Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #11: Melbourne's Cinderella tram - Route 82

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.

This is the first week we've featured a tram route. That's for several reasons. They are relatively few. They are generally direct and rarely deviate. And there aren't huge disparities in their operating hours or minimum service frequencies.

But there is one significant exception. Tram route 82 between Footscray, Maribyrnong and Moonee Ponds. It's different from other trams in Melbourne for three main reasons.

First of all the 82 doesn't look like your average direct tram route with one or two turns. Instead it has something like eight bends. A bit like a local bus route.  Although there is one of those (the limited-service route 404) that is faster and more direct between Footscray and Moonee Ponds than the tram.

Secondly, particularly between Footscray and Highpoint, there's significant route overlap between the tram and buses. Often the destinations are the same as well.

Thirdly Route 82's history is different, part being the only surviving remnant of the Footscray tramway system. The rest closed in 1962, to be replaced by buses (Routes 216/219, 220, 223) whose frequent service and long operating hours reflect the Tramways Board heritage.  This history also largely insulated these routes from the severe evening and weekend service cuts that pruned many privately operated bus services from the 1960s through to the 1990s.



What's along Route 82? Footscray is its southern terminus, with gleaming new towers poking above gritty shops that would be condemned if anywhere else. The station was rebuilt as part of Regional Rail Link. Through-routing of Metro trains to Frankston improved access to the south-eastern suburbs while new and upgraded regional lines better connected it with the western and northern half of the state, Geelong and the city of Wyndham.

A few wheel screeches later and the 82 is at its nearest point to Victoria University's largest campus. However it's not outside the campus and there's a bit of a walk across a large car park to get there. Bus route 406, in contrast, gets you to the door.

The story is repeated for Highpoint Shopping Centre. The tram goes near but turns off just before the centre's centre.  Buses again go closer. Maribyrnong is a rapidly developing and densifying area without fast links to Melbourne CBD. And due to the decision to route the 903 SmartBus along Buckley St, Essendon (where it duplicates an existing bus route) it lacks high quality access to Essendon and Sunshine as well.

82 then heads east, overlapping the 57 tram, crosses the river, north to Ascot Vale before terminating at Moonee Ponds Junction where it meets other tram and bus routes, including Routes 404 and 472 from Footscray.

Due to Footscray's isolated tram network legacy, Route 82 is one of two daytime tram routes that, even if you stay all the distance, will not get you to Melbourne CBD. Instead city connections are made by changing to a train at Footscray. There is also a same-stop transfer to the (slow) tram route 57 or a short walk to the (fast) train at Ascot Vale. Its suburban-only operation is why the 82 (along with the 78) does not normally receive  extra service when big CBD events are held such as White Night.

What other special things are there about Route 82's timetable? Its weekday daytime service is most obvious. People are used to regarding trams as a 'turn up and go' service. They don't always look at the timetable as they know there will be one shortly. Scheduled weekday daytime maximum waits are between 8 and 12 minutes on most tram routes. 

That's not the case with Route 82. That comes only every 20 minutes (timetable below). Nearby bus routes have a similar or better frequency. E.g. 223 (every 15 min), 406 (every 20 min) and 472 (every 15 min). If you want to make short local trips, such as between Highpoint, Victoria University and Footscray these waits are a significant proportion of total journey time. While average combined frequency of all routes is high, the uneven spacing, different modes and different stop locations reduce the benefits of this compared to if a smaller number of routes at higher frequencies ran.


Weekends are different. 82's Saturday (and Sunday) timetable has a 15 minute daytime frequency. That makes it like other tram routes. 82's quirk is that it's the only tram route that has a better service (15 min) on weekends than on weekdays (20 min). The other main metropolitan example is the Belgrave/Lilydale rail line at every 10/20 min weekends versus 15/30 min weekdays.


 How about evenings? 82 is similarly short-changed Monday to Saturday. Here the basic service is every 30 minutes versus 20 minutes on the other routes. On Sunday evenings the 82 operates to the 30 minute headway usual on tram routes.


As for Sunday mornings, these are a mix of 20 and 30 minute frequencies with a slightly later start than found on other tram services.


To conclude, Route 82 has had a different history to other tram routes in Melbourne. This includes part being the only survivor of the separate Footscray tram system. The Footscray Tramway Trust was dissolved 99 years ago this month. Service commenced in 1921 under Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board control. Nearly a century on, in terms of service levels, the 82 remains the 'poor cousin' relative to other routes that the entire Footscray network was before it closed.


The question is: What (if anything) would you do with the 82's route and timetable? Extra points if you consider wider area travel needs and other routes in the area such as the 223, 406 and 472.

Timetable Tuesday simultaneously appears on melbourneontransit.blogspot and as an article on the Urban Happiness Facebook group. The timetable extract was from the old PTV website . 

2 comments:

Tom said...

The closure of the section of line between the current Footscray Station terminus and what was then the Nicholson St campus of Footscray Technical College (now Victoria University Nicholson Campus) seems likely to have been a mistake.

Consideration should be given to extending the 82 along the existing route of the 59 along Pascoe Vale Rd and Fletcher St, allowing the 59 to be diverted along Mount Alexander Rd. Possibly with the 82 terminating in Russell St, outside Essendon Station.

Peter Parker said...

That would make the 59 more direct, and save a few minutes on-tram time. Though if they were going to the city such people would almost certainly walk to either Essendon or Moonee Ponds stations for an even quicker trip. And some on Pascoe Vale Rd would not like having their CBD tram withdrawn in favour of one going to Footscray. Maybe it won't make a different to some as they'd be taking the tram to go to Essendon station, but there could be a drop in frequency since even if 82 was upgraded to 10 min it's still less frequent than the 59 is now.

So I can see a lot of cost for not much gain.

But I do see a lot of merit in a good connection between Essendon Station and Highpoint. That exists in a limited part-time form with the bus route 468. And if Maribyrnong/Highpoint isn't going to get heavy rail (as per some airport rail options) it deserves really good buses and upgraded trams. So I'm warm to the idea of rerouting the SmartBus 903 from Essendon to Sunshine via Highpoint to replace the current 468 and part of 408. It could be done at almost zero cost and remove duplication with 465 on Buckley St. Although you would still want some Sunbury line connection from the Buckley St/Milleara Mall area which you could do by extending Route 406 west to St Albans.