Friday, August 30, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 18 - Top twelve 'missing links' and how we could fix them


Usually in the Useful Network series we look at a specific area and seek to improve the major route connections in them, especially where frequency is less than it should be. I normally do 2 to 4 at a time, also reforming local routes where necessary, to simplify the network and reduce duplication. 

Today we'll take a different tack. We'll go Melbourne wide. Today's we'll look at 12 links that are poorly served by the public transport network as it currently is. The latter point is important; these gaps don't have to be and it's only the limited pace of network modernisation that has kept them missing despite population growth and densification. 

Not just any gap makes this list. Instead nominated routes need to be useful for diverse trip types throughout the day. And all would need to justify a 20 minute or better frequency during peak and off-peak periods in accordance with Useful Network standards.  

These are the sorts of network upgrades needed to get our buses to carry 200 million people per year instead of its current paltry 120-odd million. Or even to return to the 157 million trips it had in 1952/3 despite Melbourne then being a fraction of today's size and most people being near trains or trams. 

Many won't be a surprise to regular Useful Network readers. Where I've previously covered it I'll link to the relevant item. 

#1: Caulfield to Camberwell. Major centres, universities and rail junctions but no direct connection between them. It should really be a tram as we're only talking about 3km of extra track required on Burke Rd. But for now a bus will do.  It's not quite the same corridor but you might be able to get some improved north-south connections by reforming Route 624.  Potential exists to extend to La Trobe University as that's another missing link.


#2: Northern suburbs to Highpoint. Highpoint is a big shopping centre but it's only got good access from some directions. For example there's nothing crossing the Craigieburn line from the north-east to Highpoint. And the nearest thing to it, the route 468 from Essendon to Highpoint, has limited operating hours and no Sunday service, despite Sunday being a busy trading day. A way to cheaply resolve this and boost service to Highpoint could be to reroute the 903 SmartBus via Highpoint as per Useful Network Part 6.


#3: Cranbourne to Berwick. Berwick (especially 'old Berwick') has always been regarded as the 'jewel' in the outer south-east. It has private schools, private hospitals and even a university campus. But access from less endowed areas, including new estates not far to its south, has been lacking. The new 2016 Cranbourne network improved things but stopped short of introducing a direct Cranbourne - Berwick route. But urban growth is such that it's now needed.  



#4: Sunshine to Melbourne Airport. Public transport travel from Sunshine to Melbourne Airport is excruciating. There's no less than two changes of vehicle. And because nothing is direct travel is slow. So slow that a fast runner from Sunshine to Tullamarine can beat public transport with over half an hour to spare.


Many other routes, whether it's trains from Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo or Sunbury or buses from Caroline Springs, Altona North or Newport, pass through or terminate at Sunshine. Therefore if you don't have good airport transport at Sunshine you also aren't connecting these places very well to the airport. And we're talking about a catchment population close to 1 million, with fast growth projected.  

It's easy to cut airport travel times from the west. All we need is a fastish bus from Sunshine to Melbourne Airport operating at a reasonable frequency over long hours. More discussion about this last week in Useful Network Part 17

#5: La Trobe University to Camberwell. People in Melbourne sometimes define themselves by what side of the Yarra they live on. Although that's over-simplified; there seems little difference between the leafy streets and private schools of Ivanhoe and Hawthorn for example. When it comes to public transport though the difference is significant, with the northern side lacking all-day frequent train service. And crossing the Yarra can be difficult with two out of the four key bridges having only limited bus services. 

One of these examples is Burke Rd with the route 548. That's a basic half-hourly service with limited operating hours and no Sunday service. It's got a useful northern terminus in La Trobe University. But its southern terminus is weak, finishing short of any train station. And the 548 misses Heidelberg despite its large number of jobs at nearby hospitals.  Useful Network Part 15 tackles this by suggesting an upgraded 7-day service between La Trobe University, Heidelberg and Camberwell.


#6: Canterbury Rd. There's one medium size centre and some smaller attractions along it. But there's potential to connect into the large centres of Box Hill and Ringwood at the ends of a route. I'm talking about Canterbury Rd in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. It doesn't currently have a continuous bus, making many local trips slow and indirect. A direct bus would fix this. Useful Network #14 discusses this in detail.


#7: Nepean Hwy to Southland. This is one of those corridors, that, like Canterbury Rd, you'd think there would be a bus along there but there isn't. Well there sort of is in the 823 but it's only a very limited service and it veers off the highway before it can arrive at the area's strongest public transport terminus (Elsternwick). 

A direct service could run along Nepean Hwy from Southland to Elsternwick. It could run 7 days per week and have a frequency boost from hourly on weekdays only to every 20 or 30 minutes. This service would provide far better connections to Southland than currently exist while providing a new train feeder to Elsternwick. Implementation would require network reform in the Brighton area to retain service on Dendy St.

#8: Chandler Hwy across the Yarra. This just has the very occasional Route 609 that doesn't go to anywhere useful for most people. However the area is densifying, with development of the old paper mill site. And there is a lack of north-south transport in the area. 

My solution for the area, discussed in Useful Network 15, involves southern and northern extensions of Route 567 to form a simple and direct route between Hawthorn Station, Kew, Chandler Hwy, Fairfield Station, Northland Shopping Centre and La Trobe University. This would connect people to key local trip generators along with trains to the city.


#9: A Burnley St bus. When they stopped building cross-suburban trams cross-suburban bus routes were sometimes established instead. However these did not always last. Especially in wealthy suburbs that motorised early (eg the inner eastern suburbs) or (then) declining inner areas. Such a fate befell routes like 607, which until 1987 ran along Burnley St. That provided a convenient connection to trains at Burnely station at least during peak times

Things have changed. The population decline has reversed. Units have gone up, housing students or CBD workers. And increasing car traffic has made trams slower than ever. So there might be merit in a Burnley St bus being restored to span a missing link in the grid.

Omitting a connection in a dense grid means access in only two directions, not three or four. For example Victoria Gardens is geographically constrained to the north and has no bus to the south. This causes it to have a very low SNAMUTS 'betweeness' rating - in other words it is difficult to reach from many surrounding centres. A bus to at least Burnley (which in itself has a much higher score) would improve Victoria Gardens' score.


What about connections from the St Kilda or Prahran area? Those are available from parts of Richmond near Hoddle St or Church St but not from parts further east. Potential exists for a Burnley St route to extend south down Williams Rd, going quite near Hawksburn Station. Such a service might be possible by operating the existing routes 216/219 via this alignment rather than doing as they currently do which is to overlap the 72 tram and terminate at the Alfred Hospital.


#10: Glen Iris to Caulfield via an extended 734. This is only a little extension. It wouldn't be on top of many peoples' minds. Especially if asked to write a 'top 12' list. However I see a lot of potential in it. Particularly given that the current terminus is so weak and the extension would only be a few kilometres. 

A 734 extension (as discussed in Useful Network 3) would bring numerous network benefits. It would connect Monash University's Caulfield campus with a large catchment that despite its proximity is difficult to reach by public transport. Glen Iris, Ashburton, Ashwood and Mt Waverley for example.  Other trips become easier due to improved connectivity between the Glen Waverley, Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston lines that this extension would enable. While by itself insufficient justification for a new bus route, the extension would also provide a back-up when trains fail or there are major works.


#11: Centre Rd, Clayton East. You're on a bus and it just stops.  Others alighted before so it's just you and the driver. The driver looks around. "Last stop. I'm not going any further". How can this be? After all the road still continues as far as the eye can see. It's lined with buildings. And there's still plenty of traffic.  


It's not as if buses in the area are not well used; with many jobs, densifying neighbourhoods and student share-houses existing routes get use to the point of crowding. The state government has earmarked the area as a 'national employment and innovation cluster' but hasn't backed it up with new or even reformed bus routes. 

Welcome to Centre Rd, Clayton, the home of bus route 704. You can see where it peters out on the map below. Same place as it did in 1971. The terminus was once significant as it was the old Volkswagen factory, and, before then Martin & King, where trains were made. Volkswagen has long gone but, nearly 50 years later, the bus still terminates there. And 704's timetable in 2019 reflects its limited service industrial route heritage. Meanwhile development has continued, including a new 7-day home maker centre around the corner. 


I've nominated Centre Rd east of Clayton as a missing link. Compare it to the western part of Centre Rd with six buses per hour, formed by the 703 SmartBus and the duplicative overlapping route 733. Due partly to its low frequency and partly because of its weak eastern terminus, the 704 is denied the opportunity to do something useful, like connect Waverley Gardens Shopping Centre and Clayton Station. Instead route 704 remains at its old terminus, despite a key reason that you might not consider it as an important route, the Centre Rd level crossing, recently being removed. 

704 itself is not blameless in the duplication stakes. It overlaps other routes (including the 900 SmartBus) between Oakleigh and Huntingdale. If that was removed you could extend it eastwards to remove or lessen the Centre Rd gap. A further reform, likely involving the 631 and other local routes, could potentially provide the direct Waverley Gardens connection.  That however would only be half-baked, unless one also looked at Westall Rd, another missing link, to provide it with a connection from Monash University to Keysborough via Westall Station. 

#12: Southland to Sandringham via a rerouted 828. It's logical for buses to follow main roads unless there is a special reason why they can't. This allows maximum speed, directness and coverage. Whereas new stations in growth areas are typically accompanied by reforms to the surrounding bus network, this did not happen when Southland Station opened. Hence the local network (especially around Cheltenham) is unnecessarily complex and based on Southland not having rail access. 

Southland Station offers opportunities to straighten buses in the area. Especially to Sandringham. Bay St has an employment area that would benefit from more direct access from the Frankston line. Also beneficial would be faster connections between lines when train services are suspended or replaced by buses due to works.  

One possibility could be to swap Routes 822 and 828 so that the latter forms an east-west route across the south-eastern suburbs. The 828 is a well used route and already operates at a higher frequency than the 822 (20 vs 30 minutes on weekdays). Route 822 could operate via the existing 828 alignment so that stops are not missed. The map below gives an idea. 


Conclusion

The above is a selection of 'missing links' in Melbourne's public transport network. What do you think? Are there any you'd add? Or do you think there's some here that wouldn't be well used? Either way please leave your comments below. 

PS: Want to see expanded Useful Networks in other areas? An index to them all is here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #37: Sometimes to the Sanctuary - Healesville's Route 685


When do you think more people would be at Healesville Sanctuary? Sunday 2am or Sunday 2pm?

And at what time do you think more buses there run?

If you answered 2am Sunday for the buses you'd be right.

Healesville is apparently home to so many nocturnal party animals that it has better buses in the small hours of Sunday morning than it does during the day when hordes would be visiting the sanctuary's furry two and four-legged creatures.

Welcome to just one of the quirks of bus Route 685, from Lilydale (or sometimes Chirnside Park) to Healesville (or sometimes Healesville Sanctuary). It starts in the seat of Evelyn (held by Bridget Vallence MP), ending in Eildon (held by Cindy McLeish MP).

For those who have never been there, Healesville is no country backwater. On weekends it's full of Yarra Valley tourists. Cars rule Nicholson St, the main thoroughfare, making crossing on foot difficult  in the long gaps between pedestrian signals. You'd think that such the powers that be would recognise the importance of the walking experience to the amount of time people spent browsing the shops, buying and eating, but apparently not. In fact retailers can often be their own worst enemies, pressing for parking in front of shops and overestimating the number of people who arrive by car compared to other modes. Although the latter may not be true for Healesville given the very limited transport alternatives including the buses discussed today.   


Route

Route 685 is the main route from Lilydale to Healesville, north-east of Melbourne in the Yarra Valley.

It’s the bus replacement for the Healesville train, which closed in 1981. Although outer urban the Lilydale - Healesville area is not seen as an urban growth corridor in the same way as the ends of train lines at Werribee, Craigieburn, Mernda, Pakenham and Cranbourne are. Instead it is widely known for its peri-urban lifestyles, wineries and tourism, being an easy day trip from Melbourne.

See Route 685 on the network map below. It is the only route in the area that has anything approaching a full-time 7-day service; other routes run occasional trips or provide the abovementioned 2am Sunday (and Saturday) Night Network service. Despite its sparse catchment, Route 685 carried 145 000 passengers in 2016-17. That's not as much as other peri-urban trunk routes like 683 and 788, but 685 has a lower service. 


The route has several variations. The new PTV website's map makes the route look complicated and doesn't distinguish the main route from the variations.


Route 685 and its variations are clearer on the old PTV website route map (shown below). Variation examples include a direct Maroondah Hwy service not via Yarra Glen, a Coldstream deviation and extensions to Chirnside Park Shopping Centre and Healesville Sanctuary. Differences are shown as dotted or dashed lines on the old map whereas the new map doesn't differentiate between these and the main route. 


Even the old website map does not clearly tell the full Route 685 story. At least on weekends trips from the Sanctuary do a strange loop the loop in the town centre (via Symons and Green St). This can result in a feeling of deja-vu as some shops are passed twice. 

Where can we find out more about 685's route oddities? This is 685 on the new PTV website. This is 685 on the old PTV website. I'm not a fan of the new PTV website so am happy that (for now) they've kept the old site going. As well as the old site having better maps, it also features easy to find written route descriptions and other notes. That includes a curious but helpful advice about a route 684 trip in the 685 timetable. 


Timetable


The weekday timetable to Lilydale is below. It’s complicated, but there are some intricate connections scheduled. 


Morning buses are roughly every 30 or 40 minutes. These drop to roughly hourly, with larger gaps around noon, and again around 3pm. One of the morning trips and three of the afternoon trips towards Lilydale skip Yarra Glen in favour of a faster trip via Maroondah Hwy. Instead of terminating at Lilydale, a couple of trips around noon extend to Chirnside Park Shopping Centre, overlapping other routes including the 670 every 15 minutes. One of those trips starts at Lilydale. 


Later, in the early afternoon, are two other short trips, operating the ten minutes from Coldstream to Lilydale. The final trip, operating on Friday evenings only, leaves Healesville at 7:30pm but extends all the way to Chirnside Park (arriving at 8:15pm).


What about the other direction, towards Healesville? This timetable is equally complicated. However the basic pattern of some morning and evening trips running via Maroondah Hwy, two midday Coldstream trips and two interpeak and one Friday evening only trip serving Chirnside Park is maintained. The latter trip departs at 9:15pm.  


Thus, on Friday nights only, one can leave Healesville at 7:30pm, spend an hour’s shopping at Chirnside Park and be back by 10pm. On other weekdays the last trip from Chirnside Park is 2:00pm, with the last Lilydale departure being 7:55pm. The latter means that one must leave the CBD before 7pm to have a reasonable chance of catching a train that arrives soon enough to feed that bus. The afternoon frequency from Lilydale is roughly 40 minutes, with some 80 to 100 minute gaps at other times.  These gaps and the early evening finish means that the 685 does not meet the minimum service standards for metropolitan bus routes. Although, to be fair, the average density along it is low. 


The weekend timetables are slightly simpler, with fewer short trips and everything via Yarra Glen (instead of Maroondah Hwy).  There are also no short Coldstream trips. However only some trips (mainly on weekend afternoons) run the full route towards Chirnside Park. Morning trips either start in Healesville town and run through or they start at Healesville Sanctuary and stop short at Lilydale. Sunday is an exception, with the first full length trip departing the Sanctuary at 9:25am. This compared with Saturday where the first full-length departure is 1:20pm. Another difference is that all Sunday afternoon trips are full length, while only every second Saturday afternoon trip is.

As for frequency, this is highest on Saturday, where for a couple of hours in the morning and afternoon an hourly frequency runs. At other times intervals can be up to 140 minutes, though 100 minute gaps are more common.

Sunday service is less again. There are five trips each way. Trip spacing is uneven with gaps between 2 and 4 hours. There appears to be an attempt to favour Sanctuary visitors, with a two hour intervals in the morning for trips from Lilydale and a similar gap from the Sanctuary in the afternoon.




As for the Sanctuary, Route 685 doesn't go there on weekdays. Instead you must connect to Route 686. But on weekends 685 does go there and 686 doesn't run.


If you want to check day and night services online you can compare PTV's 685 timetable (the regular route) with the 965 Night Network bus timetable. The latter is a circular route, with departures in each direction every two hours from Lilydale to Healesville. Because it's bidirectional and trips have been staggered that amounts to an hourly combined service running in the wee hours of Saturday and Sunday morning. 

What has happened to Route 685 over time? The old Healesville train (like the Mornington train) was never very frequent or useful. Krustylink has old 685 timetables. You can see that there have been improvements over time, especially for weekend services. 

However route 685 remains complex. Possible options to simplify it include operating the Maroondah Hwy services as short-workings of 684 and operating the route full time from Healesville Sanctuary to Lilydale or Chirnside Park (if the duplication could be tolerated).  Especially if the end-to-end run time could be kept under 1 hour this could allow a basic hourly 7 day service with two buses.  

For this to work, especially for Healesville Sanctuary visitors, care need to be taken to optimise connections with trains in both directions. Because Lilydale has a better (20 minute) service on weekends than on weekdays (every 30 min) this should not be too hard, apart from on Sunday mornings where some juggling may be needed due to the lower train frequencies. Where care has not been taken outbound directions, such as those from train to the 788 bus at Frankston on Sunday mornings, waits can approach an hour. 

Conclusion

You've just been reading about a complex bus route that tries to do many things. Should it be more frequent and consistent? Is there scope to improve the local bus network around it? What are your thoughts? Please comment below.

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

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Wynbus first day tomorrow

This is a quick post. I won't discuss the ins and outs of minibuses, non-integrated fares, location of the last stop, overlap with PTV routes, infrequent service or long-term sustainability.

But I still thought it was worth at least mentioning this transport initiative which sprung out of last year's pre-election 'Pick My Project' thing. Basically people could suggest things that if they got enough support could get a bit of government funding. 

One of the successful projects was Wynbus, a demand responsive bus service for Point Cook; a  fast-growing suburb the size of a rural city with just a handful of congested roads connecting to the outside world. 

Anyway it starts tomorrow. Some information was contained in a report on tonight's Ch 9 news. 

For those of us used to route maps and timetables, information on the new service is sketchy. But eventually I found some times and stopping locations on their Facebook page. This is below. 


This indicated three routes terminating in Hoppers Lane five or ten minutes walk south of Hoppers Crossing Station via a busy, pedestrian-hostile intersection. The travel times seemed very short compared to PTV's recently upgraded Route 498 (although that does go further - to the station proper). 

However my appetite was not satisfied until I saw a map. I created my own from the stop addresses above. It is below. 


Each route has 6 pick-up stops. Routes A and B are south of Sneydes Rd while Route C runs nearer the freeway. Some stops will be closer peoples homes than the regular PTV network (map here). But it does serve some gaps that PTV routes don't quite (though there are typically some within 800m). 

Note that the above is for am peak only. There is an interpeak service and pm peak services also.

Later on, browsing their Facebook page and scrolling down I did find some route maps. This is what they look like.



The Channel 9 report mentioned that Wynbus will run for a 6 week trial, with the cost favourably compared to how much a parking space at a station costs. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

UPDATE 26/8/2019: Wynbus have published their afternoon timetable. Free travel without a need for booking is being offered. There are also much longer run times (the mornings appeared short). They make the northernmost stops on Route C (in particular) less time competitive than alighting at Williams Landing and simply walking.


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

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)

Friday, August 23, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network: Part 17 - Melbourne Airport (it's all about Sunshine)


The construction of a railway to Melbourne Airport is planned to start in 2022. It is expected to take up to 9 years. By that time Melbourne's population will have added nearly 2 million more people to hit 7 million. Much of that growth will be north and west of the CBD.  

Melbourne Airport is tipping even greater growth, with a doubling of passenger numbers expected in the 20 years from 2018

With this projected growth and Airport Rail not coming until the decade after next, there's a need to rethink the airport's public transport network. Not just as a stop-gap measure until Airport Rail starts, but also long term to better serve surrounding areas that Airport Rail won't benefit.

This is what I will attempt in today's Useful Network. 

Existing Useful Network

Ten years ago there was no useful public transport to Melbourne Airport. There were just occasional buses to a few places, with multi-hour gaps between trips. At the time I suggested some upgrades here

And there were improvements, starting the following year. Most significant is the SmartBus 901 orbital via Broadmeadows and Epping to Frankston. You can see this on the map below (7 day interactive maps here). 


Other regular bus routes operate from Melbourne Airport. These include 478 and 479 to Airport West and 479 to Sunbury. They're also better than they were 10 years ago with an upgrade in 2014. But they're not yet up to a Useful Network frequency and service level (explained in more detail here). 

Despite its size Melbourne Airport's public transport has just one frequent route from one direction - far less than major destinations like Chadstone and Monash University or smaller hubs like Coburg or Mentone. Even the much smaller Adelaide airport has better local bus connectivity with its surrounds. 

My assessment omits Skybus to the CBD. This express service operates frequently day and night. However it is not on the myki ticketing system. The premium fare makes it unsuitable for budget travellers or low-income airport workers. Neither is it fast for local trips where backtracking is involved like to Broadmeadows or Niddrie. Skybus also runs to other destinations like Werribee and Frankston but at lower frequencies. 

Public transport versus driving speed

Melbourne Airport has a metropolitan (and indeed statewide) catchment. Its service area is bigger than any university or shopping centre. A change to a less-than-frequent train at Broadmeadows (not frequency harmonised with the bus) helps for some destinations to the north and south. However, despite its importance, the airport is  not reasonably accessible from many other directions. And even if you factored in the CBD Skybus, the geometry makes it poor for access to surrounding areas.

How does public transport (as it currently exists) compare with driving to the airport from surrounding areas? I  used trip planners to compare travel speeds. The 'snail map' below shows public transport travel time as a ratio of driving time from selected locations.


Origins without snails have quite fast public transport access. Often because there's a direct route or a single change only. Places with big snails have the slowest access.  More detail is in the table below. I used the average for each mode to determine the ratio.


The above numbers don't include parts of the trip time for both driving and public transport. For example driving time excludes time spent parking and subsequent access to the airport. Public transport time excludes the wait for the first trip. Also the effects of low frequency have been omitted. This is most notable for Sunbury which has only two trips to the airport on Saturdays. In all cases starting locations are train stations or tram stops, except for Caroline Springs where it's the town centre. The overall effect is that, if anything, this comparison favours public transport. Include these factors and actual ratios will be higher than given.
 
Slow from Sunshine

Where are the Irish joke origins?

That is the places you wouldn't want to start from if going to where you wanted to go - in this case the airport.

Sunshine stands out.

People can run from there to the airport much faster than any regular public transport option. The latter is both indirect and requires a minimum of two changes.


Sunshine is not only an important place in its own right. It's also a major transport interchange. All the state's busiest regional rail lines go through there. As do major metropolitan train and bus routes.

What about the other 'snails'? The other two big ones, Tarneit and Caroline Springs, have direct train or bus routes to Sunshine. As does Melton. So if you sort out Sunshine you'll improve airport access from all of these locations plus others like Watergardens, Altona North and Footscray.

Greensborough is also quite slow, even though a one-seat bus ride from the airport is available. Because this route is indirect the fastest way involves a change of buses. But this doesn't have to be so and travel could be faster. Coburg also has potential for improvement, but that's longer term. More on both later.

Speeding things up with a better Useful Network

What could an upgraded Useful Network for Melbourne Airport look like?

Here's a list, in order of priority.

#1. New bus route 500 Sunshine - Melbourne Airport. Limited stop. Every 20 minutes Monday - Sunday with wide operating hours, timed to connect with trains from Geelong at Sunshine. This service would support growth of the Sunshine National Employment and Innovation Cluster, bringing forward some of the benefits expected to accrue from airport rail. Equally important is improved  airport access from a large catchment (including many regional rail lines) where it is currently difficult.

A 10 to 15 minute train-bus interchange time allowed at Sunshine would assist the less mobile, those with luggage and provide a buffer for minor train lateness (reliability being more important than speed for to-airport trips).

This route would operate until 2031 or whenever airport rail starts. It would likely need 4 to 6 buses to operate. Much of Melbourne's west (and beyond) would benefit, including Tarneit, Wyndham Vale,  Geelong, Melton, Caroline Springs,  Deer Park, Watergardens, Altona North, Footscray and more. This is top priority with the wider travel time savings summarised below.


I haven't mapped the route. I'd go with the fastest between the termini. There would be few (if any) intermediate stops. This is because good speed is desirable and no intermediate stop is likely to attract more than a fraction of the patronage of the two end stops. But if they're on the way you might have a couple of stops in the industrial area before the airport and one or two nearer Sunshine. The 40 to 50 minute bus travel time estimate from Sunshine is conservative and is higher than the longest car travel time indicated above. It could be more during peak times but is likely to be less at most other times.

#2. Swap routes 902 and 901 at Broadmeadows so that Route 902 goes to Melbourne Airport and 901 to Airport West.  This would speed access to the airport from Greensborough and thus the Hurstbridge line. Easy connections will be possible to the 86 tram and thus the La Trobe National Employment and Innovation Cluster (including the university and an international student market). Swapping would also pave the way for future improved Upfield line connectivity - see later.

Apart from transition expenses, this change is cost-free. It would not increase the amount of service kilometres nor deny any stop a SmartBus service. A change will continue to be available at Broadmeadows for those who need it. However adding after 9pm Sunday evening service, even if a single bus shuttling between Melbourne Airport and Broadmeadows for a couple of hours, would be desirable to avoid people being left with no service to anywhere.


#3. Upgrade and simplify bus route 478/479. Operate all trips (including short-workings from Airport West to Melbourne Airport) as Route 479 so people have only one route number to remember and frequency is better communicated. Increase service to provide 7 day 20 minute frequency between Airport West and Melbourne Airport. Areas like Essendon and Moonee Ponds would be the biggest beneficiaries, with an easy connection to Tram 59 at Airport West. This would be time-competitive with Skybus, which requires an indirect trip via the CBD.

While a lower priority, the Sunbury portion could increase from every 60 to every 40 min, providing better connectivity with local buses (which, like the train operate on a basic 40 min pulse). A weekend frequency upgrade would also be desirable. This upgrade would require 1 or 2 extra buses to operate, depending on what is done at the Sunbury end.


#4. New bus route 416 Caroline Springs - Melbourne Airport. Route could overlap Route 418 alignment until Arthur St then continue east via Green Gully Rd, Keilor and Old Calder Hwy to Melbourne Airport. If operated every 40 minutes the times could be staggered with Route 418 to provide a combined 20 minute Caroline Springs - Keilor Plains - Keilor Shopping Centre service.

This is the lowest priority as Caroline Springs already gains from the new Sunshine route and this route may not be well used. Still there are local network benefits. For example it would connect Keilor to its nearest station and shopping centre. And Caroline Springs  Town Centre would gain a more frequent connection to the Sunbury line at its closest point. You might commence this service when Airport Rail starts, using resources no longer needed for Route 500.

Associated rail service upgrades, rail infrastructure upgrades, information and marketing

The above are all bus network changes. The following train service and infrastructure upgrades would complement these and improve connectivity to the airport.

#1. Stop Bendigo trains at Sunshine. This will allow improved connections to other trains and buses including the 500 bus to the airport.

#2. Upgrade weekend Geelong line trains from every 40 to every 20 minutes. As well as being highly desirable on its own (due to crowding) this would enable a high quality airport connection at Sunshine to the 500 bus (above).

#3. Construct a new station at Campbellfield on the Upfield line with convenient access to the 902 bus.  In conjunction with the airport swap (see previous) this would aid local network connectivity including to Melbourne Airport. The timing of this is not critical.

#4. Adequate information and promotion. PTV isn't strong at explaining and promoting bus services, especially as part of a multimodal network. Recent marketing has been creative but single modal, poorly targeted and sporadic. Even though a service every 15 minutes is qualitatively different to and more useful than one every 60 minutes for some reason they don't highlight the former and sell its benefits to drive patronage growth, which recently has been feeble.  Information at major interchanges is also limited compared to cities with more advanced network thinking, like Perth.

Because most people only travel to the airport occasionally promotion and information are important if this network (particularly Route 500) is to be successful. On-system information needs to be good and enduring, not only at the termini but also over a broad section of the western suburbs and Geelong within an easy connection to it. Online marketing, including through website, app, social media and journey planning channels, needs to reach other potential passenger segments including airport area workers who live locally and budget travellers, leaving time-poor and price-insensitive  passengers to the existing faster Skybus services.

Relationship with Airport Rail and the Suburban Rail Loop

All the above network improvements are designed to build patronage for, and eventually complement, Airport Rail. When that starts the Sunshine - Melbourne Airport bus route would no longer be needed, at least at its suggested service level. It could either be deleted or kept as a lower frequency all-stops service to connect areas away from stations if intermediate stops prove well used. Any buses saved could be put towards new or improved routes from surrounding areas that airport rail does not directly serve such as Caroline Springs (416 above), Keilor East/Essendon (Route 465 extension) or Greenvale/Craigieburn (new route).

Not only could the Sunshine - Melbourne Airport bus be considered to be the first step towards Airport Rail, but also a first step towards Sunshine - Broadmeadows connectivity culminating in the Suburban Rail Loop. This trip starts off by being bus to bus, then train to bus, then, finally, train only. Again the early presence of bus access shapes peoples mental maps of places they can get to and thus life decisions like where to live and work.


When can we have it?

Processes for introducing new bus routes are currently slow. These include not only the need to appoint a bus operator, procure buses and recruit drivers, but also a lot of 'back-end' data work with PTV. All that might normally take a couple of years. But if funding was available and there was a determination to fast-track the service, the flagship Sunshine route could be up and running sooner.

In any event a high-profile and well-promoted airport bus network that's operating by the 2022 election would show that the government is serious about airport transport, access to jobs, inbound tourism and connecting the state. It would also boost its credibility when it comes to bigger plans like the on-again/off-again airport rail, which has been the butt of public cynicism for years.

Conclusion

The network presented would greatly improve airport access from a large part of Melbourne's northern and western suburbs. Instead of being up to 4 times slower public transport may only be twice as slow as driving. While still slower, public transport has other benefits that may still make this a reasonable trade-off for people such as students, budget travellers and local airport workers. Even though most of the latter will likely continue to drive, the size of the airport precinct workforce could still mean patronage even if only a small percentage opt for the bus.

The Sunshine - Airport bus, in particular, could induce a culture of using public transport to the airport, especially from places like Melton, Tarneit and Sunshine. Its implementation would effectively build up the travel patterns of Melbourne Airport Rail so that when it starts there is already an established passenger base that just needs to switch from bus to train.

The above upgrades would require 6 to 8 new buses operating 7 days per week. Is this a far-sighted visionary upgrade that sets us up for the future? Does this network  represent good value for money? Or is it distributionally regressive, compared to if we used these buses elsewhere? Maybe there's routes and connections I've missed.

Please use the box below to leave your comments. Better still, if you want something like this  email
Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne MP or your local member in St Albans, Tarneit, Kororoit, Werribee, Niddrie or Essendon to let them know the difference improved airport buses would make.

PS: Want to see expanded Useful Networks in other areas? An index to them all is here.