Friday, March 29, 2019

More network pruning - how have we done since 2010?

Two weeks ago I asked whether we could make our bus network more frequent and efficient by pruning bus routes in areas where they overlap or provide service beyond what an area needs.

It was only later that I unearthed a very similar post from November 2010. It was written just before a state election defeat for Labor and victory for the Liberal/National coalition. Discontent with the increasingly crowded and unreliable rail network and the troubled myki ticketing system contributed to Labor's loss. However the Coalition lasted just a single term with Labor returning in 2014. 


Philosophically, Liberals like low taxes, smaller government, economic efficiency, private provision and self-help. Urban Liberals like Malcolm Turnbull and Gladys Berejiklian value public transport as a utility to be run efficiently with maximum patronage. Labor followers, driven by 'fairness', often stress the social importance of  services governments fund. They accept high per-capita subsidies for disadvantaged groups. Buses, in particular, are seen as community services. 

National Party supporters lean towards the Labor view for services in their own rural constituencies, especially if, like country rail upgrades, they can be sold as promoting regional development. If Liberals and Nationals are too far apart then coalitions (often required to govern) can split. Whereas if they are seen as too close then rural National voters may swing to protectionist minor parties or local independents. We saw this in 1999 when a rural backlash against the 'city-centric' Kennett government (which closed country hospitals, schools and railways) ushered in more than a decade of Labor rule, initially assisted by rural independents.

Before losing office in 2010, state Labor had just rolled out the impressive Smartbus orbital and DART services. However these new routes were often layered over the top of existing unchanged routes. This kept things sweet for users of existing routes but was horribly inefficient. It was this duplication, along with the unnecessary operation of SmartBus through sparsely populated areas, that kept SmartBus frequency lower than it should have been, especially on weekends. Passengers sometimes got left behind on busier sections of SmartBus, despite spare buses sitting in depots.

Strengthening strong routes of demonstrated high patronage is something that efficiency-minded Coalition governments can embrace. Especially with rail modes most costs are fixed. Up to the point where more rolling stock needs to be purchased, adding services is relatively cheap, just requiring some extra operational expenditure. It may even be possible to do this in a cost neutral fashion if offsetting cost savings can be found.

While it was most known for service reductions elsewhere, the Kennett goverment actually increased off-peak rail frequencies on the Dandenong and Frankston lines from 20 to 15 minutes. Later it greatly boosted daytime Sunday train and tram frequencies network wide. This century's Baillieu/Napthine Coalition government rolled out 10 minute daytime frequencies on busy rail lines in the south and east. And the recently re-elected NSW Coalition government introduced 7 day 15 minute train frequencies to most stations in Sydney.

Recent history of bus service planning

Getting back to Melbourne and buses, the Baillieu government signed a cut-price bus franchise contract with Transdev in 2013, taking over from National Bus and Melbourne Bus Link. Transdev routes include Melbourne's busiest and most frequent bus routes including DART (Doncaster Area) and orbital SmartBuses. Transdev's contract featured an obligation to introduce a more efficient 'greenfields' bus network.

Transdev simplified some of its routes in 2014. However the major greenfield changes, including splitting the orbitals and increasing frequency on busy portions on them, were to happen in April 2015. There was little public consultation and the network included service cuts on other busy routes. Meanwhile Labor had regained office and vetoed the 2015 network. Things turned from bad to worse with a major fleet maintenance crisis leading to Transdev Melbourne's contract extension being cut short.

While the Transdev network had good features, the cuts to busy routes in areas like Footscray were poorly conceived. On balance the minister was right to reject them. Even from a pure efficiency point of view it didn't completely make sense as service would have remained high in some low-patronage areas. And the single operator based approach to service planning would not have cut the duplication necessary to deliver an efficient network. Routes run by different operators would still have overlapped and timetable changes would have occurred independently rather than in concert. 

There was more success with non-Transdev routes planned by PTV. Reformed bus networks were introduced to Point Cook in 2013, Brimbank in 2014, Geelong and Wyndham in 2015, and Epping North, Plenty Valley and Cranbourne in 2016. Existing bus routes were deleted or radically straightened, coverage was increased and timetables scheduled to match trains.  Often there was a two tier network, with more frequent corridors operating every 20 minutes and local routes on a 40 minute frequency. This gave more people access to a direct bus route operating every 20 minutes or better.

Most of the above was planned under the 2010 - 2014 coalition government. While the 2014 - 2018  Labor government added bus service kilometres, it wasn't very interested in comprehensive network reform despite its wider benefits. This may have been driven by fear since the government had only a slim parliamentary majority in 2014 with many marginal seats. In such an environment it might have been thought politically unwise to upset 1000 passengers with a revised bus network even if it meant denying service improvements to 10 000 others.

Not making public transport as useful as it can be costs patronage. We've seen this in Melbourne with sluggish bus usage rates.
PTV measures usage but appears to lack a strong patronage goal and could do better at network marketing. Last year Labor was re-elected with an increased majority. There is also a new transport minister. It's too early to know whether these events will renew government interest in good bus network planning.  


So much for the context. Let's review my 2010 'dead wood' route list to see what, if any, has been pruned or reformed.

219 (portion): Part west of Sunshine duplicates 903. A weekend variation serves areas covered by Route 471.
* Extension remains but in simpler 7-day form. Weekend variation removed. 

246 (Latrobe Uni extension): Overlaps with other routes between Clifton Hill and Latrobe Uni.
* Extension deleted. 

280/282 (portion): A local route that duplicates the 901 SmartBus along a low-density residential area (Foote St/Reynolds Rd Templestowe).
* No change

286 (entire route): 
Largely duplicated by two SmartBus routes (901 and 906) along Blackburn Rd
* Route deleted. Issues with Route 906 peak crowding. 

293 (part):
 Duplicated by new SmartBus Route between Doncaster Shoppingtown and Eltham (Main Rd roundabout).
* No change.

Duplicates 903 along Station St between Box Hill and Doncaster Shoppingtown.

* Extension deleted.

340/350: Overlaps with 250 between Ivanhoe and Latrobe Uni.
* Simplified to operate as 350 only. Peak service only. 

445 (part route): Duplicates other routes between Werribee Plaza and Hoppers Crossing Station. Truncation could allow removal of stopping restrictions (including to a local shopping centre) which lessen legibility.
* Reformed in 2014. Replaced by more frequent and direct services in 2015 Wyndham network.

478/479 (part route): Duplicates Route 477 and tram between Moonee Ponds and Airport West.
* Route shortened to remove duplication. Frequency increased. 

479 (City – Moonee Ponds portion): A weekend extension that duplicated by a frequent tram service.
* Weekend extension removed. 

483 (entire route): Freeway service for Sunbury. Will become less necessary after rail electrification.
* No change. 

500 (entire route): Duplicates 901 between Broadmeadows and Melbourne Airport. Duplicates 479 between Melbourne Airport and Sunbury.
* Route deleted.

544 (part route): Duplicates 901 between Roxburgh Park and Broadmeadows
* Route shortened to start at Roxburgh Park.

563 (part route): Duplicates tram along a large section of Plenty Rd and 901 between Greensborough & Plenty Valley SC
* Route deleted in network reform. New route 382 retains substantial overlap with tram. 

623 (part route): Duplicates 626 and 900 between Chadstone SC and Carnegie. Scope for rerouting along Neerim Rd to replace portion of 624.
* No change. 

673 (entire route): An hourly service entirely duplicated by parallel longer routes
* No change.

691 (part route): Monash Uni extension – duplicates direct high-service 900 SmartBus
* Extension deleted. 

694 (entire route): Largely parallels 663 the extended 688 for all but a few stops.
* No change

745 (entire route): Four occasional routes with very low patronage
* No change. 

777 (entire route): A short route with few services and trip generators
* No change


Overlap deleted: 9/20 (45%)
Overlap modified: 3/20 (15%)
No change: 8/20 (40%)


Bus reform can happen. 45% of routes identified as being duplicative were removed within 10  years. A further 15% were modified in local area network reviews. Not as high as it could be but still encouraging. Opportunities remain to seek efficiencies with the remaining 40%. And that excludes any new or uncommented on overlaps such as discussed here.

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

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #16: Route 410 - Hourly via Churchill

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.

The Footscray / Sunshine area includes some of Melbourne’s busiest bus routes. This is due to several factors.  The most important of these include (i) a long history of frequent 7 day bus service (itself a legacy of the Footscray tram network and subsequent government operation), (ii) grid streets with fairly high residential densities, (iii) favourable demographics including low car ownership and (iv) trains that only skirt the edge of the residential area and operate less frequently than buses.

Four east-west routes run between Sunshine and Footscray.  Three (216, 219, 220) are ex-government routes extending to Melbourne CBD until late at night Monday to Sunday (the latter a rarity that not even SmartBus routes feature).  The other, route 410, is a privately-operated service terminating at Footscray.  This is what we will feature today. 

Compared to some others featured, route 410 is fairly simple. Its only complexity is the Churchill Av deviation showed in the dotted line above.  This deviation runs hourly during the day, Monday to Saturday. Because it overlaps Route 408, it does not add coverage. However it provides Churchill Av with an occasional direct service to Footscray Hospital and station.

You can see how 410 fits in with other routes on the map below.  Only about one-third of it offers unique coverage. Parts overlap Route 220 along Ballarat Rd.  The overlap is due to more routes than parallel through roads existing in the section west of Duke St (216/219, 220, 408, 410 via Ballarat, Churchill, South).  

What about Route 410’s timetable? Its operating hours broadly reflect the minimum service standards introduced about a decade ago.  But more than most other routes frequencies abruptly vary throughout the day and over the week.  This is a consequence of the hourly minimum standard being applied to a route that, when it ran, operated more frequently.  In contrast the 200-series routes have longer operating hours, more even frequencies and no deviations.

The weekday timetable is below. 410’s off-peak daytime headway is 15 minutes. This means it does not harmonise with trains, which at Sunshine, operate every 20 minutes.  Footscray receives many more trains, with these operating on 10 and 20 minute patterns.  Peak frequency is approximately every 12 or 13 minutes.  Weeknight frequencies drop smoothly from 15 to 20 to 30 minutes.

The hourly Churchill Avenue deviation operates between approximately 10 and 6pm.  This causes 410 frequencies on part of Ballarat Rd to be an uneven 15-30-15 minute pattern as the ‘missing’ bus is serving Churchill Avenue instead.  While some might regard 15 minutes as a turn-up-and-go frequency, this service level does not apply along the whole route due to the deviation.  Consequently if one wanted to make a frequent network map only part of the route would be eligible for inclusion.  

Saturday daytime frequencies are an even 20 minutes. This harmonises with Saturday train frequencies (every 20 minutes on all lines).  The hourly Churchill Avenue deviation means that 410 trips on Ballarat Rd follow a 20-40-20 minute pattern.  

Unlike on weeknights, route 410 on Saturdays has no smooth frequency transition in the early evening. Instead it drops abruptly from 20 to 60 minutes before 7pm.  While demand drops at night compared to during the day, it is unlikely that it has fallen by so much in such a sort amount of time.  

Sunday service is a flat 60 minute frequency, ie the minimum standard.  The Sunday service is one-quarter the weekday service and one-third the service on Saturday.  410’s Sunday cut is a sharper cut than SmartBuses (half as frequent on weekends as weekdays) and local trains (mostly 20 minute frequency 7 days).  As mentioned before this reduction is likely because it is the application of the minimum standard to a more frequent Monday – Saturday route that did not previously operate on Sundays. 

What would you do with the 410? Should the hourly Churchill Av deviation be scrapped to simplify the route? Or would it be better if all trips were run via Churchill Av to provide a connection to Footscray? Is there scope to merge 410 with other east-west routes in the Braybrook/Sunshine area and upgrade frequencies on each to 10 minutes to provide turn-up-and-go service?  Or would you retain 410 as is given it is quite popular?  And if the latter do you consider that the hourly Saturday evening and Sunday frequency fairly reflects demand given the route’s Monday – Saturday daytime service?

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

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Unpicking Melbourne's Principal Public Transport Network

One of the tools intended to guide land use planning in Melbourne is the Principal Public Transport Network (PPTN). It's basically the set of rail, tram and major bus corridors that are (or will be) served by high quality service.

While 'high quality public transport' is not defined, common ingredients include fast and direct routes, long operating hours and high frequency day and night. That is service useful enough for people with a choice to use it instead of driving.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the PPTN and land use. Having transit-supportive land uses around PPTN stops encourages patronage growth and further service improvements in a virtuous spiral. Once service becomes competitive, car use and then ownership falls, with people walking, cycling, using public transport or car sharing instead. Businesses on the PPTN gain from increased customer catchment populations, a wider labour pool and turnover growth not limited by parking spaces.   

In contrast, very low densities around frequent public transport routes limits usage despite the good service. That's important because, at least until transit is driverless, frequency is expensive to provide. Whereas the greater the density clustered around PPTN network stops the more jobs and homes benefit and the higher the patronage will be. This has external benefits such as cleaner, more walkable and space-efficient cities less dependent on fossil fuels. 

The PPTN was the centrepiece of the Melbourne 2030 plan of the early 2000s. Plan initiatives included higher densities around activity centres linked by high quality public transport. Public transport's mode share would more than double (to 20% of motorised trips). And sprawl would be limited with an urban growth boundary (that subsequently got expanded).  A 2004 version of the PPTN appears in Linking Melbourne and (less clearly) below. Trains and trams were to provide high capacity radial travel while PPTN buses link suburbs to complement and feed radial rail.  

Little was publicly heard of the PPTN for several years. Unlike other cities we had not communicated it as an easy to use frequent network. Instead we treated all bus routes the same, whether they were an occasional shopper service or a major route that does a tram's job through a dense area.   

However, with little fanfare, the PPTN returned in 2017 via Plan Melbourne. It's an incorporated document, meaning it must be considered when making planning decisions and the minister must authorise amendments. More on the new PPTN here.

The new PPTN is above. It's changed since 2004. For example the PPTN bus network has been removed from areas where it would have been quite marginal, eg the industrial area between Laverton and Sunshine.  However it reflects network reforms over the last 10 years in certain areas, particularly in the north and west. It's viewable as a pdf (which needs to be zoomed to see poorly rendered PPTN bus termini like Werribee, Chelsea and Frankston) or embedded in a mapping tool with a choice of base images.  

Service standards

Before commenting on the PPTN maps we need to know PPTN's service standards. I couldn't find it in Plan MelbourneThe earlier PPTN was based on SmartBus services every 15 minutes on weekdays and 30 minutes on weekends. Neither of these matches the now more widespread 10 and 20 minute train frequencies. 30 minute weekend service is unattractive. And even a 15 minute frequency isn't sufficient in big cities with congested traffic. So, consistent with movement we've seen on train timetables, a real multimodal PPTN should be more frequent. Perhaps every 10 minutes for most of the day, with a 20 minute frequency during quiet times.  

A higher frequency standard makes the PPTN better but smaller. Routes barely good enough for PPTN every 15 minutes wouldn't qualify for a PPTN every 10 minutes or better. Instead you might make it a strong non-PPTN route every 20 minutes with wide operating hours. Later comments about routes that are considered weak inclusions in the PPTN should be read in this context. 

Review by area

The remainder of this post will look at the PPTN network, moving from west to east. Is there enough of it? Or too much? Does it reflect existing practice rather than what's best for the future? And are there corridors that should have PPTN service while it's an extravagance to have it on others?

A proper analysis would explore tram extensions, train service upgrades and buses. However today I will only review buses as these are the PPTN's most changeable and contestable element. They shouldn't be if intended to guide long-term planning. Although that makes it even more important that the PPTN is soundly based. Is it? Thoughts on that later. 

Melbourne West

 Starting at Werribee, the PPTN includes existing routes 170, 180 and 190. These operate between two train lines, and in 170's case, serve a major mid-route trip generator (Werribee Plaza/Pacific Werribee). On weekdays all three routes run at train frequencies (mostly every 20 minutes). 190 also features long operating hours due to its planned connections with trains to and from Geelong. These routes, along with the 495 mentioned later, are less than six years old, having been delivered as part of new bus and train networks in the area. 

While the map features an employment cluster at East Werribee, there are no PPTN bus routes to support it. That's growing, although the major proposed development there has stalled

Neither is there a direct PPTN route between Tarneit and Williams Landing Station (eg existing Route 150). Should there be? While there is a significant residential population remote from rail, Route 150 lacks the big mid-route trip generators you see on SmartBus routes in the eastern suburbs or even the 170 mentioned before.  Are such attractors a requirement for a route to make it on to the PPTN? As you'll see later the answer is 'it varies'. 

Point Cook's PPTN route is the existing Route 495. It serves the Point Cook Town Centre and a residential catchment that provides heavy peak travel demand, with an 11 minute am peak frequency offered.  There are few other all-day trip generators and, unlike most of the routes in Werribee that run between stations, its southern terminus is weak. Interpeak frequency is currently 40 minutes - well below PPTN standards. Although it should get better peak service, longer operating hours and possibly become a twenty minuter, I'm not sure if 495 has the makings of a strong PPTN route. 

Further east, between Footscray, Sunshine, Altona and Laverton is a Y-shaped corridor formed by the existing 411/412 and 903. We discussed the substantial service duplication in this area here. A consistently frequent service along the 411 corridor isn't a bad thing. Existing weekday service (as measured by buses per hour) along Millers Rd already exceeds what a 10 minute PPTN frequency would require. One might debate its need between Altona and Laverton, but, like Point Cook, Altona Meadows has a big population remote from a train station. Higher peak frequency, longer hours and upgraded weekend frequency (currently every 40 minutes) may be greater need than a more frequent weekday interpeak service (currently 20 minutes on 411/412). While there may be small-scale infill development opportunities in Altona Meadows, the location does not strike me as being suitable for large-scale job and residential intensification as it's not on the way to anywhere. 

A theme that should exist with the PPTN is to match transit-oriented land use with high quality public transport service. If there is a mismatch then one would expect plans to change either land use or transport service so they do reconcile. That appears not to have been followed in the Brooklyn area, which, due to being on the 903 SmartBus orbital, remains on the PPTN despite its unsupportive (for public transport) low-density industrial land use. 

What about Williamstown? Its PPTN bus route runs largely parallels the railway to Footscray via Newport. It starts at a quiet backwater and misses the shops at Williamstown. On the plus side it provides some unique coverage in Kingsville and serves a densifying area full of CBD workers. But does it justify PPTN status? Possibly not. It seems to get there by being an existing route (472) that features a 15 minute weekday frequency.

What have the Brooklyn and Williamstown examples illustrated? They appear to show some biases within the PPTN. That is a preference towards existing routes and alignments over potentially stronger corridors and future needs. Which does not seem a good idea for a planning document. 

Melton is easy to discuss since, despite having a massive projected population, it has no PPTN bus routes. This is notwithstanding a proposed town centre at Toolern/Cobblebank. Consequently the PPTN appears to be more an established suburb rather than growth suburb thing.  This is despite (i) the higher population density in outer suburbs due to smaller blocks, (ii) likely higher trip generation rates in growth areas due to high labour force and education participation rates and (iii) the potential for transport routes to shape development before it happens. Working against Melton is that, unlike the Werribee - Tarneit area, there are no direct routes that immediately jump out as being plausible PPTN material. Melton shows that if an area hasn't had a recent bus network review implemented, with direct routes created, it is unlikely to have PPTN corridors. 

The Sunshine - Deer Park - Caroline Springs area PPTN comprises routes 420, 460 and the 426/456 corridor. These are all products of recent local bus network revamps. All provide roughly a 20 minute daytime frequency. They are the sort of direct routes that one would expect on a PPTN, although the 426/456 overlap has a weak terminus due to the routes splitting and the frequency halving. 

The PPTN around Footscray and Sunshine looks much like existing major routes. Its density reflects historical high (15 min) weekday service frequencies. Route alignments included include 216/219, 220, 410 and 903. The main difference is that Churchill Av is on the PPTN even though it is only served by the 408 (which isn't PPTN) and by a once per hour deviation on the 410 (which is). 

North of Footscray appears to be a simplified service to Highpoint and further north via the 406. This is a strong route serving an area remote from trains. The 223 remains around Yarraville, despite its proximity to the train and 472 (discussed before). A historic remnant of the Footscray tram system, the 223 contributes little unique coverage to the network yet remains a frequent service with long operating hours. Again it's worth asking whether this is PPTN material. 

Further north at Essendon the mostly overlapping 903 and 465 alignments feature on the PPTN. The 903 loops around to Sunshine while the 465 retains a weak northern terminus (although the map doesn't show the Keilor Park loop). This brings us to a practical difficulty if anyone ever wanted to implement a network based on the PPTN map. Because it's based on corridors and not routes there is a geometrical problem where a corridor splits into two. Do you have two frequent routes with a forced interchange? Or is it better to have overlapping services with frequency lowered on outer portions? The answer will vary, but in hindsight it might have been better if the PPTN was more practically oriented and defined routes rather than corridors. In Essendon's case the opportunity was not taken to reshape the PPTN, solve a geometrical problem and provide a corridor to Highpoint to give the 903 a more useful purpose on its way to Sunshine via Churchill Avenue (already in PPTN).

Melbourne North

This map will be familiar to those who have looked at a SmartBus orbital network map. Because the 901, 902 and 903 orbitals are mostly still there. The main exception is the deleted South Morang to Greensborough section of the 901. This is a sensible removal.  The rural catchment (around Yarrambat) never did support a frequent SmartBus service and it is unlikely that locals would want the level of urbanisation that would make it so. Bus services to the area are best run with local routes coordinated with trains, which long SmartBus orbitals operating at unharmonised frequencies could never reliably do.

Key PPTN additions are north and south of South Morang Station. North to near Hawkstowe Station and south to the 86 tram terminus. Both sensible additions. A 7-day 20 minute frequency is already in place on routes 386/387 thanks to a bus network revamp a few years ago that simplified routes and improved peak services.

Greensborough has been (over?)fortunate with two SmartBuses. So has Fitzsimons Lane, when other north-south corridors to the west (eg Chandler Hwy) have none. Despite the pruning of the South Morang connection there appear to still be two PPTN corridors approaching from the south-east. This appears excessive given there is also a roughly parallel train line and the area does not strike me being suitable for large-scale densification.

There are what appear to be some PPTN network gaps. Craigieburn and further north, despite high growth, high usage of existing buses, a new town centre remote from the station and suggestions for Aitken Bvd to have bus lanes, has no PPTN corridors.

The LaTrobe cluster also has limited bus PPTN access. There is already a strong service to the south (Route 250 - every 20 minutes with long operating hours). Route 561 provides east west access between Pascoe Vale and Macleod. However only the La Trobe University to Reservoir portion of the 561 is included in the PPTN. This leaves a significant gap between Reservoir and Coburg, and also between Bundoora and Greensborough and/or Macleod.

Melbourne East

This should again be a familiar map that (mostly) replicates current services. It is here that has Melbourne's biggest concentrations of SmartBus services. Especially in the City of Manningham, the PPTN is far finer grained here than anywhere else due to four DART routes to the CBD and all three orbitals intersecting. 

I cannot see anything that has been removed. Low density Warrandyte, because it currently has a SmartBus, remains on the PPTN. Even though its locals are unlikely to be enthusiastic about increased density. And if one is to do density properly, one must be not just on one PPTN route but several to allow widespread mobility and low car dependence.

Where has PPTN been added? Most notable is Route 732 along Burwood Hwy. That currently provides a frequent all-day service over a short section, between the end of the 75 tram and Knox City Shopping Centre. Full length lower frequency trips operate from Box Hill to Upper Ferntree Gully, with some even extending to the hospital there. Even that minor extension is now PPTN according to the map. 

There are other significant additions. For example up Burke Rd across the Yarra to Ivanhoe. That would fill a major gap in the current network. Route 630 across from Elwood (existing weak terminus remaining) along North Rd to Monash University also gets added.

Where are the PPTN 'might have beens'? Access from the Monash precinct to the north remains a problem. Despite current high patronage, routes 733 (Clayton - Box Hill portion), 737 (Monash - Glen Waverley - Knox City portion) and 767 (Chadstone - Deakin - Box Hill portion) do not feature. These are some of Melbourne's busiest bus routes to some of its top trip generators.  Their only crime is that since they were not designated 'SmartBus' or only run every 30 minutes off-peak they were not included, regardless of current usage or future potential. 

There is no PPTN link between the end of the 48 tram and Doncaster Shoppingtown. Neither were Camberwell and Caulfield connected, if only to assuage the desires of those who'd like a Burke Rd tram extension. And, unlike the case with the 472, just because a route runs every 15 minutes is no guarantee that it gets on the PPTN. The 670 between Ringwood, Chirnside Park and Lilydale (twice the train's frequency), for example, doesn't rate. Some have liked to see the Route 900 SmartBus extended eastwards from Stud Park to Ferntree Gully. This would improve connectivity towards the train. However it would have no major intermediate trip generators and hasn't been included.

Melbourne South

The PPTN gets sparser in the south compared to the east. The three SmartBus orbitals are clearly visible. Though you will need to look at the more detailed zoomable map to clearly see the termini of the orbitals at Chelsea and Frankston. 

There are some welcome additions compared to current services. One is a north-south route down East Boundary and Chesterville roads terminating at Southland (like a straighter 822). This fills a large gap between the Frankston line and the Warrigal Rd SmartBus (903). The even spacing puts a large swathe of people within 800 metres of a PPTN service route. Oddly the corridor starts at North Road whereas if it was an actual bus route it would likely keep going north to Murrumbeena Station and Chadstone.

Also notable is the east-west corridor from Dandenong to Sandringham. This is roughly the 828 until Southland. But from there instead of going indirectly to Hampton it runs directly via Bay Rd to Sandringham. Or at least that's how I would have it if a single route. The 828 serves several rail lines, shopping centres and a large area remote from rail. Current weekday frequency is 20 minutes, with an infrequent weekend service. Arguably, like the current 828, the corridor could extend further east to take in at least Doveton, which while it lacks major trip generators, has demographic characteristics favourable for all-day ridership.

Thirdly there's Frankston to Narre Warren (though curiously, not Fountain Gate). This is provided for with the existing 791 to Cranbourne and 841 further north. Current services meet minimum standards but would need increased span and frequency to qualify for PPTN status, especially on the 841 portion. 

What isn't on the PPTN? There's nothing past Frankston. This is even though the 788 was a PPTN route in the previous PPTN. Overlapping routes out to Mornington provide a (roughly) 20 minute corridor but don't feature. Cranbourne area routes like 893 (a major north-south route) and shorter local ones to the east aren't included. Many of these were created or straightened during the 2016 Cranbourne area network revision and operate at 20 minute frequencies Monday to Sunday. Their span is shorter than SmartBus but their weekend daytime frequency is normally higher (20 vs 30 minutes).

I'm in two minds about whether you would include these on the PPTN. Few if any of the above would likely justify a 10 minute frequency, at least off-peak. And from a planning perspective having too many possibilities when locating trip generators may spread them out too much and lessen opportunities for desired clusterings.

Melbourne Inner

Melbourne's inner is dominated by trains and trams so I'll keep it short. Familiar inclusions include corridors that already have frequent routes, such as the 234 (to Port Melbourne), 402 (Footscray - East Melbourne), 250/251 to the north, 216/219/220 to the west, 200/207 to the east and 246 (Punt Rd) are included. Along with the Doncaster routes also to the east. 

The most notable PPTN addition is Route 506 between Moonee Ponds and Brunswick East. This is an east-west route through a densely populated area with low car ownership. You will note how close the PPTN map follows the actual bus route, including what appears to be the unnecessary historical dog-leg that slows buses to avoid a tram overlap. 

The main PPTN map deletions are 216/219/220 to the east towards Prahran via St Kilda Rd. These are historic high frequency and long hours routes. However they operate in an area with a fairly complete tram and train network and are much quieter than the western halves of these routes. 

Could there be more PPTN connections in the CBD and inner city area? East-west routes in the inner north would provide a genuine grid network in conjunction with existing north-south trains and trams.  It's off the map but there's nothing for the potential growth area (and employment cluster) of Fishermans Bend. Connectivity from Parkville to the Clifton Hill group of lines to the east is another possibility. Although if it was a service like the existing Route 401 from North Melbourne it would only be a frequent weekday service and not a 7-day PPTN corridor. 


This has been a quick trip around Melbourne's PPTN corridors. PPTN stands for Principal Public Transport Network. In other words only some corridors get a guernsey. But those that earn it should receive an excellent service, including long operating hours and frequent service. In return, land uses are sufficiently intensive and supportive to guarantee high around the clock patronage to make the investment in service worthwhile.  A program to upgrade bus service levels on PPTN routes, similar to SmartBus a decade ago, but with more frequent service, would make buses more attractive and better used. 

The main predictor of whether a corridor is likely to be on the PPTN network or not is whether it is occupied by an existing SmartBus or other route with a 15 minute or better weekday frequency (mostly ex-tramways board routes). In addition some 20 minute corridors have been added, particularly if they been the products of recent bus network reviews in areas like Werribee, Sunshine, Caroline Springs, South Morang and Cranbourne.  Like the SmartBus orbitals, PPTN bus routes are most likely to be between approximately 10 and 30 km from the CBD, with growth areas missing out. 

Some sections of routes considered marginal nevertheless made it. These include poorly used sections of SmartBus, routes with little unique coverage and one or two odd dog-legs, extensions and tram remnants. It is hoped that these get corrected, and, in the mean time, do not shape important land use decisions. 

Which corridors were least favoured for PPTN purposes? In short, almost any redevelopment or growth area. That goes for both inner brownfields areas (like Fishermans Bend), outer greenfields areas and even some National Employment Clusters. High patronage but non-SmartBus routes in the middle suburbs also didn't make it. 

To summarise, the PPTN map is most useful to support middle suburban land use intensification, drawing heavily on what exists now. It is less applicable for planning near-CBD brownfield or outer suburban greenfield areas with few corridors identified. Also, the PPTN would earn credibility if it defined service standards and was backed by a funded program to achieve them.

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

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #15: The 2 in 1 Route 279

What has one number, two routes and three destinations?  If you answered one particular Melbourne bus route you’d be correct.  Welcome to Bus 279.  As you’ll find out later it’s one of those bus routes that, despite its sometimes after midnight service, you shouldn’t catch while half asleep.

Route 279 runs between Box Hill and Doncaster Shoppingtown. Except when it doesn’t. For sometimes it goes to Templestowe.  But even if you did want to go from Box Hill to Shoppingtown, you probably wouldn’t catch the 279.  Still, many people catch it for other reasons.  Confused?  Maybe the map below will help.  Or maybe it won’t.  No fear as I’ll explain it all later.

The 279 starts off fairly simple if we go from bottom up. Starting at Box Hill it heads east before going up Middleborough Rd. It’s an established residential area. There aren’t many shops. But if you ride it during peak periods it gets good loadings as a feeder to and from Box Hill. 

The exception is when it deviates via Blackburn. There is a frequent train service between Box Hill and Blackburn. And when the SmartBus orbitals were put in there were new connections between Blackburn and areas to the north.  Still that doesn’t affect what the 279 occasionally does.  That occasional is twice in the morning from Box Hill and twice in the afternoon to Box Hill. 

More significant is what happens further north. Because at King St the bus sometimes turns left then heads south for trips to Doncaster Shoppingtown. At other times it turns right then heads north then west for trips to Templestowe Village.  To make sure you on the right one you need to check both the route number and the destination.  Though the one time I caught it some years ago it was incorrect but the driver of the now empty bus was nice and took me where I intended to go. 

The weekday timetable is below.  While not a SmartBus its weekday service level along Middleborough Rd is almost equivalent. Interpeak frequency is 15 minutes, harmonising with trains at Box Hill. Peak frequency is 10 minutes.  Evening service is every 30 minutes.  The last bus leaves Box Hill well after midnight.  This makes its span far better than regular minimum standards routes that finish around 9pm.

The Templestowe version of the route runs hourly during the day (weekdays only). The Shoppingtown trips are three times per hour.  However to maintain even spacing along the whole route the Doncaster trips are uneven, with 15 and 30 minute gaps.  Not that anyone travelling before midnight would use the 279 to go the full distance to Shoppingtown due to the presence of more direct routes like the 903 orbital.  

279’s Saturday service is a flat 30 minutes between about 8am and 5pm.  Then it drops to hourly before finishing before 8pm.  Sunday service is mostly hourly until approximately 9 pm.  All weekend trips operate the standard route to Shoppingtown with no Templestowe or Blackburn deviations.

The early Saturday finish is unusual given the later Sunday finish and the very late weekday finish.  Another oddity is that although it is common for routes to operate less frequently on weekends than they do during the week, the 4:1 drop from weekday interpeak to Sunday frequency is unusually dramatic. This is a legacy of the old National Bus network in Manningham where routes commonly operated every 120 minutes on Sunday (and some still do).  

The map below shows 279’s relationship with other routes. It is the only route along most of Middleborough Rd where it gets significant use.  The hourly Templestowe deviation serves Serpells Rd (a low density, high car owning neighbourhood) while the main Shoppingtown route overlaps routes 908 and 902.

While the coming of SmartBus and DART service have seen many changes to buses in the Manningham area (more than in almost any other established part of Melbourne suburbia) the 279 is a hold-out, having few if any recent changes.

What would you do with the 279? Should an extra couple of trips be added to the Saturday timetable to bring it up to minimum service standards? Is the Blackburn deviation necessary? And is there scope for more comprehensive network reform to simplify services in the area?

This post is also available on the Urban Happiness Facebook Group. Read it here. And you can follow Melbourne on Transit on Twitter for news.   

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

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)