Friday, March 01, 2019

The rise of the 20 minuter

The last new SmartBus routes to commence service were the four DART services back in 2010. Since then Melbourne's added over a million people but no more SmartBus routes. In fact one of them (908) got shortened so it only operates its full route during peak times.

Some SmartBuses did receive frequency upgrades. For example Routes 703, 907 and 908 gained weekend trips. And just recently peak services were added to 900, 905, 906 and 907.

Although it grew slower than population, we still added bus service in most years. 

Where has it gone if not much went to SmartBus?

Some went to the university shuttle routes such as Routes 301, 401 and 601. Although frequent they are short, making them relatively cheap to run. And they've been popular, improving last-mile transport between university campuses and the rail network (see previous post).

Then there's outer growth areas. Recent years have seen new networks in areas like Wyndham Vale, Tarneit, Werribee, Point Cook, Epping North, Mernda and Cranbourne.  There have been winners and losers; little has happened in Melton (town), Cardinia, Knox or Mornington Peninsula for instance.

But possibly the least remarked feature, and the topic of this post, is the increase in the number of bus routes operating at 20 minute frequencies, whether it be peak, interpeak or weekend.

Why is this significant?

Go back about 10 years. Local middle to outer suburban bus routes typically ran about every 40 minutes on weekdays. You were doing well if yours ran every 30 minutes. At the other extreme the extent of 15 minute service increased with the SmartBus program. However that's still beyond walking distance of most and non-existent west of Sunshine. Apart from some routes in the inner west, north and east, a 20 minute peak service had been quite rare since the early 1990s cuts.  And on a Sunday a 20 minute bus frequency was unheard of, with even 30 minutes confined to SmartBuses and a handful of others.

Thus there existed a chasm between sparse and expensive to run SmartBus routes and the mass of infrequent local services that had not been invested in for years. Moderately direct routes across the suburbs either did not exist or were no more frequent than neighbourhood routes. And when funding did come about 10 years ago, it mostly went on coverage and span rather than frequency upgrades. While operating days and hours are better, peak and midday frequencies often reflect previous cuts.

There's also the bigger picture. Unlike Perth and Sydney, which have a base network-wide 7-day 15 minute train frequency that everything can pulse off, Melbourne has no such clarity. Instead we had a mix of 15 and 20 minute off-peak weekday rail frequencies.  That's largely still true, except for 10 minute service now on some lines. 

Longer term network planning, as articulated through the Rail Network Development Plan, advocated a core 10 minute base frequency with key feeders (including buses) harmonised with 10 or 20 minute frequencies.  While there has been little recent movement on upgrading 15, 20, 30 and 40 minute suburban rail frequencies to a 10/20 minute pattern, progress has occurred with daytime bus frequencies. 

Below are some examples of upgrades and the circumstances under which they occurred. All happened in the last 5 to 10 years.

* Routes 170 and 180 operating every 20 minutes 7 days/week under new 2015 Wyndham network.  7 day/week 20 minute combined corridor between Hoppers Crossing Station and Pacific Werribee (Plaza) on routes 166 and 167. 190 every 20 min on weekdays. Other routes such as 150, 151,160 and 192 operate a ~ 20 minute service in peaks.

* Routes 200 and 207 simplified to operate a combined 10 minute service along common portion under 2014 network change.

* New Route 234 simplifies services in Port Melbourne and operates on a 20 min Sunday frequency.

* Route 235 simplified and given a 20 minute interpeak frequency under network changes for the Fishermans Bend area.

* Routes 250 and 251 simplified to operate a combined 10 minute service along common portion under 2014 network changes.

* Route 270 modified and given 20 min interpeak frequency as part of local network restructure.

* Routes 356, 357, 358 new Epping North network features 20 minute peak frequency on each route.

* Route 386 and 387 provide combined 20 minute service (10 min peak) under reformed Plenty Valley network.  Other routes in area upgraded to operate every 20 minutes in peak.

* Route 400 upgrade to operate ~20 minute peak frequency under 2014 Brimbank network review. Also provides combined 20 min interpeak service with Route 427 in Sunshine West.

* Route 402 Footscray - East Melbourne route upgraded to operate at an even 10 minute frequency on weekdays. Sunday service later upgraded to every 20 minutes.

* Route 418 upgraded to operate ~20 minute peak frequency under 2014 Brimbank network review.

* Route 420 New direct Sunshine - Watergardens route operating every 20 minutes as part of 2014 Brimbank network review. Later upgraded to every 20 minutes on Sunday.

* Route 423 upgraded to operate ~20 minute peak frequency under 2014 Brimbank network review.

* Routes 426 and 456 formed to provide a 20 minute 7 day/week frequency along Ballarat Rd between Sunshine and Burnside as part of network change. ~10 min frequency in peak.

* Route 471 Weekday frequency upgraded from uneven ~25 minutes to every 20 minutes as part of 2014 Brimbank network review

* Route 477 Weekday service upgraded from every 30 to every 20 minutes

* Routes 494, 495, 497 New Point Cook network features ~ 20 minute peak frequencies timed to meet trains at Williams Landing. Subsequent am frequency upgrade on Route 495.

* Route 529 and 533 peak service upgraded to ~20 minutes in Craigieburn area.

* 541 Weekday service upgraded to every 20 minutes.

* Route 561 extended to provide 20 minute weekday service to Pascoe Vale Station.

* Route 570 upgraded to run every 20 minutes on weekdays.

* Route 693 peak service upgraded from every 30 to every 20 minutes.

* Route 791 Route simplified and upgraded to run every 20 minutes on weekdays between Cranbourne and Frankston as part of new 2016 Cranbourne network. 10 minute frequency operates between Langwarrin and Frankston in conjunction with Routes 789 and 790.

* Route 798 Service every 20 minutes 7 days/week between Cranbourne and Selandra Rise

* Route 828 simplified to provide 20 min weekday service between Hampton and Berwick (previously several less frequent routes).

* Route 893 Route straightened and upgraded to run every 20 minutes 7 days/week as part of new 2016 Cranbourne network.

* Route 897 Route upgraded to run every 20 minutes 7 days/week as part of new 2016 Cranbourne network.

* Route 898 Route operated every 20 minutes on weekdays as part of new 2016 Cranbourne network.

* Route 900 peak service increased from every 15 to every 10 minutes.

* Route 907 Weekend daytime service upgraded from every 30 to every 20 minutes

* Route 908 Weekend daytime service upgraded from every 30 to every 20 minutes

* Sunday morning trams typically ran every 30 minutes. However the time that 20 minute or better service is starting is moving earlier. And some new or upgraded tram routes (eg 30 and 58) have a 20 minute frequency from the first regular Sunday service.

* Frankston, Cranbourne, Pakenham, Werribee and Williamstown trains were upgraded from every 30 minutes to every 20 minutes on weeknights until approximately 10pm. Further upgrades have since been made on the Dandenong line to extend their 10 minute service into the night.  The Sandringham line remains the only one that has a 20 minute service until midnight each night.

* Geelong area. Interpeak train frequency upgraded from every 60 to every 20 min at larger stations.  New 2015 bus network featured many routes upgraded to operate every 20 minutes on weekdays to match train frequencies.

Many of the 20 minute frequency upgrades appeared in clusters related to network reviews. For example the Brimbank, Wyndham, Geelong, Cranbourne, Plenty Valley, Point Cook and Epping North networks feature extensive 20 minute service, if only in the peaks for the last three.

While a good case exists for most if not all routes above to be upgraded, some critical high-performing routes (eg 733 and 737) remain on 30 minute base frequencies.  In some cases only parts of a route may justify an upgrade (eg the 733) and/or there may be significant catchment overlap that requires a review to sort out (see last post). 

Nevertheless, though patchy, there has still been a significant roll-out of 20 minute service. It is likely that the population within walking distance of a service every 20 minutes or better is appreciably higher than it was a decade ago.

And, if offered the choice between a 15 min weekday/30 min weekend service (ie the traditional SmartBus pattern) and a 7 day 20 minute service (as run on northern/western suburbs train lines and some bus routes listed above), many with flexible travel schedules will quite possibly prefer the latter, especially if operating hours were more like SmartBuses.

You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics

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

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

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

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

Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees

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Anonymous said...

A real quick win in terms of 20-minute service could come from the buses that service Northland - 555, 556 and 567 run at 22-minute intervals, and 517 and 566 at 24-minute intervals on weekdays.

The other key routes 251 and 527 which service the shopping centre already run at 20-minute intervals, if they could manage to marry up some of these services that would be a significant win.

Peter Parker said...

Anon - agreed. Though sometimes awkward route lengths can cause difficult run times - eg just over an hour.