Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Mind the gap! It's between now and the future, Yarra Trams.

Yarra Trams has responded to feedback about dangerous overcrowding at the tram stop between Federation Square and Flinders Street Station.  My original story is here and the follow-up a couple of weeks later is here.  As well as writing about the problem and my experience on my blog, I also provided feedback direct to Yarra Trams via their website and twitter.

After the follow up post, where my frustration at the lack of response must have been evident, a lovely and diligent customer service person from the feedback team contacted me.  He was in regular contact to let me know the progress of the investigation of my issue.  Gold stars on that front.  Not only did he seem to genuinely appreciate feedback from a customer's perspective, he was prepared to engage in a conversation about what's happening.

So let's put this stop into perspective.  Here are the numbers:

  • the stop was refurbished to its current design and location in about 2002/2003.
  • patronage of the tram network in Melbourne has increased 30% in the last seven years.
  • 477,000 commuters "use or pass through" this stop each week.
That's a lot of people.  The numbers support my argument and evidence that the stop is very busy.  What I've experienced a few mornings recently is not a blip.

The current strategy to deal with overcrowding during the morning and afternoon peaks is to have customer service officers at the stop telling people to step back from the doors of the tram.  Have a look at those photos of the crush again.  Now review the current strategy.  Now place inverted commas around the word "strategy".

That's it.  That's what they've got.  

This reminds me of one of the occasions I was trapped in lift by myself.  I was in there for about 40 minutes.  When the bloke arrived to get me out, he yelled into the lift, "Stand well back!" I went from being terrified (he's going to blow the doors open and I'll be killed in the blast) to amazed (oh wow, they're going to blast me out) to apathy (what's the point of moving back, there's no where to go, I'm going to die).

Relief flooded through my veins when I learned that there is also a long term strategy being worked on.   Neither the details of that strategy nor the possible solutions can be revealed.  The time horizon for "long term" is unspecified at this point, but I imagine the steps involve:

  1. Gaining awareness that there's a problem.  Complete.
  2. Thinking about the problem, including consideration of a) whether there's really a problem.  Part a) complete, overall phase still proceeding.
  3. Consult with commuters.  Progress unclear.
  4. Formulate response to apparent problem, including options.  Progress unclear.
  5. Liaise with stakeholders (Public Transport Victoria, Melbourne City Council etc).  Progress unclear.
  6. Thrash out a deal in a way that resolves the actual problem rather than being subject to political expediency (although why these concepts should be mutually exclusive is a point of grave confusion. A long way off.
  7. Negotiate all aspects of implementation of the Solution.  Are we there yet?
  8. Implement solution.  Hmmm.
  9. Realise that solution would have worked five years ago, but is now inadequate with another 36% increase in tram patronage.
  10. Go back to step one.
Clearly all of this takes a really long time, but the actual time frame unclear.  Luckily, there is a long term solution!  In the meantime, we must be content with the "strategy" of telling people to stand back.

The next question I asked the nice man from Yarra Trams was, "And what's in between the current situation and the long term?  You know, the mid term strategy?"

I think the answer was either "there isn't really one" or "it's the bit between now and the future" - probably an amalgamation of these two ideas.  They shouldn't be in quotation marks - image they aren't there, I don't want to be accused of putting words in anyone's mouth.  Happy to put ideas in their heads though.  Oh, and it's definitely on the agenda.  And it's a priority.

So "mind the gap" has taken on a new meaning.  It's the gap between the current inadequate reality and the long term, far away foggy future; the gap between now and then, now and later.  Yarra Trams would do well to mind the gap themselves.

To avoid wearing out my eyeballs (all that eye rolling every time I'm told to move back in a human sardine can), I'm going to experiment with waiting on the footpath and using the TramTracker app on my iphone (also available in android) to determine when I should attempt the move to the platform.  I figure if I have eight minutes to wait until my tram, I could avoid adding to the platform crush but not waiting on the actual platform.  I'm worried about the fatal flaw in this plan - it could take me eight minutes to get onto the platform to catch the tram!  We'll see.  Anyone else going to join me?

Yarra Trams says they love to receive feedback from customers.  I believe them.  They just need to move a bit faster!  Why not give Yarra Trams what they love and tell them about your experience on the trams of Melbourne?

1 comment:

  1. Seems a bit like the Melbourne Metro strategy for the trains - we can't possibly do anything before a tunnel 10+ years and $5-10bn is completed... never mind there's plenty of mid-term things that could be done, ie duplicating single sections of track, upgrading signalling and points that keep failing, etc...