Tay Tay at the ‘G

Lessons for the every day

Let’s recap the transport arrangements last weekend during the Taylor Swift concerts at the MCG.

  • Three concerts, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights
  • Crowds of about 96,000 per night – the biggest ever for Swift
  • No general parking at the MCG/Yarra Park. Only pre-booked parking for Accessible Parking permit holders
  • Free Tram Zone extended to the MCG for the three days – standard Myki fares for other ticketholders arriving by PT
  • A planned weekend shutdown of the Werribee and Williamstown lines was postponed
  • Smaller rail closures on the Frankston and Belgrave lines went ahead, though the Frankston line closure was pushed back to start after midnight on the Friday night
  • Extra tram services between the CBD, MCG and Camberwell/Hawthorn on routes 48, 70 and 75
  • Extra Metro train services, with trains about every 10 minutes or better on E/NE suburbs lines before each concert, and on most lines in all directions after
  • Extra V/Line services before and after each concert, as well as additional carriages added to some services
  • Extra carriages on The Overland from Adelaide to cope with demand
  • No extra services on Punt Road bus route 246 however, and a warning that it may finish running before the show

It appeared the rail and tram operators had plenty of staff on duty.

The result? Including “Taylorgaters” who hung around outside, more than 100,000 people per concert, and it seems like it all ran well.

Often after big stadium events you’ll hear of crowding and queues trying to get back into the stations and onto the trains. Presumably there was some congestion, but checking social media didn’t find the usual complaints about it.

Maybe unlike a big AFL game, where half the supporters are grumpy about the result, all the Swifties were in a good mood? Or maybe the extra effort from authorities paid off and it genuinely ran more smoothly.

There were a few issues with the information. As usual the official info highlighted just the extra services, which confused some occasional users. It’s not the first time it’s been mentioned, but PTV really need to either list all the post-concert services together (extras and regulars) or better emphasise that the extras are on top of the normal timetable.

But overall, public transport to these concerts was a big success.

But there was an interesting twist.

Where are all the cars?

Social media (and subsequently mass media) picked up on the Americans viewing aerial shots of the MCG… and wondering where all the car parking was.

The responses from Australians seemed to help instil – for once – some civic pride in our public transport network.

Public transport and big events have a kind of symbiotic relationship. They clearly benefit each other.

If much of America is incapable of providing mass transit to stadiums, then I don’t think it’s a complete accident that the biggest ever Taylor Swift concerts have been outside North America.

MCG during the Commonwealth Games, 19/3/2006
MCG during the 2006 Commonwealth Games

Lessons for the every day

A few years ago, I wrote a blog highlighting that public transport upgrades for special events pave the way for upgrades to everyday services – with some examples from the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

So what can we learn from Taylor Swift’s concerts? A few thoughts:

The MCG copes perfectly well with no general car parking. All too often when it’s allowed, it turns Yarra Park into a muddy traffic jam. It’s time to stop pretending it’s good for the park to allow cars in, and permanently stop parking in the park.

Every day, there are things going on in Melbourne. Most events are smaller, but there are always people trying to get places – to events, shopping, work, errands, appointments.

Frequent trains aren’t just good for moving crowds, it also minimises waiting time, making the train network a more attractive option. “Turn up and go” services every ten minutes every day on all lines – as seen in other big cites, and befitting a metropolitan area the size of Melbourne – are well overdue.

Some services on weekends are just hopelessly infrequent, on all modes, including the trains. Frequencies need to improve.

I made this point in an interview on ABC Radio Melbourne early on Wednesday morning. I may have been half asleep. (Full audio is here; it starts about 67 minutes in.)

You may think of host Sammy J as warm and cuddly, but when he wants to he’ll ask some hard questions. In this case: is it actually affordable?

Good question. I talked up the benefits, but thinking about it afterwards, a better answer would have been this:

Transport systems cost money. Building roads cost money. Providing public transport, and building for safer easier walking and cycling also costs money. The choices we make for investment should reflect the city that we want.

People will usually use the easiest, most convenient, quickest option, and where the investment goes is what determines that.

For too long, most of the money has gone towards roads, and the result is that more people drive. Big areas of our city are car-dependent, and all the money in the world hasn’t prevent roads being congested.

It’s time that Melbourne’s public transport provided a service that people actually find convenient, and want to use more often, for more trips. For the most part, the infrastructure and the fleet is there – but we need more investment in services. So far, our politicians haven’t got behind this idea.

This recent interview with American transport planner Christof Spieler makes the point beautifully (about 9 mins 50 secs in):

…transit planning has considered frequency as a kind of capacity. … Riders think of frequency in a very different way. … as a key component of trip time … Am I going to have to plan my life around transit, or will transit be there when I need it?

Christof Spieler

This last point is key. Only public transport that is there when people need it will convince them to get out of their cars.

The pay off from this investment is fewer people stuck in traffic, and more people moving around more efficiently.

Done right, there’s also relief on household budgets from fewer cars, and better access to jobs, education and other opportunities right across our city for everybody – whether or not they own a car.

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.

13 replies on “Tay Tay at the ‘G”

Excellent and very fair article, Daniel.
As an aside, has anyone done a study on whether there is a spike in the number of cancelled services JUST PRIOR to the extra services for a big event? In my experience, Metro often cancel an earlier service so they can reschedule it as an “additional” service after an event.

Last year, there was an article on in regards to the use of public transit in the United States in regards to Taylor Swift concerts and how to convert Swifties who went to see Tay Tay into regular users of public transit, which takes work. I am not sure if I can post the link in my post, but just search “Taylor Swift” and “Public Transit” in the search engine on the website. WARNING: You may be surprised by some of the content in the article.

As for regular users, we need better frequency for all modes of public transport, and in particular buses which are mostly 40 min-hourly frequency on weekdays and weekends, although some like 800 doesn’t run on weekends despite its importance to the southeastern suburbs. And night bus should be at least 30 minute frequency to encourage people to leave the car at home and get public transport, and this is particualrly the case with the current cost of living crisis that is happening, not just in Australia, but globally.

@roger, I’m not aware of any evidence of that. Metro’s percentage of timetable delivered was 99.7% on the Thu (15th Feb) before the concerts, 99.6% Fri and Sat, 99.8% Sun, dropping back slightly to 98.9% Mon.

@indigohex3, yep you can paste links into comments. Here’s the article:

I don’t see much to disagree about in the article. It seems to underscore the importance of good regular service – because some events aren’t big enough to warrant extra services.

One of the good things about the MCG and Marvel Stadium is they can run extra services on the usual routes; they don’t have to run new, unique, event-only routes that passengers are unfamiliar with – though there are exceptions such as V/Line footy trains from Geelong to Richmond.

Do other events at the MCG that attract similar crowds get the same extension of the Free Tram Zone? Or is this a first?

@Brian Cockburn, the AFL Grand Final sees the Free Tram Zone extended for several days leading up to, as well as on, Grand Final Day to accommodate the various events that are held in the lead up to the AFL Grand Final, such as the Grand Final Parade which is held on Grand Final Eve.

That was ever so well written. The very disruptive construction of the new road tunnel to the west will eventually solve problems in that direction. No? Yes, well new roads don’t seem to solve problems, but surely this tunnel to the west will?

Three car VLocity for regional trains are inadequate, as I recently experienced. It was not a pleasant travel experience.

6.45pm trip from St Kilda Road to the city. A long wait for trams and even the second tram was crowded.
10.00pm tram home, also overcrowded, again the second tram. Well, at least we have public transport.

As reported by the DoT spokesperson on ABC Melbourne radio, hundreds of extra services for the Swift concert. How would that fit into Melbourne’s evening peak services? Punctuality figures, even after allowing for the five minutes leeway are faked by Yarra Trams and perhaps Metro Trains.

I could go on but what is the point of preaching to those who already know.

Never believe the on time running

There were long, orderly queues (!) on Friday night at Lidcombe to transfer to platform 0 for Olympic Park. I’m sure the weather didn’t help, not sure if it was any better on Saturday night. As someone who’s happy to walk rather than waiting, I walked the few ks there directly instead, where of course I got a good look at the road transport having ground to a halt. I won’t complain about Jolimont being slightly closer to the G than Richmond again (other than having to cross Punt Rd when the Brunton Ave entrance is closed, of course…).

Also of note, Sydney had free public transport included with your concert ticket.

@ Andrew Cee – Re crowding on St Kilda Rd trams in the evenings: this is common later in the week, especially if there are any events in town (but even if there aren’t). Because St Kilda Rd doesn’t directly serve any venues, no extra services are scheduled when there are events. A little extra capacity could be introduced by operating route 5 for the full length in the evenings instead of just as a shuttle. The shuttle is an inefficient use of drivers, given the long layover times at Orrong Rd, so while additional staff would be required, the number might not be as great as might be first thought.

@gxh 5 and 64 swapped off-peak shuttle duties in late October last year.

Some simple timetable optimisation would help spread demand a bit for very little effort. For example, outbound late evening 6 and 72 services both run to 20 minute frequencies but (when not delayed) run within a couple minutes of each other. When they split at Commercial Rd / High St, they’re only just over 500m apart, so many people will grab whichever one comes first, resulting in inefficient loading/wait times. It’s a similar story with the 6 and 5 as well.

@gxh, it’s true St Kilda Road doesn’t serve anything as big as the MCG, though Hamer Hall (capacity about 2500) is there – served obviously by all the tram routes plus Flinders Street station just across the bridge.

@Nick, good points. And yes I think the swapping of 5 and 64 was sensible. The 64 takes about 14-15 mins from the Wattletree Road branch to East Brighton, so one might assume 2 trams+drivers is enough for a 20 minute frequency, but interestingly it appears they use 3, perhaps to ensure the connections are good and drivers have enough breaks.

(2 trams+drivers on Sunday nights when services are only half-hourly)

No mention that the Free Tram Zone really only benefits those who drive to (or live) in the CBD. If you wanted to catch a tram from somewhere even as close as Richmond, you’re paying $5 each way.

@gxh is right about suggesting that both the 64 and 5 run to the city at night though. Crowding is a much bigger problem on the combined 64/5 route now that it is being served by Z and D1 trams, instead of the bigger B2 trams.

@Terry, sorry just following this up. Good point about the capacity of those trams. I’ve seen B2 trams waiting on the 64 shuttle, presumably running from Orrong Road to the terminus almost empty.

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