A few drops at l(e)ast.
Russell Degnan

It has been more than a little annoying that while, to date, Melbourne has relished in reminding us how cold and wet she can be, little of the rain has fallen on our depleted water catchments.

Strictly speaking, Melbourne is still receiving less than average rainfall each month. Nevertheless, the drought appears to be breaking, and finally, a bit is falling where it ought. Following last week's good rain, the Thomson Dam, has received nearly another 100mm today, including over 300 (albeit highly suspect) millimetres up on Baw Baw.

Even so, by my reckoning - 48,700 hectare catchment, 50% yield, average catchment rain of ~100mm - that's the best part of 25,000ML. Enough to push the catchments over 30% again.

Not that this, in any way, reflects on the need, or otherwise, for a desalination plant. It is merely a bit of good news on a gloomy day.

Sterner Matters 27th June, 2007 18:52:52   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CLIV, June 2007
Russell Degnan

University exams. Done now - as is my marking, once the slackers get it in. Notice how, only a couple of weeks ago it was autumn? That's done too. Taken June 2007

Melbourne Town 27th June, 2007 02:53:23   [#] [0 comments] 

The anatomy of "Fare or Fine"
Russell Degnan

A few days ago, Fritz challenged me to explain a comment I made over at Spinopsys regarding transport fare collection:

What I don't understand, is why every transit system in the world continues to rely on “fare or fine” systems of payment, when there are dozens of alternative models that could be tried that would be both more efficient and easier for the commuter?'

The characterisation "fare or fine" refers to the relationship of the user to the transport service. In order to ride it, you must either pay a fare, or risk having a fine imposed on you. Both the nature of the fare - from single ride tickets to multi-modal, periodic fares - and the nature of the fine - from the price of the ticket to Melbourne's time 50 impositions - vary from place to place. But by and large all systems involve a user paying a fare to ride, with some onus on the user to purchase their ticket.

When trains were new, and labor costs were low - relative to the cost of running the system - fare-based systems made a lot of sense. However, like every business, the cost of collecting the money is a significant portion of the running costs. Public transport is particularly problematic because each fare is a small amount, rather than a bulk purchase.

There is often a perceived problem here with "free riders". People who burden the system without paying for it. How many free riders there are is determined by how willing the operators are to hunt them out, and coerce payment. Generally - as efficiency and competence matters - an increase in the amount of money spent on ticketing systems will give decreasing returns on the fare. At some level, it is not worth trying to work out who has paid and who hasn't.

Hence the purpose of fines. Although the cost of administering fines hardly pays for itself, it has an importance coercive effect on use behaviour. Fines place the onus of payment on the rider, giving them a choice between getting a fare, or potentially copping a fine. Transport operators have progressively reduced the number of fare-takers (conductors and so forth) and increased the number of fine-takers, as a (supposedly) cheaper way of bringing in the revenue.

To what extent it work is an interesting question. No doubt there is research somewhere, but it is too late for me to be bothered looking for it.

The issue I asked about earlier, relates to the fact that many service industries have substantially different ways of dealing with free riders, and of taking payments. Radio and television for instance, work from advertising and public subscription - the latter being more of a guilt thing. Internet and (increasingly) mobile phone operators give (practically) unlimited use for a monthly cap. Gyms enforce membership by charging exorbitant fees for single uses. Regardless of the system, the standard service provider tries to make things easier for the consumer, by divorcing payment from individual uses - imagine having to buy a daily electricity ticket? - and by reducing the information on where the charge relates to use.

Public transport operators, mostly - I suppose - because they are providing a public service, tend to put ticket prices close to the marginal cost allowing people to clearly see what they are paying for. This information, while helpful in increasing user efficiency, is hurtful for getting funds. The less information the user has, the less rational their decisions.

More importantly, one of the major problems for funding public transport is the long lead time between starting construction and getting fares. Changing the cost structure to emphasise infrastructure costs, not individual trips would make a substantial difference in both the willingness of people to pay, and the amount you could drag out of them.

While I wouldn't wish to imply that any particular service industry is a perfect model for funding public transport, it may be worthwhile considering alternatives that de-emphasise individual fares, put the onus for collection on the operators, and reduce the obviousness of day-to-day use. The relative costs of collection are getting bigger, and new systems don't seem any more likely to solve these problems.

Sterner Matters 13th June, 2007 04:27:47   [#] [2 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CLIII, June 2007
Russell Degnan

From last year's early morning walk. Taken June 2006

Melbourne Town 13th June, 2007 02:56:54   [#] [0 comments]