Summer. The very word conjures up a sense of joy. A sense of well being. A sense of being alive again. Beaches, beer festivals, and picnics at the park. Enjoyment at last after the long hard slog of winter is nothing but a distant memory. Of course its not all good - it also means bushfires, 40 degree days, and no football (at least the real thing, not the Mickey Mouse pre season competition that's just started) for a few months yet.
And just when you thought that Nanna's pair of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle socks were the worst present you got this Christmas, the incumbent State government came up with this doozy - The summer public transport timetable.
Don't get me wrong, summer timetables can be warranted for most things; your local library may be closed over the Christmas/New year break, Joe from the Fish & Chips shop round the corner may decide to take the family to Bonnie Doon for a few weeks forcing you to eat healthy for a while or more likely, live off Aunty Sue's Christmas pasta bake leftovers for a bit. The point is, none of these things are really going to massively disrupt your every day life activities.
So reducing a few train services in peak hour for a few days over Christmas, whilst the lack of people in the CBD resembles a nuclear Holocaust, shouldn't really be an issue. Except - some bright spark decided it would be a good idea to cancel every second peak hour service - FOR A WHOLE MONTH!
This wouldn't necessarily bother many people between Christmas and New Year. After the family arguments on Christmas and Boxing Day, most people spend the next few days watching Mitchell Johnson break people's arms. Thanks to the PTUA's campaign, we now have 24 hour transport on New Years, before everyone spends the following day recovering from one too many bottles of $8 Champagne.
Then, on the 2nd of Jan, we all crawl back to our jobs, everything as it was, like Christmas/New Years never happened. Everything, that is, except our public transport system.
The State Government couldn't have picked a worse time - its like they extended PTV's 'Dumb ways to die' ads and created 'Dumb ways to run our train system'! January is traditionally our hottest month, and after a relative mild December, Melbourne sweltered through a roasting January this year. As is now par for the course, Metro responded by cancelling even more services. Even worse, the cancelled services were done in advance, meaning when temperatures didn't reach their predicted highs of 40+ degrees, services were still cancelled!
This resulted in horribly over crowded waits on the platforms, and even more horrible rides on the trains themselves. Predictably, the air conditioning struggled to keep up, causing even more services to be cancelled. To try to address this snowballing problem, Metro advised everyone to leave the city early if possible, causing a rush akin to a petrol buying panic during a shortage. Worse still, the Australian Open was on - major events usually result in extra services, not less.
It was a complete debacle which for the most could have been avoided. The sad part is it was all avoidable; this had nothing to do with 'scheduled maintenance' and everything to do with saving a few bucks
When unavoidable occurrences such as heat waves arise, or even self inflicted ones such as summer timetables, we have one ace up our sleeve that we never play - our V/Line trains.
How many people have standing idle at the station when the announcer quite rudely says that 'this train is not taking passengers'? But its going where I'm going! So why can't I get on? Allowing suburban passengers to travel on regional trains already happens in London, helping spread the load at peak times,as well as helping frequency at night.
As our regional network now utilizes an extension of the metropolitan zone system (as well as Myki), it would be a seamless transition.
The best part about this solution is that it would be free to implement. Sure some argue that peak hour V/Line services are already crowded too, but as suburban passengers would only be traveling for a short part of the journey, regional passengers would still have the vast majority, if not all, of the seating capacity.
So whilst this solution would not cure ridiculous decisions like the summer timetable, it could at least alleviate the symptoms. So lets hope the next time those in charge mull over timetable decisions, they employ a little more common sense. Not taking a holiday whilst said summer timetable was running would be a good start!