Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Postcard from Tasmania: Catching the 'flea'?

‘The People Movers’, a history of Melbourne’s private buses, had an account describing the multiple operators who plied busy routes in the early days. In those days, when urban route buses were profitable and regulation was light, anyone with a converted truck could skim an established operator’s patronage by trolling their route a few minutes before the scheduled times. These scavengers of the bus world were known as ‘fleas’.

The practice ended as more people bought cars, lowering profits. Governments legislated to remove ‘wasteful competition’. Later still public subsidy came with increased control of the bus industry, which consolidated into fewer hands.

An exception, where buses still pay their way without subsidy, is airport to city bus routes. Typically these are either not provided by the city’s main transport authority (Melbourne, Canberra, Hobart, Perth International) or are all-stops regular routes (Adelaide, Perth Domestic). In Sydney and Brisbane premium fare trains fulfil this role. Because of the requirement to recover costs, fares are typically several times higher than an equivalent length trip on a regular bus or train.

Melbourne’s Skybus, for example, charges $16 for a 20-25km trip to the airport. Skybus has an exclusive contract with the State Government to operate this busy service. Service levels have risen greatly and are now at ‘turn up and go’ frequencies over more hours of the day than any other transit service in Victoria.

At least for its contract term, Skybus is a monopoly. Skybus pays for this right and runs without public subsidy.

Monopolies (in many fields) often get a bad rap for poor service, high prices or both. However Skybus can claim an impressive record of service improvement (frequency boosts from every 30 to every 10 minutes are typical) and strong patronage growth, so the poor service argument cannot be sustained here.

Possibly easier to argue though is that competition can lower prices, Although bear in mind that even here Skybus is not a complete monopoly since there is competition from alternatives eg taxis (especially for couples), airport parking and even the (slower) Metro train + Route 901 trip.

To see competition in practice, lets look at the Hobart to Hobart Airport service. Like Melbourne there is no rail link and no direct regular public transport service.

The big difference with Melbourne is that Hobart has several City – Airport express bus operators.

The Airporter is run by Redline – one of the island's largest regional operators. The fare is $15 for a 20 minute trip, making it similar to Skybus. Hobart has far fewer flights than Melbourne and commensurately less frequent airport buses. Unlike Redline’s other routes, timetables are not published and passengers need to phone up and book.

Challenging Redline is the Ten Buck Bus, which offers a simlar service for 33% less. Service is from nominated city locations (mostly hotels) and a timetable is published. This has services every 60 to 90 minutes and there is no need to book. Possibly this saves the need to take many calls or manage online bookings. Unlike Redline, Ten Buck has no public CBD-based bus terminal, and, as can be gauged from their website and business card, the cheapest possible promotion.

Due to my preference for printed timetables (unless services are very frequent), I opted for the Ten Buck service. I fronted up at the main city stop about 20 minutes early and was surprised to see a Redline bus – also going to the airport – pull up shortly later.

I asked the fare and it was only $8 – about half Redline’s usual rate and 20% lower than the Ten Buck fare (not bothering to ask the question posed on Ten Buck's stop flag – ‘If it’s not $10 ask why’).

Since ‘a bus in the hand is worth….’ and I had plenty of time, I boarded the Redline. A largely unsuccessful lap around the city netted only 2 further passengers and we were off.

It was only after boarding that I realised that I might have ridden a ‘flea’. But on further consideration, was Redline’s sending of a bus to its rival's stop less that of a flea and more that of a troll, seeking to stomp on its ten buck upstart rival? Thoughts from Tasmanian readers welcome!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Postcard from Tasmania: No spirit for the Spirit

In keeping with the season’s holiday mood, following are two snapshots of transport outside Melbourne. The first discusses ferry passenger connectivity facilities at Devonport, as encountered last week.

There couldn’t be any more contrast between transport facilities at each of the ‘Spirit of Tasmania’ termini. The Spirit is a large car and passenger ferry with daily night sailings with day sailings added during peak season.

Melbourne’s Station Pier is at the end of a major tram route, running every few minutes mostly on its own right of way. Pedestrian access is short, direct and legible, with excellent walking and cycling paths. A convenience store and restaurants are within sight. While less prominent, Bay Street’s shops and services are also comfortably walkable.

Devonport is Tasmania’s third city, smaller than only Hobart and Launceston. It is Tasmania’s northern gateway, welcoming backpackers and tourists to surrounding mountains, trails and farms.

The city is divided by the River Mersey. The CBD, accommodation, entertainment, tourist bureau and most housing is on the west bank. On the east is light industry, some housing and the Spirit of Tasmania ferry terminal. The ferry terminal is a stone’s throw across the water from the city centre, with land access via a bridge approximately 2km to the south.


View Larger Map

The Spirit of Tasmania and the people it brings is important to Devonport’s life and economy. Childrens’ murals on the showground’s wall often depict the ferry. The council office names Devonport as the ‘City with Spirit’. And the ship’s daily horn, what is to Devonport as church bells are to a medieval city, removes any doubt.

If the ferry is such a big thing in this town, let’s see how well the transport needs of its passengers are looked after, especially those who came without cars.

The photo shows the first impression arriving passengers get after leaving the ferry and collecting luggage.

Following are seven observations made following the day sailing on December 22, ie close to peak season.

1. The Spirit of Tasmania is scheduled to arrive at the 'out of town' East Devonport terminus at 6pm. However the Torquay ferry, which could provide a quick trip into town, only runs from 8am to 6pm, unsuitable for Spirit passengers arriving after six. The local tourist bureau confirmed services are not extended an hour in peak season to cater for the day ferry’s arrival.

2. The Merseylink town bus service operates to East Devonport via the aforementioned bridge. Route 60's nearest stop is about a five minute walk east of the ferry terminus (see map) so is potentially useful. That is until one checks the timetable, which had the last weekday bus leaving at 5:46pm. On Saturdays the last bus is at 4:00pm, while no service runs on Sundays. Again this service finishes too early to be useful for ferry passengers. In addition few town bus stops inspected had timetables, maps or route information so these service only really cater for residents, who through trial and error, already know where the bus goes.

3. Despite the absence of conventional public transport (ferry or bus) there appeared to be no shuttle bus to take alighting passengers to central Devonport, which would be a key destination for those staying or touring locally.

4. No taxis were seen in the area, despite the likely brisk business, due in part to the above limited transport options. There also appeared to be no visible taxi rank or signage indicating same.

5. Some ferry passengers had bicycles – presumably for touring. There were no defined cycle routes or wayfinding signage to guide their 4km ride into town, although the Council's Cycling Network Strategy identifies their need.

6. The tourist bureau correctly advised that the ferry terminal is about an hour’s walk from Devonport CBD. Again there was no map or wayfinding signage at the ferry terminal to assist those walking into town. Hence the sighting of of lost backpackers in an industrial area’s intersection not far from the ferry terminal.

7. The locals know their town has lousy transport, and sometimes offer tourists seen walking a lift. Although haphazard, this appears to be the most effective transport option that Devonport can offer day sailing passengers.

Conclusion

Melbourne has more than 100 times Devonport’s population. The big-city facilities at Station Pier are neither expected nor appropriate at East Devonport.

Nevertheless Devonport’s failure to provide low-cost facilities such as street maps, pedestrian and cycle wayfinding signage and taxi ranks surely reflects poorly on its support for a ferry service that Australian taxpayers subsidise (cars, not passengers, mind you). Extending either the Torquay ferry or Route 60's hours so it meets all Spirit sailings would also help connectivity.

Until then Devonport is worth visiting only to learn what not to do when it comes to connecting various transport modes or looking after disembarking passengers. As discussed last year southern Tasmania offers riper pickings for the transport tourist.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Route 837's clever weekday timetable

A previous look at the new Casey-Cardinia bus network (which started last week) indicated that the new timetables improved local route coverage and span more than train connectivity, often because of incompatible bus and train headways (table below).

Cautious passengers in Casey/Cardinia should assume non-connectivity unless otherwise known, especially on weekends.

However one still sometimes finds exquisite examples of good planned connectivity. These are even more remarkable given the difficulties of planning buses around trains every 30 to 40 minutes (compared to 15 - 20 minutes on other Metro lines).

A good example is the weekday timetable for Route 837 between Berwick Station and Beaconsfield East.

Train times

Let's start by checking the area's train times.

Off-peak weekday trains to the city from Pakenham leave Berwick at :20 and :50 past the hour.

Going the other way, off-peak weekday trains from the city to Pakenham leave Berwick at :01 and :31.

Trip generators and passenger flows

Route 837's main trip generators are clustered at the Berwick end of the route. They mostly either in the main street or near the station. Hence peak passenger flow would be towards Berwick in the morning and away from Berwick in the afternoon/evening. This peak flow is only amplified by the route's service of Berwick Station, with a similar peak flow, but this time towards the City and Dandenong in the morning and away in the afternoon.

Analysis

Let's see how Route 837 meets these travel needs, especially train connectivity.

The route runs hourly on weekdays, so could potentially meet every second train if well planned.

And it does. In the morning off-peak Route 837 arrives at Berwick Station at :45. This allows a five minute connection to the train leaving at :50, which is near-optimum.

A closer look at the 837 timetable indicates that the hour spacing does not apply throughout the day. Most notable is the 75 minute gap around noon (arrivals at Berwick are 9:45, 10:45, 11:45, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00 etc).

It's similar leaving Berwick; in this case departures to Beaconsfield East are at 8:56, 9:50, 10:55, 12:06, 13:06, 14:06, 15:06 etc.

This initially looks bad; it's not a pure clockface or memory timetable, which lessens legibility.

However let's review train connections before rushing to judgement.

The morning train connections so praised in the to city direction aren't as good the other way. For instance, the ex-City train that meets the 10:55 bus arrives Berwick at 10:31am. This is a 24 minute wait. 24 minutes is nearly as long as the entire bus trip and is high compared to the train's 30 minute frequency.

But look at what happens in the afternoon, when the altered midday spacing puts the bus departures at :06 for afternoon off-peak trips towards Beaconsfield East. With train arrivals at :01 the connection time is once again down to a near-optimum five minutes. This time, in the afternoon, it's the trips towards the city that are not so well connected.

Timetabling always involves trade-offs. It is unlikely that good connections will be consistently possible in all directions, although exceptions can exist where trains cross.

Nevertheless it is possible to select which interchange points and travel directions are most important and schedule buses accordingly. The bad connections don't go away, but they do mean that most passengers most of the time do not encounter them. And given the low train frequency, it is more important to have a bus timetable that connects than one with a perfect clockface schedule but just misses connections.

Conclusion

To conclude, Route 837's good bus/train connectivity in both weekday am and pm dominant directions is precisely the sort of good service planning that we need more of. It is made even more praiseworthy by the area's lesser train frequencies that makes the job harder yet more important for the services in the area to function as a genuine network.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A season for pruning? Part 2: Options for the Sunshine – Melton corridor

Part 1 identified some ‘dead wood’ routes; that is bus routes that had a purpose when started but now largely parallel others. They would be the first place to start if looking for efficiencies on the bus network.

Redundant routes survived because new bus funding outstripped planning capability, which had atrophied in the 1990s ‘bus drought’ when there were few new services to plan. By the time expertise returned (often consultants hired for the bus reviews) money for their full implementation was running out, at least in established areas.

Scrapping redundant bus routes in favour of upgrading others a further round of improvements, but this time without large additional funding. Unfortunately there is only so much you could do with simply axing ‘dead wood’ routes as they amount to no more than a few percent of total service kilometres.

Larger change requires defter hands in which the skills of the artisan, composer and economist are at least as important as those of the axeman. Artisan because the hand requiress a careful eye and trained mind that sees the network as a whole. Composer because it is within the beat set by train arrivals that buses are best planned. And economist because they value efficiency and understand opportunity cost.

A bus corridor makeover

I will present an example where rethinking a pair of routes may improve overall service levels and connectivity. The routes chosen include the western portion of Route 216 and all of Route 456. Together they form the main bus coridor between Sunshine, Caroline Springs and Melton. Two alternatives to the current timetables are discussed. Each has its own pros and cons. Hence there is always a need to consider the ‘greater good’ since it’s difficult to make any change without disadvantaging somebody.


View Larger Map

The area and services

Sunshine is an established rail-based centre populated largely by low-income migrants who use buses heavily. Its shopping centre and timetabled crossing of trains in both directions make it an ideal interchange hub. Caroline Springs is a 1990s housing estate built remote from the railway with only a basic bus service. Melton is served by country trains and has an older core surrounded by new housing. Unlike Sunshine, Melton is polycentric, with the railway station, main street shopping strip and enclosed shopping centre beyond easy walking distance from one another. Suburban trains operate every 20 minutes to Sunshine. Two bus routes, run by different companies, leave there for Caroline Springs; Route 216 (which has come from the city) and Route 456 (which extends to Melton). Both bus routes run approximately every 30 minutes, so do not connect with trains every 20 minutes. And neither do they mesh with one another, so they do not form an even 15-minute service. In addition Route 216 terminates just short of the Caroline Springs Town Centre so its coverage is very limited.

How many buses?

It’s useful to know how many buses are used on current routes so that changes can be costed. The number of buses depends on route length and frequency. It can be estimated from the timetable, either numerically or graphically.

During weekday off-peaks Route 216 takes 20 minutes to get from Sunshine to Caroline Springs. The 30 minute service provided would need 2 buses if run as an independent route. Due to the efficiencies gained by continuing this service beyond Sunshine, the actual requirement may be slightly less – let’s assume 1.8 buses to be safe.

Route 456 takes 55 minutes to do the trip to Melton. Hence a single bus can go there and back every 2 hours, meaning that the existing 25-30 minute service would need 4 buses.

Any resource-neutral service improvement would need to use no more than 6 buses. If it could be done with 5 buses it may be possible to free a bus for a route that needs it more.

Summary of the existing service

The departure list below shows existing weekday off-peak services and their connectivity with ex-City trains arriving at Sunshine.

The above shows that each train is followed by at least one bus. However connection times can be up to 20 minutes. Being significant compared to travel times (approximately 25 minutes to Caroline Springs and similar by train to the city) connection times have a large influence on end-to-end travel speeds and the relative attractiveness of public transport.

I did not examine connections for other travel patterns (eg city-bound train to bus & bus to train, but the uneven bus service intervals indicate likely similar results.

Here’s some key numbers:

Estimated number of buses used: 5.8 approx
Connectivity with train: no
Services per hour (Sph): 4.25 (measured over 4-hour period)
Average Bus frequency (Favg): 14 min (=60/Sph)
Maximum Bus wait (Wmax): 21 min
Maximum Train-Bus connection: 20 min
Service efficiency (ie Favg/Wmax) = 67%

Although the average bus frequency is 14 minutes (between Sunshine and Caroline Springs), maximum waits can be up to 21 minutes as the routes are not scheduled together. Worst case train connections are a similar figure, although most are better.

In the sample time period there are six more buses than required to consistently connect with each (off-peak) train. Connection quality varies due to unharmonised bus headways. Just missed connections are common; on six occasions the bus departs within two minutes of the train arriving. And effective frequency is lower than the 14-15 minutes it would be if services were evenly spaced.

This represents both potential inefficiency and opportunity. For it may be possible to deliver more consistent connections and/or higher effective frequencies with the same or fewer buses.

Scope for improvement?

Some ‘back of the envelope’ attempts to improve schedules are presented below. Not being a professional bus scheduler there will be aspects missed, but the general concepts, borrowed from timed transfer networks worldwide, should still be sound. The complications posed by multiple operators serving the corridor are not discussed. There may be scope to improve efficiencies by swapping routes between operators, or routes could be shared between operators, as already sometimes occurs (eg Route 400 between Sunshine and Laverton).

Option 1: One frequent route to Melton, meeting every train.

Achieved by deleting Route 216 past Sunshine and using saved resources to boost Route 456’s frequency to 20 minutes all the way to Melton.

Approximate bus times are shown on the graph below.

Graphs like these are commonly used by train schedulers. They show how many vehicles are required to run a service and indicate connectivity at interchange points.

Time is shown across the horizontal (x) axis and location on the vertical (y) axis. The steeper the slope of the line, the faster the travel. A horizontal line means the bus is stationary, for instance waiting at an interchange. Each coloured line shows the path of a bus; in this case six are required. The dots near the top signify train times in both directions.

Some numbers below:

Connectivity with train: yes (3 to 7 min in all directions)
Services per hour: 3 (entire corridor)
Average Bus frequency (Favg): 20 min
Maximum Bus wait (Wmax): 20 min
Service efficiency (ie Favg/Wmax) = 100%
Estimated number of buses required: 6

Several points are worth noting:

* The timetable aimed to create a timed-transfer network at Sunshine. Buses arrive, trains arrive, trains depart and buses depart. Passengers can simultaneously transfer in any direction with minimal waiting.

* Sunshine station presents special opportunities for service co-ordination since trains both to and from Melbourne arrive within a few minutes of one another. This doubles the number of good bus-train connections possible. Hence a bus there and back can connect with no less than 4 trains.

* Connection times are between 3 and 7 minutes. Given the standard for on-time train running is within 4:59 minutes, anything under 5 minutes is arguably too tight. It may be possible to adjust bus times by a minute or two to increase the probability of successful connections in peak travel directions.

* Recovery time is nearly all spent at Sunshine rather than Melton (where it is only 1 minute). Spending it at Melton would mean that the bus would arrive at Sunshine too late to make train connections.

* A nine minute recovery time at Sunshine has been scheduled. Buses arrive at :57 and depart at :06, to exchange passengers with trains in both directions around the top of the hour, repeating every 20 minutes. Such dwell times heavily use interchange space, with the bay being occupied nine minutes out of every twenty. However the best measure of bus bay efficiency is passenger throughput, and it is possible that despite the dwell time this could be quite high given the large number of connection combinations possible (4 per 9 minute occupancy, not including bus-bus transfers).

* Measures that could free space at bus interchanges and/or reduce dwell times while preserving connectivity have not been explored. One example is a layover area. Here the bus empties at a drop-off only bay near the station entrance, moves to a nearby layover area and returns to the designated pick up stop in time to leave on time. Another possible tool is ‘active transfer management’ which would also speed buses, especially routes carrying through passengers, such as orbital routes. Here the bus would be scheduled to leave just after the train is scheduled to arrive (say h:04 instead of h:06), but would be held back to at least h:06 if the train is late.

* The tightness of the some bus/train connections and the very short layover at Melton may mean that this timetable might look good on paper but be fragile in practice. It is in these marginal cases where cutting running time by 2 to 4 minutes per direction can greatly improve reliability, connectivity and bus utlisation. Removal of close stops, more direct routes and bus priority at intersections are the sort of cheap projects that could make the difference here.

To summarise, Option 1 is the highest service choice, providing effectively a TrainLink service between Sunshine and Melton. It scores well for frequency, consistency and connectivity. However it does not save buses (compared to the present arrangements) and poorly serves Caroline Springs. It also removes the ability for Caroline Springs residents to catch a direct bus to the city.

I would also wonder whether the service is overkill, and if there are more deserving routes for the resources. Much of the route is sparsely populated and may not justify a 20 minute frequency (this being transit hostile development where the greatest population densities are off the highway). While it is some distance away, the corridor is also served by diesel trains, which offer a much faster (but currently less frequent) service between Sunshine and Melton.

Melton’s population growth is likely to support either a more frequent diesel train or electrification, both of which would further lessen the need for a 20 minute bus service to Melton, since changing to a local bus at Melton Station may be faster than the direct bus from Sunshine.

Option 2: Connection with every train to Caroline Springs, with every second trip extending to Melton.

This option reduces Route 456 to a 40 minute frequency, carefully timed to meet every second train. Route 216 west of Sunshine Station becomes an independent route every 40 minutes to Caroline Springs, timed to provide a 20 minute frequency over the combined portion between Sunshine and Caroline Springs (to meet every train).

The graph below shows how this service might run: (click to enlarge)

It’s messier than Option 1 since two types of service are offered. Three buses provide a 40 minute frequency to Melton with similar times to every second trip of Option 1. In between are Sunshine to Caroline Springs trips, again every 40 minutes, arranged to provide a 20 minute frequency along the common portion. The existing timetable allocated about 25 minutes to do this trip, so two buses are required to operate this service.

Some numbers:

Connectivity with train: yes
Services per hour: 3 (to Caroline Springs), (1.5 to Melton)
Average Bus frequency (Favg): 20 min (40 min Melton) Maximum Bus wait (Wmax): 20 min (40 min Melton)
Service efficiency (ie Favg/Wmax) = 100%
Estimated number of buses used = 5 (Melton 3, Caroline Springs 2)

There are several points worth noting:

* This is a lower service option for Melton, with the non-clockface 25-30 minute Route 456 service reduced to 40 minutes (also non-clockface). However unlike the current arrangement it provides a consistent connection with every second train. And if introduced in conjunction with an improved Melton train timetable the frequency cut may not be missed.

* The Sunshine – Caroline Springs portion (216) would have fewer buses and lose its direct link to the city. However it would gain better train connectivity and a less lumpy timetable. Reliabilty should also improve as delays affecting the Sunshine-City portion of Route 216/219 would be quarantined. Travel to Footscray and the City would remain possible through better train connections or changing to Route 216/219/220 bus (a combined 7.5 minute frequency) at Sunshine.

An initial draft had evenly spaced departures from Sunshine towards Caroline Springs and Melton. However return trips had two arrivals every 40 minutes at Sunshine. This is an effective frequency of 40 minutes or a 50% service efficiency – both unsatisfactory for a corridor with a current 14 minute average frequency.

A way around this is to hold each Route 216 return journey at Caroline Springs by 20 minutes. This gives us a 20 minute effective frequency and a 100% service efficiency, which are both good. However having buses lay over for about as long as they are moving is inefficient.

How could the idle time at Caroline Springs be better utilised? A look at the existing Route 216 terminus indicates it terminates in housing, distant from local trip generators. A short (2km) extension to Caroline Springs Town Centre would lessen idle time, serve a local trip generator and connect with other routes.

This arrangements may save nearly one bus compared to the current arrangements. Possible uses for this resource in the Sunshine area could include: Boosting frequency of Route 471 from 25 to 20 minutes to connect with trains, extending Route 451 north to Watergardens Station, extending Route 454 southwards to the industrial area, extending Route 417 northward to Sunshine to better cover industrial areas, later trips to Derrimut (Route 400), or extended coverage in Sunshine North are all contenders. I will not pick which is the highest priority, but some are likely to attract more patronage than economising parts of 216 and 456 would lose.

Option 3. Melton to Caroline Springs via Sunshine.

This can provide a service outcome similar to Option 2, depending on the treatment of buses at Caroline Springs. Instead of the routes being independent they are interlined, ie buses from Melton do a short trip to Caroline Springs via Sunshine and then return to Melton via Sunshine.

Due to the backtracking and dwell time at Sunshine there are no advantages in this for the passenger. It would only be considered if it allows the service to be run with fewer buses.

Conclusion

The above examples indicate the potential for service planning to improve bus network legibility and connectivity. Two options for the Sunshine – Melton corridor have been presented.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

After the Election

Last Saturday Victorians voted for a change of government. Below are a few observations on the campaign and the challenges facing the new government.

Rail’s rise

Public transport was prominent in the campaign, with the main topics being railway service delivery, security and staffing. Feasability studies for new lines and revised arrangements for service planning were also on the agenda. On election night the Opposition’s David Davis said that passenger discontent contributed to victories in Bentleigh, Mordialloc, Carrum and Frankston, all on Melbourne’s least punctual rail line. In contrast, buses hardly figured, except as alternatives to a Mernda railway.

Transport plans reflect rail’s growth in political importance. The 2006 ‘Meeting our Transport Challenges’ was largely about buses, especially upgraded local services and new SmartBus routes. Whereas the 2008 Victorian Transport Plan was basically a road and rail infrastructure plan, proposing the Regional Rail Link and Melbourne Metro projects.

Successive ministers heaped blame for disruptions on the rail operator. The former premier promised ‘improvements from Day One’ when the new franchise operators took over last year. Politically this hurt more than Bob Hawke's famous 'by 1990, no Australian child will be living in poverty' promise. Labor learned the hard way that the railway is a fragile and fractious beast whose reliability reflects past maintenance, errant car drivers and straying pedestrians more than political niceties. After a brief honeymoon, the new government, with its 'fix it' mandate, will be held to account as surely as the previously one was.

Quiet on the buses

In its last term the defeated Labor government made buses run on Sundays and after 7pm but failed to remind voters of this gain. The consensus on both sides was that buses were not politically significant, despite their extensive coverage. Accordingly the major parties promised either no or minor improvements for buses. This is one of those cases where the past record exceeded the promises; 2010 saw a record number of SmartBus routes added to the network.

The key message for those wanting better buses in 2011 is that most if not all improvements must be cost-neutral. In other words nothing much will happen unless resources can be found by withdrawing or shortening existing routes.

The choice is between a passive approach to bus service planning and few improvements, or a more active approach (including deleting or reducing services on some routes if necessary) and freeing resources for a more important route. After some time where the pursuit of economy was laid aside, transport planners will need to reacquaint themselves with concepts such as ‘opportunty cost’ and the sometimes unpleasant job of rationalising redundant services for a greater good.

All this is a big change from 2006 – 2010 where there was significant new money for bus service upgrades. Planning efficiency probably suffered because services tended to be boosted before being reviewed. And there was sometimes a reluctance to rationalise services, even when overlapped by new routes. Bus reviews came later, but by then funding had run out for wholesale implementation, especially in established areas.

Getting along on the roads

The relationship between road users was an issue in certain seats. Inner-city Liberals campaigned against extended clearway hours on roads served by trams. Clearways sped traffic flow but were vocally opposed by shopkeepers.

Bus lanes on Stud Road were also topical in the electorally critical south-east. These were seen as taking space from motorists and giving them to buses. Bus lanes can be deceptive – a relatively quiet bus lane can carry as many people as a lane full of single occupant vehicles. Nevertheless to moderate community opposition they need to be seen to be used, and this may require a more intensive service than currently runs.

Governance

First the Greens, then the Liberals. Both advocated some form of public transport authority. Labor saw no need, citing the existing functions of the Department of Transport and operators. Whether something gets done (eg bus-train co-ordination) is more important than who does it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A season for pruning?

It’s been a wet winter, the flowers are out and plants have grown fast. Gardeners are out with the shears, trimming undergrowth and unwanted branches.

Our bus network has had a similar windfall. A 15-year drought ended with many new routes being added in the last five years, a growth rate without recent historical precedent. Operating hours broadened, coverage spread and patronage surged.

Students of public administration will be aware that being required to spend large sums in a short time does not guarantee top value for money or high accountability. Careful planning and effective targeting of expenditure can be a casualty of blanket 'one size fits all' funding increases.

In public transport this could occur by boosting services on a route without regard to its network importance, relationship with other services or opportunity cost. Hence some corridors got more buses per hour but ‘lumpy’ timetables with long waits. Roads with overlapping routes were sometimes overserviced while adjacent high employment areas missed out. And buses are not all headway harmonised with trains like they are in Perth, despite our sometimes lower train frequencies making connectivity even more crucial.

The plant analogy can go further. If the bus network was a tree, parts would have strengthened greatly but others would still be weak, bushy and hardly alive. There would be many twigs, some well-placed and others with odd kinks formed years ago for reasons long forgotten. Not all supporting branches would robustly connect with trains or directly link suburbs.

Too much undergrowth can retard the funding, marketing and visibility of direct high-service routes most likely to attract patronage. Tangled scrub can also appear impenetrable, especially for commuters who drive past it on the way to the station.

If the political and economic climate favours service cuts, there can be coverage gaps. If it favours service increases there can be duplication. Our current network has both, reflecting past feast and famine. The latest feast has vastly improved buses and driven patronage to forty year highs. Nevertheless there remains great opportunity to carry even more through an efficient network that neither over or under services.

The patronage potential of buses is clearest when comparing their ridership with trams. Buses ‘should’ carry more than trams as their catchment population is higher, they exclusively serve the largest suburban shopping centres and run in the suburbs where most people live. But the actual figures are very different; 170 million for trams and barely 100 million for buses, indicating much higher service and patronage intensity on the smaller tram network.

This large disparity can’t all be due to trams’ CBD running, population density or a passenger preference for rails in tar. For there exist bus corridors that already have timetables and patronage that approach those of trams. The fact that buses don’t run on rails and overhead wires is no reason for low average patronage. However trams’ directness, legibility and frequency show aspects of successful service planning that can effectively apply to buses (as confirmed by usage of high-service ex-Met and SmartBus routes).

Both directness and legibility are a result of good planning, which is relatively cheap. Frequency costs scarce recurrent expenditure. But some can be raised internally from restructuring less efficient routes. However a growing city with a service backlog will also require increased external funding to develop the network. Such funding requests are more likely to succeed if there is evidence that the existing network is already planned efficiently and additional resources would boost rather than duplicate services.

Reviewing, untangling and making legible the bus network is key to making it more useful and boosting patronage. A good first step is to examine the current network for corridors that could be simplified. The multimode frequent service maps as presented above are useful tools for this purpose.

My examination of these maps has produced the following ‘dead wood’ portions of routes that may warrant pruning if 'greater good' gains can be obtained elsewhere:

219 (portion): Part west of Sunshine duplicates 903. A weekend variation serves areas covered by Route 471.

280/282 (portion): A local route that duplicates the 901 SmartBus along a low-density residential area (Foote St/Reynolds Rd Templestowe).

246 (Latrobe Uni extension): Overlaps with other routes between Clifton Hill and Latrobe Uni.

286 (entire route): Largely duplicated by two SmartBus routes (901 and 906) along Blackburn Rd

293 (part): Duplicated by new SmartBus Route between Doncaster Shoppingtown and Eltham (Main Rd roundabout).

295: Duplicates 903 along Station St between Box Hill and Doncaster Shoppingtown.

340/350: Overlaps with 250 between Ivanhoe and Latrobe Uni.

445 (part route): Duplicates other routes between Werribee Plaza and Hoppers Crossing Station. Truncation could allow removal of stopping restrictions (including to a local shopping centre) which lessen legibility.

478/479 (part route): Duplicates Route 477 and tram between Moonee Ponds and Airport West.

479 (City – Moonee Ponds portion): A weekend extension that duplicated by a frequent tram service.

483 (entire route): Freeway service for Sunbury. Will become less necessary after rail electrification.

500 (entire route): Duplicates 901 between Broadmeadows and Melbourne Airport. Duplicates 479 between Melbourne Airport and Sunbury.

544 (part route): Duplicates 901 between Roxburgh Park and Broadmeadows

563 (part route): Duplicates tram along a large section of Plenty Rd and 901 between Greensborough & Plenty Valley SC

623 (part route): Duplicates 626 and 900 between Chadstone SC and Carnegie. Scope for rerouting along Neerim Rd to replace portion of 624.

673 (entire route): An hourly service entirely duplicated by parallel longer routes

691 (part route): Monash Uni extension – replaced by direct high-service 900 SmartBus

694 (entire route): Largely parallels 663 & the extended 688 for all but a few stops.

745 (entire route): Four occasional routes with very low patronage

777 (entire route): A short route with few services and trip generators

Apart from removing redundant routes (relatively easy since no coverage is sacrificed), there are other things that could further simplify the network and increase effective service frequencies, preferably using resources saved from route rationalisation. The most obvious is more evenly scheduling overlapping routes that share a corridor. Other gains could come from rerouting that lessens duplication and improves coverage. Such changes won't please everyone, but not considering them may result in higher gains foregone. Some examples of this type will appear in a future post.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Frequent service maps – now Melbourne wide

A pet personal project (obsession?) has been the compilation of schematic maps showing Melbourne’s frequent transport corridors, offering service every 15 minutes or better.

Melbourne’s inner suburbs have many such corridors thanks to its extensive tram network. Further out, fifteen minute weekday frequencies are available on some train lines and bus routes. Around half of our frequent bus corridors bear SmartBus branding, while the other half receive no special marketing.

While trams and trains are visible and legible, buses remain a mystery to the average traveller. Public transport is widely considered effective to get to the city but not so useful for cross-suburban trips, which dominate most people’s travel.

Simplifying the network through multi-modal frequent service maps is one way to make the network more legible and counter a major objection to buses; namely that they do not run frequently or late enough. The resultant network becomes more web or grid like, making it suitable for many more trips than the largely radial train and tram systems on their own.

I started with scribbles on taped scraps of paper. Plain shower curtains from discount shops were then tried. Windows Paint worked but smeared badly with each alteration. Finally Power Point was found workable.

Two maps for Melbourne’s eastern suburbs have previously appeared here. These have been updated and are presented with new maps for Melbourne’s north, west and inner, as below:

Melbourne west

Melbourne north

Melbourne north-east

Melbourne south-east

Melbourne inner

I will be the first to admit that these maps are not perfect.

Some maps, particularly the south-east, are way too cluttered. Deleting parallel lower service routes (so the key can be removed) and/or making each map cover a smaller area may help. The orientation of some streets (particularly the CBD) is not always ideal. And a few areas, such as around Port Melbourne and Prahran, fall within two maps but are well documented by neither.

Trying to reconcile geographic accuracy with simplicity was a challenge. So was illustrating both frequency and span. For the latter I made thickness represent frequency and line continuity represent span. Although it made the layout less clean, I wanted to show lower frequency routes that share the same corridor with high-service routes, and so boost combined frequency further.

Some of the complexity reflects the different service levels across the network. Bus routes especially don’t always fit neat categories such as (i) high service SmartBus, (ii) minimum standard local route or (iii) limited service special route. This shows that mapping can only simplify the network so much; planners need to do their bit to straighten routes and harmonise spans and frequencies as well.

In some cases I broke my own rules as the maps would have looked silly otherwise (eg half the rail network missing). For instance northern suburbs trains and western suburbs trains and trams operate every 20 minutes, and I have shown them even though the cut-off generally used was 15 minutes. If there was a rationale, it could be that people are willing to sacrifice frequency for trains’ average higher speed and comfort.

What these maps do demonstrate, however, is that frequency maps can provide a fresh way of seeing (and using) the public transport network that should be helpful for planners, providers and passengers alike.

Selling frequency

Brochures intended for tram hand-holds selling the frequent lunchtime service now available on a city tram corridor.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Transport safety videos over the years

A selection of sometimes hard-hitting, sometimes entertaining clips with a serious message.

2010

2009

2000s?

1992

1984

1970

1948

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New Frankston line timetable and bus connectivity

The major feature of the October 2010 Metro train timetable was the upgrade of the weekday Frankston interpeak frequency from fifteen to ten minutes. As frequencies increase dependence on timetables lessen. And many passengers would be treating ten minutes as a ‘turn up and go’ service.

Intersecting tram routes would also be considered ‘turn up and go’, at least on weekdays. However for buses reference to a timetable is still important to ensure short journey times.

Connectivity and effective service frequency are maximised if train and bus headways are harmonised. The extent of frequency harmonisation varies across Melbourne as each mode is often independently scheduled.

This survey shows the effect of the Frankston line train frequency boost on bus headway harmonisation for each bus route serving stations between Caulfield and Frankston.

Station – Route – pre Oct 2010 – post Oct 2010

Caulfield – 624 – yes – yes
Caulfield – 900 – yes – no

Ormond – 630 – no – yes
Ormond – 625 – yes - yes

McKinnon – 626 – yes – yes

Bentleigh – 701 – yes – yes
Bentleigh – 703 – no – no

Moorabbin – 811/812 – yes – yes
Moorabbin – 823 – yes - yes
Moorabbin – 824 – no – yes
Moorabbin – 825 – no – yes

Highett – 827/828 – no – yes
Highett – 708 – yes – yes

Cheltenham – 600/922/923 – yes – no
Cheltenham - 811/812 – yes - yes
Cheltenham – 822 – yes - yes
Cheltenham - 827/828 – no - yes

Mentone – 708 – yes - yes
Mentone – 811/812 – yes - yes
Mentone – 825 – no – yes
Mentone – 903 – yes - no

Parkdale – 708 – yes – yes

Mordialloc – 705 - n/a - n/a (peak service only)
Mordialloc – 708 – yes – yes
Mordialloc – 709 – yes – yes
Mordialloc – 903 – yes – no

Aspendale -

Edithvale – 858 – yes – yes
Edithvale – 902 – yes – no

Chelsea – 857 – yes – yes
Chelsea – 858 – yes – yes
Chelsea – 902 – yes – no

Bonbeach –

Carrum – 708 – yes – yes
Carrum – 780 – yes - yes
Carrum – 857 – yes – yes

Seaford – 780 – yes – yes

Kananook – 778 – yes – yes
Kananook – 779 – yes – yes
Kananook – 832 – yes – yes
Kananook – 901 – yes – no

Frankston – 770 – no – no
Frankston – 771 – no - yes
Frankston – 772 – yes - yes
Frankston – 773 – yes - yes
Frankston – 774 – yes - yes
Frankston – 775 – no - no
Frankston – 776 – no - no
Frankston – 779/780 – yes – yes
Frankston – 781/784/785 – no – yes
Frankston – 782/783 – yes – yes
Frankston – 788 – yes - no
Frankston – 789/790/791 – no - yes
Frankston – 832/833 – yes - yes
Frankston – 901 – yes – no

Total before: Yes 39 – No 13
Total after: Yes 39 – No 13

Notes: Routes with irregular headways (eg 703, 775, 776) are counted as non-harmonised. Only routes with off-peak weekday services are counted.

Analysis

While the move to a ten minute frequency has not changed the number of bus routes that can claim to be harmonised with Frankston line trains, to conclude that there has been no change oversimplifies the effect on individual routes.

The most significant harmonisation gain was that restored to 20 minute frequency bus routes. I say ‘restored’ because they were previously harmonised when Frankston interpeak trains ran every 20 minutes (before the 1990s upgrade to 15 minutes). Some of these routes (eg 630 and 824) were the busier services that escaped the bus service reductions in the 1980s and 1990s (which saw some weekday frequencies reduced from 20 to 30 minutes). The other harmonisation gain has been in the Frankston area, where routes to Karingal (789/790/791) and Mornington (781/784/785) now combine to provide an even connection to every second train.

The main loss to harmonisation has been to the SmartBus and near-SmartBus routes (600/922/923, 900, 901, 902 and 903). Their 15 minute frequency matched the previous interpeak train frequency on the Frankston line. The effective frequency (ie the interval between when optimum connections repeat) has increased from 15 to 30 minutes for trips involving a transfer. However many passengers are likely to treat this as a ‘turn up and go’ connection, especially if changing from the bus to the train.

Metro’s Andrew Lezala favours the introduction of ten minute interpeak train service frequency on more lines, along with similar frequencies on tram and major bus routes. The latter obviously involves the orbital SmartBus routes, which currently run every fifteen minutes.

This pattern provides a legible ‘one-size fits all’ pattern where almost every interpeak orbital service runs the full route, despite greatly varying patronage along it. However if bus patronage continues to rise and more train lines are upgraded to run every 10 minutes interpeak, a future change to a 10/20 minute frequency pattern (lower service on the quieter portions) could provide needed gains in capacity and connectivity. Efficiency would also rise as services more closely match demand. There would be some decline in legibility, as alternate services would terminate short, but this may be outweighed by the consistent connectivity achieved by matching bus and train frequencies and the higher service on the busier portions.

Conclusion

While the numbers show no change to the proportion of bus routes that are frequency harmonised with trains during the weekday interpeak, the higher train frequency has improved overally connectivity by reducing maximum waiting times. It is for this reason that the gain of a 20 minute headway service becoming harmonised is greater than a 15 minute frequency service losing it.

Nevertheless to enhance their potential as strong feeder services, the principle that SmartBus services should be headway-harmonised with trains is worth keeping, and an approach to enhance this for our orbital routes is suggested.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Employment concentration and public transport service quality

Just over six months ago Alan Davies of the Melbourne Urbanist reminded us that the majority of jobs in Melbourne are (1) outside the CBD and surrounds, and (2) outside what Melbourne 2030 calls 'Major Activity Centres'. Outside the top four areas where employment is highly concentrated, is a 'long tail' of smaller centres which employ between about 1 and 2 percent of suburban centre jobs.

In descending order of significance the top four centres were Clayton, Tullamarine, Kew/Hawthorn and Box Hill.

I thought it would be worth comparing the availability of high-service public transport routes to and within these areas. This could help answer questions such as whether the largest employment centres had the best public transport, or whether historical factors, such as the era of development and presence of tram routes were more important.

Criteria used to assess service quality to these employment areas were as follows:

a. Service levels. The number of directions from which high service routes to the area is provided (at least SmartBus spans and frequencies). Lower frequency routes and branches are not counted, even though some approach SmartBus standards.

b. Travel speeds. As measured by the number of directions with services that operate on their own rights of way (eg railways, busways and segregated light rail).

c. Connectivity. Number of intersections between high-service routes.

d. Coverage. Extent to which the highest service routes are within walking distance of the highest concentrations of employment in the area. Assessed as low, medium or high.

Only regular Metcard/Myki ticketed routes were counted in this survey.

The overall rating comprises a Service, Speed and Connectivity score ( a + b + c) plus a coverage estimate for high service routes (described as low, medium or high).

Assessments by centre, starting with the largest, are as follows:

Clayton (includes area around Clayton Station, Monash University and Blackburn Rd)

a. Service levels

High service routes are as follows: Bus 900 (2 directions) and Dandenong line train (2 directions).

Total number of directions with high service routes: 4 (increases to 8 if the lower service 703 and 802/804/862 routes are included)

b. Travel Speeds

Number of directions with ROW route: 2

c. Connectivity

Number of intersections between above high-service routes: 0

d. Coverage

Train serves areas near Clayton shopping strip and Monash Medical Centre. Route 900 serves area near Monash University. Business parks and light industrial in the area are not served by the above routes. The area is pedestrian-hostile.

Overall: SSC score 6 with medium coverage.

Tullamarine

a. Service levels

High-service routes are Routes 901 and Routes 902. Route 901 offers service in one direction and Route 902 operates in both directions.

Total number of directions with high service routes:3

b. Travel Speeds

Number of directions with ROW route: 0

c. Connectivity

Number of intersections between above high-service routes: 1 (Mickleham Rd)

d. Coverage

Route 901 offers medium coverage of airport (stop is away main passenger gates). Both routes serve Mickeham Rd. Melrose Dr, Sharps Rd and Keilor Park Dr not served by above routes. The area is extremely pedestrian hostile.

Overall: SSC score 4 with low-medium coverage.

Kew/Hawthorn (area east of Princess St and from Swinburne University and north)

a. Service levels

High service routes are as follows: Tram 16 (1 direction), Tram 48 (2 directions), Tram 109 (2 directions), Bus 200/201/207 (1 direction), Ringwood/Alamein trains (3 directions).

Total number of directions with high service routes: 9

b. Travel Speeds

Number of directions with ROW route: 3

c. Connectivity

Number of intersections between above high-service routes: 3 (Kew Junction, Cotham/Glenferrie Rd & Glenferrie Stn)

d. Coverage

Most major trip generators are served by trains and trams that quality as high-service routes. Coverage is therefore high.

Overall: SSC score 15 with high coverage.

Box Hill

a. Service levels

High service routes are as follows: Tram 109 (1 direction), Bus 903 (2 directions) and Ringwood line trains (2 directions).

Total number of directions with high service routes:5 (increases to 9 if the lower service 270/271, 286, 281/293 and 281/767/768 corridors are included)

b. Travel Speeds

Number of directions with ROW route: 2

c. Connectivity

Number of intersections between above high-service routes: 1 (Box Hill Station)

d. Coverage

Good coverage within Box Hill Shopping centre and surrounds. Hospitals and TAFE colleges are near at least one high-service route. Overall medium – high.

Overall: SSC score 8 with medium-high coverage.

Conclusion

This analysis has many limitations. For instance area boundaries and job densities could have been established and the proportion of jobs within pedsheds of high-service stops should have been examined to obtain a more accurage coverage statistic. And the different local network topologies, from parallel non-intersecting routes (eg Clayton), to a single interchange point (Box Hill) to a multi-centred network (Kew/Hawthorn) could have been explored.

However the information gathered should be robust enough to show that that public transport service levels are not necessarily matched to a suburban centre’s employment significance. In particular the two largest centres (Clayton and Tullamarine) have high-quality services from fewer directions and not as many interchange points as the two smaller (but still large) centres.

Nevertheless service levels have become more equal between centres over the last five years, as tram service levels remained largely unchanged, new SmartBus routes commenced and local routes gained 7-day service. Five years ago, for instance, Clayton, the largest employment centre, had only one high-service route (the train), which missed the suburb’s biggest employer (Monash University). And less than one year ago Tullamarine, our second largest, had only occasional services. Both now have at least one high-service bus route serving the largest employer in each area.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Urban plans, density and the middle class

Noel Pearson's 2010 John Button Oration (highly recommended - listen here) got me thinking about the relationship between urban plans (such as Melbourne 2030) and the relationship between it and various economic classes (especially the middle class).

To summarise, the intellectual middle class says what ought to be built and the capitalist landowning class goes off and builds, taking a risk in return for a possible profit. While planning regulations (largely drafted and interpreted by the middle-class) have some influence, the capitalist can apply the ultimate sanction, ie choosing not to build if they see no profit. This puts a limit on the strictness (or 'unworkability') of planning regulations, otherwise undersupply will be the result.

Urban planning can be seen as a tussle between a portion of the middle class (either as bureaucrats, academics or activist residents) and the capitalist upper class. The working class has a role as consumers through housing and shopping preferences. There is thus a consumer-producer relationship between the working class and the capitalist (if buying a project home for example), but the relationship between the working class and middle class is very limited.

I previously described Melbourne 2030 as a plan that favours the grouping of certain land uses (cafes, galleries, educational establishments and higher density housing) around transport hubs.

Favoured land uses represent the interests of the humanities-educated portion of the middle class plus some perceived working-class wants (or should haves). The latter being desirable to foster 'diversity' and 'inclusion'. Certain other land uses, such as bulky goods retail, fast-food and (especially) light industrial, are not part of the academic's world so tend not to feature prominently in their plans. Ignoring them does not make these uses go away, instead they go to the periphery without public transport or pedestrian access (Tullamarine and Laverton North spring to mind).

Lacking capital, the interested middle classes (especially academics, bureaucrats and council planners) use plans to advance what they see as the public (or is it their?) interest against the capitalist landowning class. To the extent that they are implemented they advance the former group's quality of life and aesthetic sensibilities. A Marxist analysis would also see city planning as part of a broader contest between intellectual and capital, with each group wanting their strength to prevail.

The middle class, even its humanity educated portion, is not homogeneous. As often played out in The Age, it is deeply split on the question of housing density.

There is what I would call the 'technocratic' or 'urbanist' middle class which favours higher densities for a more compact, less sprawling city better able to be served by public transport and other services. A substantial proportion of this group would have lived in or visited overseas cities with higher densities than ours. Some may work in planning. Their arguments are both environmental and economic, with the economic one being an echo of Le Corbusier's vision of cities as being 'machines for living in'. While it is another debate, this group may be quite relaxed about the city's capacity to house a higher population (though being quite well paid they will always be able to afford to live in the city's 'better' areas).

There is common ground between this group and developers (whose profit increases with density, since fixed costs can be spread across more units). The developers need this group to argue their case, while the urbanists need the developers to allow their preferred city form to be built.

Opposed to densification (at least in their backyard) is another faction of the middle class. 'Suburban protectionists' are less enamoured with high-rise and go by names such as 'Save our Suburbs'. This group professes a wish to preserve their neighbourhood's quiet streets, leafy verges and an always-free parking spot in front of the house. High-density is also thought by residents to be associated with crime, especially if 'outsiders not like us' (eg public housing tenants) move in. Hence NIMBYs ('Not in My Back Yard') are vulnurable to accusations of xenophobia or selfishness. While another (though related) debate, protectionists often question the benefits of continued population growth in our big cities, and may propose decentralisation (for others of course) to lessen pressures on our bigger cities.

As homeowners,suburban protectionists' key economic interest is their house value.

This is especially so for the middle-class.

The biggest determinant of wealth in Australia is whether you live in your own home or rent (those who both rent and invest are a small, savvy minority). Poor people are by and large not homeowners, so values are irrelevant to them. Then there's the rich. While they may live in nice homes the genuinely financially independent hold most of their wealth (80 - 99%) in other assets, such as their own businesses, rental properties, shares and the like. In contrast the middle-class person's home is their biggest asset, with most of their other wealth (superannuation) being untouchable until retirement. Hence concern that a development may lower house values is quintessentially a middle-class concern.

The relationship that high density leads to better public transport is also disputed. 2004 - 2008 for instance saw a train patronage boom but no commensurate service increase. And if higher traffic slows buses and trams, their efficiency will fall without priority. Academic support (in the sense that successful public transport is more a function of service planning than density) is offered by Paul Mees of RMIT.

To conclude, planning and the argy-bargy that goes with it, is a game between a protectionist middle class and a capitalist class (legitimised by a technocratic middle class). The middle class has brains but no capital. The capitalists have money and can co-opt as many middle-class minds as necessary. The middle-class itself is divided. Hence we generally get a largely market-oriented plan with some urbanist features such as denser activity centres and protectionist features such a (movable) urban growth boundary.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Behind the clocks: Sights and sounds of Flinders Street Station

Thousands pass through Flinders Street Station each day. However most try to spend as little time there as possible. And hurried daily users have little reason to go beyond the platforms they need.

Flinders Street Station turned 100 this year. Its condition has also been raised as an election issue, with the Liberal opposition promising a design competition to redevelop the station.

It's worth taking a leisurely wander to appreciate this grand old building. Walkers are exhorted to keep right - indicating that pedestrian congestion was high. 'Do not spit' tiles are testament to the early 20th century hygiene movement and influenza plagues. And carved signs indicate a single-function permanence absent from newer buildings.

Sounds are equally important. Water run-off, the varying character of manual announcements and the horns of trains indicate movement or intended movement. The steps of commuters provide a dull, uneven beat to buskers, whose notes bounce off hard subway walls.

See and hear all this and more in the video below.

Some high quality historical pictures of Flinders Street Station appear at Melbourne Curious.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Connectivity mapping and the interisland ferry

To date Melbourne on Transit has not covered ferries. This is because, unlike Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, they are not an established part of city public transport. And while proposals for commuter ferries are sometimes made, all trials of them have been unsuccessful.

This may be because Melbourne has an extensive rail network that largely follows the populated coast, serving areas such as Williamstown, Brighton, Frankston and Geelong that might otherwise support a ferry service. In addition the narrow Yarra does not divide the city like the much wider Sydney harbour, so land modes dominate travel to every suburb, with ferries strictly for tourists.

Outside Melbourne

However outside Melbourne there are two ferries that provide a service more direct than is possible by road. These are Portsea to Queenscliffe across the mouth of Port Phillip and the Interisland Ferry between Stony Point, French Island and Phillip Island. The operators of both these services are granted an exclusive licence to serve these routes by the Department of Transport.

The Interisland ferry serves three locations; the mainland outpost of Stony Point, the uninhabited nature reserve of French Island and the tourist and motor racing hub of Phillip Island.

The timetables are presented in tabular form on the Interisland website, with tables for each island. Only departure and travel times are shown, so arrivals must be estimated. Trips mostly operate beween Stony Point and Phillip Island via French Island, but sometimes the order is different, or services only serve two locations.

Transport operators normally provide a tabular timetable and separate map to help passengers plan their trips. This suits the whole range of service levels; from a weekly bus to an intensely served tram line.

However if only a few trips run per day and route variations exist, as is often true for country services, it’s sometimes more informative to combine the map and timetable on the one sheet. Each trip would have its own line between locations, like a train graph. And instead of being on a table the arrival and departure times would be written near the end of each line.

As well as being good for spacial thinkers, a graphical timetable tells much more about how the service works. The user can follow each vehicle around its run and identify relationships between trips, such as what forms what or how many vehicles are used, that are not disclosed on a table.

Below is a timetable-map made from departure lists on the Interisland ferry website.

I have arbitrarily seperated trips into six runs (not all daily) operating from Stony Point. These show how one ferry can run a variety of trips around the islands from morning until night.

The most common trip is between Stony Point and Phillip Island via French Island. However there is also a direct Stony Point – French Island return service and a trip from Stony Point direct to Phillip Island and then French Island.

Other transport

The only other public transport serving Stony Point is the train to Frankston. This is a country-style diesel service that connects with electric trains to Melbourne. Both the train and ferry have uneven intervals between trips; in the train’s case due to a single track, and for the ferry because the operating pattern includes several trip variations.

The ferry runs a basic 7-day timetable, with extra or deleted services depending on the day of the week. In contrast, like most land transport routes, the train has different times for weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

As well as the ferry, Phillip Island (whose east is joined to the mainland by road) has a coach service operating to several locations including Melbourne CBD. Although longer as the crow flies, this involves fewer changes than the two trains and ferry route via Frankston and Stony Point.

Showing connectivity

A full multimodal timetable-map for the area would have at least three versions – one for each day pattern. This would show connectivity in a more graphical form and make analysis of it easier. Each train and ferry trip could be shown graphically, with waiting times given for each connection.

The map above takes some short-cuts including showing all days on the one map and listing rather than drawing train arrivals and departures. Connectivity from Melbourne CBD is also not shown; potentially an issue on Sunday mornings where the service that feeds the first train to Stony Point is not a Metro train but a NightRider Bus.

Nevertheless having all times on the one sheet allows easier comparisons of connections. And by being able to see where a train or ferry is at a particular time, including dwell times, a graphical format should make it possible to check if any proposed time changes would increase or lessen connectivity.

Limitations

Even the best timetable presentation method may not necessarily correspond with how services are actually run. An example is the habit of some schedulers to round travel times down in the early part of the trip but add the minutes back between the second last and last timepoints. The benefit here is that though the service may appear a couple of minutes late when passing some timepoints, it arrives at the destination on time. This may lessen early running and waiting at timepoints. Early running, in particular, is objectionable, and performance standards treat it more harshly than minor late running.

In the case of the ferry, the first Sunday train arriving at Stony Point (arriving 8:01am) would appear to just miss the ferry (timetabled departure 8:00am). However my understanding (gathered when researching this piece) is that although pasengers are asked to be at Stony Point well before the departure time, in practice the ferry will wait for the train, making an apparently impossible connection work.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Our first ten minute line

Sunday marked the start of a new timetable for several Melbourne suburban rail lines. The revised timetables feature increased weekday peak services on some busy lines and six car rather than three car trains on others to lessen crowding.

However the most important change in terms of how passengers will view and use the train network is the new Frankston line off-peak weekday timetable. This sees train frequencies increased from every 15 minutes to every 10 minutes. And weeknight 7 - 10pm headways are down from 30 to 20 minutes, reversing most of the 1978 evening service cuts.

Even though government transport plans normally stress infrastructure over service levels, there is no question that the October 10 timetable is significant for several reasons:

Firstly it makes Frankston the first railway line to operate at a tram-style 'turn up and go' frequency (Werribee's 6 trains/hour doesn't really count due to its uneven headway). In doing so it challenges an oddity where trams run more frequently than trains, despite rail's larger catchment area, coverage of major suburban centres and greater importance of connectivity with buses.

This upgrade provides a service at least every ten minutes for the 26 stations from Frankston to Richmond. Beyond Richmond the service frays into two patterns - one via the City Loop and the other direct to Flinders Street. Like the current Werribee operating pattern, these alternating services reduce legibility and effective frequency in the CBD, so are hopefully an interim transitory step before a single operating pattern can be introduced.

Secondly, while not marketed as such, it is understood that these trains form a direct Werribee service, allowing a one-seat ride from Frankston to stations such as Footscray, Newport and Laverton. Through-routing like this was typical before the Loop commenced, so this change represents an element of 'back to the future'. Linking the Werribee and Frankston lines could improve travel speeds for cross-city trips, but care will need to be taken to avoid Werribee's reliability being dragged down by Frankston line problems (and vice versa).

Thirdly is the decision to choose the Frankston line. If you were choosing which lines deserved a higher off-peak service on the basis of likely patronage increase, the Frankston line would be unlikely to figure. Instead the lines to Ringwood, Dandenong and probably Sydenham might have a greater call. These lines have all have large middle suburban trip generators, including universities, that generate off-peak and counter-peak travel. The very high concentrations of low income earners around Sunshine - St Albans and Noble Park - Dandenong (Sydenham and Dandenong lines) also tend to generate high off-peak demand outside commuting hours.

Nevertheless the Frankston line off-peak is not what you'd call a quiet line like Williamstown, Alamein or Sandringham. It has operational advantages such as the ability to run through to Werribee. And as an experiment certain changes (eg to loop running patterns) might not be as controversial as one conducted on a busier line.

Fourthly, the change is reversing a significant decline in overall Frankston line service, both in absolute and relative terms.

The absolute decline has been in reliability. While this has occurred across the network, factors such as Siemens trains (and their speed restrictions), the number of level crossings (and consequent disruptions) and it being part of the busy Caulfield group, the Frankston line is particularly prone to delays. In rough figures, Frankston passengers experience twice as many late trains than the Melbourne average, and nearly three times as that on reliable lines such as Glen Waverley.

The relative decline can be measured against the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines, Frankston's sister lines on the Caulfield group. In the 2004 - 2009 period Frankston tended to miss out on additional services. Those that were added went to the busier and faster-growing Pakenham and Cranbourne lines instead.

June 2010 saw renewed interest in the Frankston line, with a new timetable adding peak services. While there remain timetable 'holes' of 15 minutes or more, most Frankston line stations got at least a 10 minute service, with busier stations at a five minute peak frequency approximately. The trade-off was that most of its express trains ran direct to Flinders Street instead of via the loop - speeding some but slowing others.

This interest is continuing, with this week's 50% off-peak frequency increase for all Frankston line suburban stations. The significance of this can be measured by reviewing previous service changes of similar magnitude. The last would have been back in the 1990s, where off-peak weekday services on some south-eastern suburban lines went from 20 to 15 minutes. Subsequent increases tended to favour Sundays, late evenings, peak periods or parts of lines only, leaving basic Monday - Saturday off-peak and evening service levels intact up to now.

Conclusion

The Frankston line presents both challenges and opportunities for Metro.

Challenges because its low on-time performance consistently drags down the metropolitan average, and thus the ability to meet targets.

And opportunities since the October 10 Frankston timetable is the first test of Metro's vision for a frequent-service metropolitan railway.

Monday, October 04, 2010

DART’s first day

Without the speeches, balloons and sausage sizzles that normally accompany a railway extension, today marked Day One of DART, or Doncaster Area Rapid Transit.

DART is a four-route SmartBus network serving Manningham (Routes 905, 906, 907 & 908). It’s the government’s response to calls for a railway, which would have been dearer to build and directly served a smaller catchment area.

Poster in bus

Demographics

Manningham is predominantly middle to upper class. There is a high representation of professional two-income families. Housing is predominantely detached with parking for two cars. Nevertheless new townhouses are also popular in the areas nearer the CBD (being larger than a flat or villa in the nearby blue-chip suburbs of Kew and Balwyn).

Like other north-eastern suburbs Manningham lacks a large body of low income earners. These mostly settle in other parts of Melbourne which are better served by cheap rental properties and (up to now) better public transport. It does however have a substantial immigrant population (particularly from Asia) who tend to share (if not exceed) the middle class incomes and educational aspirations of the general population.

Manningham has no substantial industrial base, with most local employment being retail and services. There is also significant commuting towards the CBD, made possible by a freeway and express buses.

It also has no university campuses, though education levels and aspirations are high. This would tend to indicate significant commuting for education puposes.

Like many other parts of Melbourne, the baby boomers who settled Manningham are ageing. However average life expectancies and health standards are above average, so the majority are likely to be active and mobile well in to their seventies and eighties.

Doncaster Park & Ride

History

In the late 19th century a short-lived tramway ran between Box Hill and Doncaster, and the road between them retains that name. Market gardening was a dominant land use and the area did not become heavily urbanised until after WWII. However comparative closeness to the CBD, proximity to the Yarra, elevated views and the rise of the motor car (which made the lack of a railway less of a hindrance) contributed to Manningham’s growth in the 1960s and 1970s. It was part of a large belt of emergnig eastern suburbs between the railway lines and beyond the tram tracks including suburbs such as Forest Hill, Glen Waverley and Wheelers Hill. Traces of Templestowe’s rural past are evident today in its acre lots and lack of kerbing on some roads.

The Doncaster railway was part of the 1969 Metropolitan Transport Plan, which set the agenda for road building over the ensuing 40 years. Recent rail extensions have all been electrifications of existing rail corridors rather than new lines. And where new lines are proposed, they are either for growth corridor outer suburbs or underneath dense city land uses. And so all of Manningham’s public transport task is handled by buses, operating either to the city via the freeway, local shopping centres or railway stations in adjacent corridors.

Before SmartBus and DART, major bus routes in Manningham typically operated every 30 minutes on weekdays and roughly hourly on weekends (though some routes had two hourly or no service). This network was augmented by peak hour freeway express services and a fairly new circular shopper route.

DART represents a doubling of service frequency and later finishes on major routes. The four DART routes and two orbital routes (which started earlier in 2010) offer a SmartBus level of service (15 minutes weekdays/30 minutes evenings and weekends). This frequency is similar to suburban trains on weekdays and less on weekends. DART spans are broadly similar to trains except for the early finish on Sunday. The upgraded routes also had their numbers changed (from 300 series to 90x series) to reflect SmartBus route numbering.

Some existing routes were changed to reflect DART’s coming, but others were not. Hence there are some overlaps between regular routes and the upgraded SmartBus services.

City terminus near Southern Cross Station

The DART Test

The introduction of DART (and intersecting orbital routes) present opportunities for examining what happens when you (effectively) double transit service, especially in an area that lacks some of the demographics conducive to usage and starts with some handicaps for this.

Manningham’s limited public transport, low population density (especially in Templestowe) and high car ownership has historically resulted in a modal share lower than suburbs served by rail.

Demographics such as high workforce participation and lack of a local university tend to lower average occupancies in between the peaks. This produces a commuter pattern more like the Sandringham line (quiet interpeak) than the Dandenong or Sydenham line (busy day and night).

Secondly, unless regional centres such as around Shoppingtown and The Pines are built up patronage is likely to be unidirectional, lessening efficiencies, even if services in the peak direction are well used. This is different to (say) an orbital or cross-suburban bus between two railway lines which will attract patronage in both directions at any time.

My hunch is that DART will bring a substantial patronage increase, as it deserves to do so. However due to less favourable demographics (ie wealthier with more choice), I suspect that patronage elasticity per service kilometre added won’t be quite as high as we've seen on the three orbital routes and certain local upgrades.

Doncaster area frequent service map