Open Up Public Transport Performance Data

Anyone who expects a public transport system to always run on time and without faults or other problems is almost certainly kidding themselves. Like any man-made system, things just go wrong sometimes.

The sign of a good public transport system is how well the situation is handled when things do go wrong. Good public transport systems should not really be noticed on a day-to-day basis – they should just work.

It would seem quite reasonable to offer incentives for companies running the systems to do a good job – theoretically at least, it eliminates complacency and gives their workers a good reason to do the very best that they can for the paying public.

In Victoria, the current operator of Melbourne’s Metro Trains is the MTM Consortium. They are rewarded for meeting punctuality and reliability targets, and penalised if they fail to meet them.

No problem there – unless of course, they are gaming the system?

“Metro is terminating trains part-way along the line hundreds of times a week, dumping passengers short of their destination in an effort to meet lucrative government-mandated performance targets.”

As I understand it, a service that doesn’t run the full length of the line is not considered to be a scheduled service, so it isn’t counted in the statistics covering “scheduled services”.

For example, a 4:05pm train that was supposed to travel from the City to Lilydale is suddenly terminated at Ringwood because it was running a bit late, and becomes an “unscheduled service”, because there is no “4:05pm City to Ringwood” service on the timetable. These “short running” trains don’t seem to affect the result in any way.

That’s pretty handy for when you’re trying to meet reliability and punctuality performance targets on the promise of getting money for meeting them – and it’s been pretty lucrative for them too:

“Metro has consistently met its targets in recent years. In the 18 months to September, it received $16.7 million in incentive bonuses. But the good results have been achieved in part by a readiness to alter services to stick to the timetable.”

Furthermore:

“In all, 550 services were altered or did not run in the first week of March, although just 151 services were officially recorded as cancelled, putting Metro narrowly inside the 98 per cent reliability threshold that triggers customer compensation.”

They landed just inside the threshold huh? Gee, that was fortunate!

But where does the data about the performance of the network come from? It used to be manual, but apparently that has changed:

“PRS uses track sensors that automatically record train arrival and departure times at stations, reducing the government’s reliance on data provided by Metro to inspect whether it has met targets that can secure it million of dollars in quarterly bonuses.”

So theoretically the government has the data, yet Metro are gaming the system and still getting away with it?

What’s the solution? Become transparent and release the raw data publicly – let’s see it.

The problem with this whole compensation system is – (as we can see) – that we don’t know that all of the late/changed/cancelled services are being included in the data.

It seems relatively clear that they are not.

When you get off a train at your station and it has arrived 20 minutes late, how do you know it will be included in the next round of data as having been so late?

If we had the data – openly and transparently – we could all go check, and find out whether or not these performance bonuses are justified or not.

Some accountability, if you’d like to word it like that.

I want to be able to get off a late running train, and be able to go to a website – (within a reasonable time frame) – and confirm that the fact this train ran late – (or ran short, or was cancelled) – is in the data.

At the moment it seems like we as taxpayers are being ripped off, and the government knows it.

I’ve suggested this kind of transparency before, but I was told by V/Line at the time that it was almost impossible to provide this data. It was even inferred that the data didn’t even exist to be able to be published.

So what data were the reports being produced from? Exactly.

How about it government? Want to do the right thing?

Sunday Nerding: The Columbia Disaster

Into space this week for the first time in a little while, and a documentary on the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster, back in 2003.

Unlike a lot of documentaries on this topic, this one looks at more of the cultural and scientific aspects of the incident, rather than just a raw explanation of what caused the loss of the shuttle, and where it leaves the space program for the future.

That future is up in the air – (no pun intended) – but this is an interesting piece.

Propaganda Targeted With Propaganda?

Today has seen another episode of “completely missing the point” released by the Australian Government.

“Terrorist propaganda posted on social media and the internet will be monitored and analysed under an $18 million plan announced by the Abbott government.”

How will they target the propaganda?

“The government will also produce online material that challenges the claims of terrorists and promotes Australia’s values.”

Much like terrorist groups produce material that “challenge the claims of [insert-name-of-country-here] and promotes [insert-name-of-terrorist-group-here]’s values”?

Basically, tackling propaganda by issuing……………propaganda?

Just as we don’t see the material produced by terrorist organisations as something we would ever agree with, why would they see the material we produce as something they would ever agree with?

They are not going to change their view one iota – this is just another piece of populist politics, designed to appease the masses who can’t think things through for themselves.

Don’t get me wrong – I certainly don’t believe we should do nothing…but this is just a pointless waste of money from a government who believes in not wasting government money.

Almost hilarious.

The Metadata Minefield

Despite there being little or no evidence on the effectiveness or usefulness of mass data retention in jurisdictions where it has been implemented, our current Australian government seems determined to steamroll legislation through the parliament to introduce it here.

For its part, despite some noises against the idea, the current opposition Labor party – (the party that brought us that dumbheaded idea of a mandatory internet filter) – seems at least – (although wavering) – to be fairly open to the idea also, with some caveats.

“The letter, obtained by Fairfax Media, comes despite reports last week that Labor would “roll over” and support the bill as long as there were amendments in it that protected whistleblowers and journalists.”

On the surface, the protection of whistleblowers and journalists seems like a noble stance to take, but exactly what form would that ‘protection’ take?

The problem with ‘protecting’ whistleblowers with respect to this is actually pretty simple.

How will the authorities know who a whistleblower is, until they’ve actually blown their whistle?

Presume for a moment Edward Snowden was an Australian citizen who would have this legislation applied to him.

Until he actually acted in leaking information as a whistleblower, since he wouldn’t be known to the authorities as a whistleblower, he would apparently be afforded no protection.

Because technically until that moment of blowing, he’s not a whistleblower. Do they then throw out any and all data collected in relation to him?

I bet I know the answer to that.

And what about who he ‘whistleblew’ to? Of course, that would be a journalist, who would supposedly also be protected.

So would a Labor-supported version of the legislation include provisions to automatically exclude the communications associated with a recognised journalist?

I bet there would be a sudden upswing in the number of people applying to journalism courses around the country.

Consider the following.

Edward ‘Aussie’ Snowden – (who, remember, we don’t know is a whistleblower yet) – calls journalist Glenn ‘Aussie’ Greenwald with the information he wants to leak. Snowden’s communications are being captured, Greenwald’s are not.

The collected data still shows that Snowden called Greenwald, because Snowden is in the default dragnet.

It would’t matter what ‘protections’ are supposedly in the legislation.

Greenwald publishes without revealing his source. The authorities look up who has communicated with Greenwald, without specifically looking up Greenwald’s communications, and Snowden’s name shows up.

Who was protected here?

Presuming there was a good reason to introduce mandatory data retention – (and I’ve not heard a good reason yet) – getting it ‘right’ and having reasonable protections in place will be all but impossible.

There will be so many corner cases – (like my hypothetical here) – where even the best intended ‘protections’ will still fail the test of protecting those who need to be protected.

It will be a minefield.

Accidentally Revealing Your New Livery Early

It was great to see the return of Shell to the list of major sponsors in the V8 Supercars championship, particularly since it is returning to the team it is synonymous with, DJR Team Penske.

In an economic climate where sponsors have been hard to come by in the category, it is a positive for the whole championship. While I find the new livery a bit bland, I’ve got a tip for the team when unveiling a new sponsor and livery.

Don’t have the car covered up ready for a big reveal in the showroom, while the spare car in the workshop is visible to everyone – with the new livery on it! Click image below for a better view.

Oops!

Sunday Nerding: Overhauling A Boeing 747

Ever boarded an aircraft and thought “hey, this thing looks pretty old, is it still safe?”

Many planes in the global fleet have ages beyond 20 years – for example, the Qantas fleet of 747-400 aircraft which has just been retired, was in service for around 25 years. Their remaining fleet of 747-400ER are about 10 years younger.

So how does a plane that old manage to remain in airworthy service?

All it takes is some tender loving care!

Sunday Nerding: The Enigma Code

With the recent release of the film The Imitation Game about the life and times of Alan Turing, the key scientist – (a mathematican) – in solving the problem of being able to quickly break the German enigma codes of World War II, I thought it might be time to explain in simple terms what he really managed to achieve.

Too many people don’t really know.


While the film has been criticised as distorting what really happened at Bletchley Park during the war, the historical significance of the work should never be forgotten, and the work of everyone at Bletchley Park celebrated.

You Don’t Know What Non-Fiction Means

Just spotted this in the local Target store while wandering around on my lunch break.

Non-fiction?

Yeah, I don’t think you know what that means!

Seriously eBay – Not Cool!

I discovered this email from eBay in my inbox this morning, and immediately thought “holy shit!”

Click the image for a larger view:

The email is about selling up unwanted gifts on eBay, which some people may be inclined to do at this time of year.

My nanna passed away 31 years ago, so while I was bit shocked that such an email would be packaged up in this way, it didn’t upset me particularly.

But how many people received this email, whose grandmother has passed away recently and for whom the wound would still be open, and would still be upset?

Ouch.

Insensitive much?

I’m sure your intent was benign, but how about thinking things through a little more next time?

Seriously, not very cool eBay!

Sunday Nerding: History Of The London Underground

Back onto a train theme today, with an interesting – (albeit slightly older) – documentary of the London Underground.

Amazing how things come about!