Evolution in action at Public Transport Victoria

I’ve written about broken Myki gates before, but the other day I found an example of evolution in action.

In the early days of the Myki rollout, defective ticket barriers were blocked with the same ‘No Entry’ signs used to close off defective sets of escalators.

'No Entry' signs blocking access to a defective ticket barrier

As Myki failures increased, new ‘Temporary Unavailable’ flags in a natty Myki green were rolled out to stations.

'Temporary Unavailable' at Flagstaff station due to a broken barrier paddle

And finally, the fancy looking Public Transport Victoria version.

Broken myki gates at Melbourne Central

It reads:

Gate not in use
Please go to next available gate
Public Transport Victoria apologises for any inconvenience caused

If only the design of the Myki gates themselves was evolving as quickly as the signs that are used to closed off defective examples!

How many managers does it take to drive a tram?

Back in February 2015 industry magazine ‘Rail Express’ interviewed Clément Michel, chief executive of Yarra Trams, on the subject of rail safety. (here is an archived version)

Z3.229 skewed across the tracks on Elizabeth Street, just north of La Trobe Street

Clément Michel became CEO of Yarra Trams in November 2009, when Keolis Downer took over control of the franchise from previous operator TransdevTSL, and had this to say about his time in charge.

During my time at Yarra Trams, the number of employees has increased by almost 200. An ongoing program of leadership development means the organisation now has the managerial structure in place to enable employees to do their best work.

Every employee is now clear about who their manager is and what their role requires, while managers are able to add value to their employees’ work and provide the necessary support and leadership.

He then made a very interesting revelation regarding the number of managers employed by Yarra Trams.

An example of the change in managerial and safety leadership can be seen at the eight depots in relation to the more than 1,200 drivers who keep Melburnians moving.

The creation of the role Team Manager, Drivers changed the ratio of manager to drivers from 1:140 to 1:40. This means that drivers now receive regular feedback and coaching from their manager about driving skills, performance, safety, customer service and wider business updates, while also providing a direct channel to recommend improvements.

Keolis Downer has introduced more than 70 team manager roles during the past three years in order to increase the level of safety support to its frontline employees.

Bolded section is my emphasis.

Some simple maths suggests that the number of managers supervising the tram drivers at Yarra Trams has increased from nine (one per tram depot?) to thirty – more than three times that of five years ago!

Add the 70 additional team managers now on the payroll, and the number of ‘Chiefs’ will soon start outnumbering the ‘Indians’.

So what is going on?

I’m not a tram driver and I’m not a manager, so I don’t know what the optimum number of management type staff that a safe and efficient transport operator is supposed to have. However adding 100 managers to an organisation with only 1200 front line staff seems quite extreme, especially given that before the change, trams were not running off the tracks on a daily basis.

Footnote

A recent article in The Conversation introduced me to a report by the The Australia Institute on electricity privatisation – it suggests that management outnumbering those doing real work is not a new thing:

The number of managers in the sector has grown from 6,000 to 19,000 from 1997 to 2012, a rise of 217 per cent. This has seen the ratio of managers to workers change from one manager to every 13 workers in 1997 to one manager for every nine workers in 2012. In contrast to this, there was a much smaller increase in the group of people who are directly involved in producing electricity.

They suggest that in the electricity industry, the growth in managers is a consequence of privatisation and the split of electricity entities into much smaller units, each requiring their own management and administration team.

Can you see the parallels with our privatised public transport operators?

Oddball bus stop names of Victoria

The predecessor of Public Transport Victoria was Metlink, and one of their main achievements was getting every single train, tram and bus stop in Victoria in one big database, and making the timetable information for each one available to the public via a single website. So what oddball stop names lurk in that database?

Bus signage at Newhaven, Phillip Island - purple for the V/Line coach to Dandenong, and orange for the local bus to Wonthaggi

You can catch the bus to places of natural beauty.

National Park Entrance/National Park Rd (Loch Sport)
Eastern Sister Lookout/Point Nepean Rd (Sorrento)

Or beyond the black stump.

Black Stump General Store/Princes Hwy (Johnsonville)

Toilet humour is always good for a laugh – and gives me three funny bus stop names.

Tooleybuc Toilets/Murray St (Tooleybuc (NSW))
Public toilets/Timboon – Nullawarre Rd (Timboon)
Car Park Rear Toilet Block/Lloyd St (Dimboola)

When you flush, it might end up here:

South East Water Oxygen Plant/Baxter-Tooradin Rd (Baxter)

But to clean up, you could leave the bus at any of these stops:

Laundry Block/Barwon Heads – Ocean Grove Rd (Ocean Grove)
Ironing Service/Deakin Ave (Mildura)
D And K Cleaning/School Rd (Springhurst)
Wizard Car Wash/Princes Hwy (Narre Warren)

Since you are on the bus, you don’t need to park a car.

Council Car Park/Beveridge St (Swan Hill)
Beachside Car Park/Nepean Hwy (Frankston)

Freeway on and off ramps aren’t something you are looking out for:

Eastern Freeway On Ramp/Wetherby Rd (Doncaster East)
Off-ramp/Princes Fwy (Darnum)

Or repairing roads.

VicRoads Depot/Ballarat Rd (Deer Park)
Nillumbik Shire Depot/290 Yan Yean Rd (Plenty)

You don’t need to buy petrol either.

Service Station/Breadalbane Ave (Mernda)

None the less, you still have your choice of fuel retailer.

Caltex Service Station/Calvert St (Bairnsdale)
BP Service Station/Sunraysia Hwy (Speed)
Shell Service Station/Princes Hwy (Narre Warren)
Mobil Service Station/Fifteenth St (Mildura)
United Service Station/Princes Hwy (Cobargo (NSW))
Apco Petrol Station/Gisborne Rd (Bacchus Marsh)

Maybe you are looking to build a car from scratch?

Toyota Australia/Grieve Pde (Altona North)
Holden Engine Works/Lorimer St (Port Melbourne)
Ford Engine and Chassis Plant/Princes Hwy (North Geelong)

Or something more high tech?

Centre for Nanofabrication/Wellington Rd (Clayton)

Perhaps you are peckish?

Kraft Factory/Salmon St (Port Melbourne)

You could pick up the raw ingredients for dinner.

Geelong Sale Yards/Weddell Rd (North Geelong)
Grain Silo/Wimmera Hwy (Marnoo)

Cargo to send by rail?

Pacific National Terminal/Dynon Rd (West Melbourne)

And finally, the really weird.

Bridal Advisory Service/Jamieson St (East Albury (NSW))

Some bad names

There are a few bus stop names with ‘opposite’ in the title, and refer to a local landmark – for example:

Opp Ballarat Health Service/Edwards St (Sebastopol)

Bus some are just lazy – streets have numbers down both sides!

opp 399 Centre Rd (Narre Warren South)
Opp 28 Ash Cres (Pakenham)
Opp 184 Old Geelong Rd (Hoppers Crossing)
Opp 85 Melville Park Dr (Berwick)

Footnote

For a number of years at both Metlink and Public Transport Victoria, the usage of the ‘SC’ abbreviation in bus stop names was inconsistent: sometimes it meant ‘Shopping Centre’ and other times ‘Secondary College’, which led to confusion for any passenger in a suburb where the local shops had the same name as the school!

Thankfully some of the staff at PTV didn’t think confusing passengers was a good idea, so put in place a new standard for names – ‘SC’ for ‘Shopping Centre’ and ‘Sec Col’ for ‘Secondary College’.

Do you know the way to Moonee Vale?

Each morning on William Street in the CBD, there are a handful of route 55 trams that display a destination of ‘Moonee Vale’. There are a number of Melbourne suburbs with similar sounding names, along with a racecourse and local government area called ‘Moonee Valley’ – but is Moonee Vale a real place, or just a typo?

Z3.122 on a route 55a shortworking to 'Moonee Vale'

The suburbs of Moonee Ponds and Ascot Vale are located next door to each other, but are located on the route 59 tram so an amalgam of those two place names can be set aside. The same applies for Moonee Valley, so a truncated name can’t explain it either. Pascoe Vale is a suburb closer to the route 55 tram, but is too far north to be served by it.

My next port of call was the Victorian Register of Geographic Names – it contains more than 200,000 place names including cities, towns, suburbs, regions, roads, landscape features, recreational reserves, transport stations, schools, hospitals, national parks, forests, reserves and tracks!

Unfortunately it came up blank.

’Moonee Vale’ not found in the Victorian Register of Geographic Names

Going back to the destination board of the tram, there is a further clue: “Daly & Dawson Streets”.

That intersection is located in Brunswick West, with Daly Street being a residential street that parallels the much better known Melville Road.

Z3.200 on route 55 heads outbound along Melville Road with the CBD skyline behind

As for the Moonee Vale name, a check of the locality listing at the back of the Melways brings it up – Map 29 B8, see Brunswick West.

’Moonee Vale’ in the Melway locality listing

It also gets namechecked in The Age as an example of ‘secret suburbs’ in Melbourne.

If you’re coming from Tally Ho you travel west – likewise from Bennettswood – and go via Willison, vaguely in the Macaulay or Batmans Hill direction. Pass through Rushall then Sumner and Anstey.

Westbreen is too far. Look just north of Moonee Vale and you’re there: Coonans Hill.

Directions from Burwood to Pascoe Vale South via Fitzroy have never sounded so confusing. But touring via Melbourne’s secret suburbs gives the route a quaint, village feel. Little-known place names have gained favour in recent years, according to those who make it their business to know where Westgarth is.

Beyond that, I had to start digging through the Trove archives from the National Library of Australia.

In 1907 The Argus writes of a new ‘Moonee Vale Settlement’ in Brunswick West.

Moonee Vale settlement. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), Monday 19 August 1907, page 6

In 1910 development must not have taken off as the developers wanted, as The Argus reported that Brunswick Council had removed 70 kerosene lanterns from the streets in a cost cutting exercise.

Railway to Moonee Vale village settlement. Brunswick and Coburg Leader (Vic. : 1914 - 1918), Friday 10 July 1914, page 1

And finally in 1914, the Brunswick and Coburg Leader led local agitation for the construction of a railway to Moonee Vale, via Royal Park.

Moonee Vale in darkness. The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), Tuesday 25 January 1910, page 6

Construction of a railway never happened, but what is now the route 55 tramway was progressively opened between 1925 and 1927 to the current terminus at Bell Street, West Coburg.

These days the only organisation beside Yarra Trams still using the ‘Moonee Vale’ name is a licensed post office on the corner of Albion Street and Melville Road.

’Moonee Vale’ Licensed Post Office details

Public transport should be clear and concise wherever possibly, and not rely on layers of historical anachronism – for this reason I reckon Yarra Trams should get with the times and drop the misleading name of ‘Moonee Vale’, and use the accepted name for where their route 55 shortworkings terminate – ‘Brunswick West’.

Footnote

A check of the public timetable reveals there are two route 55 trams that terminate at Daly and Dawson Streets each weekday – both at the tail end of morning peak.

Route 55 tram timetable, featuring ’Moonee Vale’ shortworkings

Timetables at tram stops also have a note drawing attention to these short terminating services.

Daly Street / Dawson Street shortworking notice at the bottom of a route 55 timetable

When I paid a visit to Daly Street when the terminating services are due, I found the tram driver stopped in the middle of the road, dodging traffic to change the tracks that allow trams to cross between the tracks.

Driver of B2.2072 throws the points at the Daly Street crossover

Traffic in both directions then comes to a halt, as the tram trundles over the crossover and onto the citybound track.

B2.2072 heads back to the city on route 55 after shunting at the Daly Street crossover

The logic behind these two shortworking services is that it provides much needed capacity on route 55 for passengers boarding closer to the city, as the trams in question can race back into the CBD on the tail end of morning peak. If the trams continued all the way to the end of the line, by the time they made it back to the inner suburbs, the passengers would have already crammed onboard other trams.

Z3.175 picks up route 55 passengers at Brunswick Road and Grantham Street in Brunswick West

With tram patronage increasing at a rate faster than new trams are being acquired, there isn’t much else Yarra Trams can do.

Finding the Maldon – Dombarton bridge to nowhere

South of Sydney there is a bridge to nowhere, built in the 1980s as part of the never-completed Maldon – Dombarton railway line. Intended to cross the Nepean River near the township of Maldon, only the approach spans on each side of the gorge were built before the project was cancelled, where they remain today. So how did I go about seeing the bridge for myself?

Bridge to nowhere

I started my hike from Picton Road, where I parked the car and loaded up my backpack with water and snacks, before wandering off into the dense bush.

Walking through the bush from Picton Road to find the bridge

After walking down into a gully then back out again, I found myself in a clearing.

After walking through the bush, I'm out in a clearing

There wasn’t any sign of the bridge at this point.

Walking around the open plains towards the bridge

But I kept on wandering around.

Walking around the open plains towards the bridge

And I eventually found a metal stanchion on the unfinished bridge sticking up above the tree line.

Stanchion on the unfinished bridge sticks up above the trees

With my target in sight and the sun starting to go down, it was time to head back into the bush.

Back into the bush again to find the bridge

Eventually I came out into another clearing, but this time the metal stanchions were larger – I was on the right track.

Stanchion on the unfinished bridge sticks up above the trees

I kept walking in the same direction, and finally – I found the bridge!

Finally - I found the bridge!

The 30 year old concrete still looks to be in good condition.

30 year old concrete still in good nick

I headed up onto the bridge, and walked towards the dead end.

Looking towards the dead end

Fences prevented me from walking off the end.

End of the line on the southern approach

Looking west from the bridge was another bridge – carrying Picton Road across the Nepean River.

Looking west towards Picton Road from the southern end of the bridge

And to the east was the advancing shadows of a setting sun.

Looking east from the southern end of the bridge

With the moon now visible, it was time to head out of the bush before darkness fell, and find my car again.

The moon comes out under the bridge

Footnote

Here is the GPS tracklog on my adventure to find the unfinished bridge – it took me 30 minutes to walk the ~1.5 kilometres between my car and the bridge, using a Google Maps printout and the setting sun as a guide, and with a lot of wandering around in order to pinpoint which direction I was supposed to be walking in.

GPS tracklog on my adventure to find the unfinished Maldon - Dombarton railway line bridge

Also of note is how closely my return journey matched my inward hike – my sense of direction must have been working well that day!

A check of Google Maps shows a supposed unnamed road that I didn’t use – leading from Picton Road to the bridge, it looks to be a dirt track that passes through a nearby skydiving centre, then follows the unfinished alignment of the railway.

Further reading

Wikipedia has more on the history of the Maldon – Dombarton railway line.