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

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enno said...

Useful to know.

I should write something like about buses around Frankston.

Anonymous said...

One assumption is that the Blackburn deviation is for serving the students of Blackburn High School. While the nearest railway station for the school is Blackburn itself, there are no direct routes at all between the 2 locations apart from these deviations. The normal bus that serves the school is 270 which goes east-west and only connects with Box Hill or Mitcham stations, both a couple of kilometres away. Having said that, it does not explain the other deviation trip (10am from Box Hill and 1pm to Box Hill).

Would it make more sense to schedule a 279a school morning run that starts from Blackburn Station - Surrey Road - Springfield Road (past Blackburn High), then left back onto Middleborough Road towards Box Hill instead of right towards Doncaster? If the timings are right this short trip can serve the 2 school runs potentially, namely Blackburn Station towards Blackburn High and Middleborough Road (south of Springfield Road) towards Box Hill High. If one looks at how the school zones are divided in the local area it should make a lot of sense.

Interestingly a fair chunk of the Blackburn High School zone sits along Middleborough Road in Box Hill North between Springfield Road and the M3 freeway which is exactly the main corridor for the 279 itself. But in this case, the deviation (plus the 303 on the map) does not work in their direction, and a change of bus or even a long walk along Springfield Road is required to fill the last km, while the bus continues straight past Box Hill High School which is not in the designated school zone!

Peter Parker said...

I'm not sure if there needs to be a bus between Blackburn Station and Blackburn High. After all it's only about 700-800m walk.

There's a lot of local route indirectness in the area, largely as 270 & 271 do the job of three routes. I wonder if there's much merit in the following:

270: Straight route along Springfield Rd, ie not via Heathfield Rise. Good frequency and operating hours.

271: Remove from Whitehorse Rd. Instead run via Heathfield, Katrina, a bit of Springfield near the shops then Junction Rd and down to Nunawading. Local route frequency. Would allow you to delete 273 dogleg (you might amalgamate 273 with 309 though frequency wouldn't be high).

269 (new route): Box Hill - Ringwood via Maroondah Hwy. 15 or 20 min daytime frequency, finishes approx 9pm. Allows 901 orbital to be split at Ringwood and Blackburn to economise and simplify network while connecting Box Hill with Nunawading's Golden Mile big box retail. Yes it's a service cut but I don't see why a SmartBus should parallel the train.