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 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. 


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. 


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

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1 comment:

LancedDendrite said...

From my experience, bus services in the Yarra Valley are quite frankly pathetic. Local residents know this and only use them as a last resort. Apparently the local bus operator knows it too - they have been agitating to make route and timetable changes to get more people using their buses to get to Healesville Sanctuary, which has so far fallen on deaf ears at PTV.

My suggestions:

1. Make Route 685 always run from Lilydale via Yarra Glen to Healesville Sanctuary (via Badger Creek Rd) with a frequency synchronised to Lilydale trains. No services via Maroondah Hwy are needed as there is very little passenger catchment on this route compared to via Yarra Glen; until you get to Healesville proper all you are passing are orchards, vineyards and small farms. This route would become the main frequent service that is optimised for high ridership and also run as a Night Bus. If a quality service is provided on this route it will get used a hell of a lot more.

2. The Chirnside Park extension to the 685 is a total oddity, particularly as it runs parallel to the 670 service which is actually quite a good frequent bus. My suspicion is that it is actually a staging run to get a bus running a route out of Chirnside Park to Lilydale for a 685 run and vice-versa. This makes sense to a timetable planner as it turns a 'wasteful' deadheaded staging run into a revenue service, but the reality is as you point out: it's confusing to users. It should be scrapped immediately.

3. The 685's Coldstream deviation needs review, probably removal if possible. It only provides a couple of services a day from Lilydale outbound only (if I'm reading the timetable correctly). Trying to make the 685 into a ridership oriented service (i.e fast, frequent and going to places where it will be used) directly conflicts with having peculiar little deviations like this. A potential compromise if removing the deviation is legally impossible would be to run some services via the North/South Gateway as a loop

4. Turn the 686 into a southern/eastern loop of Healesville to Healesville Sanctuary & Badger Creek via Wallace Rd, Don Rd, Badger Ave & Maroondah Hwy instead of Badger Creek Rd. This would remain a 'coverage' service as opposed to the 685 and would run at a correspondingly low frequency (hourly should suffice). This will make up for eliminating some of the 685's Healesville coverage when the Maroondah Hwy running is removed and removing Badger Creek Road running will avoid route overlapping with the improved 685 service.

5. A new route running Lilydale-Healesville Sanctuary via Maroondah Hwy could be considered for a tourist-oriented weekend-only bus as a follow-on service expansion to service the Sanctuary (and wineries like Rochford) along Maroondah Hwy. This would be considered a ridership service insofar as it's a direct/express route complementary to the 685.
Yarra Valley wineries have traditionally been quite hostile to public transport ("We don't serve the bus-riding masses" or words to that effect) but some of the wineries have been warming up to the idea of bus infrastructure improvements - as long as they aren't paying for them, that is - so there's some future scope for extra ridership from them on the weekends alongside just offering a direct service to the Sanctuary with this proposed route.