some traders just don’t care:

Some of the offending cars have tell-tale registration numbers, making them easy to identify as belonging to traders. But, after this columnist revealed an offending vehicle beating the system on the Rose Street strip two years back, the owner simply came to work in another vehicle – and on most days still parks there for all or most of the day.

It isn’t just the traders. Staff of service organisations – banks, utilities and so on – park in areas reserved for shoppers and routinely leave work to shift their vehicles. Watch it all unfold before your eyes in the Niddrie car parks if the traffic officers arrive.

At my father’s take away shop, bringing the car around the front after closing time was a nightly ritual – it seems that for some traders this extra effort is a step too far.

An overseas example

Over in the United States, residents of Salem, Oregon petitioned for a removal of parking time limits and parking meters. Now they regret doing so:

Free, unlimited parking clogs downtown district
Michael Rose
23 August 2014

Salem residents spoke loudly last fall: no parking time limits, no parking meters in the downtown core.

They wanted free parking. Period.

But some of the 6,000 Salem residents who signed a petition demanding free, unrestricted parking may be having second thoughts as they circle the block in a futile search for a parking space.

Lack of on-street parking in the Downtown Parking District, once a sporadic problem, is a near constant irritant. Business owners rue the day in October when Salem City Council voted to adopt a petition backed by a citizen group. The two-hour parking signs started coming down within days.

“We just aren’t getting the turnover that is critical to every single business down here.” said Lyn McPherson, co-owner of Whitlock’s Vacuum & Sewing Center on 455 Court St. NE.

Salem City Council at today’s meeting will review a consultant’s study and staff report on parking trends. No action by the council is expected at today’s meeting, but the reports will likely prompt further discussions.

Rick Williams Consulting, the firm hired by the city, found that the turnover of parking spaces in a 10 hour period has decreased by 17 percent compared to 2012.

That amounts to lost money. Each time a parking space turnovers it results in about $15 of spending, according to the consultant’s estimate.

Further reading

American professor Donald Shoup is a widely-regarded expert in the economics and availability of parking – his 2005 book “The High Cost of Free Parking” explains how parking policy shapes the development of cities.

The blog Reinventing Parking also covers the same topics, with examples from around the world.

Melbourne’s misleadingly named housing estate

Melbourne’s property developers have a habit of stealing names from New York when branding their new apartment complexes – “Tribeca” and “Upper West Side” are two recent examples. However they have managed to outdo themselves, with the “Manhattan Place” housing estate in the outer western suburb of Tarneit.

Advertisement for the 'Manhattan Place' housing estate in Tarneit, Victoria

This is Manhattan. Big city, tall buildings, and a vibrant nightlife.

View of the Empire State Building - by Francisco Diez from New York City, USA

Photo by Francisco Diez from New York City, USA, via the Wikimedia Commons

And this is Melbourne’s “Upper West Side” – a collection of cookie cutter apartment towers built atop the former Spencer Street Power Station at the arse end of Lonsdale Street. Comparing it to New York is a long bow to draw, isn’t it?

Display suite for Melbourne's new 'Upper West Side' development

However this is “Manhattan Place” in Tarneit – a housing estate located on some empty paddocks out the back of Werribee, located about 25 kilometres from the Melbourne CBD, and with no shops or jobs available unless you jump in your car.

Aerial view of the 'Manhattan Place' housing estate in Tarneit, Victoria - March 2009

The main selling point of the estate is the block size, which the since closed website for Manhattan Place points out:

Land that gives you room to breathe, with plenty of space for the kids to play and for you to entertain friends.

Manhattan Place in Tarneit is where you have the rare luxury of living on 700m² plus allotments that give you room to breathe.

Finding an affordable apartment that is 700 square FEET in the real Manhattan would be a tall order!

For those of you using real units of measurement, 700 square feet is just over 65 square meters – roughly a one bedroom apartment.

The developers then move their pitch towards families looking for their second or third homes, and invoke a comparison with New York.

Be among neighbours with the same strong family values. People who value success from working hard ~ and who truly appreciate the style, elegance and sophistication that Manhattan is famous for.

Since the estate is out in the middle of nowhere, and not the middle of the city, the developers have to point out the real world is only a short trip away.

Your home will make entertaining a pleasure, swift freeway access to the theatres, restaurants and social life of the city. A short trip to magnificent ocean beaches, the world class Werribee Park Zoo, ready access to excellent schools, shopping, public transport and local sporting and fitness facilities.

And then mention the restrictive covenants in place to prevent people “not like you” from trashing the place.

Part of the charm of buying land at Manhattan Place is the freedom you have to choose your own architectural design and builder to create the luxury home of your dreams. There is the reassurance of knowing that the building and landscaping standards guarantee an environment of quality and character that protects your investment. It all combines to make Manhattan Place the place to live.

Manhattan Place is located at the corner of Sayers Road and York Avenue, Tarneit – Melway reference 234 K4.

A dead ringer for New York, isn’t it?

Diagram of the 'Manhattan Place' housing estate in Tarneit, Victoria

If the devil drove a train – the number would be?

If the devil drove a train – would it be numbered 666?

Comeng 666M with a 'temporary' style Metro logo on the front

Or have devil horns on the roof?

Another look at the 'Devil horns' on the Siemens with GSM-R equipment

Bonus content

A contact has since supplied me with a photo from inside the cab of 666M – it appears train drivers like to joke about as well!

Inside the cab of Comeng 666M

Some background

Melbourne’s suburban train carriages are numbered from 1M all the way up to 966M, with a lot of gaps in between.

As for the ‘devil horns’ on the second train, they are actually antennas for the GSM-R digital train radio system which is slowly being deployed across the metropolitan area.

Taking the politics out of transport planning?

Back in 2010, then leader of the Liberal Party, Ted Baillieu had the following to say about transport planning in Victoria:

Victoria badly needs a new, independent, statutory authority to plan, co-ordinate and manage our public transport system. Despite Labor’s many plans and announcements, Victoria’s and Melbourne’s public transport needs have been poorly planned for and badly financed. John Brumby has not provided the safety, reliability and efficiency that Victorians deserve.

At the 2010 State Election the Coalition won government, and their promise for a independent, statutory transport authority was one that actually was fulfilled – in April 2012 ‘Public Transport Victoria’ came into operation to coordinate, promote and expand the bus, tram and train networks. So what plans have the government put into place since then?

PTV liveried Transdev bus #423 rego 7523AO at William and Flinders Street

PTV Network Development Plan

In March 2013 Public Transport Victoria published their ‘Network Development Plan’ – a strategy for growing capacity on the rail network over the next 20 years. Public Transport Terry Mulder had the following to say when it was released:

Mr Mulder said that the Victorian Coalition Government’s creation of Public Transport Victoria (PTV) a year ago as an independent statutory authority, was now bearing fruit.

Mr Mulder said Public Transport Victoria (PTV) was established by the Coalition Government to improve public transport and properly plan for the future. PTV is responsible for planning, procuring and delivering Victoria’s train, tram and bus services, infrastructure and assets.

“This is PTV’s strategy for growing capacity on the rail network over the next 20 years, and it takes into account all parts of Melbourne, particularly areas of growth,” Mr Mulder said.

“It is a very detailed plan – in fact no Government has released a plan this detailed and this transparent since 1969. This is exactly why we established an independent public transport body – a detailed rail strategy like this is just what we expected and wanted.

“The Network Development Plan is a carefully considered, holistic, strategic plan for development of our rail network during the next 20 years, which will be used to help inform future funding decisions.

“Many initiatives identified in the plan for the next decade are already being planned in detail, such as the introduction of high capacity trains and signalling and Melbourne Metro.

Key components of the plan included:

  • New high capacity trains, able to carry up to 1100 passengers,
  • High capacity signalling trial on Sandringham line,
  • Melbourne Metro rail tunnel project,
  • Dandenong rail corridor upgrade,
  • High capacity signalling on the Sandringham, South Morang and Hurstbridge lines, and between Sunbury and South Yarra.

So how about the implementation?

Bayside Rail Project

In May 2013 Premier Denis Napthine announced the $100 million ‘Bayside Rail Project’ with the following headline:

$100 million Bayside rail upgrade brings newest trains to Frankston line

Then elaborated further:

“Since the November 2010 election, the Coalition Government has announced orders for 15 new X’Trapolis trains, but these trains could only carry passengers on the Alamein, Glen Waverley, Belgrave, Lilydale, Hurstbridge and South Morang lines due to the different position in which the driver sits in the cab, affecting the ability to see some signals.

“This $100 million will mean the Frankston line will also be able to accommodate the X’Trapolis trains, giving passengers the fastest, most reliable and most comfortable commute to and from the city,” Dr Napthine said.

Before the announcement of the Bayside Rail Project, the only people who cared about what kinds of train operated on a a given railway line were railfans who lacked a grip on reality – the average passenger just wants a clean and comfortable train that runs on time. Now we have a politician throwing $100 million at a problem that doesn’t exist.

Free CBD trams and cheaper fares

In March 2014 Premier Denis Napthine announced “free CBD trams, cheaper trains and buses for Melbourne“:

Dr Napthine said the changes would provide significant cost of living relief for families as a result of commuters being able to travel in Zones 1 and 2 for the price of a Zone 1 fare.

“Tram travel within the CBD and Docklands will be free in a move that will enhance Melbourne’s reputation as an international city.”

The changes will come into effect from the 1 January 2015 and will make public transport more accessible for commuters and tourists and make it easier to move around Melbourne.

This initiative will cost around $100 million per annum and will be accounted for in the upcoming State Budget.

However when making the announcement, Dr Napthine forgot to tell one important group of people – the companies that actually run Melbourne’s trams, trains and buses. The Age went on to say:

None of the train, tram and bus companies that operate Melbourne’s public transport system were consulted or even told about the Napthine government’s decision to change the ticket zoning system and provide free trams in the city centre.

Metro, Yarra Trams and bus operator Transdev began investigating on Wednesday how the ticketing changes will affect their operations, after learning about the policy announcement through the media.

Tram overcrowding in the CBD rose sharply last year, with 14 “rolling hour” load breaches – meaning an hour in which passenger numbers exceed tram capacity – compared with nine in 2012.

Hopefully come January 2015 Yarra Trams have a plan in place to deal with an influx of freeloaders on trams in the Melbourne CBD, otherwise the increased overcrowding will discourage previously fare paying passengers from using public transport.

Cranbourne-Pakenham Rail Corridor Project

Another random transport announcement made in March 2014 was the Cranbourne-Pakenham upgrade project. The media release spruiked the following points:

The massive investment will provide:

  • 25 new next generation trains;
  • 21st century high-capacity signalling along the rail corridor;
  • removal of four level crossings;
  • pre-construction funding for another five level crossing removals;
  • newly rebuilt stations at Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Clayton; and
  • a new train maintenance depot at Pakenham East.

What the government forgot to say is that they didn’t come up with the idea – it was an unsolicited proposal from a private sector consortium, involving a public-private partnership to cost the taxpayer billions over the term of the contract. An investigation by The Age found the following:

The cabinet-in-confidence documents reveal taxpayers will be left to pay up to $360 million a year as “annual service payments” to the consortium until 2034 in “nominal” dollars – the actual amount spent, including inflation. The total payments in nominal terms will be as much as $5.2 billion.

The $2.5 billion figure released by the government is a “net present” figure. In government, politicians tend to cite the net present, or today’s money, figure, pointing out that home-buyers think of the cost of their house as the sale price, not the additional cost of loan repayments and interest over decades.

Expanding capacity on the Dandenong railway line has been a pressing need for years – the first serious government commitment appeared in the 2006 ‘Meeting Our Transport Challenges’ plan, when the construction of a third track between Caulfield and Dandenong was proposed. Now those plans are in the bin, replaced by a concept drawn up by a private company more interested in rent seeking than in a cost-effective outcome for the taxpayer.

Melbourne Rail Link

Yet another example of established plans being thrown in the bin can be found in May 2014, when Premier Denis Napthine announced a new rail tunnel running from Southern Cross to South Yarra, via Fishermans Bend and the Domain. The media release had the following glowing words for the new project:

The Melbourne Rail Link will do for rail passengers in the 21st century, what the City Loop achieved last century – high frequency rail services moving more people, more often and more conveniently.

What the government forgot to say is that their new plan was a replacement for the previous ‘Melbourne Metro’ scheme – which The Age revealed the government had still endorsed as late as February 2013:

The original Melbourne Metro was being strongly backed by the state government just a year ago, with Transport Minister Terry Mulder indicating engineering issues around Swanston Street had been resolved, new documents reveal.

The February 2013 letter, from Mr Mulder to then treasurer Kim Wells, said the business case for the multi billion-dollar project had been completed and a comprehensive impact statement would be completed by the end of 2013.

The letter, obtained by The Age through freedom of information, said “significant work was undertaken during 2012 to update the Melbourne Metro business case and ensure it met the requirements of the high value high risk process, Infrastructure Australia guidelines and federal government requirements. This work has proved critical to resolving key issues, including the vertical alignment along Swanston Street.”

Once again, we have see a previously agreed upon transport project tossed in the bin, replaced by a hastily conceived replacement that appears to be favouring the interests of the private sector instead of the public.

Transport planning is off the rails

After looking at the half-baked projects found above, it makes you wonder what was the point in creating an independent public transport authority, when their carefully made plans just get thrown in the bin by politicians as soon as votes or vested interests get involved.

Pantograph fully extended on a derailed Z3.229, having left the contact wire