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

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

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)


1whoknows said...

In my view the most logical change would be an alphabetical addition, for example 513L via Lower Plenty and 513G via Greensborough. Prior to these routes becoming part of the 513 they ran as two different routes between Eltham and Heidelberg under the name of Valley Buslines using Bedfords whilst the 513 ran from Heidelberg to Glenroy as Bell St Bus Lines using Leylands and AECs.

AuntyFrank said...

You make good points; I've been on the 513 a lot, but only along Bell st connecting tram routes. I take PT all the time in the north and it seems to be school kids and Uni students. So timetabling research has to be the key here; meeting trains, loading to schools and Uni times... old ladies like me will just have to trundle along in their wake.