Friday, October 18, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network: Part 24 - Footscray's 220 Megabus and potential Docklands tram

Generally in the Useful Network series we look at important but low service main road bus routes that could be upgraded to every 20 minutes. While not 'turn up and go', this frequency is sufficient for many trips and meshes well with trains on most lines. It also reflects recent bus network planning.

Some areas deserve more. This is because buses already run every 15 minutes with high patronage. They might have strong trip generators and excellent demographics including low car ownership and/or a high proportion of CBD workers. It's only a historical accident that they don't have frequent trams. Or maybe they did but because of who ran the trams the wires were pulled down and the system replaced by buses. 

If you haven't already twigged, the area I'm talking about is the triangle between Sunshine, Footscray and Highpoint. I covered the top of the triangle, around Highpoint, in Useful Network Part 6 (cheaply rerouting the 903 SmartBus) and Useful Network Part 11 (High frequency Highpoint - VU - Footscray Route 406 Megabus).  

Now it's time to look at the triangle's base. That is the Sunshine to Footscray corridor. Not counting V/Line trains, an average of one trip every four minutes operates off-peak weekdays. Of this 15 trips per hour, three are by train and twelve by bus. This service is split between four bus routes, each operating at 15 (220 and 410) or 30 (216 and 219) minute weekday frequencies. These are largely in the seat of Footscray (Katie Hall MP) with parts in St Albans (Natalie Suleyman MP) and Melbourne (Ellen Sandell MP). 

216/219 are identical between Sunshine and Melbourne CBD with trips offset to provide a 15 minute service. 410 is every 15 minutes on its own but not all trips go the same way. One trip an hour runs via Churchill Av, leaving a 30 minute gap between some trips at some stops. This deviation also causes the 7 trips per hour that run along the 220/410 overlap on Ballarat Rd to operate at uneven intervals. The 15 and 30 minute bus headways also do not provide consistent connections with trains at Sunshine (every 20 min) and Footscray (every 10 or 20 min).  

What about weekends? 216/219 and 220 are ex-Tramways routes whereas the 410 has always been privately operated. These different histories affect service levels. Major ex-Tramways routes are never worse than every 30 minutes on weekends on their trunk portions. In contrast Route 410 drops to hourly on Sundays. Operating hours are also affected, with the ex-Tramways routes running until approximately midnight Monday to Sunday versus 9pm for the privately operated routes (which is an improvement from the pre-2006 era when privately run buses finished around 7pm). 

As for the network, the main complication is that Ballarat Rd does not have a single route. Instead parts are served by the 410 while other parts are served by the 220. One section is common to both. You can catch a bus into the city from some parts of Ballarat Rd but not others. And there is no after 9pm service on the part served only by the 410. This is attributable to the 220 and 410 flip and the 220 trying to be a north-south route on Ashley St (while missing Tottenham Station to the south). Travel between both Victoria University campuses, despite being on the same road, is also needlessly complicated. 

A concept network

Below is a new Sunshine - Footscray network concept. Its centrepiece is a straight and simple Route 220 Megabus along Ballarat Rd serving numerous attractions including linking both VU campuses to each other, Footscray Hospital, Docklands (Waterfront City) and the CBD. It's the bus so frequent it thinks it's a tram. 

Like with the 406 Megabus between Footscray and Highpoint (Useful Network Part 11) the 220 would run every 10 minutes all days of the week. Weekday peak service could be approximately every 5 minutes to reflect the high service currently provided in the current Route 220 and 410 timetables. 

To give the 220 the best possible chance other routes need to be realigned to minimise overlap. Overlap is tolerable where there is very high density and major trip generators. This is true around Footscray and VU but not in Braybrook where there is 220/410 overlap. We can remove this overlap and generally simplify the network by doing the two steps below. 

* Step 1: Simplify 216/219 but not change route. Route 219 does not change between Sunshine and the city. However Route 216 services are incorporated into it to make a simpler SmartBus-type service. Off-peak frequency can remain at 15 minutes with Sundays upped to 20 minutes. The Sunshine South end of 219 could be incorporated into an upgraded Route 428 timed to connect with trains as per Useful Network Part 21.   

* Step 2: Reroute 410. The Route 220 upgrade frees Route 410 from having to overlap on Ballarat Rd. Running all Route 410 trips on Churchill Avenue improves access to Footscray from central Braybrook with a regular 7-day service replacing the currently hourly Monday - Saturday deviation. Route 410 would also replace the 220 east of Ashley St. A 20 minute off-peak frequency with a higher service in the peak (~10 min) is suggested to reflect the 220's currently frequent service. Operating hours could also be extended. While Route 410 does not extend to the CBD, a Footscray stop near the station would assist connections to much faster trains. Also much of 410's catchment is quite near West Footscray and Tottenham stations which offer direct city access.  

View all this on the map below:

Is this revised network very expensive? Surprisingly no. The number of off-peak buses between Sunshine and Footscray increases by just one (12 to 13) per hour. There is a greater increase to the CBD (8 to 10 per hour) with improved connections to a dense but poorly served part of Docklands. 

The change in route kilometres is also negligible. However the usability differences are large as there are fewer route numbers, each route has less waiting to the next identical service and there are no confusing occasional deviations. A schematic diagram of the resultant Megabus + reformed SmartBus network for Footscray and surrounds is below.

Ashley St

Straightening the 220 results in a small section of Ashley St (about 300m) losing a bus. There are no coverage implications and the area is near the upgraded 220. However there may be a case for an Ashley St bus connecting Highpoint and Tottenham station (neither of which the 220 did). Such a route would improve access to the rail network from a densely populated area west of Highpoint where it's currently poor. There is also a potential to extend this route (shown as dotted line 405) south to Yarraville as the area becomes less industrial and more residential. 

Gordon St

Altering the 410 takes buses off a section of Gordon St. No significant coverage is lost and the area gains greatly from the upgraded 220. A route extending from Highpoint (or VU) down Gordon St to West Footscray Station would plug a north-south gap. However central Footscray is considered such an important trip generator that it was thought that the 472 (which runs along that alignment but to the south) should be left as is. 

Docklands too

New Quay is notoriously inaccessible. Like Fishermans Bend it's effectively on a peninsula accessible from only a few directions. In terms of the SNAMUTs Betweenness Centrality score it's like an outer suburb. I won't explain the score in detail but basically the lower the number the least accessible a place is. There's a huge drop as you go beyond the relatively fast rail network and the fine-grained tram grid. If you connect a highly accessible place (eg Footscray) and a remote place (eg Waterfront City) you will greatly improve the score of the latter. 

Scope exists to slightly reroute Route 220 via Waterfront City to provide vastly improved connections to Footscray and its attractions like VU and Footscray Hospital. This should boost the Waterfront City area as perceptions of its remoteness drop.

A tram?

Route 220 is already well used. Simplifying its route, removing duplication from other services and realigning it so it serves both VU campuses and Waterfront City should increase usage further. It could also prepare a strong transit corridor suitable for medium capacity transit technologies like light rail such as proposed in the Rail Futures Institute's Melbourne Rail Plan.  

Waterfront City is dense but business is not thriving. It is poorly linked to surrounding areas including Footscray. Footscray itself is densifying. The government is planning a new Footscray hospital. Victoria University wants the area to grow as a health and education cluster. The government's transport agenda including Melton electrification and Airport rail will make Footscray relatively more accessible. 

A Footscray tram connection could relieve some pressure on the train system by providing an alternative access to parts of Docklands. It could also unlock efficiencies on the the tram network. For example there would be fewer 'dead end' routes terminating at New Quay. And scope may exist to shorten the convoluted City Circle route by returning it to Spencer St as a stronger New Quay will no longer need it to prop it up, inconveniencing through passengers in the process. 

The wider network

This post completes the reformed bus network in the Sunshine, Footscray and Maribyrnong areas. View how other parts fit in with the upgrades discussed above on this expanded network diagram below.

More detail for each area can be found at:

Useful Network Part 5: Footscray - Altona 411 SmartBus via Old Geelong Rd and Millers Rd
Useful Network Part 6: Rerouting the 903 SmartBus via Highpoint and Braybrook to Sunshine
Useful Network Part 11: Highpoint - VU - Footscray Route 406 Megabus and 404 upgrade
Useful Network Part 21: Sunshine South and west upgrade to Route 428

Complementary train and tram upgrades include 10 minute all-day service on the Sunbury line (as far as Watergardens), weekend frequency upgrade on the Geelong line to 20 minutes and a service upgrade for Route 82 tram. The 220 Megabus and 411 SmartBus routes match key corridors earmarked for Medium Capacity Transit in Rail Futures Melbourne Rail Plan


The 220 Megabus and associated network reform is cheap to implement and could be delivered within two or three years if work on it starts now. It could be the first of a staged transport corridor upgrade culminating in a Sunshine - Footscray - Docklands tram. 

What do you think about Megabus upgrades to the 220? Is it sensible? Would it make a good tram corridor? And are the changes to other routes reasonable? If you have ideas please leave them in the comments below. 

1 comment:

Marcus W said...

I wonder whether there would be value in moving route 216/219 from the factories of Dynon Road, to parallel route 220 on Footscray Road, where they could share bus priority lanes between Footscray and the CBD.