Friday, May 31, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network - Part 6: St Albans, Essendon and Highpoint

Last week I designed an expanded Useful Network for Altona North, Newport and Williamstown, about 15km south-west of Melbourne. 

This week we'll do the same for the St Albans, Essendon and Highpoint area, a similar distance north-west of Melbourne. 

The main state electoral districts and MPs involved are Essendon (Danny Pearson MP), Niddrie (Ben Carroll MP,) St Albans (Natalie Suleyman MP)  and Footscray (Katie Hall MP).

Both areas have similarities but also varied demographics within them. Average incomes and labour force participation increase from west to east in both. Essendon, like Newport, is an established rail-based centre. And, significant for this exercise, both areas are served by the Route 903 orbital that duplicates long-established local routes. Again this creates opportunities to expand more frequent transport to more people for more of the day at little cost.   

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.

St Albans, Essendon and Highpoint Useful Network routes are shown below. Key corridors include the Craigieburn and Sunbury train lines, the 57, 59 and 82 trams, and buses 406, 408, 465 and the 903 orbital. The first three bus routes are above-average patronage performers with 465 contributing to the very high number of people who make bus-train connections at Essendon Station. 

Where are the main gaps in the Useful Network? 

One is around Kealba and Keilor Downs east of the Sunbury train line. Unlike Kings Rd, the Sunshine Rd corridor lacks its own continuous north-south route. The northern portion is served by Route 419 every 40 minutes (20 minutes peak). The southern portion is served by the 903 orbital every 15 minutes, not connecting with trains. However the 903 isn't as useful as it could be as it branches east through an unpopulated area and then duplicates another route (465) until Essendon. 

The result is that those making the relatively short trip from Kealba to Sunshine need to make a bus - train trip instead of a direct bus such as is available to similar areas to the west such as Kings Park and Albanvale.  The same applies for those going from Sunshine North to Watergardens. 

There are also gaps in Essendon around Hoffmans Rd. This is because the 59 tram on Keilor Rd and the buses on Buckley St diverge to the west and nothing frequent runs in between. Another gap is further west around Valley Lake. That area is harder to do much about due to its bus-hostile road layout. 

It looks like there's a gap around Braybrook. This is not so. Several Useful Network routes run there between Sunshine and Footscray. I've just omitted them for clarity as these services (216, 219, 220, 410) deserve their own review, as do those between Footscray and Highpoint (82, 223, 406, 409). However Braybrook still gains from this exercise, as you'll see later.

Where Useful Network routes go is as important as the coverage they provide. That's because of popular destinations in the area. Two Useful Network routes (465 and 903) operate along Buckley St to the medium sized Milleara Shopping Centre. In contrast none operate over the short distance from Essendon to the very large Highpoint centre. This makes access to Highpoint from nearby suburbs such as Strathmore and Brunswick West difficult, with the infrequent Route 468 not operating on Sundays. The lack of good alternatives to driving can cause parking pressures around Highpoint, especially on weekends and public holidays when limited public transport runs.

Other network issues include weak northern termini for routes like 406 and 465. This limits the ability of buses to be useful for cross-suburban trips. Also reducing efficiency are overlaps, such as along Buckley St, where 465 and 903 duplicate with uneven spacing between trips, not always meeting trains. Such duplication presents opportunities for low cost network reform.

Expanded Useful Network

The map below shows an expanded Useful Network.  

More corridors (and therefore people) have a Useful Network standard of service than before. The main additions are around Taylors Lakes, Keilor Downs, Kealba and Essendon. In all these cases existing 40 minute frequency services are replaced with service every 20 minutes on weekdays. 

To do this without adding huge amounts of service kilometres requires rerouting the 903 so it no longer duplicates the 465 along Buckley St. Moving it to run via Highpoint, Maidstone and Braybrook gives it a slightly shorter route than currently. More significantly it replaces existing routes 468 and the Highpoint - Sunshine portion of Route 408 with higher frequency and longer hours. The resources freed from the 408 and 468 changes can then be put towards extending Route 406 to St Albans and 419 to Sunshine (with an increased frequency). 

Rerouting the 903 (with its long operating hours) improves service through Braybrook - a low income, low car owning and high bus using neighbourhood whose service has been stagnant for years.

903's shift also improves access to Highpoint from two directions (Sunshine and Essendon - Coburg). This makes Highpoint more like Northland, Doncaster Shoppingtown, Eastland and Knox City - all comparable centres with busy SmartBus services. Most current bus routes to Highpoint are either infrequent or do not run late at night or on Sundays. 

Sunshine also gains. While it loses the Route 903 on McIntyre Rd it gains better connections to Highpoint and a better northern connection via an extended Route 419. This provides fast and direct access from Taylors Lakes, Kealba and Keilor Downs to jobs and trains in Sunshine and Watergardens. It would form a mirror image of the successful Route 420 on the other side of the Sunbury line. Route 421 would continue to provide local access to St Albans from most areas.  

406's western extension to St Albans gives it a stronger terminus. While not many will  necessarily travel from Keilor East to St Albans, its higher frequency benefits Main Rd East and St Albans shopping centre. While smaller than Sunshine and Watergardens, St Albans has an exceptionally high percentage of shoppers who arrive by bus (a fact sometimes lost on 'traders advocates' who place greater value on parking). 

Main Rd East also has good resident demographics for the more frequent off-peak service Route 406 would bring, with useful destinations including St Albans, Highpoint and even (for some) Footscray. Potential also exists (at additional cost) to take advantage of the newly grade separated intersection and extend 406 further west to Brimbank Shopping Centre. While not needed for pure coverage reasons, the increased frequency would benefit another strong bus catchment west of St Albans and remove (for bus passengers) the barrier that level crossings historically provided. 

Finally areas near Hoffmans Rd gain. Instead of duplicating the tram and other bus routes on Keilor Rd, Route 476 is rerouted to overlap Route 475 between Essendon and Niddrie. Each route operates every 20 minutes during peak periods and 40 minutes off-peak. Staggering their timetables would provide a new higher frequency corridor, with the combined 10 minute peak service particularly attractive for commuters. 

Expanded Useful Network and local routes

The above upgrades have implications for local routes. That is if you want to avoid significant service cuts in some areas and wasteful duplications in others. The most important of these are on the map below: 

Further information is on the interactive map below by clicking on individual routes (click top left for menu, top right to enlarge). 

A simplified reallocation of service kilometres between routes is shown below. Detailed costings have not been done. However due to the reduction in service duplication the most likely outcome is the use of a similar number of buses and perhaps a small increase in service kilometres (especially if operating hours on some routes are extended). 

Service priorities for expanded St Albans, Essendon and Highpoint Useful Network

1. Reroute SmartBus 903 from Essendon via Highpoint Shopping Centre to Sunshine to replace existing routes 468 and 408 (Sunshine - Highpoint portion). Freed resources used to upgrade and/or extend other routes (see below).

2. Extend Route 419 to Sunshine (replaces 903) and increase off-peak frequency to 20 min. Extend Route 406  to St Albans to replace 419 on Main Rd East and retain direct Highpoint service. An extended Route 407 (operating 7 days per week) could cover local streets currently served by Route 406. 

3. No change to Route 465 but add after 9pm service and upgrade Sunday frequency to 20 minutes to compensate for deletion of Route 903 in area. These upgrades are required between Keilor East and Essendon only. 

4.  Operate Route 476 via 475 alignment and offset times by 20 min to provide a combined Useful Network corridor via Hoffmans Rd to Niddrie.

5. Desirable associated other changes including (i) minor 475 straightening along Hoffmans Rd, (ii) Upgrade Route 408's Sunday frequency from 60 to 30-40 minutes on remaining portion between St Albans and Sunshine, and (iii) potential weekend frequency upgrade from 60 to 40 min on altered Route 419. 

What do you think? Do you have other ideas? Are there things you see are wrong with the above? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below. 

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.


Malcolm M said...

When you come to the area north of this I would interested in your comments re the 901 Smartbus from Broadmeadows Station to Melbourne Airport. It rarely has many passengers, but also rarely empty. It doesn't have much of the passenger market to the Airport, very few of the workers, and its route doesn't make it a good feeder to the trains at Broadmeadows.

Cam Reed said...

The 419 is essentially a school bus, with it passing Taylors Lakes College, Keilor Downs College, St Albans Secondary College. I'm not sure how useful moving it away from Main Road East would be. I used to catch it quite regularly, and it gets significant student numbers in each direction along most of the route. Changing at the Main Road/Sunshine Ave intersection would not be appealing.

Peter Parker said...

@Cam Reed. Good point. You could have some school period trips going the current way - a bit like 460 does now around Hillside.

Peter Parker said...

@Malcolm M - the area needs considerable change, extending to things other than the 901. Eg (a) Upgrade off-peak train frequency 20 to 10 min to at least Broadmeadows. (b) Swap 901 and 902 at Broadmeadows so 902 goes to the airport. (c) Build a new station at Campbellfield to allow an airport connection via the revised 902. (d) Upgrade weekend frequency on 902 to 20 min (in conjunction with splitting route to start from say Greensborough). (e) Greater prominence of the bus at the airport.