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


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


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

1 comment:

Somebody said...

In some minor ways it could be argued the service level is better than train services (on weekdays at least). Obviously the 15-minute frequencies are higher than many train lines but also think about little things like:

- evening 15min service lasts until 9pm in both directions even from locations like Warrandyte Bridge, compared to say Dandenong line which goes down to 30 minutely after 7:30 inbound/20:00 outbound.

- frequent single seat service is provided from 4 corridors in the municipality, as compared to often just a frequent train along one corridor with much lesser feeder buses.

I agree about the patronage potential issues, another matter potentially being that the services (some like 908 in particular) are essentially express from residential suburbia to to the inner city without intermediate destinations, hence less potential users of say 7am buses from the city or 6pm inbound trips.

Lower socio-economic areas also possibly generate more travel at strange times of day, such as shift workers travelling to work at 11pm at night or at 6am on a Saturday morning.