Monday, March 4, 2013

Is that Fare?

It's never nice when you have a piece planned, and someone else beats you to the punch.

That happened to me this morning when I saw this piece by Bambul Shakibaei on his public transport blog.
It is a good post that lists on CityRail's recent failures, and suggests that a fare-free day would be a good way to provide a "token gesture of apology."

This echoes the suggestion of Penny Sharpe, Shadow Transport Minister, who posted this on her website:
However, despite the fact that Bambul's blog is excellent and worth following, I don't agree with his suggestion.

I certainly don't disagree that CityRail's performance over the last few weeks has been pretty average. Some of the problems were simply impossible to anticipate and an inevitable consequence of running a network the size and complexity of Sydney's. But there is no doubt that CityRail can and needs to do better.

But a fare-free day fails to benefit the very people who are most heavily affected by these dramas.

Ms Sharpe's suggestion was that "...the Minister to open the gates at stations on Monday and to extend weekly tickets, as a show of good faith to long suffering commuters."

Some people (like myself) rely on public transport every week-day, and occasionally on weekends. In fact, I use the trains not just to get to and from work but also to travel all over the city for my job. This means I often take as many as 20 separate train journeys per week.

Most regular commuters take 10 journey's each week, or maybe 20 if they have to change services on their way to and from work. A large proportion of those people do so with a periodical ticket. I have a yearly - others have quarterlies or weeklies.

Many other people use trains on what you might call an ad-hoc basis. Maybe they work part-time. Maybe they get a ride to work twice a week. There are any number of reasons that a periodical ticket may not be best for them.

Still others have free passes, most of whom are students.

I've had a look at some of the data provided by CityRail re ticket sales here. It is little difficult to say anything with any certainty, not least of all because ticket sales vary wildly depending on the day of week and, I fancy, time of year.

What is clear from the data is that a very large number of people depend on periodical tickets. Those on those yearly, quarterly, monthly or fortnightly would not benefit from a fare-free Day.

According to Ms Sharpe's suggestion, weekly tickets should be "extended", which sounds great until you consider that most people buy weekly tickets on Monday. Making them all expire on Tuesday is great until they take a week off and revert to the Monday rotation.

Whilst those who rely on singles or returns would benefit most clearly, they are obviously more irregular travellers. That is to say, they are the least likely to have been adversely affected by the recent dramas, and yet they are the biggest beneficiaries.

So, what do I suggest? I certainly don't think that simply not charging fares for one day accomplishes anything. CityRail could agree to a Fare Freeze until benchmarks for performance are met. We could all be handed something for free at the station one Monday (newspaper, magazine, JB voucher, cupcake etc etc).

CityRail could fund a free download of TripView, a fantastic app that provides public transport timetables as well as live-tracking of busses.

It could spend the money installing free, reliable, capable WiFi at all CBD and major interchange stations.

There are probably a thousand other ideas. But any one of them would be a more sensible use of the government's limited funds than just throwing the gates open for a day. It requires a little more effort, but I would suggest we deserve nothing less.

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