Friday, July 19, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 12: A new 281 Templestowe - Box Hill frequent corridor for next to no cost

It's always good getting service improvements for free (or almost). Too good to be true? Read on!

When the new orbital SmartBus routes started about ten years ago regular bus routes were only sometimes changed. Changes let regular routes be simplified and service to be transferred to places away from the SmartBus corridor that needed it. For example, what happened in Carrum Downs when the 901 commenced

We didn't get (as much*) similar reform in a long strip from Eltham through Templestowe and Doncaster to Box Hill. Consequently, despite parallel and sometimes overlapping orbital routes, a route like the 293 was left unchanged from 30 years ago (see 1992 network map - it was the 269 then).  

Overlaps mostly involving the 293, some many kilometres long, are below: 


'Good' overlaps

Route overlaps work well where bus routes are the same frequency and are evenly staggered to provide a more frequent combined service in an area that justifies it. An example is the Elgar Rd corridor between Box Hill and Doncaster via major hospitals and a TAFE. On weekdays routes 281 and 293, thought not immediately apparent, provide a combined 15 minute service.

That's a 'good' overlap, provided people know about it. As a multi-route corridor it needs to be well scheduled and communicated through sensible route numbering, signage and multi-route composite timetables. 281 and 293 don't fully meet this requirement. 

This is partly because Public Transport Victoria, the staid government agency responsible for passenger information, lacks a pro-patronage business culture that promotes good stuff like frequent service. Their information to users is often unrefined, for example with bus stops listing trips along the same corridor by route rather than chronologically (that would emphasise frequency). More advanced cities explain transit service in terms of place, network, frequency and connections rather than the mode, operator and route bias common here.

It's important for routes to be simple if we aren't good at explaining them. Simplicity is also good if we are good at explaining. Then time can be spent promoting benefits to drive patronage growth. Our recent record on this isn't good with stagnant bus usage despite a growing population. 

Other things being equal a single frequent route is more sellable than two less frequent routes, even if their times are evenly staggered over a common section. Transperth has been consolidating their inner city routes in this manner, making the service easier to use.  Hold that thought as we'll return to it later. 

'Bad' overlaps

So much for 'good' overlaps like 281/293. There are also 'bad' overlaps. These put frequency in sparsely populated areas that don't need it. Frequency costs fuel and driver hours. We need to be careful where to have it so that the most people benefit.

The overlap maps above include examples where frequency is probably wasted. Sparsely populated roads in Lower Plenty and Eltham get six to eight off-peak trips per hour despite other corridors like Bolton St having no service. Trips are unevenly spaced and rarely harmonise with local trains every 20 minutes.

If we were reviewing the whole network one might question having two, rather than one, SmartBus routes. And Route 513. That needs a wider look. I'll leave them alone today.

The 293

However I will discuss Route 293 that runs every half hour. It was the only cross-river route before the SmartBuses came. Today's 293 timetable is similar to that which ran in the past, down to its hourly Saturday service and 2-hourly Sunday frequency. It contributes to the overlap you saw on the maps above and pictured below (Main Rd, Montmorency). 7.5 buses per hour operate along this low-density stretch.


Further south Route 293 runs along Williamsons Rd. Again there's not much catchment and overlap with other routes, including two SmartBuses (901 and 902) in parts. Buses run here at midnight while far denser corridors, including major highways like Princes Hwy and parts of Nepean Hwy, lack anything much after 7pm or on Sundays.


The 281

Meanwhile, a short distance to the west, and parallel to Williamsons Rd, is High St Templestowe (below). This is populated at nearer to regular suburban density. There are two bus routes in this section. The 309 is an occasional city peak route. 281 is the regular service. It runs every 30 minutes on weekdays and 60 minutes on Saturdays. There is no evening or Sunday service. High St deserves more than it has.


The southern part of the 281 joins the 293 from Doncaster Shoppingtown to provide a combined 15 minute service down Elgar Rd to Box Hill via hospitals. This is a useful corridor for frequent buses to run down. On weekdays Route 281 continues to Deakin University every half-hour. It roughly parallels other routes from Box Hill including 201 and 768 (both duplicative university shuttles).

293 and 281 summary

The map below shows both routes 293 and 281. Key points to note include 293's overlap with other routes for 90% of its length and the combination with Route 281 between Doncaster and Box Hill. 293 operates 7 days per week. The busier but shorter Route 281 operates 6 days per week.

The 582

Another route in the area is 582. It's a unidirectional loop route serving areas east of Eltham. The unidirectional direction means a longer than necessary journey from some places. Its 20 minute 7-day frequency is unusually high given its catchment and low weekend usage. This is particularly the case on Sunday mornings where, at 7am, it runs twice as frequently as trains on many busy lines.


Why did I bring up the 582? Keep reading as it's important for what we're trying next.

A new frequent corridor

Route 293 appears redundant. It contributes no unique coverage. It overlaps more frequent routes. While it provides a one-seat ride between Box Hill and Greensborough, these centres are quite distant from one another. And there are frequent alternatives including a change to a train at Heidelberg or a change to the 902 bus at Doncaster. Eight direct buses per hour operate between Box Hill and Doncaster, with four to Greensborough. The existing 293 was only two buses per hour, with much less service on weekends.

Route 281, in contrast, appears underserved. It has an early finish and lacks Sunday service, despite its good patronage.

The logical step could be to delete Route 293. Most of its resources could be put into doubling 281's frequency. In other words to make it every 15 minutes on weekdays and 30 minutes on Saturday. 281 has no Sunday service. Transferring 283's resources would give a 120 minute frequency. But ideally it should be every 60 or even every 30 minutes. This 281 upgrade would provide a simple north-south service between Templestowe, Doncaster Shoppingtown and at least Box Hill. It would also simplify access to the hospitals and TAFE.

Deleting the 293 would mean that some stops in Montmorency would no longer be served. This is where 582 comes in. Instead of being a circular loop feeding only Eltham, the route could be extended to Greensborough via all 293's existing stops in the area. The 40 minute frequency would better connect with trains at Greensborough (compared to the 293's 30 minutes).

While the new 582's frequency is lower it would better suit the catchment, with the bidirectional running between two train stations providing more connection opportunities. There could be higher weekend frequency compared to the 293 and longer operating hours compared to both routes.

Service kilometres and operating costs would be similar to now, with higher frequency and simpler routes compared to now. Electoral districts to benefit include Templestowe, held by Matthew Guy MP and Box Hill, held by Paul Hamer MP.



Conclusion

Overall, deleting the 293 allows better local connections. These include (i) between Templestowe, Doncaster and Box Hill through an upgraded 281 and (ii) improved access to Greensborough from eastern part of Eltham. Greensborough is the major suburban centre in the area and is a stronger destination than Eltham that was previously the only choice available to 582 users.

The area east of Eltham has been removed from the 20 minute network. It's too sparsely populated to justify the 7-day frequency it now has. However it still deserves a wider range of destinations, bidirectional service and longer operating hours to make buses overall more useful.

Adding to the Useful Network is the upgraded 281. Its 15 minute weekday frequency and improved weekend service should be better for more trips, with a simpler service on the busy Elgar Rd corridor.

What do you think? Is this an improvement? Please leave comments below.

(*) Though there was some reform - see comment below. 

1 comment:

Craig Halsall said...

The introduction is misleading - there were notable changes to both 281 & 293 in conduction with the orbitals, both of which lend themselves to the 'useful network' ideology

The section of 281 between Eltham & Templestowe was deleted when the 902 was introduced, and resources reallocated to the extension to Deakin Un, which previously only had the 767

Meanwhile, hidden amongst the flurry of October 2010 changes for National was rerouting the 293 via Elgar Rd instead of Station St to reduce overlap with the 903 & create a frequent all day corridor along Elgar Rd serving the hospitals, TAFE campuses and two secondary colleges with wide catchments

One issue with the current 281/293 corridor on Elgar Rd is the 293 runs closer to a 20 min peak headway which leads to lumpy gaps, and early AM & twilight peak trips on the 281 only operate between Templestowe & Doncaster (an overhang from the limited span of the 289 Box Hill - Donvale service that it replaced along Elgar Rd in November 2008)

Combining the 281/293 as one, running every 15 mins, would resolve this

The current 902 dog-leg via Eltham is not in the spirt of orbital routes to provide faster links between major activity centres & with 293 being removed this would strengthen the argument to make 902 more direct & swapping the 901 to operate through Eltham would appear to be a smart move

Reinstating the 281 to Eltham could placate those unhappy about losing their direct link to Doncaster, and could be key to introducing a bus along Bolton St?

Does one go even further, extending the 281 onto Greensborough via Briar Hill, thus removing the need for both the SmartBus & 513 trips via Briar Hill?

The 901 between Greensborough & The Pines soon becomes an even weaker link, I'd be interested in your thoughts on resolving that?

South of Box Hill I've previously suggested deleting both the 281 & 768 but upgrading the 201 (to 10 mins) & 767 (to 15 mins) and then introducing a dedicated uni express from Doncaster as suggested in the 2010 bus review (maybe only every half hour initially)