Politics and activism transport

Whinging with credibility

Following a little jaunt out to Caroline Springs on Tuesday (more on this in the next post), with some tweets along the way, I had an interesting Twitter conversation with a disgruntled Geelong line user.

One of my tweets noted that a huge crowd waiting at the platform for a Geelong train had in fact fitted into the train when it eventually arrived. (The exchange is reproduced below.) My correspondent took umbrage at this, thinking it implied the Geelong line is all fine.

My view is that showing a photo of one train that a platform that looks okay doesn’t imply that every train is fine. It doesn’t even imply that the train in question didn’t become overcrowded down the line when it picked up more passengers.

Here’s the thing:

I have been told repeatedly by those in power — ministers (from both sides), senior bureaucrats, operator staff (from the CEO down), that they appreciate (and pay attention to) my observations because I call out both the positive and the negative. Good, bad or ugly.

It’s also gained the PTUA credibility with the media, who know they will get an honest assessment of a situation.

Remember the boy who cried wolf?

If I was 100% critical all the time, it wouldn’t be credible.

If I claimed the entire public transport system is 100% stuffed, it wouldn’t be credible. (If it was 100% stuffed, so many people wouldn’t use it and rely on it every day.)

I do tweet plenty of pictures of packed services. But I also try to put it into context, and to understand why it is so.

  • Running late? Why?
  • Previous service cancelled? Why?
  • Short train/uncommonly small bus/tram? Fleet shortage or some other factor?
  • Unexpected or poorly planned special event?
  • Or is the regular service simply inadequate for the usual demand?

The nature and cause of the problem will determine the solution, and who’s responsible for fixing it.

It’s not in my nature to be relentlessly cynical and negative all the time. Not even on Twitter.

Fortunately it appears that this helps progress the debate to solutions, rather than just get bogged down in endless criticism and whinging.

So I’ll keep calling it as I see it.

Thoughts? As always, leave a comment.

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The tweets in question:

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

9 replies on “Whinging with credibility”

Geelong line yesterday was affected by the rain, with a signalling issue in the Geelong tunnel, I think. Obvious flow-on effects to peak hour trains out of Southern Cross. There were still residual issues when I caught the train home from Geelong around 8pm. Key issue here is the old infrastructure south of Geelong (single track and the old tunnel).

Maintenance blitz on the Geelong line in the week before Easter. Looking forward to coaches to Geelong. Not. Seeing as coaches are not picking up at Footscray or Sunshine, do I trek in to Southern Cross, or take the train to Wyndham Vale?

But, as I’ve commented here before, my experience of travelling on the Geelong line in a counter-peak direction has generally been a positive one.

Stories on the maintenance blitz on both Geelong Advertiser and ABC News Geelong Facebook pages – combined, about 1,000 comments in 4 hours or so – and most of them are probably negative and illustrating the point of your post, Daniel.

Cancellations, delays, shortened trains to 3 carriages in peak, massive overcrowding, track faults, signal faults, train faults, congestion, weather slow downs, journeys that are terminated early (Geelong instead of SG or WP)…. every single day (not hyperbole look at V/Line’s own disruption notices), almost every peak service is affected. I haven’t been on a single service inbound or outbound from Geelong that has arrived on time this year and I keep a daily record by photographing the PID at the destination to show the actual arrival vs. scheduled arrival.
I haven’t had a seat home once this year which changes the 1 hour+ journey from being one where I can use a laptop and be productive to one where I’m standing unable to do anything.
And I pay over $80 a week for the privilege of all of this

People on this line, particularly those who actually live in regional Geelong and not metropolitan Melbourne (i.e. Tarneit and Wyndham Vale) are absolutely at the end of their rope.
The lack of transparency or communication from V/Line on what’s happening is terrible.
People want to know that someone is listening, that someone recognises things aren’t right, that someone is trying to solve the issues.

The state of the Geelong line since the opening of RRL and in particular this year is plain disgraceful.

You do have credibility, the people who can actually make change here seem to listen to you. So any tweet you make regarding the Geelong line they implies things are in anyway acceptable does us all a disservice. It also signals another person not listening to us.

I think it shows that no one is going to win an argument on Twitter (or FB for that matter).
Being balanced and fair is always the way to go. Good on you.

An organisation such as the PTUA of course must be reasonable and usually is, maybe always, not that I agree with everything it says. Whether you are tweeting as a private citizen or not, people still see you as the PTUA spokesperson and so even personal tweets must be reasonable. But I really can see where people are coming from with their annoyance with what they have to put up with day in day out. They must feel very frustrated when they hear that the Geelong train has a good service when they are not experiencing that at all.

Slightly OT but we (two families) took the train to Castlemaine last weekend (the Festival is on) and the trains in both directions left on time, arrived as expected, were clean, well maintained, staff were pleasant.
Station master at Castlemaine offered useful ticketing advice too.

Could not agree more with your approach Daniel. It is much more productive and easier to deal with someone who has a balanced and reasonable view. People engage with those who understand and appreciate both the positives and negatives in any situation. Approaching someone and saying “this is done really well but I think this needs improvement” will garner better results than just complaining and highlighting the negatives. There is much we can do to improve the transport network but we must also acknowledge that even though it has flaws, it successfully transports millions of passengers per day, albeit with occasional hiccups.

I completely agree with your approach Daniel and have been following your blog since I worked on a public transport project ten years ago.

Your analysis saves the rest of us having to think too hard about topics that are much more complicated than they seem, like timetabling and funding.

Given the poor public transport journalism we get in Victoria, which is relentlessly critical of all parties involved in planning and delivering public transport and motivated only to generate clicks, your blog is about the only source of reliable expert opinion.

Keep up the great work!

What looks like a big crowd on a platform often can fit into a train (providing it’s not already three quarters full, of course) surprisingly easily. This is because on the train we accept a density (about 3 per square for sitting space, including leg room, and similar for standing space) that would not be safe on a platform where people are trying to move around.

Similarly with a post you had here a year or two ago showing a huge queue at the Nth Melbourne station bus stop because the shuttle bus to Melbourne Uni was a few minutes late. The thread became a discussion of whether the demand warranted a rail connection. In fact the queue would have easily be cleared by a couple of bendy buses. The number of people in the queue was not so great as you might think compared with the capacity of a bus.

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