Friday, September 20, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 21: South-West Sunshine

It's helpful to study network maps and timetables if you want to make a local bus network better. Demographic data is also helpful. For example population densities, car ownership, average incomes, where people work and so on. 

This week we'll look at south-west Sunshine. Even though it's not that far from Melbourne CBD, its patchy development makes it quite difficult to serve. For example instead of the continuous road grid that places of equivalent distance in the eastern suburbs have, there's freeways where you'd expect arterial roads and gaps where one might expect a bridge across a creek.

Also housing development was not on the progressive front that steadily rolled from the inner to the outer. Instead it happened in bursts over five or six decades, leaving quite a few industrial areas, open space and disconnected road networks.

There's fewer local shops than what one might expect (possibly due to the limited population catchment of the above pattern). Also, due to the cul-de-sac fashion of much of the time, we have been left with impermeable street layouts that impair pedestrian access to local facilities and transport. 

Sunshine West is a large suburb. The Glengala Rd area (which we won't discuss much here) is dominated by 1950s and 60s weatherboard and cream brick homes. Parts are near Ardeer Station. Because it was laid out before the cul-de-sac rot of the 1970s had set in, its road layout is both walking and bus friendly. Advantage was taken of this in 2014 when the new Brimbank bus network introduced two-way bus services along Glengala Rd from Sunshine to Deer Park and Watergardens (new route 420).

Before then Glengala Rd had the Route 454. It got more complex over time. For example in 1971 it went in a single direction. In 1972 the 454 got an AM/PM reversal, with the 437 route to Laverton also in the area. By 1978 the 437 had gone (likely due to low patronage) but the 454 kept its AM/PM reversal.  By 1992 the 454 had reverted to a single direction, but going the opposite way it did in 1971.

Then in the 2000s, as the area to the south developed it got an extension with much bigger one-way loops to serve areas to the south (which we will soon talk about more). The extra coverage was nice but some people had to go three times the required distance just to make what should be a short trip to Sunshine. 2006 saw some service improvements including new Sunday service (which had long existed in other parts of Sunshine). 

A little later the Red Orbital (903 SmartBus) came. This overlapped parts of the 219 west of Sunshine. This was at one time very complicated. It went one way 5.5 days/week, another way 1.5 days/week. It could be justified as a way of providing a full weekend service when Route 471 didn't have it. However the deviation lingered long after the 471 got upgraded (Melway map below). 

Most of the complications, particularly in the west, were tidied up in the 2014 Brimbank network review. Its centrepiece was the Route 420 which gave Glengala Rd a two-way service with new connections to Deer Park and Watergardens.  The southern area got two new routes from Sunshine. The 427 approached from the north (via Forrest St) and the 428 from the south (via Hampshire Rd). 

You can see the local network on the PTV map below. 

What it (and all other) PTV maps don't tell you is the frequency (and thus usefulness) of each of the routes. In summary these are (on weekdays): SmartBus 903: 15 min, Metro trains at Sunshine: 20 min, 420: 20 min, 219: 30 min, 400, 427 and 428: 40 min.  

Some, such as the 219 and 903 don't harmonise with train frequencies so offer uneven connections. The network is quite complex in some areas such as around Wright St. And there are neighbourhoods, such as the eastern end of Warmington Rd, with no coverage. 

Existing Useful Network

I explain the Useful Network concept here. It's those routes that are frequent enough and run over long enough hours to be useful for many trips. I've specified a 20 minute frequency on weekdays and 7 day service until 9pm. In other words the coloured lines on the Melbourne Public Transport Frequent Network map with the 20 minute frequency selected. This map shows the sparsity of Useful Network routes in most fringe areas, despite their sometimes high population densities. 

Below is the existing Useful Network for south-west Sunshine.  Unless you can walk to the 420 or 471 it's quite sparse. But it might be possible to simplify things to extend it to more people. 

A detour via Warmington Rd

Before we'll expand the Useful Network, it's worth visiting Warmington Rd. Detours like this are sometimes desirable because sometimes there are cases where you end up benefiting more places than the original aims of your network revamp. And if the cost is nil or low then why wouldn't you do it? 

Warmington Rd is the sort of isolated low-income neighbourhood that would benefit from public transport. However it was the 1970s and it got built at a time when they 'forgot' to locate and design suburbs that could be economically served with buses. 

While its western part could be served by a bus on the main road, this is too far away for reasonable coverage of the east. Warmington Rd is effectively a dead-end peninsula. The only way you could serve it is to run a dedicated bus route. Which is expensive. And it might not get many passengers unless it could be made more broadly useful, eg by building a road bridge and routing north via Hampshire Rd to Sunshine.  

The area was built in the 1970s. The primary school opened in 1976 (Glengala Park Primary). Note the footbridge from Boreham St, which would have helped kids walk to school (something taken more seriously then than now). No bus routes are shown but this was because Melway directories did not show them until about 1980. 

Fortunately we do know, from the 1978 map, that Warmington Rd had a bus not long after the school opened and people moved in.  Before that they would have had to walk from Boreham St over the bridge (if it existed then), which had the 452 from Sunshine (which goes back to at least 1971). 

In the 1990s a few things happened. Not many good. This being one of those declining neighbourhoods that keeps getting things taken away. The Boreham St bridge, shown in the 1989 Melway, became an ambiguous yellow line in 1990 and then nothing in 1993.  

The 455 bus remained up to 1991/2. But it was only shown as an extension, implying not all trips went up Warmington Rd. By the 1993 Melway even that had vanished, with the 455 terminating on Fairbairn Rd. 

By 2000 the service had become the 471, having been extended from Newport. This extension made sense. But it meant that even if you wanted to serve Warmington Rd again you would have to divert it in, inconveniencing through passengers. Hence the importance of being on the way, otherwise you might not get a service, however deserving your case might be.  

The school changed from being a general to a special development school in 2000. And sometime around 1980 a Catholic school had opened nearby. But apparently neither warranted the footbridge remaining. Instead kids were being driven or bused in, while their parents complained about traffic. 

This is how Warmington Rd went for a decade or so. It is quite possible that few who don't live there (apart from those who study street directories) realise how cut off it is, with no shops or services of its own. 

Good news came when Brimbank Council built a playground and redeveloped Buckingham Reserve. Most notable (from a transport access point of view) was a new footbridge across from Cannon St. The 2013 map below shows how close it was to the then alignment of the 219 bus. This  bridge would have brought some (but not all) of the area within coverage of buses. 

However this improved access was not to last, with the bus removed from Cannon St soon after. This increased the distance of Warmington Rd from buses and reduced network coverage. Bear that thought in mind as we'll return to it later. 

Expanded Useful Network

Here's an expanded Useful Network. Routes are simpler, more frequent and connect better with trains. And coverage is efficiently returned to parts of the Warmington Rd area. 

The big change is a doubling of Route 428's off-peak frequency. Instead of being every 40 minutes, connecting with every second train, it goes to every 20 minutes, connecting with every train. 

How could this be funded? Route 219 (every 30 minutes) is shortened to start at Sunshine. The portion south and west of Sunshine is absorbed into the upgraded 428. 428 is much longer than the western portion of 219. However only one trip every 40 minutes needs to be added to get the required 20 minute overall frequency. 428 already has a 25 minute service during peak periods. Also, when I've been on it, 428 has significant mid-trip dwell time that might allow scheduling efficiencies. 

You'll note the kink in the 428. This is to retain coverage (within 300m) to the area that loses the 219. Also routing via Cannon St should help Warmington Rd access via the bridge. This is probably one of those cases where you'd tolerate a slightly less direct route in exchange for better coverage and frequency. 

428 finishes at around 9pm. 219 stops much later. To compensate for 219's withdrawal you'd improve 428's span, with earlier weekend starts and later evening service. If you had resources left over you might do the same for 420, at least east of Fitzgerald Rd. At the ends of the day it might be efficient for outbound trips on the 428 dead running a short distance along Fitzgerald rd to form inbound trips on the 420 and vice versa. 

What about the 219 east of Sunshine? Its shortening makes it identical to the 216 (which got shortened when the 426 was introduced). Therefore 216 and 219 can be merged into one frequent route which, at most times, operates at a SmartBus level of service. This should improve the legibility and appeal of the network through areas like Sunshine, Braybrook and Footscray.

Not essential to happen with this change (but desirable for efficiency) is the replacement of the poorly used Route 903 beyond Sunshine with an extended local route (modified 412) from Altona. This is shown on the map above. A small (largely industrial) area would lose the service until midnight. However the longer hours on the 428 would help those on Hampshire Rd, compensate for the 903's removal and provide a service that connects evenly with trains. This initiative, which delivers a new direct SmartBus-type service for the Footscray, Kingsville, Altona North areas, is described in more detail in Useful Network Part 5

With every change there are swings and roundabouts. This is no exception. Some would lose their one seat ride to the city. However it's a slow trip and a connection to a train would be faster, especially if connections are optimised and buses are more frequent as suggested. There are also significant improvements in coverage and frequency that people who are poorly served now would get.  


What do you think about this network? Would it be an improvement? What other things would you do? If you have ideas please leave them in the comments below. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #40: Route 503 - the "last mile" bus

If you're a Brunswick hipster and like doing things the inefficient old way that your parents ditched, riding the route 503 bus might appeal. And you won't need to go far to catch it. 

Linking two train lines and five tram routes, the 503 is your typical inner northern suburbs bus route. Starting at Essendon Station in the west it intersects trams 59, 58, 19 and 12 before terminating at the start of Tram 96. It also passes near Anstey Station on the Upfield line. Its catchment includes Brunswick (Tim Read MP) which has a lower than average proportion of homes with cars. The area's densifying too, with multi-storey apartments full of students and young city workers replacing houses. 

You can see its map below. Benefiting from our grid streets and the tendency to put railway stations near cross-roads (something that motorists may curse but aids public transport connectivity) the 503 follows a very direct path apart from a bulge north of Essendon.

The photo above shows the 503's catchment a mile east of Essendon and a mile west of Anstey. The 58 tram is about 600 metres east but that's slow so a good rail feeder bus has a lot of patronage potential. Especially given the population density. However, as you'll see later little has changed about the 503 in most people's living memory, despite the changing surrounding land uses. 

What's the dotted line on Fletcher St? This is an odd after 3pm Saturday deviation. It's included in the timetable on the new PTV website but for a description I went to the (superior) old PTV website.

The network map is below. The scrapped and then resurrected 509 eats into a little of its catchment to the south. As does the occasional Coonans Hill deviation on the 512 to the north. The 503 has higher frequency than both. However it misses the big activity centres like Moonee Ponds and Coburg. Essendon is helpful for connections to schools, trains and other public transport. However it isn't much of a destination in itself. Nevertheless 503 is one contributor to making Essendon station one of the busiest on the Craigieburn line, especially when it comes to people who got to the station by bus.

Going the other way the 503 neatly feeds into Anstey Station and several tram routes. That's potentially efficient, allowing bidirectional peak period patronage. The main impediment here is low peak frequencies on the Upfield line (barely better than off-peak, with a single cancellation causing a 20 minute delay). 


As is common with many northern suburb bus routes (eg 526, 538, 552, 558), 503's timetable is stuck in time. This is because, like Greater Dandenong, Melbourne's inner north largely missed out on the evening and weekend bus upgrades most other areas got. So the timetable you see in 2019 might be much the same as that of 30 years ago, when Saturday afternoon trading was new and Sunday trading only something that rebel traders did under threat of a penalty.

On weekdays Route 503 runs a constant 20 minute frequency during peak periods. Interpeak frequency is 25 minutes. Intersecting trams are normally at turn-up-and-go frequencies but intersecting trains, at every 20 minutes, are not. 503's 25 minute frequency is unharmonised with trains and is hard to remember so users need to look up a timetable and/or do a journey plan every time they travel.  Finish times, like the typical pre-2006 pattern for buses in Melbourne, is around 7pm. Also its morning start times remain later than the 6am standard. Overall there have been negligible changes to 503's timetable since at least the 1980s. Current 503 timetables are below. Click for a larger/clearer view. 

What about weekends? Again a traditional timetable applies. That is an early Saturday am start (a good thing), an intensive Saturday morning service (to cater for the old morning rush) at the same 25 minute frequency as weekday off-peak, followed by an afternoon fall-off (to 30 then 40 minutes). The finish time is very slightly earlier than the finish on weekdays.

There is no Sunday or public holiday service. Route 503 is run by Moonee Valley Buslines. With the tendency of bus operators to merge, Moonee Valley is the smallest one left. The only other route MVBL runs is the 506, which, despite its higher patronage, also operates to limited timetable.

Run times

Large bus operators analyse actual run times and use advanced software like HASTUS to optimise bus scheduling and driver rostering. Because they have so many routes and drivers even small efficiencies can result in big savings in reduced dead-running and vehicle layovers and driver slack times. Also measuring actual journey times can assist with altering trip schedule times to better suit traffic conditions and aid punctuality.

All that seems overkill for a small operator running a couple of routes. However some attempt has been made to vary 503's run times to suit traffic. For example, weekday travel times are a flat 28 minutes, except for the first and last few trips, where it's 25 or even 20 minutes. Saturday trips are slightly quicker, with more 23 and 20 minute run times.

A historical timetable

A 1986 timetable via Krustylink is below. It had a better early morning peak frequency than now. However there were hour gaps on Saturdays, presumably to account for drivers' lunch breaks.


The 503 has huge potential. Running existing buses on it for more of the day and week could make it a useful and popular bus route for diverse trips. It could support the density increases that are already happening. It's the sort of route that needs an upgrade if public transport is every to be useful for more than a small proportion of  trips.

I've already had my say on it; the 503 features in this Inner North Useful Network feature. But what do you think? Should the route be extended to a busier destination or is it just right as is? Does its timetable meet modern needs or are improvements required there as well? Should the nearby 509 be deleted to enable more 503 trips for little cost? And how important is connectivity with trains anyway? Your comments are welcome and can be left below. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

[Event] The 'Urban Happiness' Northern Urban Explore (Sat 5 Oct 2019)

This is an event that Melbourne-based readers might be interested in. Especially if you're into urban geography, housing, transport and suburbs. Doesn't cost you anything except a myki and money for lunch. 

Here's a bit more about it: 

A bus and walking tour of 60 years of suburbs, from the 1950s to the 2010s. Everything from postwar prefab houses to new project homes. Visit fast-disappearing milk bars, '60s shopping strips and the latest town centres. Wander through the heart of Australia's old protected manufacturing precincts and fill up with delicious middle-eastern fare. See how we've gone almost full circle (or rather full square) with our street patterns via rabbit warren culs de sac and Radburn layouts. Consider and discuss the economic and social forces that have widened class divisions and degentrified our northern suburbs. And last but not least, watch, listen and think as we walk the streets and ride the buses.

The Northern Urban Explore is hosted through the Urban Happiness Melbourne Planning and Design Ideas Facebook page. I'd recommend you join UH for discussion on all things urban planning and access to the event page. But if you're not on it you can still come, with numbers only limited by who can fit on the regular route buses we'll be riding. Just RSVP in the comments below.