Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #17: 600 metres in 20 minutes - the wandering route 556


The Reservoir area has more than its fair share of quirky bus routes.  We previously described the 558 with its midday reversing loop.  Then came the U-shaped 553 that ends near where it starts. This week is another serving with the 556 that, for a while, heads away from its (very popular) destination.  



What is the 556? Like many local routes it starts at Northland Shopping Centre.  It darts west to Reservoir Station.  From there it serves the eastern parts of Thomastown and Lalor on its way to Epping Station.  

It would be unexceptional if it ended there. But it doesn’t.  While 556 goes to Epping Plaza 600 metres west of the station, its path is anything but regular.  Instead it slides east, gets half way to South Morang Station (which didn’t exist when the 556 went in) then does a loop to head west.  It then follows Route 901 (which also wasn’t there when 556 started) to Epping Plaza.

The loop from station to plaza takes about 20 minutes.  If you wanted to go to Epping Plaza from eastern Thomastown or Lalor it may be faster to alight at Epping Station and walk the short way to Epping Plaza than to stay on the bus.  And there would be people who wrongly took it from Epping Station when they wanted to get to the shopping centre.


Years ago McDonalds Rd was served by a route 571.  That was replaced by the more frequent Route 901 orbital.  Other local routes changed when South Morang Station opened, and again when PTV did its Plenty Valley review.  All through this the 556 stayed unaltered, despite the 901 overlap and the new station.  This is better shown on the map below. 


Route 556 takes about an hour end to end.  On weekdays it runs every 22 minutes, peak and off-peak.  That’s better than most local bus services.  However, 22 minutes is neither memorably clockface nor harmonised with trains.  Weeknight frequency drops to about 30 minutes.  



While the difference is less than other routes, 556’s Saturday timetable is based on the old Saturday morning shopper rush with a sparser afternoon service. Morning frequency is an even 30 minutes. This drops to an uneven 40 to 50 minutes after about 2pm.   


Sunday services operate on a fairly even 45 minute headway. 


Route 556 meets trains at Reservoir and Epping. However on no day is its timetable harmonised with train frequencies.  The main change it got was about 10 years ago when it gained extra evening and weekend services to conform with minimum service standards.  Because run times are so close to (and sometimes in excess of) one hour the route’s length may make it difficult to schedule at a train harmonised frequency like every 20 or 40 minutes.  However a more optimum route length (either longer or shorter) might make harmonisation both possible and efficient.

What would you do with the 556? Should it be straightened to run directly to Epping Plaza at a clockface frequency that matches trains? Is the McDonalds Rd duplication with the 901 justified? Or would passengers on Derby Rd benefit from a new route from Epping Plaza to South Morang to replace the 556? Extra points if you consider its relationship with other routes, particularly the 577 with its alternating 20 and 40 minute frequency.

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