Friday, July 12, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network: Part 11 Footscray to Highpoint & Moonee Ponds

When it comes to high all-day public transport patronage, few parts of Melbourne do better than Footscray in Melbourne's inner-west. Reasons for that include transit-friendly street layouts (parts were tram-suburbs), favourable population demographics (including low car ownership) and a century-long tradition of frequent service / long operating hours that has substantially withstood post-1950s cuts (again due to the tram legacy). 

Old industries are moving out, creating space for apartment and office towers. Some workers cottages are being done up while others have been replaced by townhouses. And, especially in the belt 1 to 3 km from Footscray, gentrification has brought in large numbers of city workers attracted by the area's proximity to Melbourne CBD. 

Footscray and Maribyrnong have large hospitals, universities and shopping centres distant from the train network. This makes the area dependent on buses and its remaining tram service. These are generally well used. Multiple routes via Footscray operate east-west from the CBD to Sunshine and sometimes beyond. North-south routes via Footscray operate to either Highpoint Shopping Centre or Moonee Ponds. 

Footscray had its station rebuilt as part of Regional Rail Link. That project brought Geelong trains there via Sunshine instead of Newport. Regional trains are more frequent than they used to be. There are also many more metropolitan trains to Newport, with 9 per hour operating off-peak weekdays compared to 3 per hour about ten years ago. However weekend frequencies remain unchanged, with nothing significant apart from Night Network happening in the last 20 years.

Bus and tram routes have had even less change. The main difference is that 50 years ago Highpoint Shopping Centre was a quarry and routes like 223 and 408 stopped short. Government services are shown in green while private services were in red.  

With little change for decades and multiple overlapping routes, the area presents opportunities for network reform at minimal cost. High patronage in the area justifies 7 day turn-up-and-go service on key corridors. For this reason I will be discussing potential 10 as well as 20 minute frequency routes. 

All mentioned routes operate in the state seat of Footscray held by Katie Hall MP. Those towards Moonee Ponds extend into Essendon, held by Danny Pearson MP

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.

The map shows the existing Useful Network around Footscray - Highpoint (click for better clarity). 

East-west Useful Network routes in the area include trains from Sunshine and buses 216/219, 220, 402, 408 and 410. All run between Sunshine and Footscray apart from Route 402 to East Melbourne and 408 to Highpoint. There is also 411/412 that approaches Footscray from the south-west. I previously covered Route 411/412 in Useful Network Part 4 (Altona North Newport and Williamstown) and 408 in Useful Network Part 6 (St Albans, Essendon and Highpoint). The 216/219, 220 and 410 Footscray - Sunshine cluster deserve review at another time. 

Today I'll concentrate on north-south Useful Network routes from Footscray. Footscray's one remaining tram, Route 82, runs to Moonee Ponds, passing fairly close to Highpoint. Its timetable marks it as a 'Cinderella' route, with the 20 minute weekday service inferior to that of all other trams. In a trait shared only with Belgrave/Lilydale line trains, its weekend frequency is higher than that run during the week. 

Other north-south services between Footscray and Highpoint include bus route 406 (whose Keilor East finish was discussed in Useful Network Part 6) and 223 (a tram remnant that starts in the back blocks of Yarraville). If you compare 1971 with today's map you'll see that 406 now runs via Highpoint but the dog-leg west of Rosamond Rd, logical when Highpoint didn't exist, remains. 

Useful Network service between Footscray and Moonee Ponds is provided via Tram 82 and bus route 472. Both run every 15 to 20 minutes (at least Monday - Saturday) but are indirect. The fastest and most direct way of making this trip is via bus route 404 but its low frequency keeps it off the existing Useful Network map. 

Overall Useful Network coverage is pretty good. Few people around Footscray are away from a Useful Network service. However routes may still be confusing and indirect. Crowding is a risk given the area's increasing population density. And there is limited Sunday service when large number of people wish to travel, particularly to Highpoint. I'll address all these issues later.

Expanded Useful Network

A revised Useful Network map is below. 

There's two main additions. Both would transform the local network. 

* Footscray - VU - Highpoint 406 MEGABUS: Shown as a thick yellow line, this is a high quality corridor linking Footscray with major educational and shopping facilities at VU and Highpoint. It is also convenient to Footscray Hospital. 

An amalgamation of Routes 223 and 406, buses would run every 10 minutes during the day Monday to Sunday. Weekday peak service might be every 7.5 minutes. Buses would operate until midnight from Footscray to at least Highpoint every 20 to 30 minutes, reflecting current Route 223 service. 

The upgraded 406 would provide a 'turn up and go' service to major destinations. It is more direct than the existing 406, with potential for Bus Rapid Transit style priority to further speed travel. This is a low-cost upgrade with service kilometres similar to now.     

* Footscray - Moonee Ponds 404 upgrade and future INNER ORBITAL: The first stage is an upgrade to the existing Route 404 from every 40 to every 20 minutes by extending the existing 20 minute peak frequency to run all day. Sunday and evening service would also be introduced. 

This upgrade would improve service to a dense residential area and provide the fastest available connection between Footscray and Moonee Ponds (existing routes 82 and 472 are slower and less direct). This is a low-cost upgrade, especially if service kilometres could be found by reducing Route 472 (which is quieter than other local routes) from every 15 to every 20 minutes on weekdays.  

Other routes

The above changes, particularly to the 406, affect other routes if we want to keep service at existing stops. In exchange for straightening Route 406, Route 409 has been altered to serve more of Maribyrnong but made more direct to Footscray Station. Short trips could be added to increase 409's peak frequency between Maribyrnong and Footscray to 20 minutes. 

Eyebrows may be raised at the deletion of the Yarraville end of Route 223. This section of route is poorly used. It is a remnant of the old Footscray tram system, has little unique catchment and does not terminate anywhere important. It has also become less necessary since weekday trains at Yarraville were increased from every 20 to every 10 minutes several years ago.   

Route 223's main advantages are its better operating hours and Sunday service compared to the Route 472 nearby. To offset this loss Route 472 could have after 10 pm trips added (Footscray - Williamstown only) and be upgraded to operate every 30 minutes on Sunday. Easy connections to Highpoint would be possible by changing to the upgraded 406 departing Footscray every 10 minutes.     
Further upgrades

Two other service improvements are desirable but not essential. These include (i) Tram 82 upgraded from every 20 to every 15 minutes on weekdays and (ii) Route 406 Sunday service upgraded from 40 to 20 minutes as far north as Milleara Shopping Centre. Both would improve connectivity from Highpoint. 

A possible future upgrade for Route 404 could be to amalgamate it with an extended Route 508. This would provide a new feeder service to Ascot Vale Station from poorly served parts of Moonee Ponds. A further frequency increase to 10 or 15 minutes would provide what is likely to be a popular quasi-orbital route across Melbourne's inner north, linking Footscray, Ascot Vale, Moonee Ponds, Brunswick and Northcote.  

See the link to interactive map here if you need more detail on all this. Click on individual routes for more information on changes to service levels.  Click on top left to switch between existing and proposed Useful Network maps - otherwise you might get both overlapping. Top right opens the map in another tab. 


I have described two network-transforming upgrades for north-south buses serving Footscray. 

These include a direct simple and frequent 10 minute corridor between Footscray, VU and Highpoint (upgraded 406) and a more frequent connection to Moonee Ponds and potentially beyond (upgraded 404 or extended 508). Both should be low cost due to changes to other routes in the area. 

Together with existing train and tram services they would form a versatile network suitable for a wide range of trips. 

What do you think about them? Do you like the 406 Megabus concept? How about the upgraded 404 Moonee Ponds connection? Would 508's extension to Footscray be a benefit or could reliability suffer? Or is it better to do nothing and keep the historic 223 as is? Please leave your comments on these and other local network topics below.

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.


Craig Halsall said...

Presumably every second 406 would ultimately operate deep into the old defence site in Maribyrnong?

Unknown said...

The route 472 and tram is so overcrowded during school drop-off and pick-up times there have to be more services running. Services only run every 15 minutes and people are left behind at bus stops and are forced to wait for the next service and people can't get to Footscray station. The 223 bus and 409 bus can also be very full and are less frequent and direct.

Peter Parker said...

Unknown - it would be interesting to know whether the crowding happens on multiple consecutive services or if the timing of both routes are such that two come when they're not needed and there's a long wait until the next. The chance of that is highest when there are multiple less frequent routes as with the current network. Whereas it's easier to coordinate a smaller number of more frequent routes by adjusting times slightly to provide a bit more capacity when needed.