Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The Premier's Challenge

Today I had to attend a work meeting at a place some few kilometers away from where I work but right next to a train station. For some reason or another I was stupid enough to think that getting there by a train would prove timely, easy and comfortable.

I started by looking on the web to see which train I should be taking and at what time in order to arrive to be punctual and avoid losing work time at the office. While the route maps are easily available, I found that time related advice was hard to acquire. Eventually I found what I was looking for on Connex' website in the form of PDF train timetables; a bit clumsy, as I would have preferred something that tells me where I need to go to and at what time instead of me having to work it out myself, but at least it works (these more sophisticated web facilities didn't).
I made my way to the train station and arrived five minutes ahead of the time suggested by the PDFs. The clock display on the outside of Flinders Street Station (Melbourne's main train station hub) said I should go to platform 3; however, upon stepping in to the station I was dumbfound to see that none of the three different trains that were supposed to take me to my destination around that time appeared on station's screens; instead, half of the platforms said "wait for announcements" and the rest were irrelevant.
I decided to take the safe option and went for the new posh looking information booth they opened at the center of the station. There, a nice lady told me I need to head to platform 6 and catch the 9:30 Blackburn train. Sounded promising, given the sophisticated display on her handheld PDA.
A minute later I was on platform 6 looking up its display. It said the next train was the 9:30 to Blackburn, so I took my book out, relaxed, and started reading. At 9:28 or so I noticed something at the corner of my eye: the display switched to describe the Pakenham 9:32 train, yet with small letters it said the next train to depart is the 9:30 Blackburn. Then a train arrived, and I assumed it was the 9:30 Blackburn: it was the earlier of the two, and the screen specifically said it was the next train to depart platform 6. Wrong! As the train was about to depart on 9:35, an audio announcement said it was the Pakenham train; together with several others, I jumped off just in time to avoid a major embarrassment.
My next stop was the information booth, where [again] I asked the same nice lady what was going on. She looked at her screen at admitted something was odd, but that didn't really comfort me. She then suggested I catch the next train from platform 3, which was due at 9:40 and which would have meant I would be late for my meeting. Beggars can't be choosers, so off I went.
Standing on platform 3, I couldn't help but notice another train was arriving at platform 6. With all due respect to Connex' information booth, I went to check it up, and indeed it was "my" 9:30 Blackburn train. It left at about 9:40, before any train had arrived to platform 3.
I won't even start on the events of my return trip.

To summarize:
  • I went for a train ride during non peak hours.
  • The available timetables and such proved utterly useless.
  • The TV displays at the station proved utterly useless.
  • The information centers at the station proved utterly useless.
  • As a result of all the confusion and uncertainty I was almost riding the wrong train.
  • As a result of the trains' inherent inability to be there on time I was late for my meeting.
Most importantly: One can only conclude one simply cannot trust Melbourne's public transport, not in the least, not even for the simplest of tasks such as getting from one central suburb to another central suburb connected via a direct railway.

I would therefore like to challenge the people in charge of running Melbourne's public transport, and our distinguished Premier John Brumby in particular:
Have a go at it. Go for a train ride.
Choose a starting point, choose a destination, and choose the time you need to be at your destination.
Now, plan your trip; then try to execute your plan.
Let me know if it all works out for you. Don't let me know if it doesn't; just fix it, damn it, because my experience mirrors the daily experience of hundreds of thousands of people riding the Melbourne public transport system on a daily basis. It is only the incompetence of people like you, Mr Premier, the head honcho in charge of incompetence, that things turn out so badly. Then again, none of you lot ever uses public transport, do you?

Personally, I am growing more and more ashamed of the fact I carry a yearly Melbourne public transport ticket. It looks more and more like I'm going to use my car once my ticket runs out.
Sure, I aspire to be an environmentalist. Sure, I will be stuck in traffic, I will not be able to sleep during the ride, and my reading will suffer significantly; but I will not be at the mercy of incompetence.

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