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Does Melbourne's rail map depict enough information?

Back in April of this year, a new map was drawn up and released for comment from Public Transport Victoria. Daniel Bowen wrote "PTV are trialling a new train network map. They’re seeking feedback on it, and you’ll see it at some stations now".

Since April a new revision was released and included some refinements as Daniel Bowen has documented.

I broadly agree with the positive commentary that has been broadcast throughout the blogosphere and social media. The existing maps which adorn the insides of trains and on train platforms require a certain level of knowledge in how the train system operates and the new concept maps go a long way toward rectifying that situation.

For example the not-so-frequent user could be forgiven for thinking that trains ran direct from Upfield to Sunbury and that trains from Williamstown terminated at Footscray (this potential for confusion is even more profound if you study the maps which are located on the side walls, opposite the platforms at any of the three underground stations).

Current Rail network maps in use on Melbourne's rail network

Enter the new maps, as linked above. The routes are grouped and arranged in a more realistic way in how the rail lines actually operate; for instance the Frankston and Werribee lines are joined and the dotted lines show how the Frankston line at times runs through the City Loop.

The rail lines are better aligned with their geography and the inclusion of V/Line services - and the all important Myki boundary for regional services - starts to provide a better sense of the service tiers available throughout not just the metropolitan area, but the whole state.

In my view it was pretty much a rubber stamp; yes, absolutely, roll it out! That was until I stumbled across the following map by SkyscraperCity user Planks & Sticks who has, again in my view, added a little stroke of genius to the new concept map, by adding key Smartbus & high frequency cross-town bus routes.

New PTV concept map with bus additions by Skyscrapercity.com user Planks & Sticks

Rather than emphasise our public transport network, we - and I say we because I too am guilty as charged - tend to talk about different modes in use for public transport rather than the sum of all its parts. It would be quite overwhelming to put a map in every train, tram and bus which visualises every different route in the entire Metropolitan area (although, I am a fan of Railmap's long-running and frequently updated tram+train map), however these simple additions of key routes ought to be considered.

First and foremost, the routes depicted are the primary cross-town and major links between the arterial rail network and key patronage generators, such as shopping centres which are also present on the map. Just glancing at this map tells anyone that they can get to Northland Shopping Centre by utilising an Upfield or South Morang train and then the bus direct to the door of the northern hub.

Secondly, although the bus routes are clearly marked as a different tier of service, the links which these bus routes create depict a far more comprehensive network than without them. Any Melburnian heralding from or who regularly visits the vast mass which is South East Melbourne knows there are large suburban spaces between the rail lines as depicted in both the existing and new concept PTV maps; the simple act of adding the key bus routes helps to portray the sense that public transport has the ability to bridge geographic reality.

Likewise, is it time to add a condensed version of the heavy rail network to tram maps to show interchange opportunities thus resulting in the same "big picture" effect as adding key bus routes to the rail maps?

Lead image credit: Marcus Wong.

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5 comments

johnproctor's picture

While I quite like Planks map, the question is where do you stop?

if you have smartbuses why not have the DART buses? and why isn't the Blackburn Road smartbus included? why is 246 included when it isn't a smartbus? why have the smartbus to Melbouene Airport but not the skybus? if you showed skybus how would you indicate that it is a premium fair?

One thing the existing map does which the new one doesn't seem to is show bus and tram connections at each station. this is idnicated by the little orange triangle and blue box.

So the train network is shown more comprehensively than before and the "network" potentially shown even less on the new map than the old.

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Alastair Taylor's picture

Could the omission of the bus/tram connections in the new concept maps be driven, in part at least, but the increased usage of PTV / other PT wayfinding smart phone apps?

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johnproctor's picture

^ yes possibly.

I also understand that there was some research done into the way people plan journeys and that when travelling the majority (clearly not transport/gunzel buffs who can't get enough info) prefer to recieve information purely about the mode on which they are travelling so they are not confused with too much information.

eg. someone plans their journey and knows they need to change to a bus at Springvale. When they are on the train part of hteir jounrey they are looking for the simplest clearest definition of 'Springvale' not that a bus can be connected to their because they've already pre-planned their journey and know a bus will be there.

putting on information about buses is fraught with both positive and negative bias as well. eg. use Planks map and you've planned your journey on the App/online to get a connecting bus to Monash University at Clayton. You then get on the train and don't see a connecting bus at Clayton but do at Huntingdale - which do you trust?

Alternatively using the old PTV map which marks every train station wiht a bus attached may give someone a false impression of changing to a bus at a station with a 1 per hour service is equally as good a bus connection as a major train/bus interchange like Glen Waverley/Box Hill/Oakleigh.

A difficult conundrum to solve as I said in the first post... where is the line and who are you drawing the line for.

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James Adams's picture

Interesting article. Two points, though.

First, the amended map is wrong; Northland is between the South Morang and Hurstbridge lines, not Upfield/Coburg as it shows ;)

Secondly, this topic has been well-discussed through the various boards that AdrianW from PTV has been engaging. This is one map in a 'suite of products', and they plan to create other ones, including possibly a frequent services map. The litmus test for such a map would be for example services every 15 minutes or better. That would then include all tram lines, SmartBuses and major bus routes like 246, 200/207, 401, 601, etc. All trains lines should preferably be included, even though some have a poorer frequency (down to a shocking 40 minutes in some places)

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Riccardo's picture

I cant believe such a small and simple network generates so much attention. Try depicting Tokyo's two underground networks, its private railways and all its JR lines on one page, forget about buses!

The lack of underlying system legibility is why it has become an issue. All very well to say the next train goes past Hawksburn. Chances are, it doesn't stop there. In fact there is no reason to even know Sunbury trains pass South Kensington if they never ever stop at it.

My fantasy network redesigns make the network more useful by actually following demand lines basically fitting the road network.

So Thomastown to West Richmond is joined to Richmond to Sandringham and becomes the Hoddle/Punt line.

Upfield is recognised as the Sydney rd line and continued down. royal pde and elizabeth to Melb Central.

Legibility is the real key. Get the actual system useable, worry about maps later.

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