Sunday, December 20, 2009

Bus service upgrades: 'grafting on' versus 'network' thinking

Since late 2006 many Melbourne bus routes have had their operating hours extended and new weekend services added. There have also been new SmartBus routes and revisions arising from local area bus reviews.

Changes can range from extra services on an existing route to an entirely new network in an area. Even small timetable changes to one route can have implications for nearby routes.

Worldwide, the strongest transit authorities take a network view. They see additional resources as an opportunity to provide new connections, remove wasteful duplication and allocate saved resources to needed improvements elsewhere.

The long-term result of such 'network thinking' is a simple and legible network with consistent service levels appropriate for a route or corridor's role.

In contrast, authorities without a network view can miss opportunities for improvement even when given additional funding. This could be for several reasons. Firstly some in transport departments may see themselves more as contract managers than network planners. Secondly, a legacy of route or operator-based planning may obscure a wider view. Thirdly, contractual arrangements in some cities may restrict the ability of transport agencies to reallocate resources between routes and operators.

Whatever the cause for a lack of 'network thinking', the result over time is the same; a system of increasingly illegible, infrequent and overlapping routes as improvements are simply grafted over an unchanged existing network.

The following examples from Melbourne suburbs are offered to show the big differences between 'grafting-on' and 'network' thinking and why it matters for passengers.

Network thinking example 1: Yarraville/Newport/Altona North

Three years ago the local bus network around Yarraville, Newport and Altona North was a mess. The area's routes (429, 430, 432 and 471) only ran during the day and not at all on Sundays. Routes teminated either in quiet suburban backwaters (429 and 430) or at closed railway stations (432). Legibility was poor, particularly in Altona North, where the combined route 432 and 471 took a different route on Saturdays. And to cap it off, only some areas had service to the the nearest major shopping centre at Altona Gate.

The area's bus service review recommended network changes which were introduced during 2008. This may have been easier because the one bus company ran all routes. 429 and 430 were deleted, to be replaced by a new route 431 and improvements to 432, which now served Altona Gate Shopping Centre. 432 and 471 were made more consistent throughout the week and given 7-day service. These provided the area with a much better local bus network and patronage has increased strongly.

Network thinking example 2: Carrum Downs/Frankston North

Frankston North is a low socio-economic residential area located just beyond easy walking distance of Kananook Staion on the Frankston Line. Carrum Downs shares similarities but with newer privately-built homes and higher average incomes. Until 2008 both areas only had very limited public transport, particuarly on weekends. Routes were circuitous and, like Altona North, there were confusing weekend-only deviations and routes.

24 March 2008 brought substantial service increases to the area. Route 901 SmartBus started, providing a more frequent direct service between Frankston, Dandenong and Ringwood. This replaced the slower and less frequent local routes 830 and 831 that went a slower way via residential areas.

Instead local coverage was provided on routes 832 and 833, operating between Frankston and Carrum Downs. These routes run until 9pm 7 days a week and represent roughly a doubling or tripling of overall service (more on weekends).

Interchange with 901 is possible at Carrum Downs, and headway harmonised timetables (15/30 min weekdays and 30/60 min weekends) provide constant scheduled connections between this and local routes. The thinking behind this was to reduce the transfer penalties for passengers who lost their previous direct service to Dandenong.

Connections to adjoining suburbs such as Seaford and Carrum were not included as part of the changes but a new route to the industrial part of Seaford (778) commenced recently.

The Carrum Downs service changes can be regarded as 'Network Thinking' as local routes were altered upgraded on the same day that SmartBus was introduced. This minimised duplication and allowed connections to be planned. Hence, unlike Yarraville it involved a SmartBus as well as local routes. Also although all routes are now run by Grenda Group operators, at the time of its commencement route 901 was shared with Invicta (which Grenda bought).

'Grafting on' example 1: Sunshine/Sunshine West/Sunshine Park

The Wright Street pocket of Sunshine remains served by a complex series of routes that shows what can happen when new services are grafted on without the question being asked about existing services.

Wright Street is mainly served by the Sunshine Park/Sunshine West portion of the 219. The 219 forms a high-frequency pair with Route 216, with the routes overlapping between Sunshine Station, the city and the Brighton area. 216/219 is a direct and well-used route along busy roads that offers above-SmartBus service levels, particularly on weekends and evenings. It is operated by Melbourne Bus Link.

219's Sunshine end is tangled and confusing, as can be seen from the map. On weekdays and Saturday mornings from Sunshine it runs via Hampshire Road, Boreham Street, then back to Wright Street where it terminates at First Avenue. On Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday the route serves Fairbairn Road as far as Talintyre Road, hence missing some stops off Ardoyne Street and east of Hampshire Road. The result is that one set of stops receives a service 5 1/2 days a week while other stops receive service 1 1/2 days of the week (see map below).

Sunshine West is not the most affluent area. It contains families without one car per adult. Such residents near Fairbairn Road would no doubt appreciate the Saturday afternoon and Sunday bus service, as provided by this 219 extension.

However Fairbairn Road is served by another route, the 471, which like 219, also runs to Sunshine. In 1997 the 471, run by Sita, operated six days a week with a limited Saturday service (last bus from Sunshine was 4:10pm). By 2006 this service had improved, with the last departure being 4:50pm. As 471 did not operate on Sundays and public holidays, the Fairbairn Road portion of 219 was still needed to provide a service then.

Further large improvements to Route 471 were introduced on 25 February 2008. This included a 9pm finish, Sunday running and service on public holidays.

Except for some late evening weekend trips, the 471 upgrade made this variation of Route 219 redundant. But the 219 extension was not deleted. Hence it continues to duplicate Route 471 along Fairbairn Road for 1 1/2 days of the week.

The next major service change in the area was the Route 903 orbital SmartBus. This new route started on April 20, 2009. 903 overlaps the 219 along Wright Street east of Hampshire Road (Monday - Saturday morning section) but again the duplicated section of 219 remains intact.

'Opportunity cost' is a helpful concept for the transport planner, and in this case I doubt that retaining the 219 past Sunshine stacks up compared to other uses for the drivers and buses. 219's justification for remaining in the area is weak since almost all of it is within 500 - 800 metres of either 471 or 903.

Running times for the Sunshine to Sunshine West portion of the 219 can range up to 13 minutes. When multiplied by the number of services run per day this represents several driver/bus hours per day that could be put to better use if the service terminated only at Sunshine rather than Sunshine West.

It is all well and good to recommend the deletion of a route portion, as recommended here, but it does not help passengers unless a better use can be found for the resources saved. Examples in the area are not hard to find. Resources saved by terminating 219 at Sunshine could be put towards one or more of the following improvements:

* Increased City - Sunshine running time for the 216/219 between Sunshine and the City (both routes are known to suffer late running due to traffic) to permit better timetable adherance (though bus priority would be better still).

* Upgrading 471 from its non-harmonised 25/50 min weekday/weekend frequency to a harmonised 20/40 min weekday/weekend headway to properly mesh with trains at both Sunshine and Newport.

* If justified, retaining the late weekend evening services provided to Sunshine West, but instead operate as either a 454 or 471 to improve both legibility and coverage.

'Grafting on' example 2: Altona/Altona North

Altona is a coastal residential suburb that in itself contains only local shopping. The nearest large shopping centre is Altona Gate in Altona North. This is linked to Altona via Routes 411 and 412 which are identical except for a section in Altona North.

Route 411/412 has a combined 20 minute frequency on weekdays and 40 minutes on weekends. This is harmonised with trains in the area.

Earlier this year Route 903 between Altona and Mordialloc was introduced. It runs every 15 minutes during the weekday interpeak and every 30 minutes on weekends. It substantially overlaps with 411/412 between Altona and Altona Gate Shopping Centre.

The end result is a very frequent service between Altona and Altona Gate when measured by buses per hour (7 on weekdays and 3.5 on weekends). The weekday service in particular is probably excessive. However because daytime service frequencies are not harmonised to the same headway hierachy (903 is 15/30, 411/412 and local trains are 20/40) the intervals between services vary, reducing the possible gains of the frequent service provided (eg an even 3 buses per hour on weekends with a 20 minute maximum wait is better than an uneven 3.5 buses per hour with 30 minute gaps).

Unlike the case with 219 extension towards Sunshine West, 411/412 cannot simply be deleted as it fulfills other functions in the Geelong Road, Laverton and Altona Meadows areas.

I have no straightforward solution here. For instance, in retrospect it might have been desirable to to have terminated 903 at Newport or Williamstown rather than Altona. The thinking here is to avoid duplication with 411/412 and save resources by allowing part of the 471 to be deleted. Keeping the 903 as is, but truncating 411/412 at Altona Gate doesn't appeal as this removes direct access to there and Footscray from Laverton or Altona Meadows; both areas not known for their surplus of local shopping. Given the 903 is now running, I suspect that the chance of a route change is slim given its profile and popularity.

Of the examples here, this is most comparable to the Sunshine one due to the multiple operators involved and the interaction between SmartBus and local services. The main difference is that a solution is not immediately obvious.


The above comparisons show that where implemented 'network thinking' has delivered both improved system efficiency and better services for passengers. Where network thinking is absent and the 'grafted on' model of service change prevails the result can be less than economical (Altona) or, at worst, be illegible for passengers (Sunshine).

The successful Yarraville area changes only involved one operator and local bus routes only. The successful Carrum Downs changes was slightly different, involving a SmartBus and local routes. While there were initially two operators, one ran all services except a half share in the SmartBus.

The Sunshine case especially may indicate that the presence of multiple operators may make it harder for authorities to take a network view when introducing service changes. Instead the 'grafted on' approach may be followed, with all its attendant inefficiencies and potential lost opportunities.


Craig said...

I think looking back, the DoT will regret not replacng the 471 with the 903.

It would have provided service to a greater residential pocket of Sunshine, and avoiding any duplication with 411/412 (& 415).

The zig-zagging 432 could have picked up any slack if the 471 was made more direct between Altona Gate and Newport, and the 415 could have been extended beyond Nelson Street to Williamstown Beach, instead of having a high frequency bus around the back of Williamstown station.

Peter Parker said...

Craig: the more I think of it, the more I agree with you. The Market Rd area served by the existing portion of the 903 (and 219) could be served by a beefed-up and renumbered 409 extension between Footscray and Sunshine.

Riccardo said...

What is this "Sunshine to City" bus route?

Isn't this a line-haul rail route?

I know some parts of Ballarat Rd are distant from the rail network but there should be no competition for a decent rail service.

Anonymous said...

Riccardo. whats wrong with having a bus from Sunshine to City, as well as train. The bus service people who may not be close to the station, and is useful for shoppers and relives overcorwding on trains.

Anonymous said...

btw Peter your idea if 219 Sunshine - Sunshine park section was removed, and buses could then possible be used to increase running times is no good, as it would mean some trips would run early.

They need bus lanes, instead of more running time.

Brent Palmer said...

"The bus service people who may not be close to the station..."
Useful for taking them to the train station, yes. There isn't any need to send it into town, wastefully duplicating the train. Overcrowding of the trains is an issue though, but needs to be addressed by more trains.

Anonymous said...

i disagree, i reckon its good sending it into town, as it make it easier for some people to get to Queen market, Dynon road, Footscray rd and St.kilda road.

Peter Parker said...

In principle I agree with Riccardo & Brent, but in practice not in this case.

The majority of Braybrook (low socio-economic area with high patronage) is outside the 10 minute pedshed of Tottenham Station.

Like some stations in Adelaide, Perth and newer Melbourne suburbs (eg Cranbourne and Craigieburn) Tottenham station is remote from planned or existing activity centres. The pedestrian environment is hostile in an area not known for its safety.

Both 216/219 and 220 provide convenient access to both larger shopping centres in Braybrook and provide east-west components in a grid and there would remain substantial demand even if the train frequency was greatly upgraded.

Having said that, I agree with improved train frequency at Tottenham. The station also has untapped potential as the midpoint of a frequent north-south route from Altona Gate SC - Highpoint via Ashley St.

If such a N-S route existed and it was a lower patronage area I'd be querying the continued service along Barkly St as parts are not far from Tottenham. However in the end I'd want to keep it, especially if West Footscray and Middle Footscray stations were combined.

Apart from it being a bit further from the CBD, Braybrook has parallels with Victoria Park in Perth. Both are high-migrant/lowish income/high patronage areas with low car ownership. Both have a railway station somewhat away from the densest residential and retail areas.

Transperth has taken the decision to retain buses on Albany Hwy since they know in such close-in areas overall end-to-end travel times does not favour the longer walk or bus transfer to train compared to the direct bus. Like Braybrook, pedestrian access from the train isn't that good either due to the barrier presented by Shepperton Rd.

Instead their service planning approach seems to be that areas within about 8km/30 min bus trip from the CBD retain a direct bus to the city (preferably also intersecting with the Circle Route) even though there may be a station 2-3km away. By the 10-15km distance the local bus + train connection becomes both time competitive and represents better resource use.

I agree with the Transperth approach. In the Melbourne context it's consistent with keeping direct CBD buses in Braybrook (and Elsternwick, Sunshine and Heidelberg West, but not Brighton or Caroline Springs).

Anonymous said...

Hi there,
as a very new resident in the Sunshine West area, (about 800m from Fairbairn Road)... I have been sadly disappointed by the lack of public transport in this area. My partner does not drive, and he is feeling increasingly isolated. I have just tried to research the bus timetables out this way, and have discovered that there is a limited bus service to the city, prahran.. and beyond (via the 219) bus. I am not familiar with the new 903 route bus have seen them running through sunshine, marked 'mordialloc' and thought is was a very long bus route.. maybe all bus routes need to be planned with ideas of efficiency in mind.. but also to look at the existing availability of transport, socio-economics, and car use in these areas. This would definately make more economic sense. The recent roadworks on the west gate bridge have also caused many frustrating moments commuting to and from Sunshine West. The area is expanding and new houses are being built as we speak inn areas further out such as ardeer, and truganina.. yet they seem even more isolated places to live. I really think the State Government has been playing catch up for far too long now. We need to see more services in the west. We are only 12kms from the city, and it seems ironic that tram lines in the east extend far beyond 12kms.

The only bus routes out here are the 471, which goes to newport via altona, and the only other bus I have seen within (a fair) walking distance is the 219.. which I think only diverts to fairbairn road on the weekend!!

I'm a uni student studying in the city, and I dont want to drive into the city everyday.. especially on the west gate!! Its a nightmare!!

The State Governmnet and metlink and local bus companies really need to get together and come up with a better service in this area!

Please.. we needto keep a metlink bus to the city!!

I say keep the 219.. even if it is only available on weekends.. but seriously consider the local residents before cancelling any of these routes that service areas such as Sunshine West!

Concerned Sunshine West resident
living off Warmington Road, Sunshine west.

Paul Nicholson said...

The section of routes 216 and 219 between Footscray and Sunshine is heavily patronised.

The Sunshine Park part of route 219 dates back from the MMTB days. The southwestern extension was introduced at a later stage (1980s?) because the existing private services in the area did not operate after lunch time on Saturdays or on Sundays.

I have ridden the 471 many times and find it to be well patronised from the Sunshine end during the week. It is quieter at the Williamstown end but does carry good school loads.

The section from Williamstown shopping centre, through Williamstown and to the terminus at Williamstown Beach is one of the most pleasant bus routes in Melbourne; quite a contrast to the Sunshine end!

Anonymous said...

Paul, the City to Footscray section of 216/219 is also heavily patronised.