Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #75: Mornington Peninsula's not quite public community bus services

What happens when an area doesn't have public transport? Everyone who can drives, walks or cycles. Those who can't do either of those things, possibly due to limited mobility or housing location, rely on family, friends or the occasional taxi.

All are limited, either by the indignity of continually asking people for favours or the high per-trip costs of personalised modes like taxis or Ubers. Personalised  modes are expensive not because their drivers are well paid (they're not) but because they are low productivity modes. That is one taxi driver normally only serves one paying passenger at a time, unlike bus, tram or train driver who can serve dozens if not hundreds.

The other option, is simply to live a socially isolated life, rarely venturing from home, years before we all had to do it.  This has substantial health and social policy implications in areas such as mental health,personal relationships and connections with community. 

Sometimes the neglect by governments (who fund public transport) combined with high local needs is so acute that local solutions have to be found. You see this a lot in the United States. While city centres may be served by common-carrier bus services, decades-old transit district boundaries can mean that quite populated suburbs remain without coverage. Targeted transport services may instead be provided as part of welfare, health and job programs as partial compensation to specific groups. 

They are not quite public transport as eligibility may be limited. Their schedules and destinations are  often tightly tailored to the program's objectives. Several programs may overlap in an area leading to an array of niche services for youth, seniors, jobseekers, disabled etc. These services assist particular client groups but do not have the versatility of even an hourly local bus running seven days a week that one can board without booking. And there can be significant inefficiency and duplication as there is just a collection of disparate routes without common information and ticketing systems. 

The situation is similar on the Mornington Peninsula (network discussed here). Population density here is not quite suburban but not rural either. There are scheduled fixed routes but coverage and timetables are limited, even in some more suburban parts of the peninsula. This is despite some routes having to refuse passengers due to overloading as discussed here. The Peninsula is not considered sufficiently 'Melbourne' to get minimum standard bus coverage that a growing outer suburb might (admittedly after a 5 or more year wait).

The location of schools and TAFE colleges can support, detract from or overload a regular bus network. Ideally schools and colleges should be on main routes so that these can operate without deviation. If services get crowded frequency can be increased, benefiting both school and non-school travellers. Poor location either means an expensive-to-provide extra route must be run (such as operates to the TAFE) or a dedicated school network is needed. Dromana Secondary College is in a particularly remote location as you can see on the map below.

These poor location choices make the regular bus network not useful for many school trips. This is especially important in lower density areas as regular public transport can only get good usage if its routes can be used for a wide range of trips over the day.

School buses fill possibly the biggest niche that the regular routes do not satisfy. Some local transport initiatives have emerged to fill some other gaps. 

About ten years ago the then Brumby Government had a 'Transport Connections Program' comprising small scale community transport projects in outlying areas. These were often short-term trials. Sometimes they would be continued. There was a Transport Connections Coordinator based at Mornington Peninsula Shire. You can read their newsletters here and here. The program introduced a degree of fragmentation in transport, not least because it was being run by a department other than Transport. The Auditor-General criticised the TCP for being unable to demonstrate its benefits. The TCP was not continued by the Baillieu / Napthine government. 

Students and jobseekers found it so difficult to get to TAFE and university that, for a while, the commonwealth government funded a service called 'PenBus' (which the state eventually made a regular, though limited stop, route). 

At the other end of the age scale is the extensive community bus network the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council runs. I briefly mentioned these buses two weeks ago in this item on Melbourne's flexible route buses. Today is a more detailed look at the network.

Unlike a regular bus this network is not true common carrier public transport. This is because eligibility is limited to over 60s and those with a disability (and their carer). However, with regularly scheduled services it is possibly the most geographically extensive network of its type near Melbourne and serves areas that regular route buses do not. 

Buses most be booked. They pick up from passengers homes in the morning and drop off in the afternoon with substantial flexibility with origins and destinations (but likely not in times). 

They operate on a weekly timetable with buses to somewhere operating four days per week. Some trips appear to be possible twice a week. Below is a rough schematic diagram of services. Some of the lines appear to parallel PTV routes like 788 and 782. However bear in mind these are flexible route buses and many areas are away from PTV services, especially for the less mobile. Red Hill is the main area where the community bus goes but regular routes do not. The Hastings to Mornington service is also a trip that isn't catered for on the regular network except via an indirect transfer at Frankston. 

More information on these services is provided on the council website.  This leads us to another point; information and fares tends to be fragmented. For example you can't use a myki card to pay for a shopper bus. And there are cases where rough alignments of routes may overlap but there isn't necessarily coordination with regular services.

To summarise, this network is somewhat flexible with regards to the places it serves but not in relation to times, offering just one return trip per week. However it provides an important 'last resort' mobility to those who may have no other means. This is particularly important given the area's settlement patterns means that some people are well beyond walking distance of local shops and services.


What are your thoughts on this network? Does it need to be as extensive as it is? Should the regular network be extended so that community buses can focus on the areas that remain without coverage? Conversely, is such a network expandable to other areas or would it run into the inevitable problems that face flexible route bus services for all but very small operations?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

A tangled web: Internet history of public transport in Melbourne

About 20 years ago various parts of public transport in Melbourne were in almost continual organisational turmoil. Train and tram operations were franchised out, rebranded, left or lost their contract. Bus companies merged, got taken over or won franchises. Government departments responsible for transport renamed and restructured, mostly under the delusion that it makes much of a difference to service. 

Consequently operator and system branding has been in a state of flux. At this folly's peak, in the early 2000s, one would see multiple, sometimes peeling, brands on the one train, tram or station. This affected not only how the network looked IRL but also online. Rebranding also meant a lot of chopping and changing of web domain names as well as different approaches to presenting information (most infamously half-network maps). 

Melbourne was not late in starting public transport information websites. However, unlike states with more organised transit authorities, our web scene had five years as a feckless child that could not be relied on to provide easily accessed information on all routes operated. Our government largely funded public transport but no one really ran it. Information was typically presented on a single operator and single mode basis rather than a multi-operator and multi-mode network basis. 

This nonsense was not to end properly until the mid-2000s with two major advances; a proper multimodal website under Metlink and an integrated journey planner that could handle multi-mode trips. Though even in 2020 we still haven't got it completely right (especially with regard to short and long term service changes) as a future post will discuss. 

Writing a complete history would take a lot of time. For now I'll just give a few Internet Archive links and say some words about each. You will find hours of fascinating browsing. Make sure you go earlier and later to get an idea of how content and style changed (until the next rebranding). I'll include the full link text (rather than a concealed hyperlink) so you can see the date and original URL. 

Department of Infrastructure and its successors

The web only became a public thing during the Kennett government (1992 - 1999). The Department of Infrastructure presided over transport. This is the earliest working departmental archive link I could find. It's from Dec 1997.  https://web.archive.org/web/19971221115917/http://doi.vic.gov.au/ 

Following 'public transport' gives a description of the soon to be emasculated Public Transport Corporation and a link to Victrip Mk 1 (which started earlier as mentioned later). 

The department administering transport changed its name several times. The pattern seems to be that another word becomes fashionable until they drop the ball on transport. So then they put transport back into the department's name, either as part of a larger department, or when they really want focus, on its own (like now). At other times they spin bits of it off to other agencies, eg with Metlink and PTV. Or the basically aborted Transport for Victoria that was sort of an outfit inside an outfit. 

This chopping and changing with websites can result in good material being moved around or lost. This is a prime example. It records bus service improvements by area in the active 2006 to 2011 period. https://web.archive.org/web/20110226144332/http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/DOI/Internet/transport.nsf/AllDocs/6393108372420DE6CA257097000B7001?OpenDocument .

The first incarnation of the transport.vic.gov.au appears to have been archived in 2007 https://web.archive.org/web/20071120135452/http://www.transport.vic.gov.au/ The department dallied with some other names afterwards. For example DTPLI from 2013 https://web.archive.org/web/20130724054232/http://www.dtpli.vic.gov.au/ That didn't last long; by the start of 2015 they had become an unpronounceable acronym to do with economic development https://web.archive.org/web/20150228222625/http://economicdevelopment.vic.gov.au/ only to revert to transport, the old faithful, a little later. 

Metcard and Myki ticketing

One thing distinctive about public transport in Melbourne was the institutional (and web) separation of public transport ticketing from other aspects of operations and information. This is at least since Metcard, whose implementation pretty much coincided with the establishment and spread of internet access and websites along with the fetish for franchising. It meant that while fares were integrated information was fragmented until many years later. 

Here's Metcard's first website. Note the .vic.gov.au domain name.   https://web.archive.org/web/20000303112337/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/metcard/welcome.htm

Later, from 2004, Metcard got a dot com address, further fragmenting it from the main public transport information website that replaced Victrip. https://web.archive.org/web/20040201000000*/http://www.metcard.com.au This roughly coincides with the formation of Metlink (a private company) out of the old Melbourne Passenger Growth Initiative that the private operators had set up when they saw patronage wasn't growing enough to sustain their incentive-based franchise contracts. The metcard.com.au address later redirected to Metlink and then PTV (where it still does today). 

Myki's site started in 2006. Note the dot com dot au domain, reflecting practice with Metcard and Metlink. https://web.archive.org/web/20061109214607/http://www.myki.com.au/ Myki had a long gestation period and wasn't complete until several years later. It continued as a stand-alone website for some time until it was redirected to the 'one-stop shop' PTV website (which is back to being a .vic.gov.au domain). 

There were some ticketing arrangements outside the Metcard system. For example National Bus section tickets (abolished in the mid-2000s) and single operator tickets like the Baysider for Bayside trains. These were gimmicks that undermined the network and didn't help operators' financial woes. More about Baysider here: https://web.archive.org/web/20000621094016/http://www.victrip.com.au/

A detailed history of Melbourne public transport ticketing (especially Metcard) is at http://www.robx1.net/victkt/ (a current not  archived site).

Escalated complaints

People not happy with responses to complaints from transport agencies and operators can take them to the Public Transport Ombudsman for redress. This has been going since the mid-2000s and can be found here: https://web.archive.org/web/20051213201440/http://www.ptovic.com.au/

Metropolitan train operators

As a precursor to franchising, PTC's metropolitan train operations were split into two business units. These were franchised out in 1999 to overseas operators, as follows.

Bayside trains was run by National Express who also 'won' the Swanston Trams contract. Some bright spark rebranded them to M> Train and M> Tram. Or, as they were known on the web,  https://web.archive.org/web/20011130021840/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/ This was in 2001 when frames and then flash players were the thing in web design. As you probably know National Express soon quit. For a while their website got links to the survivors who took over their services. https://web.archive.org/web/20041215012123/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/ . 2005 saw the domain taken over by a business directory start-up https://web.archive.org/web/20051223030559/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/ but they didn't last long, so it's once again available for purchase. 

Hillside Trains started with https://web.archive.org/web/19991103013616/http://www.hillsidetrains.com.au/ They too smoked the rebranding drug and became Connex, starting off, in 2000, with https://web.archive.org/web/20001019055141/http://www.connexmelbourne.com.au/ 

This of course was the half-network Connex, the people fortunate enough to stick around after National Express piked out. They weren't financially sustainable either but this didn't really matter. All that was needed in a two-horse race of attrition was to outlast their rival by one step. Which Connex did. So in 2004 they got rewarded with a more generous contract and control over the whole suburban train network (Connex Mk II). They were however to pay for it with their reputation which later copped a beating.  

Some historic Connex Mark II links (including timetables) are below. 



Timetables https://web.archive.org/web/20041031011647/http://www.connexmelbourne.com.au/trip_timetable/index.asp

When transport operators rebrand you normally expect them to remove all traces of their previous monikers. That means new paint jobs, signage and websites. In at least two whimsical cases this didn't happen with Connex. The first is Connex the seeing eye dog whose period in service outlived its train contract. The second, from earlier, is the survival of Hillside Trains on the web. This is the longest lived train operator transport website in Melbourne, with http://www.buslines.com.au/hillsidetrains/index2.html still active in 2020. I wonder whose paying for this interesting but redundant page? Remember that buslines name as we'll see it again later.  

Connex had operational challenges and punctuality fell. It lost the franchise to what became Metro Trains http://metrotrains.com.au . For a while its website linked to Metro's. However it look as if no one has  picked up the domain since. 

Metropolitan tram operators

This is similar story to trains. The government operator got split into two business units (Swanston Trams and Yarra Trams).

Swanston Trams started at https://web.archive.org/web/19991116051500/http://www.swanstontrams.com.au/ . A handy guide to service levels is https://web.archive.org/web/20000301100931fw_/http://www.swanstontrams.com.au/timetables.html

Swanston Trams, like Bayside Trains, got caught in the rebranding hoopla, becoming M> Tram at https://web.archive.org/web/20031002071341/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/ . That didn't do National Express any good and they handed back the keys for its half of the trams, suburban trains and all of V/Line when they couldn't make it pay. 

Receivers were appointed to run National Express services. A statement about this appears here: https://web.archive.org/web/20030802084146/http://www.movingmelbourne.com.au/company_info.shtml?site=CompanyInformation

Yarra Trams has been one of the most enduring names in Melbourne public transport. At over 20 years old it has already far outlived The Met. You can view its early page here: https://web.archive.org/web/20000511220411/http://www.yarratrams.com.au/

Yarra was in a similar position to Connex where it started with half the network but picked up the rest when National Express finished. The incumbent operator of Yarra Trams was replaced in 2009, but unlike the Connex/Metro changeover the brand name (and thus the website URL) remained with the new operator.  

A signature late 1990s Kennett government project was the City Circle Tram. It got promoted here: https://web.archive.org/web/19971022103044/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/city_circle/ 

Melbourne bus operators

Before bus operators got their own sites a lot of service change information was hosted on the Buslines page especially on the Bulletin Board. Buslines was hosted by PixelTech Design. It was an essential service when the official VicTrip had so little. Train and tram information was also sometimes included. Browse Buslines Bulletin Board archives in their heyday here https://web.archive.org/web/20001205095600/http://www.buslines.com.au/ . Like Hillside Trains, Buslines remains online today but there's little content apart from a 20 year old bus operator and route list (under 'depot'). http://www.buslines.com.au/

Although there were some hold-outs, most bus companies had websites by 1998. Victrip had a list here: https://web.archive.org/web/19981207072943/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/bus/index.htm

Some historic bus company websites (with some newer ones) can be viewed here:


Most started around in this era with Moonee Valley staying offline for more than another decade. Hope Street Bus Lines, which ran the 509, never had a website.  Note the heavy use of Buslines as a host for many operators. As you'd expect the quality of operator websites varied significantly and those planning longer trips often had to navigate several. Operator websites played a diminishing role after Metlink started hosting maps, timetables and service information on its own site.      

Regional train operators

When you think of regional trains in Victoria you think of V/Line. It's been a strong and enduring brand. Much more than the chopping and changing metropolitan operators. However small operators ran on some lines in the early 2000s. These were Hoys Rail Road to Shepparton (  https://web.archive.org/web/19991005020330/http://www.buslines.com.au/hoys/ )  and West Coast Railway to Warrnambool ( https://web.archive.org/web/20000511172813/http://www.wcr.com.au/ ). Their services later reverted to V/Line.  

V/Line's had a few website addresses. Their first goes back to at least February 1998. See it at https://web.archive.org/web/19980201174825/http://www.vline.vic.gov.au/ It's a basic but functional website that's stood the test of time; you can even look up maps and timetables on the archived version linked above. It predates that dreadful period when website design got worse before it got better. 

The website remained as a .vic.gov.au even through the early 2000s when National Express were running the service. It finished in early 2005, just when the new Regional Fast Rail era was dawning. 

V/Line also had https://web.archive.org/web/20031201000137/http://www.vline.com.au/ from 2003. They appeared to run with two web addresses for a couple of years. Then the .com.au site supplanted the other with it remaining to this day. This creates the anomaly where during private operation the website had a .gov.au address whereas during government operation it was .com.au . Having said that in their early years they also used https://web.archive.org/web/20000618184902/http://www.vlinepassenger.com.au/ but these days this redirects to the vline.com.au site.

Integrated network information websites

The late 1990s was the era of government divesting from public transport, splitting the network and letting private operators do their own thing. This contrasts with the concept of an internet website which was to bring disparate information together. However a couple of attempts at websites were made from 1997. I regard these as unsuccessful by the standards of their time and what was available in other cities. 

VicTrip appeared to start in 1997 with a government domain name. https://web.archive.org/web/19970414030958/http://victrip.vic.gov.au/ They appear to have been a bit confused with their identity as The Met also had a website in its dying years at https://web.archive.org/web/19981201072136/http://www.met.vic.gov.au/index.htm . Its contents look much the same as VicTrip. 

Until the middle of 1997 the VicTrip was little more than a placeholder website. There was no information on regular train, tram or bus services. Neither was there anything on fares and ticketing. However the City Circle tourist trams and NightRider buses did have information. 

The City Circle and NightRider cases were interesting. Victrip was a good site for those. Eg https://web.archive.org/web/19971022102949/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/nightrider/  had integrated and accessible map and timetable information for this after-midnight network of buses run by different operators. However Victrip was never able to achieve this for regular daytime bus, train and tram routes despite these being vastly more significant. Instead passengers had to wait years for progress here. 

This is VicTrip in 1998. https://web.archive.org/web/19981205160558/http://victrip.vic.gov.au/ This was the beginning of what you'd call a real public transport information site. For example you could look up network maps and timetables for trains and trams. Fare and ticketing information was also available. But bus information was limited. All users got was a list of operators, only some of which had websites. Browse it here: https://web.archive.org/web/19981207072943/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/bus/index.htm

Finding a bus route map and timetable was quite a drama and success was not guaranteed. Victrip themselves were not confident that information would be accurate. You couldn't even search routes by suburb if it didn't have a railway station named after it. Neither could routes be selected from a list.

VicTrip remained a stagnant backwater and the situation did not improve the following year. Nor the year after that. But there was a new dot com web address, as advised here: https://web.archive.org/web/20000510130515/http://www.victrip.vic.gov.au/ 

This is 2000's VicTrip: https://web.archive.org/web/20000510114157/http://www.victrip.com.au/ It's duller than the 1998 page. And it removed the previous limited ability to find timetables by route number. Users needed to play bus enthusiast and guess which company ran the bus they wanted to catch. Bus operators were more and smaller then than now so it was almost a needle in a haystack exercise in parts of Melbourne. 

The VicTrip website worked for trains and trams but was near useless for buses. People often still needed to make phone calls to get details of services. This was the pre-Metlink era so stop signage was often missing, limited, inaccurate and unmaintained. Overall VicTrip was an embarrassment that got worse rather than better with age. Those behind it seemed content to take their fees without understanding passengers' information needs or routine good practice from cities elsewhere. An analysis of Victrip I did back in 2000 can be read here: https://web.archive.org/web/20010221035153/http://www.alphalink.com.au/~parkerp/meldri.htm

Everyone was getting fed up with the continual rebranding and fragmentation of the system. The private operators tried things that further fragmented the system, for example operator-only tickets and maps that only showed half the train network. Their franchise payments were based on big patronage increases that were not happening. When they found fragmentation failed the now financially bleeding operators set up the Melbourne Passenger Growth Initiative to make network integration, that they were complicit in smashing just two years previously, work. 

This became Metlink, a company owned wholly by the private operators. It would take over VicTrip's ailing website along with other activities like fare revenue distribution, timetable production and signage. metlink.com.au was taken so the website became metlinkmelbourne . An early page is here:   https://web.archive.org/web/20031026094837/http://www.metlinkmelbourne.com.au/  A little later there was also https://web.archive.org/web/20130401000000*/http://www.viclink.com.au for regional Victoria. 

Metlink installed timetables at bus stops network-wide and printed local area network maps. It hosted route maps and timetables online so information could finally be complete, even if the operator lacked a website (which a few still did). And buses could be found with a drop-down menu so the need to know the operator had gone. A journey planner was added a few years later. This, along with extended hours and operating days for many Melbourne bus routes, coincided with a large increase in patronage which had previously been stagnant. 

Metlink still had problems. Published information was sometimes inconsistent or incorrect. There wasn't always the network knowledge amongst those whose job it was to communicate service changes to identify and challenge errors before publication. This was made worse by a heavy reliance on operators to initiate communication and a network that remained unmanageably complex. Bus operating hours, public holiday arrangements, summer timetables and occasional deviations had been simplified but there were still too many quirks to be simply explainable. To this day this increases the risk of errors and inaccuracies. This includes results produced when people use the journey planner. More recently there's been expansion into the mobile and real-time realms. This has placed further  pressures on information systems. And marketing could be stymied if those charged with promotions had poor awareness of the product they were meant to promote.

While Metlink unified most information provision, the service planning aspects of public transport remained fragmented. Metlink information could show that bus frequencies did not harmonise with train frequencies but they were unable to do anything about it. That was a planning matter for the (then) Department of Transport. 

Part of the Coalition's election pitch in 2010 was a 'one stop shop' responsible for public transport. In other words a public transport agency similar to those which successfully operate in other cities. Basically Metlink plus some functions from the Department of Transport, including planning. That was delivered in the form of Public Transport Victoria in April 2012. That name change of course meant another system rebranding and website URL. This is an early PTV website (basically a rebranded Metlink): https://web.archive.org/web/20120410054433/http://www.ptv.vic.gov.au/ . Note the return to a .vic.gov.au web address. 

The PTV structure was probably the best governance arrangement for public transport planning for at least recent decades.  There wasn't a lot of new money for services but there were some large local network reforms that have made services simpler and more direct. These were larger than what's happened before or since. 

The new government after 2014 has done some restructures since, including folding PTV functions  back into a revived Department of Transport. In bureaucrat speak this was supposed to mean more integration but in terms of networks and services it has only meant more inertia.  However they have at least had the sense to retain PTV branding to avoid another expensive signage and website change (Transport for Victoria being just a flash in a pan). 

Mention should be made that PTV 'refreshed' its website in early 2019. This is viewable at the regular link at http://www.ptv.vic.gov.au . The old website remains at https://classic.ptv.vic.gov.au/ presumably as they aren't confident enough to go it alone with the new site. It's lingered longer than expected but has some great features (eg more descriptive route maps) worth preserving.

Campaign and marketing websites

Sometimes operators and agencies might have little 'spin-off' sites to promote a particular initiative. For example a marketing or safety campaign. Here's a few from over the years.

Buying A Ticket Before You Get On Board Saves Time Or Problems Later. Or BATBYGOBSTOPL for short. This was a Metlink campaign from 2006 to encourage pre-trip Metcard purchasing. They had a website. https://web.archive.org/web/20060209224055/http://www.batbygobstopl.com.au/  And a video:

Taking public transport is nicer if people are considerate to one another. So Connex Trains got in fictional self-help guru Martin Merton (PhD) to teach passengers etiquette in 2008. This is his website: https://web.archive.org/web/20080307114835/http://www.martinmerton.com/ Read the backstory here: https://www.adnews.com.au/CD247F48-339E-449C-9F8FB9FBE96BF3FB . MM PhD was not universally liked, as you can see here: http://www.castironbalcony.com/2007/10/14/ad-nauseum-connex-again/

Metlink's had its 'Karma' campaign around then. Basically about doing the right thing by travelling with a valid ticket. It had a weird 'flash' introduction that does not suit all browsers. So you might just see a black screen at https://web.archive.org/web/20080301225033/http://karmacentral.com.au/  Marketers like to talk about their works so you can see Karma pictures on places like https://www.flickr.com/photos/koalasanctuary/3005277742/in/photostream/ and https://www.jeremywilliams.net.au/website_design/metlink_web.html . The same goes for other campaigns mentioned here. The Karma campaign had some effect, including to inspire people to write blog posts disparaging it: https://thepowerout.wordpress.com/2008/03/05/11/

In 2010 everyone was enthusiastic about creating a 'Metro style' train network with simpler services every 10 minutes to replace the current infrequent and complex timetables. Metro Trains set up  a special 'Destination Better' website to explain and sell these changes:  http://web.archive.org/web/20100921044129/http://destinationbetter.metrotrains.com.au/wwd.php The greenfields timetables delivered the promised improved service and reliability but subsequent governments lost interest in extending them to other lines.

Melbourne's extensive rail network has a big problem with people being hit by trains because they weren't looking when driving or walking. To counter this Metro Trains launched its 'Dumb Ways to Die' safety campaign in 2012. It went viral with many downloading the music and video. Website here: https://web.archive.org/web/20121118043912/http://dumbwaystodie.com/

The new PTV revived behaviour campaigns several years later. Theirs was based on everyone being a 'model commuter'. That was supported by a website started in 2014 https://web.archive.org/web/20141218173408/http://modelcommuters.com.au/ Also see Marcus Wong's write-up at https://wongm.com/2014/05/model-commuters-campaign-ptv/ .

Bus patronage was stagnant or dropping a few years ago. PTV thought a marketing campaign would help. They commissioned some beautiful and expensive posters to promote buses for leisure trips. Unfortunately the PTV marketing bods doing this weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. They didn't know about things that make a bus route marketable, such as good hours and frequency. Hence they wasted resources on promoting buses that ran an unattractively infrequent service or didn't operate some days. This is the campaign website with a not very useful online map. https://web.archive.org/web/20170306195444/https://www.melbournebybus.com.au/ All up it seemed a lot of work for little effect.

Another reason for a 'community engagement' type website is to consult the public on proposed service changes. For a while material was fragmented across two sites - one through PTV and the https://getinvolved.transport.vic.gov.au/ sub-site under the Department. They were independently maintained and sometimes had conflicting content. I think that's been resolved with  more recent consultation appearing on the latter. Get involved appears to have started in 2018. https://web.archive.org/web/20180319011938/https://getinvolved.transport.vic.gov.au/

Transdev was a franchisee that thought it had a bit more independence from government when it came to planning services. It revamped some of its routes in 2014 and planned a much larger 'greenfields network' change in 2015. It created a section on its website to explain this. Here it is: https://web.archive.org/web/20141222033449/http://www.transdevmelbourne.com.au/travel-information/2015-proposed-service-changes/ . There was a change of government, the new government didn't like the changes and they didn't go ahead. More on that here.

Unofficial transport websites

By 1998 it had became easy and cheap to write and host a basic website. So many did as a hobby. Despite apparently being a professional effort with paid staff, VicTrip had enough problems that people could build better websites than theirs in their spare time. Which is what I did in 2001 after approaches to them the previous year were unsuccessful. 

You can browse Metrip here. While basic it had things VicTrip lacked including route lists, details of service levels by route, routes by suburb and more. https://web.archive.org/web/20010204014900/http://www.alphalink.com.au/~parkerp/meltrip.htm 

Daniel Bowen's Unofficial Melbourne Public Transport FAQ was also prominent then. See https://web.archive.org/web/20020603002118/http://www.custard.net.au/melbtrans/ Again it provided concise material not provided on VicTrip. The service levels for key routes are some good background if researching timetable history.

Enthusiast forums and message boards often had advice on service changes that was more detailed or more accurate than official channels like VicTrip or Metlink. A typical example was the bulletin board hosted, around the turn of the century, by the Australian Association of Timetable Collectors. Posts were in one long thread in time order. Look here to see what was written https://web.archive.org/web/19990202163756/http://www.theguestbook.com/vgbook/22587.gbook The main AATTC page was here: https://web.archive.org/web/19990208011057/http://www.aattc.org.au/ .

The AATTC is now the Australian Timetable Association.  The bulletin board closed with activity transferring to the Bus Australia Forums (ATDB) at http://www.busaustralia.com/forum/ and to some extent Railpage forums at https://www.railpage.com.au/f.htm . These forums were very active about 10 or 15 years ago however most activity has since moved to Facebook groups.

I mentioned anti-fare evasion ads before. Two young entrepeneurs tried to harvest money from fare evaders by selling fare evasion insurance for $20 per month to cover fines incurred. They justified themselves by blaming what they saw as excessive fares on myki. Their venture, called Tramsurance, started in 2012 https://web.archive.org/web/20120706041709/http://hello.tramsurance.com/ . It got big media attention (example below) but public transport authorities were not amused. Legal threats were issued. Tramsurance was closed after three weeks but not before significant publicity. More here. https://www.sohum.com/hyper-growth-the-tramsurance-story/ .

Not all passenger were content with the train service they were getting (or not getting). Some wrote blogs to share their transport woes. 2005 saw writings from 'Connex Whinger'. Read more here:   https://web.archive.org/web/20051209011342/http://www.connexwhinger.blogspot.com/ There was also a website. That's here: https://web.archive.org/web/20060321010252/http://connexwhinger.com/  The posting ceased when the writer finished one job and planned to seek another at a location he could drive to. 


It's been a wild surf across the World Wide Web. And you'd be wrong to say it's over. Have I missed anything? Do you have memories of using these or other websites? What did you think of them? Please leave your comments below. 

Friday, May 22, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 45: 10 bus routes you could cut without anyone noticing

Last week I mentioned the Transport For Everyone (T4E) plan that would deliver new or upgraded SmartBuses running every ten minutes to major destinations including universities, shopping centres, employment hubs and train stations. Some of the changes could fund themselves by reducing routes that overlap. Unless new funding is forthcoming, others require us to cast our net wider in our search for savings.

Potential candidates include bus routes that are redundant, duplicative, poorly used or over-serviced relative to their patronage or patronage potential. It's a bit like maintaining a garden. You want what you wish to keep to thrive without killing everything.

The latter is close to what happened in 1990/91 where large indiscriminate cuts were applied across the bus network. Major and busy routes were cut as much as quieter routes. There were some network changes but they were not necessarily in the direction that would produce a simple and efficient bus network. The early 1990s cuts reduced patronage and fare revenue, making them somewhat of a false economy. And buses weren't to really recover until the 2006-2010 service upgrades. Timetables of some popular routes such as 536 and 800 still bear the scars of those cuts.

A successful trimming of bus routes should be done with pruning shears instead of an axe. However there are cases where sickly straggly bushes next to strong trees should be pulled out to tidy the network and permit the  cost-effective introduction of enhanced SmartBus ten and Useful Network twenty minute services on corridors throughout Melbourne. Some of these are outlined below.

Deletable routes 

I've discussed what could be pruned several times before. Plus this post on quiet routes. Here's another take. Listed are some bus routes that could be deleted if you wanted to save money. Few provide significant unique coverage to a populated area and it's doubtful that people would notice if they were cut due to their low usage. Here they are: 

* 673 An off-peak service operating in the Lilydale area, this route is entirely overlapped by other routes that operate more frequently. Its only unique stop is Lillydale Lake which is not exactly a high patronage generator. It is rare for trips to get any passengers at all, with patronage being 1 boarding per bus service hour (compared to over 20 average for Melbourne buses). More here.    

* 694 This route is almost entirely overlapped by routes 688 and 663. Its only unique coverage is in the sparsely populated Sherbrooke forest. It attracts a low 7 passenger boardings per hour.

* 768 This was the original Box Hill - Deakin University shuttle introduced about 10 years ago. Unfortunately it only runs approximately every 40 minutes. More recently another university shuttle (the 201) was laid almost over the top of the 768. Though that too is inadequately frequent and doesn't harmonise with trains. Such was the demand for transport from Deakin Uni that the 768 was a productive route prior to COVID-19 despite its low frequency. However during this quieter time the 768 could easily be scrapped. When demand builds up the 768 should not be restored. Instead capacity should be added to boost the 201 to a 15 or preferably 10 minute frequency.      

* 687 This is a route to lightly populated Chum Creek, near Healesville. It is very close to being Melbourne's quietest bus route with just two boardings per bus service hour. It's not hard to see why with almost no population in much of its catchment.

* 953 This is a weekend Night Bus route in the Broadmeadows - Craigieburn area. Night bus routes are known for being much quieter than daytime service but this one takes the cake, possibly because it runs roughly parallel to a train line. It gets just one or two passengers on a typical night

* 403 This route, which runs from Footscray to Melbourne University, is intended to be a university shuttle. However even pre-COVID-19 it suffered from below-average patronage with 18 passenger boardings per bus service hour. The 403 offers no unique coverage. If it was deleted passengers would have alternatives including the 402 (also between Footscray and Melbourne University) every ten minutes or a change to a Metro train then the frequent 401 bus at North Melbourne. Once university traffic recovers an alternative use for the resources could be other network improvements including operating Route 401 on weekends. 

*745 You can go there but not back. There's so few trips that they might as well not run. Usage is low at 8 passengers per service hour. It could be scrapped and replaced with a proper local network as soon as possible. More on the 745 (A, B, C and D) here.

* 696 This is a shopper route across the Dandenongs introduced about ten years ago. It offers little unique coverage. It's been a flop with just one boarding per bus service hour, making it tie with the 673 for Melbourne's least used bus. 

* 343 This is a fairly new route, only put in a few years ago. It attracts a below average productivity of 14 passengers per bus service hour. Operating from Greensborough to semi-rural Hurstbridge it largely overlaps the train beyond Diamond Creek. The 343 has little unique coverage. The places that 343 runs through stand out for having a lot of poorly used bus routes. This is because recent governments have generously plied it with often overlapping routes while other areas have missed out (despite higher populations, social needs and propensity to use buses).   

* 429 This is a new short route that came about when the 219 and 216 were merged to provide a simpler route from Sunshine to the city via Footscray. It has only a little unique catchment near its end due to overlaps with the 428 and 903. 429 could easily be deleted especially if a kink was added to Route 428 to improve coverage in Sunshine South and some evening trips added to maintain long operating hours. In addition the unserved end of Warmington Rd could gain better access to service via the Cannon St Footbridge.

* 478 This route is a shorter version of the 479 (Sunbury - Melbourne Airport - Airport West) with no stops unique to it. In conjunction with the 479 it provides a combined 30 minute service between Airport West and Melbourne Airport which is likely very poorly used. Removing 478 would leave an hourly service. When substantial airport traffic resumes you might restore service but as short 479 trips for simplicity given how poor PTV can be at communicating multi-route corridors. 

* 350 This is a City - La Trobe University route. This is (or was) the busiest route featured here with 23 boardings per bus hour, which is quite respectable. However the decline in university traffic would have since hit patronage. And there have been improvements to other routes (notably an increased Route 250 frequency in 2014 and the 301 La Trobe shuttle in 2016) that may have lessened 350's role. And longer term there's development in Alphington that needs some form of service. 

* 777 This is a short shopper-style route to Karingal that we looked at last year. Usage is low at 5 boardings per service hour. However it provides a connection from an area that has no other service. So contrary to the title a few might miss it.

* 706 This is another occasional shopper route, this time between Chelsea and Mordialloc. It parallels the Frankston train line but there is some unique coverage between Mordialloc and Aspendale stations (which are 2.6km apart). The Department of Transport itself wanted to scrap the 706 a couple of years back but the Mordialloc area review this was proposed in went nowhere

More than 10 routes are listed so you could argue that some could remain. How much money would you save if you stopped running the above? The answer might be less than you'd think. A few million dollars per year is a likely number. This is because many of the mentioned routes are off-peak shopper services whose ending would not reduce the number of buses you need to maintain. Politicians might not regard this small saving as being worth the risk of a backlash. It is not unknown for more people to sign a petition to keep a bus than who ever actually used it. And deleting bus routes could unsettle others who depend on certain government services; theirs could be next. 

Better matching frequency with demand

If you want bigger savings you need to do more than just cut (mostly) little routes like those listed above. For example you might look at long distance and expensive to run routes that attract little patronage for the number of buses used. Cutting their frequency could result in significant annual operational savings. And the political impact of revising timetables tends to be much less than deleting routes entirely. Ideally though, given the decline in service per capita, resources saved should be reinvested to build up service on routes that need it so most passengers end up being better off.

Before rattling off the routes whose timetables could be cut, I should insert a note of caution. Non-transport people (especially) can misunderstand the relationship between frequency and demand, especially in areas of suburban density or higher. For example they might assume a roughly fixed demand for buses. Therefore if there are lightly used buses then service could be cut but about the same numbers would be using them. Therefore fare revenue would remain much as before and there would be a substantial overall saving.

On the other hand a high frequency service is a very different product to a low frequency service. Many more types of trips can be made conveniently on the frequent service. Where there's the catchment population and destinations patronage will be much higher with the frequent service. Some areas are so favourable for buses that even if you run a route that largely overlaps others (eg the 742 around Monash University or the 768 at Deakin University) it will still attract reasonable usage. If you run frequent services in areas like this they will almost certainly fill, with usage growing as frequency increases.

Whereas if you were to run high frequencies in areas that are semi-rural or have less favourable catchment demographics then usage will still not be high, especially where routes overlap and cannibalise each other's patronage. It is when these conditions are met that you may be able to reduce frequencies without greatly reducing patronage or fare revenue. And if you were to redeploy resources to routes in areas that respond well to added service you should get overall patronage and fare revenue gains.

With that out of the way, here's some routes that underperform for at least some of the time:

* 280/282 This is the notoriously underused 'Manningham Mover'. It's a very long loop route attracting just 6 passengers per service hour. Off-peak service could be pruned from 30 to 60 minutes to save money. If you wanted to ramp  services up later you wouldn't return them to 280/282. Instead you'd reform local networks to reduce overlap and provide new direct connections such as Heidelberg to The Pines via Templestowe

* 695 Serving semi-rural areas it nevertheless runs every 30 minutes off-peak between Belgrave and Emerald. Patronage is 13 boardings per bus service hour interpeak weekdays, dropping to 8-9 on weekends. Scope exists to reduce off-peak service to hourly given the semi-rural catchment. More here.

* 578/579 Would you believe that semi-rural areas like Research and Kangaroo Ground get a minimum standards-style hourly 7 day service designed for normal residential suburbs? The two routes provide a combined two buses per hour between Eltham and Warrandyte even on Sundays. Almost no one uses them, with 8 boardings per hour on Saturday and half that on Sunday. Meanwhile dense busy corridors like Middleborough Rd or Princes Hwy get half that service or even nothing at all on a Sunday. Cutting 578/579 frequencies to 80 or 120 minutes each would better align service with demand and save money. 

* 582 During normal times train passengers in northern and western Melbourne crowd onto Sunday trains every 40 minutes. Popular tram routes are often every 30 minutes. Meanwhile the 582 bus east of Eltham is providing the best am service of the lot with a 20 minute frequency applying from 7am Sundays. Not that it gets much use; the 582 records 7 boardings per bus service hour on Sundays and 12 on Saturdays. Scope may exist to reduce its frequency to meet demand, especially if it could be interlined with nearby routes such as 578 and 579. Even better could be its extension to Greensborough in conjunction with savings measures involving other routes such as the duplicative 293.

* 580 This is another 'fresh air' Eltham area bus route, especially on weekends. The half-hourly weekday interpeak and Saturday headway does not mesh with trains every 20/40 minutes. And its frequency is generous for the catchment. Productivity is 14 boardings per hour on weekdays, 5 on Saturday and 4 on Sunday. Saturday service, in particular appears excessive. 

* 603/604 These routes were introduced to replace the 216, 219 and 220 in the Brighton area. I don't have numbers on their boarding productivity but when you're running night services every 20 minutes until late in an affluent area not known for its high bus usage the patronage is likely to be low. Scope  exists for operating hours and frequency reductions at quieter times with many areas having alternative services  (including trains) nearby. More here.

* 890 Industrial area route between Dandenong and Lynbrook that has 7 day service. Weekday patronage is adequate but Saturday and Sunday attracts 2 and 6 boardings per hour respectively. This is an example of a relatively new route whose timetable was not designed to reflect likely demand patterns. Weekend service could easily be deleted or at least reduced in hours or frequency.

* 232 Route 232 runs over the West Gate Bridge. It provides almost no unique coverage but gives a one-seat ride into Melbourne CBD. Scope may exist to reduce its frequency to better reflect current (even pre-COVID-19) usage. 232 may be overserved on weekdays and Saturdays. On the latter it runs every every 30 minutes yet it has no unique coverage. This contrasts with the more popular 411/412 which has substantial unique coverage but runs only every 40 minutes on Saturdays. 

* 235 An industrial area route serving Fishermans Bend. Very productive on weekdays but quiet on Saturdays. One might query whether Saturday service should be dropped from every 40 minutes to hourly, or even deleted entirely. 

* 236 Quiet on all days of the week it runs (Monday - Saturday). A few stops get reasonable use but much of its catchment is walkable to trams or other bus routes.

Routes that could be shortened

Some routes are productive on sections but extend to areas that are lower density. You might justify this if they were the only connection between areas but this is not always the case as some of these examples show.

* Route 903 to Mordialloc: The Mentone to Modialloc portion of the 903 is much quieter than other eastern parts of the route. Nevertheless it retains service at SmartBus frequencies. Most of the catchment is within walking distance of the Frankston line stations of Mentone, Parkdale and Mordialloc. A possible saving could be to terminate the 903 at Mentone (or slightly south on certain school trips) and operate the Mordialloc portion as a neighbourhood style route. This could potentially connect with other routes that terminate at either Mentone or Mordialloc to improve local travel. If it was introduced in conjunction with the T4E plans for a 10 minute service on part of the 903 an option could be to start the 10 minute service at Mentone with every second trip starting at Mordialloc (20 min service).

* 381 and 385 to the Hurstbridge line: Both these routes, operating in the Mernda area are poorly used, especially on non-school days and weekends where 5 to 10 boardings per service hour are recorded. Eastern portions of them provide a metropolitan style service through semi-rural areas to Diamond Creek and Greensborough respectively. There are also partial overlaps with the 901 SmartBus. A saving could be to join 381 and 385 at Yarrambat to form a loop route (preferably bidirectional with the two route numbers retained) with potential school time extensions to the east where needed. A less radical approach could, in conjunction with local network revisons, have only one full-time route between Mernda and the Hurstbridge line.

* 733's southern portion: Route 733 is one of the most busiest and productive bus routes in Melbourne. It is also grossly underserviced, particularly weekday interpeak and on Sundays. Patronage though tends to be concentrated in the portion between Clayton and Box Hill where it provides unique coverage and serves key trip generators. This is unlike the southern portion where a large part overlaps the 703 along Centre Rd. A possible saving could be to terminate the 733 at Clayton and operate the Oakleigh portion as a separate neighbourhood route. More on the 733 here. Savings here could go into upgrading 733's frequency on its busiest portion (which is one of the ten routes earmarked for upgrade in the T4E plan).

* Transdev routes in the CBD: Many routes run along Queen St. These include the 235 and 237 to Port Melbourne. These are well used routes but most passengers board at Southern Cross Station. Opportunities may exist to save resources if buses could be shortened to terminate nearer to Southern Cross.
Network efficiencies

Deleting individual routes and reducing hours and frequencies are the lazy ways to save money with buses. They can leave some areas without coverage and introduce inefficiencies of their own. And they can cause patronage loss, such as happened in the early 1990s.

A more positive approach is to critically examine the network for places where overlapping routes could be simplified and other routes could be extended or boosted in frequency to compensate. These 'swings and roundabouts' revisions are easier to sell as there's gains as well as losses. And by making services simpler you can set them up to win increased patronage, higher fares revenue and potential future service increases.

Numerous examples are presented in the Useful Network series. Areas and groups of routes where there are particular opportunities to cut duplication include:

* 606/600/922/923: Major scope exists to simplify service along a bayside strip from Port Melbourne to Sandringham and inland to Southland while reducing duplication and saving money. Discussed here.

* Footscray - Highpoint corridor: Route 223 reflects an old tram route. Route 406 runs a different route between the two centres. Neither offer a simple 7 day turn-up and go service. Also most of Route 223 south of Footscray is near other routes such as the 472 on Williamstown Rd. Scope exists to merge these routes to provide a simpler and cheaper frequent service every 10 minutes with benefits for Victoria University as per the T4E proposal. More here

* 903 SmartBus overlaps: Route 903 SmartBus overlaps with numerous routes in Melbourne's north and west including Route 527 near Coburg465 near Essendon and 232 and 411 in Altona North. Route 903's frequency does not harmonise with local trains in the area. Scope exists to reform local networks to reduce overlap and improve frequency on the routes that remain to provide a simpler service every 10 minutes that better feeds trains. Reducing overlap also gives scope to extend SmartBuses to new areas including Highpoint and Footscray.

* 901 and 902 SmartBus overlaps: The north-eastern segment of both these SmartBus routes often overlap one another or traverse low density semi-rural areas that hardly justify an infrequent local bus. Despite two SmartBuses in the area neither offer a direct connection between the area's two biggest centres, that is Greensborough and Doncaster Shoppingtown. Scope exists to swap Routes 901 and 902 in the area to provide this connection on the 902. The 901 could then be split with the rural portion being served by a lower frequency route optimised to feed local trains. Other overlaps exist on low patronage Foote St (between 902 and 280/282 and 309) and higher patronage Doncaster Rd (with 907).

* Buses in Templestowe/Greensborough/Eltham/St Helena/Diamond Creek/Hurstbridge area: Much of the north-east area has lower than average suburban population density. It has a middle-class profile with high car ownership. However it has unusually frequent buses with a tendency for recent governments to layer routes on top of one another. This has led to the area being overserviced with duplicative routes that often run at frequencies that don't meet trains. Large scope exists to simplify local buses, connect them better with trains and use savings to build up service on popular connections to major shopping, job, health and educational centres including La Trobe University, Northland, Heidelberg and Doncaster Shoppingtown. More here.

* 531/538 in Campbellfield: Is it possible to be over and under serving the same place? Yes. Look at the residential area of Campbellfield. Two routes ply the same streets. However both operate 5 or 6 days per week only and have short operating hours. A network review could reduce the number of routes without cutting coverage while delivering 7 day service and longer hours. More here.  


I've reviewed a few cases where scope may exist for our bus network to be made more cost-effective. No doubt there are many more. Please comment below if you find any or think some of the above are unjustified.

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)