Chronic commuter congestion fills Flagstaff

Passenger congestion at Melbourne’s railway stations isn’t a new thing, but the intensity of it is – since 2004/05 patronage growth has trended upwards, with 227.1 million passengers carried on Melbourne rail network in the 12 months ending September 2011. So where do all of these people end up once they wiggle their way out of packed trains? Stuck in lines to exit the station, that’s where!

Wow - the morning queues at Flagstaff are getting even worse!

Queues have always formed at the exit of the railway stations in the city, as passengers pass through some form of ticket checking routine in order to prove they are not fare evaders. Unfortunately for regular commuters, a new bottleneck has emerged in the past few months – the half-baked rollout of the new Myki ticketing system, and the hordes of new users attempting to work out how to use it.

Ticket barriers at Flagstaff station: it'd be nice if they worked faster...

The biggest flaw at inner city railway stations are “frankenbarriers” – existing Metcard ticket barriers retrofitted with Myki scanners. Displaying no useful information when a card is presented to the scanner and showing the cryptic phase ‘CSC Pass’ on a successful card read, the passenger is left confused as to whether their Myki has been touched off or not.

This leads me back to the issues at Flagstaff station, where the lines to exit the station have been growing worse and worse. When I first photographed the queues back in May 2011 they were a relative oddity during my morning commute, and usually caused by the simultaneous arrival of multiple trains on the platforms below, resulting in hordes of passengers converging on the ticket barriers at one time. However as the number of Myki users has increased over the intervening months (it has jumped from 30% in January 2012 to 40% in three months later) the size of queues each morning have also grown.

For me the final straw came yesterday morning, when the queues backed up as far as the escalators, which continued to send more passengers into the already crowed concourse. The photo at the top of the page was taken at 8:54:32 AM, with the photo below being 20 seconds later.

Commuters queued up trying to exit Flagstaff station

A minute after I reached the upper level walkway, I noticed the queues starting to block the escalator exit.

Now the queues are backing up onto the escalators!

Thankfully this crowding was shortlived: with a lull in trains arriving on the platforms down below, at 8:56:36 AM the crowds started to clear.

Two minutes later, and the crowd is starting to die down

My final photo was taken at 8:57:39 AM: only three minutes after my first photo of the crowding, the scene on the concourse is now completely different.

Crowded 3 minutes ago - now almost empty!

So what does the future hold? Frankenbarriers at stations were only intended as an interim step in the Myki rollout, but with the final Metcard switch off date yet to be announced, this hybrid solution has now been frustrating commuters since 2009.

With the sale of monthly and weekly Metcards to end in one week, the number of Myki users on the rail network will increase, and with no timeline given for the full rollout of the ‘real’ Myki ticket barriers at City Loop stations, the queues to exit Flagstaff station are only going to get worse, before they (fingers crossed) get better.

Sources

Postscript

Melbourne newspaper The Age picked up the story a week after I posted this entry, featuring a photo supplied by PTUA president Daniel Bowen. Follow up stories appeared on March 29 and March 30, when Metro and the Transport Ticketing Authority finally admitted defeat and started to open up the ticket barriers as soon as crowds formed.

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13 Responses to “Chronic commuter congestion fills Flagstaff”

  1. Daniel15 says:

    For what it’s worth, “CSC” means “Contactless Smart Card”. It’s still a cryptic message though. I hope the proper myki barriers are installed soon… The ones at Melb Central seem to work relatively well.

    • tcn33 says:

      … when they’re in operation. I’ve never seen any less than three of the six out of order.

      • Marcus says:

        tcn33 – the barriers at Melbourne Central are only a year old (installed in January 2011) so the failure rate is a joke!

        Because the hardware is off the shelf, I’m assuming the cause of the downtime is software bugs – it took a few years for the stand alone readers to reach their current state of mostly working, so it seems like bugfix upon bugfix will be required to get the barriers working reliably. (lets just hope they test the bugfixes first!)

    • Marcus says:

      Daniel – you’re right about the meaning of the CSC message – before the Myki readers were installed, their space on the ticket barriers was taken up by the yellow readers for the older ‘Metcard Xpress‘ smartcards. That system never got very far, the cards only being issued to two groups of people: customer service staff so that they could open barriers for passengers with defective tickets, and to the wider public transport workforce who were entitled to free travel.

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