Monday, October 13, 2008

The Rosebud - City Express: Will it survive?

Grenda's is currently trialling a premium commuter coach service from the Mornington Peninsula to the CBD. The prebooked service completes a round trip, departing Rosebud West at 6:30am weekdays and Southern Cross Station at 5:30pm. A premium fare of $15 (one-way) or $25 (return) is payable. As a non-subsidised private service, the coach operates outside the integrated state-wide fare system.

Poster advertising the service (photo by Craig Halsall)

The posters above have been seen in route buses and at Frankston Station. This plus the wording indicate that the intent of the service is siphoning existing passengers from existing services as much as attracting new commuters from their cars. If successful this could be advantageous to the operator since their special fare means they keep all revenue. On the flip side the service is non-subsidised, so the number of passengers needed to pay is much higher than for a regular (subsidised) route.

About to leave Southern Cross

Last Friday afternoon Craig and I got on board to see how it was going. One other passenger boarded on Collins Street, but that was it. Before jumping to conclusions on its likely survival, let's look at the service in a little more detail:

The speed A major hold-up was the CBD portion, accounting for nearly half the 2-hour total travel time. While taking an indirect freeway route via Mitcham, travel time from then on was fast. Nevertheless had the bus called at Frankston Station it would have been about 30 minutes slower than an equivalent train trip from Southern Cross. However given that there is no waiting time and the express running compared to train+788, the coach wins for those near one of the stops.

The frequency No contest here. The coach has one round trip, so has no flexibility of arrivals and departures. In contrast express trains to Frankston run every 10-15 minutes with Bus 788 every 45 minutes, permitting better flexibilty of travel times.

The fare It's higher than the standard fare. Plus transferring passengers will need to buy a Metcard to board other buses, trains and trams in the CBD as it is not tied into the statewide fare system. However $15 for an 80-odd kilometre trip still represents fair value, so if the service fails the fare probably won't be the reason.

The profitability. Zero. The $45 collected would certainly not cover the fuel of the large coach, let alone Eastlink tolls, the driver's wage, any dead-running, vehicle maintenance or opportunity cost. I don't know the break even point, but even 20 passengers wouldn't be enough to make it pay. Even if it was subsidised as much as a regular local bus (say 25% farebox recovery) much higher patronage would still be required.

The patronage One (genuine) passenger per almost 100 kilometres is not good. Expressed in another way it's 0.01 boardings per kilometre or just 1% of that of even a moderately quiet local route (1 boarding per kilometre). Even if it was subject to public subsidy the service would almost certainly be withdrawn, alternative more frequent services already existing.

The future It is difficult to see one, whether it remains independent or becomes subject to public subsidy. Public subsidy would likely require incorporation into the statewide fare system and a social rationale for the service, which doesn't exist given alternatives. Ride it when you can!


Anonymous said...

What about a ferry service along the Morningon peninsular?

Peter Parker said...

I believe there was a commuter ferry tried from the other side of the bay to Port Melbourne a few years back. It folded.

And nothing lately has been heard about the proposed one for Point Cook.

Ferries are used in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney for PT.

But they are less suited for Melbourne since many of our bayside suburbs have one-seat rail access from the CBD (eg Williamstown, Altona, Brighton, Sandringham, Mordialloc, Frankston). Our bayside suburbs without rail are either fairly small pockets (Beaumaris) or a long way out with a limited CBD job catchment.

Melbourne also doesn't have a large inland water body like Sydney Harbour or even the Swan River.

For the foreseeable future the best public transport option for the area includes a faster, more direct 788 (proposed in bus reviews) and possibly express versions of 781 to Mornington.

Rail transport killed water transport for goods over 100 years ago, and in Melbourne's case remains superior for passengers due to our history, network and urban layout.

Anonymous said...


Your analysis is correct but I wonder how fair a chance this service has been given.

I don't live in the area but I have seen no marketing, even at the city end.

The decision to waste time getting to and from the CBD via Mitcham seems problematic. Even leaving from Parliament Station and trying their luck on the Monash Freeway might have helped - I would suggest 35 minutes even in heavy traffic from Parliament-Exhibition St entrance-Monash Fwy/Eastlink junction and maybe 30 minutes from there.

There are still traffic jams at the end of the Frankston Fwy and on Moorooduc Rd ascent to Mt Eliza, but the Frankston Bypass announced will take that away in all but the weekend peak.

As for ferries, I think the worst of it is the navigation speed limit on the river and around the ships. If the sorts of speeds that Sydney ferries can do in open harbour applied pretty well from the foot of Telstra Dome to say Williamstown you should be able to do it in 30 minutes, and beat a slow and unreliable train.

Anonymous said...

Peter, is it possible to get your subject lines tracked back onto transport textbook. Sometimes not able to tell if you've added a blog post

Peter Parker said...

Ricc, it would be good and there is an Atom feed here:

Unfortunately I'm not cluey enough to work out why Transporttextbook doesn't accept it, or where the problem is.

Anonymous said...

UPDATE: Service has now ceased.