Sunday, June 19, 2005

Composite timetables: Where they're needed

In a previous entry promoting composite timetables, I mentioned that their presence has the potential to unlock the potential of many existing underused bus services.

In contrast, their absence makes bus services appear poorer and more confusing than they actually are. As a result, patronage and revenue are both lower than they should be for the service level offered.

Multi-route composite timetables are most useful for major suburban shopping centres and universities. Typically these destinations are located slightly beyond walking distance of trains and trams (typically 1 to 4km distant), so public transport inevitably means buses.

On their own most bus routes are not particularly frequent. However several may overlap, providing a worthwhile (but not always widely known) feeder service along their common portion. Particularly where the overlap includes a direct link between a major trip generator and railway station, there is great potential for better information (such as composite timetables) to boost patronage.

Practical applications

Examples of major links that would benefit from composite timetables in the Oakleigh-Clayton-Chadstone area include:

* Oakleigh - Chadstone

* Oakleigh - Monash Uni Clayton

* Chadstone - Oakleigh

* Chadstone - Monash Uni Clayton

* Chadstone - Holmesglen

* Chadstone - Glen Waverley

* Chadstone - Box Hill

Other combinations of major trip generators and railway stations amenable to composite timetables (sometimes already provided) include:

* Cheltenham/Southland/Moorabbin

* Footscray/VUT/Highpoint

* Preston/Northland/LaTrobe Uni/Reservoir

* Frankston/Karingal/Monash Uni/Mt Eliza

* Dandenong/Doveton/Dandenong North

* Narre Warren/Fountain Gate

Oakleigh - Chadstone demonstration timetable

Yesterday I produced a demonstration composite Saturday timtable for the busy Oakleigh to Chadstone link. My observations of it were as follows:

* From Oakleigh to Chadstone there are 88 Saturday services, running from approx 5:30am to 11:30pm (note that late evening services are excluded from entering the shopping centre).

* There is an average of one bus every 12 minutes over the 18 hour service span. Service between 7am and 7pm is approx one bus every 10 minutes.

* Because of varying headways on different routes, intervals between buses can vary from 0 to 20 minutes during the day, and are typically 30 min at night.

* The maximum wait anyone would have during the day would be 20 min, but in the majority of cases is less than 10 minutes. Had the passenger relied solely on the timetable for the best-known Oakleigh-Chadstone route (Smartbus 700) they would have had waits of up to 30 minutes on Saturday mornings.

* Because of the high combined service already provided (at least during the day), the likely low level of passenger awareness due to limited passenger information including absence of composite timetables), and the fact that both Oakleigh and Chadstone are in shared fare zones, the opportunity to secure increased public transport patronage in the Oakleigh-Chadstone corridor is exceptional.

* A composite Sunday timetable was also produced, but was of limited value as only two of the ten Saturday routes run and do not share a common route.

Chadstone departures demonstration timetable

A more ambitious project, to produce a timetable for all Saturday services leaving Chadstone, was then completed. I found that:

* Chadstone has approximately 224 bus departures on Saturdays, with service from approx 5:30 am - 12:30am (note previous comments on late night services).

* This is an average of 11.8 buses/hr over those 19 hours. That's one departure every 5 minutes. Between 7am and 7pm, 197 buses run, giving over 16 buses per hour, or better than one every 4 minutes.

* Because of varying headways of the different bus routes, waits can be higher than indicated by an average bus/hour figure.

* Buses from Chadstone pass at least 13 railway stations, with Oakleigh, Holmesglen, Box Hill, Carnegie and Glen Waverley most visited, probably in that order.

* Frequent connections are provided to both the Cranbourne/Pakenham and Glen Waverley lines, though not necessarily at the same stations. Provided people travel between 8am - 6pm waits of 10 minutes or more for a bus travelling to these lines are rare.

* Some instances where bus companies had co-ordinated routes were noted. For instance 800 and 804 both run hourly but provide a combined 30 minute service to some destinations.

* Despite Saturday afternoons being peak shopping time, some timetables reduce frequencies after noon.

* The 224 services were divided into northbound and southbound. 58% were outhbound and 42% northbound. (note that some are both north and south, eg a service that runs to Holmesglen before finishing at Oakleigh, while others go north east or north west so these percentages aren't quite accurate)

* At least during the day on Saturdays current service levels are already adequate to justify expenditure on innovations such as passenger information, composite timetables and marketing, at least for passengers near stations on Cranbourne/ Pakenham and Glen Waverley lines. Sunday services remain subject to previous comments on co-ordination with trains and clockface scheduling.


These examples demonstrate the value of composite timetables in improving passenger information and boosting patronge.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Integrated passenger information at Ormond

A photo tour of Ormond Station

1. Station welcome board

This is the first sign seen by people entering the station. It is at the base of the ramp leading up to the station's main platforms. Because of exposure to passers-by, it is ideal for public transport promotional material.

Components of this display include:

a. Welcome to Ormond Station sign

b. Ormond Local Transport Guide (with bus info)

c. Travel times to major destinations

d. Local area street map with bus routes identifed

e. Metlink URL and phone number

f. Rail system map

g. Fares information

h. Promotional material promoting off-peak use

2. Station foyer

3. Fare zone information on ticket vending machines

Unlike the large map and sign away from the TVM, this small sign is within the customer's line of vision and provides location specific zone information. Major destinations are identified by name.

4. Nearest Metcard outlet

Provides name and directions to nearest ticket outlet, right at the TVM to which passengers naturally gravitate. These directions are reinforced on local transport guide maps.

5. Local taxi company numbers

Provided at payphones.

6. Local transport guide


a. location of bus stops

b. available bus routes and destinations

c. approximate bus/train running times and frequencies

d. Metcard outlet and Metlink phone number

The guide pictured is located in the foyer near TVMs, but there are others at the entrance to the station and adjacent to the bus timetable display.

7. Marketing material

Marketing material to encourage patronage by publicising off-peak and non-work trips.

8. Timetables

Bus maps, timetables and local transport services guide provided on Platform 2. Although passed by many people alighting the train (including the peak afternoon traffic), the station foyer might have been a better location.

9. Directions to buses

Bus direction sign in underpass. Also includes Metlink phone and web info.

10. Passenger information at bus stops

A local travel guide installed at a bus shelter. Where stops have no shelter, permission needs to be obtained to place a guide in a nearby shop window.

About the Ormond Project

Project Aims

a. to increase public transport patronage amongst both existing and new passengers

b, to improve connectivity between transport modes

c. more effectively market public transport

d. improve customer service through better passenger information

e. improve fare compliance

Careful design and a staged approach

Passenger information needs vary according to the stage of their journey and their level of experience. Information provided must be specific to what the passenger wants to know at the time and not confuse them with either too much or too little.

Passengers to Ormond receive information as a progressive series of stages as they approach the station or bus stop. Each sequence (or 'thread') has been designed for the following types of passengers:

a. Passers-by (potential passengers who may be attracted to public transport)

b. Passengers catching a train at Ormond Station

c. Passengers leaving Ormond Station to catch a bus or call a taxi

d. Passengers leaving a bus to catch a train

These 'threads' are separate but intersect to form a seamless whole. Not all passengers need follow each stage in each thread. For example, passengers with pre-purchased tickets have no need for zone information on TVMs. However, for those who need it, such information is provided at the exact place where it is required (in this case on the TVM itself). Experience has shown that this is more effective than providing the information on large posters somewhat remote from where it is needed.

Information and reassurance

To provide continual (but unobtrusive) re-assurance, a successful action is followed by its verification or reinforcement. This builds confidence. The passenger then moves onto further steps until their journey is complete.

An example of the information/verification process is the on-platform signage. Passengers see arrows giving directions to each platform and their destinations. One of the platforms (3) is only used part-time and is accessible via the underpass. When they see the arrow for Platform 3 (information), the viewer naturally looks across in that direction. The first thing they see is the large '3' (verification). They see that they need to cross the tracks to reach this platform (information). When they look back to the first sign they saw, they see a note that Platform 3 is accessible under the tracks via the underpass (reinforcement). This gives passengers enough information to reach Platform 3 as they know where to go and how to get there.


Cost of materials has been kept down to approximately three to four dollars per station. Improvements such as larger poster sizes, use of colour, better printing and enhanced protection against the elements would increase this figure and are desirable in the long-term. The project receives no official funding. If considered worthwhile, the project's co-ordinator would welcome opportunities for it to be integrated into other passenger information projects currenly underway.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Congestion charging

Ari is advocating London-style congestion charges for our major cities. I'm a bit more cautious, and gave some alternatives in my reply.

My fear with CBD-focused congestion charges is that they imply that rising car traffic is mainly a CBD problem and that congestion is the main problem that arises from a transport system that is too car-oriented.

On its own, without better public transport services and capacity, an entry charge would influence peoples decision making. This is fine if is encouraging a shift from car to public transport, but not if it encourages many (particularly from suburbs with limited public transport) to avoid the CBD entirely.

Even worse would be if such a charge was to distort business location decisions away from the CBD and towards American-style 'edge cities' or business parks. These are typically located off freeway off-ramps, remote from public transport infrastructure and are not built for pedestrians. Hence they are less accessible by public transport than inner-city areas, and so encourage people to drive.

An example is when the Coles-Myer headquarters moved from the city to a less accessible suburban location. Before the move most employees took public transport. After the relocation most drove, because public transport was so much less competitive.

Hence the planning and transport outcomes of an agressive CBD entry tax could be precisely the opposite of what we want. Transport is a metropolitan-wide, and not just inner-city issue, and a CBD congestion levy in itself isn't enough.

Instead I'd prefer a package of measures, applicable across the metropolitan area, including:

1. A metropolitan parking levy on parking spots (including those at suburban shopping centres)

2. Abolition of planning requirements requiring developers to provide a minimum number of off-road parking spots

3. In return for 2 above, developers to comply with 'walkablility' principles and contribute towards public transport

4. Changes to salary packaging rules, to include public transport passes and removing perverse incentives to drive company cars.

5. Petrol taxes that decline in proportion to distance from the CBD

6. Caps on the number of parking spots

7. Improvements to public transport to boost services and capacity.

Harmonised and clockface timetables

Once a bus route has been designed the next task is to design a timetable, taking into account things like the route's importance, its likely patronage, connections with trains, user-friendliness, service reliability and resources (buses and drivers) available.

Harmonised headways

Except in peak times, suburban trains and trams run to a regular headway or frequency. On busy bus routes that provide an important link between railway stations and major trip generators that are off the rail network, buses should run at the same intervals as trains. This provides reliable connections.

* A hypothetical harmonised timtable

A bus timetable that has been co-ordinated with train arrival times looks like this:

Train arrives A - Bus departs A

10:05am ----------- 10:10am

10:20am ----------- 10:25am

10:35am ----------- 10:40am

10:50am ----------- 10:55am

Notice that it has constant waiting times, so that passenger can jump on any train and know that there will be a good bus connection. And there'll be no need to rush to a particular train as all will provide a good connection. If a train is narrowly missed, the next one will arrive in 14 minutes.

Total journey time is a constant 30 minutes, assuming a 15 minutes on the train, 10 minutes on the bus and 5 minutes transfer time. Passengers get a reliable fast trip (proportion of total travel time in motion 83%/waiting 17%) and are saved from juggling (or even carrying) timetables.

* A hypothetical unharmonised timetable

An unharmonised bus timetable that has not been co-ordinated with train arrival times looks like this:

Train arrives A - Bus departs A

10:05am ----------- 10:10am

10:20am ----------- 10:30am

10:35am ----------- -

10:50am ----------- 10:50am

The bus connection from the 10:05 train is good, but passengers on the next two trains need to wait 10 and 15 minutes respectively. It's even worse for passengers arriving at 10:50, who might see their bus depart (with almost no passengers on board) as they leave the train. They must then wait 19 minutes for the next bus at 11:10am.

For what should be a reliable 30 minute trip, travel time can be as high as 45 minutes. In this case the time in motion is a low 55% and the waiting time a high 45% of the total trip time.

Though the train service in both examples runs every 15 minutes, the effective service frequency for people making this rail-bus journey is reduced in this last example. Of the four trains an hour, only two offer a satisfactory connection.

If the train arriving at 10:30am is missed, then a 44 minute wait until the next satisfactory connection (11:05am arrival) is required. This wait is more than triple the 14 minute maximum wait required in the first example.

* A hypothetical harmonised timetable for a local route

Train arrives A - Bus departs A

10:05am ----------- 10:10am


10:35am ----------- 10:40am


This example would be suitable for a quiet local route where buses are timed to meet every second train. Though inferior to the 15 minute service, passengers still know that good connections are ensured from every second train.

Even though there are fewer buses than in the above (unharmonised) example, the maximum waiting time for trains that provide a good connection is 29 (not 44 minutes) and their arrivals are at even clockface intervals. As with the non-harmonised example above, the maximum wait for a bus is 20 minutes.

Comparing these two examples show that where trains run every 15 minutes, there is comparatively little benefit to be gained by increasing bus services from a harmonised 30 minute to a non-harmonised 20 minute headway. In contrast, going from 20 to 15 minutes is a massive improvement that should see patronage soar.

This also means that if two nearby bus routes run every 20 minutes, upgrading one to every 15 minutes and downgrading the other to every 30 minutes would vastly improve one while only slightly degrading the other, leading to a net benefit.

* A composite harmonised timetable for two local routes that serve a common road

Two less frequent routes that follow the same road for much of their trip can be timed to provide a frequent and connecting service for people living along that road. The presentation of passenger information on such routes is discussed in the section on composite timetables.

Train arrives A - Bus departs A

10:05am ----------- 10:10am (Route 200)

10:20am ----------- 10:25am (Route 201)

10:35am ----------- 10:40am (Route 200)

10:50am ----------- 10:55am (Route 201)

* Rules and limitations of harmonised headways

The main rule when harmonising headways is that the service frequencies must be multiples of one another. Hence a bus service running every 15 minutes can provide good connections with a train system where the basic service frequency is also every 15 minutes. Buses running every 30 minutes can also provide predictable connections for quieter routes. However feeder buses running every 20 minutes trying to connect with trains running ever 15 minutes (or vice versa) are inefficient and are unlikely to attract maximum patronage.

Harmonised headways are a necessary but not sufficient condition for good connections. At their worst they can mean that bus running every 15 minutes consistently misses a bus also running every 15 minutes.

However improving a connection when headways are harmonised normally involves only a minor tweaking of the timetable (starting all services 5 minutes later or earlier) rather than wholesale changes.

Harmonised headways are of utmost importance when buses are infrequent and/or fulfil a feeder role for trains. As demonstrated here, moving from a non-harmonised to a harmonised headway system can dramatically cut travel times and make the service more attractive.

The main limitation with harmonised headways is that especially where a long bus route serves multiple railway stations, it may not be possible to obtain good connections with each service. Nevertheless it provides a predictabilty of travel that is absent when trying to connect 15 minute trains with 20 minute buses.

Also timetable harmonisation becomes less important when services are less than 10 minutes apart, such as with peak-hour trains and trams. In these circumstances, active transfer management (eg alerting bus drivers of details of arriving trains) may become more desirable to provide efficient transfers.

Clockface (or memory) timetables

Ideally passengers want to be able to travel without a timetable. This means frequent or at least regular timetables so that departures are the same minutes past the hour at all times.

The following service frequencies are clockface: 5, 6, 7.5, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, 60 minutes. Services will be at the same minutes past the hour so people will be able to memorise them.

The following service frequencies are not clockface: 17, 25, 35, 40, 45, 50 minutes. Passengers are unlikely to be able to memorise the times for these services.

Perth train timetables represent one of the the purest examples of clockface timetabling. Sunday and evening services run every 30 minutes, whereas weekdays are every 15 minutes. It appears as if the planners started with a base 30 min Sunday timetable and added services in between to provide a 15 minute service six days a week. All passengers do is to remember a certain number of minutes past the hour and (peak times excepted) will then know all times for their station without carrying a timetable.

When planning services, clockface timetables should be encouraged and non-clockface timetables are discouraged. The only exception where non-clockface times may be desirable is to provide connections with other services. The most frequent example is when trains are every 20 minutes and a service meeting every train cannot be provided. In this case a non-clockface 40 minute service frequency may be required to provide connections, and is arguably preferable to a 60 minute (clockface) service.

* A harmonised and clockface timetable: Perth's Circle Route

Day/TimeTrain98/99 busHarmonised?Clockface?
M-F 6am - 9am5 - 10 min15 minn/a*yes
M-F 9am - 4pm15 min15 minyesyes
M-F 4pm - 6pm5 - 10 min15 minn/a*yes
M-F 6pm - 7pm15 - 30 min30 minyesyes
M-F 7pm - 9pm30 min30 minyesyes
M-F 9pm - 12am30 minno service--
Sat 6am - 7am15 min30 minyesyes
Sat 7am - 5pm15 min15 or 30 min**yesyes
Sat 5pm - 7pm15 min30 minyesyes
Sat 7pm - 12am30 minno service--
Sun 8am - 7pm15 or 30 min**15 or 30 min**yesyes
Sun 7pm - 12am30 minno service--

(*) In these cases exact timetable co-ordination is not possible, but service frequencies are mostly sufficient to keep waiting times down.

(**) At these times some rail lines and a section of the Circle Route operate every 15 minutes.

98/99 is an orbital route that provides inter-suburban and rail-feeder services. Apart from the somewhat limited operating hours, the timetable is very user-friendly, with a great effort made to co-ordinate services, harmonise headways and use memory (clockface) timetables.

* Headway harmonisation and clockface timetabling of Melbourne's proposed Route 700 Smartbus timetable

Day/TimeTrain700 busHarmonised?Clockface?
M-F 5am - 9am3 - 10 min6 - 15 minn/a*no
M-F 9am - 4pm15 min12-19 minpartial**no
M-F 4pm - 6pm3 - 10 min8 - 18 minn/a*no
M-F 6pm - 8pm10 - 30 min13 - 18 minn/a***no
M-F 8pm - 12am30 min20 - 30 minmostlymostly
Sat 6 - 11am20 min30 minnoyes
Sat 11am - noon20 min15 minnoyes
Sat noon - 6pm20 min20 minyesyes
Sat 6pm - 12am30 min30 minyesyes
Sun 7am - 11am30 min31 - 35 minnono
Sun 11am - 7pm20 min31 - 35 minnono
Sun 7pm - 9pm30 or 40 min30 - 37 minnono
Sun 9pm - 12am30 or 40 minno service--

(*) In these cases exact timetable co-ordination is not possible, but service frequencies are mostly sufficient to keep waiting times down.

(**) The average service frequency (every 15 minutes) matches the trains, but the non-constant headways do not.

(***) Due to variations in train headways during these shoulder periods, headway harmonisation would not be possible. Active transfer management is suggested instead, especially for trains from the city.

In contrast to Perth's Circle Route, which is harmonised and clockface at all times, Saturday afternoons and evenings are the only times where Route 700 services are consistently harmonised and clockface. On weekdays the average headway is appropriate, but is too irregular to be a genuine 'memory' timetable. On Saturdays, both the 30 minute morning and the 15 minute pre-noon services are wasted because though both are clockface, neither consistently connect with trains. Sundays see neither clockface nor harmonised service.

This exercise demonstrates that though proposed service levels are mostly sufficient, they are not necessarily arranged to provide the best and most reliable connections. The use of harmonised and clockface timetables as recommended here has the potential to make Route 700 to become a genuinely smart service that people will wish to use.


Harmonised and clockface timetabling has a big role to play in making public transport more reliable, faster and easier to use. A Perth-style review and revision of bus schedules to improve co-ordination is recommended, starting with the premium Smartbus services.

Friday, June 10, 2005

How to transfer to a SmartBus

Arrive at Chelsea Railway Station, Platform 2.

1. See direction sign for buses.

Note that Route 706 hasn't existed for at least seven years, and that directions to Route 857 (which also serves Chelsea) are missing!

2. View bus timetable at station.

Having timetables at stations is commendable, but unfortunately this one is very dated.

3. Note the Rail Substitute Bus stop, conveniently outside the station.

Our bus stop is now visible on the other side of Chelsea Rd. We'll walk to it in the 'approved' fashion, using the pedestrian lights provided.

4. Cross Station Street (a - b on map below).

5. Cross Chelsea Road (b - c on map below).

6. Cross Station Street again (c - d on map below).

Our bus stop, with a nice new-looking shelter is visible on the right.

7. Arrive at our bus stop.

8. View timetable to look up bus.

Again an old timetable, but a bit newer than the one at the station as it shows Sunday services!

9. Wait (for an unknown time due to the old timetable) and board bus.

Other points:

a. Instead of waiting for three sets of pedestrian crossing lights, here is the unofficial, unsignalised direct path that most transfering passengers take (a - d on map below).

Note that the concrete strips in the road are for signs and are not pedestrian refuges. Although the width may look daunting for some, and could be unsuitable for people in wheelchairs, this crossing point is safer than it looks as car traffic is not high.

b. The community information guide is provided outside the council building midway between two pedestrian lights on Station Street.

A location nearer the railway station and pedestrian signals may have been handier for alighting passengers and pedestrians.

Map of area


Smartbus aims include better passenger information, better connections and greater ease of transfer between services. Though Chelsea is a major point on the 888/889 Smartbus route, it does not appear that Smartbus principles have yet been extended to this end of the route.

It would seem that the Rail Substitute Stop is ideally located relative to both the railway station and the Chelsea shopping strip, and that this location should become the main stopping point for all northbound bus services.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The ins and outs of frequency guides

It isn't very often that even a local newspaper devotes half a page to bus timetables, or, rather the lack of them.

However the June 7 issue of the Caulfield Glen-Eira Leader did so after a local bus company replaced timetables along Route 246 with service frequency guides as a trial.

With a frequency guide you'd be able to see that buses came every 10 minutes in the middle of the day and every 40 minutes on Sunday evenings, but wouldn't know whether it's 1 or 39 minutes until the next one.

Following an outcry from travellers and MPs, the operator has discontinued the trial and said that full timetables would return.

For individual stops, this is a good outcome. However, there are still cases where frequency guides are the most concise and efficient way to convey travel information. These include:

* Individual stops where he service runs every 5 minutes or less at all times

* City-wide travel guides or websites that include a brief summary of services

* Local area transport guides or summaries

* Tourist and other brochures that include a section on 'getting there by public transport'

Unless services are very frequent, frequency guides should always refer users to full timetables and provide a contact number for additional information.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Freeways and induced traffic

Though freeways are often seen as a cure for traffic congestion, the opposite can be more true. For a short time after they are built, freeways can indeed reliveve traffic on parallel roads. However their existence encourages more and longer car trips, so congestion eventually gets as bad as it was before the freeway was built.

High Riser discusses a local Melbourne example, where he compares traffic in Waverley Rd before and after the South-Eastern freeway was built.

More detailed discussions of induced traffic appear here and here and here.