Friday, August 20, 2010

Frequent service Map 1: Melbourne's south-east

Via Jarrett Walker is advice that Vancouver’s TransLink is seeking ideas from the public for a frequent network map, to highlight high service routes and corridors.

We have never had such a map for the Melboune network. More than any other Australian city frequency here has been a function of mode. Trams are most frequent, offering ‘turn up and go’ service every 5 to 15 minutes, at least during the day. Trains are next, on 15 to 30 minute frequencies. Buses were last, typically operating every 20 to 60 minutes, with varying spans and operating days.

Although there were exceptions, if you wanted frequent travel and an assurance of being able to travel on Sunday or get home at night you would almost never catch a bus. Hence train and tram system maps (normally mode rather than area-based) were our de-facto frequent network maps.

In the last five years we have seen the extension of many bus services to 7 days and the commencement of SmartBus services, which, at least on weekdays, operate at or better than train frequencies. The generalisation that buses run less often than trains remains valid but decreasingly so. However because our network maps treat all bus routes as being equal (just like if a street directory showed local streets as thick as freeways and distributors) the higher service on the better routes and corridors is uncommunicated to passengers.

The solution is a multimode frequent service map to highlight the high-service parts of the network that can reasonably be navigated without a timetable (at least on weekdays). It would be in a simple schematic form, showing only the high-service corridors, interchange points and major trip generators. At major interchanges it would supplement but not replace metro-wide single mode network schematic maps and local multimode geographically-based street-level maps.

A possible frequent service map for the south-east suburbs of Melbourne is shown below. Interstate or international readers should note it's approximately one-third of the metropolitan area and excludes the CBD (beyond the top left of the map). The areas covered are approximately 4 to 40 kilometres from the city centre.

This map is an attempt to simplify a fairly complex network that has diverse service levels and operating spans. I have set a cut-off related to SmartBus service levels, ie a 15 minute frequency on weekdays and 30 minutes on nights and weekends. Less frequent individual routes are not shown unless they parallel other routes to form a high combined frequency along a corridor.

Line thickness is related to service frequencies for individual routes or route families, with two levels used; thick for 15 minutes or better, and thin for inferior to this. Routes or corridors with 'full-time' operating hours, ie daily service until 11pm (9pm Sunday) got solid lines. Routes offering lesser spans got dashed lines. Hence a thick dashed line would be a frequent weekday service with limited or no service at other times. Conversely a thin solid line would indicate lower frequency but wide span (like outer suburban trains). A thin dashed coloured line would typically be a 'minimum standards' route, with 7-day hourly service until 9pm. Routes offering less than this (only drawn if they added frequency to a corridor) are shown with a grey line.

Melbourne typically colours its train information blue, tram information green and bus information orange. The map above adopts these colours for train and tram lines. However because there are more bus routes legibility requires the use of several colours. The orbital SmartBus routes were identified by colour in the planning stage (eg red orbital, green orbital, yellow orbital) so I have used these colours on these routes.

Some frequent service maps concentrate on daytime frequency and offer little assistance to passengers travelling at other times. However to provide assurance that night travellers won’t get stranded, it's desirable for maps to show approximate operating spans as well (especially finish times), in an unobtrusive form. I believe this map succeeds at both, without introducing too much clutter.


Anonymous said...

I strongly recommend using at least two colors for tram routes, if not more, especially for the south east. I have found the current map official map almost impossible to use if you want to know where the north-south routes in the south east go, or which routes go via St Kilda and which don't.

Alan Davies said...

Very interesting issue, Peter.

It should be a lot easier to improve legibility with a smartphone e.g. multiple layers such as: weekday/weekend; high frequency/low frequency, etc (would be a good App My State project).

On your point about bus improvements in Melbourne, do you know if anyone's carefully measured the extent of change?

Also, has anyone attempted to construct some form of summary measure of improvements in bus systems over time e.g. frequency/ span/ routes?

Peter Parker said...

Alan, agreed it would be a good idea for a smartphone app.

The DoT website has a list of metropolitan bus service improvements. These are also listed in each of the summary bus review reports.

The best work in this field has been done by BusVic and some stats appear here: (search BusSolutions if the link doesn't work).

In rough terms the proportion of bus routes with Sunday service has risen from roughly 25 to 60%. Similar large gains apply to services that run on public holidays and those still operating at 8pm.

The major areas without Sunday service parts of Frankston South, St Albans, Cranbourne, Narre Warren, Patterson Lakes and Manningham. Inner northern suburbs have N-S trams but not always E-W buses on Sundays.

The number of buses still running at 8pm on Good Friday and Christmas Day is probably 5 times or more than what ran 5 years ago.

There has been high growth in after midnight NightRider service, due to some new routes and doubled frequencies.

9pm - midnight service has grown much slower - a bit Mon - Sat (due to 4 new SmartBus routes)and not at all on Sunday (as SmartBuses finish at 9pm).

Basic bus service frequencies haven't changed greatly. The main exceptions are a small number of routes serving universities, local routes upgraded to SmartBus, and infrequent weekend services upgraded to the hourly minimum standard.

Planning has generally favoured coverage over directness and frequency. There are also cases of 'grafting on' planning where new services are added but redundant services are not pruned or interleaved with the new service.

This is largely because planning is too often based on routes rather than networks, with the inefficient result being more buses yet low overall frequency and connectivity.

Brent Palmer said...

Chris Brownbill's schematised map of Melbourne's entire rail and tram network is a starting point. Obviously it fails to distinguish the infrequent or part-time stretches in any way, and doesn't cover any bus routes expect the airport services, but tramlines are colour-coded based on where they go in the CBD (except cross-radial routes such as the 82).