Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Public transport in the age of the smartphone


Now that most people have smartphones, why do we need fixed timetables for public transport?


My wife and I visited Sydney a while ago. We haven't spent much time there and don't know the way around well. To navigate, we used Google Maps and selected public transport as our method. It is quite amazing -- Google is able to tell us where to walk, which bus/train/tram stop to wait at and it  even designs connections allowing time to walk between them. In my experience (and I now use it exclusively when planning a journey via public transport) its performance has been flawless.

It got me thinking -- 85% of Australian adults now own a Smart Phone. If we reach a situation where people can be relied on to have a smart phone, how can we take advantage of this to (re)design public transport?


It's 2017, and you want to go somewhere by public transit. You use your smartphone to plan where and when you want to go (whether it is now or in 30 minutes' time). The app lodges the journey request with the local public transport authority (PTA), where there is a computer that dynamically generates the routes and timetables to minimise waiting times and maximise the directness of routes. The transport fleet is different -- there are still many large buses/trains/etc but in addition there are now a local fleet of small mini-buses (say 8 - 12 seats) that facilitate relatively local movements or act as feeders to the larger/faster routes.
The novelty of this idea is that the routes and timetables are dynamically generated -- there are no fixed routes or timetables -- these are designed on-the-fly in response to demand. There are New Years eve fireworks in Sydney and 1.5 million people want to go home at 1am? No problem -- feeder shuttle buses take people to the trains and larger buses take people to places where rail service is poor. Because the route planning is centralised, it can even avoid bus-jams (traffic jams comprised almost entirely of buses) by rerouting accordingly.

From the users' perspective, the service would operate similar to using Google Maps to plan a journey.
From the drivers' perspective, it would be like using a GPS navigator that tells them where to go and whom to collect/deposit.


Public transport is hugely under-utilised -- many buses/trains are well below capacity. Yet one often needs to wait for service. A system such as this would be much cheaper to roll-out than additional vehicles, and would result in a leaner service that was much more agile and efficient.

How is this different to Uber?

(disclaimer: I've never actually used Uber)
There are a few ways I can see
  1. It is designed with systemic efficiency in mind. Because the drivers are employees and can be relied on to work particular times, the central planner organises them collectively to move people. This will achieve much greater performance than a system where individual drivers compete for individual passengers. This point can't be overstated -- as a hybrid system, performance would be excellent.
  2. It's publically owned/operated. I would envisage that this is state-subsidised. Also, because journeys are shared (just like a bus/train), trips would be very cheap compared with a taxi service.
  3. It still uses connections to maximise efficiency. Of course, because connections are planned, you would never miss one. For example, your shuttle bus deposits you at the train station, the train waits until people have boarded and then departs. There is no timetable.


 There are two (related) problems that I can see
  1. 15% of Australians lack a smart phone [1]. A service such as this would exclude non-smartphone users. I think a government subsidy to give all low-income people a smartphone would still give savings in public transport alone if this were implemented.
  2. Technology barrier. Old people and people with sensory or cognitive impairment could tend to be excluded. This would need to be carefully managed to ensure access.

[1] This number is changing rapidly. This article states that 30% of Australians who lack a smart phone are planning to buy one in the next 12 months. If that eventuates, by 2017 only about 7% of Australian adults would lack a smartphone.

Saturday, September 19, 2015


this post contains comments and judgements about medical practice and attitudes. Although I'm fairly knowledgeable about such things, I am not a medical doctor, surgeon or allied practitioner. Please consider this post as opinion only and not as a basis for medical decisions

I've got two kids, and it's enough. My wife and I decided that I'd get a vasectomy to be sure (well, fairly sure) not to have any more.

I had a vasectomy on Friday September 14th. The actual procedure seemed very simple and quick, and I was home that afternoon. I had a very quiet weekend, just relaxing on the couch, I followed the advice of my urologist to apply ice and take neurofen. He had previously told me that Monday "might be the worst day", so I  wasn't too concerned as the pain become more acute throughout the weekend. By Tuesday I could hardly stand up, and the pain was so acute that, even lying down, I couldn't tell when I needed to urinate because of the constant pain and discomfort.

My scrotum was approximately double its normal size.

At this point I phoned the urologist's surgery to get some advice, but was told that he was on a week's holiday and that his colleague (also a urologist) was also on holiday. There was no post-operative support (!)

When nothing had improved by Wednesday, I went to my GP, who thought I might have an infection, so put me on antibiotics. This did seem to help, and by Thursday the pain had reduced to the point where I could walk, but was still extremely uncomfortable (it felt like I had an extra pair of testicles).
I saw the urologist the next Monday (when he returned from his holiday) and he was quite concerned, diagnosing a hematoma (bleeding from the operation), and advised that I continue taking the antibiotics.

It's now 5 weeks after the procedure, and things have mostly settled. I can ride my bike again, though I still regularly get pain, especially at the end of the day.


I think that we take vasectomy too lightly. It's a surgical procedure, and thus vulnerable to all the complications that other surgical procedures can cause. In my case, my scrotum wasn't shaved before incision (I would expect that would increase the risk of infection).
As an example of people's attitudes, I heard a story about a guy who cycled home from his vasectomy (ie. it's such a trivial thing), and had a couple of veiled comments along the lines of "toughen up and stop whinging".
But, speaking with other men, I have heard many stories of problems. One guy I spoke to said he still gets pain from his two years after the procedure. Another guy had an infection that required hospitalisation.


Vasectomy is a very minor operation. It is routine and is usually successful. Despite my experience, I would recommend it. But -- do not take it lightly, do not attempt to be tough, and do not ignore symptoms afterwards -- if you have significant swelling or pain, see someone straight away.
Also, remember that the experience of surgery is hugely varied -- just because your brother has a vasectomy and jogs home does not mean that will happen for you.
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