Sunday, November 15, 2009

System review: Hobart Metro - Part 1

I've been spending much of the past week in Hobart and, while time was limited, rode the buses for half a day. Here's some observations about the city and its bus network, called Metro.

1. The city

Hobart is a hilly city, with settlement in long and narrow strips along both banks of the Derwent River. Distinguising features that affect the transit network include (i) one-way streets in the CBD, (ii) the limited number of east-west river crossings and (iii) often due to topography, a limited permeable grid street layout. Hobart's population is roughly 200 000, ie a little smaller than Geelong. Hobart has very good roads largely built with federal government funding.

2. Network coverage

Metro buses cover most built up areas, with this branding applying to urban bus systems in Hobart, Launceston and Burnie. There are however some exceptions, with Metro operating far out into the country side and regional operators serving some trips that would normally be regarded as metropolitan. More later.

Metro routes offered are a mix of regular services, express routes (notably to far northern suburbs such as Bridgewater) and weekday shopper trips. Some of the latter operate as 'Doorstopper' services, for which an extra fare is required for off-route diversions (similar to Melbourne's Telebus).

3. Service spans

7-day running is provided in most areas but there are also many weekday-only shopper and school routes. Major routes arrive in the city before 7am Monday to Friday, with first arrivals after about 8am on Saturday and after about 10am on Sunday. Last services from the city finish around 10pm Monday to Thursday, with a later finish on Friday and Saturday night. In common with the the smaller capital cities Sunday service is essentially daytime only.

4. Service frequency

As a rough average for a local route, this would be about half-hourly on weekdays, hourly on Saturdays and every two hours on Sunday. Monday to Thursday evening frequencies are about every two hours, with extra service on Friday and Saturday nights.

5. Fringe area legibility

A weak point of some transit systems is information, especially where there are multiple operators. Some country areas can be in the 'metro' system (with Metro format route numbers and fares) while other destinations nearer the CBD may be served by regional coaches only.

An example of this fragmentation is that Metro operate both Channel and Bothwell services feature on the Metro website despite their considerable distance from the CBD (these are considered 'non-urban' services). Conversely the Cambridge Homemaker Centre (near Hobart Airport) has urban-type travel needs but receives a limited country service to Richmond. Not being a Metro service details need to be looked up on the Tassielink site and attracts country fares. Redline and O'Driscoll are other operators that serve Hobart fringe areas.

This is much like Victoria before Viclink/Metlink started. Ten years ago there was limited fare integration, no single comprehensive timetable website, no journey planner, and fragmented or sketchy information. There are however signs of progress; a brochure dated September 2009 advises that Metro non-urban routes will move to a zonal fare system with free transfers to Metro services.

6. Identification of frequent service corridors

Hobart has a number of frequent service routes, with buses every 15 minutes or better on weekdays. As far as I can tell, these apply on the following groups of routes:

* Hobart - Glenorchy
* Hobart - Rosny Park - Shoreline Central
* Hobart - University of Tasmania (with some gaps)
* Hobart - Kingston (with some gaps)

In some cases the frequent service applies along a common corridor (eg Hobart - Rosny Park) but in others services have common origins and major intermediate stops (eg Hobart - Kingston) but fan out in between.

The coverage of this 'frequent service network' is one of Metro's strengths and the main difference between the transit networks of Hobart and Geelong.

Steps Metro has taken to develop and promote its high-service network include:

* Service scheduling: Routes have clockface timetables. The timetables for related routes are meshed to provide an even (or at least frequent) combined headway over the common section of route.

* Interchanges: Routes that form part of the frequent combined service depart from the same stop at interchanges. Departure times are given in composite form to emphasise the frequent service offered.

* Timetables: In some cases simplified timtables showing only the high frequency portion of the route are printed (eg Glenorchy - Hobart). In newer cases (eg Hobart - Shoreline Central) the fact that it's a high frequency service is emphasised on the cover - both in words and the letters 'HF' where the timetable number would normally be.

The above represents a partial development of the high-frequency concept compared to Adelaide's 'Go Zones' where the concept is well established and promoted. Examples where Hobart could develop further include signage at stops, identification on maps (due in part to the lack of maps at all), limited promotion on the Metro website, more consistent weekend and evening service levels and improved printed timetables.

7. Interchanges

These get a thumbs up. Hobart CBD, Rosny Park and Glenorchy all have 'transit malls' in the heart of local shopping precincts.

Timetables there are well maintained and there wasn't much vandalism.

Another appealing feature of Metro interchanges is that at every stop there is a clear map showing the location of every other stop in the interchange, along with the route numbers and destinations served. This saves transferring passengers from having to walk all over an interchange to find the stop if they want to change to another bus route.

This shows that Metro understands the following:

* bus to bus interchange is important
* alighting passengers have information needs as much as boarding passengers
* passenger information needs at interchanges are more complex than regular bus stops so the information at them deserves extra effort

I also liked the location of stops within the interchanges visited, especially for related routes that form a turn-up-and-go frequent corridor to a major destination. For instance at Rosny Park you just need to wait at one place for all the direct services to Hobart, and it's never very long until a suitable service arrives.

Metro's parsimony with route maps has been noted elsewhere and applies equally to interchanges where area maps would be desirable (such as done in Perth). However precint maps are sometimes provided, as with this example from Rosny Park.

8. Signage

The typical Metro stop has a flag showing the stop number only. This is opposite to Melbourne, where we use this space to list route numbers and destinations instead. While the Melbourne approach is more expensive to produce and maintain, I have no doubt as to which is more informative for the passenger.

A substantial minority of stops have timetables but none seem to have maps. As an spacial navigator, I found this disconcerting at stops, interchanges and in some printed timetables.

9. Printed timetables

A bit of a dogs' breakfast at the moment. It looks as if Metro is part way through revising their format and I happened to visit when they were half way through the change.

As an example the Glenorchy frequent service timetable (24/9/2007) is a printed A3 sheet with no map. Glenorchy local timetables are in A5 format and maps are sometimes hard to read due to their lack of colour and the number of routes shown.

In contrast southern and eastern services are a conventional coloured DL-sized format with much improved geographically-based maps (though with less detail than Sydney or Perth timetables). Changes in 2009 include a Perth-style numbering of timetables by region (eg S1, S2 etc), and in some cases but not others, listing route numbers on the front cover.

10. Customer service

Much like Melbourne's Met Shop, Metro operates a retail outlet inside a major civic building, in this case the General Post Office. This contains ticket sales and Green Card top-up facilities, along with self-serve timetables for Metro and Tassielink routes.

11. Patronage

Buses travelled on seemed reasonably well used. As would be expected around noon on a weekday, most passengers were either old or young, with working age almost absent.


For an Australian city of its size, Metro Hobart offers a relatively high level of service. In Australia/NZ it would be superior to Geelong and Darwin, about on a par with Canberra and inferior to Christchurch (which has 'big city' service levels).

While Hobart is not growing as rapidly as other Australian capitals, Metro seems to be moving from a 'small town' transit system to one suitable for a larger city. Evidence of this can be seen by its new timetable format (with maps), the steps taken towards a frequent service network and its early adoption of a basic form of smartcard ticketing. The 'small town' features we currently see, eg lack of maps at interchanges, a reluctance to use route numbers in some places and poor service integration in fringe areas will hopefully disappear in due course.

Routes taken

The following are recommended as a good sample of Hobart services. These form an anticlockwise circuit around both bridges. You need to be in the city shortly after 10am to make all connections as 682 and 694G run infrequently.

Airporter: Airport - City Airport shuttle
615: City - Camelot Park One of the Rosny Park high frequency constituent routes. With river views.
615: Camelot Park - Rosny Park see above
682: Rosny Park - Lindisfarne Weekday shopper service
682: Lindisfarne - Rosny Park see above
694G: Rosny Park - Risdon Vale - Glenorchy Interesting route up east shore and over Bowen Bridge.
180: Glenorchy - Hobart Circuitous route covering the older part of Moonah and West Hobart

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