Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #36: Thirteen Melbourne bus routes that most deserve Sunday service

With few exceptions, no Sunday buses ran in depressed 1990s Melbourne. If you weren’t near a train or tram you could rarely 'Get The Met' on Sundays. Even Saturday afternoon travel was often difficult. Trains worked for city trips but anything else required sometimes long in-out travel via near-CBD stations.   

Improvements to some routes from 2002 and a more comprehensive minimum standards program from 2006 introduced (and in some cases restored) Sunday service on buses in most residential areas of Melbourne.  

The upgrades sparked a patronage boom as more people found buses useful. Sunday buses facilitated retail trade and meant that, with transport alternatives existing, turnover growth could outstrip parking space provision. 

Good though they were, the improvements did not happen in order of merit. For instance, the quiet back-street route 701, serving a middle-class catchment between Bentleigh and Oakleigh, was in the first round of upgrades in 2006. Whereas the busy highway route 800, serving major shopping centres and with a large high-needs catchment in Noble Park and Dandenong, missed out. Not only then but also in each of the thirteen state budgets following. 

Why was this? 2006 was an election year. Bentleigh is normally a marginal seat whereas those towards Dandenong aren't.  Maybe that had something to do with 701 getting first priority? Although you can't attribute it all to electoral politics; even in the same area minor routes like 625 and 626 got Sunday service well ahead of the main road route 703 between Bentleigh and Brighton. Whatever the reason, some major ‘unfinished business’ remains. 

Buses benefit people

Numbers like patronage and trade aren’t the only outcome of bus service improvements. 

Underneath each statistic is a human story. Jobs. Education. Relationships. Buses are great enablers. They broaden what people can wish for and reasonably achieve. If you want a better society where people can be the best they can be then improved buses must be part of the solution. For more people in more places. Over more of the day. On more days of the week. More about this here

Completing the 2006 plan

The 2006 Meeting our Transport Challenges program of bus upgrades remains incomplete. Faced with a higher political imperative to fix overburdened railways that voting commuters couldn’t rely on, the Brumby government cancelled 1.3 orbital bus roll-outs, welched on fully implementing most of the bus network reviews it commissioned and slowed minimum standards bus timetable upgrades. The emphasis shifted to rail infrastructure (eg RRL) and services, with new train timetables introduced on some lines. Oh, and sorting out the then embarrassing but now good enough myki ticketing system. 

While all this was happening Melbourne added a million people. Most are in fringe suburbs beyond walking distance of trains.  Which brings us back to buses and the need to improve them. After all it’s nearly ten years since the fast pace of bus routes gaining Sunday service between 2006 and 2010 gave way to the slower progress since. 

Today's priorities

Where should we start? One could find at least 40 or 50 suburban residential area bus routes without Sunday service. But some are likely to get more use than others.  

What if you could only pick a dozen or so routes to give Sunday service to? Which upgrades would serve the most jobs, homes and passengers? It would also help if the routes are well used on other days of the week, particularly Saturday, so that good usage on Sunday is almost guaranteed.  

Here’s my pick. I’ll start with what I think should be top priority. I'll say a bit about each route and the value that adding Sunday service could provide.  

#1. Route 800

This highway route, running past premier Daniel Andrews electorate office, has to be top priority for Sunday service to be restored. Route 800 had Sunday service until 1990/91 cuts slashed timetables for it and other routes. Route 800 operates between Chadstone and Dandenong along Princes Hwy, areas subject to parking pressures during busy times (including weekends).  It serves high bus-using catchments including Monash University students around Clayton and low income residents around Noble Park and Dandenong. 800 currently operates every 20 minutes on weekdays, every 60 to 120 minutes on Saturdays and not at all on evenings and Sundays. The services that do run are well used, making it an excellent candidate for upgrade. More on 800 here.

·    #2. Route 536

Route 536 operates between Glenroy and Gowrie. Serves a large residential area (northern Glenroy) with no Sunday bus service. Current usage on the days it does run is very strong. Again Sunday service operated before the early 1990s cuts.  Most of the route operates in the seat of Broadmeadows, held by Frank McGuire MP.

·      #3. Route 506

Operates between Moonee Ponds and Westgarth along Dawson St and Glenlyon Rd, this is a well-used and direct east-west route. Catchment has low car ownership and high usage of north-south train and tram services. The route is centred on the marginal seat of Brunswick, held by Tim Read MP. More on Route 506 here

#4. Route 885

Operates between Glen Waverley and Springvale. Runs parallel to the busiest part of the Route 902 SmartBus orbital but serves unique catchment on Wanda St, Mulgrave. It wouldn't normally rank this high but the Springvale area catchment is good for bus usage. Like Route 800, the 885 serves the premier's seat of Mulgrave. 

#5. Route 281

The 281 goes between Templestowe and Box Hill. It serves two large shopping centres (both active on Sundays) plus Macedon Square and Templestowe Village. 281 also connects Doncaster and Box Hill to major hospitals in Box Hill just beyond easy walking distance of the station. It is a popular and direct north-south route with unique coverage on High St (the overlapping 309 runs only occasionally off-peak). An upgrade would be cheap if done in conjunction with reforms to other routes one of which already has Sunday service.   It would benefit the seats of Bulleen (Matthew Guy MP) and Box Hill (Paul Hamer MP).   

#6. Route 804

Part of a complex trio of routes (also including 802 and 862) between Chadstone, Oakleigh, Monash University Clayton, Dandenong North and Dandenong. Serves very strong bus trip generators such as Chadstone and Monash University Clayton, whose bus interchange is surprisingly active on a Sunday. Passenger catchment includes significant numbers of low car owning households around Clayton (often university students) and low income earners around Dandenong. The related Route 802 has an even more limited service with nothing operating much after 6pm weekdays, Saturdays or Sundays. Route 804 serves several seats, including Mulgrave (again), Dandenong (Gabrielle Williams MP) and Oakleigh (Steve Dimopoulos MP).   

#7. Route 814

Route 814 operates between Springvale South and Waverley Gardens Shopping Centre. It doesn't look much on a map but runs through high bus usage areas around Springvale. The current timetable lacks weeknight, Saturday afternoon and Sunday service. Route 814 is discussed in the Greater Dandenong Useful Network item here. The route serves the seat of Keysborough held by Martin Pakula (Martin Pakula MP) and (once again) the premier's seat of Mulgrave. 

#8. Route 559

A unidirectional loop route that serves an older low-income and high bus using catchment in Lalor and Thomastown. Serves the busy Lalor shopping centre and local stations. The current timetable lacks weeknight, Saturday afternoon and Sunday service. Only a single bus is needed to provide a 20 minute service. Route 559 is in the seat of Thomastown represented by Bronwyn Halfpenny MP

#9. Route 284

The 284 is the only connection to Balwyn North from Box Hill, a busy rail hub, tram terminus and shopping centre. It also operates to Doncaster Park & Ride. It is the only north-south transport in a large area. This is especially so on Sundays with a 4km gap between north-south public transport routes (nothing between Normanby Rd, Kew and Elgar Rd, Box Hill North).  Parliamentary seats include Box Hill (Paul Hamer MP) and Kew (Tim Smith MP)

#10. Route 404

As a direct route, the 404 is the fastest way to get from Footscray to Moonee Ponds (alternatives like the 82 tram and the 472 bus are indirect). It also serves dense housing at Kensington Banks. Apart from the addition of Saturday afternoon service a few years ago, current bus timetables do not reflect this land use change. Hence Route 404 has potential for higher usage as discussed in the Footscray Useful Network item here. Parliamentary seats served include Footscray (Katie Hall MP) and Essendon (Danny Pearson MP)

#11. Route 612

A neighbourhood route running via Camberwell, the 612 operates between the major 7-day destinations of Box Hill and Chadstone, which suffers major weekend parking pressures. Most areas served are near trains or trams but the bus connects places the other modes don't. Serves the marginal government constituencies of Box Hill (Paul Hamer MP) and Burwood (Will Fowles MP).  

#12. Route 503

This is an east-west route in Melbourne's inner northern suburbs. It connects Essendon to Brunswick East via Albion St and Anstey Station. It has not had a significant service improvement for decades. However housing density in the area is increasing and a higher than average number of residents don't own cars. Route connects the seats of Brunswick (Tim Read MP) and Essendon (Danny Pearson MP). More on Route 503 appears in the inner north Useful Network item here

#13. Route 414 

Runs from Footscray to Laverton it has a large industrial catchment. But there are also substantial residential areas. These include the southern portion of West Footscray and parts of Laverton just beyond walking distance of the station. The latter contains many low income households with high social disadvantage. Sunday usage could be further increased if the route was reformed, for instance run via Altona Gate Shopping Centre.  More on Route 414 here. Local seats include Williamstown held by Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne MP, Footscray (Katie Hall MP) and Altona (Jill Hennessy MP).


Presented is a bakers dozen bus routes that should be top priority for new or reinstated Sunday service. All are well used. All serve catchments that would use the added services, either due to the route's existing patronage, favourable demographics or high population density.

A surprising number are in the premier's seat of Mulgrave. This is because the MOTC  upgrade program of about 10 years ago missed many local routes around Springvale/Dandenong despite their strong existing patronage and area's high social needs. Some other routes listed, particularly in the eastern suburbs, serve marginal electorates. The members listed, or those from other parties wishing to snatch them might wish to make Sunday buses part of their campaign.

What do you think? Is this a good list of bus routes that should get Sunday service? Are others more important? And should some on the list not be there? Your comments are appreciated and can be left 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

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