Monday, December 12, 2011

24 Hour Public Transport in Melbourne?

This article reports that the former premier Jeff Kennett has come out with the brilliant idea of public transport running 24hrs on weekends during the Christmas season. The proposal is hardly newsworthy, as it's been floated around for years but never implemented. There are many issues involved and there are plenty of self-serving groups out there who would rather keep it how it is. I'm going to explore some of the problems that the proposal faces, but before I do, I must state that a 24hr service sounds like a great idea on paper. Let's take it off and slap it with some reality.

1. Safety
This is usually the first concern by both staff and passengers when the issue of 24hrs is brought up. Many passengers would know how bad things are during the bad periods and the not-so-friendly areas of town, so it's no surprise that people would question this. Given that public transport is famous for being RE-active instead of PRO-active, I think they would have to demonstrate early on that more effort would be made for patrols and response times. 
Sidenote: If you're having any trouble on public transport, contact 000 yourself. Don't rely on the driver to always be able to spot things and know exactly what's going on, because operating a tram takes a fair amount of concentration. Do let the driver know if you can if there's a problem (often we don't know until someone comes up and tells us as they're getting off the tram), but don't expect each and every one of us to leap into superhero mode - we aren't bouncers, hostage negotiators, police or wrestlers. We have kids and families to go home to, as well as OH&S issues to consider. 
So what needs to be done? PSOs are being posted around the rail system at every station and this is IN RESPONSE to concerns about train safety. This is great, but there are dozens of stations that don't experience problems, so why not funnel these officers into the rest of the system? 

2. Costs
Not quite Christmas, but the Grinch is here already. It will cost a lot of money to run a 24hr service. Due to the continual stretching of work, trying to get the current staff to cover the additional time would be like trying to wear a sock as pants. So that means extra staff will need to be hired and trained. Then there's the wage bill. Working that late attracts some serious penalties and while the money might be good, I have never heard of any drivers being enthusiastic about all night services, regardless of cost.
Damage to vehicles is pretty extensive every Friday and Saturday night. Windows, seats, machines, you name it. How is this going to get paid for?
The question for this is "Where does this extra money come from?"

3. The dregs
The drunks, the drug-users, the ferals, the chromers and every other anti-social dimwit you can think of will be out there. Barely a week goes by that I don't hear about various tales of people passed out on the trams, getting carted backwards and forwards across town. They vomit, piss, leave rubbish behind, play their shitty playlists loudly for their mates, and so on. These are the people, whom after years of presence, have become an accepted part of the PT landscape. Having an all night service on weekends will only increase the problem.

4. Staff
It would be nice if we were asked "This is what we're proposing. What would you think is a good way for this to work so you're safe and happy to work at these times?" What will happen in real life is the Union will come to some sort of agreement where for a tiny payrise, we will get lumped with this. If you asked any driver about the whole 24hrs thing, you will be lucky to find one who would look forward to it. Yes, it's a good idea on paper, but after experiencing the worst of Melbourne's nightlife, I certainly would make it a mission in life to avoid those shifts, as would almost every other driver. 
As for Authorised Officers and other staff, more would need to be recruited in order to cover the gap. Given what they have to deal with (the spitting and punching), I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't want it either.

5. Fare evasion
Is pretty damn common on weekends. Why pay for a taxi when you can jump on a tram for free? Ticket inspectors, contrary to popular belief and press releases, are rare on Fridays and Saturdays when they are needed most. Why would you pay for a Nightrider bus (how late do they run again?) when you can jump on a tram and risk it for free? This issue goes nicely with that of Safety.

In closing, I think Kennett hasn't done this with the public in mind. It takes a minimum of one month to train a driver after recruitment has occurred. Add to this the time it would take to develop a timetable, run it by the Department of Transport and the usual channels, and you have a process that takes months. The article is dated December 12th, so this can't possibly happen this year. Given the cycle of media these days, you have to wonder what the agenda here was and why he didn't think of it earlier. A decade earlier perhaps? Most PT staff hate what he did back in the 1990s regarding staff and services. It's difficult to work out why someone with a Liberal background and reputation for decimating public utilities has come around to this conclusion. What interest does Jeff have in this? 
Broadly, the Liberals don't seem to be performing all that well with public transport. Sure, there are projects that have crossed over from the previous government, but I've yet to see anything that either separates them from their adversaries or anything that makes me confident in their abilities. And one should always be reminded that the pace of public transport is glacial (thanks to the ongoing fragmentation of the process that remains adversarial). Things that are happening now have taken years of work. It's no wonder many politicians hate public transport - it's taking a gamble for them at almost every step of the way. I'll have faith in the system when I see any public transport minister taking a ride around at 3am on Saturday night without police or entourage. And I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why do trams drive slowly?

Recently I got a message from @drbuttocks about trams running slowly and I thought it might be worth exploring. The tram issue more than the buttocks. While I can’t promise an answer to every occasion when a tram runs slower than normal, I hope I might be able to expand on some of the reasons why this happens. These are in no particular order!

1. The most obvious reason for a tram driving slowly is early running, and this is a pretty big one. A tram that runs early does the following:

a. Stuffs up the driver behind, who picks up passengers who should have been on the earlier tram, but missed it and found that the “2:45pm” didn’t turn up. They aren’t usually the happy and forgiving kind, either.

b. The company loses through penalties, of which early running is a major culprit. However, for a tram to “run early” in terms of the penalty system, it has to pass a specific point and not just any old stop. What happens in between these specific points can be interesting.

c. When a roster review comes around, the powers that be can identify that a tram has taken less time between two points and if enough trams do that, the timetable is tightened.

2. Sometimes trams can suffer from faults that can cause problems with movement. There are hundreds of different things that can go wrong on a tram, and when you don’t have a steering wheel, driving slowly can be very effective. However, if a tram does have to drive slowly because of a fault, passengers should be removed. Yes, it sucks, but if my brakes are causing issues, I’m not about to use passengers as crash test dummies.

3. Drivers themselves can have an impact on going slow. I have certain spots on the network where I’ve had awful accidents and I naturally go a little slower. There are also areas that have frequent accidents (and much less frequent attention). Sometimes there are track issues, where due to infrastructure, trams need to drive slowly. Sometimes a tram that’s been involved in a minor accident can remain in service. If that occurs, a slow driver should come as no real surprise.

4. Some drivers, when running early, drive slowly. Others get to a point where they can stop without blocking traffic and just wait it out.

5. Periods of the year can also impact on our timetables. School holidays can make certain trips, especially around 3pm, seem much longer without the little bundles of joy.

6. Some drivers are pricks and are looking for the short shunt. This doesn’t happen as often as it seems, but there are some drivers who drive slowly so they don’t have to go all the way. They usually get sorted out back at the depot for stuffing us up.

7. There are some older drivers out there. Older people tend to drive a little slower than younger people. It’s because they don’t have the reflexes they once had, or they’ve seen what happens to their mates who are in a rush.

8. We are trained to drive at a safe speed and to have the tram under control at all times. If conditions are crappy, such as rain or lots of pedestrians, speeding isn’t really an option. There are also protocols for tram movements, especially in the city.

9. Sometimes we are instructed to go slowly. We might need to swap drivers with another tram (to get the journey back on time without turning a tram around). Sometimes there might be drunks on the tracks somewhere.

10. If a passenger is talking to us up front, you can’t expect us to keep our feet planted. While there are notices up telling passengers not to do this, most people seem to think they’re the exception.

11. Conditions can dictate our speed. If there’s a tram in front with a problem/slow driver, obviously the tram cannot overtake. Safe gaps need to exist between trams, and if you’re right up the back of a packed tram, you might not always see what’s in front.

12. It’s easier and smoother to stop a tram travelling slowly than one travelling faster. Less chance of a passenger getting injured and less chance for other injuries and damage. It would be wonderful if we could get out there and drive faster, but due to the nature of the poorly-policed roads, especially the tram system, we can’t. There’s simply too many dickheads and not enough hours in the fortnight for the appropriate paperwork that would follow.

13. The driver’s being a dick and using his or her phone/reading the paper while they drive. Yes, this does happen unfortunately. I’m not one to do so – I only whip out the phone when I’m not driving. As per the rules.
If it helps at all, my shift won’t finish any faster if I put my foot down. If it says I’m finishing at 2147hrs, that’s when I’ll be finishing. We don’t get home early if we race, and it usually ends in tears when we do. It also works the same the other way – why on earth would we drive slowly to piss off our passengers? I do it for safety and punctuality (definitely in that order). The last thing I want while operating a heavy vehicle without a steering wheel is someone in my ear about how they left it to the last moment before leaving for their appointment.

It’s actually much more stressful to try and stick to the timetable than it used to be, so plenty of drivers have adopted the “fuck this shit, I’m going to do what’s comfortable” mentality. I’m one of those. It seems as though the company has reached the conclusion that tram drivers don’t need their lay up time at the end of the line, and if they run late, we don’t get fined as much as when they run early. If we can make them run late all the time, they can never run early. So while many drivers might respond to this by driving faster to keep up, there are plenty of us who have done the opposite. In terms of “thinking like a passenger”, I’d rather have a relaxed driver turn up a few minutes late than have some stress-ball race up on time and make me fear for my life. If you get the chance to ask any driver about this, please do. Working for almost 5 hours at a time without a decent break like we used to have is bullshit. Yes, we can leave the terminus later and have a bit of a breather, but we get called in and harassed by managers if we do. We also cop abuse from passengers, many of whom find it easier to yell at us than to make it formal – which counts against the company in the government’s eyes. I wonder what long-term issues this so-called policy will have?

(Disclaimer: this is not some sort of union-backed “go-slow” campaign, as claimed by some that exists in the train system when union bashing comes in and out of fashion. It’s a simple way of dealing with a very stressful occupation.

Here’s an example if you need it.

I leave the terminus on time. Throughout the journey, I run later, and later, and later because the time between two points has been set so I don’t run early. I have ten minutes at the other end, but I get there twelve minutes late. Not late enough for a short shunt, but late enough that when I change ends to go back, I’m already late. This snowballs and places us under a lot of pressure. Naturally, all the passenger sees is a late tram, perhaps a driver under the pump if they look a little closer.

@drbuttocks and others, I hope this clears up some of the reasons why trams go slowly. Yes, it can be very shitty and annoying, especially if you’re running late, but please keep an open mind. Most of us are doing our best to keep things moving and we appreciate your patience and tolerance!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why working on the trams is awesome

I know. It's been two weeks since my last posting. I've been pretty busy. My tweets have slowed a little too. I'm tired, but I'm still here. You know how when radio "personalities" go on holidays, they drag out the "best of" highlights because they're too cheap and scared to try anything different? Well, I've got some posts here I wrote a while ago. One of my followers suggested that I post the highs and lows of being a tram driver. Seeing as the Queen is here, I think I might start with the highs.

If you went by the media, working in public transport is some sort of awful, faceless nightmare of never-ending failure, abuse, violence, waste and political meddling. Rarely are there any "good" stories - perhaps a singing tram driver or something similar, perhaps even a political stunt here or there. However, after several followers expressing an interest in the industry and a lack of positive posts here, I thought it would be time to let you know what gets me out of bed each day.

The pay
Yes, the job pays well, and even though you don't say it during interviews, the pay is good. For a job that requires a license and a month's training, it pays very well. This is a reason why you have a lot of diversity amongst drivers - it beats driving a taxi hands down. We still have penalty rates for Saturdays (time and a half), Sunday (double time) and the epic public holidays (double time and a half - yes, 8 hours becomes 20 - half a week's work in one day). 

Plenty of annual leave and RDOs. There's also the flexibility of the roster. First sign on is after 4am usually and the last tram rolls in around 2:30am on Fri/Sat, so there's plenty of different start times. Also, we have 2 days off out of 7, except it's not always Mon-Fri. Sometimes you can have Sat Wed off. Our weekend begins on Sundays for some reason that's never been made clear to me. We have special diaries made to account for this. It's weird.

When you're out there on the road, you don't have a supervisor lurking over your shoulder. Yes, the vehicle is monitored and each passenger could be a potential complaint, but you're effectively your own master. However, with this freedom comes responsibility. The only time you really see a manager is when you're in trouble or they want something. 

Job Security
Yes, it's a secure job. One of the often-told stories is that you can only sack yourself. There is a strong union presence and while at times it feels like a closed shop to the extent that it's almost extortive, it's good to know there's a certain level of security. Transport Ministers come and go, companies running the system might come and go, but drivers are always there. You can work there for a year, or fifty. 

Unique Icon
Yes, it's a unique skill set that's pretty useless outside of inner-Melbourne, but each day you come to work, you get the chance to drive a major tourist icon. The locals might think it's terrible, but the tourists can often make your day. And don't forget to wave at the kids who always seem captivated by trams. In case you've been living under a rock, public transport is big news. 

The stories
Every day you hear them. About the car that flipped in the city. The taxi that almost hit alighting passengers. The junkies arguing over bills. The bum who smelled like death. The football crowds. The collisions. The dramas. The protests. The delays. Every driver has a bunch of stories that would fill a book. You see stuff that people won't believe.

Leave that shit at the gate
Once you've finished that shift, that's it. No work to take home. If you want to work on your day off for a bit of extra cash, you can if you want. If you want to work overtime, you can if you want. You can chase the cash or do the minimum. Either way, it ends at the gate. Unpaid overtime doesn't exist.

Helping people
It gives me a real buzz being able to help people out. The locals tend to take this for granted, but if you've ever been a passenger helping out a tourist, you'll know what I mean. Announcing a requested stop can bring out all sorts of appreciation and it makes my day. Knowing a few words of some different languages can also surprise people.

Seeing Police dealing with Dickheads
There's something special about seeing the thin blue line catch a douchebag. Given that we deal with so many of them on the road, there's little sympathy from us when some idiot has been pulled over. Sometimes I play a little game I like to call "guess the offence". Sometimes I make them up. It's all fun and hope that the lesson's been learned.

The Kids
Yep, kids get on and they think you're the shit. They wave at you from mum's arms like you're Santa. Yes, some dogs bark, but every single kid loves trams and I always try to wave back at them. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What They Don't Tell You During Training Part 3

OK, last post I got a little upset and ranty. Now and then I, like most passengers, get pushed to the point where I lose my trolley. One tweeter suggested I take a holiday (I would if I could right now!), but I stepped back and took a deep breath. I've decided to return with the last installment of the magical knowledge you don't find out until you've spent some time on the rails. I've got some drafts of various issues and other such stuff waiting to get posted, but if you have a question or issue that you want explored, tweet me or leave a message here.

Take care out there!

41. Every second you've been able to make up while you're running late will be taken away several times over by the accident around the corner, the glacial light sequence you've complained about for four years, the slow tram you've caught up, the rubbish truck, the genius who sends out the track cleaning car during evening peak, the horse-drawn carts, some random protest, a broken down car, the emergency vehicles parked 1.6cm over the yellow line and anything else that can happen. It sucks, but it's not a race. Drive calm, in control and claim the overtime.

42. Emergency people such as police, ambos and firefighters are awesome.

43. There are douchebags working at every depot. You can transfer as much as you want, but you'll always find them. More to the point, they'll always find you. They're the ones that always beat your cool stories, try and take your good shifts, won't stop talking, steal food from the fridges, steal anything that's not nailed down and treat passengers like shit. They make life difficult for everyone and every workplace has them. Don't ever help them with their computer problems, otherwise you'll be popular with everyone who's not "a genius with solving computer problems". 

44. The only good thing Jeff Kennett ever did for trams was to paint taxis yellow - makes them easier to see. And the people who buy second-hand taxis drive them like they're taxi drivers. Oh, and if you're wondering about the good taxi drivers in Melbourne, all three of them always seem to be on holidays.

45. "Baby On Board" means "I put other lives at risk because I drive like a shithead". It's true, and the reason? Many late nights taking care of junior. It makes sense, but it doesn't absolve them from being responsible or thinking twice before getting behind the wheel.

46. The vast majority of accidents are the fault of motorists. If you're involved in one and the motorist says they didn't see you, hide your disdain and anger with a facade of knowing and understanding. Put it down on the accident report though.

47. You will learn to hate people using iPods and iPhones. For some reason, their conversations and playlists are supposed to protect them from physics and make the rest of the world look out for them. Oh, and when it comes to emergency announcements, they will expect you to cater for their willing decision to exclude themselves from the world around them. Blame these people for Steve Jobs getting cancer. And subsequently dying.

48. The ultimate contraceptive device is driving a tram full of school kids. If you could somehow bottle and market this little slice of hell, you could make billions. And the Pope would approve.

49. People who are beautiful aren't always smart. People who dress smartly aren't always either. Don't be fooled by this camouflage.

50. You will notice that Stop and Give Way signs are used for decoration on side streets. Gong a car breaking the law here and alert them to a potential accident, and they'll slow down, give you the finger, then put their phone down to put their seatbelt on. You'll also notice that you are the only person on the road who sees speed limit signs. However, you will laugh at every piece of shit the police manage to pull over.

51. Any major entity, be it the company, VicRoads, State Government or Department of Transport has the power to screw something up in no time. Try to get it rectified, and you'll have several birthdays before anyone even looks at it.

52. You will soon learn to predict the behavior of motorists based on the stickers on their rear windscreens. Or the business their vehicle belongs to. You will feel like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix discovering his amazing powers. Only it's not so amazing and the soundtrack is much worse. You will curse the day you learn this magic and they won't make sequels about it.

53. If things get too serious, I recommend a regular visit to, and search "fail compilation" in youtube. You'll feel much better seeing other people fail.

54. The moment you work out that weird smell is actually vomit from up the back of the tram is the same moment it goes from mildly unpleasant to "I'm about to add to that". You will also encounter all manner of liquids that get on seats and floors. Treat it like the blood from "Alien".

55. You will find new shoe boxes on your tram. You will find old shoes in them. You will work out what has happened and wonder why these lazy idiots can't find a bin, or even bother to keep a spare pair of old shoes in the house in case. It's because they're dicks.

56. You will get out and offer to help for every pram, suitcase and shopping jeep and the passengers will appreciate it. The one day when you wake up with a shit back from a bad sleeping position is the same day they turn on you like some dodgy workers comp story on a current affairs show.

57. You will drive for hours and hours before anyone comes up to let you know the ticket machine is broken. Thank them and report it. However, the second someone claims to have been shortchanged,  they will spend the next twenty minutes bitching about the ten cents change they didn't get as if you stole it from their grandparents.

58. If you happen to smoke, you will smell things at 1/10th of their true smell and the smells will be truly awful. When you quit smoking, you will wonder how the bowels of hell managed to fit in your tram and you will return to nicotine with open and loving arms.

59. There is no massive shortage of indicator lights across Melbourne. The city is just plagued by lazy dickheads.

60. If you get bored, play a game called "guess the offence". You see a car pulled over, try to think of the most amusing, yet plausible reason for that to happen. Maybe the guy's driving an awful car or having a Ray Martin "pink business shirt" poor choice of fashion day. Either way, it's one small straw to keep insanity off your back.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics and Public Transport

There's been some interesting articles in the news of late regarding fare evasion on trams. Firstly, there was this article relating to the chances of getting your ticket checked on trams. 

Apparently the Transport Minister has "expressed his frustration at Yarra Trams about the loss of millions of dollars in revenue through high fare evasion...". This appears to be some sort of code for "we've spent millions of dollars and years preparing your contracts using very expensive lawyers which monitor trams down to the second, but we don't actually have any solid rules relating to the rate of inspection, so I'll just wag my finger at you in the media and do what every Transport Minister is expert at- pass the buck". This also adds to the confusion to the public, who now may think that either Yarra Trams runs the ticketing system or is trying to cut staff who inspect tickets (neither of which are true, but the subtlety of it all is from years of this crap).

You might notice over time that the various authorities, namely Metlink, are experts at campaigns to clamp down on fare evasion. If one were to perform a cost-benefit analysis on their work over the years, one would arrive at the conclusion that while we spend money, fare evasion is increasing. For an industry where money for basic infrastructure is sparse, it's amazing how much gets sucked into useless campaigns which make the suits and media types happy with the free lunch at the launch, but have not seen any impact. It would be interesting to go back over the years and see exactly how much money Metlink have spent on these campaigns and compare them with the rates of evasion. 

Then there are the questionable statistics. Apparently fare evasion can be monitored down to 0.1% accuracy, as there's been reports over the years about the rates decreasing.

Here, back in April 2011, it was 13% and Metlink Chief Dale Larkin said "inspectors would be checking as many tickets as possible from this week".

Here, October last year, yet another warning about a crackdown.

Here, in September last year, Metlink estimates fare evasion at 10%.

Back in July 2008, this article seemed hopeful. However, note the Metlink stats of fare evasion: 1996: 1.7%, 2000: 25%, 2006: 14.2%, 2008: 10.1%. The classic line in the article however comes from the Metlink Chief:

"...the return of tram conductors would not cut fare evasion to its previous levels because around 20% of the fleet's trams are now several metres longer than the older models"

Excuse me? Longer trams cause fare evasion? There's no explanation as to how this truly scientific method actually works or where this has been proven. It's just the usual "dodge, duck, dodge, duck" method of dealing with the media. Just looking at those basic stats over just a short period of time, you can see that fare evasion is climbing, especially in the last six months. 13%-20% is a huge leap worth millions of dollars. If I was responsible for a campaign to turn this around and in charge of millions of dollars of advertising and education and this was the result, would I expect to retain my job? No. But Even before Andrew Bolt and GASP, the Bolt Syndrome* has been perfected by public transport over many years.

*recently Andrew Bolt was found publicly guilty of racism, however his various employers are retaining him. Obviously this is condoning his illegal acts. If a regular person was found guilty of racism at their workplace, would their employer show such support? Same goes with GASP "customer service". This is the Bolt Syndrome: retaining and in some cases defending the actions of an employee which, to the ordinary person, has acted in a manner which would usually require termination.

Anyway, it seems interesting that they can measure fare evasion at such accurate amounts. Or is it? There are no counters on every tram, so right off the bat, the numbers are a guess. Those people you see sometimes at major stops with clipboards only operate during restricted hours, so again, take a guess. The rate of booking fare evaders is hardly scientific, as you get many runners as well as those who require the presence of a uniform to "remember" their ticket. At some point, in order to come up with these magical stats, the kind that managers and politicians rely on to make policies and spend money, someone has had to guess or make an estimate. This same logic is applied to patronage across the system, too. What a waste of time and money all this is.

Another interesting section of this article is the response from a Yarra Trams spokesman:

"A Yarra Trams spokesman said it had stepped up the number of inspections recently in line with Metlink's fare evasion crackdown - but did not say why fewer tickets were checked this year. Metlink said the crackdown was effective because monthly fines had increased across the network by more than 50 per cent."

The number of inspections has been stepped up recently? So what was happening before? As a tax payer and tram driver, I'm pissed. As a tax payer, the government is supposed to oversee this sort of thing and ensure that money handed over to private companies in this manner is accounted for and well-spent. As a driver, my working day is documented down to the minute. We get fifty seconds deviation at timing points and are under constant scrutiny. Our tables have been cut and chopped up so much that any recover time at the end of the line is almost always chewed up by late running. We literally spend hours and hours working non-stop in traffic. It would be nice if this performance was expected of everyone else working in the industry, including our union, the RTBU.

The second article is similar, but there are some rather interesting points if you read between lines here, folks. Bear with me.

The article states that the rate of evasion across the entire network of trams is 20.3%. Again, nice to have such a specific number. Twenty point three. However, the most interesting point comes at the bottom of the article, where the Yarra Trams spokesman makes some rather tasty information:

"Yarra Trams spokesman Colin Tyrus said the government was responsible for ticket inspector numbers on the network, with about 165 currently patrolling trams.
He said plain-clothes patrols had recently been increased, and announcements warning passengers of routes being targeted had been introduced. ''The vast majority of commuters … know they have to have a valid ticket and they do and they don't gamble on whether or not they'll be checked.''

Firstly, there's the famous "buck-pass", stating the government was responsible for ticket inspector numbers on the network. Wait, didn't we have the Transport Minister the day before wagging a finger at Yarra Trams for the rates of fare evasion? Who is responsible here? Don't bother wasting your time with such an important question, as this is standard operating procedure for public transport news. Here's how it works:

1. Newspaper digs up something unsavory, usually via FOI. If not, it gets released by whomever just in time to make Sunday's paper - the day with the least circulation. It's deliberate.
2. Comments are gathered from various sources, such as Government, Metlink, Yarra Trams, Public Transport Users Assoc. and RTBU.
3. At some point, someone will "pass the buck", blaming one of several targets: the previous government, the water-tight contracts (which, by the way, appear to contain very little about ticket inspectors!), the union, the staff. It's very rare that someone will respond directly or someone actually be named, as these "threats" are nothing of the sort. See below:
4. If the issue lasts longer than a day (which it usually doesn't), the buck may be passed again, but only in a way in which nobody directly is blamed. It's careful, well-crafted, and no more dangerous than the paper it's written on. Nobody gets hurt, the public are tricked into believing there's "conflict" and everyone wins. 

The second interesting point is the increase in plain clothes patrols. This IS news, but it's another one of those shitty tricks. When the recent version of Yarra Trams came into power, some genius saw plain clothes inspectors as damaging to the brand and had them removed. Everyone wore uniforms. Low and behold, fare evasion has increased and millions of dollars have been lost because of it. Fucking genius. If I pulled a move like that and cost the company millions of dollars, would I still be employed? No. Anyway, this "increase in plain clothes patrols" is not really an increase, it's just things going back to how they used to be. A bit like re-inventing the wheel - something which public transport is so expert at doing. This increase is the same as me taking out all of your teeth, giving them back, then telling you that you now have more teeth. And you can't claim it on Medicare.

The sad part about all this is that these clowns are all paid very well for their efforts. They will happily slurp from the trough of tax-payers and watch as the system is slowly ruined at a glacial rate: slow enough for nobody to really notice. Millions, if not billions of dollars are pissed away on re-branding, re-negotiating contracts, re-franchising, and so on. In this great system, everyone gets paid and nobody's accountable or responsible. The running of the system is fragmented into so many pieces, there is nobody there to oversee it, not even the Transport Minister. Each have their own narrow little world which they take care of, and that's it. The people who lose out? Front-line staff, the travelling public and tax-payers. This system, with the way it's been set up, cannot be changed from outside, and will not be changed from the inside.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Why does wet weather stuff the trams up?

When it rains or the weather turns sour, there's usually an increase in the number of complaints about the service. There are several things that aren't usually explained to passengers for whatever reason, and it's only been after people asking that they've discovered the reasons why rain can stuff up the service. I'm not excusing the performance of drivers here or making up bullshit to excuse the company. This is what happens out there.

Firstly, wet weather makes gripping much more difficult. Metal wheels on metal tracks can become quite lubricated with water and this can be compounded by things on the road, such as leaves and oil. I've you've spent time near some track or been up close to a cabin, you might have seen the SAND button or sand around the tracks. The button used to deploy sand in front of the wheels to help increase adhesion. This works great until you're on a curve and the tubes no longer line up with the tracks! If you even look carefully enough, you will find windows just above the floor on some trams indicating the level of sand in that chute. If you live near a depot, about once a week a large truck comes to deliver sand to an upright silo. Yep - sand. And this isn't just dug up from the beach stuff. It's a specific grade that reduces clogging in the tubes and is reclaimed as much as possible. The EPA is aware of this and so long as it's used sparingly, the impact is minimal. You will often find sand around stops on hills or around stops near trees. 

Secondly, there are usually additional cars on the road because people don't want to ride/motorbike/walk/catch public transport when it's raining. Compounding this problem is that people tend to drive at speeds without regard for the rain or slippery surfaces, hence the increase in any accidents on wet days (another issue that can stuff things up - two crashed cars blocking tram tracks). 

Thirdly, we drive slower to account for the slippery track and additional traffic. All the anger and impatience in the world doesn't mean shit to any decent driver if it's wet and dangerous. If we can't brake with the same adhesion as dry weather, we're going to slow down and take it easy. It's better to get there late than not get there at all.

Fourth, points can get silted up. With sand, dirt and all sorts of crap that gets on the road, points can get clogged up and may fail, leading to drivers having to get out and change them manually. Sure, this isn't a huge issue, but miss a set of lights because of it, and it's no help to an already crappy situation.

Fifth, the entire tram can get held up by one person attempting to open or close their umbrella on the step. Not only is this slowing trams down, but it's also rude at best and dangerous at worst. If you can't handle just a tiny bit of rain on your head as you walk the 2.5 metres to the tram door from the shelter (yes, I've seen people pop the umbrella out to do this), don't read the following:

THE HUMAN BODY IS ABOUT 60% WATER. Yep. Not worth it.

I can understand some people who aren't under shelter, but do you have to wait until you almost get on board before you attempt to close it? Or try to open it when you're not even out the door? One drop of water will not hurt you!

Sixth, some people decide that as they left their umbrella at home, they're going to jump on a tram for a stop or two instead. Fare-evader or not, this can slow things down, especially in busy areas such as the city. It's silly though, because in the city there are eaves that shelter most of the footpaths from rain. 

Seven, while designed not to clog and using sand that tries not to, sometimes sand pipes get blocked. And funnily enough, sometimes electrical equipment (yes, trams too) can fail when exposed to water. Trams can and do break down and this can sometimes lead to a shortage of rolling stock. During peak times, most depots are empty and there's not always trams or staff lying around on the off chance something goes wrong (privatisation yay!). So if a tram or two come off the road due to rain-related defects, this can cause other issues around the system, particularly if one of those trams were supposed to be in front of the one I'm driving.

There are a number of different things that can mess up the system during wet weather and many of these can also impact on trains. Yes, it's uber shit when trams don't arrive on time, but we can't control the weather, loading or the traffic. Those passengers who are patient and understanding are much appreciated!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Things they don't tell you during training Pt 2

Yes, it's time for Part 2 of the epic lessons I've learned.

21. Some passengers think there's some sort of magical place where extra trams, buses and staff wait on mass standby for the slightest interruption. Like some sort of Lasseter's Reef, the fact that it doesn't exist will not prevent them from demanding it appear right before their eyes (Truth is, bus replacements aren't usually arranged unless the delay will last a long time AND the bus companies can spare drivers and buses). They also expect that every tram driver be able to communicate with every bus driver. If soldiers are still getting killed by friendly fire, you know they're expecting too much.

22. Don't be rude to passengers. One of them might just be the Transport Minister. Whoever that is this week.

23. You might complain and belly-ache about the most dangerous place on the system for years and see hundreds of near-misses, but someone at VicRoads in an air-conditioned office earning four times your salary can knock it back in a split second because nobody actually gets killed or injured. Any normal person finds this

24. Pedestrians and motorists will try all sorts of crazy shit in front of a 30 tonne tram. Replace it with a 30 tonne truck that has steering, and they won't go near it because it's "dangerous". The tonne of feathers/tonne of lead riddle still hasn't penetrated.

25. Allowing a car to turn from a side street into your lane will see it stop shortly up ahead and hold you up to turn right or practice reverse parking. For what feels like an eternity. No good deed goes unpunished. Cars with no idea what's in front of you will wildly attempt to overtake you and hit the anchors when they realise it's not you holding them up - it's the cars in front of you. They're dicks. Nothing you can do can ever change this. It's just like physics, the class that most of these motoring morons skipped.

26. The same people who stand and block doorways are fully aware of the dangers of cholesterol and engage in diet and exercise, yet fail to appreciate their efforts on hardening the tram's arteries. 

27. Every year the same things happen for specific events, such as Anzac Day, Moomba, etc. Notices will go up on trams, at stops, in papers, online, but passengers will forget this and it will be all your fault. Similarly, there is a strong positive correlation between the complexity of what you're about to ask your passengers and the time since they last used public transport.

28. Passengers from out of town will love you for being courteous, informed and well-presented. The passengers who live here and see you every day want you to die.

29. The louder, longer and more inane the mobile conversation, the closer they will stand to the cabin. They struggle with their conversation and the task of finding their stop. This in itself is evidence to ban their use in cars. Don't think it has anything to do with them wanting to be obnoxious dickheads. It will make you long for the days of really short and expensive calls.

30. A woman applying makeup on your tram as you move is perhaps the highest unsaid compliment you can ever get. Don't be an arse and test the emergency brakes. However, feel free to screw up the day of someone using nail clippers on the tram.

31. Appreciate the fact that this is a rare job where gorgeous people will chase after you and thank you for stopping. However when things go wrong, all these beauties will become ugly as all hell faster than you can say "bad news".

32. Pedestrians on the road will step into the path of a 30,000kg tram to avoid a 900kg car travelling at the same speed. Similarly, a car turning into traffic will let the 900kg car go only to cut off the 30,000kg tram once again travelling at the same speed. The single most terrifying aspect of this is that these people are required by law to vote in elections. This will explain quite a bit.

33. You think the lights will change to red, so you wait it out like a good driver and it stays green forever. Touch the accelerator and it'll change from orange to red literally at the speed of light. The same law applies to doors - leave them open and there'll be no passengers and the light will stay red longer. Close them, and like Tony Montana at the end of Scarface, you'll be fighting them off. And you won't have a little friend there to make your defeat look cool.

34. Passengers will reward your display of landing a tram smoothly with the front door right at their feet by waiting for it to open and then promptly walking to the next door. Or the door after that. On an empty tram. And then they'll come down to the cabin and have a go at you for running late.

35. By all means be grateful if passengers approach you to pay a compliment. However, be prepared to grit your teeth when it's something like "It's so easy to understand you. Much better than those foreigners" or "Great to see an Aussie doing your job". They don't seem to understand that "those foreigners" are your mates. Or that every tram driver happens to be "an Aussie".

36. Sunday's paper is great for public transport news, but not so great for circulation figures. And yes, those two facts are related.

37. Whenever there's trouble, AOs will be waiting precisely two stops down the line after the troublemakers have alighted. Also, AOs are rare as hen's teeth on Saturday night when there's the most problems with drunks and trouble. Come Sunday morning, when it's double time for pay and the biggest threat is the church-goers, you need to fend them off with sticks.

38. The company has a list of problems. The union has a list of problems. Drivers have a list of problems. These lists are like Swanston, Elizabeth and Spencer - always full and slow moving, but never meeting up.

39. The less important the message, the louder and more frequently the "bionic bitch" will make on-board announcements. The very important messages won't even get mentioned.

40. If you drive on a a route shared by another depot, they will never announce disruptions to that line on your tram over the radio. The only way you will find out if there's a problem is when you pull up at the stop and passengers have found torches and pitchforks.

Monday, September 12, 2011

I See Red!

While it might appear that we have scant regard for red lights, it also appears people are willing to apply the same laws of physics to a tram that they do to a car (which is often 5% of less the weight!). These people include those who design the timing of lights between the orange and the red. It's a common complaint and without actually driving a tram, it is rather difficult to appreciate what's going on.

I'll knock out the basics. In some intersections, T-lights are separate to the traditional light sequences. Sometimes you get the three signals (white, orange and red) and other times you get a white 'T' that flashes up briefly during the sequence. These can function independently of the traditional vehicle lights, so while a tram might appear to be going through a red light, it is in fact using a separate light. Most drivers gong before moving off, as it might be a surprise for jaywalkers, etc. If I was breaking the law in a massive vehicle like a tram, I doubt drawing attention to the fact by gonging would help! Some signals have been around forever, and some have been installed under the Think Tram program to help get trams moving. For the most part it works very well, but can suffer from:

1. Cars blocking the intersection.
2. Jaywalkers (especially intending passengers running in front, who probably moan about late trams or grumpy drivers on Twitter afterwards).
3. Not enough space on the opposite side to clear the intersection.
4. Defective lantern (the light's blown).

One rather major problem with this design is that the tram has to be stationary long enough for the sensor to pick it up. That, and the fact that sometimes they appear to work randomly and are often biased towards traffic exiting the city. Sometimes they don't even work at all during certain hours in certain directions. I'm sure VicRoads could answer plenty of questions, but I digress.

Regular traffic lights present a rather unique set of problems for Tram Drivers. Off the bat, the lights are designed for other vehicles, cars mainly. T-light sequences are usually longer as they take into account the different speed of trams. The best way to communicate this is perhaps by using gas and electric cooking as an example. They both cook, but gas heats up much faster than electricity. Then there's the weight difference. The lightest tram without passengers is almost 20 tonnes. Yes, 20,000kg. Put this up against your average 900-1100kg car, and you can see why we're a little slower. Unlike cars, we have can have a large number of unrestrained passengers, some standing. We need to consider our load (something @96tram does more often on Twitter I think. If you don't follow, do it now). And now this is where it gets mildly technical, but bear with me.

The massive tram network is broken down into sections and these are separated by section insulators. These are essentially points where the massive circuit can be broken without shutting down the whole network. Say a truck hits an overhead pole at Flinders and Swanston. Trams throughout the city and along most of those routes can still continue. Anyway, the actual section insulators are "dead" zones in the overhead without power and as we cross them, we need to stop accelerating. Ever see those large flashes of light at intersections in the city? Yep, that's them. Even if we burn them or stop accelerating to drift under them, we lose power. Due to the intersections, many of them are placed at either side of the middle, so just as we're speeding up from a stop, we have to ease up. This, added to all the other issues that trams face, contributes to our lack of success at sometimes making across the intersection in time.

Oh, and there's a final reason that is usually the one most passengers and pedestrians think of when trams run lights - we're in a hurry. I've seen trams go through reds before and not just by a whisker either, so I know it happens. It could be fatigue, impatience, late running, any number of things. I know I've a couple of close calls and I'm going to do an entry on fatigue issues later on that might explain that we're not all impatient shits. If you're on a tram and the driver is running the reds (and not using white Ts instead), get in touch with Yarra Trams on the website. It gives us all problems, with rostering issues and other fun things. And besides, it's always nice to know legitimate discipline works - not just that initiated by tabloid newspapers.

So what does a professional tram driver like me do to avoid such danger and embarrassment? My trainer taught me that as soon as the red man starts flashing, sit back and relax for the next set. So far that's worked well, except for the abusive set who see green with no tram moving and then see red. Yes, you're going to be late for your train/bus/brain transplant/yum cha/pilates session, but leaving things so late that a single change of lights can make or break your day is not anyone's fault but your own.

Some things to remember as a pedestrian when you're around trams:
1. We're big, heavy and have plenty of blind spots. You don't ever want to find out where they are.
2. Even if the green man is up, it's not some magical protective shield that stops the laws of physics. If you're lying on the slab down at the coroner's office or eating food through a straw for the rest of your life, knowing whose fault it was or who broke the law won't change a thing. Always look where you're going! This goes for all kinds of traffic and is not some sort of threat. There are plenty of dipshits out there on drugs, raging against talkback radio, tired, sleepy, angry, in a rush, drunk and just plain dumb. They speed, can't read, fail to indicate, run lights and do all sorts of stuff. They may or may not have licenses, registered, serviced or roadworthy vehicles, insurance or the balls to stop after an accident. It might be stolen. They might be old, frail, blind, deaf. They might hit the accelerator instead of the brakes, they might get hit from behind, they might have a pregnant woman on board. The truth is even if you know or are related to that person driving the vehicle, how can you ever be 100% about it? How on earth does a parent reverse over their own child? Shit happens, and the important thing is to have your wits about you when it does to avoid getting stained or to avoid it all in the first place.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Things they don't tell you during training Pt 1

I've been quiet for a while. Part of that is being busy and another part has been constructing some cardinal rules of tram driving. It's a list (so far quite large) of stuff they don't tell you when you're being trained and it's from a driver's perspective, so don't get crabby if you feel left out - you can leave a passengers perspective in the comments section if you feel that way inclined! If you can imagine a conversation between the new recruit and the battle-hardened sergeant in a war movie before the newbie gets killed.

1. There is a strong, positive correlation between passenger loading and the distance from the cabin to the defective door that won't open or close.

2. Accidents and delays will occur during the following periods
(a) On your very last trip before finishing.
(b) On your last trip before lunchtime.
(c) When all that coffee you drank catches up with you.
(d) Right next to the only parked car for miles, causing all those lovely patient cars to remind you of your occupation, instead of reminding them they're tools for driving on tramlines.
(e) The tram in question will be followed by fifteen of the laziest, most stubborn and surly tram drivers who would rather wait for mechanics than get out and see if they can help.
(f) When you have a collision, there will be an overwhelming temptation to snot the passenger who asks how long it will be without even asking if you're ok or offering help. Don't do it.
(g) Hit the brakes to avoid an accident, and passengers will abuse you for stopping too quickly. Vomit in front of them from the shock and they still won't be convinced. Crash, and they'll get stuck into you for making them late.

3. When you need to make up time, traffic will magically appear and every stop will be in demand. When you need to lose time, these same cars and passengers will magically vanish.

4. The smaller the gap between you and the parked car, the faster and riskier they will drive to make it through. And just to prove to the world beyond a reasonable doubt they are morons, only after they risk life and limb will they put their seatbelt on.

5. A line of perfectly patient, waiting cars will be turned into utter chaos as every car behind the appearing tram tries to cut it off. Those cutting in, even faced with an empty lane hundreds of metres long, will still cut the tram off (that has massive blind spots and can't steer) instead of going up further and risking the ire of fellow motorists.

6. The van turning right in front of you will always here your gong perfectly and take it personally. Unlike the taxi speeding past your open doors and narrowly avoiding the alighting passengers whom you were aiming it at.

7. You have not "seen it all".

8. When you make plans for your day off, the depot starter will wake you at 4am begging you to come in and work because all hell's broken loose. When you have no plans at all and are first on the list, everyone will turn up to work, everything will function properly and the phone will remain silent.

9. Everyone turns up to work on a day off and drives the wrong way by mistake. Limit it to once of each, and you won't stand out.

10. The busier the traffic traveling in the more lanes available, the more stupid moves the intending passengers will pull to make the tram.

11. The frequency of the trams will matter not to the suicidal passengers who have to be on THAT tram. The following tram could be one 30 minutes away or right up your clacker - they will run at you like it's life and death (which they make it). Parents will drag their kids through danger as well.

12. When cars stuff you up, you just have to wait it out. When trams stuff up motorists, they sometimes have to be cut out. Remember this.

13. When your tram develops a defect, you will look for the most complicated issue and solution. It's never the case, but you'll waste 10 minutes before you realise this, but so long as you look like you know what you're doing, nobody else knows this little secret.

14. School holidays suck when they're on because we have to try and lose time. They suck when they go back because of more passengers/traffic/angry 4WDs. There is no win.

15. That drunk, with breath like Old Spice, will eventually get up the front and talk to you, the trapped captive audience who now has to pretend to care so as to avoid "angry drunk Old Spice guy", who is nowhere near as cool or verbally proficient as "Old Spice Guy".

16. You will cop abuse from passengers. You might stop the tram to save kids from the burning orphanage, but there'll always be someone who sees past your second-degree burns and demands to know why the tram isn't moving. You can't change this.

17. If someone insults your weight (yes, sitting down all day tends to make you fat), don't ever say it's because their mother/father bakes them cookies after you have intimate relations with her/him. It will only sound awesome to you. The manager and other passengers won't think the same.

18. Passengers will sometimes ask what you consider to be "The Stupidest Questions in the History of Stupid Questions". Now you know how your trainer felt. However unlike you or your trainer, passengers don't spend all day on the trams. Remember this.

19. Passengers running for the tram think you waiting is fantastic. Those already on board think you suck for holding up their trip.

20. Yarra Trams is not responsible for every car accident, truck/bridge crash, burst water main, freeway closure, roadworks delay, wayside collision/fatality or event that can impact a service that uses the middle of the road. Somehow, after over 100 years of electric trams, this concept manages to elude thousands of people.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Message to @Yarratrams

Dear Yarra,
                  I just want to make it crystal clear why I'm doing this blog. 

If I hated you so much, I wouldn't work for you. I'd find work elsewhere. I enjoy my job.

If I hated passengers so much, I wouldn't treat them with respect and intelligence by using social media to communicate with them (cop that @yarratrams!). I'd also find a job where I don't have to deal with them.

If I sound like I dislike you, that's because sometimes you do things that irritate me. You treat me as if I don't exist until there's a problem and you rarely seek me out for consultation. When you need me, I'm there. However when I need you it's not quite the same.

The reason I started this blog and my twitter account is because there was a rather massive gap between us   and our passengers that you have failed to bridge for so long. I'm talking years. When you do communicate with them, you are robotic and it never seems genuine. There are plenty of people out there who are curious about how and why stuff happens and I've found that if you explain things, they're usually more understanding and accommodating. I try this on angry passengers and it seems to work out very well. I'm not about to reveal any eleven secret herbs and spices about our relationship as company and employee, but if this blog results in one person pausing and considering the situation instead of abusing the driver our of ignorance, then the job here is done. I often get the distinct feeling that some of the people working for you don't even know what we really do or where the eight depots are located. I'd like to be convinced that we're all on the same team, but you need to put in some more effort there I'm afraid.

Unless I'm talking about serious issues such as accidents, please don't expect me to be too formal or serious and I'm not always going to be able to pick the side I want to in certain situations and discussions (including lengthy monologues regarding the use of sand as an adhesive)

I do keep an eye out for things that you do well, such as the Good Friday Appeal and other things. I hate being overly critical without providing anything constructive, but sometimes I have no choice when it comes to some of the things you do. This isn't some sort of blackmail or hateblog - I'm just one driver trying to let people know that we're not all arseholes and many drivers understand that the system can be shit. I know having someone else talk about you might raise your hackles, but I'm on your side. I wear your name on my uniform. I'm not about to shit all over the hand that feeds me, but I will fart at you now and then. My fear is that there is so much opportunity to tackle important issues and deal with real and ongoing problems, but this is pissed away on things like a brand new uniform. The public also tend see it this way and while they often don't understand the complex contracts between you and the state, they aren't all idiots. After all, without them, both you and I wouldn't even be here. They often think that because you don't post anything on @yarratrams, you don't care or are somehow afraid to get in amongst it all. I know that's not true, but truth and perception are two very different things as you can read here.

In all honesty, if I write something that's grossly incorrect, downright false or misleading, please feel free to add a comment and correct me. This goes for both Yarra Trams and other readers. I will make every effort to sort out my facts before hand, but sometimes I don't have all the fact and I'll go with what I've got. I don't claim to speak on your behalf, nor do I claim that you endorse or condone my work. I'm just someone who likes their job enough to do this.

Tram drivers need a bit of a face and a bit of representation out there, especially when it comes to some of the things people say about you on the internet. If you thought Andy Blume's comments about passengers and accidents were rough, I'd suggest not reading anything in #yarratrams. Some people hate you! And while I don't try to convert everyone out there with a beef, I do try to explain things from a driver's perspective. I try to be reasonable about it and I even suggest passengers report bad drivers instead of complaining to twitter.

Finally, more often than not I'll write my posts for both here and Twitter in a draft format. That way I can hold on to them until I feel like publishing them and within a few seconds of deciding, they're up. Don't bother trying to match up my post times with my hours of duty, because they won't correlate and I'm sure you have better things to do. In fact I know you have better things to do. I can post at home, changing ends of the tram or whenever. Oh, and apparently you do have a social media policy. That's one publication that might be worth putting around the depots, especially in light of recent events. Some of us are interested.


Your humble and loyal employee,


PS I am open to bribery. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Herald Sun vs Andy Blume

First of all, wow. Yes, wow. I've been pretty quiet these past few days owing to the uproar surrounding one of my co-workers. Obviously the company radar will be dusted down and time, effort and money will be consumed either gather further evidence or looking for similar acts. No doubt this account will get glanced at and while they might not like the fact that I bypass the company propaganda mill and tell things straight up, they won't find much in the way of a smoking gun. 
I'm not about to come out representing the accused or to defend his actions. I've spent some time going over his blog and having a look around, and it's very much a case of "if it's not your cup of tea, don't boil the kettle". What this entire situation appears to be is more an orchestrated attempt at character assassination. I noticed that numerous times the individual has been critical of the Herald Sun, which provides them with a certain motivation. But before we get too involved, let's look at the timeline.

On August 18th, the story was posted revealing:

"The 33-year-old faced a disciplinary hearing last month for using his phone to take pictures while at the controls of his tram and posting them online. He was not stood down"

Reading that implies that not only is he guilty, but the company was reluctant to punish him. If it was written "he faced a disciplinary hearing last month for XXXX and there was insufficient evidence for XXXX/the accused admitted guilt and agreed to cease", it would at least have the air of due process. It's also a rather strange situation, as I would have thought that one's record of employment with a private company would fall under the Privacy Act, or at least be without relevance as there appears to be no punishment. How did the Herald Sun get such information? And given the recent issue of phone hacking, if I were running a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, I'd want to be a little clearer about how I obtained such personal information.

Looking at the writing of the articles, I can't help but see that unless you visited the blog and other sites, you wouldn't know that the paper is cherry picking the most sensational aspects of this person's internet identity and "reporting" it in such a way as to paint him in the worst light possible. "Pornographic images"? I saw some rather unattractive naked women, but apart from that, I get worse stuff in my spam box. As for taking photos of sleeping passengers and making fun of them, I think if you fall asleep on a tram in Melbourne and that's the worst thing that happens to you, you're bloody lucky. Yes, it's unprofessional, but hardly dismissable offences as the person has fallen asleep in a public place and what the accused uploads to his website in terms of naked ladies is hardly an issue for the company (unless he's doing it on the company's time/bandwidth or under their name, but it appears that the truth here might be interfering with the story). 

The comments and the pictures regarding crashes are somewhat disturbing, but if this person truly took such joy out of accidents, he wouldn't have lasted ten years, let alone get voted for an OH&S role. It's clearly a coping strategy or at the very least a way of sharing what is always a traumatic event. I'd be curious to see if the company has or will offer him counselling, as it might be needed. The Herald Sun has neglected exploring this avenue for some reason. I've had accidents in the past (as have the vast majority of drivers) and the expectation is that unless you're injured physically or the tram damaged seriously, you continue your trip and the rest of your shift. You might get someone asking you how you are, but it never comes across as being company policy. 

It seems as though much of the things he writes are designed to offend and shock. It might be designed to get your attention (sounds like something a newspaper might do) and leave little space for middle ground or differing points of view as it hits extreme from the first words. 

On the same day, there was a small editorial that summarised the article and called for the accused's dismissal. The editorial expands a little, claiming that he "boasts of causing accidents with his tram". Interesting, as this is a pretty serious development. Once again, to last in the job ten years while taking such joy in causing accidents doesn't quite add up. If he was that keen on causing accidents, there would be ample evidence of this on his record as it's not as though we're starved of opportunity (I have roughly 4-5 near misses per half, all cars and pedestrians).

As far as the accusations of sexist and racist comments being posted online go, it appears that the news writers for the Herald Sun don't spend much time talking to the moderators of the online comments section. I find what the accused says about the gender of accident drivers a little unsavory, and in my experience there's pretty much a gender balance when it comes to bumping into the large beasts.

In an article on Yahoo7, Yarra Trams says that in light of the pornography and racist comments, it will take quick and decisive action. Unless the porn relates to his activities at work, they will probably find that what an employee does in his or her spare time that isn't related to work is their own business. The link here is rather weak and I'd be interested to see if it even gets a mention at his "meeting". As for racism, I doubt this will be the real issue either, as his views are being expressed outside of his workplace.

Phil Altieri also chimed in here in the article. Instead of keeping quiet as it appears that an investigation is either occurring or beginning, he talks about how the rest of us workers get tainted with the same brush. Wow. Someone who's effectively your own industrial lawyer when it comes to issues of discipline has publicly come out and said you're the bad paint on that brush, before you've had a chance to defend yourself or even face a formal inquiry at work regarding the "new" evidence.

Another aspect of note was that the comments section, under the articles relating to Mr Blume, while present on the page, have no comments posted. I've read on twitter that it appears to be disabled as people have complained about not being able to post. While this might simply be a case of software failure, it seems a little odd that an article skewering someone about online comments being posted would have their own comments not working (deliberate or otherwise). The argument that perhaps nobody’s commented is null and void, as regardless of the issue, there’s always some sad sack linking any current news to the glory of the Howard years or how much they hate Julia Gillard.

Another rather curious issue here is the complete lack of any comments what so ever in the letters to the editor section of the paper on any day since the original article. Not one. Either Melbourne has stopped caring about public transport altogether, or the Herald Sun is not posting comments. Once again, it seems rather one-sided and impossible to believe that not one single Herald Sun reader has used this incident as a platform to complain about the latest football coach sacking.

One aspect I cannot let pass is the use of a mobile phone while operating a vehicle, and it should be known that this practice is dangerous and the company does have strict rules relating to the use of electrical equipment while driving the tram (ie don't do it). Seeing as this offence was dealt with a month and the punishment was not to stand the driver down, it would be easy to arrive at the conclusion that there was not enough evidence for dismissal. In order for there to be enough evidence, you would have to have a reliable witness (yes, we get plenty of dobbers complaining) or proof that those pictures were in fact taken by the driver. Just because I put a picture on my website doesn't mean I actually took it - it merely means I have sourced it. The article clearly implies, without proof, that these photographs were taken by the accused in contradiction to the Road Safety Act as well as the company rules. To use images to imply someone's guilt as opposed to establishing or prove it is not exactly the height of journalism.

Let's have a look at the sequence of events through a different light:

The accused is somehow caught using his camera while at the controls of his tram (note the absence of the word "moving" or even "occupied"). He fronts up to a panel, agrees not to do it again and, as per the instructions, doesn't do that again. If this was such a serious matter, why was this not referred to Victoria Police?
Someone at the Herald Sun catches wind of this and as they know he hates the paper via his blog, sets out to bring down this "rogue tram driver". They manage to "discover" photographs and blog entries that are, in some cases, many years old. There is no reference to any "new" blog entries or photographs submitted after the panel a month ago. Is he continuing to offend? Or has the Herald Sun simply dug a little deeper than Yarra Trams did? 
He's on leave for a week, which means the media cycle will have enough time to chew him up and spit him out before he's back at work. Thousands of people will have made up their mind before the investigation has started and given the Herald Sun has made Yarra Trams look ignorant, I'm thinking they already have the result of the panel arranged as well.
He can't comment or defend himself online as these are serious charges that may have legal implications. Not only that, but what if, as part of his work punishment, he had to assure them he wasn't to post anything else work-related? That would make his situation impossible. 
And all of this stems from a panel a month ago which did result in the accused not being stood down. Why wasn't the evidence, that's been online for years, brought up then? 

In order for a bit of balance, it would be interesting to find out who was actually responsible for the "best collision I ever had". This happened in Collins St several years ago (I remember as it was on the news). The context, while initially abhorrent, can be up for interpretation. Without the benefit of facts, we can only assume by the Herald Sun that Mr Blume's a horrible person. As the twitter feed is now private and I can't find the photo anywhere else, so readers have no idea if Mr Blume's best accident is because he enjoyed hitting a car breaking the law in a tram-only lane or, perhaps, Mr Blume's best accident was because there so much damage and nobody got killed. It's this sort of "journalism" that, without context or some line of proof, that is simply there to help paint the worst picture. It's this sort of "reasonable doubt" that exists in court and while as I said earlier I'm not out to defend Mr Blume, I am merely trying to illustrate that this article is poor journalism at best.

I will repeat what I said earlier so it's clear to my followers and anyone from Yarra Trams: While I don't agree with many of the posts and find them distasteful, I find the sequence of events in this situation far more disturbing than the offences, proven or otherwise. I find the fact that the company appears to be taking it's employee discipline cues from a tabloid newspaper very concerning, especially considering the amount of information they're managed to get in reference to his panel, his OH&S position, his place of work, etc. Employee history, let alone a copy of an expired work travel pass, is hardly public domain and I'd like to know where that ID card photo came from. While I can't possibly believe it's a conspiracy, it certainly seems like a very cosy group of people circling around one employee who just so happens to be on leave during the week the story "breaks" and a month after the panel. Herald Sun readers might be this easily fooled, but there are plenty of sceptics out there like me who look past the pictures and look for the sorts of things that aren't written, instead of simply lapping up this second-rate garbage as "journalism".

Oh, and finally I'd like to congratulate the Herald Sun, Yarra Trams, Transport Minister Terry Mulder and the Rail Tram and Bus Union for not letting an issue such as the 594 accidents between cars and trams this year get in the way of dealing with a single disgruntled tram driver. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, injuries, interruptions to the service, costs in fines, stress to staff, etc. That statistic of 594 collisions was posted in the company's staff newsletter "The Wire" on August 16th.  Two days before Mr Blume made page three.