Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #22: Lessons from the Manningham Mover (280 282)

This week we'll talk about two routes. Or is it really one? The Manningham Mover is a bidirectional loop route. Sometimes we give routes like these one number, like the 380 or 443. Other times someone decides that's too confusing, so there is a number for each direction. Like the 280 and 282 that we'll feature today. 

These two routes, sometimes known as the Manningham Mover, started in November 2008. A result of local advocacy, they've got an interesting history. At the time there was a great deal of restlessness regarding public transport in the City of Manningham. Local bus services were widely seen as inadequate. There was lobbying for rail. The local paper was on board. The City of Manningham frequently pointed out that it was the only Melbourne municipality without trains or trams. 

It was 2008. The Brumby government did not support Doncaster rail. Bus routes elsewhere in Melbourne were getting upgrades but few were in Manningham. Though the government did hold public consultation workshops as part of the bus service reviews then happening. However, as I posted at the time, their credibility in Manningham was harmed as changes had been decided ahead of the release of review findings.

What were these changes? Three routes (283, 289 and part of 365) were withdrawn. The 289's withdrawal was most controversial at the time. In their place was installed a big loop route linking all trip generators in Doncaster and Templestowe. Christened the 'Manningham Mover', it took over 80 minutes to complete its route. Circuitous, indirect and operating over limited hours, the new 280 and 282 were everything that the public said was wrong with the existing bus network. 


You can see the 280 (clockwise) and the 282 (anticlockwise) in the map above. It runs between all the main shops including Shoppingtown, Templestowe Village, The Pines and Tunstall Square. While some areas lost their direct bus to Box Hill in the changes, others gained new coverage. It's not cheap to run; with a 90 minute run time and 30 minute weekday frequency, each direction requires three buses on the road.

Some parts of 280/282 offer unique coverage, particularly in the south-east and north-west. But other parts duplicate other routes.

Within two years of 280/282 starting, Manningham received further bus upgrades. This time they were massive, with no less than seven frequent SmartBus routes commencing service. These included four city (DART) and three cross-suburban (orbital) routes.  The DART services efficiently replaced existing routes while the orbitals were (mostly) layered over existing unchanged routes (including parts of the Manningham Mover). An example is found along Reynolds Rd, which, despite its low density, is served by a limited service CBD route (309), a frequent orbital SmartBus (901) and the 280/282. 

Manningham Mover service was initially Monday to Saturday but Sundays were added later.  The council-commissioned Manningham Bus Network Review 2017 reports that its patronage fell 25% between 2011/2 and 2015/6. More recent PTV patronage data obtained by Philip Mallis revealed a further large (10 - 20%) drop between 2015/6 and 2016/7 for both routes (shown below).  The 33% drop in the last full two years measured has been exceptional given the area's stable demographics.  



Annual per route patronage numbers by themselves do not mean much. Fair comparisons require that they take into account the length of the route and number of trips to obtain a boardings per service kilometre figure. Boardings per bus service hour is another good metric.

You can also get a 'sense check' by converting annual to daily figures. In this case 74 000 passengers per year is very close to 200 passengers per day. This 200 is split over >40 trips on weekdays and about half that on weekends. It would be normal for a driver to see six passengers on an 80 minute run. Because it is a long circular route it would be fairly typical for two or three passengers to be on at any one time. And none would not be uncommon.

Without needing to do more than mental calculations, one can conclude that the Manningham Mover has exceptionally low patronage for a suburban bus route. And, as we saw above, usage has been falling after initial rises, although it was never high to start with. 


Why is that? 

Part of the clue lies in the bus below. It's an Optare. A small bus. It needs to be because the 280/282 operates in some narrow local streets. The sort of vehicle that exponents of demand responsive services see as a solution to big buses plying fixed routes on local streets carrying mostly air. In that they find common cause with certain non-bus using 'concerned parents' who don't like regular buses on their local streets. They see the occasional route bus as a greater risk to children than the SUVs that many of them drive.

The issue for the bus operator is that the more diverse their bus fleet the more complex maintenance is. Both in terms of spare parts and maintenance staff skill. Transdev, Manningham Mover's operator from 2013, had special difficulties with fleet maintenance. And the Manningham Mover route was hard hit; its need for smaller buses meant that a larger vehicle couldn't be used instead.

What happens then when a Manningham Mover bus breaks down, is being repaired or is otherwise unavailable?

Sometimes old buses were borrowed from charter operators. That kept passengers moving but was  not a good look. While the revenue foregone would have been small their lack of myki machines meant that passengers got a free ride. That tells people that fare compliance isn't taken seriously. And it creates a 'free ride' culture among bus passengers. While metropolitan fare paying has generally improved, PTV's fare compliance survey discloses a widening gap between bus and train/tram.  




Another option was just to cancel services. Sometimes buses would not show up. Other times notice was given. One tactic was to keep buses going in one direction but cancel all of them the other way. That meant a 10 minute trip could blow out to 70 minutes. Local bus cancellations rarely make it into the papers but problems affecting the Manningham Mover did. 





We've discussed cancellations but what about punctuality? Unlike for trains and trams, bus punctuality is not publicly reported. But The Age got punctuality statistics for Transdev routes through a Freedom of Information Request. Their report is here. Daniel Bowen discusses them further here. Most salient is that the numbers reflect punctuality of services that run - they don't reflect cancellations or trips that terminate short.

Manningham Mover reported punctuality numbers, extracted from here, are below. Particularly notable is the 282's sustained tardiness over 2015-16 compared to its past performance, that of 280 and other routes in the area. While both routes lost passengers between 2015-16 and 2016-17, the drop was more severe for 282. We can even pinpoint a month when the rot started (July 2015) and that's when patronage started going into freefall.


What do 280 and 282 timetables look like? Operating hours on weekdays aren't quite wide enough for the commuter peaks. However they may suit some school and shopper trips. Weekday frequency is every 30 minutes. That's high given the area's car ownership, low social disadvantage, prevalence of frequent service on main roads and the Mover's overlap with other routes.  

Weekend service is hourly. On both weekdays and weekends the operating hours are shorter than the minimum standards then being rolled out to neighbourhood bus routes in other parts of Melbourne.
 



Conclusion

What can we say about the Manningham Mover? The route itself has been a flop. Bad planning gave a style of service few found useful. So few people rode it. Neither, after a few years, did the operator seem very interested in running it. The resultant unreliability likely caused further patronage loss (although one should allow the possibility of poor data collection). Requiring six buses, the route is expensive to run and there is significant duplication with routes later added (eg the 901 SmartBus).

More encouraging though was that the community-driven momentum for better transport led to Manningham getting a genuinely useful bus network soon afterwards. The seven DART and orbital SmartBus routes are everything the Manningham Mover isn't; long hours, frequent and direct. Nowhere else in Melbourne has had a comparable increase in bus services in the last decade. Fifteen minute service is usual on Manningham's main roads, unlike most other parts of Melbourne where, at best, only a few corridors in an area are similarly served.

In some ways the DART routes have been victims of their own success.  Complaints often relate to overcrowding, something that could never be levelled against the Manningham Mover. Still, from an environmental and service advocacy point of view, they are good problems to have. 



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