Sydney Trains will be taking extra steps to ensure crowding on the network does not return once patronage increases following the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown.
In responding to a report from the Auditor-General for NSW which found that platform crowding was a key strategic risk, a Sydney Trains spokesperson said that a raft of measures are being introduced.
“Sydney Trains is currently implementing a number of initiatives to help customers make informed decisions about physical distancing in accordance with NSW government advice,” said the spokesperson.
“These include increased visibility through signs and announcements on trains and at stations explaining physical distancing. Additional measures include a communication campaign targeting school children, managing Opal gates to space customers entering and leaving stations, new guidelines for passenger numbers on lifts, regular customer information announcements and social media messaging, and staff education to help guide customers safely around the network.”
In its report, the Auditor-General recommended that Sydney Trains and Transport for NSW (TfNSW) should address key data gaps in the operator’s understanding of where crowding was occurring.
“Sydney Trains do not have sufficient oversight to know if crowding is being effectively managed,” said the Auditor-General.
Although customer management plans exist for high-patronage stations, a lack of policy supporting the plans limited their effectiveness, the auditor-General found, and a centralised collection of data on crowding interventions did not exist, nor did Sydney Trains have a routine process for identifying whether crowding contributed to minor safety incidents.
Sydney Trains and TfNSW accepted the Auditor-General’s recommendations and have been instituting responses to limit crowding.
“In March last year, we saw the introduction of the $296 million world class Rail Operations Centre, with an integrated network of 11,000 digital cameras monitoring stations and concourses in real-time to help support crowd management and safety,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.
The Auditor-General also cited larger programs such as the More Trains More Services initiative as well as the building of Sydney Metro will alleviate network pressure in the longer term.
Research and technology programs are also looking at how to smoothen operations and changes customer behaviour. The Auditor-General found that some of these initiatives, such as reduced fare prices outside of the peak travel periods and improved wayfinding, needed to be evaluated to assess their value.
The effectiveness of measures to reduce crowding will be one way to encourage commuters to return to public transport. In the preliminary findings of a University of Sydney survey, public transport was found to be seen as significantly less comfortable than private cars, which could limit the use of trains and buses after COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, said associate professor Matthew Beck from the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies.
“To avoid levels of congestion that exceed those experienced prior to COVID-19, governments need to encourage work from home as much as possible. Businesses also need to be flexible with remote working and think about how they might stagger the hours of the day staff travel to and from work.”
According to Sydney Trains, continuing normal services levels has allowed customers to physically distance on trains and platforms.
“We have also continued to run a full timetable with only minor adjustments, despite substantially reduced patronage across the network. This has created the best options for customers to physically distance within train carriages and at stations.”