Southern Cross Station’s vending machine-led recovery?

Back in 2020 then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison somehow believed that a ‘gas-led recovery’ would be Australia’s solution to our economic doldrums. That didn’t work, but the management of Southern Cross Station is trying something equality as stupid – a vending machine-led recovery.

Hot pizza vending machine installed in front of an abandoned health food shop at Southern Cross Station

Reheated media release, or reheated pizza?

It started a month ago, when Melbourne’s news media started breathlessly reposting a media release from Southern Cross Station management, announcing a new vending machine that reheats pizza on demand.

And it got another run this week, as the TikTok crowd decided to review the ‘pizza’ for themselves.

So I decided to take took a look on my recent visit to the station – and found the machine, installed in front of an abandoned health food shop, and surrounded by other shuttered retail outlets.

Hot pizza vending machine installed in front of an abandoned health food shop at Southern Cross Station

Next door was a dog treat vending machine installed in front of an abandoned Amcal chemist.

Dog treat vending machine installed in front of an abandoned Amcal chemist at Southern Cross Station

But next door things went low budget quickly – this ‘Card Bot’ trading card vending machine was just pushed through a hole in the hoarding around the closed Spanish Doughnuts outlet.

'Card Bot' trading card vending machine installed in front of the abandoned Spanish Doughnuts shop at Southern Cross Station

And this pair of drink vending machines were just plonked around what was once a Mad Mex take away outlet.

Pair of drink vending machines installed in front of an abandoned Mad Mex outlet at Southern Cross Station

But the most asinine change is the ‘Gacha Gacha’ machine surrounding what used to be a coffee shop – no gacha games have actually been installed, it’s just a hoarding covered in stickers that look like a row of vending machines.

Billboard advertising 'Gacha Gacha' vending machines at Southern Cross Station

At least the seats that served the now-closed fast food outlets still exist – but with seagulls picking through abandoned fast food wrappers, after the rubbish bins were removed a decade ago.

Seagulls picking through abandoned fast food wrappers beside the former Spanish Doughnuts shop at Southern Cross Station

And downstairs

Downstairs I found another interesting vending machine beside the Spencer Street entrance to the station – a ‘Robo Tea’ bubble tea machine.

'Robo Tea' bubble tea vending machine beside the Spencer Street entrance to Southern Cross Station

With a surprisingly long list of options for a vending machine.

Menu at the 'Robo Tea' bubble tea vending machine

Thanks to the robotic arm responsible for pouring drinks.

Robotic arm inside the 'Robo Tea' bubble tea vending machine

And a $0.20 credit card surcharge, despite the machine being unable to accept cash.

'$0.20 credit card surcharge' notice on the 'Robo Tea' bubble tea vending machine that doesn't accept cash

Not that you could buy a drink – a ‘Machine malfunction, temporarily out of service’ message greeted me.

'Machine malfunction, temporarily out of service' message on the 'Robo Tea' bubble tea vending machine

At least the Amazon Hub parcel locker alongside still worked – I suppose Jeff Bezos has a team of exploited labour to keep his machines running.

Amazon Hub locker beside the Spencer Street entrance to Southern Cross Station

And the abandoned ‘Chiko Chip Shop’ by the V/Line platforms has been replaced by a Daniel’s Donuts outlet.

Daniel's Donuts have setup shop on the Collins Street concourse at Southern Cross Station

So what happened?

Southern Cross Station was supposed to be a shiny new gateway to Melbourne, with then-Premier Steve Bracks declaring the station open for the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Wide angle overview from the Collins Street concourse

But within five years the initial set of tenants was starting to fail, including the Delaware North managed food court.

The useless Loco Bar closed for good - it was never open beyond 7:30 even on Friday nights...

Their solution was a $22 million refurbishment, anchored by a Woolworths Metro supermarket, more WHSmith newsagent outlets than you can shake a stick at, and increasing the number of shops from 28 to 48 by cramming them in anywhere they’d fit.

The 'Exciting New Retailer!' taking shape on the Collins Street concourse

But COVID-19 followed by the growth of working from home has seen the number of commuters passing through the station each day fall. Combine that with a property management team more interested in squeezing every last penny out of business owners, it’s no surprise the station’s retail outlets has turned into a ghost town.

But some things never change

A decade ago I first wrote about the failing tactile paving at Southern Cross Station.

Do they stick down the tactile paving with bubble gum?

But a decade on, they seem to have given up trying to fix it.

Broken tactile paving on the V/Line concourse, patched up with asphalt

Rather than installing new paving slabs, they’ve switched to just patching it up with asphalt.

Broken bluestone slabs and tactile paving at the main entrance from Spencer Street, patched up with asphalt

Seems like par for the course, given the lights above platform 13 and 13 have been broken since 2015, frequent escalator failures, and overall passenger capacity issues.

Footnote: and it isn’t even 24/7

I had an interesting fact about the “Fresh Hot Tasty 24/7” signage pointed out to me.

Hot pizza vending machine installed in front of an abandoned health food shop at Southern Cross Station

Southern Cross Station isn’t actually open 24/7 – it closes at 1am.

4:07 AM and Southern Cross is locked up tight

With ‘Night Network’ trains running express through Southern Cross on Friday and Saturday nights, because opening it would have required contract renegotiation with the private managers of the station.

'Night Trains Services only depart Flinders Street Station' notice at the entrance to Southern Cross Station

And in bizarre twist, these trains are advertised as ‘Ltd Express via Sthn Cross’ despite not stopping at Southern Cross.

Sunbury service at Flinders Street advertised as 'Ltd Express via Sthn Cross' despite not stopping at Southern Cross

Further reading

The Age was one of the few media outlets who didn’t breathlessly republish the pizza vending machine press releases, instead publishing ‘Spencer Street’s soul is suffering as people pass through but never stay‘ by David Estcourt – covering the decline of Southern Cross Station.

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23 Responses to “Southern Cross Station’s vending machine-led recovery?”

  1. Andrew says:

    It is not a pleasant place to visit, however when I was last in the large retail area, I was surprised at how busy it was. With so many apartment buildings nearby, it should have a good customer base sitting there waiting.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      It takes some skill to mess up retail at what is such a busy location.

      • Liam says:

        The problem goes back to the original design intent of dissuading loitering. The concourse area has the appearance of a thoroughfare, but movement is constricted by ticket gates and the platform access is constrained by escalators and lack of platform space.

        In high traffic times, the architecture funnels passengers toward the platform, and the constrictions prove a strong disincentive to leave it.

        In low traffic times (for suburban or Gippsland V/Line passengers), there is nowhere suitable to wait for a train other than the platform. At these times if you have to wait 20+ minutes for a train, there is time to go back up to the concourse and visit retail. But that may not be enough customers to pay rent.

  2. Steve Gelsi says:

    Thanks for the public service announcement for where I can get my dog treats while out travelling!

    And are the night services announced as ‘running express from Flinders Street to North Melbourne, North Melbourne to Footscray’?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I believe that’s how the night services are announced, as it’s generated from the stopping pattern – the ‘limited express’ vs ‘stopping all stations’ logic is what’s broken.

  3. jw says:

    Marcus, your posts ought to receive state-wide and national coverage, and serve as a wake-up call to both Victoria and Australia.
    We might not quite be third-world, but we’re definitely not first-world when it comes to service.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Thanks for the kind words!

    • Andrew says:

      I’m a journalist has already read it. PPP’s often do not deliver the best outcomes.

      • indigohex3 says:

        Totally agree. In recent decades, governments (both Labor and Liberals) have been touting Public Private Partnerships as great value for money for taxpayers. But we need to rememebr the debacle that was Transdev Melbourne (which was signed by the Ballieu Liberal Government) and their poor maintenance of buses (which has been covered by Marcus several times) and the debacle that is Southern Cross (which was sold by the Kennett Liberal Government to the private sector) and we are seeing corners cut. This is not to say that Labor is any better as they maintained the private operations (apart from V/Line, which was brought back into public ownership by the Bracks Labor Government) and maintained private operators for trams and metropolitian trains instead of bringing them back into public ownership.

        It should be noted that PPPs have cost more to taxpayers than public ownership, and much of these costs has been in subsidies to the private operators.

  4. albert3801 says:

    Wow, this is really sad to read. I haven’t been to Melbourne post Covid. But Southern Cross station was one of my favourite hangouts due to the food options convenient to train viewing.

  5. L says:

    Marcus keep writing these stories. Your prolific documentation of Melbourne transport issues is marvellous.

  6. Carmen says:

    I was told that some of the lease holders at Southern Cross were pushed out with little notice under contract technicalities as management wanted to lease the space at a much higher rate for the Commonwealth Games.
    Happy to stand corrected though if that’s not what happened as I’m really interested and I really hope that’s not what actually occurred.

  7. Stephen says:

    This is officially the dumbest ideas that the management of Southern Cross Station have allowed

  8. James D says:

    Hi Marcus.
    Another great article. The present Southern Cross station has multiple major flaws, yet is still lauded for its eye-catching roof. For architecture buffs, it appears to be a success, but for the most important users – the passengers and staff, one would have to say the station is a failure. In my humble opinion it can all be traced back to a complete failure to analyse and understand how passengers used the old station, and to ensure that any new station didn’t make things harder. Alas, it now takes longer to get to the suburban platforms, thanks to the elimination of the pedestrian subway. The elevated concourses not only add walking time to the trip from street to platform, but they also put passengers right up into the diesel smoke that permanently hangs around under the expensive roof, which has never achieved its stated aim of naturally ventilating exhaust fumes. This was never an issue at the old station, which one could access quickly and without needing to cross Spencer st, thanks to the multiple access points on the east side of said road. The builders and designers constantly refer to the building as being a new landmark for the city. But you’ll never see tourists taking photos of it from the outside, like they do with Flinders street. Hopefully one day a better solution will be found, including a proper pedestrian bridge from Bourke st directly to the stadium.

  9. Andrew Robin says:

    Must better than what looks like another Dan Andrews led disaster for the state with businesses closing.

  10. Liam says:

    I vistied the station again recently, the neglect is obvious. Cycling light fixtures,never been cleaned windows, interior roof coated in diesel soot, failing escalators, failing pids (all aboard the honeywell express?) useless waiting areas (at least the lights worked in there?), and missing tactile surfaces. Surely it is well past time to throw out the PPP contract and bring in someone capable, who could perhaps build the long needed centre-platfom interchange capacity while they are at it.

  11. indigohex3 says:

    I have been to Southern Cross recently, and apparently some of the vending machines (including the pizza one) are gone. Unfortunately, the advertising hasn’t (last time I been to Southern Cross, it was for the Murdoch crap Hubble, sorry if I got the spelling wrong).

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