Thursday, July 04, 2019

Super Sunday" train and tram timetable boost turns 20

Today marks the 20th anniversary of large Sunday service increases across Melbourne's train and tram networks.

Sunday times were aligned with Saturday times between approximately 10 am - 7 pm. 

Instead of running a lazy every 30 or 40 minutes trains on all lines got a service every 20 minutes. And trams went from being every 20 minutes to every 15 minutes or better. 

The boost removed the need for passengers to meticulously plan their trips and slashed waiting times across the network, with positive consequences for patronage growth.

The effect this had cannot be underestimated, bringing thousands more people into the city each weekend and massively improving connectivity for those making shorter trips or changing between train and bus.

There has never been anything this big network-wide in the 20 years since.

The upgrade sparked accelerated growth in Sunday patronage on trains, trams and later buses.

Some background is in this ATRF paper (mainly about the discounted Sunday Saver ticket).

What about other times of the day on Sundays? Today's timetables for those periods are pretty much the same as ran pre 1999. Sunday night service remains every 30 minutes for all but a few tram routes and all but one train line. Some trams got an earlier start for their 15 or 20 min Sunday morning service. Trains got Night Network which helped earlier travel previously impossible. But the old 40 minute frequency Sunday morning timetables on most lines remain unchanged, reflecting service cuts made when Melbourne was very different. 

What about buses? The 1999 changes were all about trams and trains only. Some ex-Met/ex Tramways Board buses, whose timetables were influenced by practice for trams, did not get the upgrade. Their Sunday service remained at every 20 or 30 minutes. The exception was 246, which got a 15 minute Sunday service a few years back.

The issues for most bus routes back then was no so much infrequency but lack of any service at all. Improvements were to come a few years later. 
Some routes gained limited Sunday services in 2002. The more comprehensive MOTC program rolled out Sunday service to many local suburban bus routes between 2006 and 2010. This program was also transformative but remains incomplete with several dozen routes remaining without Sunday or public holiday service in 2019.

It's worth noting that this change happened under premier Jeff Kennett, who had an only partially correct reputation as a cutter of services. Except for changes at the margins (eg Night Network on six routes) tram services have had little subsequent love from governments of both sides. Trains have fared a bit better, with ten minute service on eastern lines, during the Baillieu-Napthine era. And of course there were the big bus improvements about 10 years ago under Bracks and Brumby. But since then, despite crowding, record population growth,  and a major infrastructure program, premier Andrews' government, unlike Jeff Kennett, has yet to leave a service improvement legacy worth writing home about.

If ever you use trains and trams on a Sunday, remember July 4, 1999 as the date that everything changed and the travelling public won at least partial independence from restrictive movement-stifling 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

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Andrew said...

it was a bit of a case of the cart pulling the horse with shockingly overcrowded trams on sundays, dating back to free travel on sundays under i think the cain government.

Tom said...

Half-hourly on Sunday Evenings is actually an upgrade on the former-Hillside trains lines, which had 40 minute Sunday evening frequencies until an upgrade* earlier this decade under the Liberals. I believe this upgrade is also when the Burnley group got their 30 minute Sunday Morning services.

*Eltham-Hurstbridge was however downgraded to hourly, because 40 minute services run to Hurstbridge but 30 minute frequencies do not (despite the track having capacity for it). Eltham-Hurstbridge also escaped an upgrade when Watergardens-Sunbury had its hourly services upgraded to half-hourly under the current government.