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.
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.
- Train cuts are in the PTV timetables and Journey Planner, though not yet in Google Maps.
- Tram cuts are not yet in the timetables, but are shown under PTV’s Disruptions page, and on the Yarra Trams web site.
- Bus cuts are not in the timetables or PTV’s Disruptions page. You have to go to Transdev’s web site to see them. Ventura has also flagged alterations to some of their routes, but there are no specifics.
- They’ve stated that Night Network is suspended, but bus and tram services still appear in the timetables and Journey Planner, and the PTV disruptions page has nothing about it.
Postscript: Peter (MelbourneOnTransit) has a post about this issue.
And apart from the comments (see below) other stories from affected people include this one:
I’ve had to give up on PT due to these cuts. I cannot get home from work now at 23:00. I have to rely on a lift from a colleague. Apparently, not allowed but I have no other choice. A 30km walk is not reasonable. Spotted at 23:30 last night, a VERY well loaded 75 outbound— Jonno Jones (@pcbh86) August 12, 2020
The curfew start time was pushed back to 9pm from yesterday. But it’s going to take another two weeks to reinstate 8pm-9pm services. This is very poor.— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) September 15, 2020
The roadmap was made public a week ago. Is PT service provision going to lag every single step of the way? ? pic.twitter.com/ujsgunS8pw
Update: After the curfew was lifted in late September, it took more than 6 weeks for Night Network to be reinstated.
Melbourne's curfew ended on 28th September.— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) November 13, 2020
Night Network services resume tonight, 13th November. pic.twitter.com/JuRCa5yWgG