Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #9: Bus route 733

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 week we return to the middle-eastern suburbs to look at bus route 733. It runs from Box Hill to Oakleigh. Lacking the profile of higher profile SmartBus and university shuttle services, the 733 is nevertheless a busy, important and direct bus route for most of its length.  Key trip generators include Box Hill Station, Mount Waverley Station, Monash University Clayton and Clayton Station.  Oakleigh Station is also an important destination but not necessarily for this bus route. More on that later. 

The route map is above. It's more direct than it looks as the Oakleigh South section has been magnified for readability. To really understand the 733 it's best to consult the pdf local area network map for the City of Monash (extract below).

For unknown reasons PTV no longer makes such maps available though its website at https://ptv.vic.gov.au .  Neither are they linked through their old site ( https://classic.ptv.vic.gov.au/ ).  Luckily, at least for now, there is a 'back door' way of getting metropolitan local area maps via    https://classic.ptv.vic.gov.au/getting-around/local-areas .  I don't know how long these maps will remain so I suggest saving everything you need today.  

Anyway, back to the 733. It's really two routes, with the Box Hill - Clayton section different to the Clayton - Oakleigh portion.

The north - south portion could hardly be more direct. It's pretty much the only bus route along large sections of Middleborough, Stephensons and Clayton roads (which join).  The main exception is where it leaves Clayton Road to serve the Monash campus. Another feature, partly due to the spacing of grid streets, is that bus routes are widely spaced. So for a lot of people the 733 is their only public transport within commonly accepted walking distances.  The trip generators, directness, catchment and uniqueness combine to make the 733 close to being the busiest bus route in the eastern suburbs, especially when measured as boardings per kilometre.

What about Clayton - Oakleigh? That's a different story. About half of it runs directly along Centre Road. However it overlaps the 703 SmartBus.  And where 733 turns off Centre Rd, it parallels the 903 SmartBus on Warrigal Rd, about 300 metres away.  Consequently 733 here is much more a neighbourhood route, contributing almost no unique coverage. Completely opposite to the busy and important north - south section. Except during peak periods (where short-workings operate between Monash University and Box Hill) this southern section receives a similar service frequency to the rest of the route.

733 timetables are below.

See all those notes marked 'H'? The screenshots exclude the footnotes but these represent trips that don't operate over the summer period. In their own words, "H = Trip does not run for four weeks from the first Monday after Christmas".  Reduced summer timetables used to be common in Melbourne but successive service upgrades have made them much rarer on almost all other routes except for 733. 

The effect of the summer timetable is to drop 733's usual 15 minute peak frequency to 30 minutes for most of January. 30 minutes is also 733's standard off-peak frequency on weekdays, with service dropping to about 40 minutes at night.

Similar to other 'minimum standards' routes, service finishes around 9pm, 7 nights a week. This means that 733 has shorter operating hours than SmartBuses on surrounding streets.

Saturday's timetable has an unsually early (6am) start for trips from Oakleigh.  This is possibly because Oakleigh is convenient to Ventura's depot. Ventura being 733's operator.  The old Saturday morning rush-hour is evident in this timetable with a 30 minute service operated until about 1pm. Frequency then drops to about 40 minutes for the rest of the day. Some short-workings operate to maintain the higher morning frequency between Oakleigh and Clayton until about 2pm (with a 9 minute interval at one point).

Only a  minimum hourly service is provided on Sunday. Presumably to minimise dead running, there is a late start in the southbound direction (first arrival at Oakleigh 9:50am). Hourly seems a low level of service for this route's likely catchment (international students dependent on public transport), dense activity centres (including Box Hill and Monash University) and existing actual patronage.  

What would you do with the 733? Should it continue to operate as one route, with both unique and duplicating portions mostly receiving similar service?  Or should Box Hill - Clayton become a SmartBus, with the Oakleigh end becoming a separate local route on a lower frequency? And is the overlap on Centre Rd justified, or should resources be transferred to upgrade Route 703?

Look at the maps and timetables and provide your thoughts in the comments below.  

NOTE: This and previous Timetable Tuesday posts are now available at  http://melbourneontransit.blogspot.com/ - a revived blog dealing with the service aspects of public transport in metropolitan Melbourne.

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

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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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Peter Parker said...

HISTORICAL NOTE: 1988 and 1992 version of the 733 timetable can be viewed on Krustylink at https://sites.google.com/site/melbbustt733/

The weekday and Saturday timetable is almost unchanged compared to 1988. Sunday service was better then - every 40 min. 733 largely escaped the savage 1990/1 network-wide cuts except for Sundays being dropped to every 60 min where it remains in 2019.

Michael Angelico said...

I grew up in the area and Route 733 was my daily commute for years.

On the north-south section, just about any time from 1pm to 7pm you'll find the buses fairly packed with a lot of standees, which (along with the factors you outlined) says to me that it's pretty ripe for upgrading to Smartbus standard.

Splitting it at Clayton would be a pretty significant benefit with no real downside, because there's very few passengers who travel from north of Monash to west of Clayton. Splitting Route 703 is worthwhile for the same reason. Then the Centre Road sections of each route could be merged with Route 704 which covers a lot of the same territory but at a very low frequency. Basically, the three routes could all be shuffled around to provide a consistent high frequency and a grid layout.

Harmonised frequencies from Monash to Clayton between routes 703 and 733 would also create an opportunity to market the combined service as a high frequency shuttle a la Route 601. It wouldn't be all about connecting Monash to the trains like 601 is, but about connecting up the trip generators in between - Clayton shops, the hospital, the high density development around Clayton North school and Monash itself. Plus there's quite a lot of transport interchange activity at each end.

Now that there's no level crossing at Clayton any more (it used to delay buses by 10-20min in each direction) and bus-train interchange is quite good, there's an opportunity to transform the whole Clayton-Monash area into a PT and pedestrian friendly transit zone. The hard product is mostly there, if the soft product can match it the outcome will be excellent.

Craig Halsall said...

One sometimes overlooked aspect of the 733 is its role in serving secondary school students in the broader area.

The number of government high schools that disappeared in the 90s and early 00s in the general region 733 serves is a rather numbing - Blackburn Tech, Blackburn South HS, Brandon Park HS, Burwood High, Burwood Tech, Chadstone HS, Clayton Tech, Huntingdale Tech, Murrumbeena HS, Moorleigh HS, Monash HS, Nunawading High, Oakleigh High (Highland Ave Oakleigh East), Oakleigh Tech (Poath/North Rd), Syndal HS, Syndal Tech & Waverley HS. (I have used the 80s names, there was some short-lived mergers and renamings as the tech schools converted to secondary schools that only lasted a couple of years, eg Lawrence Secondary College in Mt Waverley)

Yes, 17 closed schools in total on that list..

While not all were directly on the 733 corridor, almost all were still within a reasonable walk or short bike ride, or no more than a short bus ride on an east-west route like the 75 tram or 734 bus.

With such a large number of local closures, soon families sending their kids ended up with few options nearby for goverment schools. A perverse issue with the Libs model was the land was almost always converted to suburban in-fill estates, but the rapid rate of closures meant by the time families had children ready to send to the high school, even the next school across was gone too.

The main options now left along the 733 are just Box Hill High School, Mount Waverley Secondary College or South Oakleigh College (with Blackburn High & Forest Hill College about the only other goverment schools remaining within bike ride distance of the corridor).

Each of the three schools directly on the corridor generate good loadings on the route - for instance one 733 Monash Uni shortworking starts at South Oakleigh College after school (conveniently near the Ventura depot), while with three supplementary school buses head south after school to cater for students attending Mt Waverley Secondary College.

There is also a mix of specialist & private secondary schools on the route including Huntingtower College & Avila College in Mt Waverley, John Monash Science School, Oakleigh Grammar & Scared Heart Girls School. These schools can attract students from a wider catchment - for instance it is not uncommon to see the odd John Monash Science School student from Templestowe or Doncaster taking a bus to/from Box Hill to change onto the 733.

With the Monash Uni, Deakin Uni & Box Hill TAFE demand added to the equitation, it would appear clear that a 10 min peak frequency between Clayton & Box Hill would be successful (compared to the 15 min service now) with a medium term aim of a 7.5 min headway, as already offered on Warrigal Rd. While anything over 7.5 min would be great, higher capacity vehicles would be the next step if demand warranted.

(Footnote: A few primary schools also disappeared in the area, but it is somewhat uncommon for Melbourne primary school students, I have not gone into that detail here)

Craig Halsall said...

Another important trip generator on the 733 left off the list in the blog post is the Monash Medical Centre in Clayton, one of the largest hospitals in suburban Melbourne.

I think this is where the 9pm finishes & the former 40 min Sunday service can be traced back to, as there was a major uplift in buses serving Clayton in 1987 when the former Queen Victoria Medical Centre was expanded into the large hospital facility.

Other upgrades at the time included 656 Moorabbin - Clayton (now 824) gained a new Sunday service & later finishes, while Sinclair's introduced a Huntingdale Station shuttle (bus later reallocated to the 630A Monash Uni shuttle). The hospital also had a role in the later introduction of Quinces 631 Mitcham - Southland & 634 Middle Brighton - Lilydale routes (the 631 running inside the hospital grounds until the late 90s)

In have a 1981 733 timetable, and there was only a 20 min peak service/30 min offpeak service, services finishing around 6:30pm weekdays, a 30 min morning / two-hourly afternoon service on Saturdays cutting out as early as 4:30pm from Oakleigh & no Sunday timetable (all rather reminiscent of the old Springvale Rd, Frankson-Dandenong Rd & Lower Dandenong Rd services of the 90s..)

Interestingly, the Oakleigh - Chadstone section of the route didn't operate on Saturday mornings despite being the main shopping day.

Also relevant is 732 used to cover much of Middleborough Rd rather than using Station St as happens today, which provided additional services in the Box Hill south section, but still not on Sundays

Craig Halsall said...

The minimum standards upgrade of 733 in 2006 was quite seamless, with just six weekend trips added across on Saturday & Sunday evenings to meet the 9pm finish requirement compared to the previous timetable!

See - http://www.busaustralia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=16811

However, as you say an oversight was the retention of the reduced peak timetable after Christmas, unlike the other Ventura routes that had shaken them off:
* 754 (reduced peak timetable) - dropped in 1997 with extension from Wheelers Hill to Rowville
* 703 (reduced to 30 min all day & slight span cuts) - dropped in 2002 with SmartBus upgrade
* 734 (reduced to 30 min peak) - dropped in 2003 with multi-route roster at Knoxfield depot
* 700 (reduced to 20 min peak) - dropped in 2005 with SmartBus upgrade
* 767 (reduced to 30 min peak) - dropped in 2006 with minimum standards upgrade

The equivalent Monash Uni route to compare 733 to would be 630, also running a trunk arterial road service, but at 90 degree angle to west towards Elwood. It lost its reduced Christmas Holiday timetable in April 2009, now running a 12 min peak headway across the year (along with standardisation of public holiday timetables although the weekend span still cuts out a little early compared to minimum standards).

Kastoria's 475, 476 & 501 in the Moonee Ponds / Niddrie area are the only other examples I can think of where the minimum standards upgrade didn't see the end of the reduced holiday timetables, with 476 dropping it more recently with the July 2014 upgrade.

Given the trunk route role of the 733, I see no justification for such a long period of a reduced timetable - it only serves to drive customers away. In the January just gone there was a period of tram replacement works om the 75 - no doubt some in East Burwood seeking an alternative were infuriated in discovering the 733 was on a reduced timetable as well.

Craig Halsall said...

As for what to do with the 733 more broadly, I'd agree with splitting the 733 at Clayton and running the full peak timetable to Clayton (ideally every 10 mins as suggested above). I'm sure Notting Hill residents would appreciate having a higher frequency towards Clayton (& connecting trains) and it would benefit Monash Medical Centre staff.

Continuing selected trips south onto Moridalloc is a potential option, however it would not be a high frequency route given the green wedge, Moorabbin Airport and industrial land for the majority of the way.

Merging the 704 with the western half of the 733 and running it at a more useful frequency would seem smart, with the 704 now operating into Oakleigh via North Rd and Golf Links Rd instead of Burlington St.

I have some further ideas on streamling the network in Oakleigh East including a proper N-S route along Huntingdale Rd, but that is probably going off-topic for this post.

Initially, with obvious answer to Golf Rd would be simply to scrap service along here given its within the walking catchment of the 903 to the west and a golf course to the west.

However, given my comments about goverment secondary school catchments above, and the private schools near Oakleigh Station, I started wondering if there were more options than just diverting one 704 trip via Golf Rd to suit South Oakleigh College (which would be an easy enough fix for those students living in Oakleigh)

Would a Oakleigh - Clarinda neighbourhood route using Golf Rd have any merit? There is already a South Oakleigh College myki school bus from Clarinda, that resource would be easily re-directed as a start, and a second bus could be potentially be found from the savings of merging the 733 West & 704, to provide a half-hourly headway.

Not only would improve access to the private schools in Oakleigh for Clarinda residents but also give the modest Greek population of Clarinda a direct link to their nearby cultural hub & make access to Chadstone & Holmesglen TAFE Chadstone campus much easier, with an onward bus connection. There is also some benefit in making the City connection closer to the town.

As for splitting the 703 as suggested by Michael above, PTV recommended this a few years ago as a targeted bus review following the Rowville Rail business case - http://www.busaustralia.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=72254#p920778

As much as patronage figures were cited, I'd say it was mainly to deal with the level crossing but now that has gone the idea of a split is moot - there is plenty of through-travel at Clayton to justify keeping the link as is. Then transport minister Terry Mulder rightly slammed their recommendation, although probably done was as a failed attempt to hang onto votes in the Bentleigh electorate.

Craig Halsall said...

Probably should add Ashwood College as a sixth school remaining within the general 733 catchment, and Westall Secondary College is bike riding distance for most of Clayton. Still an incredible amount of closures in the middle eastern suburbs within a decade in any case.

The last paragraph of my first comment should've read:

"(Footnote: A few primary schools also disappeared in the area, but it is somewhat uncommon for Melbourne primary school students to catch a bus to school, I have not gone into that detail here)"

Apologies for the other occasional typos too...