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? 

No comments: