Sunday, August 01, 2010

The new Casey/Cardinia bus network: high and low priorities

Earlier this year the new City of Wyndham bus network around Werribee and Hoppers Crossing was reviewed.

The Wyndham network, a result of that area’s bus review, commenced back in April. It features increased coverage through more routes, public holiday service and (generally) a 40 minute frequency seven days per week. Unlike other areas, which saw more gradual changes, the Wyndham changes all started on the one date. The network’s main compromises were the early finish on some routes (7pm vs the 9pm minimum standard) and the absence of combined scheduling to maximise effective frequency along major corridors where routes overlap. However the old network’s 40 minute frequency was retained which with trains every 20 minutes provided consistent connectivity.

Even bigger than the Wyndham bus changes is the new network for Casey-Cardinia. Despite being at opposite ends of Melbourne both areas have much in common – outer fringe suburbs, new housing, fast growth, young families and areas with low incomes and high transit need.

However more so than Wyndham, public transport service levels in Casey/Cardinia lagged development. Daytime trains run at half metropolitan frequencies (30 – 40 minutes typical) and the area contains only limited bus services. A combination of non-connecting street layouts and low train frequencies (particularly on weekends) make planning efficient bus routes and timetables a particular challenge in Casey/Cardinia.

Timetables for the new network are not yet available, so a full analysis is not provided here. However some information about routes and service levels are contained in a release from the Minister. From this it is possible to discern some priorities that have shaped the new network.

High priorities

Coverage

The first priority, probably deservedly so in a fast-growing area, is local coverage. This is in line with the Department of Transport’s strict coverage requirements (90% of residents within 400 metres of a route). Six new routes have been added and others have been extended. This is at least comparable to Wyndham as the biggest addition of new routes in recent times.

Span

The close second priority is longer operating spans in accordance with minimum standards. In many areas this means Sunday and early evening service for the first time. It will be possible to leave the city as late as 7:30 - 8pm yet be able to make the last bus, unlike now where many local buses finish before the pm peak has ended.

Simpler routes

The third priority is some route simplification. Full assessment of this will have to await release of network maps and timetables. However it looks as if the new network will remove some of the confusing peak and off-peak service variations that now exist.

Low priorities

Three areas appear to have received low priority when planning the Casey/Cardinia network. These are as follows:

Connectivity with trains

The first is connectivity with trains. Unlike Werribee and Hoppers Crossing, buses at Pakenham and Cranbourne are often not frequency harmonised with trains (see below).

Bus/train connectivity is an area that a bus review could address, and indeed consultants' reports from all areas have highlighted this as an area for improvement.

However the new (higher) frequencies announced so far have tended to reduce maximum waiting times but do not always provide for even connectivity with trains. Three examples are below:

Route 847 (replacing 839): Weekdays frequency increase from 40 to 30 minutes (harmonised), weekends increase from 80 to 60 minutes (not harmonised).

Route 894: Weekday frequency increase from 75 to 45 minutes (not harmonised) and Saturday frequency increase from 75 to 60 minutes (not harmonised).

Route 895: Weekday frequency increase from 75 to 45 minutes (not harmonised) and Saturday frequency increase from 75 to 60 minutes (not harmonised).

This continuation of non-harmonised headways appear to indicate either (a) a view that bus frequency should be maximised, even if this compromises connectivity through the use of incompatible headways (eg going for 45 minute rather than 60 minute headways to connect with weekday trains every 30 minutes), (b) a view that buses are for local school and shopper trips only and connectivity with trains or other buses is unimportant, or (c) a view that trains are insufficiently reliable to connect to.

Established areas

The second area of low or no priority has been in services to established areas, even those with low incomes and high transport needs, such as much of the City of Greater Dandenong. While many of these areas already have a Sunday service, there remain other needs such as the upgrade of local routes in Endeavour Hills to full minimum standards and a link to Fountain Gate Shopping Centre. On the latter, the current Route 842 operates only thrice daily (Monday – Friday), whereas other areas in Cardinia such as the semi-rural Emerald and Gembrook are better served.

Direct routes

Thirdly the development of frequent and direct routes (as potential SmartBus corridors in the future) have not been emphasised in the release, though some straightening of existing routes may indicate some progress towards this. Examples could include stronger links between Cranbourne and Berwick, Fountain Gate, Endeavour Hills and Frankston, as well as between Casey and the Dandenong South Industrial Area. These routes could either be stand-alone services, or, as suggested for Wyndham a combination of two local routes providing a higher combined frequency.

Conclusion

The new network promises an upgrade of buses in Casey and Cardinia to the span and frequency now general in most of the rest of Melbourne. The changes to commence shortly are likely to be the biggest single service upgrade these suburbs have received since they were first developed. However unless there is a substantial effort to improve connectivity through integrated timetabling, these services will be most useful for local travel only.

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