The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'public transport'


It seems that yesterday quite a few notable people died; among them:

  • Kim Thompson, co-founder of venerable independent comics publisher Fantagraphics, who championed both the publishing of new alternative voices and the translation of European bandes dessinées into English; aged 56:
  • Melbourne urban planning expert Professor Paul Mees; a tireless advocate of improving public transport in a city running on a 1950s-vintage American vision of wide freeways, one car per adult and public transport as something nobody who can afford a car would use (and thus inherently unworthy of taking Your Tax Money, Suburban Liberal Voter, to fix up for the bums who use it). It's sad that he died so young (at 51), and that in his last months, he would not have seen any signs of his vision coming any closer to realisation; if anything, the signs would have pointed the other way, with the PM-in-waiting announcing that “we don't do urban rail” in Australia and pledging to double up on freeway building.
  • Country singer Slim Whitman, whom your parents and/or grandparents may have had in their record collections; he was 90, and while his creative peak was in the early 1950s, his last new album came out in 2010.
  • Character actor James Gandolfini, best known for his role in Mafia-themed TV drama The Sopranos; in Italy, aged 51.

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Obama Replaces Costly High-Speed Rail Plan With High-Speed Bus Plan. The buses will cost a lot less than high-speed trains and will rocket arong highways at speeds up to 165mph.

(via Infrastructurist) humour infrastructure public transport the onion usa 0


The latest city to get a bike-sharing programme is San Francisco. A scheme is being rolled out both within San Francisco and technological/research hubs like Mountain View and Palo Alto along the west side of the bay. The scheme will be fairly limited compared to London or Paris; the bikes in San Francisco will initially only be in the business centre around Market St., and won't cover areas like the Haight, Golden Gate Park or the Mission District, and there are no plans to extend the scheme to the east bay (Berkeley/Oakland and such).

I'm half surprised that Google, Facebook or some startup haven't rolled out their own bike-sharing system first, with intelligently mesh-networked, location-enhanced bikes which may or may not interact with the rider's advertising profile and/or online identity.

bicyclism cycling public transport san francisco urban planning 6


Dublin railway staff used CCTV footage and Twitter to locate the owners of a cat that had wandered onto a suburban train and disembarked in the city centre. The cat, who is named Lilou and commenced her journey at Malahide station (in the suburbs of Dublin) was issued with an electronic smart card to use should she wish to make any future journeys.

Lilou is by no means the first non-human public transport user on record, or even the first feline one.

animals cats dublin ireland public transport 0


Some culture-jammers in New York have affixed official-looking "Spoiler Alert" signs to LED train attival signs in the subway.

Their rationale is that the recently installed signs erode faith in the system, create false hopes, erase the "mystery and magic" of the Subway and "threaten historical social behaviors, rendering obsolete the time-honored New York tradition of leaning over the platform edge with the hope of glimpsing headlights from an approaching train".

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Planning a public transport system in Jerusalem, holy city of three major religions and bitterly contested territory, involves taking some controversial planning decisions:

Under pressure from the influential and growing ultra-orthodox community, some bus lines in Jerusalem have introduced segregation, with women confined to the rear of the vehicle.
The company earlier distributed a consumer survey asking Jerusalem residents if they were "bothered" that the light railway is to include stops in Arab neighbourhoods en route to connecting to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. Another question asked: "All passengers, Jews and Arabs, can enter the train freely, without undergoing a security check. Does this bother you?"

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In Paris, fare evaders on the Métro have organised into outlaw insurance societies. The mutuelles des fraudeurs take a monthly fee of somewhere around 7 euros, and in turn offer to pay the fraudsters' fines, should they get caught. They also compile databases of fare-evading tips and encourage those who would otherwise be too timid.

Back in 2001 or so, he and a group of fellow travelers, in both the literal and metaphorical senses, formed the Network for the Abolition of Paid Transport, "the beginning of our struggle," Gildas calls it. The group's initials in French mimic those of the agency that runs the Metro and buses, and to the agency's logo, which looks like the outline of a face, abolitionists added a raised fist.
The mutuelles claim justification, oddly enough, from left-wing ideology. Defrauding the Métro of ticket revenue is not an act of individual greed, you see, but a collective blow against capitalism. It's true that the Paris Métro may not be run for profit as public transport systems in the Anglosphere tend to be, but such trivialities are of no matter when issues of sweeping ideology are at stake. The Métro, they contend, should be free to ride, with the €8bn or so it costs to run each year being paid for by expropriating the rich. (What they'll do when the rich have all been expropriated, or have fled to Russia or Dubai or a floating Galtian utopia on the high seas, they do not explain; nor do they explain how they'll prevent a free, ungated public transport system turning into an expensive homeless shelter, driving away those passengers who have a choice of where to go.) No, they're striking a blow against the fascist regime that is the RATP, and helping to bring forward the advent of the Another World that Is Possible. And, quite probably, breaking the law; insurance against penalties for unlawful acts is generally frowned upon.

(It occurred to me that, were something like the mutuelles des fraudeurs to arise in the English-speaking world, it'd be couched in the language of free-market libertarianism rather than macaronic pseudo-socialism. Rather than attempting to sell a nebulous collective solidarity, it'd speak out to the individual in the language of self-improvement and competition, imploring them to be a winner and not a loser (like the chumps who pay full fare), and would defend itself as the invisible hand of the free market providing a service and/or striking a blow against socialism.)

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And the first dividends of Transport For London's opening of its data to the public have started flowing in; a chap named Matthew Somerville has created a real-time map of trains on the London Underground, displayed on a Google Map. The source code is available here. Somerville also has a similar map for National Rail trains, though, due to the more limited data published by National Rail, it can only show trains due to arrive at one of several stations. (Let's hope that National Rail see the benefits of opening their data soon.)

(via MeFi) geodata london underground public transport visualisation 0


Another horrible example of public transport privatisation gone wrong, this time from Auckland, where the efficiencies of the free market have produced a system that's expensive and inconvenient, and encouraged the public to drive:

City planners impose various pseudo-quantitative performance indicators on the contractors, such as sophisticated GPS systems to monitor on-time performance. But even this minimal nod to public accountability produces unintended consequences. Bus companies fear being fined for missing schedule targets, but are driven by the profit motive to ruthlessly minimize outlays on equipment and staff. The resulting pressure is intense on drivers (some of whom don’t even get paid overtime) to meet unrealistic timetables – a media exposé last year showed this often requires breaking the speed limit. Several times, we’ve watched an awaited bus race by without stopping, the driver shrugging helplessly and pointing at his watch.
Yet Aucklanders still pay for transit – three times over. Once through taxes – subsidies to private transit consume half of all property taxes collected by the regional government. Then again at the fare box. And finally a third time through inconvenience. No wonder Aucklanders take transit one-quarter as often as Torontonians.
The article is written by a Canadian journalist resident in Auckland, and is in response to a debate about privatising Toronto's (fairly highly-rated, by all accounts) public transport system.

(via Infrastructurist) canada fail neoliberalism new zealand privatisation public transport 1


Some good news from London: Transport For London, who run the city's public transport networks, have announced that they will be opening access to all their data by the end of June. The data will include station locations, bus routes and timetable information, and will be free from restrictions for commercial or noncommercial use.

The data will be hosted at the London DataStore, a site set up to give the public access to data from public-sector organisations serving London. A few sets are already up, as well as a beta API which returns the locations of Tube trains heading for a specific station. Which could probably be worked into a mobile app to tell you when to start walking to the station. If they had something like this giving the positions and estimated arrival times of buses (whose travel times are considerably more chaotic than those of trains, and which often run less frequently, especially at night), that would be even more useful. (Some approximation of this facility exists in the LED displays, which are installed at some bus stops and sometimes are operational; a XML feed and a mobile web app would probably be a more cost-effective way of getting this information into the hands of commuters.)

Another thing that would be useful would be an API for the Transport for London Journey Planner; being able to ping a URL, passing an some postcodes or station names, a departure/arrival time and some other constraints, and get back, at your option, a maximum journey time or a list of suitable journeys, in XML or JSON format, would be useful in a lot of applications, from device- or application-specific front ends (i.e., a "take me home from here" mobile app) to ways of calculating the "inconvenience distance" between two points by counting travel time and changes (i.e.,in terms of travel convenience, Stratford is closer to Notting Hill than Stoke Newington, despite being further in geographical terms, as it's a straight trip on the Central Line).

apis data data mining geodata london public transport tech uk web web services 0


Citing falling sales in science fiction and fantasy, Charlie Stross unveils his new direction: supernatural romance novels about sparkly unicorns:

Harlequin Romance will publish my first paranormal romance, "Unicorn School™: The Sparkling", in Q1/2012. US:TS is the first book of the projected series, and introduces Avril Poisson, who moves with her family from Phoenix, Arizona, to Forks, Washington with her divorced father, and finds her life in danger when she falls in love with a Sparkly Unicorn™ called Bob. Stalked by and in fear of a mysterious horse-mutilator, Avril must practice her dressage skills with Bob and qualify her steed for a scholarship to the elite Unicorn School™, where he will be safe to grow (and sparkle) without fear of the vampires who infest the senior's common room.
Meanwhile, Transport For London is in talks with CERN about adapting the Circle Line into a hadron collider (which, thanks to miniaturisation, could be done without affecting existing services), and the embattled Labour Party takes an aggressive new direction in its campaign materials, hoping to turn Gordon Brown's reputation for bullying into a selling point, with slogans like "Step Outside, Posh Boy":
The Brown team has been buoyed by focus group results suggesting that an outbreak of physical fighting during the campaign, preferably involving bloodshed and broken limbs, could re-engage an electorate increasingly apathetic about politics. They also hope they can exploit the so-called "Putin effect", and are said to be exploring opportunities for Brown to be photographed killing a wild animal, though advisers have recommended that weather, and other considerations, mean Brown should not remove his shirt.

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A Russian ecologist has found that the fierce pressure of living in a hostile urban environment is causing Moscow's stray dogs to evolve increased intelligence, including abilities to negotiate the city's subway system:

Poyarkov has studied the dogs, which number about 35,000, for the last 30 years. Over that time, he observed the stray dog population lose the spotted coats, wagging tails, and friendliness that separate dogs from wolves, while at the same time evolving social structures and behaviors optimized to four ecological niches occupied by what Poyarkov calls guard dogs, scavengers, wild dogs, and beggars.
But beggar dogs have evolved the most specialized behavior. Relying on scraps of food from commuters, the beggar dogs can not only recognize which humans are most likely to give them something to eat, but have evolved to ride the subway. Using scents, and the ability to recognize the train conductor's names for different stops, they incorporate many stations into their territories.
Additionally, Poyarkov says the pack structure of the beggars reflects a reliance on brain over brawn for survival. In the beggar packs, the smartest dog, not the most physically dominant, occupies the alpha male position.
I wonder whether similar evolutions of animal intelligence, driven by the conditions of living in cities, have occurred in other cities; there have been anecdotal reports of pigeons deliberately catching the Tube in London, with speculation that they commute in to the tourist-rich city to feed before returning to the suburbs. (As such, one could probably refer to them as passenger pigeons.) Not to mention two instances of cats deliberately catching buses (both in England).

(via Infrastructurist) animals biology cats dogs evolution london moscow public transport russia 2


In what appears to be a periodic ritual as formalised as a Japanese noh play, an academic has called for Melbourne to radically change its transport policies, scrapping freeway building programmes and instead divert billions of dollars to public transport:

''Please, we need a moratorium on all freeway building, until we have an adequate transport and land-use plan for Melbourne,'' Professor Low said yesterday.
Instead, the Government must commit to better managing the public transport system, via a metropolitan planning authority, Professor Low will tell the Melbourne @ 5 Million transport conference at Melbourne University today.
Professor Nicholas Low, head of Melbourne University's transport research centre, called for Melbourne to have a cohesive citywide authority, much as London and Paris do, and also called for radical and distinctly un-Australian measures (albeit ones commonly found in Europe) such as restricting heavily cars from the CBD and suburban shopping strips (i.e., playing funny buggers with Aussie battlers' God-given right to drive; I'm sure there was a question about it on John Howard's citizenship test, right next to Don Bradman's batting average).
He compared Melbourne's expected population of 5 million people by 2026 to London's inner boroughs, which he said had a population of just over 7 million. ''Imagine London without the Underground,'' he said, ''because that is what Melbourne will be like at 5 million, unless we start building an efficient, integrated public transport system for this city.''
Good Luck to Professor Low and his plans, though in all honesty, the chances of them ever seeing the light of day are, as they say, somewhere between Buckley's and none. Most Melburnians have long since given up on public transport or never used it, and having their right to drive restricted in favour of an unknown quantity they only see horror stories about in the Age will be hard to sell. The Melbourne railway system is a case in point. In the 1990s, an unsympathetic Tory government decided to privatise it, and so brought in the British Tory advisers responsible for butchering British Rail and challenged them to outdo their previous accomplishment, which they did. The result is a dysfunctional system unable to cope with the increases in patronage caused by rising oil prices, and those unable to afford the petrol to drive in comfort having to endure sardine-can commutes, when the system doesn't break down, that is. (Which is not to say the operators aren't doing anything about it; they've now started pulling the seats out of carriages, turning them into more efficient cattle cars.) And then there are the trams, with their helpful conductors replaced by thuggish "revenue officers". The whole system bespeaks a contempt for those sufficiently lowly to not be able to drive.

Of course, there are the pie-in-the-sky plans, often floated before an election, of gleaming new subway lines across the city, which, were they to actually be built, would soak up the public transport budget for a generation. (There simply isn't enough money coursing through the Australian economy to build a London-style Underground or Paris-style Metro.) Meanwhile, the "swinging voters" who decide elections live in outer suburbs, have one car per adult member of each household and want freeways to drive along. The quarter-acre suburban block is still the ideal, and any proposals to increase housing density are dismissed as absurd and somewhat distasteful. It will take severe increases in oil prices—ones severe enough to cause hardship, if not unrest—to bring about a change of policy. (And maybe not even that; I can imagine that it may be more politically plausible to see Melburnians driving cars fuelled by liquified coal, poisoning themselves with carcinogenic pollutants but keeping the sacred suburban lifestyle, than to see the expense and upheaval required for an effective public transport system.)

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Sticker seen on the Tube:
The URL leads to the website of Bring Back British Rail, a campaign to reverse the privatisation of Britain's railway network.

I wish them luck in their endeavour; they'll certainly need it.

british rail politics privatisation public transport thatcherism-blairism uk 0


Think your privatised public transport service is shoddy? It could always be worse, like, say, the buses in Delhi, which are privately owned, with strong free-market incentives. Unfortunately, they're incentives to drive faster, overtaking the bus in front and grabbing potential passengers, whilst skimping on any avoidable maintenance, rather than providing a useful service:

While a city-run service would prioritize getting its citizens from A to B, a private driver is less focused on customer service than on overtaking the next bus down the road. After all, the faster he drives, the more competitors he passes, the more passengers he picks up, and the more money he makes.
Which is why the last thing a Blueline driver ever wants to do is come to a stop. Every move he makes is done with the intent of keeping the bus in motion: slowing just enough so debarking passengers can jump off, then picking up speed as the new passengers run alongside the bus, swinging themselves up and in as the conductor screams at them to hurry. And before the last passenger is fully aboard (sometimes pulled in by his fellow passengers), the driver is already shifting gears, spewing mocking black smoke at hapless would-be passengers still running after the bus, and bulldozing the bus back into traffic.
But with an estimated 2,200 Blueline buses careening across Delhi on any given day, it’s no wonder the newspaper reports are almost identical every day. After an accident, the driver tries to flee, an angry mob beats him, the police impound the bus, the driver is thrown in jail, the owner of the bus is not mentioned. Sometimes the driver escapes, in which case the mob finds its release in setting fire to the bus.
The Delhi government wants to replace the privatised system with a modern, city-run one, though is expected to run into powerful opposition from the owners of the private buses.

(via substitute) capitalism fail india public transport terriblisma 1


Blog discovery of the day: The Infrastructurist, which focuses on issues such as transport and urban planning, from a largely, though not entirely, US-centric point of view, and has some interesting stories. Such as a LA Times piece on the Dubai model of urbanism, an Economist piece on the Obama administration's US$500bn transport bill (which includes 50 billion for high-speed rail), a Google Maps gallery of six intriguingly shaped communities, a piece on what to do when neo-Nazis decide to sponsor a US highway (the answer: rename it after a civil rights leader), and a gallery of grand railway stations in America, all now long-since demolished.

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In the US, President Obama has announced plans to build high-speed railway systems. It won't be one national high-speed railway, but rather a pot of money and a series of proposed high-speed rail corridors (some of which already have planned projects, such as the Californian system which passed the ballot in the last election). There is only $8Bn to spend, and the "high speed" trains are cited at running at up to 240km/h (i.e., somewhat faster than a British Rail InterCity 125 on a straight stretch of track, but not quite up there with the Shinkansen), but it is a start.

His strategy envisions a network of short-haul and long-haul corridors of up to 600 miles, with trains capable of speeds of up to 150mph (240km/h).
He said: "Our highways are clogged with traffic, costing us $80 billion a year in lost productivity and wasted fuel.
"Our airports are choked with increased loads. We're at the mercy of fluctuating gas prices all too often," he said.
The corridors proposed include one in the Pacific Northwest (running from Oregon to Seattle, and possibly into Canada; I hope that they put passport control in the stations, as on the Eurostar, rather than stopping it for an hour or so at the border to process everyone onboard), a Chicago-centric system stretching to Minneapolis, Detroit, Kentucky and Ohio, and corridors potentially running from Texas, through New Orleans, Atlanta and the Carolinas, and into Washington. The full text of the speech is here.

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A few interesting engineering-related developments in the news today:

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A nursing home in Düsseldolf has come up with a novel way of dealing with stray Alzheimer's patients; they set up a fake bus stop outside the home:

“It sounds funny,” said Old Lions Chairman Franz-Josef Goebel, “but it helps. Our members are 84 years-old on average. Their short-term memory hardly works at all, but the long-term memory is still active. They know the green and yellow bus sign and remember that waiting there means they will go home.” The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place.

(via Boing Boing) aging deception fake germany health public transport social engineering urban planning 1


Apparently the UK and Scottish governments are in discussion on building a high-speed railway line from Scotland to England. The details of the line aren't known, though it'd be built to Eurostar specifications, and would connect London to Glasgow. It would take a decade or so to build, and prices costs start at £9bn.

Where in London it would terminate is another question; one high-speed rail proposal involves making Heathrow the national high-speed rail hub, with Eurostar trains and trains going elsewhere in Britain terminating there. Which sends the message that, if you're travelling from, say, Glasgow to the continent, you're going to be changing at Heathrow anyway, so you may as well fly; not exactly encouraging environmental responsibility. (Of course, this is assuming that flying remains affordable; if not, then siting a major rail terminus at a site with an airport and not much else is just stupid planning.)

(via Londonist) heathrow public transport railway scotland uk urban planning 2


The mediæval Italian hilltop town of Perugia has inaugurated a new, incongruously futuristic, transport system: a light railway of pilotless, podlike cars, running from the valley to the centre of the old town:

Dubbed the "Mini Metro", the rail line, which starts from the valley floor, climbs for 3km, wiggles around ancient constructions and monuments, and drops visitors off in the historic centre where an unobstructed view of Assisi and the rolling countryside gleams in the distance. Total travel time? 11 minutes.
At first look, the sight of pilot-less metallic pods shuttling people up and down the hillside on an elevated track seems, to put it mildly, anachronistic. Call it Tron-meets-Dante in the Umbrian hills.
If the Mini Metro is successful, the Perugian municipal authorities plan to ban cars from the old town's narrow streets altogether.

italy perugia public transport railway urban planning 0


Quelle surprise; it turns out that, after all, Boris Johnson's replacement of bendy buses with magical flying Routemasters, a key plank in his election campaign, might not actually happen.

Kulveer Ranger, Boris Johnson's director of transport policy, said that a design competition would be launched - but if no bid was good enough they would look again at the pledge.
He added that although Mr Johnson is very keen to bring in a new-style bus in place of bendy buses, they would not press ahead with the idea for the sake of it.
Mr Johnson made phasing out bendy buses a priority, initially saying new Routemasters would cost £8million to run with conductors. However, he later admitted the figure would be nearer £100million.
The magic Routemasters, it seems, were what Johnson's strategist, Lynton Crosby, would call a "non-core promise". It is not clear exactly how many Londoners voted for Johnson primarily because they wanted to see the return of those friendly red buses. As John Lydon once said, "ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

Petrolheads and Chelsea tractor drivers can rejoice, though, as the congestion charge looks set to be "reviewed" (i.e., cut back); the western extension looks set to be scrapped altogether. Jeremy Clarkson, however, will be disappointed that a £500/day congestion charge on bicycles is not on the agenda.

(via london-underground) boris johnson cars london politics public transport uk 0


Good news: Britain is arguably entering the new age of the train, with more journeys having been made on the railways last year than in any year since 1946. Not so good news: Britain's railways are still barely adequate; John Major's ideologically-driven privatisation of British Railways has led to a situation where more taxpayers' money is being pumped into the railways than even in the bad old days of that Inefficient Socialist Monopoly, though fewer pounds actually making it through to improving the service (but rather going to the profits of various private enterprises at various levels and/or falling through the cracks of the various inefficiencies of the present arrangement, which in some ways looks to be cobbled together with duct tape and string). Meanwhile, passengers are paying more for their tickets than anywhere in continental Europe, whilst putting up with slower trains and often a lack of seats. Not surprisingly, most of the record-breaking rail journeys were fairly short ones, with people choosing to fly between cities (like, say, London and Manchester), in a way that they just don't do in France or Germany:

The problem is that Britain's railways are a public utility run as a profit-making enterprise, and thus a rather inefficient conduit for channelling taxpayers' funds into the coffers of private industry. It seems that there are two possible ways out of the current mess:

  1. Continue regarding the railways as a public utility and undo a lot of privatisation. Either nationalise rail operators or have them provide a service to a non-profit rail company, under carefully controlled terms. All state subsidies (for keeping socially- and economically-useful though unprofitable services running) will go to the non-profit (let's call it British Rail 2.0), or:
  2. Run the railways consistently as a profit-making enterprise, and restructure them to run at a profit. That would mean a new round of Beeching-style cuts, with most smaller lines being scrapped, and the service ultimately being cut down to something like American-style commuter rail, consisting largely of profitable shuttles between dormitory areas and economic centres, running mostly at commuting hours. This is the approach The Economist recommended last year.

economics public transport railway thatcherism-blairism uk urban planning 0


It is apparently possible to travel around England entirely by local bus, if one doesn't mind doing so at a leisurely pace. And here are the timetables for getting from Penzance to Berwick-upon-Tweed entirely on local buses; the journey takes six days.

Other than obsessive bus anoraks (of which there must be some), this may be of interest to thrifty pensioners, for whom local buses across England have just become entirely free. Though, judging by the comments, not everyone's happy with that:

These baby boomers really know how to look after themselves. Their war veteran parents over the last 20 years had to pay. Never heard them getting free national bus travel. And their kids had to get out big loans to go to University while they got full grants. The FREEBIE generation.
Jon, Northumberland
Misguided, that word "free"! Yes, the pensioners will get a nice free ride but everyone else will be forced to subsidise it via higher bus prices. Good PR for the government; everyone else however will suffer further price increases. The bus companies will not let us off the hook as they still have to pay for the services. Gordon Brown cheers
Richard Kendrick, Leeds

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Ken Livingstone has promised, should he be reelected, to ban all traffic from Oxford Street and replace it with a tram line, turning the shopping thoroughfare into something like Melbourne's Bourke Street, presumably paved in red bricks and containing tramp-proof public seating and such. Unlike Bourke Street, the traffic ban will be absolute, with no exemption for taxis.

A pedestrianised Oxford St. could be a good thing, turning a congested thoroughfare into a genuine public space. On the other hand, bus routes which go through it would either be rerouted through adjacent streets (which are already quite busy) or chopped in two.

Meanwhile, Tory clown prince Boris Johnson has vowed that, should he be elected, he will allow motorbikes to use bus lanes, just as cyclists do. Finally the petrolheads have a candidate they can rely on, since Jeremy Clarkson (who proposed abolishing the congestion charge for cars but imposing a £500/day congestion charge on bicycles, on the grounds that they are a nuisance to decent motorists everywhere and the smug, politically-correct Guardian-reading vegan types who cycle are annoying) declined to run.

Alas, if Livingstone (who has done an OK job, when he's not being George Galloway Lite) doesn't get reelected, it looks like Johnson will get up, as the other candidates (Brian Paddick and Sian Berry) do not look like having a chance. And, if Johnson becomes Mayor of London, I wonder how long it'll take until the fun-loving buffoonery gives way to hardline tory policies.

(via londonconnections) boris johnson ken livingstone london politics public transport tories trams urban planning 0


The world appears to be experiencing a subway building boom, with cities across the world building new underground urban railways, to alleviate traffic congestion or merely as a status symbol. Cities across the Middle East such as Dubai are investing in subways (in Dubai's case with both gender-segregated carriages and VIP carriages), provincial cities across Europe are putting them in, and even seemingly unlikely places such as Santo Domingo (of the Dominican Republic) and Mallorca (in the Balearic Islands) are putting them in. And, of course, China and India are going wild on subway building. Though, apparently, the United States is over subways:

Sure, Los Angeles and New York are adding modest extensions to their systems. And Phoenix is considering a subway. But Chicago's system is nearing collapse--still with no long-term consensus about how to save it. Cincinnati is fighting over what to do with deteriorating tunnels built in the 1920s, but abandoned for expressways. And subways aren't even a controversy in most American cities because they're a political nonstarter. Bonds, which need to float costs approaching $1 billion a mile, are simply off the table. And federal funds have slowed to a trickle. Besides, libertarians believe subways distort a city's natrual growth and gentrification. You need only look at what cars and expressways do to a city's "natural" growth and gentrification to give subways a second look. Yes, they're expensive. And they're usually worth it.
Australia seems to be mostly following the US model, though there was talk about new undergound heavy-rail lines under Melbourne (connected to the normal broad-gauge rail network), though there's always pie-in-the-sky crazy talk about spectacularly expanding public transport, and little if anything ever comes of it. On the other hand, public transport doesn't have quite the stigma in Australia that it has in the US.

(via Wired News) economics public transport subway urban planning 1


There is more support for an underground railway line in Melbourne, with public transport operators Metlink and Connex throwing their weight behind such a proposal. (Though, in the latter case, I wonder whether this isn't merely to serve as a distraction from the appalling state of the system as managed by them:)

The call comes after a drop in the number of cars travelling to the CBD. City of Melbourne figures show public transport is the preferred means of travel, accounting for 67 per cent of all journeys in 2006, compared with 36 per cent in 1999.
Professor Currie said he was amazed the Government was still examining new road tunnels to the city. "Public transport dominates access to the city and the biggest single problem we've got is that there's not enough capacity on our railways," he said.
The proposed link would run from Footscray, through Parkville and under Melbourne University, and under the CBD to South Yarra, and look something like this:
If they took this route, they could have it cross existing lines, with interchanges with the Broadmeadows and Upfield lines and the City Loop.

Though I'm wondering if they didn't miss a trick by not having it go east from Melbourne University, under Fitzroy and Collingwood, interchanging with the Epping and Hurstbridge lines at Victoria Park, and emerging on the median of the Eastern Freeway, where it becomes the long-promised Doncaster line (immediately taking more cars off the road):

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It seems to be the season for blue-sky speculation about new railway lines in Melbourne again; The Age has published vague details of a leaked state government report listing possible new and reopened railway lines:

Under the blueprint, tracks might connect Chadstone shopping centre to the Dandenong and Glen Waverley lines and trains could run to Rowville and Monash University.
Options also include a north-south rail tunnel from Melbourne University to Windsor and the Melbourne Airport rail link.
Ah yes, the Melbourne Underground/Subway. Though why have it terminate at Melbourne University? Wouldn't it make more sense to have it veer eastward, under the latte-land of Fitzroy and Alexandra Parade, before emerging in the middle of the Eastern Freeway and becoming the mythical Doncaster railway line (which, incidentally, isn't mentioned in the article)?

There's more in it, though; the authors speculate on the possibility of reopening lines including the Outer Circle line (from Fairfield to Oakleigh via Kew, Camberwell and Malvern East; this could perhaps end up being the Chadstone rail link mentioned), a railway line going to Monash University in Clayton, and reopening the truncated ends of existing lines, such as Lilydale to Healesville and Frankston to Mornington.

Mind you, the report doesn't discuss funding, and appears to be nothing more than a catalogue of rights-of-way along which it would be possible, should a need arise, to lay tracks and run rail services. Whether we'll ever see trains running cheerfully through the ruins of the VicRoads headquarters in Kew, or, for that matter, to Doncaster or Monash University, is an entirely different question.

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First Google provided a search engine, then they started handing out gigabyte-sized webmail accounts and then gave the world zoomable maps, and now Google have created their own sophisticated mass transit system. The system is a workaround for the transport woes of the San Francisco Bay Area, with its Californian sprawl, various disjointed transport systems run by different municipalities and levels of government, and consequent commuting headaches. In typical Google fashion, it innovates the idea of mass transit. The buses run on biodiesel, are equipped with wireless internet access, and are tracked in real time, with commuters being notified by mobile phone of their positions, and routes are constantly being revised.

The shuttles, which carry up to 37 passengers each and display no sign suggesting they carry Googlers, have become a fixture of local freeways. They run 132 trips every day to some 40 pickup and drop-off locations in more than a dozen cities, crisscrossing six counties in the San Francisco Bay Area and logging some 4,400 miles.
At Google headquarters, a small team of transportation specialists monitors regional traffic patterns, maps out the residences of new hires and plots new routes -- sometimes as many as 10 in a three-month period -- to keep up with ever surging demand.
The system is for employees only, though. Meanwhile, other Bay Area technology companies such as Yahoo! have implemented similar systems.

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Some commuters in Melbourne, frustrated with Connex' mismanagement of the railway network and the resulting decline in service quality and reliability, have called a one-day fare strike on the first of March. Commuters are being urged not to buy or validate tickets on this day.

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Secret plans by the Victorian government to build a 15-kilometre underground railway line under Melbourne. The line would link North Melbourne and Caulfield, and take two of the sets of lines that currently go through the loop. It looks like the loop would be left servicing the Burnley and Clifton Hill lines, and possibly the Sandringham line, and Richmond and South Yarra stations would become a lot less busy, losing a few now redundant platforms.

Internal emails show the option favoured by the Department of Infrastructure was for a 15-kilometre underground rail line linking North Melbourne and Caulfield stations, which would include new subway stations at Royal Parade (intersection of Royal Parade and Flemington Road, servicing the University Of Melbourne), Melbourne Central (upgrade of existing station), Flinders Street (underground extension to the train station), and Domain (intersection of Domain and St Kilda roads).
The whole exercise is said to cost only AUD2bn, which sounds implausibly cheap for 15 kilometres of tunnel. Public transport advocates are not impressed, though, and assert that the money could be better spent extending the railway network to car-dependent areas like Doncaster, and finally running a railway line down that invitingly wide median strip along the Eastern Freeway.

If this scheme goes ahead, though, it looks quite plausible to extend it to the Doncaster line. Given that it goes from North Melbourne station to the corner of Royal Parade and Flemington Road and then down Swanston Street, it would execute a pretty tight S-shaped turn under North Melbourne, and be heading east at Royal Parade. Thence, it would be fairly simple to have a branch line going straight east, under Carlton (possibly with a station on Lygon Street), Fitzroy (with a possible station near Brunswick or Smith Street) and Collingwood, before emerging right in the middle of the freeway. Whether any government would stump up the money (especially when car-dependent swinging electorates want more freeways and cheaper petrol) is another question.

Meanwhile, British transport consultant Sir Rod Eddington, who has been contracted to do a study on Melbourne's transport needs, has said that Melbourne's transport system is still "a work in progress". Then again, couldn't the same thing be said about London's (at least by Ken Livingstone)?

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The makers of the "Tube" map viewer for Palm handhelds* have released an updated map of Melbourne, partly in time for that big sporting event they've got there:

Melbourne, home to the 2006 Commonwealth Games, is a city of world-class events, including: a non-stop program of film and food festivals, renowned dining, major art exhibitions and musical extravaganzas.
They've now padded it out a bit more, adding trams, and making it a bit more useful. (Before it used to be just Melbourne's rather minimalistic railway network, limiting its utility to tourists who are entirely unfamiliar with the city.) Still, without actual street maps (which their packages for some other cities, like London, Amsterdam and New York, have), it's not quite as indispensable as the editions for those cities.

Those wanting street maps of Melbourne on their handheld can make do with a JPEG viewer and scans of the 1966 Melway, which should be mostly accurate for the inner suburbs, give or take a few drive-in theatres and the odd freeway.

* that's "the map viewer named Tube", not "the program for viewing London Underground maps"

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The Victorian state government is set to announce plans to expand Melbourne's struggling public transport service, including extending the Epping line to Ongar South Morang and extending suburban bus services to run in the evenings and on Sundays. A more cynical soul than Your Humble Narrator would speculate that there's an election coming up, and that, after having served their electoral purpose, much of the plans are going to disappear to the same graveyard of abandoned public transport policies as the Doncaster railway line, the Monash University/Rowville rail link, and real crackpot pie-in-the-sky ideas such as the underground line linking St Kilda to Brunswick St. or wherever that was.

What's that? There is an election coming up? You don't say...

If, by some miracle, it does actually happen. it'll be a decent start, though no substitute for sustained investment in public transport. Bringing Melbourne's system (outside of the very centre) up to scratch would require Ken Livingstone-esque levels of spending.

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The Melbourne City Council is planning to discourage the use of cars in the CBD. It's not quite a London-style congestion charge, but will involve lowering speed limits, reclaiming street space for pedestrians and cyclists, giving cheaper public transport fares to residents who give up parking permits and, umm, resisting moves to ease the flow of traffic into the city centre. It also will only cover the 2 square kilometres that comprise the central business district, and depends on the state government increasing public transport funding, which it has shown no signs of doing.

So, if this plan goes ahead, two things could happen:

  1. People abandon driving into the city centre in favour of public transport; as pressure on the city's trams and City Loop increase, the government increases funding and expands the system to cope
  2. People abandon driving into the city centre. Overcrowded trams and trains struggle to cope. Public transport operators rip out seats, creating a standing-only transport system to accommodate the crowds. The government hems and haws over the question of increasing funding, eventually doing little or nothing. After mass public dissatisfaction, the city council reverses the plan, removes bike/bus lanes, restores parking spaces and the car resumes its place as Melbourne's rightful king, and motorists can once more sit down in their oversized Toorak tractors as they nip down to David Jones.
Somehow, I suspect that #2 is more likely, especially with the road lobby controlling Vicroads and having the power of veto over transport planning in Victoria.

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Commuters in Stockholm will soon have access to library book dispensers on the city's subway:

The idea is that residents will be able to stick their library card into the 'bookomatic' and choose from up to 700 titles. It was inspired by a similar machine in Lidingö library, which, since its launch a year ago, has been happily loaning out around 500 books a month.
Sweden already has the ubiquitous free commuter papers, full of wire news stories and lifestyle articles listing the latest fashions/gadgets/DVDs/holiday destinations; the book idea sounds like a more Scandinavian socialist take on the concept, less concerned with keeping the reader running hard on the hedonic treadmill and more with an idea of civilised communal amenity and supporting public culture. (Of course, it could well be that the books are sponsored and carry ads and/or product placement.)

Meanwhile, The Times' Caitlin Moran deconstructs the very idea of commuter reading material and its true purpose, from a characteristically English point of view:

Library book dispensers on trains are nothing to do with books. Sweden isn't, as a result of all this, going to become more literate, and start quoting bits of The Brothers Karamazov during trade meetings at the UN. No one actually reads when they commute. "Reading" s all about avoiding eye-contact with anyone in your carriage. You are, after all, travelling at 80mph, in a sealed pod, with a great many people — any one of whom could try to talk to you about secret codes in the Bible, or George Galloway.
As anyone who uses the London Underground will confirm, the Evening Standard, circulation 350,000, isn't a newspaper at all. No one pays the slightest attention to the articles inside. It's merely a disposable, 40p screen that one erects for privacy between Goodge Street and Archway. But this screen is vital. Without it, the only option, on being approached by a nutter, is to pretend to have seen something fascinating out of the window — even though you are, at the time, in a 12-mile-long pitch-black tunnel under Camden Town. Halfway through such an exercise — maybe when staring intently at a brick all covered in black sticky fluff — one can start to wonder just who the nutter is here, after all.
Moran then goes on to suggest, in Swiftean fashion, that this mass social avoidance is a wasted opportunity to discover the resources offered by one's fellow commuters:
For instance, we'd all love to have a wide selection of friends, spanning all ages, cultures, professions and sexual persuasions. Well — here they all are! Pressing into your back! Within these airless walls is a human Google — practically everything you could ever need in one lifetime. The number of a good plumber. The address of the best mojitos in Barcelona. A phenomenal one-night stand. Someone who knows Julie Elliman, with whom you lost contact in 1990. A guy you can pretend is your friend for the next ten years, sporadically tapping up for free legal advice. Someone who knows how to falsify a breathalyser test. A nun. If only we could all get talking, commuting would be transformed from a semi- unendurable hell into the biggest, most egalitarian networking mechanism known to man.
Her modest proposal is to pump laughing gas into peak-hour Underground carriages, breaking down those awkward social barriers and getting everyone talking and having a great time. I'm not sure about laughing gas, though I imagine it may be an ideal test environment for aerosolised oxytocin.

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To help alleviate Melbourne's transport woes, an academic specialist in public transport has called for a Melbourne "tube" line. The line would bypass the already congested above-ground transport infrastructure and would cut under the centre of Melbourne, from South Yarra in the south to Melbourne University in the inner north.

So, in short, what we currently have looks like:

schematic diagram of the city loop
Were Professor Currie's proposal to be implemented, it'd look something like:
the city loop, plus the proposed line
Though why not stop there? There was, a while ago, a proposal to build an underground line from North Melbourne, across the inner north (including Melbourne University), through to the Eastern Freeway and along the centre of that to Doncaster and the suburbs. Were that to be resurrected and combined with this plan, it would start to look like:
and another one
Of course, the chances of seeing anything of this sort happen are not good.

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A new report shows that Melbourne's public transport system is close to catastrophic collapse, due to underfunding and neglect in favour of cars. With the greatest length of roads per capita in Australia, the third lowest public transport patronage of fourteen cities surveyed, the lowest relative cost of driving to catching public transport, and the Bracks government's record spending on freeway building, Melbourne is changing from the most livable city to the most drivable city, a venerable Houston-under-the-Southern-Cross.

The man behind the new report and one of the world's top transport academics, Professor Peter Newman, warns the Government it will lose next year's election if it does not commit to a wide-ranging series of public transport projects.
I thought the problem was precisely the opposite: that winning a state election depended on marginal outer-suburban electorates, where voters don't use public transport, have already invested in cars (one per household member of driving age, typically) and want good roads to take them where they need to go, rather than seeing their taxes squandered on trains and trams for a tiny elite of latte-sipping inner-city types.

Of course, from my experience, a big part of it is the fact that public transport in Melbourne is run to a beggars-can't-be-choosers philosophy. It is assumed that those who want a comfortable ride, rather than standing all the way nose-to-armpit with other strangers, have invested in cars and parking space, and so public transport is organised as the cheapest possible way of getting the poor wretches who can't afford cars from their housing commission flats to the dole office or call centre. Which is the only way that pulling the seats out of trams to make more standing room could make sense. And why those who can afford to avoid public transport do so, further exacerbating the vicious circle.

The privatisation programmes are also a problem, with a big chunk of public transport money being paid to the new owners of the system to keep them from packing up and leaving. Of course, being publicly-traded corporations, they have a duty to their shareholders to squeeze the most profit from the least investment.

There is more detail here about the present state of affairs; and here is a map of what Melbourne's train network could (and should) look like to meet demand. It includes all the old favourites (lines to Rowville via Monash University and to Doncaster down the Eastern Freeway), as well as two new branches from the Epping line. Mind you, adding all those branches to the various lines would probably necessitate either adding another layer to the City Loop or having trains stop frustratingly short of the loop. The idea floated in a previous report, of having a second line encircling the inner north, going from North Melbourne, via Fitzroy, to the Eastern Freeway and Doncaster, could be better.

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Melbourne's love affair with the car is on the rocks; as the price of petrol continues to rise, more and more Melburnians are taking to public transport. Unfortunately for them, the underdeveloped public transport system is having problems coping:

"Trains are overloaded, trams overloaded and stuck in traffic," said Graham Currie, chairman of public transport at Monash University. "We have a skeleton bus service with no service at all in some areas and times of day. How can people use public transport when there isn't any available?"
By the time the train pulled into Caulfield station there was barely room to squeeze another person on board. "People are practically sitting on each other some days," said one traveller.
Experts have weighed in on what would be needed to get Melbourne's public transport up to scratch; suggestions range from the relatively mundane (i.e., ensuring that buses run until late and on weekends) to things like extending railway lines to car-dependent outer suburbs, extending trams (and adjusting the system so that they spend most of their time moving, rather than waiting picturesquely in traffic), a moratorium on freeways (which, if the age of cheap, abundant oil is coming to an end, makes sense) and even a London-style congestion charge (which I can't see happening any time soon; given the present lack of alternatives to cars, there'd be a massive electoral backlash).

Meanwhile, the state government's A$10bn super-tunnel project has been scrapped over criticism of the road tunnel/tollway portion of it. Hopefully the rail extension part will be resurrected in some form.

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And the first cracks appear in the Melbourne road-and-rail tunnel, with its creator saying that a tunnel would be a bad idea, and he only put it in because a town hall officer demanded it. It also emerges that such a tunnel would have to be funded by private investors, who would recoup funding through tolls, and, as such, would be unlikely to include public transport. So, if it goes ahead, it looks like being an expensive road-only tunnel to appease key outer-suburban voters until cheap oil runs out and we're all screwed.

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It looks like Melbourne may finally get a public transport overhaul; a new A$10bn plan will put a road and rail tunnel between Doncaster and Deer Park, provide a road link between the Eastern Freeway and Western Ring Road, and build the long-awaited Doncaster train line, running from North Melbourne, via Melbourne University, and down the under-utilised middle of the Eastern Freeway.

Taken at face value, it's a good start; the north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne are a public-transport vacuum, and the railway line is overdue; a rail link between North Melbourne, Carlton, Fitzroy and Abbotsford could also be handy. Hopefully, they'd provide an interchange between this and the Clifton Hill-bound lines. Then, perhaps, they can build over long-overdue urban rail lines, such as the one going to Rowville, with the link to Monash University that was promised in the 1960s when the site was selected.

I bet you, though, that when push comes to shove, the rail parts will be scrapped as "impractical", possibly to be replaced with half a dozen bus routes and a mobile-phone-based car-pooling registry or something, and only the road parts will get built. After all, the crucial swinging voters in the outer-suburban two-car households don't actually use public transport and don't want their tax money being wasted on such when it could be used to make their drive quicker and smoother.

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In between offending people, Ken Livingstone has released a Tube map for 2016. (Well, strictly speaking, it's not a Tube map, as it includes larger rail services and trams, real and proposed.) It's a lot denser than the present map, and it does look like they're running out of colours.

Also via MeFi, bus "spider maps" for different parts of London in PDF, and this site has strip maps of several Tube lines with connections and track layouts added.

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2005/1/15 is a comprehensive and detailed database tracking transport works projects in London, and there certainly is a lot there; from details of well-known projects like the East London Line extension, Heathrow Terminal 5, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the vastly expanded King's Cross/St. Pancras station that its shinkansen-style trains will terminate at, to air-conditioning the Tube (which desperately needs it, though it cannot be done by conventional means due to the size (and often the depth) of the tunnels). Not to mention numerous tram systems; within a decade or so, there could be trams going through central London and up and down Camden High Street and Upper Street, Islington; who would have thought?

Another thing that's planned (and likely to take place) is a redevelopment of Camden Town station. Perhaps worryingly, Transport for London's official proposal involves demolishing the entire block with the station, including the nearby market and the Electric Ballroom, and building on the site a shiny glass building, which could well hasten the gentrification and sterilisation of the area. As such, a group has formed to fight this proposal, instead putting forward an alternative redevelopment idea that, it says, meets all standards, preserves the architecture of the area and, additionally, would be cheaper and faster to construct.

And while we're on transport in London, an amusing song about the London Underground (1.8Mb MP3; strong language warning).

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A parcel of redirected mail from Australia just arrived, among it the December PTUA newsletter. I see that public transport in Melbourne is still being neglected, with the state government abandoning plans to upgrade bus timetables in the suburbs (i.e., to run buses after 7pm on weekdays or at all on weekends). Meanwhile, the usual new-year's fare increase includes making periodical tickets relatively more expensive (i.e., a weekly now costs as much as five dailies), thus encouraging people to avoid using public transport when not necessary. After all, why shell out $2.50 or so for a 2-hour Metcard to go down to the supermarket when you can hop in the Land Rover instead?

Living in London, I've come to appreciate just how good Londoners have it with relation to public transport. Yes, grumbling about the Tube is a local pastime in London (much in the way that complaining about the decline of Britain has been a British national pastime for the past two centuries at least), but at least the system works. You can rock up to a Tube station and expect a train in the direction you want to go in within 10 minutes at worst. Meanwhile, buses run in every possible direction, with a good number of routes running 24 hours a day (usually at 15-minute frequencies). In London, you can just about get anywhere from anywhere by public transport; there's even a pretty impressive website which, for any two points, will give you a list of options. In Melbourne, your options are limited; the railway network has a star topology, buses (other than the ones formerly run by the tramway authority) run limited hours, and after midnight, the whole system stops. (Except for Night Rider buses, which run only on Friday and Saturday nights, require special, premium-rate tickets, and run hourly on half a dozen routes.)

At the turn of the year, London's public transport fares (which, already, aren't the world's cheapest) increased by about 10%; however, that money is going into expanding and improving the system. And there's a vast number of projects going on or being planned. In the next few years, at least one Tube line (the East London line) is being extended in both directions, a mainline rail link (Crossrail) running east-west under London will be built, and a new Docklands Light Railway branch line is being built; not to mention several tramways in various parts of the metropolis. Melbourne's rises, however, get swallowed up by the costs of bailing out private investors panicked by fare evasion and putting out fires, leaving nothing left for anything resembling vision. The government officially has a goal of having 20% of journeys made by public transport by 2020 (or such), but actually achieving that is going to take supernatural intervention. When patronage increased, capacity could not keep up, so the operators' solution was to remove seats from trams, creating standing-room-only vehicles with a few seats reserved for the elderly and infirm.

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Britain's railways are now carrying more people than at any time since 1959 (i.e., before the Beeching closures winnowed the railway network down), with more than 1 billion rail journeys made in 2004. Which is surprising, given that a train journey in Britain costs more than the equivalent journey by air where available (largely thanks to jet fuel and airline tickets being tax-free), not to mention trains being frequently late and having a reputation for breaking down. Though perhaps with all those commuters and travellers using the trains, there'll be more money for making the system more reliable.

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A Member of the Scottish Parliament is calling into an inquiry into allegations at traffic light controllers in Edinburgh and Glasgow are deliberately creating traffic mayhem to encourage people to use public transport, undoubtedly motivated by some extremist green agenda. There have been rumours of this sort of thing happening in London too; could Loony Left Red Ken be behind it?

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London mayor Ken Livingstone (who brought in the successful congestion charge on traffic in the city) has ambitions to radically extend the London rail/tube/tram network by 2016, to cope with the city's growing population (and, if you've ever used the Tube at rush hour, you'll know it needs it; either that or Japanese-style attendants at each station to physically push people into carriages). Here (PDF) is a map of what he proposes to do with it. It's somewhat of an ambit claim, and most of it probably won't happen, though some proposals have already been funded. Good to see more Tube lines going in south of the Thames, where people are at the mercy of National Rail and buses (and buses in outer London tend to be worse than the ones in Melbourne for punctuality). (Though what are those "Cross River/West London/East London Transit" lines, though; Tube lines, driverless DLR-style trains, or trams?) (via Owen)

One thing's for sure: this will make Mornington Games rather interesting.

Meanwhile, here in Melbourne, no such expansions of public transport are likely; with enough money being spent on bribing the private operators of the shambolically-run system not to pack up and leave, there's none left over for such pipe dreams. The Public Transport Users' Association agitate from time to time for a much-overdue railway line to Monash University (which was built on a paddock in the middle of nowhere in the 1960s on the proviso that a railway line would be extended to it; it never eventuated, and most of the students either cope with the woefully limited outer-suburban bus services or give up and buy decrepit old Kingswoods and Mazda 323s), or to Rowville (outer suburban sprawl where people grow up having no experience of public transport other than the next-to-useless bus services which stop at 7pm on weekdays), or the tram line to Knox City (which, IMHO, is next to useless; who'd sit on a tram for 3 hours to get to the city? Local tram routes linking outer suburban railway stations and interchanges (sort of like the Tramlink system in London's southern suburbs) would make more sense.) and their crackpot cousins in the Transport Victoria Association occasionally push for vital improvements, such as elevating the Melbourne to Geelong railway line 1km above the ground to attract more passengers with better views of the bay. Meanwhile, the government, aware that most of the swinging votes belong to people with 2.3 cars per household who want to be able to drive from A to B quickly, spend billions on freeways and occasionally throw a bone to public transport, such as extending six bus routes to 7:30pm on weekdays.

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The New Year's Eve public transport débâcle in pictures, courtesy of the troublemakers at Indymedia. Pictures of small trams packed to a crush whilst larger ones stood idle, the police directing people to find other ways to get home, and lawbreakers riding between carriages. All makes you wonder whether it's pure incompetence or, perhaps, whether a smoothly-running public transport system would not have been in the interests of someone in a position of influence. (via Alex)

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Public transport on New Year's Eve in Melbourne was, once again, a cock-up; they did, generously, run extra "late" services, but only as late as 1:30am, and the crowds waiting for trains were so large that police had to keep people from boarding the already packed trains. Taxis were also hard to come by, even with an additional $5 surcharge to encourage drivers to work, so a lot of people ended up walking home (which isn't so bad if you live in North Fitzroy or somewhere, but you wouldn't want to do it back to Nunawading or Deer Park), or else staggering around drunkenly, killing time until the morning's trams and trains kicked in (and so did the record 11% fare hikes).

Are the government and the public transport operators trying to deliberately encourage people to abandon public transport and get in their cars? Perhaps there's a property developer with shares in Connex or Yarra Trams and plans for all that land currently lost to railway lines or something.

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Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have found that assessing a community's cancer risk could be as simple as counting the number of trucks and cars that pass through the neighborhood. Another reason to encourage the development of public transport. Not that anybody's listening here, with the government falling over itself to spend billions of dollars on new freeways and spending only the most grudging pittance on public transport (which is next to useless outside of the inner city). (thanks, Toby)

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It emerges that Melbourne's tram operators have come up with an innovative way of dealing with overcrowding: removing seats from trams to create more standing room; this will be no surprise to anybody who has had the misfortune of having to ride on one of the slick, much-hyped new Citadis trams at any remotely busy time. Of course, there are sheds of mothballed trams waiting to be pressed into service to alleviate the load, but that would cost more and cut into profits. Besides which, beggars can't be choosers, and if you want a seat, you can bloody well buy a car or catch a taxi.

Of course, if public transport is run as a safety-net service for the carless poor, anyone who has a choice will avoid it, and the system will decline. Which makes one wonder whether Yarra Trams have been bought by a car company with the intention of dismantling Melbourne's tram system.

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General Motors, the company partly responsible for dismantling public transport systems across North America, is running ads in Canada calling public transport users "creeps & weirdos", and recommending that, to avoid sitting next to deranged, hygienically-challenged or psychotically dangerous people, one should buy a GM car and drive everywhere. Ah, laissez-faire transport. I wonder if VicRoads will pick up the theme for its own ad campaigns around here. (via bOING bOING)

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An extensive unofficial fan site for the Pyongyang Metro, the underground railway system in the North Korean capital. (That's right, the last bastion of Stalinism (except perhaps for France, but only if you're a warblogger).) Here you will find photographs of colossal, and eerily empty, stations with massive propaganda murals and details (and recordings) of the propaganda music played in stations, as well as bits of political subterfuge (East German rail cars passed off as local) and details that could only exist in a tightly-run, ultra-paranoid totalitarian cult-state (for example, some stations being closed to the public because they're connected to presidential palaces, the military purposes of various underground lines, and hints at a second, secret Metro system known only to high government officials). Not to mention all the info about vehicles that any self-respecting trainspotter could want to know. (via bOING bOING)

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Transport roundup: Who would have thought that the RACV, best known for lobbying for cheaper petrol and more freeways, would be calling for tolls on traffic in inner Melbourne? A similar scheme is in place in Singapore, and one is also being introduced in London by Loony Left Red Ken. In other news, National Express abandons its Melbourne train operations, after failing to get more money from the government. Within a week, half of Melbourne's trains will be operated by the government (though will be likely to be flogged to the cheapest tender as soon as they can be).

Speaking of privatisation woes, over in Britain, the government plans to slash railway funding, which is likely to result in services being cut and fares put up to discourage use and keep a lid on overcrowding. Which will be a colossal shame; in Britain you can travel almost anywhere by train, and for all its troubles, the system is remarkably effective. If this happens, it will spiral into decline and ultimately be reduced into a boutique tourist experience for train buffs, sort of like the Ghan or that train in the Canadian Rockies.

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The election is nigh upon us, and it looks like Labor is going to get back in easily. No great surprise, as the Liberals have been doing their best headless-chicken impression for some time. The other party to watch is the Greens. If they poll well, they could capture one or two formerly safe Labor heartland seats; if this happens, Labor will have to stop taking the inner cities for granted, giving outer suburbanites (in marginal seats, or so the theory goes) their Los Angeles-style freeways whilst not spending 1/10 of that on public transport.

Victoria has appalling public transport compared to other places. Unless you live in the inner city or on a railway line, it is virtually unusable, leading to US-style car dependency, with all the problems that causes (from obesity to pollution to dependency on oil). And given that the marginal seats (which decided who governed) were in the outer suburbs where public transport is a pipe dream at best, the answer is always Build More Freeways.

Well, with any luck this will change this election; if the government would pony up a fraction of the billions earmarked for freeways (many of dubious economic value) on reducing car dependency (and not by just sitting back and saying that they expect that public transport use will grow; building railway line extensions and expanding bus services to run outside of peak times would be a good start), we wouldn't be on course to becoming the Los Angeles of the southern hemisphere as we are now.

How am I voting? Most probably Public Transport First, with preferences to the Greens. PTFirst don't stand a chance of winning a seat, but if they make a strong showing, it will send a message to policymakers; the Greens do stand a chance, and hopefully will do well. It may be optimistic to expect them to win lower-house seats, but who knows?

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A few local news items: a new study claims that public transport use will only decline in Melbourne; the government's plans to double public transport use won't happen without massive intervention in the form of massive upgrades and restrictions/charges on automobile use; in other words, not at all, as the marginal seats which decide elections are in the Los Angelised outer suburbs where public transport is nonexistent and not missed. (Hey, maybe we can import some of those American golf carts for teenagers.)

In good news, however, something will soon be done about the public liability insurance crisis, which has crippled things from street parties to children's pony rides. (All the more reason to stay in your nice, safe sports-utility vehicle, insulated from the dangerous world outside.)

And finally, the government is set to ban the eating of dogs and cats, after a lost puppy was rescued from a man who intended to eat it. (I'll leave the moral difference between a dog or cat and a pig or chicken as an exercise to the reader.

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Public Transport First!, a new group pushing for a less freeway-centric transport policy for Melbourne. They plan to run candidates in marginal seats, directing preferences to the Greens and against the most public transport-hostile party. Sounds good to me.

And then there's the PTUA. Of course, if these groups are too sane for you, you could always join the Transport Victoria Association, who are something like the SPK of public transport advocacy, and appear to be comprised entirely of the deranged people you see on buses.

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Yesterday, I bought a monthly Met ticket (as I usually do every month). Today, when the old one had run out, I boarded a tram and validated it. All very well, except for one minor detail: the validator machine was out of ink, and thus didn't print the date on the ticket. This has two implications:

  1. There is no way to tell that the ticket is validated without putting it into a machine; which means that if I'm on a train with it and the Ticket Nazis show up, I get an on-the-spot fine for fare evasion, and
  2. If the magnetic strip is corrupted (as happens from time to time, due to malfunctioning validators), the ticket is irrecoverably worthless.

I spoke to the tram driver about this, and it turns out that the drivers have no authority to certify tickets as validated or do anything about it. She gave me the phone number of the Yarra Trams customer feedback line. I called them, and they directed me to a number at the ticketing company, which is only staffed during the week.

I am not impressed with the efficiency of Jeff Kennett's automated ticketing system.

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If you think public transport in Melbourne is poor, it's apparently much worse in Adelaide. They're still using diesel trains on their (poorly patronised) suburban rail network, it seems. (via The Fix)

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That's more like it: Melbourne's public transport system to be unified, with a common name and signage moving to reverse the fragmentation imposed when it was cut up and privatised. Which should go some way to dispel the "beggars can't be choosers" image of public transport as a shabby, inadequate welfare scheme for the carless poor. Now if they actually put some money into it and built some much-needed rail lines in the car-dependent outer suburbs...

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Massive taxpayer-funded bailout of Victoria's floundering public transport system, with hundreds of millions of dollars being given to multinational corporations to keep the system, hobbled by a problematic ticketing system and a privatisation regime seemingly designed to help the road lobby and euthanase the unfashionably socialistic institution of public transport, from collapsing. Wouldn't it just be cheaper to just tear up the tracks, replace them with roads, sell off overhead wiring for copper and stations to real-estate developers (you could build lots of car parks), and give every Victorian a car-buyer's grant or credit towards taxi fares?

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Good news for public transport activism: Transport Victoria Association, which is sort of the Melbourne public-transport-advocacy equivalent of the Sozialistiches Patienten Kollectiv of the late 1960s, finally has a web page. Unfortunately, they've only put their relatively sane policies up, leaving out the charmingly psychoceramic flights of fancy such as elevating the Geelong railway line to give passengers better views.

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The Welsh city of Cardiff is experimenting with what could be the future of public transport. The ULTra system is somewhere between tranways and taxis, and consists of autonomous cars (large enough to carry several passengers and a bicycle) travelling on a dedicated track and taking their passengers to a destination of their choice. Meanwhile, Melbourne's airport rail link has been scrapped, because a study revealed insufficient patronage to justify the expense.

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Trainspotting: Melbourne's Spencer Street railway station, the city's main hub for rural and interstate trains, will be renamed to Southern Cross Station. Not quite as craven as renaming Museum to Melbourne Central (which is misleading, as it is not a central rail interchange, but was renamed as such because the owners of the Melbourne Central shopping centre bribed the government to do so), but still with a whiff of branding. Oh well; at least it's not "SouthernCross" or "Southcross(tm)" or some made-up word ending in "-nt".

Though I believe that when the station was originally built, in the 19th century, it was simply known as Melbourne. Perhaps reverting to its original name would have been more appropriate.

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Scare meme of the day: One of Melbourne's tram operators, British-owned National Express, has designated several of its tram routes as no-go zones, too dangerous to send ticket inspectors into.

Its report reveals that inspectors are at risk of abuse, racist and sexist comments, being spat on, punched, kicked and scratched, of being threatened with knives, guns and syringes - including the threat of HIV transmission, death threats and stalking by passengers.

The routes in question are the West Maribyrnong and Footscray routes.

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Election-related sites: The ABC is running an election weblog, linking to election-related articles everywhere, for all you political trainspotters out there. Speaking of trains, a group called Public Transport First want to get the politicians to support public transport, rather than just building more freeways.

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Crazy is discharging yourself from the mental hospital, and then stealing a bus to go home -- and stopping to pick up passengers.

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They're now talking about electrifying the Melbourne-Geelong railway, with a view to integrating Geelong into the Melbourne suburban railway network. Sounds like a good idea (something like what they have in NSW, with electric commuter trains running all the way to Newcastle and Wollongong, would be good.)

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I'm Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I HATE... it's the piped music at Museum Melbourne Central station. The station has an expertly-designed PA system which gives uniform coverage of all parts of the station, from the escalator leading into it to the platforms. Unfortunately, some marketing type at the newly-privatised operators of the station decided to "add value" to the waiting-for-a-train experience by piping music through this system. The music, in this case, being past chart hits, adult-contemporary rock ballads and bubblegum R&B. Supposedly, on average, people like this.

Thanks to you, Mr. Bayside Trains Marketroid, I now have I've Had The Time Of My Life playing in my head, I hate you, Mr. Marketroid.

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The Victorian government is talking with private contractors about procuring 160kph trains for high-speed rail links to regional centres. On the surface, this looks like a good thing; though the PTUA (that bunch of ratbags) did warn that high-speed trains could mean the closure of smaller railway stations between urban centres, and ultimately could lead to the degeneration of passenger rail to a US-style commuter rail system, running only at peak hours to shuttle workers between dormitory cities and their workplaces.

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The Victorian government is reopening four passenger railway lines closed in the early 1990s. The Ararat, Bairnsdale, South Gippsland and Mildura passenger railway will be reopened within 3 years, with services run by private operators. Not surprisingly, three of the reopened lines are in the electorates of independent MPs who hold the balance of power. (Still, decent passenger rail coverage is a Good Thing, IMHO.)

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Lengthy public transport diatribe: The Victorian government is looking at public transport options for Outer Eastern Melbourne, to supplement the $1bn freeway to be built. The possibilities look moderately promising (new railway lines, a tram extension, &c), though I suspect they'll settle for half a dozen new bus services, running six days a week to 7pm, or some token "solution" like an automated phone-based car-pooling registry, chosen because it is inexpensive and innovative, even if thoroughly useless. (This is, after all, the government which banned public transport advocacy groups from the consultative process.)

I think that more should be done to improve public transport in the outer suburbs. (I lived in Ferntree Gully for 15 years, and hence know how poor it is. I was one of the luckier ones, though, living within 10 minutes of a railway station.) Expecially now that gentrification is forcing low-income earners into the outer suburbs, where surviving without access to a car is difficult, a public transport system would be much needed.

<SPECULATION TYPE="CRACKPOT"> For one, Melbourne's commuter rail system has the fatal disadvantage of running only radially; i.e., in and out of the city. There are no lines circling the city, and to travel from one outer suburb to another, one has to go into the city centre and back out. The spur line from Huntingdale to Rowville could be a step in the right direction, being not far from the Belgrave line. Additionally, it could service Monash University, which has the distinction of being (a) Melbourne's largest university, and (b) in the middle of suburbia, half an hour's walk from the nearest railway station and wholly dependent on cars and bus services.

Secondly, extending the tram line to Knox City is an OK idea, though it is, once again, radial; a journey into the city by tram would take 2 hours or so. It could be extended into an outer-eastern tram network, with a tram going from Knox City to, say, Bayswater (and to the Rowville rail terminus in the other direction, if need be), linking two railway lines. And more lines could be added, running along the wide roads, and making the outer east more hospitable to the carless. </SPECULATION>

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Trainspotting: They're electrifying the railway line to Sydenham, out beyond St Albans; apparently some locals at St Albans are threatening to block trains if the proposed alterations go ahead and a lot more trains pass through the crossing, unless the whole thing is put underground. Hmmm... according to this map, there is also a "proposed" extension of the Epping line (which once ran all the way to Whittlesea) to South Morang. (Wonder if the diesel locomotives which pass outside where I live every Thursday night have anything to do with this...)

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Researchers at the U.S. Center for Disease Control have determined the primary cause of the U.S.'s skyrocketing rates of obesity. It's not calorie consumption (which has not increased as rapidly) or fat content in the diet (which has declined over the past 20 years); it's urban sprawl and automobile dependence. Modern American suburbs (and their Australian equivalents; have a look at Glen Waverley or Rowville sometime) are modelled around the automobile, with no high-street shops and often no footpaths; hence, those who live there have to drive to go anywhere, with exercise being a special activity strictly for the fitness enthusiasts with gym memberships.

Few suburbs now have footpaths, so pedestrians are forced on to the road. Police and private security patrols view with suspicion anyone on a suburban estate without a car: either they have run out of petrol and are in distress, or they are poor and up to no good.
An investigation into walking habits in Seattle found a direct correlation between physical activity and the year a house was built. Residents in streets built before 1947 walked or cycled at least three times every two days. Those in more modern houses used cars almost exclusively.

Which makes me feel a bit better for being one of the povo scum who rely on walking and public transport. Though one thing I have noticed is that, when I had a car, I read fewer books than when I did not (as my commute was not usable as reading time). I wonder whether a correlation can be drawn between car dependence and ignorance or mental atrophy...

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In America, public transport carries the same sort of stigma as welfare, which this Onion article plays on:

"Expanding mass transit isn't just a good idea, it's a necessity," Holland said. "My drive to work is unbelievable. I spend more than two hours stuck in 12 lanes of traffic. It's about time somebody did something to get some of these other cars off the road."
The campaign is intended to de-emphasize the inconvenience and social stigma associated with using public transportation, focusing instead on the positives. Among these positives: the health benefits of getting fresh air while waiting at the bus stop, the chance to meet interesting people from a diverse array of low-paying service-sector jobs, and the opportunity to learn new languages by reading subway ads written in Spanish.

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Bad things are happening in Melbourne, with the Labor government having done a back-flip and having put all the former Kennett government's freeway projects back on the agenda, whilst continuing to neglect public transport. The local inner-city rag Metro News says that this is largely due to the voter demographics shifting to the outer suburbs; the ALP needs the votes of SUV-driving outer suburbanites who don't use public transport and for whom the inner city is just some place to get through as quickly as possible, and thus the more of it is paved over, the better. And what are the vegetarian bicyclists of the inner city going to do about it: vote Liberal? (Anyway, among non-dreadlocked circles, the prevailing wisdom is that public transport is a discredited ideology, much like Marxism-Leninism.)

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Life, liberty and the pursuit of bootywhang: Reading on the train can get you laid. (Coding Python on a battered-looking laptop, though, probably won't.)

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Trainspotting: Half of Melbourne's privatised railway lines are about to get new trains, with video surveillance devices. Judging by the unusual carriage count (eight) and the colour scheme, this suggests that they may be based on the old blue and yellow trains that were scrapped a decade or so ago. (And I thought all those were junked...)

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Sydney now has a new railway line to its airport -- an idea whose time has come? (Though not seemingly in public-transport-deficient Melbourne.)

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