Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #10: Bus route 553

The most important factor that determines the usefulness of a public transport service is not whether it's a train, tram or bus but its timetable, route and stops.

What takes 30 minutes to go from Preston to Preston and is timetabled to run slower on Sunday than during the weekday morning peak? Welcome to today's topic - bus route 553.

Route 553 is one of a number of former Reservoir Bus Company routes that are (like other things in Reservoir) a time capsule of how things used to be. Others include 552, 555, 556 and 558 that we've already discussed. The main thing to have happened to it were extra trips (including a new Sunday service) added about 10-12 years ago as part of minimum standards upgrades. More 553 history at Krustylink.

The route starts in the east, about 300 metres from Thornbury Station, on High St near the start of Plenty Rd where the 86 tram splits off. It serves dense, active and low-car owning High St until splitting off and crossing the railway just before Regent Station.  553's High Street portion is overlapped by Route 552.  Combined weekday service on High St averages 6 buses per hour.  This is not a consistent 10 minute frequency; instead the differing frequencies of 552 and 553 cause intervals to be uneven. 

Next 553 runs north along Spring St to Reservoir Station.  This area attracted many postwar migrants from Europe and has lots of older people in small villas who may not necessarily own cars. Reservoir is sharply divided by one of the horror road and rail intersections in Melbourne with shops largely duplicating one another east and west of the railway.

From Reservoir 553 heads west. It largely overlaps the 561 until the industrial area on Newlands Rd. It didn't used to overlap but 561 got extended to Coburg, and later Pascoe Vale several years ago.  When that happened other routes (including the 553) were never reviewed to remove duplication and allow better service. 

And the dotted line north of Edwardes Lake? That's an occasional deviation. When the bus does that it doesn't serve stops on the 'main' route around Newlands Rd and Henty St. More on that later.  After that the 553 heads due south via Gilbert Rd to its West Preston terminus. There's not much there apart from a few shops and the terminus for Tram 11 (which some have advocated extending).  This terminus is just 600 metres west of where the 553 went in Spring St and barely 2 kilometres from where it started in Preston/Thornbury.  Route 526 from Coburg (which has an even weaker terminus) also finishes nearby. You can see all this on the PTV area map below.

To summarise, Route 553 is indirect, illegible and highly duplicative. Only in a few parts does it add unique coverage. It does provide a one-seat journey for some trips that might otherwise not have it. However it never got reviewed when surrounding routes either got extended (561) or remain with very restricted operating hours (526, 558).

What about 553's timetables? You can see them below.  As I mentioned at the start, unusually the schedules allow more time for the buses to run on a Sunday than during the morning peak.  It would be interesting to go out there to see if this is consistent with actual traffic conditions. That's especially given that a lot of the middle northern suburbs are very traditional with less Sunday trading and activity than trendy inner and bayside precincts.

On weekdays 553 is basically a flat half hourly service until about 7pm, when it drops to hourly. Peak traffic is assumed to be the same as off-peak, both in services provided and running times. The 30 minute headway is incompatible with trains (every 20 minutes). Neither does it sit evenly with the 552 (every 15 minutes) to provide an even service along the common section. 

Saturday service is every 30 minutes in the morning with a drop to hourly in the afternoon. Again reflective of the traditional Saturday AM shopper rush.  Sunday service is a flat hourly, conforming to the minimum service standards that were widely but not totally implemented a decade ago.

Careful lookers will see some gaps in the timetable. This is due to the deviation mentioned before. The standard route has a time-point (shown on the timetable) at Newlands Rd. However the deviation does not.  The deviation operates 7 days per week on alternating trips for part of the day. It is most likely to occur in the morning for trips from West Preston and in the afternoon for trips from the Preston/Thornbury end. Because the deviation skips some regular stops it leaves a 120 min gap in the timetable on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. However the deviation provides the area north of Edwardes Lake with its only Saturday afternoon and Sunday service due to the limited operating hours of Route 558.

The question is: What (if anything) would you do with the 553's route and timetable? Extra points if you consider wider area travel needs and other routes in the area.
Timetable Tuesday simultaneously appears on melbourneontransit.blogspot and as an article on the Urban Happiness Facebook group. Maps and timetables are from the old PTV website . 

You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics

Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit Steven Higashide NEW!

The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees Gleeson & Beza

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, Institutions (Access Quintet Book 4) David Levinson

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives Jarrett Walker

Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees

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Paul Nicholson said...

I rode the route on a Saturday morning some time ago and found that it was quite popular with older patrons doing their shopping.

I also noticed many of the older patrons not touching on or off. Presumably under the misapprehension that their senior's card entitled them to free weekend public transport rather than myki automatically allowing for the entitlement.

Peter Parker said...

And some history. Service can be traced back to the 1920s. http://bcsv.org.au/vm/melbourne-private-bus-routes-until-1990-500-599/

Anonymous said...

I've always thought this route and the 526 bus should be connected, while also removing the Newlands Rd section (since the more frequent 561 runs there).

There is a small shopping centre with a supermarket near the terminus of the 526, about 10 mins walk from the 11 terminus. There's really no reason to leave the 526 terminating in the middle of nowhere, not connecting with much, with the 553 also duplicating the 561 at frequencies that do not mesh.

Of course, the 526 is operated by Ventura and the 553 by Dysons...so not expecting much to change.

Peter Parker said...

Anon - so many possibilities. One thought I had was to extend 526 to Northland via Carrington, Gilbert, Regent & Tyler. 566 could be shortened to run direct via Albert. And 567 terminated at Summerhill Village SC. 553 could be removed from the area, becoming a service north of the lake running to Campbellfield. That would allow 558 to be made bidirectional, also running to Campbellfield. However that would be controversial creating wins and losses. Eg parts of West Preston would gain access to Northland but lose Reservoir shops. Older people in particular might not like that. Ditto for taking 566 & 567 from the shops at Tyler/Plenty.

A more palatable approach could just be to run the 526 to Preston via Gilbert & Regent Sts, leaving 566 & 567 for another review (which they need, along with everything else around Northland). 553 would go north of the lake and 558 reformed as per above. There would be no real loss of coverage but some on Gilbert Rd would lose a direct bus to Reservoir without the 553 around. LaTrobe Uni would be harder to reach without walking further to the 561. But they would gain Coburg, a faster trip to Preston and good directness to trains at Regent.

Unknown said...

As I live near the 553 extension, I find its twice daily run at about noon useless. I would prefer the deviation was permanent after it leaves Reservoir station, so to service the surrounding area north of the lake. The 561 can continue west along Edwardes street service that side of the lake. I agree the frequency of some routes is a negative factor along with the mismatch in timing with the trains at Reservoir station. The 553 does try to link Reservoir station to the Number 11 tram terminus in Regent, but again its poor frequency means I walk to either the tram or train as its quicker than waiting. Some sort of bus link north from the tram terminus is needed, and I often wonder why the Ventura 526 can't be rerouted to pass the tram terminus and then head north along Gilbert and on to reservoir station, passing and linking the transport and business hubs in this area. I've written to Robyn Scott also about poor connectivity despite the many bus routes but never had a response. I live in hope that one day it is all rationalised into something useful and frequent.