Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Public Holiday Services

Firstly, sorry. I've been slack and haven't had any entries here for about six months. Yep, pathetic. Well, I'm sneaking in a window, so make this count.

Public Holiday Services

A common and consistent complaint about public transport services is the lack of service on public holidays (and some major events). Staff, vehicles, whatever. It can cause long delays and added frustration, particular in the summer months, where a shandy or two can shrink fuses considerably.

As a general rule, most public holidays are treated equally. They end up running a Saturday or Sunday roster based on a rather flimsy assumption that demand will be around that level. Sometimes extra services are run. Often you'll see on the trams that the first tram will operate as per normal weekday, with the following tram kicking in at the usual time for Sat/Sun. However, experience in the real world will tell you that not all public holidays or services are created equal. Melbourne Cup is a classic example, where services from the city to the course might have extra services, but elsewhere they may be running to a Sunday schedule. 

But why not run extra services? Well, the main deterrent is price. Staff working on public holidays are paid at double time and a half, which can work out to be a very pricey exercise. Before you scream at union injustices and the like, consider that I've worked almost every Christmas Day for over a decade and every staff works New Years Eve. I can tell you now, 2.5 times my wages isn't enough to make up for the lost family time/additional drunken moron exposure). 
Maintenance and other ground support staff are often skeletal as well, so any problems can get blown out of proportion very quickly. So next time there's a delay on a public holiday, try to bear this in mind.

Rostering can also be a problem, with staff cooped up in an air-conditioned office coming up with marvelous schedules that look great on a screen, but suck on computer. We might get less running time in some parts due to the assumption that there's no passengers or traffic, or too much. For example, Saturday afternoon on Chapel St would normally see bumper to bumper traffic with plenty of time given to go from end to end. However, as it's a cross-city service, the number using it on, say Christmas Day, might be much less. So trams can end up with huge amounts of time, and little or no obstacles (passengers or vehicles on the road).

False Rage is a phenomenon where passengers waiting for a regular service become angry because trams operating on a special timetable or running out of service turn up and can't be used. While the regular timetable might be running perfectly, the mere sight of an empty tram running on tracks (regardless of destination) is enough to break out the pitchforks and torches. Just ask passengers waiting for a #70 tram next to Rod Laver Arena during the football. Hundreds of trams running backwards and forwards to the city, but nothing for Wattle Park bar the usual services. Often, trams returning to the depot will run out of service (as per instructions), so depots on that side of the city like Camberwell can cop abuse. This isn't really a public holiday issue, but it can appear if there's a large delay between services, and along I come moving a tram from depot to depot.

So what to do? I often submit reports about public holiday events. I include the good, the bad and the ugly. Forms get submitted and I'll never hear about them again. Recently, I've actually given up. I don't want any accolades - I just want an acknowledgement that the feedback has been received. More effort goes into following up a complaint from a member of the public. That might be something worth considering next time you have dramas on the road. Just remember to submit them to Yarra Trams via their website. Please note the time, date, route, tram number and any additional information that would help.

The shit thing is that these public holidays happen every year. Yes, issues like first-time myki users might blow out problems now, but Anzac Day, Australia Day and New Year's Day happen every year (even though some passengers find this a shock). It feels like every year the same stone is wheeled out and from it a wheel is supposed to be invented. The lessons from previous years don't often seem to have been learned, let alone incorporated into a constantly-improving service. Now there's a novel concept!


  1. Anonymous train guy here again. I agree. Now before we all get called curmudgeonly bastards we do actually like our jobs - otherwise we wouldn't be doing them.

    What we don't do is suffer fools gladly. Melbournian travelers are some of they world's most pretentious. Not all of them of course but nowhere else have I seen people arrive at time of travel without a ticket expecting to get on that service. Or assume having a ticket guarantees a seat.

    Or like my tram colleague here, whinge at me for stupid weekend timetables that are of course my personal doing.

  2. After having free public transport for 1999/2000 New Year it actually took the government a few years to bring it back again. I can remember not being able to get home on New Year's 2002/03 as there we no services until the first one.

  3. Which public holidays now use a Sunday timetable? Maybe christmas day and good Friday. After 11am 6pm, it is not very different anyway. Of course a private company who runs a transport system wants to keep cost to a minimum. The company is there to make a profit. They will do the minimum.

    I don't know what the Wattle Park service is like when there are events on the Tennis Centre. I would hope an equal service was provided.

    I think weekend services are quite good generally, but I can imagine some might have issues about the Sunday night service, especially if an event has happened.

  4. Don't know about trams but the trains run to an almost Saturday timetable on Sunday. Oddly enough, the weekend services are more frequent on my line than the off peak weekdays. Strange... Couldn't agree more Anonymous Train Guy says Incognito Train Girl :)

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