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.

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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Ange said...

Now that I've found your blog I'm finding all sorts of things I want to comment on. As someone who works for a university and has unversity student children I've always found the lack of public transport options on public holidays a great irritation. University are big employers and have many students. On one particular public holiday (Melbourne Cup Day) many Uni students are in exam period. meaning there are lots of students and staff trying to get to exam venues on time. One example is Caulfield Race Course where many Monash exams are held. Come Cup Day, when your'e a student in the midst of exam stress, you now have one more thing to worry about- will I be able to get there on time? TAke the train - you'll have far fewer options because of the reduced timetable. Should be easy access as the station is right across the road from the venue- but there are many many students, so maybe you won't get on to the reduced service. DRive, if you can, but traffic is clogged around the venue. MY daughter nearly missed an exam starting time due to traffic congestion. Bottom line is that Melbourne is big enough and populated enough to need a full service every single day of the year. PUblic holidays no longer mean that everything shuts down, if it ever did. Events are on, shops are open, people are still trying to work and study. IT is no good providing a service from the 1970's in the 2000's. When is anyone going to recognise this?

Peter Parker said...

UPDATE 26 JANUARY 2020. Nearly a year on and PTV has not improved. Today is Sunday. It's also Australia Day. The Australia Day public holiday is Monday 27 January. Nevertheless their website is showing that 681 & 682 aren't running either today or tomorrow, despite both having a Sunday service (they should be running today but not tomorrow given that these routes uniquely lack public holiday service despite running 7 days). 684's special holiday timetable is also showing up for today even though it ought to be a regular Sunday service. This further shows that the bus network is too complex for PTV to understand and competently provide information on.