Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #34: Somerset and back on the 538

One of Melbourne's shortest and least changed bus routes is the 538. It connects the isolated Somerset residential estate with Broadmeadows, its nearest large centre. Somerset is basically the residential section of the largely industrial suburb of Campbellfield. Comprising postwar 1960s era housing, it would have housed many migrants who found work in surrounding factories including the Ford Motor Company to the north. 

De-industrialisation hit the area hard, with service sector jobs paying poorer than the factory jobs they replaced. Local unemployment is high, with a high concentration of jobless people in a broad strip across the north from Dallas to Broadmeadows to Coolaroo to Meadow Heights.

You can see it in this Charting Transport SIEFA animation. Campbellfield is lower - middle status in 1986, further lower in 1991 and bottom decile ever since. It and nearby areas like Dallas, Coolaroo and Meadow Heights, never fully recovered from the state's severe recession of the early 1990s.

Route 538's map is below. Apart from serving Campbellfield it also serves a section of Broadmeadows around Widford St. Some of this is near Jacana station. Neither this station nor the walk (under the Western Ring Road) is particularly attractive.  

You can get a better idea of where the route fits into the broader transport network below. Most of it overlaps other routes. For example Route 902 along Camp Rd and 531, also around the Somerset Estate. The entire route sits in the district of Broadmeadows, an ultra-safe Labor seat held by Frank McGuire MP since 2011. 


Route 538 runs to a flat 40 minute frequency between approximately 7am and 7pm on weekdays. Saturday has an 8am to 1pm service, also every 40 minutes. There is no evening, Sunday or public holiday service. It is however better than the other local route, the 531, which runs on weekday only. 

The start time is too late for many blue-collar industrial-type jobs in the area. Neither does it suit retail, which gained Saturday afternoon trading in the 1980s and Sunday trading in the '90s. Hence the 538 is largely a school and day shopper service. Because the route is so short only one bus appears to be necessary to run it. 

(timetable for other direction has similar service levels) 

Politicians are always going on about how good they are and what they've achieved (with our money!). 

For the bus 538 user the answer is very clear.


In fact less than zero because Route 538 runs fewer trips than it did 30 or 40 years ago.  

You can look up old timetables on Krustylink. Both the 1987 and 1991 timetables had a Saturday afternoon service, which no longer runs. And in 1987 the weekday frequency was every 30 minutes, versus 40 minutes today (although this does harmonise with trains). A similar pattern applies for the 531, with the morning peak two hour gap for station connections at Upfield remaining unchanged for thirty years. Rail access is also less, with Somerset Estate's nearest train station, on Camp Rd, closing in 1956.

Travel alternatives

Without evening, Saturday afternoon, Sunday or public holiday bus service, it's worth looking at  other transport options available to Somerset Estate residents. No one sane would cycle; it's hemmed in by busy Sydney Rd and there are no cycling facilities (except a BMX track to the south!). Walking is also constrained, with Sydney Rd/Hume Hwy again presenting a barrier. 

You can see this on the map below, with no pedestrian access facilities at the most direct point people would want to cross (McDonald's restaurants actually generate substantial bus and pedestrian trips at all times of the day and night). 

Whenever you see the government's next multi-billion dollar transport plan ask yourself if it benefits people in areas like Campbellfield. None before have, unless they drive everywhere. Despite the expenditures involved. Since we cannot reasonably spend more (80% of the current state government infrastructure spend is on transport projects) we do need to be more rigorous in deciding what to spend so benefits are spread further. And it might help if locals were less predictable in their voting too!


The route and timetable for the 538 has hardly changed for decades. What changes it has had have been towards removing rather than adding services. Although to be fair, like nearby Fawkner, the street geometry and natural barriers do present challenges for efficient through routes. 

Does Campbellfield deserve better buses? Can local routes be merged to provide a more useful 7-day service operating over longer hours rather than the two limited services that currently run?  If you were to do this would the changes affect other local routes, like the 532 and 540 as well as the 531 and 538? 

And what about the Widford St part of Broadmeadows? Would this be better served with a more frequent north-south 7-day bus, for instance a 513 routed to Broadmeadows rather than Glenroy?  

As always your comments are welcome and can be left below. 

1 comment:

Kevin Balaam said...

Good summary, thanks!

"Some of this is near Jacana station. Neither this station nor the walk (under the Western Ring Road) is particularly attractive."
If you are referring to the tunnel, I think you mean Pascoe Vale Rd. The only pedestrian routes *under* (distinct from *over*) M80 Ring Rd in the area are at the creeks: Moonee Ponds Creek; Merlynston Creek; and Merri Creek.
Though I agree Jacana Station could be beautified and have other improvements. Maybe that's something to insist on for the Glenroy Rd level crossing removal project or the Inland Rail Project.