Trains skip stations to evade fines

There is no doubt that the Melbourne Community wants public transport but they want excellent public transport.

The apparent incapacity of Metro to run a train every 15 minutes and to stop at all scheduled stations is not excellent public transport it is not even good public transport.

How hard is it to run a train every 15 minutes – skipping stations and terminating trains before the end of the line is apparently, an acceptable management solution to Metro – but where is the operational imperative to provide a consistent, good quality service to commuters.

It is yet another example of the incompatibility and inefficiency of privatising public transport which is then run for share holders not commuters. Metro, 129 drivers’ incident reports of altered services in a single month is not acceptable and is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

The Age: Trains skip stations to evade fines

Metro has resorted to skipping stations and running unscheduled short services since its new timetable was introduced last month, stranding passengers so its trains will run on time. It has happened at least four times a day on average.

Drivers say the rate at which they have been ordered to alter a service mid-journey suddenly became ”prolific” when a new train timetable was introduced on April 22.

Metro has succeeded in running its trains to the new timetable, which has boosted services on many lines, but the rail operator has been accused of reaching its targets by running ”half-services”.

The Age has seen 129 drivers’ incident reports from mid-April to May, recording services that have been altered either from stopping-all-stations to express or terminated before the end of the line. The reports have been logged by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, which claims many more services are being altered without being reported because train controllers are issuing orders over the radio rather than putting them in writing.

”It’s only got prolific over the last month,” said union sub-branch secretary Paris Jolly. ”It’s even happening on weekends now, which is unheard of, just to get back on time or in front of time.” He said many trains were running express to Richmond station to get ahead of the timetable, then sitting idle for several minutes between Richmond and Flinders Street Station.

The practice is generating anger among affected travellers.

In one instance a driver reported being physically threatened over the emergency intercom by passengers who had been told that the train would bypass their stop. In another report people ran alongside a train and attempted to force open the doors as it passed by the platform at low speed.

Metro spokeswoman Geraldine Mitchell said the decision to alter a service from stopping-all-stations to express was only made ”in extreme circumstances”, and occurred approximately once for every 600 services. ”These changes are kept to a minimum and are only considered if we can see a larger problem looming on a particular line or across the network,” Ms Mitchell said.

In April, Metro ran 92 per cent of its trains on time, and so far this month it has been on schedule almost 91 per cent of the time, a rate comfortably above the 88 per cent threshold that determines whether it is financially rewarded or penalised by the government.

Last year it received $4.21 million in bonus payments, and $3.08 million in penalties. But the company has been warned that the practice is potentially in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act, and could expose it to lawsuits.

Drivers have been instructed to disable the electronic displays that run above the doors of each carriage, and switch off automatic announcements when a service is altered, because the communication system is unable to switch with the altered service.

Kamal Farouque, principal for Maurice Blackburn, which represents the union, said Metro was thereby failing to alert any hearing-impaired passengers to the changed service.