Bus service upgrades: 'grafting on' versus 'network' thinking
Since late 2006 many Melbourne bus routes have had their operating hours extended and new weekend services added. There have also been new SmartBus routes and revisions arising from local area bus reviews.
Changes can range from extra services on an existing route to an entirely new network in an area. Even small timetable changes to one route can have implications for nearby routes.
Worldwide, the strongest transit authorities take a network view. They see additional resources as an opportunity to provide new connections, remove wasteful duplication and allocate saved resources to needed improvements elsewhere.
The long-term result of such 'network thinking' is a simple and legible network with consistent service levels appropriate for a route or corridor's role.
In contrast, authorities without a network view can miss opportunities for improvement even when given additional funding. This could be for several reasons. Firstly some in transport departments may see themselves more as contract managers than network planners. Secondly, a legacy of route or operator-based planning may obscure a wider view. Thirdly, contractual arrangements in some cities may restrict the ability of transport agencies to reallocate resources between routes and operators.
Whatever the cause for a lack of 'network thinking', the result over time is the same; a system of increasingly illegible, infrequent and overlapping routes as improvements are simply grafted over an unchanged existing network.
The following examples from Melbourne suburbs are offered to show the big differences between 'grafting-on' and 'network' thinking and why it matters for passengers.
Network thinking example 1: Yarraville/Newport/Altona North
Three years ago the local bus network around Yarraville, Newport and Altona North was a mess. The area's routes (429, 430, 432 and 471) only ran during the day and not at all on Sundays. Routes teminated either in quiet suburban backwaters (429 and 430) or at closed railway stations (432). Legibility was poor, particularly in Altona North, where the combined route 432 and 471 took a different route on Saturdays. And to cap it off, only some areas had service to the the nearest major shopping centre at Altona Gate.
The area's bus service review recommended network changes which were introduced during 2008. This may have been easier because the one bus company ran all routes. 429 and 430 were deleted, to be replaced by a new route 431 and improvements to 432, which now served Altona Gate Shopping Centre. 432 and 471 were made more consistent throughout the week and given 7-day service. These provided the area with a much better local bus network and patronage has increased strongly.
Network thinking example 2: Carrum Downs/Frankston North
Frankston North is a low socio-economic residential area located just beyond easy walking distance of Kananook Staion on the Frankston Line. Carrum Downs shares similarities but with newer privately-built homes and higher average incomes. Until 2008 both areas only had very limited public transport, particuarly on weekends. Routes were circuitous and, like Altona North, there were confusing weekend-only deviations and routes.
24 March 2008 brought substantial service increases to the area. Route 901 SmartBus started, providing a more frequent direct service between Frankston, Dandenong and Ringwood. This replaced the slower and less frequent local routes 830 and 831 that went a slower way via residential areas.
Instead local coverage was provided on routes 832 and 833, operating between Frankston and Carrum Downs. These routes run until 9pm 7 days a week and represent roughly a doubling or tripling of overall service (more on weekends).
Interchange with 901 is possible at Carrum Downs, and headway harmonised timetables (15/30 min weekdays and 30/60 min weekends) provide constant scheduled connections between this and local routes. The thinking behind this was to reduce the transfer penalties for passengers who lost their previous direct service to Dandenong.
Connections to adjoining suburbs such as Seaford and Carrum were not included as part of the changes but a new route to the industrial part of Seaford (778) commenced recently.
The Carrum Downs service changes can be regarded as 'Network Thinking' as local routes were altered upgraded on the same day that SmartBus was introduced. This minimised duplication and allowed connections to be planned. Hence, unlike Yarraville it involved a SmartBus as well as local routes. Also although all routes are now run by Grenda Group operators, at the time of its commencement route 901 was shared with Invicta (which Grenda bought).
'Grafting on' example 1: Sunshine/Sunshine West/Sunshine Park
The Wright Street pocket of Sunshine remains served by a complex series of routes that shows what can happen when new services are grafted on without the question being asked about existing services.
Wright Street is mainly served by the Sunshine Park/Sunshine West portion of the 219. The 219 forms a high-frequency pair with Route 216, with the routes overlapping between Sunshine Station, the city and the Brighton area. 216/219 is a direct and well-used route along busy roads that offers above-SmartBus service levels, particularly on weekends and evenings. It is operated by Melbourne Bus Link.
219's Sunshine end is tangled and confusing, as can be seen from the map. On weekdays and Saturday mornings from Sunshine it runs via Hampshire Road, Boreham Street, then back to Wright Street where it terminates at First Avenue. On Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday the route serves Fairbairn Road as far as Talintyre Road, hence missing some stops off Ardoyne Street and east of Hampshire Road. The result is that one set of stops receives a service 5 1/2 days a week while other stops receive service 1 1/2 days of the week (see map below).
Sunshine West is not the most affluent area. It contains families without one car per adult. Such residents near Fairbairn Road would no doubt appreciate the Saturday afternoon and Sunday bus service, as provided by this 219 extension.
However Fairbairn Road is served by another route, the 471, which like 219, also runs to Sunshine. In 1997 the 471, run by Sita, operated six days a week with a limited Saturday service (last bus from Sunshine was 4:10pm). By 2006 this service had improved, with the last departure being 4:50pm. As 471 did not operate on Sundays and public holidays, the Fairbairn Road portion of 219 was still needed to provide a service then.
Further large improvements to Route 471 were introduced on 25 February 2008. This included a 9pm finish, Sunday running and service on public holidays.
Except for some late evening weekend trips, the 471 upgrade made this variation of Route 219 redundant. But the 219 extension was not deleted. Hence it continues to duplicate Route 471 along Fairbairn Road for 1 1/2 days of the week.
The next major service change in the area was the Route 903 orbital SmartBus. This new route started on April 20, 2009. 903 overlaps the 219 along Wright Street east of Hampshire Road (Monday - Saturday morning section) but again the duplicated section of 219 remains intact.
'Opportunity cost' is a helpful concept for the transport planner, and in this case I doubt that retaining the 219 past Sunshine stacks up compared to other uses for the drivers and buses. 219's justification for remaining in the area is weak since almost all of it is within 500 - 800 metres of either 471 or 903.
Running times for the Sunshine to Sunshine West portion of the 219 can range up to 13 minutes. When multiplied by the number of services run per day this represents several driver/bus hours per day that could be put to better use if the service terminated only at Sunshine rather than Sunshine West.
It is all well and good to recommend the deletion of a route portion, as recommended here, but it does not help passengers unless a better use can be found for the resources saved. Examples in the area are not hard to find. Resources saved by terminating 219 at Sunshine could be put towards one or more of the following improvements:
* Increased City - Sunshine running time for the 216/219 between Sunshine and the City (both routes are known to suffer late running due to traffic) to permit better timetable adherance (though bus priority would be better still).
* Upgrading 471 from its non-harmonised 25/50 min weekday/weekend frequency to a harmonised 20/40 min weekday/weekend headway to properly mesh with trains at both Sunshine and Newport.
* If justified, retaining the late weekend evening services provided to Sunshine West, but instead operate as either a 454 or 471 to improve both legibility and coverage.
'Grafting on' example 2: Altona/Altona North
Altona is a coastal residential suburb that in itself contains only local shopping. The nearest large shopping centre is Altona Gate in Altona North. This is linked to Altona via Routes 411 and 412 which are identical except for a section in Altona North.
Route 411/412 has a combined 20 minute frequency on weekdays and 40 minutes on weekends. This is harmonised with trains in the area.
Earlier this year Route 903 between Altona and Mordialloc was introduced. It runs every 15 minutes during the weekday interpeak and every 30 minutes on weekends. It substantially overlaps with 411/412 between Altona and Altona Gate Shopping Centre.
The end result is a very frequent service between Altona and Altona Gate when measured by buses per hour (7 on weekdays and 3.5 on weekends). The weekday service in particular is probably excessive. However because daytime service frequencies are not harmonised to the same headway hierachy (903 is 15/30, 411/412 and local trains are 20/40) the intervals between services vary, reducing the possible gains of the frequent service provided (eg an even 3 buses per hour on weekends with a 20 minute maximum wait is better than an uneven 3.5 buses per hour with 30 minute gaps).
Unlike the case with 219 extension towards Sunshine West, 411/412 cannot simply be deleted as it fulfills other functions in the Geelong Road, Laverton and Altona Meadows areas.
I have no straightforward solution here. For instance, in retrospect it might have been desirable to to have terminated 903 at Newport or Williamstown rather than Altona. The thinking here is to avoid duplication with 411/412 and save resources by allowing part of the 471 to be deleted. Keeping the 903 as is, but truncating 411/412 at Altona Gate doesn't appeal as this removes direct access to there and Footscray from Laverton or Altona Meadows; both areas not known for their surplus of local shopping. Given the 903 is now running, I suspect that the chance of a route change is slim given its profile and popularity.
Of the examples here, this is most comparable to the Sunshine one due to the multiple operators involved and the interaction between SmartBus and local services. The main difference is that a solution is not immediately obvious.
The above comparisons show that where implemented 'network thinking' has delivered both improved system efficiency and better services for passengers. Where network thinking is absent and the 'grafted on' model of service change prevails the result can be less than economical (Altona) or, at worst, be illegible for passengers (Sunshine).
The successful Yarraville area changes only involved one operator and local bus routes only. The successful Carrum Downs changes was slightly different, involving a SmartBus and local routes. While there were initially two operators, one ran all services except a half share in the SmartBus.
The Sunshine case especially may indicate that the presence of multiple operators may make it harder for authorities to take a network view when introducing service changes. Instead the 'grafted on' approach may be followed, with all its attendant inefficiencies and potential lost opportunities.
Labels: buses, management, Network design, service planning