Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #45: 216/219/220 bus reform - the good, the bad & the unfinished

We interrupt normal Tuesday programming to bring news of upcoming reform to a major cross-city route group involving what we now know as Routes 216, 219 and 220 between Sunshine, Footcray, CBD and Brighton Beach/Gardenvale. 

Their predecessors operated as seperate routes on the west and south side of the city. See old maps here. Then they were merged to create three through routes in the early 1990s. At their longest extent (before the 2000s) one could catch these routes from the Brighton area to Melton on Saturday afternoons. 

Through-routing pros and cons

Before we go further I should mention the pros and cons of long through routes versus short split routes. Through routes are more economical and provide less duplication of service in a city centre. For example if you worked in CBD north and lived in a southern suburb you could jump on a through-routed bus and get a one seat trip home.

Whereas if routes were split in the middle of the CBD you'd have to change buses. Or maybe not, if the split was at CBD north. However that would inconvenience those who lived in the northern suburbs who would need to change to get to CBD central. To overcome that you'd run their buses to terminate in CBD south. The problem with that is you'd have heaps of overlapping buses in the CBD and the service wouldn't be very efficient. Not to mention the difficulties of terminating buses in areas where land is scarce.

So through-routing seems both attractive and efficient. And it is, provided delays aren't high. But as soon as traffic builds up and buses get delayed then punctuality on long routes deterioriates. Hence calls to split routes to isolate delays. This might help but it's a second-rate solution. If you value the efficient transport that buses can provide then through-routing via exclusive bus corridors is the best of all worlds. Like we aim for with CBD trams. Otherwise you keep having to increase bus run times, slow passengers' trips and make providing high frequency more expensive (which has happened - compare today's slower schedules with old timetables here).

Something that's desirable with a through route is that both sides have similar patronage. This is so you can pick a frequency that's adequate for both without having to terminate too many buses in the city. Otherwise, if you run the same frequency all the way through you get overcrowding on one side and fresh air on the other. Unfortunately the 216/219/220 suffered from this, with the western half underserviced and the southern part overserviced. We touched on the latter back in June.

Recent splits

A few years back, due partly to concerns over traffic levels with the construction of the new Metro tunnel, Routes 216/219/220 were split. Not in one place, but in 216's case, two. 

216 used to start from Burnside near Caroline Springs. It stayed there for years even after the new town centre popped up. When it hit the highway the 216 overlapped the 456 and didn't connect evenly with trains. I wrote about all that in 2010.  This got fixed in November 2016 when the 216 was split at Sunshine. The western portion became the 426 from Sunshine to Caroline Springs Town Centre. It, along with 456, now forms a simpler, evenly scheduled Ballarat Rd service coordinated with trains. 

Another split for 216 (and also affecting 219 and 220) was in the city. Routes from the west terminated in the city. Those from the south terminated at the Alfred Hospital. People could get a tram to continue their trip into the city. It was confusing because there were actually two of each of these route numbers on opposite sides of Melbourne.

Split formalised with another to come 

Some bus changes, like the new Chadstone - Oakleigh shopper shuttles are promoted with fanfare. Others are not so much announced as found out about. Such as the 216/219/220 changes discussed today. To be fair they're almost a month off (17 November 2019) and formal passenger information will no doubt emerge (UPDATE: It has).  However new timetables, gleaned from scrolling the bus route list on the old PTV website, tell us the things we need to know now.

What's the gist? 

In a nutshell the split will be formalised with some new route numbers in the south. 

Service will be transferred from the quiet south to the busy west, where it is most needed. 

Another split at Sunshine will allow 219 trips to be folded into a simplified upgraded 216, which will provide a better-than-Smartbus frequency between Sunshine and the city. The Sunshine South end of the 219 will be replaced by the new 429. There will be no replacement at the Gardenvale end though other routes are nearby. 

Route 220 from Sunshine will see a much-needed Sunday frequency boost from 30 to 20 minutes.  This is at the expense of corridors in the south losing Monday to Saturday frequency, reflecting their low patronage. 

The main points are summarised on the map below. 

The good, the bad and the unfinished

The good

The upgraded and simplified Route 216 from Sunshine and its timetable is excellent. It discards the obsolete Saturday afternoon drop in frequency with the 15 minute morning frequency running all day. The Sunday frequency increase from 30 to 20 minutes is also welcome.  This upgrade fully delivers  the Sunshine - City SmartBus proposed for this corridor last Friday (Useful Network Part 24) on all but branding and numbering.  

Another advance is Route 220's Sunday frequency upgrade. Needed and requested for years, this is the timetable that delivers. The route however remains the same; ideas to transform 220 into a stronger Ballarat Rd 'Megabus' route also appeared on Friday (Useful Network Part 24). 

While not ideal for everyone, the frequency reduction in the south does bring service provision closer to (low) demand. The network reform goes part way to removing poorly used duplicative services in the area.

The bad

Route 429 started with high hopes with its basic frequency harmonised with trains at Sunshine (something that the old 219 was unable to do). It overlaps Route 428 for two-thirds of its length. There may have been opportunity to provide a good combined frequency over the common section. However, especially in the evenings this was not done and there are four consecutive departures where buses on each route leave almost simultaneously. 

428 dep from Sunshine (Mon-Fri): 4:48 5:18 5:40 6:15 6:55 7:30 8:10 9:00pm
429 dep from Sunshine (Mon - Fri): 4:58 5:28 5:58 6:28 6:58 7:28 8:08 8:58 9:58 10:58 11:58pm 

Getting perfect coordination is likely harder with the routes being run by different companies. Nevertheless it was achieved with nearby routes 426 and 456 involving the same operators. However it would probably be better if 428 and 429 were amalgamated into one simpler and more frequent Route 428 as discussed last month (Useful Network Part 21).

Both 603 and 604 continue their 20 minute frequency until last service (after midnight). Not much of the 603 south of Elsternwick is very far from a station with trains also every 20 minutes until midnight. And there remains generous Sunday evening service that not even SmartBuses get. Given the area's demographics and the parallel train line it is hard to see these trips getting much use. Meanwhile other suburbs remote from trains with higher social needs and better patronage potential get no service much after 9pm.

The unfinished

The changes somewhat simplify bus services in the south. They should also save some money to fund needed upgrades in the west. However, particuarly south of Elsternwick, they don't reflect the wholesale network reform that the area needs to cut inefficiency and get people onto buses. 

The southern part of the 603 (in particular) has amazing operating hours and frequency given its proximity to trains and catchment demographics. It would be worth monitoring its patronage performance. If usage is low buses could be shifted towards other routes that deserve the service more. Even in the Brighton area there are significant network gaps including the lack of a continuous route down Hampton St, excessive in number but poor in frequency east-west connections and the absence of an Elsternwick - Nepean Hwy - Southland route.

I had a go at reforming St Kilda, Brighton and Sandringham bus network in Useful Network Part 8. A network like this would reduce duplication near trains (such as what the 603 change exacerbates) while providing more frequent and direct service where trains don't run.

Also unfinished is the matter of the Alfred Hospital terminus. Is this the best place for buses to finish? Or is there scope to use buses to provide connections currently unavailable such as to the north? I discuss how one might straighten routes like 603 or 604 to provide a connection to Burnley St/Victoria Gardens, Richmond here (Useful Network Part 22). 

View the proposed timetables 

Visit Krustylink for how they looked in the '80s (including the old 600-series)


These changes are a welcome first step forward that deliver increased service where it's needed. 

They indicate that maybe, just maybe, this government is starting to acknowledge the worth of network and timetable reform, having spent its first term fending off radical changes for both train and bus. And it wouldn't be a moment too soon! 

What do you think about what's proposed? And should there be a second stage of reform to deliver simpler and better used buses in the Brighton area? If you have views please leave them in the comments below.


Mike Marshall said...

An interesting analysis Peter. Apart from the introduction of the rather odd route 429 these changes are really just formalising what has been happening with these routes for some time anyway.

There is certainly plenty of scope for looking at the network of services on the south side of the city. Some of what was proposed in the Transdev review made sense in this area but the changes proposed to the Smartbus routes were too drastic for the government at the time so it was canned.

In these proposals one of the 603 & 604 (I can't remember which) would have continued to run to the CBD. I agree that Prince Alfred is not really an ideal terminus.

The parallel route 605 operated by CDC makes an interesting comparison. It still operates to the CBD, has similar levels of usage to the other routes but a very different service level. The frequency is 20 minutes during the day on weekdays but finishes in early evening, has a much reduced service on Saturdays & a minimal Sunday service. There is no logical reason for the disparity.

Fi said...

Thanks Peter, as someone who lives on the west end of the 219/ new 429 route it's really ineteresting to see the big picture of these changes. I have high hopes of the 216 and hope that it will see the end of waiting in West Footscray for very delayed buses that are then directed not to pick up passengers. Always seems to happen when it is raining!

Anthony Young said...

The Alfred Hospital terminus of the new routes is still a bit of a walk from St Kilda road trams. Extending them round the corner so there is direct interchange with one of the st kilda road platform stops would be better.
Extending them across to port Melbourne would provide a missing inner south orbital service.

Drew said...

Odd. The South side services are different from what was proposed. Thankfully not as servere as proposed


It was proposed that 216 south would be axed, but it ended up being 219.

In the back of my mind, that when Melbourne and Brighton Bus company was taken over by the Met in 1985 there was an agreement to keep service levels at or better than they were for 99 years.

A bit like the old Deepdeen bus

Jason said...

@Mike formalising what has been happening with these routes? Yes but important is the frequency changes

Some things i will be point out.
The southside especially south of Elsterwick may still be overserviced but it's important to remember that drop from 15 to 20 mins frequency ans less dead running as be 100% Heatherton operated saves money to upgrade struggling west side(as well as kms for 302/304 am peak trips)

If west side had to wait till a major Brighton area review then it could be waiting years for more services. Instead I see this as a first or interm step. Though could been more harsh at night south of Elsternwick.

Alfred Hospital Termiuns
It's not an ideal location but I don't think sending back to City is the answer due to fact you'd end up with lots late running and with so many trams in south - east most rather get them(unlike west which lot only have buses). I think sending least 1 route to Victoria Garden is the best option.

Route 605
Other than differnet era many trams I think 605 late running issues as helped bring down patronage. Until route changes in 2017 buses up to 40 mins late in peak and sundays was common.