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:
UNSW to nr Town Hall Station
New multi-mode route
UNSW to Green Square Station
Green Square to Central
Central to Town Hall Station
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Every election, the AEC releases what are effectively digitised versions of every single “formal” Senate ballot paper in the election. This year, NSW’s dataset is a 1.06GB CSV file.
Since the Senate voting rules have changed, I thought I’d have a bit of fun and take a look at how well Australians (specifically NSW voters) followed these new rules.
‘Below the line’ vs. ‘Above the line’ voting
First off, let’s look at below the line vs above the line voting. The new rules suggest voters place at least 12 boxes below the line or 6 boxes above the line. I use the word “suggest” because incomplete votes are still “saved” under new savings provisions which came with the changed rules.
Let’s take a look at the NSW breakdown of formal Senate votes:
Below the line*: 185,387
Above the line*: 4,234,502
* For the purpose of this summary, ballots considered ‘below the line’ if they do not contain numbers marked ‘above the line’. Ballots considered ‘above the line’ are the inverse. ** Unspecified ballots are ballots saved by various ‘savings provisions’ and are still considered formal votes. For example, these could include ballots where the voter placed ‘1’ above the line and 2-6 below the line.
Voting below the line
The new voting rules made it easier for voters to vote “below the line”. Not only did voters not have to fill in every single box on the paper, the savings provisions are more generous than ever making more incorrectly filled ballots considered “formal”.
The missing ‘1’: Right off the rank, there is a data anomaly from these generous savings provisions. There were more below the line voters which had placed a ‘2’ in their ballot paper then voters who had placed a ‘1’ below the line. Around 2,054 “below the line” ballots neglected the ‘1’ compared to 608 voters who neglected the ‘2’.
Voting only ‘6’ below the line: Many voters also got confused with the 6 “above the line” or 12 “below the line”. Around 2.5% of NSW below the line ballots were only filled to the number ‘6’, rather than the ’12’ which was prescribed by the AEC^.
Overall compliance: Having said all of that, 96.7% of NSW “below the line” voters followed the instructions correctly and placed a number ’12’ below the line.
Beyond 12 below the line: However, the subsequent drop-off was huge. Only 48,505 ballots had the number ’13’ below the line, compared with 179,196 for the number ’12’.
It was reported that many voters were advised to 12 numbers below the line, and 12 only, which could have played a role in the substantial drop-off. However, it could also be the case that the majority of voters only want to do the “bare minimum” in terms of filling out a ballot.
Only about 26% (48,505) of below the line voters placed a ’13’ below the line. 4,332 ballots (2.34% of below the line ballots) had all 151 boxes filled in.
^ N.B. I am using the number of voters who placed a ‘6’ minus the number of voters who placed a ‘7’ anywhere below the line as a proxy for the total number of votes below the line. Further analysis is required to determine the exact number of voters who placed exactly 6 numbers below the line.
Voting above the line
Only 1 above the line: Despite a vocal campaign from the AEC to make voters aware of the changed Senate voting rules, around 6% of above the line voters continued to simply place a single ‘1’ above the line^. This was the previous above the line voting method.
Beyond 6 above the line: As with the below the line vote, there was a substantial drop off beyond the minimum number of boxes prescribed to be filled. 3,766,149 (3.8 million) voters placed a ‘6’ above the line compared with a mere 224,416 ballots with a ‘7’.
Compliance (BTL vs ATL): Interestingly, above the line voters were not quite as acute in following the AEC instructions with only 89% of above the line voters managing to place a ‘6’ above the line (compared with 96.7% BTL voters complying with the 12 number ‘rule’).
^ N.B. Derived from the number of ballots with a ‘1’ above the line minus the number of ballots with a ‘2’ below the line. This is merely a proxy. Further analysis is required to determine the exact number of voters who placed exactly 1 number above the line. Excludes ballots with both below and above the line numbering (i.e. unspecified)
Here are a few take outs:
Most voters continued to vote above the line
A substantial number of voters continued to only place ‘1’ above the line when voting, meaning their votes were immediately exhausted after their first nominated group or candidate
Most voters are doing the bare minimum when voting for the Senate (i.e. only filling in 6 ATL or 12 BTL).
If I had more time, I’d analyse the exact number of numbers per ballot (rather than the pseudo counting I have going on at the moment). I’d also convert ATL votes into BTL votes, which would then allow preference flow simulations to see exactly which votes ended up making the quota for the 12 NSW Senators we elected. But alas, too much data and too little time on my hands 🙂
STEM back on the agenda, but compulsory English still needs major reform
Today, the Minister for Education announced wide set of changes to the NSW Higher School Certificate (HSC) over the next four years. Here are a few thoughts I had on some of the changes:
New syllabus for science courses
Amongst the changes are new course structures and syllabuses for English, Mathematics and Science as well as a renewed focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses.
Having reviewed the draft syllabus writing briefs and consultation reports — science subjects are shifting away from a “social science” focus and instead re-focusing on the fundamentals of science.
For example, the current Chemistry module on Acids and Bases (called The Acidic Environment) has a focus on the history of acids were defined, the uses of esters and acids in society and the impact of things like acid rain to society. In HSC exams, the “big mark” questions are based almost entirely on social impact of science rather than the actual chemistry.
The current syllabus writing brief indicates drops almost all mention of societal impact. It lists four fundamental topic areas for Acids and Bases: Types of acids, pH and pOH, Strength of acids and Volumetric analysis.
I certainly don’t want to see the social science portion eliminated; having students understand applications is extremely useful for students to contextualise their learning and I believe, improves engagement. However, I do think reducing (not eliminating) the social science components will help students prepare for further education beyond the HSC.
The announcement also confirmed that they will be adding an extension course for science subjects. The lack of an extension science course was always a head scratcher for me. There are extension subjects for the two largest arts subjects (English and History), yet none existed for science. This is an exciting and a long awaited development.
Renewed English syllabus
I am, however, disappointed at the lack of major reform in the English courses. The current Advanced and Standard English courses can be characterised more as a philosophy and media course than an English course, and it certainly doesn’t seem like that has changed.
Other than changes in the name of modules, there are no significant changes to the course content.
For English (Advanced), the modules map almost directly from the old to the new syllabus:
Area of Study (Discovery) => Texts and Human Experiences
Representation and Text => Textual Conversations
Critical Study of Texts => Critical Study of Literature
Comparative Study of Texts and Context => The Craft of Writing: Writing Through Time
As the HSC’s only compulsory subject, the subject does not teach or assess English skills independent of history, differing views (or politics) and “human experiences” (all of which are non-English concepts).
There are some who argue that Mathematics is a waste of time, yet we use it every day; whether it’s in the supermarket or balancing our bank accounts. The Board has developed a HSC course which teaches and assesses these essential skills (General Mathematics) and will soon incorporate it into the common part of both streams of Mathematics (see below).
However, general literacy and English skills are not the focus of any of the ATAR-eligible, board-developed HSC English courses. Skills like expressing ideas in various ways like through speeches, reports or essays; or comprehension skills from these works. This is what a compulsory English subject should teach and assess on — at least in part.
The Fundamentals in English course does explore these skills; but studying that subject will make you ATAR ineligible (unless you intend to repeat Year 11 and 12 studying the other English course).
It’s not to say that the current English courses should not exist — it should! But don’t make that part the compulsory subject!
Common scale for General Mathematics and other Mathematics courses
Unlike the Standard and Advanced English courses, students currently studying General Mathematics 2 and other Mathematics courses (2 unit, Extension 1 and Extension 2) are scaled independently of one another. This encourages high achieving students to study the General Mathematics course rather than the more advanced Mathematics courses to score higher marks in the HSC and also potentially a higher ATAR.
The changes announced will see the syllabus of both Mathematics streams share common components and a common paper (much like the Area of Study module in English) to enable students from the two course streams to be reported on a common scale.
I think this is a logical move and also, long awaited. The current Mathematics course lacked focus on some relatively basic Mathematical skills like statistics. Renewed focus on these modules and sharing a common scale will encourage more capable students to take up the more advanced Mathematics subject.
HFC installation premium for customers with existing lead-ins amongst changes in latest NBN product roadmap
The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, has updated its product roadmap for the third quarter of 2016. Here is a summary of some of the key changes:
nbn’s HFC product launched at the end of last month in a limited footprint in Redcliffe region in Queensland (PR044). The company also recently signed a contract with six delivery partners to upgrade and rollout the existing Telstra HFC footprint for nbn’s use.
Self-install to become default
As part of the current rollout strategy, nbn will send an installer to install the HFC Network Termination Device (NTD) at the customer’s premises when a service is ordered. However, the company plans to implement an RSP install and customer install option by the end of first and second quarter of 2017 respectively (PR112, PR129).
Once this process is implemented, nbn will begin charging customers who already have an existing lead-in a professional NTD installation a fee if they request for one.
Other HFC planned products
Deployment of DOCSIS 3.1 NTDs remain on-track for upgrade by the end of 2016 (CE045).
nbn also plans to introduce service transfers on HFC by September 2016 (PR121), as well as various diagnostic capabilities for Traffic Class 1 services.
The company does not plan to offer business grade “Traffic Class 2” tiers over HFC until 2018 or beyond (PR118).
NBN Satellite Service
ISS migration period extended
The migration of nbn’s existing Interim Satellite Service (ISS) customers to the new “Sky Muster” Long Term Satellite (LTS) service has been extended out until February 2017 (PR023). nbn had originally planned to migrate all its existing ISS customers to the Long Term Satellite solution by the end of 2016.
However, teething issues appeared to have hampered the originally anticipated activation rate — shifting the expected end date for the migration by two months.
There have been numerous reports of missed appointments, inability for NBN NTD modems to reconnect after a power reboot and most recently, the decision to retain the existing ISS satellite service after an LTS installation and retrospectively visit the customer to remove the ISS dish.
Consultation on “Managed Services Education” over Satellite
nbn is investigating the possibility of providing enhanced services for distance education students. The company has listed a number of possible products including a managed unmetered data service and multicast video broadcast services over its LTS service. Consultation on this service is expected to begin in September 2017.
Consultation on “Satellite Mobility” which could enable services like on-board Wi-Fi or Internet access for emergency services in remote areas has also been pushed back slightly to September (PR123).
Cell Site Access Service
As reported earlier, nbn concluded its initial Cell Access trial and has begun offering a Cell Site Access Service (CSAS) test service in Beaudesert, Queensland (PR039).
National broadband company continues to develop product to allow mobile carriers to tap into their fibre network
The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, nbn, has released details of its proposed Cell Site Access Service (CSAS) — designed to allow mobile carriers to connect their mobile towers using NBN infrastructure.
This comes as nbn finishes their first round of trials with their customers which started at the end of 2013 and continued through till June this year. However, given the duration of this second trial which is not expected to end till July 2017, it appears that initial plans to have a cell site access product available to customers by the end of the year will be pushed back further.
Former CEO of Vodafone Australia and now NBN-CEO was once a strong advocate for the introduction of the backhaul service. However, the company recently signed a deal with TPG telecom to build out its fibre network to all of Vodafone’s cell sites.
According to the updated testing agreement, nbn will trial the CSAS at a “mobile complex” in Beaudesert, Queensland where the company has begun rolling out its fibre to the node and fixed wireless network. As part of the service, the carrier will receive a network extension quote equivalent to one from the company’s “Technology Choice Program” to extend the fibre network (FTTP) to the designated cell site.
During the trial, the company will not charge the participating carrier for this network extension or any associated costs with this service including the Access Virtual Circuit (AVC), User Network Interface (UNI), Connectivity Virtual Circuit (CVC) and Network-Network Interface (NNI) — however, it says it will intend to do so once the trial is completed.
The test agreement also makes mention of potentially co-locating the cell tower with towers used by NBN’s Fixed Wireless service as part of a facilities access agreement with the access seeker. The NBN company will also determine the network traffic class used during the trial.
The CSAS trial is expect to continue until 1st July 2017.
After spending millions on consultants to criticise past decisions in the 2013 NBN Strategic Review, the company responsible for building the National Broadband Network, NBN Co, has repeated supposed past mistakes in a metric definition.
The review was highly critical of the former management of NBN Co when it stated that its Interim Satellite Service (ISS) had passed 250,000 premises when the satellites only had capacity to service 48,000 premises:
NBN Co has previously reported Satellite premises covered as 250,000, however the Independent Assessment considers that it is more appropriate to report 48,000 Premises Passed given the contractually limited capacity of the ISS.
Consequently, the review revised the company’s performance figure down in the review — stating the former management had missed the target of 250k premises by 80% (page 40) by reclassifying the meaning of the metric.
Yet, three years later — here we are again with the company using the total satellite footprint as their headline “Premises Passed and Ready for Service” figure.
NBN Co’s weekly progress report, which provides a high-level summary of premises passed across Australia, says 404,064 premises have been “covered” by the Long Term Satellite service. Yet, in the 2016 corporate plan, the company states that satellites only has the capacity to service 250,000 premises at a time.
Following the footsteps of the Strategic Review, NBN Co will technically miss its corporate plan satellite target by around 50%.
The hilarity of it all
What can I say? Metrics are arbitrarily defined by those who want to portray a specific outcome. Criticism of metric definition is moot, and really occurs only when trying to pursue a line of argument intended by those writing it. The Strategic Review is an excellent example of this.
Perhaps unnoticed by many at the time, the numbers in the review favoured the Multi-Technology Mix even though there was no increase in capacity for the satellite.
The review considered only 206,000 premises passed by FY16 in the “revised outlook” — however, it magically jumped up to 340,000 premises passed in the adopted “multi-technology” case without any physical changes to the satellites.
Remarkable isn’t it? Just goes to show how a metric can be reclassified to portray missed targets, then rapidly reclassified again to make your own rollout model look better 😉
Analysis: Some areas delayed by up to 8 months, with 290k premises delayed by at least a month
The company responsible for building the National Broadband Network has updated its rollout schedule, revealing wide ranging delays of over a month in 105 multi-technology mix (MTM) rollout areas around Australia, affecting around 290,000 premises.
These rollout areas predominantly uses the Coalition’s preferred Fibre to the Node (FTTN) technology, where the company rolls out fibre to the neighbourhood and reconnects with the existing copper to the home. Despite promising rollouts using the FTTN technology to be faster to complete, the company had reportedly been facing issues including slow rollout design approvals from power companies who will have to power the nodes in the streets. The reasoning behind the latest set of delays is unknown.
The areas worst affected by the delay are Cygnet in Tasmania and Mornington in Victoria, with a delay of 8 months shifting completion dates from late 2016 to mid 2017. The is followed closely by another rollout area in Mornington, Victoria as well as South Hobart and Margate in Tasmania and Garfield in Victoria with delays of between 6 and 7 months.
The rollout in Fletcher, NSW and suburbs near Claremont, Hobart, Tasmania have been set back by around 5 months. Another 8 rollout areas, covering around 22,400 premises in parts of Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales have been delayed by 4 months.
For a full list of affected areas, refer to the table below.
Another 22 areas, not listed below, were delayed by less than a month.
Service Area Module (SAM)
May completion date
June completion date
# of months delayed
Approx number of premises affected
South Hobart, Wellington Park, Fern Tree
Electrona, Lower Snug, Margate, Snug, Coningham
Garfield, Longwarry, Bunyip
Safety Bay, Rockingham
Rockingham, Safety Bay, Cooloongup
Hillcrest, Montello, Park Grove, Parklands, Burnie
The Labor party today released its NBN policy, just three weeks out from polling day. The party has pledged to ensure around 2 million more homes and businesses will get Fibre to the Premises (rather than Fibre to the Node) — but will retain the HFC portion of the network.
I’m keeping it brief today because of exams… but one may wonder why the Labor party will not also pledge to move some of the HFC premises to Fibre to the Premises. Further, why only shift 2 million premises to fibre? That’s because of one word: contracts.
NBN has already signed numerous contracts with various vendors and companies. Most recently, a $1.6 billion dollar contract with Telstra to rollout the HFC network. Previously, a $400m contract with ARRIS to provide the equipment for the HFC upgrade. Not to mention, all of the capital that has already been spent on building out the HFC IT systems (OSS/BSS).
In addition to this — the NBN company, under its Definitive Agreements with Telstra, must also retain ownership of the entire Telstra HFC network as soon as they switch on a single HFC-connected premises. That’s expected to occur within the next few weeks.
So even if the Labor party did pull the pin on the HFC network, not only will the NBN be liable for terminating contracts worth billions — it may also have to maintain a network HFC network (with Foxtel will continue to use) effectively for free even though NBN themselves won’t use it. Now that, would be absolute absurdity.
Estimates puts the build contracts signed by the end of July 2016 to be ~2 million premises (according to the leaked November 2015 IDP). The last corporate plan puts the number of FTTN/B premises by the end of 2020 to be 4.5 million, leaving 2.5 million premises available to be switched to the Fibre to the Premises model.
Being able to switch turn around, complete new all-fibre network designs and sign contracts within one month would be wishful thinking. This gives them around a 0.5 million premises buffer (mind you, that’s only gives them until October 2016) to turn around new designs and begin signing contracts or risk further delays.
Fortunately, there is no need to renegotiate the definitive agreements with Telstra and Optus again. However, I’d still characterise the 2 million premises FTTN to FTTP shift as an “optimistic target”. Good luck with the 4 month turnaround.