XPT arriving the platform at Central

NSW TrainLink refutes existence of non-binary gender

Update (26th November 2016): NSW TrainLink reached out in regards to the blog post. They agreed that the instruction was “offensive and inappropriate” whilst ensuring me that the “instruction was never followed in practice”.

As I have already updated at the bottom of the page, they’ve removed the instruction from its business rules to reflect their “values of inclusion and non-discrimination”.


Folks who don’t identify as either male or female pay double or denied tickets by regional train company

Well, here’s a bit of a shock.  In this day and age, NSW TrainLink is refusing to sell tickets to people who do not identify solely as male or female.

NSW TrainLink is the Government-owned company which runs intercity and regional transport services in New South Wales.  It operates routes to over 350 destinations by trains and coaches.

In its Business Rules Manual, last updated September 2016, the organisation outlines limitations on its sleeper car product on overnight regional trains.

In order to be eligible to purchase a sleeper berth ticket, the company requires the passenger to identify either as a male or female.

Staff are instructed to refuse the booking or request the passenger pay for two beds if they do not elect a binary gender.

The manual goes on to say that “transsexual is not a ‘gender'”:

If a person refuses to nominate being male or female then staff can either sell the person both berths as sole use in the compartment or refuse the booking. Transsexual is not a ‘gender’ and a berth must not be allocated.


This should not be happening.  Not least that this is a Government-owned organisation where this business rule legitimately exists.

What are people who have a “non-specific” sex on their birth certificate supposed to do?

Given how clearly it’s stated, there is ample grounds for a complaint under the Sexual Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).  Under the law, NSW TrainLink not only has to recognise the existance of non-binary genders, it must also not discriminate against them.

In fact, in the intersex status factsheet on the AHRC website clearly states that intersex people need to be given fair treatment when getting or using services — including transport services:

Getting or using services – such as services provided by restaurants, shops or entertainment venues, banking and insurance services, services provided by government departments, transport services, professional services like those provided by lawyers, doctors or tradespeople

I’d encourage anyone who feels they are being discriminated against this business rule to lodge a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission.


It’s one thing to segregate passengers by gender, but to refuse to recognise the existence of non-binary gender is outright ridiculous.

smh.

 

NSW TrainLink claims in its business rules that transsexual is not a gender
NSW TrainLink claims in its business rules that transsexual is not a gender
Update (25th November 2016): all references to gender has been removed in the latest version of the manual.  I’m pleased to see NSW TrainLink’s swift response to this.

NSW TrainLink removes non-binary gender restrictions from its business rules
NSW TrainLink removes non-binary gender restrictions from its business rules

Say goodbye uni concession stickers for good

2016 saw the phasing out of concession foils common to uni students around the Greater Sydney region. Students commuting within the Opal-enabled network were no longer given a concession foil sticker.  A student identification card and Concession Opal card would suffice as concession proof on the network.

However, the sticker foil still remained for those of us who wanted to travel on NSW TrainLink’s regional services. As part of the fare rules, students must present their booked ticket with their Tertiary Student Concession Card or ID Card with a valid foil.

According to the Transport for New South Wales website, the tertiary concession foil will be phased our for good next year.  Starting 1st April 2017, tertiary students will have to order a Transport Concession Entitlement Card to prove their concession entitlement when travelling on regional services.

 

Transport Concession Entitlement Card is coming in April 2017 for Tertiary Concession Holders
Transport Concession Entitlement Card is coming in April 2017 for Tertiary Concession Holders

Currently, this card is available to Job Seekers, Approved Centrelink Customers and Ex-Defence with Disability.  More information about the card’s availability will be made available from February 2017.

A_Set_Central_Night_Moving

Don’t stress: bus timetables aren’t being “scrapped”

Timetables are set to become more dynamic with on-demand complementary shuttle services

Yesterday, the Minister for Transport announced that Transport for NSW will trial “on-demand” public transport next year as part of their Future Transport Roadmap. A number of media outlets reported “New South Wales Government to scrap bus timetables” based on initiatives promised to “transform the mass transit network”.

As one would expect, a flurry of fury followed after the announcement. Punters complained of the inability for current buses to stay within their current timetables as it is. How are they to deliver services quality “without a timetable”?

I don’t think the media did a great job at explaining what the plans were. So, let’s break it down. There are two parts to this puzzle:

  1. Timetables are becoming more dynamic
  2. On-demand services are being introduced

The truth is, timetables aren’t going way but are becoming more flexible. There are also additional on-demand services to help make the trip to timetabled services more efficient.

Hub and spoke model

You may have heard of the hub-and-spoke model. That’s where commuters take a short service close to their homes to a major transport hub to reach their final destination.

This reduces the number of low demand, point-to-point services required to get commuters to and from their destinations whilst still maintaining flexible route options.

The challenge with the current system is that spoke services (the short hops between homes and hubs) have long routes within the suburbs to get to as many pick up points as possible. This means that it could take a long time for commuters to get from their home to the hub regardless of whether all the pick up points have passengers.

On-demand spoke services

The on-demand trial that was being mentioned is about improving commuter connections to and from transport hubs. As the Future Transport Roadmap says:

The future of personalised transport will involve customers being able to book flexible, on-demand local services to make first- and last-mile connections to and from mass transit hubs.

Page 41, Future Transport Technology Roadmap 2016

On-demand services would complement existing “spoke” bus routes with routes being optimised for booked demand.

Diagram showing how a hub and spoke model with on-demand services could work
Diagram showing how a hub and spoke model with on-demand services could work

On-demand example:

Imagine the resident living in the middle of the suburbs, around a 15 minute drive from the train station. Currently, the options may be for the resident to drive their car to the station and commute to work. However, parking spots are limited.

Catching a bus is also an option. However, the closest bus stop may be a 10 minute walk away and only runs during peak hours. Worse still, it’s a bus service which is route is long and stops at many locations within the suburb before reaching the train station.

The on-demand public transport model tries to solve this. A commuter can “book” what is effectively a shuttle service between their home and the closest train station in advance. The route and times for this on-demand service will be generated continuously based on who’s booked a service.

Dynamic timetabling in trunk routes

It’s something that Sydney Trains have been doing for years. Despite having seemingly static timetables, Sydney Trains timetables are generated at least once a day to account for things like track work, special events and “operational issues”.

Some bus routes are also brought in especially in time for special events. For example, an example I know well is the Central to Moore Park shuttle during major sporting events.

The promise made in the Future Transport roadmap is that these dynamic timetables will reach more modes of transport (including buses). These timetables will also extend in reach, modelling patterns based on weather, demands based on day of week.

Using the supply/demand insights, develop an algorithm that optimises the timetable for day-of-week, weather and planned/unplanned events

Page 88, Future Transport Technology Roadmap 2016

It’s also about being able to generate new routes and increased frequency when new demands arise. With the Opal data that Transport for NSW has on their hands, they could potentially generate new high demand, point-to-point routes to cater for new businesses opening up or when new developments are built.

Conclusion

Don’t stress: timetables aren’t going away. They remain very important for the operation of transport services.

The good news is that the timetables will likely be adjusted more frequently based on demand on each route at particular times.

On-demand services will likely complement existing spoke services to make them more efficient and convenient for commuters.

Hopefully, this will less crowded services and quicker journey times into the future.

Fibre networking at an NBN Point of Interconnect

NBN to rebate for higher speeds

Service providers may be eligible for a rebate to upgrade existing users to higher speed tiers

The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, will introduce a three-month credit scheme designed to promote the uptake of higher speed tiers on its network.  The “Step Up AVC Credit” will see service providers refunded up to $33 over 3 months for upgrading existing customers to a higher speed tier.

End users must stay on the new tier for a minimum of 90 days to be eligible for the credit.

Rebates range from $9 to $33 over 3 months:

  • 12/1 Mbps to 25/5 Mbps: $9 over 3 months
  • 12/1 Mbps to 50/20 Mbps: $21 over 3 months
  • 12/1 Mbps to 100/40 Mbps: $33 over 3 months
  • 25/5 Mbps to 50/20 Mbps: $21 over 3 months
  • 25/5 Mbps to 100/40 Mbps: $33 over 3 months
  • 50/20 Mbps to 100/40 Mbps: $21 over 3 months

In an effort to reduce congestion and lower CVC congestion, the credit has strict guidelines about the state of congestion within the network.  Any connectivity virtual circuit connected to end users applying for the “Step Up AVC Credit” cannot exceed an average of 95% of network utilisation for 4 consecutive 15 minute intervals in any 24 hour period.

During this campaign, nbn will also co-fund marketing activities associated with the “Step Up AVC Credit” at $1.50 for each eligible AVC.

The scheme will start in November 2016 and finish at the end of March 2017.

[Source: NBN Co]

NBN Fibre to the Node Trial at Umina Beach

NBN to remediate business connections over copper

But will lock you in for 12 months if the existing copper line isn’t up to scratch

The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, will begin offering line remediation to business services unable to reach their committed speeds over the copper network.

Business level services delivered over Traffic Class 2 (TC-2) have a committed information rate (CIR) which effectively guarantees a connection’s transfer rate.  Typical residential services are provisioned over Traffic Class 4, which has a peak information rate (PIR) describing the “up to” transfer rate achievable over the line.

The company is already offering TC-2 services over its FTTN and FTTB network with symmetrical transfer speeds of 5, 10 or 20 Mbps.  However, according to the current Wholesale Broadband Agreement (WBA), the company is currently not committing to its Committed Information Rate — stating:

“the actual Information Rate experienced by Customer, Downstream Customer or the relevant End User, may each be significantly less than the downstream CIR and upstream CIR of the bandwidth profile ordered by Customer in respect of the relevant Ordered Product”

According to the revised WBA on its website, the company will enable customers to submit a trouble ticket to remediate the copper line.  However, nbn will also require the end user to take up the service for at least 12 months or will have to pay an early disconnection or modification fee.

NBN will charge an early termination or modification fee if customers had their line remediated
NBN will charge an early termination or modification fee if customers had their business line remediated

Increased FTTN performance objectives

nbn is also increasing its network availability operational target on the FTTN Network from 99.70% to 99.80%.  The agreement states that “operational targets are non-binding and aspirational”.

The new wholesale broadband agreement will become effective in early December 2016.

 

Optimising your HSC study with the Question Matrix

It’s crunch time.  With just over a week left until English Paper 1 kicks off, it’s more important than ever to optimise your study pattern.

If you ever find yourself short on time studying and want to re-enforce the fundamentals, HSCninja can help you prioritise your study.  The Question Matrix can give you an “at a glance” view of the number of marks allocated to each HSC syllabus topic in the past few years.  From this, you can prioritise your study based on what the Board of Studies has examined in the past.

Example: HSC Physics – Motors and Generators

In this example, we’ll look at HSC Physics Motors and Generators.  Similar matrices are also available for all topics in Mathematics, Physics and Biology.

Question Matrix on HSCninja for the Motors and Generators module in HSC Physics
Question Matrix on HSCninja for the Motors and Generators module in HSC Physics

 

Based on this matrix, we can see that the Board has placed heavy emphasis on the first topic: 9.3.1 – Motors and magnetic forces. An average of 9.9 marks has allocated to this syllabus topic for the past 7 years.  The least emphasis is placed on 9.3.5 – AC motors with an average on 3.3 marks over the past 7 years.

However, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t study for AC motors!  You can see that the Board is still very likely to examine you on the topic, it just affects fewer marks.  So it’s all just a balancing act.

A good strategy may be to place a suitable amount of time revising teach topic based on how many marks each topic has historically been worth.  But at the end of the day, the more familiar you are with material across all topics — the more likely you are to get higher marks.

fixedwirelesstower_1043

nbn launches Cell Site Access Service

Company does away with CVC, but will charge two pricing levels based on metro or regional classification

The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, has released an interim agreement for its Cell Site Access Service (CSAS).  As previously reported, this product is designed for mobile service providers to connect its cell towers through the National Broadband Network fibre network.

The agreement includes a price list, indicating nbn’s intention to provide cell towers with blended traffic class product including a traffic class 1 and traffic class 2 access virtual circuit (TC-1/TC-2 AVC).  All access products include a 5 Mbps TC-1 AVC, with varying amounts of TC-2 bandwidth from 50 Mbps to 900 Mbps.

Unlike the residential/business focused product offered by nbn (NEBS), the CSAS price list and product specification bares no mention of the contentious connectivity virtual circuit (CVC) — the charge imposed by nbn to allow traffic to be carried over from the NBN to the provider’s network.

For the first time, nbn has offered differential pricing based on the classification of the point of interconnect.  Access components in metro and outer metro areas will be charged at a lower rate compared with regional areas.

For example, the base product which includes 5 Mbps TC-1 and 50 Mbps TC-2 comes in at $910 in metro and outer-metro areas.  However, the access charge will increase to $1,245 for cell towers connected to regional points of interconnect.

NBN Cell Site Access Service - AVC Pricing Table
NBN Cell Site Access Service – AVC Pricing Table, Source: nbn co ltd

CSAS Network Termination Device

nbn will be providing a specialised network termination device (NTD) for customers of the Cell Site Access Service.  Unlike the standard NTD available for residential connections, the CSAS NTD will only have one User Network Interface (UNI) which is accessible through a copper or optical port.

The customer is expected to produce 3 RU of rack space for the installation of the NBN fibre tray, power supply and NTD.

NBN CSAS NTD Layout, Source: nbn co ltd
NBN CSAS NTD Layout, Source: nbn co ltd

 

You can find the CSAS pricing list and product descriptions on the nbn website.

Updated 23rd September 2016: to include that CVC appears is not mentioned.

Opal Ticket Barriers

New Opal fares: How I shaved $2 from my work commute

Despite not having to switch modes in my regular commute to work, with the introduction of new Opal fares this week, I thought I’d try to take advantage of the new multi-mode rebate to see if I can shave a few dollars off.

Previously, my work commute involved taking a bus from UNSW Kensington to Town Hall direct (typically, the M50). The distance between these two stops is roughly 5 km — which falls into the 3-8km fare band of $3.50. This single bus trip takes around 30 minutes assuming relatively smooth traffic which is rare nowadays thanks to the light rail construction in the Kensington area.

Instead, I thought I’d break up my trip into a lower fare band bus trip plus a new train trip. Choosing my bus routes carefully, I can see that the 370 bus can take me from UNSW to Green Square station in ~2.6km ($2.10 in fare terms). Changing to a train service from Green Square to Town Hall, I’m charged $2.36 off-peak. Subtract the $2 rebate, and I come out on top: $2.46 one way.

A return trip to work each day would save me $2.08:

Original Route Route Mode Fare
UNSW to nr Town Hall Station M50 Bus $3.50
Total $3.50
New multi-mode route Route Mode Fare
UNSW to Green Square Station 370 Bus $2.10
Green Square to Central T2 Train $2.36
Central to Town Hall Station T1 Train
(Multi-mode rebate) ($2.00)
Total $2.46
New Opal Fares + new route = saving $1.04 one way from UNSW to Town Hall
New Opal Fares + new route = saving $1.04 one way from UNSW to Town Hall

Now, the caveats.  Firstly, the 370 bus can be quite unreliable.  If the bus is on-time, the total journey time is basically the same (± 2 mins) albeit with a bit more walking.  However, buses which are 15 minutes late or don’t show up at all are not uncommon.

Secondly, the cheaper fares only apply for off-peak times.  In my case, applying peak-time train fares, the journey is only 2c cheaper.  That’s probably not worth the extra effort walking through Green Square and Central Stations and potentially missing connections.

So there you have it.  Even if you don’t normally switch modes, you might want to explore various multi-mode route options to see if you can save a few bucks or even save a few minutes in your daily commute.  You never know what you might find!

Note: For the purpose of this blog post, I’m assuming adult Opal fares even though I’m eligible for concession fares.  Fares and any savings would be halved when considering concession fares.

Opal Ticket Barriers

4 things to look out for with the new Opal fares

The Opal fare structure is changing starting next Monday (4th September). Here are 4 facts you need to know about the new Opal fare structure:

1. $2 rebate for switching modes

If you have to transfer between different modes of public transport, you’d know you’re being charged a lot more than someone else travelling the same distance on just one mode of transport.

That’s because Opal calculates fares on distance, but doesn’t carry over the distance when switching modes (e.g. switching from a bus to a train).

To solve this, Opal will introduce a “multi-modal” $2 rebate every time you switch between two different modes of transport. For commuters who have half-priced fares (such as child/youth, concession or seniors), this rebate will be $1 to reflect that fares are also half the price.

2. Weekly travel reward, now 50% off

When Opal was first launched in 2012, a travel reward was added to incentivise users to switch. After 8 journeys per week, subsequent trips made on public transport were free (except for the gate fee at Sydney Airport).

Some commuters took advantage of this quirk by accumulating cheap, pointless journeys early in the week to get free trips later in the week. Opal will now block this quirk by making fares half-price after the first 8 journeys, rather than free.

3. $2 rebate won’t work between Light Rail and Ferry

Due to technical limitations, Opal card users won’t receive a $2 rebate when switching from a ferry to a light rail service. It’s not too much of a problem at the moment as it will only affect commuters who switch between the F4 ferry and the L1 light rail service at Pyrmont Bay.

For commuters in Newcastle, the Stockton ferry is considered a bus for fare calculation purposes and so, are unaffected by this technical limitation.

Opal says the issue will be fixed by the time the CBD and South East Light Rail is completed in 2019, when Circular Quay will become a major ferry/train/light rail interchange.

4. Tap off to get the $2 rebate

It’s more important than ever to tap-off correctly. The multi-modal $2 rebate is only applied if you tap-off correctly on your previous trip.

If you forget, not only will you miss out on the rebate — you’ll be charged a full “default fare” AND your journey might not count towards your 8 journeys per week to get half-priced fares.

St Kilda Pier

Frugal Ken: Melbourne day trip

There’s never been a more exciting time to take day trips to Melbourne.

The $18 tickets

Some months ago, I saw on OzBargain that Tigerair was doing one of its typical promotions — $18 flights from Sydney to Melbourne. Having never been to Melbourne at the time, I pounced and bought a ticket. At that price, I thought, I could afford to write it off if I can’t make it.

Promptly, I selected the two cheapest days: a Sunday departure and Wednesday night return.

A change of plans

Months had passed and I had forgotten about my booking. However, last week, the ever reliable Google Now eagerly reminded me of my “upcoming Melbourne trip”. That’s when I looked at my flight details again and realised I had a problem with my return flight on Wednesday. Unknown to me at the time of booking, this semester, I have classes to attend on Tuesdays.

The solution? I’ll do a day trip and take the Melbourne-Sydney XPT train to return. I had already purchased a NSW TrainLink Discovery Pass which allows unlimited travel on the NSW regional train network but had never done the Melbourne/Sydney run.

A quick tip for people who are planning to redeem only part of your plane ticket: all Australian airlines I’m aware of require you to start your journey with the first flight in your itinerary when you booked. In my case, for example, I could not have taken a train to Melbourne and returned on the Tigerair flight.

Saturday night, I booked the last available seat on a packed Melbourne-Sydney XPT and by 5:40AM the following morning — I was off to the domestic airport on the bus route 400 (the route that basically goes everywhere in the Eastern Suburbs).

Maccas for breakfast

As is customary for typical Uni students, I opted for a quick breakfast at the recently refurbished McDonald’s in the T2 terminal. I got myself a tomato and ham pocket which was far slimmer than advertised and a bacon and egg mcmuffin laced with bonus egg shells. Yum.

The flight

As you would expect with budget airlines, the seats are tight. Fortunately, the flight was short and with my slim build the journey was painless enough.

Plus, since I had originally booked the flight with a friend who couldn’t make it, I had a spare seat next to me. That was a nice bonus!

Tigerair Airbus landed at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport
Tigerair Airbus at Melbourne Tullamarine Airport

SkyBus to St Kilda

Those who travel to Melbourne frequently would know that the SkyBus is pretty much the only way to get from Tullamarine to the CBD (alternatively, you could get a cab).

Normally priced at $19 one way, the bus trip costs more than flight itself. However, in an unlikely coincidence, SkyBus was launching its St Kilda Express on the same day. For the week, the company will make the bus service free of charge as an introductory promotion.

The bus arrives once every hour during the weekend and takes you directly to St Kilda. However, the timetable probably requires some tweaking. Upon arrival at the first stop in St Kilda (Barkly Street), the bus arrived 10-15 minutes earlier than scheduled.

Since the bus acted both as pick up to the Airport and set down from the Airport, we had to wait for the timetabled departure so we didn’t miss picking up any passengers.

Weekend myki daily cap

myki travel in Zone 1 is capped at an affordable $6 on weekends. While one can say this is not as good as the $2.50 Sundays on Opal, I would have to say that Melbourne definitely has a more convenient public transport system than Sydney.

The convenience of the tram system and no-penalty multi-modal transfers means I don’t have to think twice about switching between trams, trains or buses for that matter.

“Soggy copper heartland”

For those readers who have been following the NBN debate for some time, you may be aware that the copper network in Williamstown, Victoria might not be that great. The “soggy copper” in Williamstown, as our former communications minister Senator Conroy puts it. nbn has recently began construction in the area, so I thought I’d drop by for a look to see if I can spot some nodes.

Disappointingly, there was no NBN nodes in sight despite the area being in build. I did spot some recently remediated Telstra pits though.

XPT return

This was the first time I’d done Sydney to Melbourne trip. Surprisingly, the train was basically fully booked. As a regular commuter on the North Coast Line, this was an unusual sight — I rarely see a fully booked train.

On time and as expected, the train departed at 8 from one of the few platforms in Southern Cross station which had dual gauge lines (Platform 1).

The budget

So how much did this day trip cost me? Just over $50 🙂

Melbourne Day Trip Budget

Few things to note there:

  • Since I’d booked a return flight — I paid an extra $18 for a flight I never redeemed.
  • I have a NSW TrainLink Discovery Pass which means my train ticket was “free”.
  • SkyBus: St Kilda Express was free this week; would have normally cost $19.

 

Costs aside, it was really nice to have a day off to relax a bit and explore the beautiful city of Melbourne.