Sometimes you see claims that lots of other major cities have all-night trains (so we should have them too). Recently I went looking to see which do.
Well, a lot of the world’s biggest cities don’t.
- Paris — last train around 12:30am
- Hong Kong — last train around midnight (some earlier, some 1am)
- London — last tube around midnight — though in 2015 they will introduce 24-hour weekend services on some lines
- Singapore — last train around 11:30pm to midnight
- Amsterdam — “Trams, buses and metros run from 6 am until half past midnight.”
- Sydney — trains mostly run until midnight, with Nightride buses running 7 nights-a-week after that, parallel to train lines
Most of these big cities have extensive night bus networks instead, which generally run 7 nights-a-week.
There are some 24/7 train services around the world, but they are not very common, in part because at least some overnight periods are needed for maintenance — of tracks and other resources. Those that run 24/7 may have multiple track pairs so they can handle track works.
- Chicago’s Red and Blue Lines run 24/7, every 15-30 minutes overnight.
- New York City’s subway has 24/7 service to most stations, though some routes don’t run 24/7. It seems to be typically a 20 minute service overnight.
- Berlin has 24-hour U-bahn service on most lines on weekends only, with U-bahn trains running every 15 minutes
Note those train frequencies as you read on.
Labor, with an eye to this November’s election, has today pledged a one year trial of all-night public transport on weekends. Here’s the detail, gleaned from the Herald Sun report, their official web site, and tweets with Labor’s PT spokesperson Jill Hennessy.
All suburban train lines would have hourly services (both to and from the city) on Friday and Saturday nights. PSOs would be on-duty until the current first train times in the morning — eg between about 5am and about 8am depending on which day and station.
(It remains unclear what effect the PSOs are having, particularly on quiet stations with little or no crime.)
Trams would run on selected lines “including St Kilda, Coburg, Bundoora, Port Melbourne, Carnegie, Box Hill and Vermont South” about hourly.
Nightrider buses would remain, but it sounds like they would be tweaked to better serve areas that don’t have trains and trams.
Buses to major regional centres “Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Traralgon” would depart at 2am — these match the major V/Line commuter corridors, though Seymour is missing.
Denis Napthine’s response was, predictably, to pan the idea.
“What Daniel Andrews is proposing is a high-cost proposal that is not the key priority for public transport”
He may have a point there. I’ll get to that in a minute.
“The key priority for public transport is more trains in peak hours, more trains when people want to use public transport.
Uhh… Just because you want and need one doesn’t mean you don’t need or can’t have the other.
Peak hour is indeed a key market for public transport, but — as in any big city — outside peak hours is important too. Melbourne’s traffic congestion is now a seven-day-a-week proposition. Some roads such as Hoddle Street and Chapel Street are regularly heavily congested late at night. People need to get around at all times of day (and night), and public transport should cater for that.
In fact, the least cost-effective public transport systems are those that have all the infrastructure for peak hour only, but then don’t use those resources outside peak. For instance some of the North American commuter train systems have entire fleets that run one round trip per day — a huge cost for the trips they attract.
And there are problems with current after-midnight services, particularly on weekends. Nightrider buses are often packed or leaving people behind, and complaints about taxi queues abound.
Amusingly, Dr Napthine also said:
“People want new trains, they want new trams, they want additional services in peak hours… That’s what we are delivering.”
Yes indeed, well, the Coalition may be managing delivery of new trams, but they haven’t actually paid for any of them. The fifty being delivered were all funded by Labor, and there’s still no sign of the additional ten that the Coalition said they would add to the order.
Labor’s policy: Good move? Yes, but… hourly?
I think this is a good policy.
But… it’s a long way from perfect. Hourly trains and trams? Not great.
Long waits kill PT use like nothing else. Nobody likes waiting an hour having just missed a service, especially at night. Most trips home by car in Melbourne could be done before the next service turns up.
It’s even worse if making a connection of another service.
Nightrider limped along with hourly services for over ten years. It only got popular when it switched to every half-hour, and abandoned the premium fares.
The very real danger here is that this trial will be a very expensive flop. No doubt some will use them, but hourly services will put a lot of people off, and it may have little effect on those long CBD taxi queues, let alone anybody who has the choice of driving.
The huge cost of staffing stations all night with PSOs may mean it costs a fortune to run, with relatively few people making use of it. And few people using it means safety issues (including perception of safety) may be a problem.
If you’re going to spend all this money, you might as well go a bit further and run services at least every half-hour. The incremental cost of extra drivers (and running costs) is likely to be tiny against the standing cost of keeping the network open — particularly various support staff and hundreds of PSOs.
This seems to be the pattern with most of the all-night train services overseas, with their trains every 15 to 30 minutes. If you’re spending the cost to keep the system open all night, don’t skimp on the services — it’s not worth it running a big rail system to only put hourly trains on it.
And the higher the frequency, the higher the likelihood a reasonable number of passengers will actually use the service.