Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #31: 526 - the route to nowhere significant

The most important factor that determines the usefulness of a public transport service is not whether it's a train, tram or bus but its timetable, route and stops.




Today we'll look at Route 526 between Coburg and West Preston. Its Coburg start is near the 19 tram but some distance from the station. It runs through the Pentridge development before heading east and then north with a kink on the way. It provides unique coverage of parts of West Preston/Reservoir slightly beyond walking distance of the tram (which also doesn't end anywhere significant). It straddles the state seats of Pascoe Vale (held by Lizzie Blandthorn MP) and Preston (held by Robin Scott MP). 


See how the 526 fits in with other routes from the maps below (the short light blue line). 




Pentridge prison closed in 1997. Much of the area has subsequently been converted to housing. Route 526 hasn't changed since Pentridge was still open. However there were small changes going back to the 1970s, as visible in various historic network maps. These changes included removing the connection to the West Preston tram, some straightening and then re-bending. 

To 526's west is Route 561. This is a relatively recent extension. Before the 561 was the 525, a dead-end industrial route from Coburg with a limited service. The routing through to Reservoir, Latrobe University and Macleod has made the 561 a convenient link across the north and a patronage success. 

East of Route 526 is the 553. Like the 526 it hasn't changed for decades. We looked at the 553 in a previous week. It's worth reading the comments as some relate to the 526. While run by different bus companies any reform to Route 526 would likely involve the 553, which apart from having a tram, has a similarly weak terminus to the 526. 

526's timetable


Let's cut to the chase. Route 526's timetables haven't changed significantly for decades. Here's a 1991 Route 526 timetable in Krustylink, from when Pentridge was still open. Services then and now run to a flat 30 minute frequency Monday to Saturday. 

The 30 minute frequency does not harmonise with Upfield line trains (every 20 minutes) but the distance of the Coburg terminus from the station may make transferring to the more frequent tram more attractive despite the latter's slower speed. 

526 retains the pre-2006 pattern of buses not operating Sundays and finishing around 7pm weeknights and 6pm Saturdays. The slightly earlier than regular Saturday start reflects the historic emphasis on Saturday morning shopping. 

The same applies to the 30 minute Saturday frequency. This is high for a local service (especially one without Sunday trips) and the same as popular SmartBus routes like 900, 901 and 902. A frequent Saturday service is common on routes across Melbourne's west and north, eg 408, 410, 465, 472, 527 and 552, even though only a token hourly Sunday service may run. 

Timetables are presented below: 



Conclusion

Route 526 is one of those 'passed over' bus routes that just keeps running for decades without anyone being much concerned about its patronage or making it better. In the south it doesn't quite run to Coburg Station. And in the north it doesn't finish at a station, shops, tram or even near another bus. The timetable reflects past travel patterns and doesn't harmonise with trains. 

Over to you! What would you do with the 526? Should it join up with other routes or run to the tram terminus? Would an extension to Reservoir be better, replacing the indirect 553? Running it every 40 min on weekends, renumbering 526 to 562 and staggering with 561 could even provide a combined 20 min frequency Reservoir - Coburg service. Or could it be part of the solution for extending service in the populated but poorly served north-west Reservoir? Please leave your thoughts below. 

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