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Victoria and Melbourne's public transport has some major strengths. For example an impressive geographic coverage. Multimodal ticketing with low fares for day travellers. Australia's best and most frequent regional train network. And close to turn-up-and-go weekend daytime service on its trams (but only a few train lines).
Patronage opportunities exist on the more frequent parts of the network during off-peak times. And even some regional and peri-urban leisure trips where sufficient service exists. While many drive there are activities, like hiking and cycling, where public transport wins as it saves having to retrieve the car. Not to mention the traffic if too many have the same idea you do. And, as mentioned before, fares are often low, especially if only one or two are travelling. More on how you can enjoy some of these strengths this weekend later.
Our large commuter base is a red-hot market for selling 'add-on' weekend travel to. The Department of Transport (trading as PTV) doesn't realise how lucky it is; any other business would have to pay a fortune to reach these people. Whereas, if it wanted to, they could promote its services on hundreds of station platforms and thousands of tram and bus stops for nothing. Not to mention free exposure inside trains, trams and buses, like other cities do. Even announcements at stations could be arranged with a memo to the train operators and some suggested lines.
While not true for everyone inside it, collectively the Department lags when it comes to exploiting patronage growth and marketing opportunities. That contrasts with the entrepreneurial drive of a
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0agh1UX0Y0, the patriotic appeal of Harold Clapp's Victorian Railways or even the marketing flair of a Transperth (whose train carriages spruik weekend travel ideas to bored commuters).
Information is another issue. Dominated by franchise or contract relationships with the single-mode train, tram and bus operators, PTV lacks a strong multimodal network mind or budget of its own. The network has a brand (itself weakened by restructuring) but not a name. And modes remain silos with little glue in between. For example there is a bias against using multimodal maps to portray the network, relying entirely instead on the online journey planner (good but not a total solution).
Why is this reliance misguided? Online journey planners are like old-style general stores. You had to know what you wanted and ask for it, possibly with a queue behind. That's two barriers before we even get around to paying and using.
Shops like these have largely been replaced by self-serve supermarkets where people can browse and compare in their own time. As well as saving staff, removing the counter divide increases floor space, places customers nearer products, lessens the need to ask and increases impulse buying.
Transport, especially the sort of discretionary travel that a network needs to fill its off-peak trains and buses, is similar. A journey planner, despite its high-tech smartphone delivery, needs you to ask first, like the old shop. That's not always useful given how variable leisure trips can be with regard to time and place or even if they happen at all.
In contrast a network map at a station (especially one highlighting frequent service and key destinations) is like a self-serve supermarket where opportunities to buy jump out and you can explore new ideas simply by moving your eyes to another line. Maps are more like modern merchandising despite being on old-fashioned paper. They reveal possibilities and broaden minds while journey planners only help after the decision to travel has been made.
PTV can confuse the medium with message or purpose. They risk making bad decisions because of erroneous ideas as to what is obsolete. For example they have been gradually stripping our stations and bus stops of useful and readable passenger information. If PTV ran Federation Square they'd close down the big screen on the basis of the pictures being viewable on a Smartphone.
Top salespeople know that customers don't always know exactly what they want. Or even that they need something. Especially if people don't know a product or service exists in the first place. Listening to someone's story helps good sellers discern a need and possibly a product. Useful new products and services can even create their own demand, especially if we put them on display and not hide them behind journey planner-like 'gates'.
I'm not sure if DoT understands this or has strategies driven by belief in its product. Their habit of only giving information to those who ask and not seeking potential add-on sales is costing patronage and not growing the market. The evidence is in the patronage figures with passenger numbers lagging population growth or even declining.
The journey planner is great for those who already know when and where they're going. That's important. But it should be more fun, for instance with a 'go somewhere random' button, especially if there was a chance of winning a free trip. PTV needs fun since parts of its website are dreary. This section was a particularly dispiriting read, dominated by old news on past strikes (screenshot from yesterday - 5 March 2020).
To summarise, outside certain CBD-area sporting and cultural events that get extra trains and trams, the DoT is poor at selling the network's benefits for other types of irregular trips even though there are so many of them. And when marketing does happen it can be transient, single-modal, and poorly targeted. One gets the feeling that the Department's effectiveness or otherwise is not a major concern for government, with the real action of implementing their ambitious infrastructure program being farmed out to project agencies.
The top five
So what could PTV be marketing right now? Here's my five top picks for day excursions using public transport this long weekend.
Tyabb Treasure Trail
If you're after old books, clothes, furniture, memorability and knick-knacks there's no better place to go than the small town of Tyabb on the Stony Point line. There's five or six secondhand places within 1km of town. And some are good for an hour's or more looking. Most known is the Packing House opposite the station but there are others. Explore west along Tyabb - Mornington Rd first until The Vintage Shed just past the airstrip. Then head back into town via Old Modern - Vintage Antiques. Break up your browsing with some sustenance from the bakery or one of the several cafes on Frankston - Flinders Rd. Everything is walkable from the Stony Point train (approximately every 2 hours) or the hourly 782 bus, both from Frankston.
Mt Dandenong Meander
With many daytrippers and narrow winding roads driving can be treacherous and not give you time to fully appreciate the view. Instead why not try the 688 bus? It runs roughly hourly between Upper Ferntree Gully and Croydon stations. If you time carefully you can made a side trip to Mt Dandenong with stops at various pubs and cafes. Just be mindful of 688's split where half the buses go via Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd and the other half via Ridge Rd (nearer Mt Dandenong). A variant for the more energetic is to catch the 755 to The Basin and walk over the hills to the 688 (or vice versa!).
Point Nepean Explore
This is close to a full day's outing. It's long but it's worth it. Only do it on the Saturday or Monday as Sunday morning train to bus connections at Frankston are so poor, approaching 60 minutes. But if you do rashly ignore this advice spend some of your enforced wait browsing at the trash and treasure about five minutes walk south of the station (they also have a donut van).
To get there take the 788 bus from Frankston station to the last stop (about 100 minutes away). Then walk just inside the park to the public toilets/now empty former visitors centre to browse the park's map.
If you're very lucky with your arrival you can take the park's shuttle bus and save some walking (full fare is $12 for all day travel). Or, most likely if you're not, walk about 20 minutes north-west to the old quarantine station. That's served by all shuttle trips whereas only a couple extend to the former visitors centre. Another alternative, if you want to make it a really long outing, is to walk the whole way. The best attractions are right near the end where there are former forts, lookouts and tunnels.
Time your return carefully as the 788 only runs every 60 to 80 minutes. And be mindful that if it's hot buses can be crowded and delayed as Point Nepean Rd gets choked with beachgoer traffic. Return trains from Frankston drop back to every half-hourly after about 7pm on weekends so consider a food stop there if you just miss one.
Poor Mans Puffing Billy
Puffing Billy is rightly one of Victoria's iconic tourist attractions. But make sure you've got deep pockets if you wish to ride. Otherwise you can get nearly all the same scenic views for a fraction of the price if you take bus route 695. That runs from Belgrave to Gembrook via Emerald. Service is surprisingly frequent for a route so far out. On Saturday and the public holiday Monday it runs every 40 minutes most times with a 40 - 60 minute frequency on Sunday. Note planned works bus replacements on inner parts of the Belgrave/Lilydale line if taking trains.
The regular 695 is good if coming from the eastern suburbs but what about the south-east? The 695F might be useful. That's a variant of the 695 starting at Fountain Gate Shopping Centre. It runs an unusual Friday/Saturday/Sunday/Public Holiday only timetable with some odd operating hours so plan your journey carefully.
Werribee South Wander
If grand mansions and gardens are your thing then a trip down to Werribee South might be in order. Bus route 439 from Werribee Station will get you there. And if you stay on about 15 minutes longer you'll see Werribee beach. It's not like the celebrated beaches on other parts of the bay but enough people have been attracted to it for high-rise apartments to be built. And there was once a commuter ferry during a brief unsuccessful trial a few years back.
What else is at Werribee Park apart from the mansion and rose garden? Most significant is undoubtedly the open range zoo. That's good for a couple of hours at least. Route 439 runs approximately hourly until about 7pm. This trip may be best done on the Monday due to planned works on the Werribee line.
I could have mentioned others. French and Phillip Island are accessible via the ferry from Stony Point. That has a train from Frankston but check connections carefully as they might not always line up. If you want a quiet beach away from the rabble on the bay side of the peninsula, consider Somers or Balnarring. Both are reachable on the already mentioned 782 bus. That runs every 2 hours in the area. Healesville Sanctuary is another possibility but the 685 bus is infrequent, particularly on Sunday. It's even tougher to reach the Organ Pipes, with the 483 bus not running on Sundays and life-risking pedestrian access. For these and others always check to see if there are any planned works that will result in buses replacing trains on some lines.
Are there others day trip ideas I've missed? If so please share them in the comments below.
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This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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