Friday, September 18, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network: Part 62 - RMIT's Squaresville bus network

20 years ago the late Paul Mees described a public transport network topology he called Squaresville in his book A Very Public Solution. It was a grid of direct and frequent linear routes along the main road grid common in North American cities and others like Melbourne (and the American-inspired Mildura). Everyone would be within walking distance of one north-south route and one east-west route and, with zero or one connection, be able to access all areas.  

Squaresville particularly appeals for diverse journeys in a dispersed, weak-centred city. These are precisely the type of trips that current radial networks are poor at. The concept of one route per road has potential benefits including simpler, more direct and more frequent routes. However such a network would radically change travel for most existing passengers, and not always for the better. 

The main shortcoming is the increased need to change, especially for some local trips currently possible on the one bus. You could partly mitigate that by making changing easy. That means turn-up-and-go service on all routes to minimise waiting and stops at intersections to cut walking. Even where our busiest routes cross we don't currently do this well as exemplified below.  

 

What would a Squaresville-type network look like in Melbourne? And how frequent could it run with existing bus service hours? The boffins at RMIT (Mees' almer mater) have answered these and more questions in a recent study. If you're an academic with access you can read the full paper by Steve Pemberton here. It even made it to commercial TV with this Ch 9 news report

RMIT found that if you tear up the existing bus network and run frequent service on 'mile grid' main roads you can deliver faster trips than the current network. The biggest gains would be in the outer municipalities like Wyndham, Casey, Yarra Ranges, Maroondah and Melton, which currently have few if any frequent bus routes. 

The maps below show how much more frequent service there would be. Instead of being limited to about 20 routes (half of them SmartBus, the other half inherited from Met Bus) it would be now on 96 routes more widely spread across middle and outer Melbourne. Frequent service is defined as every 12 minutes peak and 15 minutes interpeak. This service level was based on what could be done by reallocating existing service kilometres. That compares favourably with the 20 to 40 minute frequency on most existing routes.  

It sounds good but where's the catch? There's several. Probably enough to sink it in the real world. Eg: 

1. Hundreds if not thousands of stops ripped out; longer walks for many people. Instead of routes designed to place residents within 400 metres of a stop (an existing guideline for planning) the new network will be coarser with distances extended to 800 metres. Possibly more in suburbs with indirect street layouts and difficult to cross main roads. Walking further to a more frequent service will indeed save time for many people. However statistical averages are cold comfort, especially for the less mobile who may lose their bus.    


2. More changing buses, even for short trips to major destinations. Below is an extract of the network in the south-eastern suburbs. Dandenong and Ringwood look like gaining with frequent service from many directions as befits their status. However busier places like Box Hill, Chadstone and Monash Clayton don't get much. Indeed they receive fewer buses than much quieter Mordialloc.   


3. Passengers left behind as busy corridors cut. The grid is based on a 12 minute peak service and a 15 minute interpeak service. That's better than most existing bus routes. However we do have some that already run more frequently than that. They need to due to passenger volumes. Notable examples are routes like 220, 465, 900, 905, 906, and 907 and more. Then there are university shuttles that offer a 3 or 4 minute frequency. Cutting them to every 12-15 minutes would be a disaster. But if we don't do it the proposed network will cost more than envisaged, as acknowledged below. Risks increase where a network change adds passengers forced to transfer from intersecting routes that remain on their grid rather than calling in at popular destinations.    

Conversely other areas with poor catchments (eg Werribee South) that hardly justifies its existing hourly service will be grossly overserviced with quadruple the number of buses. This is a problem we already have on some orbital SmartBuses (eg 901's northeast quadrant and 903's industrial Brooklyn section) so we don't need more, especially while service is insufficient elsewhere. 

4. Dense inner areas to lose service. It is acknowledged that the new network is partly paid for by removing service from inner suburbs. This type of saving needs to be done with caution. Just because the inner suburbs have trains and trams does not mean that buses should be scrapped. This is because trains and trams are almost entirely radial while buses are often cross-radial, usefully completing local grids. Even where buses overlap or closely parallel trams they may still be worth keeping, especially in areas with high densities and low car ownership and where the buses serve different destinations. Then there are examples like the 401 shuttle between North Melbourne and Melbourne University where there was no coverage case for a bus route but it justified itself by relieving pressure on train and tram networks.    

5. Walking and waiting costs not fully counted. Everyone wants a frequent service to their door. But the public transport network is not a private taxi.  We grin and bear walking and transferring in exchange for a cheap and frequent service. However when testing network options you do need to compare transfer penalties since waiting an unknown time on a miserable day is undoubtedly worse than a route taking you right there. A trip involving a random arrival to a bus every 15 minutes and then another change can potentially involve 30 minutes waiting, making the total travel time highly variable. And that assumes everything is on time. These inconveniences are real and it's silly not to factor them in, especially when comparing network types. When this variability is considered some claimed time saving benefits will vanish or be hardly worth it. Again reliance on averages can underestimate costs.  

6. Reliance on failed or unproven 'flexible route' or 'autonomous vehicle' technology to make network coverage acceptable.  They are flogging a dead horse here. The less someone knows about bus planning the more likely they are to fall for so-called demand-responsive transport as a widespread solution to the 'last mile' problem. 

It is true that an infrequent local bus around the back streets is unappealing to those with other transport options. Nevertheless it's usually better than other things sometimes suggested. Flexible route services are only flexible on the provider's terms and not the customer's. For example systems can require long periods of notice (1 to 24 hours) to be given before riding. Frequency and operating hours can be poor. And their reliability is lessened by having to deviate near other peoples houses. Flexible route buses have been tried since the 1970s with most attempts failing. Their low productivity means very high costs or very poor service. Mostly they are a false hope for reasons explained here.  

Then there are autonomous vehicles. These are great in closed systems isolated from all other traffic. For instance driverless Metro systems where an all-day frequent service can run with reduced labour costs. However in open traffic environments like residential streets they are not practical. Especially when we want something that is known to work now to fix today's bus network issues. 

7. Base frequency determined by existing resources rather than connectivity with trains.  A 15 minute base frequency matches what we have for SmartBuses on weekdays but does not match our trains (which are moving to a 10/20 minute base service). The result of this would be a system that inherently does not harmonise for all trips. As an example a 10 minute train intersecting  with a 15 minute bus provides good connections that recur only every 30 minutes. This is poor from the point of view of having to juggle departure times. It's even worse with 20 minute trains where  the best connections recur only hourly. The way around this is either to have buses every 10 minutes (extra cost) or a mixed network where the busier routes are every 10 minutes while the quieter ones are every 20 minutes. While the latter represents reduced frequency it does mean that the best connections recur only every 20 minutes, ie better than up to 60 minutes before.   

Other network options 

Notwithstanding issues if implemented the RMIT work usefully establishes a baseline for one type of versatile network. This helps clarify trade-offs and widens the Overton Window for bus network configurations we should be considering. 

What are some of these options? You could put them on a continuum from 'bespoke' ('tailor-made' - aimed at niche markets but overall low usage) to 'versatile' (aimed at doing a lot of trips well and well used). This is attempted below for Australia's largest capitals (*). 


We're most interested in the 'big city' versatile network end as this is what we need to move our network towards. That is making it more useful for more trips. 

Squaresville's grid is only one possibility. That's best for a dispersed, weak centred city without much of a rail network (as common in the US). Trips over the entire region are possible with just one change with many interchange points in the suburbs for local trips. How well they work depend on road intersection design; six lane roads with slip lanes and wide turning radii are common and less amenable to bus stops right at junctions that a grid network needs. A downside of grids is they require more people to change for CBD travel. 

A web-style network is another option. That's better where there's a strong CBD and a substantial radial rail or busway network supported by circumferential feeders. The bringing together of lines near the centre at the web network supports higher density in the inner ring, whereas the grid network does not. And it favours the CBD which is typically the most transit-oriented part of the city. Nevertheless a web network (especially with a strong rail backbone) is efficient and still caters for cross-suburban travel if its circumferential routes are dense, frequent and connect well to the radial network.  Melbourne made a major step towards rolling out a coarse web style network when it introduced SmartBus orbitals about ten years ago. 

Grid and web networks are not either/or. Both can coexist in the one city. Eg Melbourne's network looks more like a web when you zoom out. Whereas if you zoom in to certain areas like the inner north, inner east and inner south-east it can look more like a grid.  

A modified grid network

Do versatile alternatives to web and grid exist? If a web is best for CBD travel (but permits intersuburban travel) while a grid is good for intersuburban travel (but permits CBD travel) then which is best for travel to centres like Northland, Box Hill or Chadstone? Or the suburban National Employment and Innovation Clusters the government wants to build up? (eg Monash, La Trobe, Sunshine, etc)

The answer is neither. At least in their purest sense. 

Take the hypothetical pure grid network below. Box Hill is a large centre but there are only direct connections to the north-south and east-west. Anyone coming from another direction, even if quite close by, will need to change. If they do then the few routes that go directly to Box Hill will get seriously crowded since they are carrying not only their own passengers but those who have been forced to change from other routes. On the other hand pure grid network is excellent for trips from Blackburn North to Blackburn South or if you insist on using Laburnum station (all on the orange route). 

The modified grid below represents a departure from the pure grid's 'all places are equal' approach. It is assumed that Box Hill's importance justifies a gravitational pull that sucks routes in. Hence Blackburn North and Blackburn South people get a direct bus to Box Hill as their routes are bent westward there. As do those on Canterbury Rd (yellow and purple routes). Blackburn North to Blackburn South travel is less convenient but neither are likely to feature on each other's list of top destinations. And even if they did there are less likely to be parking issues than at Box Hill where public transport is likely to be more competitive (provided a supportive network exists like the modified grid below). Hence the modified grid network is better for trips that public transport is strong at (eg to major centres) at some expense to trips where it is weak at.  


Another implementation of a modified grid is at the ends of routes. A pure Squaresville grid would end the 902 and 901 SmartBuses at Edithvale and Kananook as it is here that these routes hit the train line with a  daytime service every 10 minutes. In practice both routes continue south one station to the larger centres of Chelsea and Frankston. Having strong anchors on bus routes supports usage on them despite the purist saying that it may be inefficient.  

As in the Box Hill case the 901 and 902 depart slightly from the pure grid plan with some overlap along the railway. However this overlap reduces the number of short distance transfers, making travel more attractive. Plus it support land use objectives like having some increased residential densities in areas 500 to 1000m from a suburban centre. 

My judgement then is that minor overlaps are probably worth the increase in service kilometres, particularly if near larger centres. In these cases attempts should be made to provide bus priority to ensure faster transit to and through them, especially where the centres are large enough to support several stops and there are passengers from the south travelling to the north side of the centre (and vice versa). A further gain is that layover time can be reduced by providing through rather than terminating services. The orbital SmartBuses do this on their intermediate stops.  

The Useful Network approach

Like Squaresville, the Useful Network approach has a bias towards improved service on main corridors. However it has four key differences, as follows: 

1. Useful Network respects key suburban centres with better service. It sees nothing wrong with giving Northland, Box Hill or Monash University more frequent routes from more directions than Laburnum or Jordanville. Even if it distorts the grid somewhat. 

2. Useful Network supports the role of local fixed routes operating at lower frequencies in between the main roads where needed to provide a coverage function. That is a two tier network similar to that which operates in parts of Brimbank and Wyndham.  

3. Useful Network routes are frequency harmonised with trains. This is considered essential with current train frequencies, particularly off-peak. Routes are normally either every 10 or every 20 minutes. While there are many more 20 than 10 minute routes the busier ones can be upgraded as patronage and resources permit. 

4. Useful Network is more evolutionary in that it often starts with the existing network. This makes it less a 'blank sheet' exercise than Squaresville. It can also be done in stages, involving a few routes at a time. That may make implementation politically easier. 

Click here to see what a revised Melbourne-wide Useful Network might look like 

(Interactive map merges all Useful Network upgrades presented to date)  

Conclusion

RMIT's 'Squaresville' paper does not constitute a practical bus network for Melbourne. Actual costs may be higher than suggested due to the need to increase frequencies on busier routes and ensure coverage inside the mile squares. Nevertheless it is extremely useful in giving some sense as to what bus reform could achieve, if only in theory. And its advocated shift towards a more versatile network throughout Melbourne is essential. 

The question remaining then is the best way it can be made into a practical, useful and generally acceptable network in real life. My bet is some sort of two-tier network that preserves local coverage while simplifying main road routes, boosting access to key suburban destinations and connecting well with trains.  Squaresville is thus an inspiration not a blueprint. 


(*) Notes on network development. Brisbane and Adelaide have the least developed networks due to a lack of routes to anywhere but the CBD. Both have poor train frequencies on most lines, not helped by buses that duplicate rather than feed trains. All frequent buses are on radial routes. 

Perth and Melbourne both have strong radial routes with Perth's trains being more frequent but Melbourne having more lines. Both also have strong circumferential bus routes with Perth's being better coordinated with trains but fewer in number. However both cities have limited services on many local area routes. 

Sydney is the stand-out with a less radial rail system operating at good frequencies 7 days. There are also some outer suburban busways and a significant number of frequent bus routes. Its streets are less grid-like so its network is more like a somewhat broken web. 


PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics


Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit Steven Higashide 

The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees Gleeson & Beza

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, Institutions (Access Quintet Book 4) David Levinson

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives Jarrett Walker

Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #91: The six or seven day 542 bus


Without public vigilance things tends towards entropy (or is it apathy?). We saw that when the Department of Transport shut the 'classic PTV' website last week. Some useful features in the old site were lost without direct replacement. It's not the first time DoT, or its predecessors, stopped caring about good passenger information. Its state at the rebuilt Frankston station is an embarrassment. Our sight hasn't changed but train network maps in the City Loop have been shrinking for decades, making them less useful. And several years ago they pulled local area maps out from thousands of bus stops. What's next to go? Timetables from bus stops? I wouldn't be surprised. Stay vigilant! 

What does this have to do with Timetable Tuesday? The degraded maps and online timetables now available will affect this feature's format. For example the lack of a main stop timetable option makes it harder to illustrate certain points about service levels. Ditto for the lack of stop specific timetables. I'll  still endeavour to describe oddities but some points will be harder to show and substantiate. So you can expect fewer whole timetables (they're too big). But I'll still present extracts to illustrate salient points where practical. 

542's route

 Anyway what is Route 542? It's a north-south bus route from Pascoe Vale to Roxburgh Park. It calls in or passes near all intermediate stations and never strays more than a kilometre or so from the line. Hence it's very much a coverage route for those beyond walking distance from a station. 

Two or three things happen when you go north on the 542. The first is that housing gets newer. Southern areas around Pascoe Vale, Oak Park and Glenroy may have postwar houses (and earlier near the stations). Coolaroo and Meadow Heights is more 1970s while Roxburgh Park is 1990s. Secondly incomes drop. Pascoe Vale is solidly middle-income while parts of Glenroy are gentrifying. Coolaroo is low income. Meadow Heights is also low income but with bigger houses. Roxburgh Park started off middle income but degentrified (as can happen with new housing estates). Thirdly the use of English as  falls while the population mix changes from European to Middle-eastern background. 

Route 542 runs through the electoral districts of Pascoe Vale (Lizzie Blandthorn MP) and Broadmeadows (Frank McGuire MP). Broadmeadows is considered safe Labor. Pascoe Vale has historically also been strong for Labor. However despite 2018's landslide Labor's share of the primary vote there is in long-term decline. Future wins in Pascoe Vale cannot be assured, especially with an adverse preference flow from a popular independent candidate.   

The map below is what visitors to the new PTV website see of the 542. Although if you're crafty with Google you'll find their server still hosts an unlinked pdf route map (as detritus from the old site) still visible at the time of writing. 

It's not all bad with the new website. The 542's new-look map is zoomable so you can see individual stops. This was something you couldn't do on the old map. However there are complications just west of Glenroy Station. These do not clearly show where the bus goes as you can see in the close-up below.  

You can get other depictions of this by looking at the Hume and Moreland local area maps (below). The Hume map is simple. The Moreland map has a complex route pathing that varies by direction. The reference to Oak Park is that the 542 once terminated at Oak Park and not Pascoe Vale. It was extended in 2012 but the reference to Oak Park was missed when the map was updated. These issues indicate the difficulties DoT has with consistently showing the same thing across multiple maps.     


Maps can indicate the biases of those who commission and publish them. Most notable is that the new single route maps misses showing stations. Instead you need to know your local government area and look up multi-mode local area maps (oddly titled 'bus map' in the new ones) like the above for a network view. The Department of Transport, like some of its predecessors, can still has a single-modal mindset when it comes to presenting information. It does not consider that people may need to change modes to complete their trip. So much for its mantra of simple connected journeys

Without firm action to recognise and counter internal biases, what the Department does may be shaped by what it is. Or more precisely its people. Its workforce could not be more demographically different from people who ride buses, especially routes like the 542 north of about Glenroy. Apart from massive geographical and income differences, many, especially senior management, rarely see the inside of an in-service bus. This was all too obvious during a major lapse in operator contract supervision and safety a few years back. And, more prosaically, it can shape decisions like authorising revisions to online route maps that remove multimodal information. 

A better view of the 542's relationship to the network is on the area map. Thankfully they're still online though they got removed from stops about 7 years ago, as mentioned before. I've highlighted the 542 to show its role as a radial route passing near multiple stations. Key areas it serves remote from stations include Meadow Heights, western Glenroy and Oak Park. The 542 also provides relief from climbing a steep hill on Gaffney St east of Pascoe Vale Station. Before the 542 was extended there no bus ran there (the 561 extension was to come later). 


Broadmeadows is its key centre. Medium sized centres exist at Roxburgh Park, Meadow Heights and Glenroy. There are shops around Oak Park and Pascoe Vale but they have seen better days. The latter is considered a weak terminus apart from some neighbourhood and feeder trips. 


Timetable

At first glance the 542 is your average Melbourne suburban bus route. Buses operate every 40 minutes Monday to Saturday with an hourly service on Sunday. These frequencies harmonise with trains during the day (every 20 minutes) except on Sunday mornings where the hourly bus does not consistently meet trains every 40 minutes.

Buses finish too early to meet minimum service standards (ie a 9pm finish). This is particularly for northbound trips on weeknights. Instead of being after 9pm the last bus leaves Pascoe Vale just after 7:30pm and Broadmeadows about 30 minutes later.  The timetable is more generous on Saturday with Pascoe Vale getting its last north-bound bus nearly 80 minutes later and Broadmeadows about 40 minutes later. Even Sundays has a later evening finish than weekdays on the Broadmeadows - Roxburgh Park section with the last bus about the same as Saturdays.  

Southbound trips also finish early, especially on the section south of Broadmeadows. Nothing operates after 7pm on weekdays and slightly after 8pm on Saturdays. 


The same applies on Sunday but for all day. This means that 542 is a 7 day Roxburgh Park to Broadmeadows service but only a 6 day Broadmeadows - Glenroy - Oak Park - Pascoe Vale service. This is one of these unfixed oddities that makes buses so confusing in Melbourne. 

History

Parts of Route 542 can trace its history back to 1950s. There were many extensions as the area suburbanised, especially in 1970s. 

Krustylink shows a 1987 Met era timetable for the 542. Its 25 minute frequency did not evenly meet trains every 20 minutes. That problem was to continue for 35 more years. Also notable was the pattern of less evening service in the Glenroy - Oak Park area, a pattern that remains with us today. 

Route 542 and the almost parallel 541 had some major changes in 2012. These tidied up service levels (to harmonise them with trains) and realigned the routes so that 541, which served more territory further from stations, was more direct and got a better service (upgraded to every 20 minutes, which matches trains). 542 then became the local coverage filler route, with a 40 minute base frequency, except on Sundays where it runs hourly. There was also an extension to Pascoe Vale.   Unfortunately the change did not extend to 'minimum standards' operating hours on the 542 and a full 7 day service on the entire route. 

Patronage

The 542 is a little below average as far as bus patronage goes. This is to be expected given its southern terminus is weak and a large proportion of it is within 10 minutes walk of a station. However the route has justification on coverage grounds because without it some areas would be too far from a station not to have a bus. Usage in 2018 was 18 passenger boardings per hour on weekdays, dropping only slightly to 16 on Saturdays. Sunday service is quieter at 11. This indicates a continuing trait of Melbourne's working-class north not to open much on Sundays, unlike the activity seen around inner areas, bayside areas, outer daytrip areas and major shopping centres.   

Conclusion

What should be done about Route 542? Should all of it get 7 day service despite its low usage? Is there is need for a stronger southern terminus, or isn't the expense worth it? Maybe it's best left as it is and its relatively low usage accepted as a 'mop up route' that provides basic coverage so that other more direct routes can excel without leaving people without coverage? Your thoughts are invited and can be left below. 

PS: An index to all Timetable Tuesday items is here.




Friday, September 11, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 61: Croydon and Mooroolbark

In terms of improvements to public transport there are few areas more static than Melbourne's outer eastern suburbs. They got jibbed out of bus services when they should have gone in 30-40 years ago and remain neglected today. Even the minimum standards upgrades of 10 years ago stopped short and nothing's really happened since. 

It may be partly due to the outer east's slower population growth.  Today's big growth is in the outer west, north-west, north and south-east. That's true whether you look at it in terms of migration or births. The life stories of English migrants who settled and raised families in Bayswater or Croydon in the 1960s are being replicated today by Indians in Tarneit or Point Cook.  

Given what wasn't done years back the outer east still needs fixes for its bus service backlog. Its train stations, like stations everywhere, have parking pressures. Parents can be choosy where they school their sprogs, with motorised transport often required. Residents say they would love to preserve the leafy character of streets and retail strips but their cars are clogging and suffocating them with local buses too rarely a reasonable alternative. Part of this is because bus networks have ossified and less reflect where people work and shop. And the lack of implemented service reviews has left a curious mix of over and under-servicing. 

Like the City of Wyndham, a similar distance west of Melbourne, the outer east has two railway lines. There are 12 stations east of Ringwood versus 7 for Wyndham. However the outer east lines see just two trains per hour off-peak - the same as a quiet stations in Adelaide or Brisbane would get and inferior to Geelong's 20 minute service. This leaves the whole of Melbourne's outer east with just one Useful Network public transport route extending much east of Ringwood. Use the frequent network maps here to compare this service with elsewhere in Melbourne.   

Local buses have similar disparities. Semi-rural Emerald gets two buses per hour while large parts of Ringwood East and Croydon South get none at any time, or, at best, a part-time deviation. Mooroolbark station has no Sunday buses while Warburton, much further out, does. 

History goes something like this. The early to settle areas got trains. These got replaced by buses that often ended up being more frequent than the trains they replaced with improvements made over time. Later to settle areas got no or few buses 30 or 40 years ago, with only limited change since, despite now being at suburban densities. These areas are beyond the SmartBus orbitals and often missed out on the 'minimum standards' 7-day upgrades that were more widely rolled elsewhere over 10 years ago.  Local bus networks were reviewed around that time (read the reports here) but little was implemented. 

Hence there is a multi-decade backlog in local bus services. Despite earlier comments about slower population growth and complications like bus-hostile street layouts, lower than average residential density and less than average patronage on the buses that do run, the outer east does deserve a bus network review and revamp. 

Existing network issues and opportunities

The map below gives a snapshot of issues with the current bus network. 


Some can be fixed with a timetable change like completing the 'minimum standards' roll out of 7 day service on all residential area routes. Others need a rethink of the network including new routes. The map below shows an area with limited coverage between 'mile grid' main roads. 

 

Buses typically feed people to stations but may not directly connect local destinations. Key hubs include shopping centres like Chirnside Park and Knox City. There are also significant light industrial employment areas. These can be identified by the tin roofs near Bayswater and along Canterbury Rd in the photo below. 



Some routes are short with the need for an inconvenient change of bus even for quite local trips. Scope may exist for more trips to be possible on the one bus with a revised network. 

Reasons for short routes may be historical and no longer exist. For example years ago there were many bus companies running their own short routes. The companies have merged but the short routes often remain. With consolidated ownership it may be possible to join shorter routes for easier access to popular destinations such as Ringwood, Croydon, Chirnside Park and Knox City.  

Level crossings is another cause. It may be desirable for a bus route to serve both north and south of the railway. However long boom gate down times can reduce reliability so bus planners have tended to shy away from this. However level crossing removals in areas such as Mooroolbark give fresh opportunities to rethink local bus networks with more through services. 


What about the politics? Recent events have made predicting the 2022 state election result a mug's game. Budgets will be tight and the bold infrastructure promises by both major sides in 2014 and 2018 may not be so credible the next time around. The outer eastern suburbs, including areas like Croydon (David Hodgett MP) and Bayswater (Jackson Taylor MP), contain many seats that will be critical to who can form government next time.  It might still just be possible to slip in bus upgrades to happen before the 2022 election, although a budget commitment will be needed soon.  


Proposed Useful Network

A suggested Useful Network, of routes operating every 20 minutes or better, was described in Useful Network 32 which covered Bayswater and surrounds. Its key feature is upgrading Belgrave and Lilydale line trains to run every 20 minutes off-peak. This service level already operates on weekends. Extending the upgrade to include weekdays is relatively cheap as described here with benefits all the way into the city for stations such as Box Hill, Camberwell, Glenferrie and Burnley. 

The train upgrades would then pave the way for the more important bus routes to be upgraded from every 30 to every 20 minutes yet still harmonise with trains. This is suggested for the 664 between Chirnside Park, Croydon, Bayswater and Knox City, especially if it is rerouted via Scoresby Rd as suggested in the Bayswater item. 


Scope exists to upgrade other routes to every 20 minutes all day. A Ringwood - Croydon - Montrose Mt Dandenong Rd corridor could be the front-runner for a further Useful Network upgrade. That would fill a large service 'block hole' in Croydon South, Kilsyth and Montrose. Apart from that resolving the large coverage gaps and lack of 7 day service in some areas resolving these is considered a higher priority. 

Opportunities for a revised local network

Here are five opportunities for better or simpler local bus routes in the Croydon and Mooroolbark areas: 

1. Splitting and simplifying Route 380 between Ringwood and Croydon. This is about reversing a mistake made a few years ago. Those behind it failed to realise that people prefer simpler and straight routes. Circular bus routes make for confusing destinations on the front of the bus and confusion as to which side of the road you need to be on to go the most direct way to your destination.

Simplification would provide, as used to run, one Ringwood - Croydon route north of the railway and one Ringwood - Croydon route south of the railway. Operationally the buses could still through-route if thought convenient. The extra operational cost of this upgrade is zero unless it is desired to add some after 7pm Sunday trips to deliver an upgrade to minimum standards.  


The above split makes the local network simpler but does not fix some wider issues. For example (i) Limited direct access to Maroondah Hospital, (ii) No bus to Ringwood Private Hospital, (iii) Requirement to transfer to an infrequent train even for short trips eg to Ringwood. Once circular routes are split scope exists to reroute or extend them to better serve local 'transit deserts' in places like Ringwood East and Croydon South. Some ideas later. 

2. Extend Route 680 from Mooroolbark to Croydon. This extension would improve local connectivity to shops and schools. The new service on Lincoln Rd might obviate the need for Telebus Area 4. Service would be upgraded to operate 7 days with a 40 to 60 min frequency suggested (possibly more in the peaks).  

3. A new Eastfield Rd route (Route 668). This area currently has limited bus access. The bus that runs south of Ringwood East Station (380) goes north instead of serving Eastfield Rd. A new route could connect the area to Ringwood and East Ringwood stations and replace Route 737's part-time deviation on Jesmond Rd to Croydon. It could run to Montrose via something similar to the current 689 alignment. Like the abovementioned 680 it would operate 7 days per week at a neighbourhood route style frequency. 
   
4. Extend Route 675 south to Boronia (merging with Route 690).  Some local routes are short. Trips longer than a few kilometres often require an inconvenient change. There are some historical reasons for this, such as routes previously being run by different companies or a busy level crossing making routes that cross railway lines less reliable than shorter routes that do not. 

Mooroolbark is getting its Manchester Rd level crossing removed.  The 675 bus that runs from there to Chirnside Park is the most productive in the area, especially on school days (33 boardings per hour school days, 22 boardings per hour non-school days). Route 690 also gets better use than other routes in the area. An extension south to Boronia, to replace the 690, could increase its appeal especially if service is improved to operate 7 days. Peak frequency upgrades and an extension to Knox City (taking in part of the 753) are also worth considering.   

Potential may exist to integrate with the level crossing removal and new Mooroolbark station. Ideally this would be done in conjunction with reforms to Route 688 to retain service levels along Mt Dandenong Rd. More on this next. 

5. Simplify Route 688 and extend to Ringwood. Mount Dandenong Rd is a key corridor in the area. It is quite heavily settled between Ringwood and Montrose. However it lacks simple bus services all along it. Parts (such as near Ringwood Private Hospital) have no buses while others have two routes. There is a reasonable case for a Useful Network corridor (ie buses every 20 minutes or better all day), particularly after off-peak trains are upgraded to be every 10 minutes to Ringwood and 20 minutes at Croydon.   

Areas east of Montrose do not need this frequency due to lower density. However they do need a simpler network. Currently about half the Route 688 trips run via Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd while the other half run via Ridge Rd. Combined off-peak frequency on weekdays is roughly 40 minutes which is probably acceptable given the low density. However the current timetable is uneven, not helped by the incompatible 30 minute train headway at Croydon. 

A suggested simplication is to operate Ridge Rd trips as 689 and Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd trips as 688. Each would be every 80 min, with a 40 min frequency on the combined section (ie about 80% of the route). Instead of terminating at Croydon these routes could extend directly to Ringwood via both hospitals to replace much of the southern part of the 380 (the rest being served by the 668 suggested above). As this is a main road a better than 40 minute frequency is desirable on the Montrose - Ringwood section. Adding short trips to boost combined frequency to 20 minutes is suggested as a means of extending the Useful Network here.  

A map summarising these and potentially other beneficial network changes is below. 


Surrounding areas

I've tried to keep discussion to the Croydon - Mooroolbark area. Other measures not discussed include: 
(i) Whether Route 679 should be straightened in the Lilydale area, (ii) service levels, with 663 and 679 being poor performers that may not justify their current off-peak frequency, (iii) better connections to jobs on Canterbury Rd from the north and south, (iv) better connections to jobs in business parks at Bayswater, (v) service on more of Colchester Rd and (vi) whether the 664's alignment in the Mooroolbark area is the best possible or whether a revision to replace the 675 is desirable as per the local bus review from 10 years back. 

Conclusion

As always thoughts are appreciated and can be left in the comments below.  


PS: Want some simple quick wins for the next election? See these 2022 marginal seat upgrades. 

PPS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.


You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics

Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit Steven Higashide 

The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees Gleeson & Beza

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, Institutions (Access Quintet Book 4) David Levinson

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives Jarrett Walker

Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees

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