How far is Myki making you walk?

If you want to catch a tram in Melbourne then you need a Myki, despite the fact you can’t buy one or top it up onboard the tram. In 2017 The Age highlighted the difficulty this can pose for intending tram passengers, in an article on myki “dead zones” – tram stops where the nearest place to top up your myki is at least a kilometre away. Coincidently I started work on an almost identical project years ago but never finished it, so what better time to polish it off?

Some background

An integral part of the original Myki system was ticket machines onboard trams – they would have allowed passengers to top up their myki, or to purchase a ‘Short Term Ticket’ if they didn’t hold a myki.

A single ticket machine was installed onboard a Melbourne tram in early 2009 as part of the myki field trial program, with it remaining in place but not in use until at least November 2011.

Myki ticket machine in B2.2012, with the screens all covered up

Short Term Tickets were a cardboard smartcard which entitled the holder to 2 hour of travel, for a cost slightly more than the normal fare charged to standard myki users.

Sales of these tickets commenced in 2009 when Myki went live in Geelong, and they continue to be sold onboard buses in Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour and the Latrobe Valley until 2013.

Short term cardboard myki ticket from a Geelong bus

In Melbourne the sale of Short Term Tickets was never enabled, with the option to do so being disabled for all myki machines located in the city.

Blurb on a Myki machine about the since-cancelled short term tickets

The rollout of short term fares and myki machines onboard trams was cancelled by the Baillieu Government in June 2011, acting on advice contained in a secret report by consulting firm Deloitte.

One reason given for the reason for the withdrawal of Short Term Ticket was due to the cards costing $0.40 cents each to manufacture – making up almost half of the $0.90 charged for a concession bus fare in Geelong!

In 2011 Yarra Trams said that the change would reduce the tram company’s costs, boost space for passengers and reduce fare evasion issues by eliminating a key reason given for not buying a ticket.

Everyone else says the cancellation of Short Term Tickets and onboard top ups make it much more difficult for passengers who only use trams to pay their fare.

Enter the Public Transport Victoria API

Back in March 2014 Public Transport Victoria finally opened up the application program interface (API) which powers their mobile apps, so I decided to have a play around with it.

With the mobile landscape already littered with hundreds of different trip planning apps, I decided to build something slightly different – something to point out how the lack of ticket purchase options onboard trams was wasting the time of the intending passengers.

The API allows programmers to access all kinds of data – tram routes and Myki retailers being two of them, so I built an app that caters for two use cases:

  • you’re at home, work, or a friend’s house – and you’ve discovered that you don’t have a Myki on hand. Where is the nearest place to buy a new one, and how far will this detour take compared to purchasing a ticket onboard the tram?
  • you’ve just stepped onto a tram and discovered that you don’t have any credit left on your Myki. How far will you have to walk to top up, and then where can you get back on your way?

The end result is ‘walki‘ – a small app that works on any device with a web browser.

The logic in the app is as follows:

  1. Show the user their current location,
  2. Calculate distance to nearest tram stop,
  3. Calculate distance to nearest Myki retailer,
  4. Calculate distance from Myki retailer back to nearest tram stop,
  5. Plot the walking routes on a map,
  6. Compare the distances for each,
  7. And finally, show the user much further they have to walk thanks to the lack of ticket sales onboard trams.

Simple?

You can see it for yourself at https://wongm.com/walki/, or using these examples.

Technology

The app itself isn’t anything revolutionary from a technology standpoint.

In the backend I’m using boring old PHP to gather tram stop and myki retailer locations through calls to the PTV API, with the resulting data being mashed around in Javascript until they are drawn out on a pretty map.

The frontend code is static HTML files with a smattering of jQuery Mobile (‘state of the art’ for 2014? :-P) over the top, with the maps being drawn using the Google Maps JavaScript API v3.

The files are all hosted on my vanilla Apache web server, and you can find the source code on GitHub.

Footnote

Here is the original article from The Age – Melbourne’s myki retailers: Where is the nearest place to top up my myki?, by Craig Butt and Andy Ball.

They are the myki dead zones – the tram stops where the nearest place to top up your myki is at least a kilometre away.

If you do not have any credit on your myki you are expected to take reasonable steps to top up, but from these locations you rack up at least 1200 paces to get to the nearest store or machine.

Using the interactive below, you can detect myki dead zones on your tram line and find out where the nearest myki retailer is, in case you ever find yourself short on credit.

One consideration I completely forgot about was the opening hours of Myki retailers:

But keep in mind the opening times of the retailer. When we trekked 1.5 kilometres through Melbourne’s biggest myki desert on a scorching 31 degree day to top up at Bundoora Post Office, we were fortunate enough to get there half an hour before closing time.

But we would have been out of luck after 5pm that afternoon, after midday on Saturday, or when it is closed all day on Sunday.

About 95 per cent of the state’s 800-plus myki retail outlets are open on Saturday, 75 per cent on Sunday and 32.5 per cent are open all hours.

But one thing we did agree on is the lack of Myki retailers along route 86.

And if you live near Plenty Road in Bundoora and rely on the route 86 tram, you’re in the worst spot in Melbourne.

The stop at the corner of Plenty Road and Greenwood Drive is the worst myki dead zone in Victoria for trams. If you forget your card or are out of credit, it’s a 1.5 kilometre walk to the nearest post office to top up.

I included a few examples in my app, one from Reservoir resulting in an extra 1.86 kilometre (23 minute) long walk!

In the right place at the right time

“In the right place at the right time” is an old saying that applies to many things in life – which for me, also includes railway photography.

K190 and J549 steam past the fourth photo line of the day

Between Footscray and West Footscray stations a constant flow of passenger services run parallel with less frequent freight trains, so getting a photo of the two running side by side takes a bit of luck, and lots of waiting around.

8173 and 8160 on a grain train chase a down Sydenham service at West Footscray

The scene pictured above no longer exists – footbridge I was standing up as well as the houses beside the tracks were all demolished in 2011 to make room for the third pair tracks for of Regional Rail Link.

But an even luckier shot was this one at Lara, where my planned shot of an Adelaide-bound freight train was photobombed by a departing Geelong-bound V/Line service in the background.

SCT liveried G512 leads CFCLA liveried G515 on MA2, overtaking N462 on a down Geelong service at Lara

Similar luck gave me this photo of a freight train loaded with steel products at Manor Loop, outside Werribee, overtaken by a much faster V/Line service from Geelong.

Pair of VLocities Melbourne bound overtake the up steel train at Manor Loop

Another facet of getting a shot is background knowledge.

Back in 2015 I headed south of Werribee to capture the last few days of Geelong line V/Line services using the ‘old’ route via the suburban tracks, when a test train on the new Regional Rail Link tracks came past at the right moment, passing over the top.

New and old V/Line trains cross paths at Manor Junction

It was during this interim period that V/Line services also continued to use the suburban tracks between Footscray and North Melbourne, resulting in this photo of one V/Line service using the ‘old’ tracks down below, as a second V/Line train used the ‘new’ Regional Rail Link tracks over the top.

Pair of V/Line services outside Footscray, running parallel towards Southern Cross

Knowing that a special train movement is happening makes ‘lucky’ photos easier to capture.

A few years ago I headed out to the usual freight-only tracks linking Albion to Jacana in Melbourne’s west to capture a timetabled diversion of a Shepparton-bound V/Line service, when I got photobombed by a freight train running on the parallel track.

G541, DL43 and G542 on MC2 overtake a diverted Shepparton V/Line service at the Maribyrnong River Viaduct

Another tip off lead me to the back blocks of Deer Park to capture a V/Line empty car movement bound for Bacchus Marsh. Passenger carrying trains take priority, so my choice of location at the end of the double track was quite fortuitous – a timetabled train to Ballarat overtook the train I had came out to see.

VL00 on the mainline overtakes A62 at Deer Park West

But even with knowledge and luck, it takes persistence to get the shot.

Until 2015 on the Geelong line, two V/Line services would depart Geelong each morning a few minute behind each other. The first train would stop all stations, while the second train would run express to Melbourne, overtaking the slower train.

And heads off for Melbourne

Finding this overtaking point was more art than science – even a 30 second delay to either train could move it a kilometre or so down the line, so all I could do was pick a spot lineside, and hope that I wouldn’t have to come back another day to try again.

Footnote

And sometimes my luck runs out, like the time I went out to capture a Bendigo-bound steam train at Ginifer station, and got photobombed by a suburban train on the track in front.

Steam powered Siemens train?

Actually, I lie

Here is a photo from the same location, taken a fraction of a second earlier.

R711 leads K153 on the down at Ginifer

Luck strikes again?

Photos from ten years ago: March 2007

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is March 2007.

We start the month at Flinders Street Station, where the elderly CRT next train displays were being replaced by modern LCD screens.

New next train display under trial at Flinders Street platform 4

Unfortunately there were teething troubles.

New next train display at FSS - already faulty...

Leaving passengers at some platforms in the dark.

New next train display at FSS - already faulty...

Over at North Melbourne I found a diesel locomotive that has lived quite a life – Australia to Hong Kong, and back again!

TL154 at Creek Sidings

Built by Clyde Engineering in Sydney in the 1950s and exported to the Kowloon-Canton Railway in Hong Kong. There it hauled passenger services for three decades before being replaced by electric trains in 1983, being demoted to freight service before it was sold for scrap in the early 2000s. It was then purchased by locomotive hire firm CFCL Australia, who shipped it back here and reconditioned it for lease to local rail freight operators.

I also travelled on a ‘Hills to the Bay’ tour operated by the Seymour Railway Heritage Centre, travelling from Seymour to Geelong and return behind a different pair of elderly diesel locomotives.

T357 - T320 on SRHC's 'Hills to the Bay' tour depart North Geelong

Along the way we passed a freight train at what became the site of Williams Landing station, opened almost a decade later in 2013.

Our crew wave to those on NR69 - BL28

As well as Connex trains in suburban area.

EDI Comeng on an up Sydenham train passes through South Kensington

Out on the Geelong line I photographed a longer than normal train of cement hoppers, hauled by pair of locomotives.

A rather long train for some reason

Finally, March 2007 saw the bi-annual Australian International Airshow held at Avalon Airport, north of Geelong. To move the crowds, V/Line operated additional services to Lara station, connecting with buses to the airshow site.

P11 trails a down push pull outside Lara

The majority of trains were eight carriages long, sliding door ‘H’ set commuter carriages used to allow crowds to exit quickly at stations, and a diesel locomotive at each end of the train to enable a quick turnaround.

N467 leads an up push pull outside Little River

But due to the massive number of passengers to be moved, 7-car long ‘N’ type train sets were also used to fill in the gaps.

N456 on the up outside Little River

As well as a handful of near new VLocity trains, the rest of the fleet still being delivered.

VL25 on the up at Lara, passing stabled push-pull sets in the siding

A decade later in 2017 the airshow is again on at Avalon, but the fleet of trains available to by V/Line is much different – locomotive hauled carriages will be spending the weekend parked in sidings, with the 64 train strong VLocity fleet now large enough to move the crowds by themselves.

Footnote

Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

Photos from ten years ago: February 2007

Another instalment in my photos from ten years ago series – this time it is February 2007.

We start halfway between Geelong and Ballarat, where I found an empty grain train headed north for another load.

XR557 and G513 on a Ballarat bound grain train at Meredith

Grain trains continue to use the line today, the number depending on the size of the annual grain harvest.

Back home in Geelong I captured a photo showing the uselessness of the local bus network. Services on route 16 and 19 ran once an hour on a Sunday, leaving town just a few minutes apart, only to chase other down Moorabool Street as far as the Belmont shopping centre.

Buses on route 16 and 19 run once an hour on a Sunday, but leave the city just a few minutes apart. Downright idiotic!

June 2015 saw a revamp of the entire Geelong bus network, with major route changes, along with plenty of annoyed bus users.

Over at South Geelong station I photographed a Melbourne-bound train before departure time, lead by a 1950s-era A class diesel locomotive.

A60 at South Geelong

These locomotives have had more farewells than John Farnham! Entering service in the 1950s as the B class, they were stripped down and rebuilt with new engines in the 1980s. The delivery of VLocity trains in the mid-2000s saw their use decline, but increasing patronage have seen the come back from retirement multiple times – the most recent being April 2013.

At Newport I photographed a 3-car Comeng train on an off-peak citybound Werribee service.

Alstom Comeng 538M on an up Werribee service at Newport

These trains are still in service today despite their increasing age, just with Metro Trains Melbourne replacing the Connex stickers, but increasing patronage has seen 3-car trains become a rare sight, due to increasing patronage across the suburban network.

Finally at Newport I spotted a 3-car Siemens train heading past without any passengers on board.

Siemens 725M at Newport, Werribee bound for brake testing

Back in November 2006 multiple Siemens trains were withdrawn from service after overshooting platforms, the number of trains eventually totalling 31. To find the root cause of the problem, soapy water was sprayed onto the rails to increase the amount of wheel slip experienced, in an effort to replicate the brake fault.

Water hoses for brake testing on the leading bogie of Siemens 726M

The chosen solution was a software change to the braking system, Connex and Siemens declaring ‘Mission Accomplished’ in February 2007.

Turns out the Siemens trains were never fixed properly – in March 2009 more platform overruns were experienced. This time around it was decided to install sanding equipment to the trains to improve their braking performance, a program completed in June 2011.

Footnote

Here you can find the rest of my ‘photos from ten years ago‘ series.

‘Backpacker au pairs’ and lessons from Hong Kong

A few days ago ABC News published a piece titled Calls for ‘backpacker au pair’ visa and industry regulation as parents seek affordable child care, detailing how a group called the “Indonesia Institute” was suggesting that migrant workers should be allowed to enter Australia to work as low-cost childcare providers.

Childcare centre at the former Royal Women's Hospital

The Indonesia Institute is Perth-based non-governmental organisation which from their on their web site and list of board members don’t appear to be overtly political.

However in their 2014 submission to the Productivity Commission public inquiry into Childcare and Early Childhood Learning, they veer into very “out there” territory:

The Institute submits that immigration and labour regulations should be liberalised to allow carers from Indonesia (and other Asian countries) to work as nannies in Australia at a cost acceptable to both nannies and the majority of Australian families.

It will be helpful for purpose of this submission to briefly describe how the Institute’s proposal might work. The Institute considers that the following description is realistic, based on the experience in other countries.

  • a. An Asian nanny would be paid approximately AUD 200 per week. This is twice the amount a nanny would earn in Indonesia.
  • b. A percentage of the AUD 200 would be paid to an Australian agency to oversee the scheme (as is done in Singapore). The Institute considers it crucial that an Australian agency would have oversight of the scheme to ensure the welfare of Asian nannies while they are in Australia.
  • c. The host family would lodge a bond with the Australian agency. The bond would be held against the possibility that the nanny was not paid or was mistreated.
  • d. The host family would provide and pay for:
    • i. private medical insurance,
    • ii. accommodation and food,
    • iii. a work clothing allowance.
  • e. The nanny would be entitled to every Sunday off and a return airfare home for 2 weeks every year (as is done in Hong Kong).

Note the comparison to Hong Kong, as the proposal from the Indonesia Institute is a carbon copy of the ‘Foreign Domestic Helper’ system in Hong Kong – one which has been compared to slavery; and lead to accusations of human trafficking, forced labour, torture, and physical abuse against those who come to the city to work.

Later in their submission, the Indonesia Institute comments how sustainable similar programs elsewhere:

As is demonstrated elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region (for example, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan) the use of caregivers from developing Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines is market based and therefore highly sustainable. There is no requirement for governments to subsidise the provision of care in those countries.

They also detail how they believe such a program will help developing nations in Asia:

The Institute considers that the Institute’s proposal would open a new, highly sustainable, avenue of funds to developing nations in the Asia Pacific region. This is highly sustainable because it is not aid but the result of value-adding economic activity. Indonesian expatriate carers typically return to Indonesia with sufficient funds to purchase property or set themselves up in business. This enduring positive effect in developing countries has support in recent economic literature on development.

However the big point that the Indonesia Institute doesn’t address is the potential for the exploitation of migrant workers – bringing people with little money and no support network into a situation of what is essentially servitude to their employers.

Footnote

Turns out this idea is nothing new – back in 2014 The Age published an article titled Call for Asian nannies to reduce childcare costs that covered the same ground, again quoting the Indonesia Institute.

Further reading