Sunday, June 01, 2008

Open Letter To CityRail

I. No Choice

I live in Ashfield, an inner West suburb of Sydney. My daily job is in city CBD, to which I commute by train. And I don't have a choice.

With winter approaching, weather prevents me from doing my daily 10km bike ride. Mornings are too chilly and evenings dark already to be fun.

Riding buses in Sydney was never enjoyable. At least for me. Trains are a much better option. If you can pick your train. I take a new so-called Millennium train, which were introduced during 2000 Sydney Olympics. These are joy! I make an extra effort to catch my train every morning, just so I don't have to take the old one that comes after. I cannot believe that lots of these rusty cans still operate. Small windows, malfunctioning doors, no air-conditioning.

II. The Problem

Recently CityRail introduced a trial of 14 Day RailPass tickets. As they claim, these should reduce the ticket queues on Monday mornings.

I can tell you that 14-day tickets are to fail. And I will tell you why.

A return ticket to city costs me $6.80 or $3.40 each way. Price of a weekly ticket is $28; a slight saving versus $34 ($6.80 x 5 - majority of people don't commute everyday, mostly Monday to Friday). So this brings the cost of my daily commute down to $5.60. 14-day ticket costs the same as two weekly tickets. So, you don't save money. Only thing you save is standing in the queue every other Monday morning. Actually it is costing a bit more. The interest that those 28 bucks could earn you in the bank now goes to CityRail. In other words, you are paying extra for the privilege to skip the queue half of the time.

Weeklies have another perk attached. If you purchase your ticket after 3PM you get to use it that day and seven consecutive days. I buy weekly tickets and I use this feature to my advantage. I buy a single way ticket in the morning for $3.40. In the afternoon I purchase a weekly ticket for $28 that will take me home that day and seven more days. A total of $31.40 ($3.40 + $28) for six days $5.23 each (it is eight days, but as I said I don't use it on weekends, e.g. Mon-Fri, plus Monday). Another benefit that you may not realise straight away is that doing it this way you get to work in 8-day cycles, which means you buy ticket on a different day every week. You start with the long queue on Monday. The following week it gets better, because you are buying your ticket on Tuesday. Next week on Wednesday, then Thursday, then Friday.

Then when you buy your ticket on Friday you realise that this will cover this Friday and whole next week till next Friday. And that's all you need. You don't need to travel on Saturday, nor Sunday. You don't need to waste your money on a ticket you will never use.

Don't put an expiration date on people's money!

The inflexibility of weekly tickets is costing us a lot of money. You fall sick and you have a weekly ticket? Or a public holiday falls on Friday? Bad luck! You paid for a ride you are not going to take. Another example is that on some nights I get to go home with my wife by car. Her business requires her to drive between the shops and if the timing is right I get to go home with her. By car. With a valid train ticket in the pocket of my jeans. Again, I paid for a ride I am not going to take. I cannot tell you how much money CityRail owes me this way.

III. The Solution

I honestly believe that we need to shift from obsolete weekly tickets to something more flexible. The time is right, the technology is here. There is nothing stopping us from doing so. Well, unless this is what CityRail wants and this is the way they want to make extra cash.

To me, a 10-ride ticket would be well suited. It would be really great! I would not have to worry about long queues on Monday mornings as I would be able to buy this ticket at any time, anywhere. I would not have to worry about losing my hard-earned cash, as the ticket would be still valid, even if I don't use it because I fell sick or used other means of transport.

10-ride tickets are already used by bus services around Sydney. I don't ride buses but I can image that these tickets are widely used.

Just for the comparison, take a look at how our Melbourne brothers are doing it. Public transport in Melbourne are operated by Connex.
Metcards connect all train, tram and bus services for easy travel throughout Melbourne. Prices depend on the zones you travel in, the type of ticket you choose and whether you hold any concessions.
Melbourne is divided into two zones (used to be three when I lived there five years ago). You can buy a 2-hour ticket for a single zone ($3.50 zone 1 or $2.70 zone 2) or both of them. You can also buy a City Saver - 10 x 2-hour ticket for $20.80, which is cheaper than if you buy ten separate 2-hour tickets. (To compare with my ticket from Ashfield: $3.40 single, $28 weekly. If I purchased a zoned ticket, it would be a Red TravelPass for $35) The ticket, after being validated, is valid for the minutes to the whole hour and then two hours. This works out to be up to 2 hours and 59 minutes, if you validate it one minute after the hour. If you are lucky and live in one of the inner suburbs, 2-hour ticket gives you plenty of time to get to the city, do some shopping or whatever and come back home on a single ticket. Another great feature of these tickets is that after 7PM they remain valid until the last train service that day. Can you imagine that you could go out with your friends, move around the town, go to a restaurant in the city, then go for a walk on the beach and all of this on a single train ticket. I don't want to imagine how much I would have to fork out for this in Sydney.

And as I mentioned before this could be done without putting an expiration date on people's money! My five-year-old train ticket from Melbourne was still valid when I used it this year.

IV. The Future

I encourage clever people at CityRail to think about the people that use their services, only charge for what people use and make it more flexible for all of us.

More and more people work from home. Telecommuting is becoming very popular as it has many benefits for the companies, for the city and environment (less pollution) as well as the employees. These people will still use your services. If nothing else, let them save money by pre-purchasing their rides.

There are people who work part-time, they do not need weekly tickets. But trust me, they are your regular customers. They use your trains same way as all of us who commute daily. They just do it less ofter. Do they really deserve to pay more for the same ride?

I hope to see you all soon taking a train ride with me to a brighter future!

PS: This is what this post looks like at Wordle


rmk said...

Great post Dush! I totally agree and I can't figure out why the NSW government has not introduced a 10 pass system like I use on the buses. Must be that they enjoy taking those extra dollars off Sydney rail passengers... every dollar counts.

although said...

Totally agree! Been thinking that myself for a long while. Considering the total lack of intelligence available to City Rail...I wouldn't hold my breathe! :) City Rail - you suck!

John R said...

Indeed, I used a similar "7+1 weekly" ticket for a long time. One benefit you missed is that a weekly ticket expiring on Friday means that you buy your next ticket on the Monday. You have avoided paying for a ticket for Saturday and Sunday. So, every 5 weeks you can avoid paying for 2 days. Even better when a public holiday falls with a weekend (but watch out for the Tuesday queues!).

I put this on a calendar one year and mapped out public holidays, etc. Unfortunately the end saving wasn't particuarly much, but it was fun to do.

As to why Sydney doesn't use a "10 trip" type ticket, it is mostly due to the fact that there are stations in Sydney without ticket barriers. Without the ability to enforce ticket validation, they have to revert to time-based, rather than trip-based, tickets. That might be why they wanted ERG to implement current ticket types on smart-cards.

Melbourne enforces their tickets by having lots of inspectors.

The correct solution, more than a 10-trip ticket, is a stored-value ticket as used in Singapore, Hong Kong, San Francisco, etc. You wave your card on entry and exit, and the appropriate amount is deducted. End of story. No need for weekly tickets.

In the meantime, if you can afford it, buy tickets valid for more than 30 days. After day 30, there is a 5% discount which makes up for the occasional day of leave. You also avoid queues, which is fantastic. (Just reverse-engineer the formula on the City Rail website.)

Anonymous said...

TCard would have allowed the Travel Ten type option. Who knows when that'll happen now.

Anonymous said...

The whole public transport system is out of date, inefficient and expensive... and it will be that way in the near future at least

Dushan Hanuska said...

I just received an official reply from RailCorp, restating that 14 Day RailPass is designed to help reduce queues and alleviate congestion at selected station ticket windows.

RailCorp also regards the seven day pass a very good value. What really strikes me is that "it was not considered necessary to make the 14 day pass cheaper."

Claire Cato, Case Manager of RailCorp Customer Relations also says:
"RailCorp cannot access external blogs so we are unable to comment on the content and feedback on this site."

What?! Is he trying to tell me they do not have Internet access or my blogs are censored?!

Anybody can comment here. In fact, I encourage you to do so.

rmk said...

RailCorp as a company are pretty useless and will most likely always be useless.

John R is right when he says we need a stored-value ticket as used in Singapore, Hong Kong, San Francisco. I lived in London for 3 years and they implemented the "Oyster card". This was the best thing ever! You pre-purchase credit and when you get on a train/bus/tram you just swipe your card and the amount is taken off.

It really can't be that hard to implement in Sydney...

John R said...

Every time I see the new posters advertising the 14-day ticket, I feel frustrated. It just means that the purchasers alternate Mondays. They should have made them 15-day tickets to get people out of the Monday routine, or make it cheaper on non-Mondays. As to rmk's comment that "It really can't be that hard to implement in Sydney", it isn't the technology that's causing the problems. It's the people, systems and processes that are proving hard to change. Now, where's my bike?

Anonymous said...

RailCorp staff can't view blogs fullstop. Or forums... or ebay etc.

Dushan Hanuska said...

@Anonymous: Dude, everybody from this century is connected! Are you saying that RailCorp does not have Internet connection? Or that RailCorl has better filtering or censorship than Chinese government? You are not making yourself clear. Are you an employee? Can you explain? Can you explain why RailCorps public relationships department cannot access blogs?

~ tohnee said...

I believe the anonymous person above and the railcorp staff member you spoke to, is referring to when railcorp staff are 'on the job' they cannot view external internet sites for their pleasure. therefore, they are not able to comment or view your blog. i guess when they're at home or outside of work they could not care less about complaints/comments to railcorp because they're off-duty after all.

but i really do wish cityrail does implement something that will make it easier for commuters to get around.. all the ideas on this blog sound great to me.

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