It used to be that on the weekends, trips by car could safely be assumed to be faster than those on public transport, particularly crosstown trips that required a change of service to complete.
I’m not sure that’s always the case anymore. Over the weekend I took two crosstown train trips: Bentleigh to North Coburg (the superbly-named Batman, to be precise) on Saturday night, and Footscray back to Bentleigh on Sunday afternoon.
Frequent (10 minute) services meant the connection times in both cases were only a few minutes. (The Upfield line out to Batman is only every 20 minutes, but thanks to the Frankston line inbound running every 10, I was able to time my journey to minimise the connection time in the city.)
So how did the journey times compare to driving? Ignoring for a moment the trip to/from the station, pretty well actually.
(The driving times are estimated from Google Maps, using the times with traffic, rather than the hopelessly optimistic default estimates. Based on my previous driving trips, they’re pretty good guesses I think.
The train times are based on the timetables, which are theoretical, but in fact on both of these trips on the weekend, the trains were dead on time.)
For Bentleigh to Batman, the time was comparable. While the average speed in the car is expected to be higher, the route bypassing the city is longer.
Footscray to Bentleigh, train actually beats car, despite the distance in the car being slightly shorter.
|Crow flies kms
|Car cost (petrol)
|Bentleigh to Batman
|Footscray to Bentleigh
Despite the length of the trip, both these journeys fell within zone 1, which for me is included with my Yearly Pass. Otherwise, the cost (on Myki) would be $3.28 for a single trip. A return/day trip, on a weekday would be $6.56, but on a weekend or public holiday, you get a day’s travel in both zones for $3.30. Bargain.
Using an estimate of 10 kms per litre of petrol, and a rough figure of $1.40 per litre, the trip to Batman would have been $4.52 — more expensive than the train. Add the Citylink toll of $6.31 and it’s $10.83, or about three times the cost of the train trip. Avoiding tolls would blow out the trip time by about another third.
The trip from Footscray back to Bentleigh would be $3.00 in petrol. Adding the $2.43 toll makes it $5.43, though the speed advantage from paying the toll is negligible in this case — driving instead via King Street would probably only add a few minutes to the journey, and save almost half the cost.
Obviously in the case of the train, you need to pay a fare per person, whereas in the car you can fit a few passengers. But the car costs here exclude the standing costs such as registration, insurance and wear-and-tear/maintenance — these are difficult to calculate for individual trips.
And of course, on the train, I was able to read the newspaper and play with my phone.
The importance of high frequency
High frequencies make all the difference. In both these cases, the train connections in the city were just a few minutes — but if all services ran to the old 20 minute frequencies, the connection time would blow out the total trip time. A missed or badly timed connection could easily result in having to wait nearly 20 minutes.
Incredibly there’s been no promotion, but for those aware of them, the ten minute services are making a really positive difference to the experience of using public transport.
As one (envious) wit remarked:
trains every ten minutes is in a land I go to in my head. My happy place where there are unicorns and rainbows.
Politically, whichever party pledges to rollout higher frequencies onto the rest of the rail network, as well as trams and major/Smart bus routes, seven days-a-week, will be onto a winner at the next election.
PS. The beauty of higher frequencies is that outside peak hour, they can be achieved mostly by using the already-available fleet and infrastructure — no huge capital investment, it’s just additional running costs.