How many blog posts do I write in a year?

I’ve just sat down and run the numbers – if I continue at my current blog posting rate, after one year I will have published a total of 142 new entries!

Pile of unopened mX newspapers after the evening peak is over

My current posting schedule is as follows:

As to how I managed to churn out so many blog posts, I don’t actually sit down at the same time every weekend and type out the posts for the next week. Instead, my workflow is as flows:

Step 1:

Add an entry to my ever increasing list of prospective blog post topics. Normally they are just links to newspaper articles, interesting reports in PDF format, or a collection of photos I’m intending to write more about.

Step 2:

Dig through my list of draft entries until I find something that grabs my interest, then start writing and further research.

Step 3:

Hit a roadblock and procrastinate. Writers block, a dead end on the research front, or a lack of photos are common causes.

Step 4 (optional):

Realise I have bitten off more than I can chew for one blog post, and spin off part of it into a future post. A variant of this is when I find other interesting bits and pieces while researching one subject, resulting in a new entry being added to my list of prospective topics.

Step 5:

Decide the post is finished, and put it into my pending articles pile.

Step 6:

Dig through my pending articles pile, and add them to my list of scheduled posts.

Step 7:

You eventually see the article online.

Footnote

So how long does my workflow take?

My recent ‘Fairness in PTV fare evasion penalties?‘ post started as a draft back in December 2014, and required three separate editing sessions to polish up.

My ‘Where does Geelong’s sewage go?‘ was a much bigger job, being almost two years in the making – I started it way back in August 2013, spent some time on it in December 2014, then polished it off in July 2015.

Metro Trains leaving wheelchairs behind thanks to broken doors

When travelling by train in Melbourne, anyone in a wheelchair or motorised scooter has to board at the first door of the first carriage – which presents some difficulties if that door happens to develop a fault.

I happened to spot another Metro Trains service with a defective front door the other week.

Alstom Comeng 697M in service with a set of defective front saloon doors

Again – anyone in a wheelchair would be unable to board.

Suburban train in service with a set of defective front saloon doors

Some background

On every type of suburban train in Melbourne, the section behind the driver’s cab is the wheelchair parking area.

Redesigned wheelchair area onboard Alstom Comeng 654M

At some stations the end of the platform has been raised to give step free access.

Raised platform surface at the west end of Flinders Street platform 1

This allows anything on wheels to roll onboard the train.

Step free access for wheelchairs at the down end of Box Hill platform 3

But at most locations on the network, the train driver has to get out of the cab, and deploy a portable ramp.

Train driver assists a scooter user board the train via the portable ramp

On the newer Siemens and X’Trapolis trains, the wheelchair ramp is located in a cupboard next to the front door of the carriage.

Wheelchair ramps now inside the carriage, one one each side at the cab end of each M car

But on the older Comeng trains, the driver has to carry the ramp from the cab to the front door, and then carry it back again.

Hence when the front door is defective, passengers in wheelchairs and mobility scooters can’t board the train:

  • fixed ramps at stations only line up with the front door,
  • there is no way to access the portable ramp except via the front door,
  • and finally, there is nowhere to park a wheelchair except for the doorway.

My only question – did the fault with the front door occur while the train was already in service, or picked up while the train was being prepared for the day?

Where does Geelong’s sewage go?

Whenever a toilet is flushed in Geelong, the contents head south of the city to a locality known as Black Rock, located on the shores of Bass Strait midway between the towns of Torquay and Barwon Heads. So what happens to all the turds and toilet paper?

Looking along Thirteenth Beach towards Black Rock

Some history

In 1906 the first moves were made towards sewering Geelong when the Geelong Waterworks and Sewerage Trust was established. It was decided to build an ocean outfall to dispose of the waste, as it was simpler to construct and cheaper to operate, with a site south of Geelong being selected due to the favourable ocean currents.

Geelong's original sewage outfall at Black Rock

The site was known as ‘Black Rock’ due to the basalt rocks that lined the shoreline. Work started in 1912 on the concrete sewer linking Geelong and Black Rock, with the first raw sewage being pumped into the ocean in 1917.

Geelong's original sewage outfall at Black Rock

During the 1950s the population of Geelong took off, and so did the amount of raw sewage being pumped out into the sea, so moves were made to upgrade the sewerage system that served the city. The existing concrete sewer was corroding due to seawater backing up into the pipe, so a new sewer was laid parallel to the existing one, and a rudimentary treatment facility was opened at Black Rock in 1968.

Three comminutors ground up the solid waste into smaller pieces, which was then allowed to flow via gravity into the sea at low tide. At high tide a penstock prevented sea water from entering the plant, with archimedes screws being used to pump the waste into the sea.

Black Rock treatment plant - comminutor and archmedean screws
Barwon Water photo from ‘Living By Water: a History of Barwon Water and its Predecessors’

Concern about the environment started to grow during the 1970s, with beaches near the Black Rock outfall had become popular with surfers, resulting in public protests about the raw sewage being sent out to sea.

In addition, the establishment of the Environment Protection Authority in 1972 to regulate waste disposal made things difficult for the water board, which resulted in an ultimatum – build a sewage treatment plant and underwater ocean outfall. Planning work commenced in 1983, and the upgraded facility finally opened in 1989.

The new ocean outfall was 1.2 kilometres long and 1.35 metres in diameter, with the steel pipeline being constructed on land and then dragged out to sea over a 48 hour period.

Black Rock ocean outfall - pipeline before being towed to sea
Barwon Water photo from ‘Living By Water: a History of Barwon Water and its Predecessors’

As for the treatment plant, raw sewage was lifted up from the sewer by archimedes screws.

Black Rock treatment plant construction in the 1980s
Barwon Water photo from ‘Living By Water: a History of Barwon Water and its Predecessors’

And then passed through filter screens to eliminate any particles larger than one millimetre in size.

Black Rock treatment plant construction in the 1980s
Barwon Water photo from ‘Living By Water: a History of Barwon Water and its Predecessors’

Despite the addition of the screening plant, the effluent being discharged at Black Rock would not meet future EPA requirements, so in 1994 work started on a biological treatment stage using the ‘Intermittently Decanted Extended Aeration‘ (IDEA) process.

Black Rock treatment plant in the 1990s
Barwon Water photo from ‘Living By Water: a History of Barwon Water and its Predecessors’

Four aeration tanks were built, each 120 metres long by 60 metres wide, where microorganisms would digest the organic material in the aerated wastewater, eventually leaving class ‘C’ treated water that was suitable for irrigation purposes, and wet biosolids for disposal elsewhere.

Disposal of this wet sludge was the next problem for Barwon Water – with a water content of 85% it was initially stored at Black Rock, until they ran out of storage space in 2001, so as an interim solution the 140 tonnes of waste produced each day was trucked to the Western Treatment Plant in Werribee for drying.

Work was then started on a permanent facility at Black Rock to dry the biosolids and compress it into pellets of nutrient-rich fertiliser, which commenced operation in 2013.

Geelong's sewage treatment plant at Black Rock

With the solids now taken care of, the final step in closing the loop of sewage treatment was the treated water. Work started on the Black Rock Recycled Water Plant to produce class ‘A’ treated water, which has been supplied to residents of the new Armstrong Creek and Torquay North housing developments via a ‘purple pipe’ system since 2013.

Dual residential water meters: drinking and recycled water

Footnote

You can find the Black Rock treatment plant at the end of Blackrock Road in Connewarre.

Sidenote

My grandparents used to live near Black Rock, so the ‘poo farm’ was a landmark we drove past every time we paid a visit.

Geelong's sewage treatment plant at Black Rock

Every so often my grandfather would drive us out to poo farm, passing the wind turbine on Blackgate Road and parking the car at the end of the road. We could then walk west along the coast, passing the red and white concrete vent shaft of the original ocean outfall, and the round concrete turret that marks the replacement outfall.

Geelong's current sewer outfall

During the 1990s there were also two additional structures on the coastline – the original 1960s comminutor plant, and a massive concrete chamber that allowed the raw sewage to be mixed before entering the sea. Presumably both have been demolished in the years since, as no trace of them can be found today.

My grandfather also happened to play golf with one of the facility managers, so in sometime in the mid-1990s he wrangled us a tour of the treatment plant itself. On the top floor they had a lookout pointed at the end of the ocean outfall, and a collection of items pulled out of the incoming sewage, but the highlight was seeing inside the massive screening filters – they looked like a gargantuan version of a clothes dryer.

Sources

  • The 2005 book ‘Living By Water: a History of Barwon Water and its Predecessors’ by Leigh Edmonds provides a detailed history of the water and sewerage systems of Geelong – a PDF copy is on their website.
  • Leighton Contractors installed the Black Rock ocean outfall in 1986 – they describe the process here.
  • Barwon Water describe their biosolids drying plant and recycled water plant on their website.

Fairness in PTV fare evasion penalties?

Over the past few months the subject of Melbourne public transport users fighting their myki fines in court has appeared in the mainstream media a number of times – most recently the case of someone who through they had touched on, received a fine and decided to challenge it, and then had the case dropped by the prosecutor shortly before the court date rolled around. So what is going on?

Authorised Officers talk to a passenger at Albion station

In 2012 the Victorian Auditor General has this to say on fare evasion:

Effectively protecting revenue and controlling fare evasion requires:

  • a well-designed, understandable, accessible and user-friendly ticketing system
  • education and marketing—to help passengers understand how to use the system correctly and persuading persuade them to do this
  • revenue protection measures—ticket barriers and station staff
  • enforcement—detecting passengers travelling without a valid ticket and addressing this behaviour.

Doing these things effectively will help address fare evasion where it is:

  • unintentional—when passengers don’t understand the ticketing system or when machine failures mean they are unable to purchase or validate tickets
  • deliberate—when passengers purposely travel without a valid ticket.

PTV predecessor Metlink did understand why different passengers evaded the payment of fares, with the 2010 edition of the ‘Network Revenue Protection Plan’ having this to say:

To address the problem of fare evasion it is important to understand its underlying causes.

Fare evasion is a complex behaviour. it can be inadvertent, opportunistic, based on an economic decision, or encouraged by perceptions to attitudes that allow the customer to rationalise fare evasion. Although we talk generically about fare evasion it is in fact a catch-all phrase for a continuum of behaviours.

  • Never evade
  • Inadvertent
  • Opportunistic one off
  • Opportunistic – learned behaviour
  • Game players
  • Always evade

Once someone has fare evades and ‘got away with it’ they are predisposed to fare evade especially when a similar circumstance arises.

It also has this to say about the ‘game players’ who never pay their way:

A pragmatic, rational exercise in game play – it is cheaper to be caught occasionally and pay fines than to buy a ticket every day.

In 2012 PTV awarded a $107,546 contract to Monash University for additional research into the psychology of fare evasion, which found that recidivist fare evaders accounted for 68 per cent of all revenue loss, but only 1.7 per cent of the Melbourne population.

As a result, in 2014 PTV introduced on-the-spot penalty fares, – the 2014 edition of the Network Revenue Protection Plan has this to say about the change in strategy:

The Monash University study found that the risk and perceived risk of being caught for fare evasion has a significant impact on the decision to fare evade, particularly for recidivist fare evaders. This is borne out by historical trends in fare evasion and fines issued.

The introduction of penalty fares will provide Authorised Officers with the capacity to check more tickets and increase the risk to fare evaders of getting caught. This approach, which allows Authorised Officers to issue an on-the-spot penalty fare of $75, will also reduce the risk of unpaid Ticket Infringement Notices by requiring immediate and full payment. Penalty fares provide an opportunity to increase fare evasion detection rates, thereby reducing overall levels of fare evasion.

If a passenger elects to pay the penalty fare, a receipt is issued but no further enforcement activity is required. This reduces the time of each interaction between the Authorised Officer and the passenger, thereby allowing each Authorised Officer to check more tickets during each shift.

Six months after the trial of penalty fares commenced, PTV PTV had this to say about the new penalties:

“Of more than 140,000 people who were caught freeloading in the past six months, 28 per cent chose to pay the on the spot fine.

Over the six months from August 2014 to February 2015, Authorised Officers in the metropolitan area checked 6,743,300 tickets across Victoria.

In total, 103,229 reports of non-compliance and 41,001 On-the-Spot Penalty Fares were issued.

However PTV seems to have missed something their predecessor knew:

it is cheaper to be caught occasionally and pay fines than to buy a ticket every day

With the new on-the-stop fines only costing $75, a fare evaders now only needs to dodge two weeks of fares to come out in front – compared to the almost five weeks of inspector dodging required under the old regime.

The end result – Public Transport Victoria treats every traveller without a ticket as someone out to game the system, with anyone who unintentionally forgets to pay their way opting to pay the penalty fare to avoid the time and effort of a court appeal, while those who choose to fare evade a cheaper way to keep on dodging the law.

An alternate strategy

Back in 2004 the State Government and PTV predecessor Metlink introduced what appears to be a fairer system – one of graduated penalties:

Public transport fines will increase from 13th July 2004
6 July 2004

Fines for public transport offences will increase from 13 July 2004, Metlink Chief Executive Officer, Mr Bernie Carolan advised today.

The fine increases and the introduction of a graduated fine system for repeat offences comes into effect following legislation introduced last year as part of the State Government’s Rights and Responsibilities Package.

“Customers should be aware that fines will go up but the vast majority of people who do the right thing when travelling on public transport will not be affected,” Mr Carolan said.

“However for those who do break the rules, particularly repeat offenders, this fine increase sends a strong message that fare evasion and other offences are taken seriously and are just not worth the risk.”

Repeat offences committed after 13 July 2004 are subject to graduated fines. For example, fare evasion will incur a fine of $150 for a first offence, $200 for a second offence and $250 for the third and subsequent offences within a given 3-year period.

AT first glance, the graduated penalty regime does exactly what you want a penalty regime to do: allow any inadvertent offenders a chance to learn their lesson, while changing the rules of the game for recidivist fare evaders.

So what happened to this fare regime?

On 2 March 2006 then-Shadow Minister for Transport Terry Mulder questioned the Attorney-General in parliament regarding the number of repeat offenders:

With reference to individuals who have been fined a second or greater number of times for a public transport related offence since the graduated fines came into existence in July 2004 —

(1) How many individuals were fined for offences committed in —
  (a) the Melbourne metropolitan area;
  (b) rural Victoria.

(2) What offence did each repeat fine involve.

(3) What was the postcode of residence, if known, of each offender.

(4) How much is the total amount of fines imposed upon repeat offenders since July 2004.

But unfortunately no data was available at that time:

This matter falls within the responsibility of the Minister for Transport. My Department does not have access to the data requested.

In November 2009 Metlink still considered graduated penalties an important part of legislative framework around revenue protection.

However the end came in February 2010 with the passing of the Transport (Infringements) Regulations 2010:

The objectives of these Regulations are to—

(a) ensure that users of public transport services fairly contribute to the cost of services and behave safely and responsibly, by prescribing ticket and transport infringements including infringements for offences relating to fare evasion, conduct, etc.

(b) align public transport penalties for children with the principles of fairness underlying the youth justice system by recognising that children should be treated differently from adults and prescribing different penalties for children.

With it regulation 138/2006 Transport (Infringements) (Further Amendment) Regulations 2006 and 90/2004 Transport (Infringements) (Penalties) Regulations 2004 were revoked, taking with them graduated penalties for fare evaders.

So why the change?

It seems that graduated penalties are the perfect solution for stamping out habitual fare evasion in Melbourne, but the question remains – why was it killed off in 2010?

In 2012 the Auditor General suggests the transition to Myki led to a spike in fare evasion:

The department’s oversight framework was effective in controlling fare evasion between 2005 and 2008, but failed to cope with the transition to myki and the new tram and metro train contracts that commenced in November 2009.

The overall fare evasion rate for Melbourne has come full circle over the past six years. Between 2005 and mid-2008, the percentage of passengers without a valid ticket fell from 13.5 per cent to a low of 7.8 per cent. However, these gains were lost, with a return to an overall evasion rate of 13.5 per cent for the first half of 2011. Since this time overall fare evasion has fallen to 11.6 per cent in the first half of 2012.

Which leads me to a possible explanation – graduated fares gave offenders the chance to challenge their fines in court – a fight that the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure are unsure that they will win, if this December 2013 article from The Age is anything to go by:

Fines issued under Victoria’s myki system have never been contested in court, amid claims the government has been forced to waive infringement notices because the troubled technology cannot withstand legal scrutiny.

The Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure has been warned by staff that a successful legal challenge could undermine the integrity of the $1.5 billion ticketing system, which has operated for more than three years.

A former contractor said he provided the department with verbal and written advice that false readings, administrative errors and poor calibration of machines would damage the chances of a prosecution in court.

”They [the transport department] don’t want it to be tested in court, they just want the revenue. They need to prove beyond reasonable doubt and they simply can’t. I know of several cases where people have challenged infringement notices on the basis of faulty technology, but the prosecution has withdrawn the fines,” the source said. ”As a prosecutor, you have an ethical duty to the court and I would regularly explain to them that this system won’t stand up to scrutiny.”

Another former employee of the department said concerns about the prosecution of myki fines in court had influenced a recent plan by Public Transport Victoria to give fare evaders the option of cheaper on-the-spot fines. Due to be introduced next year, the proposal would allow commuters without a valid ticket to accept liability immediately and pay a lesser $75 fine with cash or a credit card, rather than the full infringement of $212.

The end game being PTV deciding $75 in revenue in their pocket is a better outcome than a higher fine that might never get paid, and might even bring their entire enforcement regime crashing down.

Melbourne’s bus stops to nowhere

Improving the accessibility of the bus network takes more than just low floor buses – passengers need to be able to reach the bus stops themselves. So where does this approach fall flat?

CDC Melbourne #89 rego 8015AO waits for route 408 passengers at Sunshine station

In recent years the State Government has allocated funding for infrastructure upgrades – here is just one example:

Mornington Peninsula bus services to get $6m upgrade
Sharon Green
May 13, 2014

The Victorian Government will invest $6 million in infrastructure improvement works to bus networks throughout the Mornington Peninsula.

Nepean state Liberal MP Martin Dixon said works would include a new bus interchange at Rosebud, new bus lanes and traffic light priority works at major intersections and congestion hot spots as well as bus stop upgrades.

Mr Dixon said about 120 bus stops would be upgraded to ensure they are compliant for disability access.

“These bus stops will have tactile and concrete pads, as well as a range of other accessibility features that will be installed where required, such as footpaths and ramps,” he said.

However in sparsely populated areas such as Mornington Peninsula, the usefulness of these upgrades is dubious – with no footpaths to be found, any bus passengers are forced to walk along the side of the road.

DDA compliant bus stop on Point Nepean Road, Blairgowrie

A similar situation applies to stops in Melbourne’s west, where buses follow narrow two lane roads through former paddocks.

Yet another DDA 'compliant' bus stop, but with nowhere for a wheelchair to go after the bus stop

But that isn’t as bad as this ‘compliant’ bus stop in Gisbourne – thanks to the kerb between the road and bus stop, the only way out for the wheelchair bound is the next bus out of there.

Somewhere over the rainbow - DDA compliant bus stop with no footpaths

Is there a pot of gold at the end of that rainbow?

Footnote

Does the above remind you of Melbourne’s tram network? Back in April 2015, The Age had this to say:

Melbourne’s expanding fleet of low-floor trams are being allocated to tram routes that lack wheelchair-accessible stops, while accessible tram stops are being built on routes that have no low-floor trams.

The Victorian Government ‘Accessible Public Transport in Victoria’ Action Plan 2013-2017 appears to at least acknowledge that infrastructure upgrades on their own will not lead to an accessible public transport network.

The Action Plan will embed a broader access approach to public transport services but also ensures the Victorian Government meets the requirements of Commonwealth disability discrimination legislation and standards.

This approach recognises that technical compliance will not always deliver an optimal access outcome for public transport users, particularly if specific actions and projects meet compliance standards but are done in isolation of other factors. For example, the upgrade of bus stops without a connecting pathway would mean that technically more bus stops are compliant, but access outcomes have not been achieved and many people may remain unable to use the bus network.

This Action Plan takes a whole of journey approach to accessibility that recognises the need for people with a disability or mobility restriction to be able to access information to plan their journey. Pathways to various modes of public transport services are as important as physical access itself.

But the real proof will come in the actions of Public Transport Victoria – they seem to have enough trouble coordinating bus, tram and train services for the able bodied, so it may take some time until their work moves from ‘box ticking’ for compliance, to a focus on an accessible network for all.