Thursday, September 28, 2023

UN 164: Better transport in Mulgrave (6 point plan)

This week's resignation of Daniel Andrews as premier since 2014 and member for Mulgrave since 2002 creates an opportunity for improved public transport in an area that has never had very much. The opportunity is perhaps amplified because we now have a deputy premier who strongly supports bus service upgrades, even saying that a dollar invested in service returns five dollars to the community

For those who don't know it, Mulgrave is an almost square-shaped seat in Melbourne's mostly 1950s - 1980s (then) outer south-eastern suburbs. Ferntree Gully Rd forms its northern boundary with Heatherton Rd to its south. The east and west boundaries aren't quite as straight but roughly align with Westall Rd and East-west Link. Key suburbs include Springvale, Noble Park, Noble Park North, Wheelers Hill and Mulgrave, its namesake. Average incomes vary greatly from very low to high, generally increasing from south to north. The seat, especially its southern half, is very diverse, with a high proportion of families speaking languages other than English at home. 

Ever since it urbanised the seat (and its predecessors) have been safe Labor. While there is no party with a primary vote that rivals Labor, the latter's primary vote has been falling. Such a swing away from the major parties has been particularly notable in high average income inner suburban seats (which returned 'teal' independents or Greens in the 2022 federal election) and low average income ethnically diverse outer suburban seats (most notable in parts of Melbourne's west, north and south-east). 

You could watch the above video, but to put it in a nutshell, major parties took the latter areas for granted. Liberals considered they'd not win them while Labor (including in government) regarded these areas as its own and directed funding for services to more marginal areas such as the Frankston line sandbelt.

To take a transport example, while all of Bentleigh East's buses got 7 day service about 15 years ago, only about half of those in Dandenong did despite high social needs in the latter area. And, due to a preoccupation with infrastructure, the roll-out of 7 day service has ground almost to a halt with 'safe' Labor seats that missed out last time falling even further behind. Mulgrave is a classic example, with five bus routes not operating 7 days despite all recording above average usage on the days that they do operate. My 2022 election write-up on Mulgrave is here.

Existing public transport services in Mulgrave

What public transport exists in Mulgrave now? The Dandenong line serves the south-west of the seat. This has had significant level crossing removals at Springvale and Noble Park to general acclaim. There have also been some improvements to train timetables, though waits on weekend evenings and Sunday mornings remain long. This line will run through to the capacity-increasing Metro Tunnel but actual service levels are as yet unknown. Westall, Springvale, Sandown Park and Noble Park are the four stations nearest to Mulgrave residents, though some in the north may use the Glen Waverley line. 

The rest of the Mulgrave seat has buses. The highest served routes are the 900 on Wellington Rd between Caulfield and Rowville and the 902 on Springvale Rd. Both get above average usage but weekend frequency on both is low for premium routes, with 30 minute gaps typical. Local Mulgrave bus routes typically operate every 30 to 120 minutes and may not run evenings, Sundays and even Saturdays. As noted above failure to meet minimum service standards for buses is more prevalent in Mulgrave than elsewhere. 

A six point transport plan for Mulgrave

Quite a bit can be done for public transport in Mulgrave. Some areas have complex, indirect and overlapping bus routes that could be simplified. Key examples being the 802/804/862 along Wellington Rd and the 631, 813, 814 and 848 along Police Rd. The 802/804/862 should be relatively simple to reform while Police Rd probably requires a larger local bus network review. These can be drawn out affairs and an election campaign isn't necessarily the best time for such deliberations. Especially if you want 'quick wins' that fix the most pressing issues now. 

Such issues include short operating hours unsuitable for the times that many people wish to travel, a lack of 7 day service, crowding on busy routes (notably Springvale Rd) and long waits at certain times even on busy lines and routes. The good news is that all of these are fixable by working the existing fleet harder for more of the week on existing lines and routes, with the main expenditure being additional rostered driver hours. 

Such a plan would have benefits across almost the entire seat, as mapped below:  

In more detail, the six initiatives could be: 

1. Route 800 upgrade. Would gain longer hours (to at least 9pm) and new Sunday service. As this is a main road route serving major centres at Chadstone and Dandenong, a 20 minute weekend frequency is suggested (matching the 893 along a portion of Princes Hwy further out). As Melbourne's busiest bus without 7 day service, this upgrade would be the highest priority of the six for Mulgrave (and has certainly been the most publicised). 

2. Route 814 7 day upgrade. Would gain longer hours and new Saturday afternoon and Sunday service. An hourly frequency appears low but reflects the existing weekday and Saturday morning timetable. It would also enable co-scheduling with the partly overlapping 848 to provide a combined 30 minute service on sections. 

3. Route 802/804 7 day upgrade. Route 802 would gain new Saturday and Sunday service while 804 would gain improved Saturday afternoon and new Sunday service. Operating hours would also be extended to 9pm. We suggest hourly weekend service on each route with the timetable offset with Route 862 to provide a 20 minute combined frequency on the overlap.  

4. Route 885 7 day upgrade. Would gain an extension of operating hours to 9pm and a new Sunday service. Hourly suggested to match existing Saturday service levels and meet minimum service standards. A later network review in the area may have scope to increase frequencies further. 

5. Route 902 15 minute frequency 7 days on Springvale Rd. Route 902 SmartBus currently operates every 15 minutes on weekdays and 30 min weekends. This is a busy corridor and weekend crowding can ensue on parts of the route. We suggestion the addition of short trips every 30 min between Nunawading and  the Keysborough depot to to provide a combined 15 min service during the day. 9pm to midnight Sunday evening service would also be desirable on this section. 

6. Dandenong line frequency upgrade to a 20 min maximum wait. This is Melbourne's busiest rail line with Springvale one of its busier stations. Service is currently 10 min during the day (7 days) but there is a sharp drop to 30 min on weekend evenings. Sunday morning service is also half-hourly. A worthwhile and relatively economical upgrade would be to add trips so maximum waits at these times are 20 minutes - same as that on the quieter Frankston, Werribee and Williamstown lines. This upgrade would move the Dandenong line nearer to a true turn-up-and-go service across the day, though ultimately the aim should be 10 minute maximum waits at least as far as Dandenong. 


The above forms the basis of an affordable transport upgrade agenda for Mulgrave. It's not complete but it does cover matters of most immediate importance, including completion of the minimum standards roll-out (promised in 2006) and 7 day frequent Springvale Rd service. 

Subsequent stages could include frequency boosts for Route 900 on Wellington Rd, the abovementioned 802/804/862 simplification, a Police Rd corridor review (including a direct Centre Rd route to Clayton) and a start on a Monash - Dandenong frequent route on Heatherton Rd as per the Future Frequent Network

Candidates and advocates may wish to consider it when shaping their policies for the by-election. The increased attention given to Mulgrave in the next couple of months will give a welcome opportunity for transport services to have a higher profile than they did in last November's general election. And, as you saw above, Mulgrave most definitely needs it! 

More on the Mulgrave by-election

Antony Green's election analysis page

#Fix800Bus on Facebook

Index to other Useful Network items

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Top 5 priorities for Transport Equity Week

17 to 23 September 2023 is Transport Equity Week.

I discuss transport equity quite a bit here. Examples include my look at the systemic inequity of current routes and timetables, the extent to which existing service priorities entrench poverty traps with routes and timetables that are not 'job ready', priority service upgrades to new social housing developments and, more recently, the case of most diverse but least served Greater Dandenong

With cost of living pressures hurting demographics that one might consider 'middle class', equity issues are no longer just a 'poor people thing' that governments (especially Labor) could safely ignore with no electoral consequences. Especially with the collapsing major party primary vote in areas that were previously 'taken for granted' (Labor) or 'not our people' (Liberal). 

I'm talking the likes of Dandenong and Broadmeadows where there are neighbourhoods whose buses have not had a single trip added for 30 years or more despite high patronage, strong social needs and the routes being passed over when there was last a serious upgrade program about 15 years ago.  

Young Labor has recently cottoned on to this, passing a motion backing train frequency upgrades (especially in Melbourne's north and west) as well as reformed routes and minimum service standards (ie 7 day operation) on buses. It remains to be seen whether the senior party, parliamentary party and most critically the cabinet take heed. 

As well as a service existing, it must also be accessible. That means being able to cross the road to get to stops and once you're at a stop being able to board a vehicle (a particular issue with trams).   

Service and accessibility themes feature in Transport Equity Week events being held around Australia. Of interest was that the idea for local activity in Melbourne came from a chance meeting with Minister Carroll at a post-election function

So what are the service-related measures that would further transport equity in Melbourne? 

Here's my top five.

1. 7 day buses in high needs areas that currently lack them. The most notable gaps exist in Dandenong but attention is also needed in areas like Glenroy, Thomastown/Lalor, Campbellfield, Croydon/Lilydale, Frankston, Knox and more. That's good for equity as currently the only after 7pm or Sunday transport some neighbourhoods in these areas have are expensive taxis/ubers.  

2. Faster roll-out of bus routes in new estates without them. Eg the likes of Mt Atkinson, Mambourin and Thornhill Park. Having even a basic bus service assists with cost of living pressures as it enables more households to get by without a second or third car (which the RACV recently told is is expensive). 

3. Completion of missing bus links that would speed access to jobs. Some cross-suburban trips require needless backtracking and thus take too long to be a practical commute despite the short distances involved. Examples include Tarneit - Laverton North, Sunshine - Melbourne Airport, La Trobe University to Swinburne via Chandler Hwy, La Trobe University to Caulfield via Camberwell, Dandenong South to Keysborough and Narre Warren to name just a few. 

4. Progressively cutting 40 and then 30 minute waits on trains to deliver 20 minute maximum waits across the network all week. This would particularly benefit those who don't work standard M-F 9-5 jobs (disproportionately the 'working poor' service sector). Especially those who need to be somewhere at a particular time or making connections. Areas with the longest waits for trains are the west, north and outer east. This is incredibly cheap to do and should be a prelude to more widespread all day 10 minute service. 

5. Various active transport and accessibility works to improve connectivity to and between transport modes and suburban centres. Could include bus and tram priority measures, roundabout removals, placing bus stops nearer intersections, new pedestrian crossings, etc. 

Many of these are cost-effective, whether it's working existing trains or buses harder or doing small works that if replicated would deliver last and very cost-effective connectivity and access gains. And often it's not even a case of choosing between equity and patronage goals - there are high patronage growth potential instances (eg Craigieburn line trains and Dandenong area buses) where boosting service furthers both without needing to compromise. 

Have any other thoughts? Please leave them in the comments below. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

UN 163: Deakin Uni area bus reform starts next month

More than expected bus service improvements are coming to Melbourne's eastern suburbs a month tomorrow. The news broke last night via a media release on the premier's website

The changes implement Deakin University network reforms funded in 2022's state budget . Not only that but there will be some 'greater good' timetable changes similar to that done on the then Transdev network in 2021

The timetables go online tomorrow. However there's enough in the media release to provide some tentative views, which I will do so later. 

The changes

First of all, what's changing? 

* 201 Box Hill - Deakin shuttle boosted. Will be improved from every 20 to every 15 minutes with the service also running on Orientation Week. This will be close to cost-neutral as two duplicative Box Hill - Deakin routes will be deleted. These include the entirety of the 768 and the southern portion of Route 281. However as compensation Route 281's early weeknight finish time will be extended a little to 7pm making it more useful as a feeder to get people home. The 201/768 duplication has long been a network inefficiency so it's great to see this sorted out. Some 281 users will be upset that they lose their one-seat ride from High St Lower Templestowe to Deakin Uni but I think reform could have gone further, cost-effectively merging 281 and 293 to provide a 15 minute weekday/30 minute weekend service in conjunction with Montmorency/Greensborough area changes that could have been coordinated with the Hurstbridge Line Duplication project (and new stations).    

* Route 903 routed via Deakin Uni with extra Saturday morning short trips added. The Deakin route alteration was expected. However the Saturday morning improvement came out of the blue and should partly remedy some historical errors on a high demand route about which more will be said later. 

* Route 766 to run more frequently on Saturdays, gain Sunday service and be run via Union Station. These are welcome changes. As discussed here, this timetable upgrade pretty much had to be done as otherwise some in its catchment would be too heavily disadvantaged by having the rerouted 903 taken away from them. It is also heartening that Route 766 will at last be rerouted to serve the new Union Station, something 
discussed here but not done at the time. 766's upgrade will also give the area its first 7 day bus route as others like 284 and 612 do not run Sundays.    

* Route 271 to operate 7 days. Another surprise but very welcome. Route 271 has significant unique coverage and I considered 7 day service essential, even if it was at the expense of frequency on other days of the week. We'll know tomorrow if it has had timetable changes on the other days to help fund it.  


What are the two big stories of these changes?

Firstly I would have expected the 201 Box Hill - Deakin shuttle to operate every 10 minutes rather than every 15 minutes as advised. A 10 minute service is much more 'turn up and go' with people relying less on timetables. It is also more marketable as waits longer than that would cause people to consider other routes, making the service offer more complex. Other key university shuttles have a 10 minute or better service including the 301, 401 and 601.

However I can also see why they opted for 15 minutes. Deakin is a smaller campus than the others. Deakin already has the recently upgraded 767 to Box Hill and will soon have the 903 also, both comprising 7 trips per hour. Adding a 201 every 15 minutes would boost that to 11 trips per hour, which DTP might have considered sufficient, despite not all Deakin stops being served by all routes. Also, unlike other train lines that other university shuttles serve, trains at Box Hill operate on a base 15 minute frequency, making a well-timed 15 minute shuttle potentially OK. And, especially for Box Hill - Deakin trips there may be scope to stagger a 15 minute shuttle to operate at times offset with the 903, creating a 7.5 min combined service, especially if stops are closely spaced at Box Hill interchange and adequate information exists. 

If the Deakin shuttle was less service than some might have assumed, the busy 903 on Saturdays via Chadstone Shopping Centre is a case of more. Why is this important? These changes may start to unravel a historical error that's existed for the better part of 15 years. First some background. 

Before the long 903 Altona - Mordialloc orbital there was the shorter Box Hill - Mordialloc Route 700. This was at one time Melbourne's busiest bus route (at least amongst the private operators) and got upgraded to SmartBus status in 2005. The Saturday timetable then featured three buses per hour, ie a 20 minute service typically meshing with trains at the time. The SmartBus orbitals (of which 700 was to become a part) received 30 minute frequencies on weekends. As well as being poor for a premium route this did not mesh well with trains then every 20 minutes. However there was a will to at least retain previous frequencies so the eastern part of the 903 retained its 3 buses per hour with the northern and western portions at 2 buses per hour. That meant an uneven Saturday timetable with a mixture of 15 and 30 minute waits that was arguably inferior to the consistent 20 minute headway that it replaced. 

We won't know for sure the 903 Saturday improvements until we see the timetable. But if one extra short trip per hour was inserted then the busy eastern portion via Chadstone could improve to 4 trips per hour with an even 15 minute frequency. If this is the case then it would represent a significant improvement for the times that it applies. The release says morning though ideally this 15 minute service would, like on the 907, apply on Saturday afternoons and Sundays as well. However this requires operational funding and a few million for this is harder to find than a few billion of capex. Still, it's a start and indicates the beginning of an appreciation of what needs to be done. 

Unfinished business

Every bus reform package (and I do regard these changes as genuine bus reform) has boundaries where still desirable changes are out of scope. Those most notable for this package include: 

* 7 day frequent service on Route 903. This requires extending what (I think) is being done on Saturday mornings to Saturday afternoons and then Sundays to deliver a 15 minute frequency on (say) the Mentone - Heidelberg portion of this route. It adds a lot of route kilometres but would provide the first  genuinely frequent 7 day orbital route for Melbourne's east. Such a service could even cover the north to as far west as Coburg if consolidation in Melbourne's north along with the largely duplicative 527 is implemented. Even a cheaper version, involving a 20 rather than a 15 minute version of the above on weekends, could represent a step forward, though ultimately a 7 day 10-15 minute service remains a better fit for major orbital routes. 

* A new High St Templestowe Lower bus every 15 minutes by merging the 293 with the 281 as discussed here. Requires some Montmorency/Greensborough area reforms. Economy and connectivity would be best served if this was associated with 901 and 902 orbital reform in the north-east to provide a new frequent Doncaster - Greensborough connection via a reformed 902 with the duplicative portion of 901 being replaced by (say) a Pines Shopping Centre to Heidelberg east-west route. Presumably the currently underway north-east Melbourne bus review (announced exactly 1 year ago today) will examine bus networks in this area.  


Overall these look a good package of changes even though the extra service kilometre resources added appears small. It is particularly encouraging that DTP has used this opportunity to introduce other cost-effective reforms including boosted 903 Saturday service and 7 day operation on the 271 along with the previously budgeted Deakin-specific measures.

These are exactly the type of incremental service optimisations that DTP should be implementing at a far faster rate like Perth does. This would maximise benefits from constrained service funding and facilitate future wider reforms including simpler and more frequent routes. 

The timetables should be available tomorrow, with services commencing a month later on 15 October. 

15/9/2023 post script - new timetables

201 Every 15 min from 7am until just before 10pm. Approximately 15 min trip time. PDF on PTV website has major error in footnote referring to Monash & Clayton (which 201 doesn't serve). Also  box re operating days is unhelpful. 

271 Introduces an hourly Sunday service. Saturday service remains every 30 min. Span meets minimum service standards on all days of the week. 

281 6-7pm weeknight evening service improved with all trips going their full route and one or two later trips added. Saturday timetable substantially unchanged and there remains no Sunday service.  

766 Saturday service upgraded to every 30 min. New Sunday service every 40 min. Evening service typically every 30 min on all nights of the week. Span improved to meet minimum service standards on all days of the week. 

903 Saturday morning times 'massaged' to provide approx 25 minute headway from Altona with shorter average waits at Chadstone (15-20 min) but still lumpy timetable. Morning departures at Mordialloc improved to approx every 20 min but spacings increase with distance over the morning as traffic volumes rise. Route is basically too long to schedule evenly with varying run times. 

PTV write-up here

See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here