Friday, August 09, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network: Part 15 - La Trobe University Bundoora better buses

A recent Age report highlights the lack of public transport access to La Trobe University, Bundoora. One slow tram and a single frequent shuttle bus route to one not frequent train line do not provide the all-directions coverage the campus needs for public transport to work for many.

Even though providing public transport to universities makes sense because their routes tend to be well-used, recent upgrades have been very limited. They tend to consist of introducing a short shuttle buses from campus to a train station on one line. La Trobe's shuttle, the 301, is in itself frequent but is hamstrung by serving a line where trains are infrequent outside peak times. This is unlike other university shuttles, like the 201, 401 and 601, which serve at least some more frequent train lines.

Also, when the 301 shuttle was introduced no effort was made to review the other bus routes that serve La Trobe. The result is public transport that, from most directions, takes several times longer than driving. This leads to suppressed demand from students who, while they might be disposed to use public transport, do not do so because of limited service.

Today we'll see what could be done to deliver La Trobe University the better public transport it needs. I'll include service upgrades, route extensions and improved directness. Coverage is retained, there is better frequency but, as the network is simpler, there are fewer routes.  Where possible I've sought to improve connections to other major destinations (eg Northland and hospitals around Heidelberg) as well as La Trobe. Although I've not considered local networks as much as a fuller review would, there are still large improvements in some residential areas.

Existing Useful Network

Here's the existing 'Useful Network' for the area surrounding La Trobe University. I've defined it as routes running every 20 minutes or better on weekdays. You can click here for the interactive map version for a better view and route-by-route information.

La Trobe University only has good access from a limited number of directions. Also some of the directions don't go very far. This means that, as highlighted in the article, multiple transfers are required. With typically low frequencies (including for trains) this can mean long waits for connections and erratic travel times. You can improve the network by improving speed (with more direct routes), increasing frequencies and extending routes that terminate slightly short of La Trobe so more people have a no or one-change service.

Potential additional corridors

The map shows some potential additional corridors for access to La Trobe University. They don't all necessarily need to be formed by a single route; in some cases you might improve travel by reducing the number of connections from three to two and improve frequencies to reduce waiting times. And while you're at it one might think about how one can increase access to other key trip generators and employment centres, eg Northland shopping centre and the hospitals around Heidelberg.

Network reforms

Here's a list of network reforms (roughly with the most important near the top) that could improve transport along the desire lines above.

1. Extend Route 301 express shuttle to Macleod Station. Would greatly improve access from the Hurstbridge line, giving it the service that the Mernda line enjoys at Reservoir. The 10 minute frequency permits close to 'turn up and go' access for people coming from the train onto the bus.

2. 10 minute interpeak frequency on the Mernda line and on the Hurstbridge line to at least Macleod or Greensborough. Would combine with the extended and already frequent Route 301 to greatly improve La Trobe University's catchment with 'turn up and go' service from anyone near a train station. The lower and more reliable travel time would mean that buses currently used on Route 350 between the city and La Trobe University can be shifted to create more frequent corridors from more directions (described later).   

3. Extend bus route 251 from Northland to La Trobe University by amalgamating with Route 550 through Heidelberg West. This would provide direct buses to La Trobe from northern Thornbury and Preston and provide parts of Heidelberg West with a 7 day service.

4a. New Route 550 to form major La Trobe Uni - Waiora Rd - Heidelberg - Upper Heidelberg Rd - Burke Rd - Camberwell route operating every 15 minutes timed to connect with Route 903 buses at Heidelberg. This would replace 548 as the main north-south route and provide a high-quality connection to Heidelberg (and hospitals) from La Trobe Uni and the eastern suburbs. The 550 would become a major 7-day route, with a potential extension to Caulfield.

Route 550's introduction requires changes to other routes to minimise duplication and maximise service. These could include:

* Simplify and shorten Route 548 to operate directly between La Trobe University and Ivanhoe East via Waterdale Rd (would also serve Melbourne Polytechnic and Repat Hospital) and Ivanhoe. Required to enable new Route 550 (above). Service could run 7 days and potentially replace 551 which has little unique catchment. Selected trips would connect to the new 550 to preserve existing school connections. Services could run every 20 minutes to harmonise with trains at Ivanhoe.

* New route 547 between La Trobe Uni and Macleod Station to replace 548 along Springthorpe Bvd. To operate consistent pattern 7 days/week. Required to support new Route 550 (above) and would provide a local train feeder. Potential exists to extend into Dunvegan Estate to replace a straightened and extended 561 (see later).

* Shorten Route 546 to finish at Ivanhoe instead of Heidelberg to remove duplication and potentially improve punctuality.

5a. Stage 1: Extend bus route 567 north-east to La Trobe University via Plenty Rd. Increase its frequency to every 20 min day/15 min peak to make its timetable clockface and harmonise with trains at Fairfield. La Trobe would provide a stronger terminus than Regent, with train connections from Northland still available via 527 or 903 at Preston.

527 would extend to Seston St to replace the rerouted 567. This area would gain connections to the Summerhill shops and Preston, both of which are more useful than Regent.  Tyler St could be served by rerouting 555 to run by there instead of Wood St, especially if done in conjunction with a straightening of Route 566 (the dogleg to the old tram terminus appears to serve no purpose except to delay passengers to Northland).

The extended 567 would replace the duplicative Route 382 between Northland and La Trobe University. Northbound trips could depart from the same or adjacent bay at Northland as the extended Route 251 to provide a convenient 6 bus per hour service to La Trobe University.

5b. Stage 2: Extend 567 as modified above south via Chandler Hwy and Kew to Hawthorn Station. This would improve connections from inner eastern suburbs and serve new development at Alphington. Extend 506 to Fairfield to serve Bastings St and delete Route 609. Potentially renumber extended route to 560 for a stronger number that befits a major route.

6. Split Route 901 orbital at South Morang and Greensborough. Extend South Morang portion of 901 to Bundoora RMIT via Route 382 alignment. Aim of this is to connect with tram 86 which operates frequently to La Trobe University.  That removes one transfer and improves access to the campus from the Epping and Roxburgh Park area.

The quiet South Morang - Greensborough portion of existing 901 would be served by a local route with a frequency and operating hours that better reflects demand and train connectivity. This and the deletion of the duplicative Route 382 south of South Morang (partly replaced by the rerouted 901 and the extended 567) would partially fund some previously mentioned upgrades. Greensborough's airport connection could be retained and made more direct by swapping the 901 and 902 destinations west of Broadmeadows.

7. Extend Route 570 to Epping Station, incorporating Route 357. Route 357 would be shortened to start at Epping Plaza. Object of this is to provide improved access to Bundoora RMIT from western parts of Thomastown and Lalor, and indirectly La Trobe University. Note that this extension will cause the route to operate over the level crossing at Heyington Av, increasing the risk of delays.

8. Extend Route 561 to Greensborough Station as recommended in the government-commissioned Banyule Darebin and Moreland bus review. Main purpose of this is to provide a direct La Trobe University connection from Route 901 approaching from the east. This extension would be somewhat duplicative of rail and it is perhaps the weakest of the improvements since its 20 minute frequency doesn't mesh well with 901 every 15 min. However it could allow a consistent 7 day service in the Dunvegan Estate area and provides a stronger eastern terminus for the 561. Routing via southern Greensborough would make it slightly less direct but improve its patronage potential.

9. Split the 280/282 and extend from Thompsons Rd to Heidelberg (to connect with La Trobe Uni bus route). This would improve access from Bulleen and Templestowe Lower. It would also provide an alternative for CBD commuters to change to trains at Heidelberg.

10. Some of the reforms described in Useful Network Part 3 (particularly the 566 straightening and Epping connection) will indirectly benefit access to La Trobe University. The same applies for Routes 526553 and 558 (which either miss Reservoir or provide irregular service to it).

Paying for it

Apart from splitting the 901, this upgrade is fairly crude as it doesn't reform other routes as much as it could have done. That lessens public complaints. But what's here still delivers large improvements, not only for La Trobe University, but also Northland and the hospitals at Heidelberg.

It will undeniably cost money with new buses required for the various route extensions and frequency upgrades. But there are substantial offsetting savings. These include (i) shortening 901 and redirecting it to denser areas, (ii) deleting Route 350 (made redundant by improved train connections), (iii) removing the duplicative southern half of the 382 and eastern part of 546, (iv) Replacing existing route 551 with other services, and (v) Other network economies in the Greensborough and Templestowe areas (to be discussed in a future weeks).


The above does not fix all LaTrobe's public transport access issues. Higher bus speeds with priority  and ten minute frequencies on more routes stand out as further improvements. But it should make a big difference over what's there now, which has lacked a thorough review for decades.

The benefits for areas away from La Trobe University are probably equal to those that the campus receives from these reforms. For example there are also significant upgrades for Northland, hospitals at Heidelberg, Swinburne Uni (Hawthorn) and even potentially Monash at Caulfield as well. Plus the Alphington development and train feeders at Ivanhoe, Heidelberg, Macleod, Greensborough, Thomastown, South Morang, Hawthorn and Camberwell. 

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

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)


Anonymous said...

Peter, great post as usual. Obviously all of this is highly relevant material for my students this semester! I'll ask them to post on here with their best suggestions later in semester. I'll be interested to see how close they come to your work. We've set them the task of a reconfiguration which involves no net increase in service kilometres.

Peter Parker said...

Anon - Many thanks. The above would requires a big increase in service kilometres. There's some duplication but possibly not enough to deliver the extra route km (especially the route down to Hawthorn) at the high service frequency I've suggested.

But if you cast the net a bit wider you'll find an adjoining area with many overlapping and underperforming routes. I haven't yet done detailed work but it should be possible to deliver this network plus some other improvements for the same service kilometres as now. The main risk is school traffic - you may need to retain heavily used fragments of the existing network during school times if any new network breaks up routes and disconnects schools from their catchments.

Peter Parker said...

Some other ideas in this IV paper (Appendix)