Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #39: The ever-expanding Route 561 and its temporary timetable

Some bus routes thrive. They get extended to useful places or have trips added.

Others just wither, terminating where factories used to be, or stuck with timetables that reflect 1970s working and trading patterns. Melbourne has too much of the latter because the Department of Transport (or more accurately its political masters) does not value bus network reform highly enough.

One of the few routes in the Reservoir area to have escaped this stasis is the 561. It started out as one of many shortish bus routes run by the old East-West Company (a joint venture between Dysons and Reservoir before they merged).

Initially it ran from Macleod to Reservoir via La Trobe University.   Then its service got upgraded and extended westward in multiple stages, first to Coburg, incorporating the old 525 (a good way to do bus reform), and later to Pascoe Vale (this time partly overlapping some unchanged local routes).

A frequency upgrade from 30 to 20 minutes harmonised it with trains. Better operating hours and weekend services were added. Now it forms an important link across Melbourne's north, connecting many areas with La Trobe University. It's been a success, with usage tripling in ten years as the extensions and upgrades happened.

From last month it got even longer, but not for reasons that you might expect. The Reservoir level crossing removal has necessitated closures of roads including those used by the 561. This has led to the route being diverted around the work site as per the map below.


Route 561 operates to minimum standards for a neighbourhood bus route in Melbourne. That is 7 days per week with an hourly or better service until 9pm. Service starts around 6am weekdays, 7am Saturdays and 9am Sundays.

Up to last month the service was a fairly regular 20 minutes on weekdays and 40 minutes on weekends. Both of these frequencies harmonised with trains (every 20 minutes on all lines the 561 serves). That didn't used to be the case; in 1986 the (shorter) 561 ran every 30 minutes on weekdays with no weekend service.

Before and after timetables (in one direction only) are below. Or you could download them from both new and old PTV websites. (It's good the latter remains as it has features, like publicly accessible geocoded coordinates for each stop linking to a Google street view, that the new site lacks). 



Most notable are the reduced timetables that are currently running. The diversion around Reservoir has added about 10 minutes run time.

Whereas train services that are replaced by buses get a substitute bus at least as frequent as before, bus routes disrupted by train works are given no help with more buses to retain frequencies.

Instead trips are cut and waiting times extended. In this case Route 561 is reduced from every 20 to every 26 minutes on weekdays and every 40 to every 50 minutes on weekends. The temporary timetable stated in late August and will run for pretty much the rest of this year. Route 555, also serving Reservoir, is similarly affected. 

Department of Transport aims

We'll veer off the 561 to discuss broader matters. The recently restructured Department of Transport is describing itself as new and integrated. About elaborates this (parts below with comments added).

Let's see how they're travelling, using Reservoir and Route 561 as an example. That's fair given that grade separations are major planned projects and the 561 is an important service across the north, serving areas far from the grade separation site.

Last comment first. Discussed before. Middle comment: Often raised here, especially on Fridays. First comments on information? Worth elaborating. Unlike for spontaneous disruptions, big projects are known and are planned months in advance. Thus the information can be as well.

Below is a post on the PTV Facebook page about the changes involving the 561 (whose changes started the next day). As you can see from the comments there were some quality issues with the data presented.

Again bus passengers come off second best; train and tram operators are bound by their franchise agreements to give much greater notice of planned disruptions. And with intervals of up to 50 minutes (on weekends), accurate timetable information is a necessity, not a luxury.

Is it too early to judge the newly restructured department? Maybe. But we've been doing works that necessitate diverting bus routes for decades. And if we used 'restructuring' to explain away poor performance we'd never conclude anything due to how often they and sometimes associated renamings/rebrandings happen. 


What do you think about Route 561? Should it extend even further to Greensborough to give it a stronger terminus? Or is it better to look at the whole network in the area to minimise duplication and boost frequencies? Are regular route bus passengers getting a fair go during major works, or do you think the Department of Transport and PTV should do better to manage planned disruptions?

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:

Craig Halsall said...

The evolution of 561 is not complete without mentioning the introduction of the 'complimentary' express 301 service on university days since the start of 2016.

I wonder if it would have been better to have split the route into two during the works at Reservoir to maintain the 20 min weekday / 40 min weekend frequency - they seem to have eroded the service for many for the benefit of a few through-travellers.

The 555 solution might have to run a shuttle between Thomastown & Reservoir to serve the estate west of Ruthven Station and left the rest of the route to run to the existing timetable with the detour. Two buses in peak times on a 20 min headway and a 30 min off-peak headway with a single bus may have sufficed.

The end of the works would be a good opportunity to refine the timetables of 555 & 556 plus 577 along Findon Rd to deliver a 20 min all day service along Dalton Rd & Albert St (556 and Findon Rd (577).