Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #30: Learning from Perth's train timetable revolution

Today we'll go outside Melbourne to look at significant timetable and service reforms Transperth will be introducing later this month. They affect about 80% of the rail network and some key bus services. 

While the number of new trips added is not high, I think you'll agree that there are large usability gains. It's enough to put Perth's trains unambiguously ahead of Melbourne's when it comes to  delivering all-day all-week frequent service network-wide. I wrote this post because they are a template for the sort of low-cost service upgrades we should be doing here. 

I will mainly talk about train timetables. However their bus reform also has lessons that I'll discuss later. 


For those unfamiliar with Perth's train network, the Midland and Fremantle lines are through-routed with the CBD being in the middle. They are the older, shorter lines on the network with closely spaced stations quite similar to our Upfield and Sandringham lines in their length and catchment demographics.

Peak expresses replaced with more frequent all-stations

The current timetable features two main express stopping patterns in peak periods. Smaller stations often receive a worse service during peaks (every 20 minutes) than off-peak (every 15 minutes). This encouraged people near them to drive to larger stations for a better service, contributing to traffic congestion and parking pressures.

This month's timetable replaces A-B-A-B express pattern trains with a simple Metro-style stopping all stations service operating every ten minutes. That benefits intermediate stations, with time savings from frequency exceeding extra in-train travel time. While travel times from Fremantle and Midland will increase, some of the longer distance Midland line catchment will be able to use the Airport/Forrestfield line when that opens. And we don't know if its opening will permit expressing from Bayswater inward to resume, but this time all day, with all stations receiving a frequent service.

Other worthwhile gains (for the Midland line) include an earlier first train (5:42 vs 5:54 am arrival in city) and extending the peak pattern so that the 10 minute service continues until a 10 am city arrival (instead of 9:30am). The better service encourages those who can move their travel out of the peak of the peak to do so. And it's cheap - just one extra train in each direction needs to be scheduled per each half hour period you're running a 10 rather than 15 minute frequency.

15 minute service until later at night 

People can often choose when they leave home in the morning. There's often no choice when to leave in the evening, especially if you're a retail, hospitality or service shift worker who lacks power in the labour market. For them an Uber ride home gobbles one or two hours' pay. Ditto for social occasions, where catching half-hourly trains is regarded with pity, with a lift home often offered.

This is why evening train frequency is incredibly important. Melbourne's shiny-bum bureaucrats, advisers and political class, part of a Zone One elite with six-figure pay, flexible hours and leave for almost anything, don't always get this. 

In Perth they do. You can see it in the new timetables. These extend the 15 minute service later into the evening on the Joondalup, Mandurah, Midland and Fremantle lines, ie 80% of the network. Not just weekdays but weekends as well.

They might only be 30 or 60 minute extensions at a time but it's  a good long-term improvement when done each year. The incremental cost isn't that high; again it's one extra train scheduled per half hour in each direction that service is every 15 rather than every 30 minutes. It's as if they were working to a transport service improvement plan - something that isn't publicly known to exist in Melbourne.

Sunday upgrades

Perth is a late starter in the Sunday morning train stakes. They lack the early trips of Sydney or Brisbane or the all-night network of Melbourne. But when they do start it's the full 15 minute frequency almost from first train. Not like Melbourne with its 30 to 60 minute headways or 20 minute service later (on most lines). 

This timetable introduces some small but worthwhile Sunday upgrades with the Midland line starting 30 minutes earlier. The fifteen minute frequency also starts earlier and continues later. 


What about buses? I'll highlight a few of the more significant changes.

Route 96

A new weekday inner-suburbs bus route that connects the Joondalup line to the QEII and UWA precinct. It reminds me of Route 401 in that it runs from a major train station north of the CBD over to a major hospital and university precinct. It's longer and less frequent though. However, like our 401, Perth's 96 should do well, save people time and relieve pressure on the very busy Route 950. 

Route 501

This a fairly direct cross-suburban bus route across middle suburbia south of the city. Its Melbourne equivalent would be routes like 513, 767 or 828. Perth's 501 currently has a 15 minute weekday service. Saturday and Sunday daytime service is at least every 30 minutes, making it like one of our SmartBuses. 

 501's problem is in the evenings. Despite its good daytime service, its frequency drops down to 90 minutes from early at night. Like falling off a cliff. The new timetable doesn't completely eliminate the 90 minute gap. But it adds mid-evening trips to deliver a 30 then 60 minute service so the 90 minute gap doesn't appear until much later (at a time when most Melbourne buses have stopped).  So it makes the route more usable with less risk of being stranded if a bus is missed.

Melbourne has similar though probably less dramatic service cliffs. Ours tend to happen on Sundays. For example Route 472 runs every 15 minutes on weekdays, 20 minutes on Saturdays but only every 50 minutes on Sundays. Route 828 is 20 minutes weekdays but only every 60 minutes on Sundays.  Another 20 minute route, the 800, drops to every 120 minutes on Saturday afternoons with nothing on Sundays.  

Route 955

The change here is a simplification with Route 956 trips being operated as Route 955 trips. This slightly simplifies services.

A similar Melbourne case is Route 478 and 479. These are identical routes except 478 is shorter. This requires people to look up two timetables for travel along the common section between Airport West and Melbourne Airport. This is exacerbated by PTV being poor at presenting multi-route timetable information and clearly portraying higher frequency where it exists.

Routes 910, 970, 998/999

Major routes have timetables upgraded to run every 15 min for more of the day on weekends, sometimes into the evening. These changes make 15 minute service in Perth widespread on weekends, as opposed to in Melbourne where it is confined to trams, a few train lines (where it is 10) and a handful of ex-Met bus routes. 

Other routes

Some analysis on the Australian Transport Discussion Board here. It's not all a bed of roses with cuts on some routes due to low patronage or duplication with others. Though the general direction for the network is clear - ie a 15 minute or better day and night frequency on all train and major bus lines. 


Transperth have been able to deliver major usability gains for trains without adding very many trips. The new timetable allows more people to catch trains when they are every 10 or 15 minutes instead of every 20 or 30 minutes. Removing expresses will lengthen some end-to-end times. But overall the gains should outstrip the losses when the higher frequency is factored in. 

As for buses, while Perth's service levels are limited on many routes, there are incremental improvements. These appear to be well targeted to routes that would benefit from it, or need only a few trips added to fix big gaps in timetables. Whereas Melbourne key routes can be neglected for decades, even to (and beyond) the point of overcrowding.


Andrew SItu said...

501 and 507 are better off merged.
115 should go to WACA with the successive truncations of 158 and 25.
380 and 990 should swap start points.

Albert3801 said...

One thing that's now missing with Perth's trains is something they had prior to the underground station opening - a perfectly timed 4 way cross at Perth station where trains for Perth's four main lines would cross at Perth Station allowing a perfect no wait interchange from any line to any other line.

KalMiner said...

As a user who does school drop off near Bayswater station and works on the Fremantle line the change has been, unequivocally, a massive improvement to the service. Previously school drops that lingered to ~8.40 would mean the all stops train was missed catching the long wait to the next (and final) "express" train of the morning. To add insult to injury you would then catch the '9am changeover' on the Fremantle line, another 10-15 minutes. Total journey time inclusive of wait ~50minutes. I had started walking from the city to to West Perth which was approximately the same time. Now I am left wondering what the logic of the express timetable was. The new timetable has cut at least 20 minutes off that journey, its incredible really.