Friday, March 15, 2019

Should we prune?


What has been most influential in shaping the future direction of public transport services?

One might assume it was some sort of plan. Possibly drawn up by transport agency bureaucrats. Maybe with ministerial staff hovering behind so it includes projects the government sees as important.

Like September 1988's MetPlan. A fourteen year development plan for trains, trams and buses.


The Minister's introduction sets MetPlan's flavour. Growth and confidence were to replace decline and decay. A patronage target was set. Specific measures included rail network extensions, longer operating hours, direct premium-service bus routes, all-night service and a revised fare and ticketing system.  A list of projects out to 2002 was included.


What happened? Within two years Australia had entered its most prolonged recession since the 1930s. Its effects were uneven with Victoria hardest hit. Manufacturing closed, local banks collapsed, unemployment surged and state government revenues plunged.

A desperate state government looked everywhere for cuts. Easily defeated 'scratch tickets' made fare paying optional.  Strikes over staffing and automated ticketing made trains and trams unreliable, driving passengers away. And newly slashed bus timetables made services unsuitable for commuters and weekend travellers alike. Being 'Transport Minister' was Victoria's political booby prize and none lasted very long.

Decline and decay were back. The infant MetPlan was shelved with little achieved by its 2002 horizon.  More enduring were the 1990s bus service cuts, with concerted action to reverse them only starting in 2006. And nearly thirty years later, there remain main road routes waiting to have service restored despite population and traffic growth since.

Double the time horizon and MetPlan looks much better. Many recommended rail extensions, extended bus operating hours, cross-suburban premium bus routes, all-night service and improved disabled access eventually happened. Discernible shortcomings include underestimating the benefits of service frequency on main routes and overselling prospects for demand responsive services.

What should one conclude? Despite its comprehensiveness, MetPlan was not influential beyond its first year or two. Afterwards wider economic and government budgetary issues overtook it and retained primacy for at least the following ten years.

What about the fate of more recent plans? There was a lot of talk around the time of the early 2000s Melbourne 2030 Strategy Its associated Linking Melbourne: Metropolitan Transport Plan defined a Principal Public Transport Network (PPTN). Despite its advocacy of higher densities around PPTN-linked transit-oriented activity centres and an ambitious mode-share target, service levels were rarely upgraded to make this credible. Instead issues around ticketing and rail franchising consumed much of  the government's energy around public transport.

Meeting Our Transport Challenges (MOTC) in 2006 had more success. While its third track to Dandenong was never built its bus service agenda was the most complete and ambitious ever publicly proposed. This was matched by action in its first three or four years with huge numbers of bus routes upgraded to minimum service standards and an extensive SmartBus network across (mostly) eastern and northern suburbs. In response bus patronage surged to its highest point in 40 years.

On the debit side, promised local area bus service review were done but implemention was patchy. This was not helped by some network recommendations being expensive with overlapping routes. Within four years MOTC itself had run out of puff. The roll-out of minimum service standards upgrades had slowed and a fourth promised orbital SmartBus was abandoned. Instead, with surging population, full trains and falling reliability, emphasis switched to rail infrastructure through the ambitious Victorian Transport Plan launched in 2008. Major initiatives in it, such as several new stations, the Regional Rail Link and Melbourne Metro Tunnel, are either complete or under construction. And new timetables, with simplified stopping patterns and higher frequencies, now operate on some train lines. 
  

More recently we have seen the 2013 Network Development Plan - Metropolitan Rail . This was based on removing capacity constraints on the network, simplifying operations and quickly upgrading all-day service frequencies to 'turn up and go' levels on the core parts of as many lines that infrastructure allows. Progress was initially fast with 'greenfields' timetables on the Frankston, Dandenong, Werribee and Williamstown lines.

Timetable reform has slowed since 2014, with emphasis switching to infrastructure upgrades and grade separations.  Nevertheless it is essential if we are to have a high capacity metro rail system and avoid repeats of the 2006-2010 commuter crushes. This plan might end up like MetPlan whose recommendations mostly got implemented but over a longer time horizon.

The above examples were presented to show that notwithstanding their quality, plans do not always have as much influence as their authors may like. Attention may shift. Momentum can be lost. This can be due to apparently urgent but peripheral issues like ticketing or franchising diverting administrators minds. Or whole of government budgetary pressures. In such an environment all departments may be required to cough up fast savings and cancel or defer plans.      

This is particularly important for public transport services. It (like roads and parking) attracts substantial public subsidy. Here in Melbourne it recovers about a third of its costs from fares. The state government kicks in the rest. Thus the health of its finances is critical to the ability to retain and improve services. 




Strong economic activity, high workforce participation and a booming property market have assisted state finances. The last election campaign, where both major parties promised lavish transport infrastructure, may have marked a peak in what was thought practical.

If state revenue rises slower than estimated, recurrent expenditure such as needed to run services is  vulnerable. That's because it's easier to cut than long-term capital commitments for which contracts have been signed. And cutting trips on a hundred bus routes tends to be less visible than (say) cancelling a high-profile road or rail project. 

Currently service is growing but at a slower rate than population. Thus service per capita is declining. Not increasing (and especially) reducing service will speed the per capita decline in service. That means that an increasing number of outer suburbs will go without service for longer. Elsewhere, crowding on popular routes will increase until people give up. Then more will take to the roads in their own vehicles, increasing congestion and further slowing buses and trams. This creates a vicious spiral of declining patronage and service.

So far we have assumed that all public transport service hours are of equal merit.

They're not. Some hours go towards well used routes with unique catchments. Others go to less busy routes that have a social rationale due to their geographic coverage and catchment demographics. Reducing service on these, such as occurred during the indiscriminate early 1990s cuts, would weaken rather than strengthen the network.

Then there are bus routes that closely parallel or even duplicate other services. This can happen when new routes are layered on top of old ones without a network review having been done.  That's happened a lot, as you'll see later. Or, a route may be too frequent for its present patronage due to demographic changes.

These services are harder to justify. They can make the network more complex. And they can pose an opportunity cost, sapping resources from potential upgrades such as network simplification, coverage extensions, longer operating hours or higher frequency on more deserving routes. And, if budgets are tightened, pruning or consolidating inefficient services may allow for more benign cuts that affect fewer passengers than the blunt meat-axe approach taken in the 1990s. 

The maps below are selected parts of the Melbourne suburban network. They are included because services in the area may be complex, duplicate one another or feature excessive frequency for their catchment. Comments on the routes involved appear below each map.

Millers Rd, Altona North



This is a major north-south corridor served by numerous bus routes. These include Routes 411 (1.5 buses per hour) and 903 (4 buses per hour). North of the railway also has 232 (3 buses per hour) while south of the railway has 412 (1.5 buses per hour). These overlapping services give the corridor between 6 and 7.5 buses per hour. However this does not translate to a turn-up-and-go 8 or 10 minute frequency as these services are run on different routes.  Weekend service frequency is about half that of weekday frequency.

Routes 411 and 412 are strong patronage performers despite their indifferent service frequency. Apart from where they split in Altona North they provide a simple and mostly main road route between Laverton and Footscray via Altona. 232, which runs into the Melbourne CBD via the West Gate Bridge is weaker. Also weaker is Route 903 between Altona and Sunshine. This is a SmartBus featuring extended operating hours. However its service frequency does not harmonise with trains in the area and its catchment is either industrial land or duplicative of other routes.

Altona North is remote from rail. Its demographics justify a good to excellent bus service. There are many schools in the area. However the number of buses per hour along Millers Rd may be excessive without the benefits of a regular frequency that would apply if only one main route operated.  A frequency of 10 minutes on weekdays and 20 minutes for weekends and evenings (until midnight) along the Route 411 alignment between Footscray and at least Altona would provide a simpler and more even service than now. Even if only a 20 minute frequency operated west of Altona, there would still be large gains for Altona Meadows, particularly on evenings and weekends.  Trade-offs would likely include (i) terminating Route 903 at Altona Gate or, more economically, Sunshine, (ii) Shortening or deleting the poorly performing Route 232 and (iii) an interchange at Altona Gate for those travelling from Altona to Sunshine. Also there wider are network implications, affecting routes like 412, 432 and 471.

Summary: Likely opportunities for improvement with network simplification and increased frequencies within existing resources. A local area review is desirable due to the network's complexity.  

Brighton area


The Brighton area has very high average incomes. Car ownership is high and its demographics are unfavourable for high off-peak public transport usage. High bus service levels reflect the old government Met days with many services running until midnight and missing the worst of the 1990s cuts (which heavily affected private operators). Later changes, such as the c2000 splitting of 600 into 600, 922 and 923, increased network complexity.

The area has a huge number of north-south bus routes. These include 600, 922, 923 in one group, 216 and 219 in another group and 220 as a stand-alone service. Service frequencies and operating hours vary widely but can extend to late at night.  Parallel bus routes run quite close to one another in parts of North Brighton. There is also some coverage overlap with the north-south Sandringham rail line, which except for Sunday mornings, offers a service every 20 minutes or better until midnight.  This is better than any other line where night service drops to 30 minutes.  In contrast, in directions where there is no rail from Brighton, for instance to the east, bus services are less, with (typically) hourly frequencies on each of the 811, 812 and 823.

Summary: Likely overservicing amongst north-south routes near the rail line. East-west routes to non-rail areas may justify better service. Network simplification and savings may be possible under a proper review process. 

Elwood area


Like Brighton, Elwood also has complex bus services. These include the 246, the 606 and the 600/922/923 family.  Route 246 is a busy, frequent direct route you'd likely leave alone. However it may be possible to simplify service by upgrading Route 606's hours and frequencies and deleting the very complex and overlapping 600/922/923 in the area. Elwood has more favourable demographics than Brighton (including many rental units) so should be able to support reasonable bus services.

Summary: Likely opportunities for improvement with network simplification and increased frequencies within existing resources.  

Plenty Rd through Bundoora


Route 86 tram is the centrepiece of public transport in this area. It runs at high frequencies for long hours seven days per week.  Overlapping much of it is bus route 382. It provides a one-seat ride to Northland Shopping Centre from areas further north. However as the area develops and local shopping opportunities spring up, the need for such a long overlap may lessen.

Also visible in the north-east quarter of the map is overlap between bus route 566 and 902. Both routes run east to Greensborough (off the map). Neither run to a frequency that harmonises with trains at Greensborough. The 566 has been long established while more recently Route 902 was extended over the top of it as part of the Green Orbital SmartBus. 566 is also incredibly confusing

The patronage potential of the area is only likely to support one east-west route (probably along the SmartBus alignment) but it is desirable that it harmonise with trains. The consequence of dropping to one route will however mean more interchanging for people making medium distance trips that can currently be done on the one bus.


Summary: Likely opportunities for improvement with network simplification and increased frequencies within existing resources. A comprehensive network review is required as travel needs are complex with multiple major trip generators.  

Thompsons Rd, Carrum


No one lives on this part of Thomsons Rd east of the Peninsula Freeway. Much of the land (shown in green) is for sewage treatment. But two overlapping bus routes run along there to Carrum Station. These include the long-established but infrequent 857 and the recently extended 833. 
The 833 was extended to connect Carrum Downs residents to Carrum Station so they didn't have to backtrack to Frankston. However nothing was done with the 857. There may be scope to remove duplication by sending the 857 a different way. There may be some benefit if this was done as part of a Mordialloc - Carrum area local bus service review. However there is unlikely to be significant cost savings since it will be necessary to use some other route to properly serve Patterson Lakes. 
Summary: Likely overservicing along an unpopulated section but requires network review to resolve. 
Coburg



This is an area where there are many closely-spaced or overlapping routes. Not all harmonise with trains (every 20 minutes). Like the Millers Rd (Altona North) example, routes have tended to be layered on top of one another without any being modified.  Examples include the 903 SmartBus orbital, 534 extension and most recently 561’s extension to Pascoe Vale.

It may be harder to simplify the network here than at Altona North. And even if services were simplified such that Bell St had an even ten minute frequency, the full benefits of this would not be obtained until Upfield line trains were upgraded to every 10 minutes at least as far north as Coburg.

An ideal network would likely have simpler routes. For example swapping 561 and 534 would provide a single flat 20 minute service along Gaffney St connecting directly to stations at either end.  There may also be possibilities if simplification reduces the number of routes by one especially if savings could be put towards increased peak frequencies, better weekend services and longer operating hours.  Overall, while there is scope for network simplification, population densification and gentrification (with more working in the CBD and amenable to using feeder buses) means that the area is likely not over-serviced. 

Summary: Likely opportunities for improvement with network simplification and increased frequencies within existing resources.  

Eltham/Diamond Creek


These are outer suburban areas with higher than average incomes, lower than average residential densities and relatively high car ownership rates.  Like other areas new routes have been added without review and reform of existing routes.

Bus routes in this area (eg 517, 580, 902) often operate at frequencies incompatible with  trains and thus be poor at connecting to them. For instance every 15 or 30 minutes versus every 20 or 40 minutes for trains.  This is true even for relatively recently introduced routes such as the 901 and 902 SmartBuses. Routes may duplicate trains (eg 343) or overlap other buses (eg 293, 901, 902 and 517, 518). Service levels on some routes are high for the low density catchment served (eg the 20 minute 7-day frequencies on Route 582 or the two buses per hour provided on 578/579 through a sparsely settled area).  

There are also routes that due to their length offer the same service frequency even though passenger catchments vary. For example Route 517 runs every 24 minutes from Northland Shopping Centre via Bellfield/West Heidelberg to Greensborough and St Helena.  The western portion justifies a good service frequency, with 20 minutes suitable for harmonisation with trains. This may be excessive during the day for the Greensborough – St Helena portion which may only justify a 40 minute service, which would nevertheless connect more regularly with trains than the existing service. 

Summary: Likely opportunities exist for simpler routes, better connections with trains and cost savings by removing excessive service.  

Emerald


The area east of Belgrave out to Emerald and Gembrook is semi-rural. Car ownership and use is high. Several bus routes operate to Emerald. The most notable is Route 695. This has a 30 minute interpeak weekday frequency. Given the large number of suburban areas that only have 40 to 60 minute frequencies and demographics more favourable for bus use, the 30 minute frequency provided on Route 695 may appear excessive if patronage is not high.  A thing to bear in mind is that the low 30 minute train frequency at Belgrave makes only 30 or 60 minute frequencies possible for consistent train connections. Whereas an upgrade to 20 minutes would give a choice of 40 or 60 minute frequency for the 695 while still connecting evenly with trains.

Network complexity is also an issue in the area. There is a Route 695F that only operates on some days of the week to Fountain Gate Shopping Centre. Another variant operates weekly to Dandenong Market. A review of these would seem desirable with a view to providing a 7 day service to major centres, with the possibility of connections if a direct service is not justified.

Summary: Given the area’s peri-urban catchment opportunities may exist for simpler routes and even minor cost savings.  

Buckley St, Essendon


This corridor has Essendon Station at one end and Milleara Shopping Centre at the other. There are also several schools nearby.  Route 465 was the original route. It survived the 1990s service cuts and retains a high frequency during the commuter peaks.  The 20 minute daytime Monday to Saturday frequency matches the train. Sunday service is every 40 minutes, meeting every second train.  Route 465 is a successful feeder for commuters to get to Essendon Station.

Like in so many other places, the SmartBus orbital 903 overlaps a large section of the 465. Its 15 minute weekday and 30 minute weekend frequency does not harmonise with trains.  There are no very large trip generators along Buckley Street that justify a SmartBus plus a strong direct local route. In contrast nearby Highpoint Shopping Centre has no SmartBus and only limited Monday to Saturday bus access from Essendon.

A network review would likely question the duplication of two routes along Buckley Street. A more efficient arrangement would likely involve diverting the SmartBus to where it was more needed. Eg it could run to Sunshine via Highpoint and Braybrook, with local network changes to avoid duplication.  Upgrading Route 465’s Sunday service to 20 minutes, extending evening operating hours to midnight, and, if needed, additional peak trips, should simplify travel for those on Buckley Street and compensate for 903’s removal.

Summary: Strong scope exists for network simplification in the area with duplication removed and remaining routes upgraded. Prospects for cost savings are limited but high patronage areas such as around Maribyrnong and Braybrook would gain SmartBus service if 903 was diverted. 
Warrandyte


Warrandyte shares many characteristics with Eltham. It’s a high income and high car ownership area. Population density is less than regular suburban levels. Yet both have SmartBus routes that provide better frequency and operating hours than other suburbs, with a greater need for good bus services, receive. For its location and demographics there are also relatively frequent (two buses per hour) bus services from Eltham (578/579) and Ringwood (364). There is also some overlap of bus routes.

Summary: Opportunities may exist for cost savings by removing what appears to be excessive service.  
Footscray/Sunshine/Highpoint


This area has the history, density and demographics that make its buses amongst the busiest in Melbourne.  With population density increasing, this will remain for the foreseeable future. Therefore you would never seek to reduce service levels. But you might simplify routes if it allows 7-day turn up and go frequencies to be operated on main corridors while retaining coverage.

While all routes are now run by private operators, this was not always the case.  The 200-numbered routes (215, 216/219, 220, 223) are ex-Met. Before that they were run by the Tramways board. Their (mostly) long operating hours and superior frequencies remain a legacy of when sections of these routes operated as the Footscray tram network (closed in 1962).  Routes run by private operators (eg 406, 408, 410) tend to be less frequent and operate over shorter hours.  About ten years ago they gained evening and Sunday service. However Sunday service frequency (every 40 or 60 minutes) remains much less than Monday to Saturday service.

Two main series of routes operate. Footscray to Sunshine (216, 219, 220, 410) and Footscray to Highpoint (Tram 82, 223 and 406). There is also 215 and 408 which extend west from Highpoint to the Sunshine area. All but the 410 extend outside this area. Key trip generators away from the stations include Footscray Hospital and Victoria University campuses in Footscray and Sunshine.

The east-west routes (216/219, 220 and 410 operate to a base 15 minute weekday frequency. A simple renumbering exercise would simplify these four numbers to three. However more serious change, such as going from three routes to two (and increasing each to every 10 minutes Monday to Sunday) would leave one east-west street in West Footscray without service. 

From the map it would seem obvious that the one nearest the train line (and currently served by the 220) would be the best candidate.  However existing strong patronage could tell otherwise. Because while some areas are near train stations, pedestrian access to stations like Tottenham is unattractive and train frequencies (every 20 minutes) are inferior to local buses, at least on weekdays. Therefore, while it might look like duplication on the map there is likely still a call for parallel bus services. 

Due to people changing to trains at Footscray (despite currently haphazard interchange arrangements) patronage on many of these routes seems to peak between Sunshine and Footscray rather than between Footscray and the CBD. This has implications for network design, noting though that, there not being a tram, Route 220 provides the only direct connection between Footscray and a part of Docklands.
Another question, also affecting Route 220 is whether it and 410 should overlap along Ballarat Rd or whether a single route (operating all along Ballarat Rd at 5 to 10 minute frequencies 7 days per week) would be more legible.

North south issues relate to the need to provide easy connections from Footscray Station to VU and Highpoint.  Routes 82, 223 and 406 pass near both. Along with 472 near VU. The combined frequency is very high. However legibility is poor with stopping locations dispersed. This means that if you have just missed a service on one route you will not necessarily wait for another route. And with their base 15 to 20 minute frequencies, waiting times for each route can be a  the high proportion of travel time.  A likely bus-only consolidation may involve some form of amalgamation between routes 223 and 406 to provide a consistent 10 minute or better 7 day service between Footscray, VU and Highpoint. Every second trip could extend beyond Highpoint so that the current 406’s frequency is retained, with the possibility of a weekend service boost.

Summary: Scope exists for network simplification in the area to overcome existing complexity. This will require a comprehensive review given the existing network's high usage. Existing high patronage and increasing density warrants high 7-day frequency and long operating hours on most routes. 
Knox


Along with the Mornington Peninsula, bus services in much of Knox has been neglected by successive governments. While developed in the 1960s and now at suburban densities, only rudimentary service runs away from a few main roads. Local routes can be indirect, due largely but not entirely to local street layouts.  Plus there can be overlap with demand-responsive Telebus routes that operate in the area.

Overlaps include those of the infrequent 681/682 paralleling the newer 901 along Stud Rd to Knox City (although the less frequent 665 ran before that).  Another is 691’s overlap of the 900 to the west. The 691 is the original route in the area dating from when Waverley Gardens was an important destination before local retail offerings such as Stud Park developed and Knox City expanded.  While not shown fully on the map, there are significant overlaps between the 693 and 753, and further west, between 693 and 742. Their presence may lessen the case to upgrade services on the very direct route 693.  And to the north (barely shown) is a section of overlap between the long-established 664 and the newer 901 orbital.

Summary: While overlaps and duplications exist, service in Knox is so sparse that even if they were removed additional resources would likely be required to provide even a ‘minimum standards’ style service to most residential areas.  
Campbellfield and Camp Rd

 


The residential part of Campbellfield is another example where bus services have hardly changed for decades. Despite being somewhat isolated and low-income neither of its two routes (531 and 538) received minimum standards upgrades. Consequently operating days and hours are limited including no Sunday service.

The later replacement of the previous route 560 with the higher frequency 902 orbital along Camp Rd did not lead to a review of the 538 which overlaps the 902. This might have been due to the 538’s coverage of parts of Jacana away from the 902. If service here was to be preserved this would likely have required a route in Hadfield or Glenroy to be extended to Broadmeadows. 

Nevertheless Campbellfield’s hosting of two overlapping, infrequent and limited service routes is unsatisfactory. Removing 538 would have removed the direct connection to Broadmeadows. However it may be possible to find other arrangements involving joining 531 with some 540 trips or operating it to Broadmeadows via parts of Dallas somewhat away from a bus.

Summary: While overlaps and duplications exist, a reformed network would require a mini network review involving several routes.  Existing low service frequencies mean that cost savings are unlikely.  

Box Hill - Deakin Uni corridor


Box Hill to Deakin Uni is a strong bus corridor.  Four infrequent routes (201, 281, 767, 768) serve a roughly similar corridor, though stops at the campus end vary.  Unlike other universities, which have ‘turn up and go’ shuttles, none of Deakin’s routes by itself offers an attractive frequency and the network is less legible as a result.  I discussed this in great detail here.

Summary: Rationalisation, involving two or three routes, is required to provide a useful service between Box Hill and Deakin University.  Any economies realised should be reinvested to provide the most frequent possible service.   

Oakleigh/Huntingdale/Clayton 



East of Oakleigh are three corridors with overlapping routes heading east for a significant distance.  These include Princes Hwy (800, 802, 804, 862), Ferntree Gully Rd (693 & 742) and North Rd/Wellington Rd (601, 630, 900, 802, 804, 862).  Route 601 is an express university shuttle while 900 is a limited stops SmartBus. The others serve all stops.  

Many years ago 802, 804 and 862 were timed so they provided an even 15 minute weekday frequency. This has been broken down in recent times and intervals are now irregular.  There is further complexity as one of these routes (862) operates 7 days per week while the other operate 5 or 6 days per week.  No routing changes were made when the 900 or 601 were layered over the existing network.

The area has undergone significant population densification.  Much of this is driven by Monash University and its student population with a high propensity to use public transport. The planning response has been to add new routes rather than to review and strengthen existing routes with higher frequency and 7 day service. The result is the complex network you see above.


Summary: Network simplification, based on easier to understand routes operating at higher frequencies, is desirable. Any cost savings should be reinvested to improve services within the area. 

Springvale/Noble Park/Keysborough


This area has demographic similarities with Sunshine/Braybrook with low average incomes and demographics favourable for public transport usage.  Unlike Sunshine/Braybrook service levels are low in all areas away from a train station or Springvale Rd.  Buses may run hourly and not on Sundays, despite upgrades promised in 2006.  Anyone who objects to previous comments about bus overservicing in Brighton, Eltham and Warrandyte should be taken to this area to observe bus usage and concede their good fortune.

The basic structure of the bus network in this area has not changed for decades.  Main changes has been the frequency upgrade when routes 888/889 were converted to SmartBus and the roll-out of minimum standards to some routes.  The area has also gained from recent road/rail grade separations and the extension of Route 709 to serve more of Keysborough.

Summary: Network simplification, based on easier to understand routes operating at higher frequencies, is desirable. While network reform may free some resources, it is possible that (like in Knox) the historic pattern of underservicing requires resources from elsewhere to deliver the desirable 10 to 20 minute 7 day frequencies on major corridors. 
Other routes

Some other routes are known to carry few passengers. The areas served may not necessarily contain concentrations of people who depend on the service. Examples include Route 673 (little unique coverage), 687 (very low population density), 694 (only unique coverage is in a sparsely populated forest) and 696 (a low usage shopper service). These might be examined as part of area-wide reviews. 

Other factors when optimising or economising service

Above I looked at area maps to find overlapping routes. I concentrated on corridors where routes were not time staggered to form a combined frequency corridor. The assumption is that fewer but more frequent routes would be simpler for passengers to use and understand. In other cases I considered service frequency in sparsely populated or low patronage areas. High service where patronage is low may provide scope to economise on route kilometres without affecting many passengers. 

It's not just about maps and overlaps. Other factors also come into play when considering whether a network is efficient or not. A route may appear to be overserviced but operating it frequently might be very cheap if it plugs a hole in a roster or lessens layover or dead-running. In other cases while frequency might appear high it might allow economical use of a bus or harmonise with a train service. A lower frequency may prove a false economy that costs patronage. School student demand needs to be considered; some areas might have a concentration of routes that seem quiet but come alive during student travel times. Then there are special school services that form a large part of a bus company's business and affects rostering and timetabling for regular public routes.


The above may make network reform harder. But it's not a reason to avoid it. While it may be true that  inefficiencies due to route overlaps impose a cost that is a low proportion of that needed to run the entire network, they can still be high in particular areas.


Not tacking them lessens the affordability of network reform that in some examples above would improve service to passengers. And when budgets tighten, as they might due to reduced tax collection, then knowing where the inefficiencies and overservicing are can result in a smarter approach to pruning service with the least passenger impact, or in some cases even deliver benefits.  

Update

Just after this item appeared, I realised I wrote an item very similar in 2010. A couple in that list have been pruned as part of local bus network reforms. I'll revisit that item in a later post. 

2 comments:

Luke Mitchell said...

Peter, alot of what you write makes sense, but I must bring to your attention one thing in particular, that effects my family. In regards to your proposal for Buckley Street Essendon, the idea of transferring the 903 to Highpoint, provides both pro's and con's. Having the 903 take over both the 468 and 408 Sunshine-Highpoint section looks good. However, the loss of courage between Keilor East/Avondale Heights and Sunshine causes the same problem that they had in the past, with no direct services over the Maribyrnong. I also feel that not having direct Keilor-St.Albans services is also a problem.

I understand that with the Altona North proposal, you thought about possibily truncating the 903 at Sunshine, have you also thought about the idea of 903 taking over 471 instead? Just another thought? This would also mean the 219 extension to Sunshine Park will need to be re-instated.

As with the Coburg review, swapping 534 and 561 at Sussex/Gaffney makes the most sense in my opinion. Not sure if any other changes are needed however. I have thought of ways to change the 527 in the past, but I feel that coverage along O'Hea is still very much needed. Could 527 be just Coburg-Northland, with a new route being Gowie to Turner Street? Move the 513 to service O'Hea? Ideas?

Peter Parker said...

Luke - I agree that it is desirable to have a connection over the Maribyrnong from Avondale Hts. A concept I like is extending 406 to St Albans (with 407 extended to do Sterling Dr?). It's a well used route that deserves a stronger terminus than currently. Another possibility is to terminate 465 at St Albans to form an east-west route but it would require another route (an extended 406 or restructured 475?) to serve Keilor Park. Plus there are other complications.

Re Altona North, one could have 903 terminating at Newport, following a direct route via say Blackshaws. One might seek to make 471 more direct by running via Masons. That would give two simple east-west routes to feed trains at Newport. There may be implications for 412 & 432 though.

On the other hand, as you already have 471 between Altona Gate and Sunshine, I don't see the need for two routes as we have now. But there is a lot of industrial areas unserved with very poor access from surrounding areas. So what you could do is terminate 903 at Sunshine and have a daytime industrial type route running from Sunshine to Altona via Grieve Pde and Maidstone St, approaching from the Westona direction. It wouldn't get huge patronage but it would give the western end of Civic Pde a better service.

Re Coburg, I wonder if 903 should go via either Pascoe Vale or Strathmore stations somehow. If 561 is run straight from Batman to Pascoe Vale maybe 534 could be moved to O'Hea and 527 to Bell. The latter would overlap 903 but it would be more direct. And there would be no longer an overlap with 561 as that's on Gaffney. I still somehow think there must be another way with one less route.