Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #13: Deja vu with the 566

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.

"Didn't we go past that 20 minutes ago?". That's a common thought of riders on the incomparable Route 566 through Watsonia and Greensborough in Melbourne's north. For this is not the straightest of bus routes. And, yes, it double backs on itself. The route map is below. 

You can't always tell its direction from the map but you can from the stop sequence on the website. If we ignore the dotted line around Lalor the northern half of the 566 is simple enough. It (mostly) starts at the Lalor shops, almost reaches Epping Plaza before turning east along Childs Rd. It forms the main service along there, serving a couple of secondary colleges and Mill Park Stables shops. Then it's straight down Plenty Rd (overlapping the 86 tram) then into Greensborough via Grimshaw St (overlapping the more recently added 902). There's no turn at Macorna St - that's for later. 

After a loop for Greensborough shops and station, the bus again heads west along Grimshaw St.  So do buses in the other direction. Here you need your wits about you in case you end up in Lalor rather than Northland or vice versa. 

Being on the correct side of the road (unlike most places) won't always save you. And if the buses in both directions come at once (like below) then the alertness and reaction time required to hail the right one puts you in the Super Mario champion category. If you lose on a weekend, it's 40 minutes until the next chance. 

If you manage to survive that the bus goes north to Gillingham St. The street layout here makes efficient public transport routing impossible, and large areas west of Macorna St lack anything.  Then the bus crosses Grimshaw St (passed through before), then south to Watsonia before uniquely serving Greenwood Dr. It skirts La Trobe University then runs parallel the 561 in Kingsbury. A few twists and turns later and you're at the Northland terminus. You can see how the 566 fits in with surrounding routes on the area map below. It was never always this complex, with some useful history here.

Extract from PTV Whittlesea area map

Remember that Lalor deviation on the map? It rates a mention in PTV's route description. Although, according to the timetable, it's am peak and evening trips that start at the station, not off-peak.

You can see the stops skipped in this expanded view of the timetable.

To conclude, Route 566 is a long route that permits a one-seat ride to numerous destinations including Lalor shops, Mill Park Stables, Bundoora RMIT, Greensborough, La Trobe University and Northland. It takes people to stations at Lalor, Greensborough and Watsonia.  Childs Rd Mill Park and Greenwood Dr Macleod are the main areas where it's the only route. Elsewhere it has significant overlaps with the 86 tram and the 902 orbital.

What about the timetable? 566 was one of many routes upgraded about 10 years ago to minimum service standards. That means 7 day service until at least 9pm.

The weekday timetable (towards Northland) is below. The full route runs during daytime shopping hours while services commence from Lalor Station in the morning and evening.

While weekday services operate at regular 24 minute intervals, it is not what you'd call a clockface timetable as they are not the same number of minutes past the hour. Neither do they connect consistently with trains, which in this area operate every 20 minutes. Evening headways drop to around 40 minutes.

Saturday and Sunday frequencies are a flat 40 minutes for most of the day.  Weekend service commencement times are much earlier than the 2006 minimum standards. These set down start times of 8am on Saturdays and 9am on Sundays. These are still too late for many weekend trips. Consequently it's been common for more recent bus upgrades to start Saturday and Sunday service at 7 and 8am respectively.

Even before minimum service standards started there was a tendency for bus routes (especially in the northern and western suburbs) to start their Saturday service earlier again. This, in conjunction with the then-common 1pm finish, reflected traditional shopping hours (and before that the old 44 hour week with half-day Saturday work). Even today you will find barbers and butchers in some older shopping strips opening early on Saturday.

And Sunday mornings? If they ran at all buses (like shop trading) started later. However there remain variations, despite minimum service standards. For instance Moorabbin area buses start (and finish) late on Sundays. Whereas early Sunday starts are evident on some northern suburbs local routes. Route 566 is an example, with service starting shortly after 6am. The early shortworkings are likely due to the depot being nearby.

To conclude, Route 566's timetable meets minimum service standards. Its frequency is broadly similar to that of other suburban bus routes. However its 24 minute weekday frequency is non-clockface and doesn't reliably meet trains. And, as mentioned before, the route is not legible, particularly in areas where buses in both directions can be caught from the same stop.

The question is: What (if anything) would you do with the 566's route and timetable? Would you split it at Greensborough, calling one half (say) the 565? Or is more thorough network surgery required? Extra points if you consider wider area travel needs and other routes in the area.
Timetable Tuesday simultaneously appears on melbourneontransit.blogspot and as an article on the Urban Happiness Facebook group. Maps and timetables are from the old PTV website . 

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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Tom said...

It is rather like the old 627 before it was split into the 625 and 626. It should be split at Greensborough. The southern half could be made an extension of the 385, 343, 518 or 293 that currently terminate at Greensborough.

The section between the terminus of the 86 and Greensborough is served by either the 86 and 382 or the 902, so whether or not the duplication is needed should be considered (I do not know enough about local travel patterns to say) and if it is not, then the Childs Rd section of the 566 could become the Lalor version of the 570.

The construction of a Watsonia North station should be considered for near Grimshaw St, to better connect with the 902 and should that section remain, the 566. goung via Greensborough station seems inefficient for anybody travelling from anywhere west halfway between where the new station would be and Greensborough station. Such a station probably should have been built as part of the duplication Macleod-Greensborough opened in 1980.

AuntyFrank said...

I took the 566 from my home in Uni Hill in Bundoora to Greensborough station mostly because the Centrelink office for this area is at Greensborough. It was so unreliable during the Plenty Rd widening that it inspired many new La Trobe students to get their parents to buy them a car, and I often had to use the 902 Smart Bus instead. During the train disruptions I tried to get it back home from Greensborough station, but that ws usually a dead loss. This week I took the 566 from Ethel Grove and Plenty Rd because the trams were delayed, and after reading this piece I thought I'd see where it went on other parts of the route... it was early evening, the moon was just appearing... but when the girls in the back wouldn't stop singing along to hits of the day (and no agreeing once on any of the notes) and we veered off Plenty Rd again at Greenhills Rd to plunge dizzyingly into tiny suburban streets I cracked the shits and tried my luck with the tram (only to be tossed off at Bundoora Square shopping centre; short running is a scourge out here!).
The 566 could meet both trains at Greensborough as the track is still only single from Greensbru' on and the trains have to meet, and then it could add 5 or so minutes waiting to the running time. I don't see why the big new tram stop at Plenty Rd and McKimmies can't be a bus and tram complex and have timetables for all the buses from and to there; there are many bus stops nearby but none meet, no bus timetable info at the tram stop, no tram info at the bus stops, and traffic; 6 lanes of it, has priority.