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About 20 years ago various parts of public transport in Melbourne were in almost continual organisational turmoil. Train and tram operations were franchised out, rebranded, left or lost their contract. Bus companies merged, got taken over or won franchises. Government departments responsible for transport renamed and restructured, mostly under the delusion that it makes much of a difference to service.
Consequently operator and system branding has been in a state of flux. At this folly's peak, in the early 2000s, one would see multiple, sometimes peeling, brands on the one train, tram or station. This affected not only how the network looked IRL but also online. Rebranding also meant a lot of chopping and changing of web domain names as well as different approaches to presenting information (most infamously half-network maps).
Melbourne was not late in starting public transport information websites. However, unlike states with more organised transit authorities, our web scene had five years as a feckless child that could not be relied on to provide easily accessed information on all routes operated. Our government largely funded public transport but no one really ran it. Information was typically presented on a single operator and single mode basis rather than a multi-operator and multi-mode network basis.
This nonsense was not to end properly until the mid-2000s with two major advances; a proper multimodal website under Metlink and an integrated journey planner that could handle multi-mode trips. Though even in 2020 we still haven't got it completely right (especially with regard to short and long term service changes) as a future post will discuss.
Writing a complete history would take a lot of time. For now I'll just give a few Internet Archive links and say some words about each. You will find hours of fascinating browsing. Make sure you go earlier and later to get an idea of how content and style changed (until the next rebranding). I'll include the full link text (rather than a concealed hyperlink) so you can see the date and original URL.
Department of Infrastructure and its successors
The web only became a public thing during the Kennett government (1992 - 1999). The Department of Infrastructure presided over transport. This is the earliest working departmental archive link I could find. It's from Dec 1997. https://web.archive.org/web/19971221115917/http://doi.vic.gov.au/
Following 'public transport' gives a description of the soon to be emasculated Public Transport Corporation and a link to Victrip Mk 1 (which started earlier as mentioned later).
The main govt website was at https://web.archive.org/web/19970414005234/http://www.vic.gov.au/
The department administering transport changed its name several times. The pattern seems to be that another word becomes fashionable until they drop the ball on transport. So then they put transport back into the department's name, either as part of a larger department, or when they really want focus, on its own (like now). At other times they spin bits of it off to other agencies, eg with Metlink and PTV. Or the basically aborted Transport for Victoria that was sort of an outfit inside an outfit.
This chopping and changing with websites can result in good material being moved around or lost. This is a prime example. It records bus service improvements by area in the active 2006 to 2011 period. https://web.archive.org/web/20110226144332/http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/DOI/Internet/transport.nsf/AllDocs/6393108372420DE6CA257097000B7001?OpenDocument .
The first incarnation of the transport.vic.gov.au appears to have been archived in 2007 https://web.archive.org/web/20071120135452/http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/ The department dallied with some other names afterwards. For example DTPLI from 2013 https://web.archive.org/web/20130724054232/http://www.dtpli.vic.gov.au/ That didn't last long; by the start of 2015 they had become an unpronounceable acronym to do with economic development https://web.archive.org/web/20150228222625/http://economicdevelopment.vic.gov.au/ only to revert to transport, the old faithful, a little later.
Metcard and Myki ticketing
One thing distinctive about public transport in Melbourne was the institutional (and web) separation of public transport ticketing from other aspects of operations and information. This is at least since Metcard, whose implementation pretty much coincided with the establishment and spread of internet access and websites along with the fetish for franchising. It meant that while fares were integrated information was fragmented until many years later.
Here's Metcard's first website. Note the .vic.gov.au domain name. https://web.archive.org/web/20000303112337/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/metcard/welcome.htm
Later, from 2004, Metcard got a dot com address, further fragmenting it from the main public transport information website that replaced Victrip. https://web.archive.org/web/20040201000000*/http://www.metcard.com.au This roughly coincides with the formation of Metlink (a private company) out of the old Melbourne Passenger Growth Initiative that the private operators had set up when they saw patronage wasn't growing enough to sustain their incentive-based franchise contracts. The metcard.com.au address later redirected to Metlink and then PTV (where it still does today).
Myki's site started in 2006. Note the dot com dot au domain, reflecting practice with Metcard and Metlink. https://web.archive.org/web/20061109214607/http://www.myki.com.au/ Myki had a long gestation period and wasn't complete until several years later. It continued as a stand-alone website for some time until it was redirected to the 'one-stop shop' PTV website (which is back to being a .vic.gov.au domain).
There were some ticketing arrangements outside the Metcard system. For example National Bus section tickets (abolished in the mid-2000s) and single operator tickets like the Baysider for Bayside trains. These were gimmicks that undermined the network and didn't help operators' financial woes. More about Baysider here: https://web.archive.org/web/20000621094016/http://www.victrip.com.au/
A detailed history of Melbourne public transport ticketing (especially Metcard) is at http://www.robx1.net/victkt/ (a current not archived site).
People not happy with responses to complaints from transport agencies and operators can take them to the Public Transport Ombudsman for redress. This has been going since the mid-2000s and can be found here: https://web.archive.org/web/20051213201440/http://www.ptovic.com.au/
Metropolitan train operators
As a precursor to franchising, PTC's metropolitan train operations were split into two business units. These were franchised out in 1999 to overseas operators, as follows.
Bayside trains was run by National Express who also 'won' the Swanston Trams contract. Some bright spark rebranded them to M> Train and M> Tram. Or, as they were known on the web, https://web.archive.org/web/20011130021840/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/ This was in 2001 when frames and then flash players were the thing in web design. As you probably know National Express soon quit. For a while their website got links to the survivors who took over their services. https://web.archive.org/web/20041215012123/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/ . 2005 saw the domain taken over by a business directory start-up https://web.archive.org/web/20051223030559/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/ but they didn't last long, so it's once again available for purchase.
Hillside Trains started with https://web.archive.org/web/19991103013616/http://www.hillsidetrains.com.au/ They too smoked the rebranding drug and became Connex, starting off, in 2000, with https://web.archive.org/web/20001019055141/http://www.connexmelbourne.com.au/
This of course was the half-network Connex, the people fortunate enough to stick around after National Express piked out. They weren't financially sustainable either but this didn't really matter. All that was needed in a two-horse race of attrition was to outlast their rival by one step. Which Connex did. So in 2004 they got rewarded with a more generous contract and control over the whole suburban train network (Connex Mk II). They were however to pay for it with their reputation which later copped a beating.
Some historic Connex Mark II links (including timetables) are below.
When transport operators rebrand you normally expect them to remove all traces of their previous monikers. That means new paint jobs, signage and websites. In at least two whimsical cases this didn't happen with Connex. The first is Connex the seeing eye dog whose period in service outlived its train contract. The second, from earlier, is the survival of Hillside Trains on the web. This is the longest lived train operator transport website in Melbourne, with http://www.buslines.com.au/hillsidetrains/index2.html still active in 2020. I wonder whose paying for this interesting but redundant page? Remember that buslines name as we'll see it again later.
Connex had operational challenges and punctuality fell. It lost the franchise to what became Metro Trains http://metrotrains.com.au . For a while its website linked to Metro's. However it look as if no one has picked up the domain since.
Metropolitan tram operators
This is similar story to trains. The government operator got split into two business units (Swanston Trams and Yarra Trams).
Swanston Trams started at https://web.archive.org/web/19991116051500/http://www.swanstontrams.com.au/ . A handy guide to service levels is https://web.archive.org/web/20000301100931fw_/http://www.swanstontrams.com.au/timetables.html
Swanston Trams, like Bayside Trains, got caught in the rebranding hoopla, becoming M> Tram at https://web.archive.org/web/20031002071341/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/ . That didn't do National Express any good and they handed back the keys for its half of the trams, suburban trains and all of V/Line when they couldn't make it pay.
Receivers were appointed to run National Express services. A statement about this appears here: https://web.archive.org/web/20030802084146/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/company_info.shtml?site=CompanyInformation
Yarra Trams has been one of the most enduring names in Melbourne public transport. At over 20 years old it has already far outlived The Met. You can view its early page here: https://web.archive.org/web/20000511220411/http://www.yarratrams.com.au/
Yarra was in a similar position to Connex where it started with half the network but picked up the rest when National Express finished. The incumbent operator of Yarra Trams was replaced in 2009, but unlike the Connex/Metro changeover the brand name (and thus the website URL) remained with the new operator.
A signature late 1990s Kennett government project was the City Circle Tram. It got promoted here: https://web.archive.org/web/19971022103044/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/city_circle/
Melbourne bus operators
Before bus operators got their own sites a lot of service change information was hosted on the Buslines page especially on the Bulletin Board. Buslines was hosted by PixelTech Design. It was an essential service when the official VicTrip had so little. Train and tram information was also sometimes included. Browse Buslines Bulletin Board archives in their heyday here https://web.archive.org/web/20001205095600/http://www.buslines.com.au/ . Like Hillside Trains, Buslines remains online today but there's little content apart from a 20 year old bus operator and route list (under 'depot'). http://www.buslines.com.au/
Although there were some hold-outs, most bus companies had websites by 1998. Victrip had a list here: https://web.archive.org/web/19981207072943/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/bus/index.htm
Some historic bus company websites (with some newer ones) can be viewed here:
Most started around in this era with Moonee Valley staying offline for more than another decade. Hope Street Bus Lines, which ran the 509, never had a website. Note the heavy use of Buslines as a host for many operators. As you'd expect the quality of operator websites varied significantly and those planning longer trips often had to navigate several. Operator websites played a diminishing role after Metlink started hosting maps, timetables and service information on its own site.
Regional train operators
When you think of regional trains in Victoria you think of V/Line. It's been a strong and enduring brand. Much more than the chopping and changing metropolitan operators. However small operators ran on some lines in the early 2000s. These were Hoys Rail Road to Shepparton ( https://web.archive.org/web/19991005020330/http://www.buslines.com.au/hoys/ ) and West Coast Railway to Warrnambool ( https://web.archive.org/web/20000511172813/http://www.wcr.com.au/ ). Their services later reverted to V/Line.
V/Line's had a few website addresses. Their first goes back to at least February 1998. See it at https://web.archive.org/web/19980201174825/http://www.vline.vic.gov.au/ It's a basic but functional website that's stood the test of time; you can even look up maps and timetables on the archived version linked above. It predates that dreadful period when website design got worse before it got better.
The website remained as a .vic.gov.au even through the early 2000s when National Express were running the service. It finished in early 2005, just when the new Regional Fast Rail era was dawning.
V/Line also had https://web.archive.org/web/20031201000137/http://www.vline.com.au/ from 2003. They appeared to run with two web addresses for a couple of years. Then the .com.au site supplanted the other with it remaining to this day. This creates the anomaly where during private operation the website had a .gov.au address whereas during government operation it was .com.au . Having said that in their early years they also used https://web.archive.org/web/20000618184902/http://www.vlinepassenger.com.au/ but these days this redirects to the vline.com.au site.
Integrated network information websites
The late 1990s was the era of government divesting from public transport, splitting the network and letting private operators do their own thing. This contrasts with the concept of an internet website which was to bring disparate information together. However a couple of attempts at websites were made from 1997. I regard these as unsuccessful by the standards of their time and what was available in other cities.
VicTrip appeared to start in 1997 with a government domain name. https://web.archive.org/web/19970414030958/http://victrip.vic.gov.au/ They appear to have been a bit confused with their identity as The Met also had a website in its dying years at https://web.archive.org/web/19981201072136/http://www.met.vic.gov.au/index.htm . Its contents look much the same as VicTrip.
Until the middle of 1997 the VicTrip was little more than a placeholder website. There was no information on regular train, tram or bus services. Neither was there anything on fares and ticketing. However the City Circle tourist trams and NightRider buses did have information.
The City Circle and NightRider cases were interesting. Victrip was a good site for those. Eg https://web.archive.org/web/19971022102949/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/nightrider/ had integrated and accessible map and timetable information for this after-midnight network of buses run by different operators. However Victrip was never able to achieve this for regular daytime bus, train and tram routes despite these being vastly more significant. Instead passengers had to wait years for progress here.
This is VicTrip in 1998. https://web.archive.org/web/19981205160558/http://victrip.vic.gov.au/ This was the beginning of what you'd call a real public transport information site. For example you could look up network maps and timetables for trains and trams. Fare and ticketing information was also available. But bus information was limited. All users got was a list of operators, only some of which had websites. Browse it here: https://web.archive.org/web/19981207072943/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/bus/index.htm
Finding a bus route map and timetable was quite a drama and success was not guaranteed. Victrip themselves were not confident that information would be accurate. You couldn't even search routes by suburb if it didn't have a railway station named after it. Neither could routes be selected from a list.
VicTrip remained a stagnant backwater and the situation did not improve the following year. Nor the year after that. But there was a new dot com web address, as advised here: https://web.archive.org/web/20000510130515/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/
This is 2000's VicTrip: https://web.archive.org/web/20000510114157/http://www.victrip.com.au/ It's duller than the 1998 page. And it removed the previous limited ability to find timetables by route number. Users needed to play bus enthusiast and guess which company ran the bus they wanted to catch. Bus operators were more and smaller then than now so it was almost a needle in a haystack exercise in parts of Melbourne.
The VicTrip website worked for trains and trams but was near useless for buses. People often still needed to make phone calls to get details of services. This was the pre-Metlink era so stop signage was often missing, limited, inaccurate and unmaintained. Overall VicTrip was an embarrassment that got worse rather than better with age. Those behind it seemed content to take their fees without understanding passengers' information needs or routine good practice from cities elsewhere. An analysis of Victrip I did back in 2000 can be read here: https://web.archive.org/web/20010221035153/http://www.alphalink.com.au/~parkerp/meldri.htm
Everyone was getting fed up with the continual rebranding and fragmentation of the system. The private operators tried things that further fragmented the system, for example operator-only tickets and maps that only showed half the train network. Their franchise payments were based on big patronage increases that were not happening. When they found fragmentation failed the now financially bleeding operators set up the Melbourne Passenger Growth Initiative to make network integration, that they were complicit in smashing just two years previously, work.
This became Metlink, a company owned wholly by the private operators. It would take over VicTrip's ailing website along with other activities like fare revenue distribution, timetable production and signage. metlink.com.au was taken so the website became metlinkmelbourne . An early page is here: https://web.archive.org/web/20031026094837/http://www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au/ A little later there was also https://web.archive.org/web/20130401000000*/http://www.viclink.com.au for regional Victoria.
Metlink installed timetables at bus stops network-wide and printed local area network maps. It hosted route maps and timetables online so information could finally be complete, even if the operator lacked a website (which a few still did). And buses could be found with a drop-down menu so the need to know the operator had gone. A journey planner was added a few years later. This, along with extended hours and operating days for many Melbourne bus routes, coincided with a large increase in patronage which had previously been stagnant.
Metlink still had problems. Published information was sometimes inconsistent or incorrect. There wasn't always the network knowledge amongst those whose job it was to communicate service changes to identify and challenge errors before publication. This was made worse by a heavy reliance on operators to initiate communication and a network that remained unmanageably complex. Bus operating hours, public holiday arrangements, summer timetables and occasional deviations had been simplified but there were still too many quirks to be simply explainable. To this day this increases the risk of errors and inaccuracies. This includes results produced when people use the journey planner. More recently there's been expansion into the mobile and real-time realms. This has placed further pressures on information systems. And marketing could be stymied if those charged with promotions had poor awareness of the product they were meant to promote.
While Metlink unified most information provision, the service planning aspects of public transport remained fragmented. Metlink information could show that bus frequencies did not harmonise with train frequencies but they were unable to do anything about it. That was a planning matter for the (then) Department of Transport.
Part of the Coalition's election pitch in 2010 was a 'one stop shop' responsible for public transport. In other words a public transport agency similar to those which successfully operate in other cities. Basically Metlink plus some functions from the Department of Transport, including planning. That was delivered in the form of Public Transport Victoria in April 2012. That name change of course meant another system rebranding and website URL. This is an early PTV website (basically a rebranded Metlink): https://web.archive.org/web/20120410054433/http://www.ptv.vic.gov.au/ . Note the return to a .vic.gov.au web address.
The PTV structure was probably the best governance arrangement for public transport planning for at least recent decades. There wasn't a lot of new money for services but there were some large local network reforms that have made services simpler and more direct. These were larger than what's happened before or since.
The new government after 2014 has done some restructures since, including folding PTV functions back into a revived Department of Transport. In bureaucrat speak this was supposed to mean more integration but in terms of networks and services it has only meant more inertia. However they have at least had the sense to retain PTV branding to avoid another expensive signage and website change (Transport for Victoria being just a flash in a pan).
Mention should be made that PTV 'refreshed' its website in early 2019. This is viewable at the regular link at http://www.ptv.vic.gov.au . The old website remains at https://classic.ptv.vic.gov.au/ presumably as they aren't confident enough to go it alone with the new site. It's lingered longer than expected but has some great features (eg more descriptive route maps) worth preserving.
Campaign and marketing websites
Sometimes operators and agencies might have little 'spin-off' sites to promote a particular initiative. For example a marketing or safety campaign. Here's a few from over the years.
Buying A Ticket Before You Get On Board Saves Time Or Problems Later. Or BATBYGOBSTOPL for short. This was a Metlink campaign from 2006 to encourage pre-trip Metcard purchasing. They had a website. https://web.archive.org/web/20060209224055/http://www.batbygobstopl.com.au/ And a video:
Taking public transport is nicer if people are considerate to one another. So Connex Trains got in fictional self-help guru Martin Merton (PhD) to teach passengers etiquette in 2008. This is his website: https://web.archive.org/web/20080307114835/http://www.martinmerton.com/ Read the backstory here: https://www.adnews.com.au/CD247F48-339E-449C-9F8FB9FBE96BF3FB . MM PhD was not universally liked, as you can see here: http://www.castironbalcony.com/2007/10/14/ad-nauseum-connex-again/
Metlink's had its 'Karma' campaign around then. Basically about doing the right thing by travelling with a valid ticket. It had a weird 'flash' introduction that does not suit all browsers. So you might just see a black screen at https://web.archive.org/web/20080301225033/http://karmacentral.com.au/ Marketers like to talk about their works so you can see Karma pictures on places like https://www.flickr.com/photos/koalasanctuary/3005277742/in/photostream/ and https://www.jeremywilliams.net.au/website_design/metlink_web.html . The same goes for other campaigns mentioned here. The Karma campaign had some effect, including to inspire people to write blog posts disparaging it: https://thepowerout.wordpress.com/2008/03/05/11/
In 2010 everyone was enthusiastic about creating a 'Metro style' train network with simpler services every 10 minutes to replace the current infrequent and complex timetables. Metro Trains set up a special 'Destination Better' website to explain and sell these changes: http://web.archive.org/web/20100921044129/http://destinationbetter.metrotrains.com.au/wwd.php The greenfields timetables delivered the promised improved service and reliability but subsequent governments lost interest in extending them to other lines.
Melbourne's extensive rail network has a big problem with people being hit by trains because they weren't looking when driving or walking. To counter this Metro Trains launched its 'Dumb Ways to Die' safety campaign in 2012. It went viral with many downloading the music and video. Website here: https://web.archive.org/web/20121118043912/http://dumbwaystodie.com/
The new PTV revived behaviour campaigns several years later. Theirs was based on everyone being a 'model commuter'. That was supported by a website started in 2014 https://web.archive.org/web/20141218173408/http://modelcommuters.com.au/ Also see Marcus Wong's write-up at https://wongm.com/2014/05/model-commuters-campaign-ptv/ .
Bus patronage was stagnant or dropping a few years ago. PTV thought a marketing campaign would help. They commissioned some beautiful and expensive posters to promote buses for leisure trips. Unfortunately the PTV marketing bods doing this weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. They didn't know about things that make a bus route marketable, such as good hours and frequency. Hence they wasted resources on promoting buses that ran an unattractively infrequent service or didn't operate some days. This is the campaign website with a not very useful online map. https://web.archive.org/web/20170306195444/https://www.melbournebybus.com.au/ All up it seemed a lot of work for little effect.
Another reason for a 'community engagement' type website is to consult the public on proposed service changes. For a while material was fragmented across two sites - one through PTV and the https://getinvolved.transport.vic.gov.au/ sub-site under the Department. They were independently maintained and sometimes had conflicting content. I think that's been resolved with more recent consultation appearing on the latter. Get involved appears to have started in 2018. https://web.archive.org/web/20180319011938/https://getinvolved.transport.vic.gov.au/
Transdev was a franchisee that thought it had a bit more independence from government when it came to planning services. It revamped some of its routes in 2014 and planned a much larger 'greenfields network' change in 2015. It created a section on its website to explain this. Here it is: https://web.archive.org/web/20141222033449/http://www.transdevmelbourne.com.au/travel-information/2015-proposed-service-changes/ . There was a change of government, the new government didn't like the changes and they didn't go ahead. More on that here.
Unofficial transport websites
By 1998 it had became easy and cheap to write and host a basic website. So many did as a hobby. Despite apparently being a professional effort with paid staff, VicTrip had enough problems that people could build better websites than theirs in their spare time. Which is what I did in 2001 after approaches to them the previous year were unsuccessful.
You can browse Metrip here. While basic it had things VicTrip lacked including route lists, details of service levels by route, routes by suburb and more. https://web.archive.org/web/20010204014900/http://www.alphalink.com.au/~parkerp/meltrip.htm
Daniel Bowen's Unofficial Melbourne Public Transport FAQ was also prominent then. See https://web.archive.org/web/20020603002118/http://www.custard.net.au/melbtrans/ Again it provided concise material not provided on VicTrip. The service levels for key routes are some good background if researching timetable history.
Enthusiast forums and message boards often had advice on service changes that was more detailed or more accurate than official channels like VicTrip or Metlink. A typical example was the bulletin board hosted, around the turn of the century, by the Australian Association of Timetable Collectors. Posts were in one long thread in time order. Look here to see what was written https://web.archive.org/web/19990202163756/http://www.theguestbook.com/vgbook/22587.gbook The main AATTC page was here: https://web.archive.org/web/19990208011057/http://www.aattc.org.au/ .
The AATTC is now the Australian Timetable Association. The bulletin board closed with activity transferring to the Bus Australia Forums (ATDB) at http://www.busaustralia.com/forum/ and to some extent Railpage forums at https://www.railpage.com.au/f.htm . These forums were very active about 10 or 15 years ago however most activity has since moved to Facebook groups.
I mentioned anti-fare evasion ads before. Two young entrepeneurs tried to harvest money from fare evaders by selling fare evasion insurance for $20 per month to cover fines incurred. They justified themselves by blaming what they saw as excessive fares on myki. Their venture, called Tramsurance, started in 2012 https://web.archive.org/web/20120706041709/http://hello.tramsurance.com/ . It got big media attention (example below) but public transport authorities were not amused. Legal threats were issued. Tramsurance was closed after three weeks but not before significant publicity. More here. https://www.sohum.com/hyper-growth-the-tramsurance-story/ .
Not all passenger were content with the train service they were getting (or not getting). Some wrote blogs to share their transport woes. 2005 saw writings from 'Connex Whinger'. Read more here: https://web.archive.org/web/20051209011342/http://www.connexwhinger.blogspot.com/ There was also a website. That's here: https://web.archive.org/web/20060321010252/http://connexwhinger.com/ The posting ceased when the writer finished one job and planned to seek another at a location he could drive to.
It's been a wild surf across the World Wide Web. And you'd be wrong to say it's over. Have I missed anything? Do you have memories of using these or other websites? What did you think of them? Please leave your comments below.
You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics
The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees
Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees
(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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