Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #21: Four kilometres in one hour - a look at Route 736

Mitcham and Blackburn are adjacent but one stops on the Belgrave/Lilydale train line. You can walk between them in about 40 minutes. Mitcham residents must therefore wonder what the purpose of a bus route going to Blackburn would be.  Especially if it takes longer to ride the bus than to walk. 

However such a bus route exists.  In fact there are two. But today we’ll only discuss the 736.  As you’ll see from the map below it’s like a bent hairpin.  Its major stop in the south is Glen Waverley Station.  Other trip generators include shopping centres at Vermont South, Burwood East and Forest Hill. It also goes east, serving parts of the City of Knox.  While not communicated as such (eg with different route numbers) it is probably better to see the 736 as two separate north-south routes, terminating at Glen Waverley.

The map below shows how Route 736 sits with surrounding routes.

What are the 736’s timetables like? I’ll show times for both directions as there are some interesting quirks.

End to end weekday travel time on the 736 is a bit over one hour. This is a difficult run time to schedule buses for if you want harmonised 20 or 30 minute frequencies.  Weekday headways are an uneven 30 to 40 minutes with headways widening to about 50 minutes for evening trips towards Blackburn.  Notable towards Mitcham is a short higher frequency period in the morning peak and a 61 minute gap in the late morning due to a trip terminating at Glen Waverley. 

While weekday service levels on both the Blackburn and Mitcham halves are broadly similar, this is not so on Saturdays. The full length route operates about hourly.  However extra trips to and from Mitcham provide a 30 minute service between there and Glen Waverley. 

Sunday is roughly an hourly service over the full route. Its span meets minimum standards in that trips commence before 9am.  However the length of the route means they reach their termini shortly before 10am. When combined with a train trip this makes the 736 unsuitable for those needing to be in the city much before 11am.  

What (if anything) would you do with the 736?  Would splitting it into two make it easier to understand? Should it get more even weekday frequencies and earlier Sunday service?  Extra points if you consider its relationship with other routes in the area, especially where overlaps exist.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Voices of the railways

Today we present videos about the heart and soul of the railways.

You will hear from the people who make it happen every day.

The station announcers.

The videos were from 4 and 8 years ago respectively.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Building Melbourne's 'Useful Network' - Part 1: Caroline Springs

Two weeks ago I unveiled the Melbourne public transport frequent network map. It showed where in metropolitan Melbourne there was all-day public transport service frequent enough to be useful for travel across the day.  

That had several uses. For example you could find where you could go to or connect without waiting long. Or it could help in deciding where to buy or rent a home. For those it’s better than the  PTV local area maps that do not distinguish between the useful frequent routes and less useful occasional services.  

Frequency maps can also be handy if you are a developer, urban planner or transport advocate.  

By showing where the frequent service is these maps help you see where the best locations to build (or approve) denser developments are.  Places near several frequent routes would be attractive to those who value good transport access. Developments in such areas may need less provision for parking than those remote from the frequent network.  Whereas  you would avoid high densities in less accessible places.  The 10 and possibly 15 minute Sunday map would be most useful as, if a service is frequent on Sunday it will be frequent on all other days.    

Transport advocates, particularly in densifying or historically unserved areas, may also find these maps useful.  If their suburbs have grown rapidly, experienced overcrowded buses and/or has demograpics suited to high public transport usage a strong case may exist to increase frequency.  

This exercise, which will run each Friday for several months, is to identify Melbourne's 'Useful Network' deserts. I will also identify where and how the Useful Network can be expanded.

Defining the Useful Network

The first job is to set a threshold service level for the 'Useful Network'. A strict frequency threshold (like 10 minutes for a 'Frequent Network') neither tells us much nor is cheap to fix since so few routes comply.  Whereas a lax threshold (eg hourly) is not useful for many trips. Although it may be suitable when advocating a basic service where there is nothing.

Thus the threshold needs to be somewhere in between.

I've adopted a 20 minute weekday peak and interpeak threshold frequency for the 'Useful Network'. All trams meet it. As do most train lines. Most bus routes do not. But there's many bus routes just outside the threshold that could be upgraded to Useful Network frequencies relatively cheaply. Thus extending Useful Network coverage to (say) a million more people would be comparatively affordable.  How? That's for later.

As important as frequency is span of hours. For this I'll use the existing minimum standards for buses. That is service until 9pm seven days per week.  

These requirements are not perfect. For example I'm vague on weekend frequencies. And buses would be more useful if they started one or two hours earlier (especially on weekends) and finished a little later. But for simplicity I'll stay with the existing minimum standards. You can see the existing 'Useful Network' as coloured lines when the 20 minute layers for train, tram and bus are selected from the map below (use top left icon to select or top right to view map in new tab). 

ADDENDUM MAY 2019: Since writing the above I've come across the minimum service standard for SNAMUTS network analysis. They also had to define minimum standards for a useful network. Their 20 minute interpeak weekday threshold matches the Useful Network described here. However SNAMUTS is stricter for weekends (30 min versus my 60 min) but less strict for span (none versus my 9pm).   If you look at their composite accessibility map (last done in 2014) you will see it is similar to my 20 minute network map. 

Where to from here? 

Each Friday I'll feature one area typically comprising three or four suburbs. I'll briefly discuss what's there now. Then I'll suggest ways to expand the Useful Network.  Unserved areas, sparsely populated areas or isolated pockets between Useful Network route will not be covered. Such areas may justify a less frequent local coverage service. These can be added once a network's core routes, that is its Frequent Network and Useful Network services, have been established.

Useful Network 1: Caroline Springs

The Caroline Springs area comprises 1990s - 2000s suburbs about 25km west of Melbourne. Housing is mostly detached. Although blocks are not particularly large and there is some higher density near the Caroline Springs Town Centre. Rail access is mostly by bus to the Sunbury Line. The new Caroline Springs station to the south outside the suburb is served by country trains and has no significant walkable catchment.  

The area currently has two Useful Network corridors. Both are relatively recent additions. The first is Route 420 between Sunshine, Deer Park and Watergardens (shown above in blue). It was added in 2014 as part of the Brimbank network review. Route 420 is one of the few services to operate every 20 minutes seven days per week.  It's timed to meet trains at Sunshine Station.

Also quite new is the red line from Sunshine to Burnside. This is a two route corridor comprising routes 426 and 456. Both start at Sunshine and overlap to Burnside. 426 then goes north to the Caroline Springs Town Centre while 456 goes west to Melton. Both routes normally operate every 40 minutes. Even offsetting provides a 7 day 20 minute combined service, timed to meet Sunbury line trains at Albion or Sunshine. This corridor features wide operating hours with services to Caroline Springs Town Centre finishing at midnight. 

Potential Caroline Springs Useful Network extensions 

1. Route 460 rescheduling: Most striking on the map is the long white corridor from the station up Caroline Springs Bvd and along Gourlay Rd. That's Caroline Springs' main spine, with the town centre, shops and numerous schools along it. The northern end is not far from the busy Watergardens station and town centre. The absence of the Useful Network in the area is not for the lack of a route; Route 460 from Caroline Springs Station to Watergardens serves it all. The only problem is its current timetable (a previous timetable used to be better). While the 460 normally has three buses per hour, their uneven spacing (sometimes with gaps approaching an hour) excludes it from the Useful Network.  

A characteristic of Caroline Springs is that its bus routes are quite wide apart. There is also limited road permeability to the east as there are few crossing points across creeks and a former urban growth boundary. In addition a sizable proportion of the population work in the CBD so would benefit from better access to trains.  These provide patronage opportunities for the routes that are there.

2. Route 418 upgrade: The next priority for a Useful Network upgrade is likely to be Route 418 along Taylors Rd. This is the most direct means to reach Metro trains from the Caroline Springs Town Centre. Thanks to the 2014 Brimbank network review it has a good direct alignment. In addition its catchment to the east includes a high low income population who tend to be heavy users of buses throughout the day. Because Route 418 peak buses already operate approximately every 20 minutes, upgrading interpeak buses to also operate every 20 minutes should be relatively cheap.   

3. Train frequency upgrade: Weekday midday train frequencies at Caroline Springs Station are currently 2 trains per hour, spaced slightly unevenly. This drops to every 60 to 80 minutes on weekday afternoons and weekends. This is why the line does not feature on the Useful Network. An upgrade to every 20 minutes (to Melton) would greatly improve the station's usefulness and boost patronage on the southern portion of bus Route 460.   

4. Other Useful Network extensions: Other extensions to the Useful Network around Caroline Springs are possible. However they are harder due to interdependencies with rail projects or other bus routes. 

For example upgrading Route 426 to a 20 minute off-peak frequency would make it part of the Useful Network in its own right and better connect Sunshine with the Caroline Springs Town Centre. However this would leave an inefficient duplication with Route 456 to Sunshine unless it was shortened to terminate at a local station such as Caroline Springs or Deer Park. As this would remove a fast direct connection between Melton Town and Sunshine this might only be done after the Melton line is electrified or at least greatly upgraded in frequency.  

Similarly something along Hume Dr from Watergardens could fill in some Useful Network gaps. That currently has Route 461 running along it. However Route 461 heads south, going through some smaller streets to Caroline Springs Town Centre. Later, as development spreads west and routes are reformed then Hume Dr might deserve its own more frequent Useful Network route.  

Service priorities for expanding Caroline Springs Useful Network

1. Reschedule Route 460 to provide a more consistent 20 minute weekday service while connecting with trains at both ends. By itself this would massively expand the Useful Network for very low cost.
2. Upgrade Route 418 to operate every 20 minutes during the day between the peaks.
3. Upgrade train frequencies at Caroline Springs Station to provide a consistent 20 minute or better service on weekdays and weekends (as a precursor to electrification).
4. Investigate other routes or corridors such as Route 426 and Hume Drive for future Useful Network upgrades as train services improve and the area develops. 

That's it for Caroline Springs. Please leave your thoughts on the Useful Network concept below. I'll review another area's network in a future Friday.

Post Script: Expanded Useful Network - areas covered (updated as posts appear)

1. Caroline Springs (this post) 
2. Reservoir Epping Bundoora
3. Blackburn South Burwood Glen Waverley 
4. Greater Dandenong
5. Altona North Newport Williamstown
6. St Albans Essendon Highpoint
7. Mordialloc Freeway corridor
8. St Kilda Brighton Sandringham (north-south routes)
9. Bentleigh East and beyond
10. Inner north Brunswick area (east-west routes) 
11. Footscray to Highpoint and Moonee Ponds (north-south routes)
12. Templestowe - Box Hill via High St
13. Craigieburn
14. Canterbury Rd Box Hill - Ringwood
15. La Trobe University, Bundoora
16. Monash Uni, Glen Waverley, Knox, Oakleigh, Ferntree Gully Rd
17. Melbourne Airport
18. Top 12 missing links and how to fix them
19. Mornington Peninsula
20. 302/304 crowding, Box Hill and Templestowe
21. South-West Sunshine
22. Burnley St, Richmond

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #20: Weeknights on the trains - how your line compares

Instead of discussing one (sometimes obscure) bus route, this week's Timetable Tuesday is different. I examine the whole Metro train network, showing your line against the rest. Then I compare 2019 services with 1975. Finally I  guess how long improvement might take based on recent gains.  

Last week I issued two series of network maps. The first series showed frequent services operating during the day.  The second series showed which routes operated at 10pm. That's important because most bus routes finish around 9pm and it's not immediately obvious which run later.

Today I'll look at weeknight service on the suburban train network in more detail. Rather than sample frequencies at a particular time, I'll show how frequencies fall over the evening on the various lines. 

How your line compares

Weeknight frequencies for all Metro train lines (and Geelong) are below (click to enlarge). Times are from the CBD.  Most of the longer lines operate an intense peak service with express running.  Generally that steps down to a 15 or 20 minute all stations service after about 6:30 or 7pm. Frequency later drops to 30 minutes on all but one line. Shorter lines like Williamstown, Upfield and Alamein are similar except for a lower pm peak frequency. Frequencies are to the end of the line except for a couple beyond contiguous urban development (like Sunbury and Hurstbridge) where I've used an intermediate station.  

Most striking is the disparity in service frequencies across the network. Lines can be divided into three main groups.

* 30 minute evening service all night: Applies on the Sunbury, Craigieburn, Upfield, Mernda, Lilydale, Belgrave, Alamein and Glen Waverley lines. Normally have a brief period of 20 minute service until the 30 minute frequency kicks in from approximately 7:30 - 8pm. The Hurstbridge line to Eltham almost falls in this group but has some ~20 min gaps later.  

* 30 minute evening service after about 10pm: Applies on the Werribee, Williamstown, Ringwood, Pakenham, Cranbourne, Dandenong and Frankston lines. Mostly have 20 minute service until approximately 10pm, with a drop to 30 minutes afterwards.  A recent upgrade extended Dandenong's 10 minute service to after 9:30pm.

* 20 minute evening service until last train: Provided on the Sandringham line only. But at one time it was widespread. Keep reading.

Weeknight timetables have had some service upgrades in the last 20 or so years. Until about the early 2000s, the Belgrave/Lilydale lines were the busiest on the network. Around then early evening frequencies got upgraded. Hence the 15 minute service to Ringwood.

Not much happened for a decade or so after that. Then new greenfields timetables were introduced to Werribee, Williamstown, Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston. That upgraded early evening service from 30 to 20 minutes.  20 minute service continued on these lines for about two hours after the others had dropped down to half-hourly.  Somewhere around that time the Hurstbridge line got some small evening upgrades as far as Greensborough or Eltham. Another upgrade happened a bit after electrification when Sunbury got all evening trains to finish there rather than about half.

There isn't much of a patronage relationship between which lines received evening upgrades and which haven't. For example the Dandenong line is long and busy with Williamstown short and quiet. However it and Werribee are part of a weekday through-route linked to Frankston. That got a mid-evening 20 minute upgrade. So Williamstown and Werribee had to as well. 

Sunbury (as far as Watergardens), Craigieburn and Mernda are all busy lines. All have had electrification extensions. All penetrate growth areas. But the cores of these lines retain the same decades-old 30 minute weeknight frequencies. By not introducing more frequent greenfields train timetables, the state government has foregone the full benefits of its transport infrastructure investments. This is something that the Auditor-General warned about with the Regional Rail Link

Comparison with 1975

So much for 2019. What about some historical perspective? The working timetable book above, found at a secondhand shop in the back streets of Spotswood, is one of my favourite transport purchases. It has all metropolitan rail timetables for January 1975.

The regional network was larger, with trains to Werribee, Healesville, Mornington and others. The electrified suburban network was smaller ending at places like St Albans, Broadmeadows and Epping.  However metropolitan trains to Pakenham were just starting.   

Below is a repeat of the above evening frequency exercise using the 1975 timetable. Timetables for Geelong, Werribee or Cranbourne weren't available or on the metropolitan network. But other lines, though sometimes shorter, were. The suburbs spread out less. And not all trains ran to the end of the line. So on some lines I thought it fair to judge frequencies at closer in stations such as Gowrie, Thomastown or Montmorency.   

The 1975 timetable is notable for two reasons:

* Particularly in the north and west, evening peak frequencies are lower. And they fall away earlier.  People were more likely to finish work on the dot at 5pm back then. And rarely did they linger later in the city. Services were down to an off-peak frequency at or shortly after 6pm. 

* Notwithstanding the earlier post-peak drop-off, evening frequencies stayed higher for longer. On most lines trains ran every 20 minutes to 11pm and often until the last train. Lines with comprehensive 20 minute evening service include Williamstown, St Albans, Broadmeadows, Upfield (Gowrie), Epping, Ringwood, Glen Waverley, Dandenong, Frankston and Sandringham. To put this in context, interpeak and Saturday daytime services also ran every 20 minutes on most lines then. So  back then night and interpeak frequencies were mostly similar. 

To summarise, weeknight trains were more consistently frequent in 1975 than they are in 2019. Then, with one exception, you could randomly arrive at Flinders Street and board a train on any major line within 20 minutes. Even around 11pm.

That's no longer possible in 2019. Typical frequencies have dropped to 30 minutes for all or some of the night. Even on lines with high day and night patronage such as to Dandenong and Watergardens.

2019 vs 1975 weeknight service comparison summary

Day and night train service to outer areas like Belgrave, Lilydale and Pakenham is better now. Ditto for areas that weren't electrified in 1975, such as Werribee, Sunbury, Craigieburn and Mernda. Sandringham and Alamein have also gained. 

But, otherwise, if you live near a suburban station that had a full service in 1975, you probably have an inferior evening service frequency today. Especially after about 10pm. Dramatically lower in the case of St Albans, Broadmeadows, Thomastown and Glen Waverley. Somewhat lower for Ringwood, Williamstown and Frankston. Dandenong is better early in the evening but worse later. Montmorency remains uneven but is on balance worse off. 

Even further back 

Victorianrailways.net has a 1939 suburban timetable. The pattern we saw when going from 2009 to 1975 continued back to 1939. That is the intensively served network was smaller but evening frequencies were better on it. More specifically there were approximately 15 minute evening frequencies to what are now innerish middle suburbs like Williamstown, Essendon, Coburg, Reservoir, Heidelberg, Box Hill and Brighton Beach. Some others like East Malvern, Oakleigh and Moorabbin had 20 minute frequencies. Hence the likes of Essendon, Coburg and Reservoir have seen a halving of evening train frequencies in the last 80 years.

Conclusion and prospects

Evening train frequency cuts made in the late 1970s, at a time when patronage was falling (and people stayed home watching their new colour TVs) have proved exceptionally enduring. It has taken years to achieve even partial service restorations on some lines.  

In more exact numbers, timetable upgrades in the last decade have restored weeknight 20 minute frequencies on about half the lines for about half the evening. Assuming we maintain this pace we will have a consistent 20 minute weeknight frequency on all lines in thirty years - ie 2049.

This will tie in well with the government's proposed Suburban Rail Loop (SRL) due in 2050. Given the current high enthusiasm for infrastructure and low enthusiasm for service, the SRL may even be complete before we see all evening 20 minute train service to (say) Craigieburn.

While the above might be slightly tongue in cheek, it does match the evidence. After decades of building less rail infrastructure than Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, Melbourne is picking up the pace. We have become the new experts at building things.

But we're less good at using what we build fully, eg by adding service. Whereas, in one major timetable upgrade in 2017 Sydney increased the proportion of stations with a 15 minute service from 29% to 70% (with 93% of passengers).  We could do worse than follow their example so our new infrastructure gets better than half-hourly trains at night. 

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Southern Cross Station: How it works (or doesn't)

Many know about the operating franchise contracts for Metro Trains and Yarra Trams. They go for 7 years.  Monthly penalties apply if too many services are late or cancelled. And they may not be renewed if overall performance is judged poor (such as what happened to Connex and the former operator of Yarra Trams last time). There also exist contracts for buses run by Transdev and others but they are less well known.  

Even more obscure are the arrangements that govern Southern Cross Station. People assume that stations and interchanges are maintained by the companies that serve them. Or government transport authorities like PTV. Usually that's right. But not for Southern Cross because of how it was funded and built. 

The old Spencer Street Station lost its passenger underpasses but gained a new name, wavy roof, concourse and escalators through a 34 year Private-Public Partnership (PPP) deal. That started in 2002. Alone among stations, Southern Cross is run by a private consortium, unconnected with Metro Trains.

Long-term PPPs were a big thing in public administration about 15 or 20 years ago. Like a Harvey Norman interest free deal you could have your shiny new tollway or station without having to pay much up front. You still made payments (like a renter to a landlord) but it seemed more respectable than old-fashioned Keynesian public borrowing.

A certain generation of politicians loved PPPs. They let them do the political version of walk and chew gum; that is build stuff while being 'financially responsible' by keeping debt off the government books. Instead capital could come from private sources who would rub their hands to get safe returns from long-term government contracts. Especially ones that, like for Southern Cross, transferred risks to government. Not that the opposite was always better, as we found with rail franchising.

Notable about the Southern Cross PPP is its longevity. Over 30 years. Unlike poor old Connex, whose contract was shorter, it doesn't look like the station operator can be turfed out after a few years. They'd have to do something really evil. And even if they did the state would be up against the country's best contract lawyers.

We don't necessarily think of stations as transport providers. But they are. Station lifts and escalators are as much a transport service as the trains on the platform. Especially for Southern Cross due to its  high patronage, position on the network and escalator-dependent design.

Even though escalator failures inconvenience thousands and disrupt trains, Southern Cross appears to lack the means or will to fix things quickly and get people moving. Neither is there public transparency; PTV publishes performance figures for Metro and Yarra but not for station escalators.  Unlike New York's MTA or London's TFL who do take escalators seriously.  

Southern Cross Station escalator problems have been big news lately. Recent failures have lengthened platform clearance times and delayed trains. Repairs have been tardy. Our biggest station is hindering rather than helping travel for thousands.

Initial station design is part of the problem. Short wide people-powered ramps (or steps) going under platforms (like the old Spencer St) are always going to be more robust and reliable than narrow electric escalators going a long way up (like the new Southern Cross).  The lack of mid-platform access (such as at Flinders St via the Degraves subway) has meant no redundancy when things do fail.

Too late to fix? There is always the option of making the best of what's there by managing better.

Last week's problems weren't the first. The lead time for escalator repairs can be long. While a  back-up replacement escalator can't simply be switched in like 1954's telephone talking clock, the better attitudes to maintenance and continuity of service back then are instructive, given that both the station and talking clock are (or were) state-critical services.

Regulating Southern Cross's operation is the aforementioned PPP contract (known as the Services and Development Agreement or SDA).  It's here. Its two parties are Civic Nexus (service provider) and the state government through the former Southern Cross Station Authority (service purchaser).  The latter was previously the Spencer Street Station Authority. SCSA's functions were later transferred to the transport department secretary and then to Public Transport Victoria.

PTV's 2017-2018 annual report mentions Southern Cross Station quite a few times. This includes mention who bears the risk and the costs incurred (big roofs don't come cheap). Reporting is all financial - there's nothing on the station's operational performance (eg escalator reliability).

What about the SDA itself? There's two main documents.

1. Annexure 1 (the project brief ) has history worth reading.  Airport rail, a high speed train and City Loop expansion were mentioned as things to make provision for. Even though we don't yet have any of these things, the project brief's assumed 30 000 peak passenger flow by 2050 (6.2.2) might have already been reached.  6.3 has more on platform access requirements.

2. The main SDA comprises about 300 pages.  That's what I'll concentrate on.

Schedule 1 (after p198) lists service standards.

Most of interest is that exit capacity needs to be enough to quickly empty trains and clear metropolitan platforms within 90 seconds. Regional platforms need to be cleared within 120 seconds. There are exceptions for special events near the station.

Failure to quickly clear platforms lessens the ability to run trains at close headways, and thus line capacity. If egress is poor, passengers can't disembark quickly. And train drivers can't see past large crowds on the platform. Both increase dwell times and lateness.  These effects are compounded on a fragile network like Melbourne's plagued with single line sections and complex stopping patterns on some lines.

Some key performance indicators (KPIs) are self-assessed by the station operator. Exit capacity is  (rightly) important enough to be marked as 'SCSA review'. Given organisational changes, that means monitoring by PTV. This is not publicly reported in the manner that train and tram operational performance is. However there is internal reporting. Here the concessionaire (ie Civic Nexus) must provide quarterly performance reports as per 2.3. In addition SCSA is given wide discretion to monitor performance in 33.1.

Safety is a priority at Southern Cross. Especially if you don't inhale the fumes. No, seriously. Pretty much anything that fails must be 'made safe' within 15 to 60 minutes. That usually involves some sort of tape, cordon and often staff to warn and direct. 

Less defined seem to be requirements to go beyond 'make safe' and 'make working'. That means promptly fixing things like escalators that fail. If the priority was on keeping escalators going, I would expect measures like keeping multiple spare parts on or near site, time limits for repairs and a per hour penalty regime for when escalators are out of service. I couldn't find them.

Instead their KPIs are outcome based like clearing the platform within 90 seconds. That's different in that it places priority on peak times and busy platforms. For example, if an escalator fails at 9pm Sunday does it have a significant customer service consequence? Probably not. That's assuming there's another in the same direction next to it. Nearby steps might also be OK. Provided the escalator was fixed by early next morning (when it is needed for peak crowds) you wouldn't fine the station operator.  After all, if you're too demanding you'll probably have to pay somehow, possibly for limited benefit.

On the other hand, increasing station patronage places a requirement that all escalators must be working at all peaks and increasing amounts of the off-peak for the 90 second requirement to be met. So maybe the distinction between the two approaches is not so important despite different ways of thinking.  Especially with higher patronage.

On this last point, at the time the Southern Cross contract was signed in 2002, transport masters had varying beliefs as to what rail patronage would do. Sometimes they thought it would rise quickly. For instance when they accepted the high patronage projections of private rail franchisees. Similar growth was assumed in the Melbourne 2030 mode share targets.

Other times they assumed low growth, such as when (not) funding additional rail services, scrapping the Hitachi fleet, and, as it turned out, designing Southern Cross. Although wrong in hindsight (especially for Southern Cross, being located at the fast growing end of town) low estimates in 2002 might have been plausible given the slow recent growth. Had planning been done in 2006 or 2007 numbers might have been different.
I've only discussed a few things and can't do the SDA complete justice. Other key points are at 4. (availability of service), 5. (repairs and maintenance), 8. (passenger information and signage including the possible use of monitors for advertising), 13. (back up power), 14. (bin emptying), 27.1 (passenger flow monitoring), 34.3 (advertising),  Annexure K (maintenance and refurbishment plan) and Annexure V (air quality standards).

What is the Southern Cross experience to you? Do you get a sense of uplift when you enter Southern Cross to take a V/Locity? Do you love the shopping available? Do the diesel fumes get to you? Or are you in a long queue for the only escalator working? If nothing else I hope the above has provided some clarity about how Southern Cross Station works (or sometimes doesn't). 

Friday, April 19, 2019

The public holiday gamble on Melbourne buses

Today is Good Friday. A public holiday. Like Christmas Day, it's customary for train, tram and bus services in Victoria to operate to a Sunday timetable. Except when they don't. And because Night Network never operates the night before Good Friday (and two out of seven days on Christmas Eve), trains commence at the old late morning time that marooned early Sunday travellers before Night Network started.

On other public holidays public transport normally runs to a Saturday timetable. Except when it doesn't. For example some bus routes either run to a special timetable, run a modified Saturday timetable without footnoted trips after 9pm, or, most significantly of all, operate Saturdays but not public holidays.

Trains and trams are fairly uniform but we lack consistently applied rules for buses. It's not simple like other cities where a Sunday timetable applies on all public holidays, no ifs or buts.

Still, we were making excellent progress about 10 years ago. The 2006 Meeting Our Transport Challenges plan seriously started holiday standardisation and more than half finished the job. Bus operators like Ventura had public holiday service added to some of their Monday to Saturday routes. Further standardisation occurred in 2013 when Transdev took over from Melbourne Bus Link (which had its own idiosyncratic holiday timetable pattern). And new bus networks in areas like St Albans, Werribee and Cranbourne got standard public holiday timetables from the outset.

Since then progress has stalled. Today nearly 30 Melbourne metropolitan bus routes remain outstanding with service on a Saturday or Sunday but not public holidays. That's not insignificant. But it's not a big number either. So it would be cheap to fix. To pluck something out of the air, a couple of million dollars a year would go a long way towards sorting it out. If anything's left over you'd end reduced summer holiday timetables as well. Non-standard timetables on public holidays remains one of the factors that make catching buses, the only public transport near most homes, harder and less certain than train or tram travel.

The just gone Labour Day public holiday (11 March) is an example. Trains, trams and most bus routes ran to a Saturday timetable. But other bus routes that operate at least Monday - Saturday, including two that feature 7 day service, did not.

Some weekday-only routes serving universities (eg 201, 301, 401, 403, 601) also operated. This makes sense because Labour Day is a university teaching day. However Route 768, Deakin's second university shuttle, appeared not to run.

Despite past progress, public holiday arrangements for buses in Melbourne remain so complex that both bus companies and Public Transport Victoria, whose job it is to provide passenger information, do not always understand what runs when. When bus operators and PTV publicly disagree (eg below) what hope does the passenger have?

When asked online, PTV is always fast to respond. However they like using weasel terms like "may have been a change" or "service may not be operating today". Not the stuff to win confidence of passengers travelling long distances in an area where alternative services are sparse or infrequent. They often apologise but rarely concede error. 

As it turned out, PTV's website timetable was right and Ventura's advice wasn't. PTV's speculation about Route 887 not running proved idle. That was demonstrated when the bus was seen operating in the web-based bus tracker below. Still that doesn't help when planning a bus trip in advance.

The point of this post is not to level blame at any bus company or organisation with regard to incorrect advice on public holiday timetables. What is known is that errors and/or ambiguities appear almost every public holiday. This adds to the perceived flakiness of bus services in Melbourne.

Errors are human. But (i) bad network design, including complex public holiday timetable arrangements, and (ii) lax internal data quality assurance systems, are making problems inevitable rather than rare exceptions. Both are cheaply and easily fixable in terms of the scale that we've become used to in transport projects.

Want to know more about the intricacies of public holiday arrangements for buses in Melbourne? Others have probed this in more detail.  So grab multiple glasses, cups or mugs of your favourite beverage and read the BCSV's Public Holiday Inconsistencies on Melbourne's Buses

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The network at 10pm: More maps and the politics of evening service

Since it was elected in 2014 the Andrews Labor government has made much of Melbourne being a major events city that's open for business and fun 24 hours a day. In this we have the edge on Sydney, whose main airport has a night curfew and where party goers must contend with lockout laws.

A practical demonstration of the government's agenda has been 'Night Network'. Instead of trains and trams shutting down around 1am, Night Network provides 24 hour weekend service on all Metro train lines and six key tram routes.  About 20 special bus routes serve areas remote from trains and trams between about 1 and 5 am. Also added were 2am coaches to key regional centres. Running Night Network, particularly the trains, is not cheap.  One could have greatly upgraded service at other times, when more people are travelling, for the same money. However the political will was there so it happened. Night Network commenced in 2016, replacing the previous bus-only NightRider service.

Less well known is what happens in the hours before Night Network starts. If your only public transport is a local bus, the last service is normally around 9pm.  On Friday and Saturday nights that means several hours without service until Night Network kicks in (assuming you're near a route). Though that's better than fifteen years ago, when few bus routes ran much after 7pm (or on Sundays). 

With most local bus routes having finished, what is still running at 10 or 11pm? That's easy to find out via the PTV website if you're only interested in a few routes.  But, like what we found with the daytime frequent network maps, getting a whole-network view is harder.

This is where these maps come in. They show the entire operational network at 10-11pm on a weekday, Saturday or Sunday. You can choose between 20, 30 and 60 minute frequencies (click at top left to open menu and again to close it). Again one can select a route to get more detail on its frequency and operating days. Some routes only operate in one direction after 10:30 or 11pm so it's important to check timetables if using these maps to travel. 

Melbourne public transport 10pm network: Monday - Friday

Note: Several routes (eg 170, 180, 460, 494, 495) have after 10pm service on Friday evenings only. These are not shown above. These routes also operate until late on Saturday and are shown on the map below.

Melbourne public transport 10pm network: Saturday

Note: This map generally also applies on public holidays where a Saturday timetable operates. The exceptions are a few routes (eg 170, 180, 460, 494, 495) where 10pm and later service only runs on Saturdays. See PTV timetables for footnotes. 

Melbourne public transport 10pm network: Sunday

Note: This map also applies on public holidays where a Sunday timetable operates, eg Good Friday and Christmas Day.

Network service patterns

What are the main operating patterns of after 10pm services? Some areas have several routes while others have none.  Those unfamiliar with service planning history might assume that if a route has 10pm service there must be demand for it, and if it doesn't have 10pm service there is no demand. In other words they assume tight monitoring and responsive planning that distributes service to where it is most needed and used.

That's not how it works in practice. The assumed 'common sense' responsiveness of service provision to patronage rarely occurs unless crowding reaches politically significant proportions. This is less likely at night than at peak times, despite the much lower marginal cost of adding off-peak service. 

Where service appears excessive governments have been slow to trim due to the fear of what befell previous administrations (notably Kirner and Kennett) that did cut transport service.  And, where service is insufficient, the types of passengers who crowd 10pm trains, trams and buses (overseas students, foreign-born service industry workers and youth) either cannot vote or are politically weaker than (more affluent) peak CBD commuters. So although our city has doubled in population, with evening patronage rising even faster, today's 10pm train frequencies on most lines are much as they were after large cuts circa 1978. In contrast weekday peak train services have improved on many lines and make the front pages when they fail. 

Outside the minority of areas that have had their buses recently reviewed or greenfields timetables implemented for trains and trams, history and inertia are bigger influencers of public transport service than passenger demand or social need.

In more detail, the factors that determine whether an area has service at 10pm are as follows:

* The presence of trains and trams. Anywhere with a train or tram will have service at 10pm. Anywhere with a bus probably won't. At 10pm trains typically run every 30 minutes. Monday to Saturday trams are every 20 minutes, making connections with trains erratic. Sunday night trams run every 30 minutes except for some routes recently upgraded to 20 minutes.

* Legacy bus routes with 10pm Sunday night service. Most are old ex-Tramways services that have inherited long operating hours. Or they involve substitutes for altered or promised train, tram or bus services. For example Route 190 compensates for rerouting Geelong trains away from Werribee.  732 is a substitute for extending the Route 75 tram to Knox City. And 426 replaces the part of the long-hours Route 216 west of Sunshine. Similarly, the former 571 'Train Link' substituted for the deferred rail extension to South Morang while the previous 896 'Train Link' was the government's response to a promised but not delivered Cranbourne East rail extension. 

* The presence of 900-series SmartBus routes. These are orbital and radial routes introduced about 10-15 years ago. They represent the biggest addition to Monday - Saturday 10pm service in decades across a large swathe of middle distance (10-30km) suburbs. None run at 10pm Sundays.

* The presence of local routes unusual for running at 10pm weeknights but over only a narrow span on weekends. Long-standing ex-MetBus routes concentrated around Box Hill and Ringwood. They missed out on the minimum standards upgrades about 10 years ago. Hence they are shown on the map in grey, to denote their nil or early finishing Sunday service. Some of these routes were radically changed in 2014 but operating days and hours were left below minimum standards.

* Routes with 1 or 2 day per week 10pm service. Some outer areas, such as Point Cook, Werribee, Caroline Springs and Cranbourne, had their local bus networks reviewed in the last 5 or 6 years. Local routes were reformed, and, where they finished earlier, upgraded to at least the 9pm minimum standard.  However a few of the main routes got upgraded beyond that, with 10-11pm service operating on Friday and/or Saturday nights. Along with SmartBus these upgrades were the second significant extension of after 10pm service, albeit only on a few nights of the week.

* Established post 1950s suburbs that haven't had a recent bus review. A huge number of middle-distance suburbs remote from either train or SmartBus services are unlikely to have 10pm service on any night of the week.

* Fringe growth suburbs. Almost certainly will not have 10pm service, particularly between Sunday and Thursday night. This is despite their high population density, and, in some cases, demographic characteristics that may make 10pm services more successful than some areas in which they currently run.

What about the borderline cases? The train to Melton had >60 min gaps in the inbound direction around 10pm. I included that one. Some routes finished earlier in one direction. Others were borderline in both directions. For example some former Moorabbin Transit routes (eg 811, 812, 822, 825) differed in their interpretation of the minimum service spans with starts and finishes later than desirable in some directions, particularly on weekends. The same goes for Sita's 472 on Sundays. I left these out even though it's possible to board along at least parts of these routes in at least one direction after 10pm. 

Have a look at these maps and note weekday and weekend variations. Also think about the distribution of 10pm service. Should more areas without it have it? And can you find cases where buses appear to duplicate trains or trams, even at 10pm? 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #19: This way or that way? The alternating bus route 513.

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.

“It’s the destination that counts, not how you get there”. That’s possibly the credo of whoever designed Route 513 across Melbourne’s northern suburbs. At first glance the 513 looks like any other bus route. It runs roughly east-west from Eltham to Glenroy via Bell St, serving a mix of mid-20th century residential, industrial and retail catchments.  Operating along one of the main roads in the middle-northern suburbs, Route 513 is one of the area’s most established and least changed routes.

The first clue that something isn’t ordinary is the text at the top of the map below.  According to that, if standard convention is followed, the route goes to Glenroy via Lower Plenty then Greensborough.  That matches the numbering sequence of the timepoints on the map.  But it gets tricky when traced.  Does the bus backtrack via Eltham or is there an unshown short-cut from Lower Plenty to Greensborough?

As it turns out, neither is correct.  Instead, as you’ll see from the timetable, 513 is basically two routes. They’re the same between Glenroy and Rosanna. But between Rosanna and Eltham they split. One goes via Lower Plenty while the other operates via Greensborough. This means that passengers catching a bus need to watch for the route number, destination and via point.

513’s western half is shown below. It provides unique coverage to much of Hadfield and Pascoe Vale. Then it heads east via Bell Street, overlapping the much newer Route 903 orbital SmartBus. Unlike eastern areas (such as Carrum Downs and Nunawading) where existing routes were modified when the orbitals commenced, no local route changes occurred here. Similarly the 513 remained unchanged when Route 561 was extended west from Coburg to Pascoe Vale more recently. 

The rest of 513 is shown below. It is the only route in the area that misses Northland Shopping Centre.  This directness along Bell Street allows faster travel between Coburg and Heidelberg than other parallel routes such as 527 and 903.  The 513 splits east of Rosanna.  All trips go to Eltham but they alternate between whether they go via Greensborough or Lower Plenty.  Therefore the route’s frequency east of Rosanna is halved.  Trips via Greensborough form the only public transport in parts of Macleod and Watsonia.  In contrast, 513 trips via Lower Plenty add destinations but not unique coverage as there is significant overlap with the long-established Route 517 and the newer SmartBus 901 and 902 orbital routes.  Also, unlike other parts of Route 513, such as around Bellfield and West Heidelberg, the demographics of Lower Plenty for high bus usage are unfavourable.

The 513’s timetable is below (one direction shown - other direction has similar service levels).  Weekday service frequency west of Rosanna is 15 minutes during peaks, 20 minutes interpeak and 30 minutes at night.  Frequency is halved on each section east of Rosanna. Operating hours are slightly longer than the minimum standard for local routes.

Frequencies are harmonised with trains at most times. However the length of the route and the number of train stations served makes precise timetable coordination difficult. 

Weekend frequency west of Rosanna is 40 minutes. Again service alternates between Lower Plenty and Greensborough with each operating every 80 minutes, ie below the hourly minimum standard.  However 513’s weekend starts are earlier than the minimum standard.

What (if anything) would you do with the 513?  Would renumbering one part 514 help simplify it? Or, given known PTV difficulty with communicating the higher frequency of what would become a multi-route corridor, would this fragment the service and do more harm than good? Another option, noting the significant overlaps, could be to run all trips to Greensborough and terminate there, with a possible review of routes in the Lower Plenty area to retain coverage.  Extra points if you consider its relationship with other routes in the area, especially 293, 517, 527, 561, 901, 902 and 903.

PS: Visit Krustylink for historical background on the 513 including old timetables

Monday, April 15, 2019

Where is the all week frequent service? Melbourne's 7 day frequent network maps

The Melbourne online public transport frequent network map made public last Friday has been very popular. It's had nearly 2000 views in just a few days. And they can't all have been mine.

Viewer feedback has made it better. Tram and bus routes now have descriptions instead of just numbers. There are more footnotes. And major stations and destinations are marked. Though due to the 10 layer maximum I've had to combine these with the 40 minute frequency train service layer.

The map's main problem is that it showed weekday frequencies only. While weekend frequencies were given when selecting individual routes or corridors, you didn't get a network view of where frequent weekend service exists (unlike weekdays). That's important because many frequent weekday routes become infrequent on weekends. 

Below are frequent network maps for each day of the week. The Saturday map applies on all public holidays except Christmas Day and Good Friday. Use the Sunday map for those.

The top left icon lets you select between 10, 15 and 20 minute frequencies for each mode. Experiment with this if the maps don't look right or you wish to change the background. Top right gives a larger map on a new tab (recommended). And you can share the map as an email or via your favourite social media.

Melbourne public transport frequent network Monday - Friday (~7am - 7pm) 

Note: Peak frequencies are usually better or similar to interpeak frequencies. In a few cases they are not, eg counterpeak trains between Greensborough and Eltham with >40 min gaps. This is why the map shows the 20 minute service terminating at Greensborough.

Melbourne public transport frequent network Saturday (~11am - 6pm)

Melbourne public transport frequent network Sunday (~11am - 6pm)

Bookmark this item for convenient access to all three maps.

Travel at night? Here's were you can go after 10pm.

Or want to see all the bus routes, not just the frequent ones? Visit PTV's Melbourne by Bus map.

Comments are again appreciated and can be left below. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Are you near frequent service? Melbourne's new online frequent network map

Public transport goes to a lot of places in Melbourne. But where is the really useful service? That is the routes and corridors with wide operating hours and good frequency.

Speaking roughly, trams are more frequent than trains. Trains tend to be better than buses. But not always.  Parts of some metropolitan lines have trains only every 40 minutes.  Rail infrastructure usually assures wide operating hours but not necessarily the frequency needed for convenient travel.  And there are some very frequent bus routes and corridors. 

This interactive frequency map can help.  It shows only the most frequent, and thus useful, parts of the network.  Show or hide train, tram and bus.  Choose between 10, 15 or 20 minute frequency thresholds on each mode (menu in top left of map below).  Or use the 40 minute layer for the whole suburban train network.  It’s not my first attempt at frequent network mapping but I think this is better and more useful. 

Or open the Melbourne frequent public transport network map here (new window)

Frequencies shown are daytime maximum waiting times between approximately 7am and 7pm. Many routes have higher frequencies during peak times. Although that isn't always the case and I had to make minor allowances. For example I kept Altona and Williamstown trains on the 20 minute map even though they operate every 22 minutes. In contrast counter-peak trains between Greensborough and Eltham have 40 minute gaps. So I left Montmorency and Eltham off the 20 minute map even though it features that frequency interpeak.  

Click on a line to get finish times, weekend frequencies, related routes and other information. Future maps will show weekend and evening frequencies.  

This map is easiest to use on a desktop computer. But you can also use it on a mobile device. Poke around for a menu so that you can select which lines and frequencies you wish to appear.  Use it with Google maps transit data so you can zoom in on a frequent line and obtain arrival information on the next service along it. The video above runs you through it. Change the base map for a different view - that's underneath where you select what frequencies and modes to show.  

That’s it for today. I could write more. But I know you’d rather explore the map than read. I'll discuss frequency’s geography, history and politics later. For now though, please let me know your thoughts on the map in the comments section below.

PS: Frequent network maps for all seven days are now available here