Good news! The State Government (and our new Public Transport Minister Gabrielle Williams) this week announced the introduction of real time V/Line train info.
The caveat? They dance around it in the press release, but real time departure info is currently splintered across multiple web sites and apps.
Depending on mode, some information is available on Google Maps and other third party apps, but not yet available on the PTV web site or app.
From a quick look:
|Metro trains||Yarra trams||Buses||V/Line trains||V/Line coaches|
|PTV web site and app||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Metro web site and app||Yes|
|Tram Tracker web site and app||Yes|
|V/Line web site and app||No||No|
Some bus operators such as Ventura also have web sites including real time info for their specific routes, showing the buses on a map, something the PTV app can’t do.
The Tram Tracker app can tell you what type of tram is coming (and whether it has aircon or not), and has a function to track the tram you’re on by the tram (not route) number – also not possible on the PTV app.
Bus and tram accessibility information is also inconsistent between apps.
I’ve found the quality of the real time data isn’t perfect. I haven’t done an exhaustive survey, but tram data is based on interpolation between a limited number of fixed points along the routes, and accuracy of the other modes, especially buses, has been notably mixed.
Even beyond that, you’ll find some discrepancies – for instance the screens at the entrance to Patterson station are frequently missing some departures.
It appears some discrepancies are deliberate – trains disappearing off the screens at the entrance to CBD stations a minute or two before they’ve actually departed. But Patterson doesn’t seem to be one of those.
So the real time information is very useful, but you can’t necessarily depend on it being 100% accurate.
Apart from live departure information, passenger load data is also available. It started on a dedicated web site (Ridespace) but moved to other services such as Google Maps and Apple Maps too – though only on the apps – it’s not on the Google Maps web site. It’s still good to have… though most or all of it appears to be based on historic patronage data, not real time feeds from vehicles.
Why are real time departures available to some apps/web sites, but not others? My guess is that V/Line is providing theirs in GTFS Realtime, but PTV and V/Line’s own apps can’t ingest and display it yet.
So in summary, there’s real time info out there for most PT in Victoria, but right now, your best bet is third party apps from Apple and Google and the like, not the official ones.
Still, there’s progress.
Real time info isn’t a substitute for reliable or frequent service, but it helps.
Hopefully they’ll keep making enhancements so that accuracy improves, and making it all available on the PTV app, which also has the ability to read and top up Myki cards.
And of course there are challenges still to conquer: tracking bus replacement services, and fully integrating journey planner, disruption and real time information together – so the planner can plot your journey around live disruptions, and tell you how busy it’ll be.