Friday, May 24, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network - Part 5: Altona North, Newport and Williamstown

Today we head west to look at Altona North, Newport and Williamstown’s Useful Network.  

Williamstown dates from the early years of white settlement.  Most was settled before mass motorisation and has well established train and bus services. Newport to the north is a major railway junction and again developed over a century ago.   

Mass motorisation after WWII made living further from the railway more viable. This was when Altona North grew fastest, with a post office opening in 1960.  Parts near the refinery (opened 1949) had a station (Paisley) and local shops. However the station closed in 1985 and the shops are shuttered.  As belated compensation for the station’s closure, the route 232 freeway express bus started operating from the Park & Ride west of Millers Rd from about 1990. It used to be popular but traffic congestion has made it slow, unreliable and poorly used.   

Forty or fifty years ago the new brick houses on spacious blocks in Altona North were considered more desirable than the small timber cottages near the railway.  It's different now.  Newport and (especially) Williamstown are now expensive suburbs populated by high income CBD workers.  Altona North, in contrast, has aged and degentrified, with many people not in the labour force.  Its manufacturing-based workforce would have been hit hard by the Toyota closure. You can see the big socio-economic divide west and east of Hansen St / Blenheim Rd on this Charting Transport SIEFA map

The above is important to know when planning bus routes and service levels. Low income / low labour force participation areas require frequent all day service over long hours while commuter-heavy areas need direct and frequent bus feeders to employment hubs and railway stations, especially if parking at these is scarce. 

The area presents massive opportunities for no to low cost bus network reform. It has roads where multiple routes overlap. Other roads have no continuous route down them. Patronage levels vary so there is scope to better align service with usage. The whole area is in the state seat of Williamstown held by Melissa Horne, the current minister for public transport who last year vowed to remove archaic bus routes.

When you talk to political candidates from all parties bus services often get cited as an issue. However when they get in the best you can usually hope for is a new route running over the existing deficient network. It remains to be seen whether this minister will, unlike her predecessor, champion and implement the type of wider, better and more cost-effective bus network reform Melbourne needs.  

Existing Useful Network

I explain the Useful Network concept here. It's those routes that are frequent enough and run over long enough hours to be useful for many trips. I've specified a 20 minute frequency on weekdays and 7 day service until 9pm. In other words the coloured lines on the Melbourne Public Transport Frequent Network map with the 20 minute frequency selected.

Altona North and Williamstown has several Useful Network routes (map below).  They mainly run north – south.  Two (232 and 903) overlap along Millers Rd.  With Route 411  these provide a high (but uneven) frequency of 7.7 trips per hour. 
Three (one railway and two bus routes) occupy a narrow strip in the east. Only the 471 serves the heart of Williamstown's shopping strip.  The large central area of Altona North has only one Useful Network route. Neither Mason St nor Blackshaws Rd currently have continuous routes along them.  

The service 'hole' between Millers Rd and the Williamstown rail line is clear in the 2014 SNAMUTS map below. This shows the area as being 'urbanised without minimum service'. If you wanted to plug this gap then Blackshaws Rd and Mason St are the places to start. 

Altona North has more opportunities for low-cost bus reform than most other areas. This is because (i) parts of the existing Useful Network are quite poorly used and (ii) there are large overlaps between routes involving the 232, 411 and 903. Reform of these routes present opportunities to economically extend Useful Network service to more places, increase peak frequencies and/or boost neighbourhood routes. 

Expanded Useful Network

The map below shows an expanded Useful Network. Most noticeable are the dedicated routes on Blackshaws Rd and Mason St. These provide direct access to frequent trains at Newport, or as an alternative, frequent buses to Footscray. This is done by straightening Route 471 (for Blackshaws Rd) and rerouting 232 (for Mason St). These are significant gains for commuters in the western part of Newport slightly beyond walking distance from their local station.    

A minor Useful Network extension along Ferguson St is terminating Route 472 near Williamstown centre. This improves access to the town centre for those in Yarraville, Spotswood and Newport. 

Millers Rd retains Useful Network coverage with an upgraded SmartBus Route 411 replacing the 903 SmartBus, whose timetable rarely connects with trains.  903's termination at Sunshine frees up resources to give 411 SmartBus type operating hours, better peak service and higher weekend frequency (at least between Footscray and Altona).  Buses could be timed to meet trains at West Footscray station, improving connectivity for Brooklyn, Yarraville and Kingsville. It would slot in particularly well with a rebuilt Paisley Station with resultant network benefits, such as better access between Werribee/Williams Landing and Altona North.

The upgraded Route 411 would be the first SmartBus to operate exclusively in Melbourne's west. Its implementation would be a first step in resolving the west-east divide in public transport service provision (Melbourne's east alone has no less than six SmartBus routes entirely within it, not counting the three orbitals). All of it runs via roads designated as being part of the Principal Public Transport Network in Plan Melbourne. Thus buses should be accorded priority for faster movement. 

So that upgrades pay for themselves (in terms of service kilometres) quieter or duplicative parts of some routes need to be deleted or replaced with a service that is cheaper to run. This includes Route 903 through the Brooklyn industrial area and some stops on Civic Pde, Altona. As you'll see later, all stops will retain a 7 day service. And through travel from Altona to Sunshine will remain via another route.  

Removing Route 232 from Melbourne CBD is the other major change. This suffers poor reliability and patronage. Shortening this route allows more buses locally rather than be stuck in the CBD. Existing Route 232 passengers will gain better 7-day access to stations from straightened local routes and proposed 411 SmartBus.

Expanded Useful Network and local routes

The reformed Useful Network affects some local routes. For example deleting Route 903 requires another route to serve its missed stops. I've chosen a modified Route 412 for this job. Instead of going to Footscray, the route would run to Sunshine, serving all Route 903 stops. Staggering its times with Route 428 may allow a more even and consistent Hampshire Rd service than currently exists for Sunshine South.

The Blackshaws Rd route allows Route 432 to be shortened. Also the improved main road services may warrant adjusting Route 432's relatively high (but uneven) weekday frequency to something more regular like every 30 minutes. 

Compensating for the 232 and 903 changes are new travel opportunities. For example the rerouted 232 provides access to Port Melbourne jobs from Newport station. This may benefit some train passengers from Werribee and Williamstown and bus passengers from Altona Gate. An extension of Route 412 along Civic Pde to Westona Station would improve access to Altona Gate. While no route change suggestion is made for Route 415, scope exists for it to gain 7 day service and longer operating hours. 

The map below shows the network implications of these changes.  

More detail, including route by route details, are on this interactive clickable map (click top left for menu and top right to open in new window). 

Funding and trade-offs

The existing network has 154 km of Useful Network bus routes. This figure includes the full length of routes that operate well outside the area, including the 232, 411/412, 472 and 903. Not all Useful Network routes are equivalent, for instance 903 has higher frequency and longer operating hours than the 232, so is dearer to run.

The expanded network actually has only 133 km of Useful Network routes. Yet it serves more people. How? It adds service to Blackshaws and Mason while removing overlap from Millers Rd. Other economies come from not running via the freeway, into the CBD or through the industrial area of Brooklyn. In other words moving service to nearer where people live and removing duplication. Such changes provide a simpler network with a generally more frequent service. The main reallocations between routes are summarised below. 

Service priorities for expanded Altona North Useful Network 

1. Blackshaws Rd direct route by straightening Route 471 to run straight east then south to Newport. 

2. Mason St direct route by rerouting Reroute 232 to form direct Altona Gate - Newport route. Extend weekday peak trips (and every second interpeak trip) to Port Melbourne. 

3. New terminus for Route 472 at Nelson Pl to better serve Williamstown shops and remove duplication on Victoria St.

4. Upgraded Route 411 (SmartBus) service between Footscray and Altona along Millers Rd. Every 10 - 15 min peak, 20 min day (Monday-Sunday) and 30 min night with service until midnight. Existing service maintained between Altona and Laverton with all trips operating as Route 411.  

5. Associated local route changes including (i) Operate Route 412 between Sunshine and Altona/Westona (to replace 903) with 30 min peak and 40 min interpeak frequency, (ii) Minor straightening of Route 432 and operate to every 30 min weekdays/40 min weekends for better train connections, and (iii) 7 day service on Route 415.

What do you think? Is this an improvement on what's there now? Do you have other ideas? If so please leave them in the comments below. 

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

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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shintemaster said...

I commented in brief on twitter. I think there is some real value in here although in many respects these changes are ones that would have been useful 5 years ago rather than today and would be even less so a couple of years forward from now.

I'm far from an expert the off peak travel however, here goes:
232 - Without dedicated lanes to the city (which Government are not interested in, either on existing or the WGTP expanded corridor) these are as you point out, largely horrific for peak services. They are however still useful for off peak services, not sure if something can be done to retain some capacity there. The changes on here to serve Newport look positive to me in general however this route would suffer significant issues with Williamstown Rd congestion and I suspect major problems with service frequency delivery due to congestion Millers / Williamstown Rd during peaks. Traffic, both truck and car is predicted to increase significantly on these. Don't have the Williamstown Rd figures on hand but for Millers Rd it is in the order of 14,000+ PER DAY, 4,000+ predicted to be heavy vehicles. And that's just within the next 10 years or so. These are major, major issues for North / South movement in these zones. An improved level of service including more direct, frequent services to Newport is a big positive for most of this catchment (assuming reliability of service on the rail corridor).
411 - An upgraded 411 / Smartbus route will still have some major hurdles to overcome. The North / South movement issue exists already (and will get worse), Geelong Rd is regularly not much better. As an intermittent peak user over several years on the existing service time reliability is just not there. I've experienced everything from 15mins to Footscray to 1:15mins. Without clearways on Geelong Rd these service issues remain. West Footscray can sometimes be a slightly more palatable option for total trip time on the bus leg however there is a significant shortfall in rail services through West Footscray currently (MM1 does have some potential to assist with this, with the correct service Frequency and setup) however it will not resolve the Millers Rd / Geelong Rd issues - which are substantial.
432 - I imagine would have similar issues with it's North / South movement. Personally I struggle to see much value in a service that puts so much effort into duplicating existing rail (which has none of the traffic issues).

Overall though I think there are some valid ideas but there is a massive hole when it comes to CBD commuter services anywhere off the Werribee rail service corridor that will not be resolved by buses unless there is genuine will to give full lane priority. In a perfect world longterm Geelong Rd would become a light rail corridor for mine with significant reallocation of space... in the meantime if the Millers / Williamstown Rd movement issues can get genuine attention (full priority lanes) then I would like to see Geelong Rd service lanes allowing bus through movement to allow these to overtake all other traffic. This would leave Somerville Rd as the only significant bottleneck before West Footscray.

John McPherson said...

This proposal would not be popular with existing Altona and Williamstown pt users. Streamline Werribee line services by closing both the Willy and Altona branch lines. Use the saved resources (not inconsiderable) to provide a usable frequent bus network connecting with trains at Newport, Laverton and a re-instated station on Millers Rd serving North Altona as well. Properly designed a bus network could both feed to the trains and provide local public transport in a way these branch rail lines never have. Frequent Werribee line trains running every 5 minutes at least would offer good quality interchange in peak periods. Off peak should be minimum of every 10 minutes. The greater Werribee region needs and deserves an improved train/bus network to relieve the stress on the motorway network. The current Altona line has a tiny catchment; the Williamstown line lacks an obvious station between Newport and North Williamstown (a $20 million item) while the line goes nowhere near the urban core of Williamstown proper. A Millers Rd station on the main line could offer huge space for paid Park and Ride.

Derek Campbell said...

I commute on the Williamstown line daily in peak hours. The trains are 22m apart, so if I just miss one home, I get the following Werribee train and chance spending the remaining 19m catching the 472 bus. The bet mostly pays off but often I am the only person on that bus.

There must be a better use of this resource. The route mainly follows the Williamstown train line from Footscray to Williamstown Beach, especially south of Newport. It also has very poor connections to Newport Station. What about terminating the 472 at Newport at the bus interchange and replacing it with a community bus running a local street route around the West Newport/Williamstown area. This can include the Rifle Range estate and other newer estates off Kororoit Creek Road which are currently not serviced by a Useful Network. It could meet all trains at Williamstown North and replace the 471 south of Ferguson Street.

Jen said...

I am hearing that the 232 bus has increased its patronage in peak hour by a considerable amount recently (standing room only). Agree though that there is so much congestion in evening peak the service is becoming unusable.

Closing down the branch lines is not warranted. At Altona in peak there are a lot of people, and you'd need heaps of buses to transport them. The area is also changing with massive unit developments in Pier St (5 storeys high) plus a huge amount of medium density renewal. There is also special accommodation housing for wheelchair users who can't fit on normal buses.

Currently if you are dumped at Newport station there is no bus to get home, only taxi or Uber. Travel between Altona and Newport is basically difficult. The other problem is that the west is becoming a traffic sewer with Millers and Williamstown roads at a standstill in peak. Of course, many are driving to Newport to get better service than the Altona loop. You can't blame them, further adding to road congestion. Future bus routes will really be impacted by congestion.