PT Night cuts: they’ve got it completely backwards

The people who have to travel during curfew are ensuring our hospitals can care for the sick, and that our food supplies aren’t disrupted.

If the changes to public transport services in July were a step forward, then the (temporary) changes just imposed are a giant leap backwards.

It’s all due to the stronger COVID restrictions, including the 8pm-5am curfew in Melbourne:

Metropolitan Melbourne has moved to Stage 4 restrictions with stronger rules in place to limit movement.

Changes to evening public transport services will be progressively introduced from 8pm Monday 3 August. Changes to services between 8pm and 5am may be different each night.

PTV: Coronavirus (COVID-19) information

What do they mean by “changes”?

They mean massive cuts to trams and trains, with most services cut by half after 8pm.

  • Trams are now mostly every 40 minutes (but hourly on Sunday nights)
  • Trains are now mostly hourly.
  • Many bus routes are unaffected, in part because so many are only hourly after 8pm anyway. But there are cuts to some of the frequent services (Smartbuses and others).

Evening services have been poor in Melbourne for decades, but this makes them near unusable.

Capacity is unlikely to be an issue, with patronage falling to just 12% of normal last Tuesday, and further drops are likely to have occurred from Thursday after most workplaces were shut down.

#Melbourne, you're looking lovely tonight

Who is travelling during the curfew? Essential workers. People like those who work in our hospitals, supermarkets and food distribution centres. These are the ones who have just been given a hopeless, infrequent service.

Public transport’s utility is not just about capacity. Frequency is critical to ensure that it’s available at a time when someone needs to travel, such as the inflexible shift times likely to be worked by essential workers.

Frequency is also vital for making connections, for example from trams serving the hospital precinct to trains serving most of suburban Melbourne.

Who’s not travelling, at any time of day? Most CBD office workers. Vast numbers of white collar workers, and those who support them such as retail and service industries, are staying home.

An entire cohort of passengers, the ones that the intensive (and expensive) frequent peak period timetable was designed to accommodate, is not travelling. But the peak service is still running as normal.

This means for example that on the Ringwood line in the peak, there are twenty-three (near-empty) trains in the hour 5pm-6pm outbound, but this drops to just one per hour after 8pm.

A Saturday timetable would be a much better outcome – more balanced, and not providing a hugely expensive but almost unused high frequency peak period.

This would still represent a cut in evening services on the busier lines, though a far more palatable one, with mostly half-hourly trains, as well as being easier to communicate to passengers.

They’ve got it backwards

These changes were rushed in. Everything’s moving at COVID speed. But I really hope they will think through the consequences and make amendments.

Because this whole thing is backwards. The people who have to travel during the curfew are the very people we all depend on.

Those people are ensuring our hospitals can care for the sick, and that our food supplies aren’t disrupted.

It’s complete madness to make life difficult for them right now.

Footnote: A full week after the cuts started, much of the information is still missing or hard to find.

Silver lining: some extra train services on Sunday mornings will run, to ensure first trains reach the CBD by about 6am, rather than closer to 8am without Night Network. This is good.

Postscript: Peter (MelbourneOnTransit) has a post about this issue.

And apart from the comments (see below) other stories from affected people include this one:

Update 15/9/2020:

Update: After the curfew was lifted in late September, it took more than 6 weeks for Night Network to be reinstated.

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.

14 replies on “PT Night cuts: they’ve got it completely backwards”

Compounding the problem, in many industries, a person driving into work is not permitted to pick up a fellow worker due to infection fears. So those without a car need to get an expensive Uber.

I’m 100% with you on this, Dan. As an essential worker who finishes late in the CBD every night, I can no longer use the trains to get home. I’ve had to dust off the family car, renew rego and insurance, and put rubber to the road. Our household had essentially been car-free since last year. A Saturday timetable, even sans Night Network, would have been much fairer.

Interestingly, V/Line is still running a standard service besides Albury. Punctuality is as bad as ever, but at least they’re trying.

I am thinking of a friend who lives in Elsternwick and is a cleaner at Royal Melbourne Hospital. He catches two trams to get to and from work and works shift work. He doesn’t drive. He must be struggling.

@roger And if an outbreak happens, it would probably limit spread through carpooling rather than an Uber where multiple passengers might occupy the same seat.

I never thought I’d be saying this, but there does seem to be an excess of daytime CBD trams. I live across from the Docklands Collins Street 11/48 terminus and in recent weeks seeing two trams at the terminus with one or two more banked up waiting for an empty berth has almost become the norm. Then two leave together, the second probably empty until the routes diverge at Spring Street. Giving each route a daytime ten-minute service with a tram leaving Docklands every five minutes would be a much more sensible use of resources in the current clime.

This is a really hard one. Every time I see a totally empty tram (which is every time I see a tram at the moment) I think of all the environmental damage that running these empty services does. It would probably be cheaper and more environmentally friendly to entirely close down the public transport system and pay people’s Uber bills, but I also get that this is effectively car pooling, which is discouraged or not allowed.

With drastic reductions to the number of PT passengers likely for some months to come, maybe well into 2021, I don’t think running a business-as-usual PT service is justified. I don’t know what the solution is, but the environment and the people who live in it deserve better.

I hypothesise that it’s partly aimed at trying to prevent young people doing the wrong thing. The government seems to have genuine concerns that teens and 20-somethings are still gathering and partying like nothing’s any different. Night PT restrictions could be a blunt-force way of trying to restrict their movements.

I agree Daniel a Saturday timetable would spread services more evenly and allow essential workers to get to and from work easily.

I know not many people are travelling after 8pm however services every 30 minutes maybe every hour on the quieter routes like Williamstown and Altona loop lines would allow essential workers to get home quickly and discourage car usage.

I think the intensive peak period is a waste of resources and unnecessary when pretty much all office workers are working from home. Daniel have you used your position to advocate to the Department of Transport for a Saturday timetable to be implemented?

On one side, you can not justify high frequency peak hour style services during this time, unless there really is still the demand for it.

On the other, there needs to be better coordiantion between services, for where delays happen as a result of the need to change services.

Very simple things can be done, like making sure Up Belgrave and Down Lilydale cross just up (Melbourne direction) of the Ringwood station. How many trains could arrive at Flinders Street within 1 minute, then all depart five minutes later.

Having multiple tram routes run past essentail service locations, would also help a long way, avoiding the problems with changing services, especially late at night.

Perhaps, they could have reintroduced the old Night Rider bus network, to replace many of the trams and trains after 9pm??

A very simple study of essential workers and their travel needs, should give PT the ability to ensure there is something at the times of which it is needed.

One major issue with implementing Saturday timetables lies with certain bus routes. Some buses are still in the dark ages and don’t run on Saturdays or public holidays, albeit a much more rare occurrence than the typical outer suburban bus that “only” takes Sunday off. Would be nice if the government had the balls (just like it did with stage 4 lockdown) to fine bus companies for every non-service day while they are operating under the PTV banner. What happened to the minimum service standards again? Or was it just a PTUA petition and not a government implementation?

@Heihachi_73 yeah it makes sense for trams and trains to go to Saturday timetables. Less so buses.

The minimum standard is a government policy, but it’s not outstanding: hourly service frequency. (So the MOTC standard of half-hourly on weekdays actually exceeds the standard.)

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