Saturday, November 30, 2019

Connex to Metro: 10 years ago today

Exactly 10 years ago Metro Trains Melbourne took over from Connex. 

Connex successfully bid to run half the train network when it was put out to franchise in 1999. However they ended with the lot after National Express walked out in 2002. They had to reunite the network and clear a driver training backlog. All in an environment of deteriorating infrastructure, surging patronage and negligible funding for additional services.

A fancy roof (which is what Southern Cross Station is) was often confused with but does not equal remedial investment in tracks, points, signals and overheads. Some government decisions, such as outer suburban fare cuts, increased pressure on the fragile network. There has been no learning from this; parallels exist with the CBD 'Free' Tram Zone that some politicians now wish to extend

Reliability fell as patronage rose. A race-day debacle and summer meltdowns brought Connex in Melbourne to an end as 'rail fail' became a household term, front-page news and the subject of a parliamentary inquiry. Their name had become toxic and the butt of jokes. Connex lost the franchise to the Hong-Kong led Metro Trains Melbourne group who commenced operation exactly 10 years ago. Here's what I wrote about the new train contracts at the time. 

Where were you when this happened? I was on their first train from Frankston (poor picture below). 

I arrived just in time to see the banners being replaced.

Metro on the right, Connex on the left (click for better view).

Within an hour the job was done.

Meanwhile inside they were setting up their customer information booth.

In the lead-up Metro were busy preening their corporate image. Including making flashy videos of doubtful community benefit. 

Trams also changed. KDR was the successful bidder. This is their video.

For all the talk about dumping incumbent operators, the point that any new arrival would take over 100% of the infrastructure (rotting sleepers, dicky points, dodgy signals), 100% of the rolling stock and 99% of the staff was sometimes lost. Not to mention the dopey car drivers and pedestrians who try to beat boom gates at level crossings. A newspaper report explains how Metro inherited a dog. (There was indeed a real dog named Connex but that's a different story).

Politicians promised improvements "from Day One". Not surprisingly they didn't happen. In fact service got worse for a while. Like an Oaks Day train, the Brumby government lost power, with train service delivery a prominent issue. However from 2011-2012 the pace of timetable reform quickened and reliability recovered most of the ground lost in the disastrous 2003 - 2010 period.

Unfortunately train presentation standards slipped in Metro's early years as graffiti returned to carriages. Metro also had issues with their cleaning contractors who were later accused of underpaying staff. Later Metro realised that they had to 'clean their room' since the parents were returning soon and there was a risk of them being booted out of the house in the looming refranchising. Then train presentation dramatically improved. It's been fairly good since although there remains a need for 'walk through' rubbish removals at terminus stations, especially early weekend mornings after Night Network operates.

My theory is that unless contract management is consistently tight operators start with good intentions but let things go in the middle of their franchise period. Then in the year or two before retendering they panic and rush to make things good so they can demonstrate improvement (people have short memories) and get a chance of winning the next franchising round (preferably with 'value-adding' high-margin extras).

This is a bit like the behaviour of school kids when the teacher leaves the classroom. This flows into another theory I have; the difference between children and adults are exaggerated and it's really not  that much. 'Growing up' and 'reaching maturity' are over-rated. The base needs of politicians, senior bureaucrats and company managers seem little different to that of easily distracted children. Much of what goes on in political, administrative and corporate life reflects this. Eg food/drink, toys/money, applying paint but not fixing the building, doing tricks and not getting caught, ego/branding/corporate networking and wanting to be liked seem to be universal.

Anyway refranchising came around in 2017 for both trains and trams. There seemed less interest than in 2009. Train performance had been turned around and remained better than it was in the last years of Connex/first years of Metro. Both incumbents got their franchises renewed with some changes to conditions.

At the time of writing the rail network is again under pressure with a gradual decline in punctuality for the last six years, and the government  delaying big timetable reforms (next big one planned for 2020). It remains to be seen whether smaller adjustments in the form of (mostly) slower times from next month will arrest the decline in reported punctuality.

Melbourne on Transit bookshop

Favourably reviewed books about transport and cities. Purchases via these links support this blog and its independent reporting (at no extra cost to you).   

Friday, November 29, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network 30: Dallas, Coolaroo and Campbellfield

We've been covering the middle-northern suburbs lately. Last week was the Glenroy, Hadfield, Coburg area. Today we'll leap the Western Ring Road to look at Dallas, Coolaroo and Campbellfield. This is you classic postwar industrial suburb that grew around car manufacture and allied industries.

In Broadmeadows case it was Ford whose plant was near Upfield station. This was the 1950s and suburb zoning and development was not as autopic as it would become within a few decades. Hence it was possible for people to live in Dallas and walk or cycle to Ford. Meanwhile housewives would have been able to walk to shops on Barry Rd or Blair St and children to the area's once numerous schools.

Such walkable accessibility would not be available in a 2019 development.

Today's factory or distribution centre would have been built well off its main road in the middle of an industrial estate made remote from housing by restrictive zoning, absence of grid streets and uncrossable roundabouted roads. Large turning radii would mean vehicles can turn with speed and convey the message that they need not give way to pedestrians. Shops are in fewer, larger clusters, set behind parking, while schools are bigger and further apart than they used to be. You can see all this in newer areas like Tarneit/Truganina where although housing is creeping towards the industrial area walkability between the two is not provided for. 

Getting back to 'Broady', the area has been known as a 'Struggletown' but up until the 1970s the vast majority of households had at least one breadwinner. It has borne the full effect of post-1973 economic change including lower tariffs, the end of 'full employment', the shift to a services economy, outsourcing, international competition and the weakening of labour market protections.

The Button car plan of the 1980s sought to reduce the number of car models produced in Australia to make production runs more efficient while reducing industry protection. The free-trade sentiment at the time led to falling tariffs in other fields from about 1990. This, combined with the recession which hit Victoria harder than any other state, deeply affected industrial sector employment.

The Broadmeadows area was in the front line and never fully recovered. Today it has some of Melbourne's lowest median incomes and highest jobless rates, having degentrified from a lower-middle to a very low employment and income area.  This is why I discuss the area in my submission to the disadvantaged jobseekers inquiry.

Existing Useful Network

I explain the Useful Network concept here. It's those routes that are frequent enough and run over long enough hours to be useful for many trips. I've specified a 20 minute frequency on weekdays and 7 day service until 9pm. In other words the coloured lines on the Melbourne Public Transport Frequent Network map with the 20 minute frequency selected. This map shows the sparsity of Useful Network routes in most fringe areas, despite their sometimes high population densities. 

Below is the existing Useful Network for the Dallas/Coolaroo area. It's fairly sparse. Trains on the Craigieburn and Upfield lines skirt the borders of these suburbs. East of the Craigieburn line the three Useful Network routes are two SmartBus orbitals and one regular route (540). This runs from Broadmeadows to Upfield. It does a loop in Coolaroo. Before Coolaroo Station was built the 540 was the only public transport in the area that did not necessitate crossing the railway and busy Pascoe Vale Road. Route 540 operates every 20 minutes on weekdays and 40 minutes on weekends with a 9pm finish. 

The area around Sydney Rd is a transport 'black hole' with no or infrequent service. This is despite it having substantial residential and workforce populations. Service is particularly low in the Campbellfield area. Even on parts of Sydney Rd, traffic volumes and the lack of pedestrian lights  at human-scale intervals make its stops effectively inaccessible.  

The map below shows all routes. Notable routes not on the map above are the 532 up Sydney Rd (every 30 minutes, unharmonised with trains) and the pair that attempts to serve the residential part of Campbellfield (531 and 538). They run 5 and 6 days per week, with no Sunday service.  The main overlaps in this network both concern the 538; that with the 531 in Campbellfield and that with the 902 along Camp Rd. 

The area's main transport network change has been the opening of Coolaroo Station about 10 years ago. Buses however have not changed significantly with the 1992 map below similar to 2019's network. The main change is that the 560 got incorporated into the 902 and the 319, which was a substitute for when the Upfield train wasn't running (the line then being a part-time service) got deleted when train services were upgraded. 

Patronage of existing routes

The busiest local route is the 532 with 35 boardings per bus hour on weekdays. This exceeds the 26 boardings per hour of the 540, the next busiest route. 532's result is amazing given much of its catchment is so pedestrian hostile. On paper it provides a handy connection from the Upfield line to the Craigieburn line but in practice its effectiveness is limited by its 30 minute frequency not meeting trains every 20 minutes. While the quieter route, 540 has a 20 minute off-peak service as opposed to  the 30 minutes of the 532.  

Both 531 and 538 are quiet, with weekday boardings of 11 and 14 passengers per hour. Reasons for these low numbers include the considerable overlap that these routes have with others in the Fawkner and Campbellfield area. 

Similar patronage patterns apply on weekends with 532 again being busier than 540. 532 is once again unharmonised with trains on Saturday, with its 30 minute frequency not providing reliable connections. Sunday service meanwhile is hourly, a lower service than the 540 which is every 40 minutes on both weekend days.

Existing bus resources

I estimate that the area's local bus network requires 7 buses, distributed as follows: 

531 = 1 bus (1 hour return trip, every hour) - Broadmeadows Bus
532 = 3 buses (1 hour return trip, every 20 min in peak) - Broadmeadows Bus
538 = 1 bus (40 min return trip, every 40 min) - Dysons
540 = 2 buses (40 min return trip, every 20 min) - Dysons

The area's local bus review

About 10 years the government commissioned a bus network review covering the area (Hume/Moreland).

Key recommendations included a bus up Widford St (to replace the duplicative 538 along Camp Rd), connections into the industrial area east of Sydney Rd and a simplification of services in the residential area of Campbellfield.

None of this got implemented. The entire area is the ultra-safe Labor seat of Broadmeadows held by Frank McGuire MP.

Revised Useful Network

Presented below is a revised network. It's greatly simplified compared to now with just two routes: 531 and 532. 

Route 532 becomes the area's main road route with a weekday service boost from every 30 to every 20 minutes to harmonise with trains. It's the only bus serving many jobs on the Sydney Rd corridor and connects Craigieburn with Upfield. In addition it provides a strong service through central Dallas. On weekends Route 532 could run every 40 minutes, harmonising with trains on Saturday and providing improved service on Sunday compared to the current timetable. An option exists to add one or two short Broadmeadows - Upfield trips around 10pm and on early Sunday morning to improve operating hours in high need areas remote from stations. 

Route 531 (thinner line) is the other route. It is amalgamated with Route 540 and replaces Route 538. A basic 40 minute frequency with 7 day service is suggested. Peak frequency could be every 30 minutes. Both would be a frequency increase over the current hourly service. 

The upgrade is necessary to compensate for the removal of Route 538 (every 40 minutes) from the residential portion of Campbellfield east of Sydney Rd. This is still fewer buses per hour on weekdays for the area. However service overall is increased with evening, Saturday afternoon and Sunday buses introduced. 531 morning peak service to Upfield is vastly improved, going from every 120 min to every 30 min. And the amalgamation with Route 540 means that the single seat ride to Broadmeadows (currently available on Route 538) is retained. It's less direct but the improved operating hours and 7 day service more than compensates.

What happens to the 540, currently the area's main Useful Network route? It gets incorporated into the extended Route 531 mostly every 40 minutes. This change does not greatly reduce Useful Network coverage because 540 mostly overlaps with Route 532 that gets a service upgrade. Most of the areas where it doesn't overlap are within the 800 metre catchment of Coolaroo Station, which wasn't built when Route 540 was last scheduled. Because both 531 and 532 get a 40 minute service on weekends, it may be possible to stagger their times to provide an 'every train' connection from Upfield. 

The Olsen Place shops on Widford St south of Camp Rd doesn't have a bus going right past it. All it has is the part-time Monday to Saturday morning 538 on Graham St. This would be replaced by the extended Route 531 which provides new 7-day connections to Broadmeadows and Glenroy. It is unlikely that many will need to go to Campbellfield but if they wish to they can remain on the bus.  

A Widford St bus connecting the area to Broadmeadows and preferably Glenroy is essential for coverage but it doesn't have to be the 531. Another network option could terminate the 531 at Broadmeadows and have Widford St served by an extended route from the Glenroy, Hadfield or Coburg area as discussed last week. This would improve the network's legibility as 531 would be less direct. And a southern extension to Coburg would make it more useful for more trips. 

Paying for it

How much would this network cost? It's not much. The number of buses required appears the same as what's used now. The main difference is that the buses are being worked harder so there's some higher fuel, labour and maintenance costs. However fare revenue should be higher due to the network being more useful.

Here's how buses could be allocated between the revised routes.

531 = 4 buses (2 hours return trip, every 30 min peak, 40 min off-peak and weekends)
532 = 3 buses (1 hour return trip, every 20 min all day weekdays, 40 min weekends) 
538 = 0 buses (replaced by extended 531)
540 = 0 buses (merged into extended 531)

Given that one operator currently runs three buses and the other four and both routes gain increased bus hours (532 mainly interpeak and 531 mainly weekends) it should be possible to arrive at a fair arrangement where both gain. 

Loose ends

The above has sought to expand the 20 minute frequency Useful Network to more local people and jobs without needing to buy more buses. However there are two key things that the above network leaves aside.

The first is a residential area coverage gap south of Geach St. Parts are walkable to Upfield Station (if you count 800m as acceptable). However it's a low income area and bus access to local destinations is limited. 

I considered the possibility of diverting Route 532 through the area but this would reduce frequency in areas that currently have the 540 every 20 minutes. Other possibilities would require additional routes and buses. 

The second omission is lack of connections to jobs east of Sydney Rd. The likely solution is an industrial-type route from Roxburgh Park to Upfield and/or Broadmeadows. This could potentially serve the Geach St area mentioned above. Extending an existing route from Roxburgh Park (eg 544) could provide some residents with a direct bus to their workplace.


What do you think about this network? Is swapping the highest service route from the 540 to the 532 a good idea? And do you like the extension of 7 day service to all routes? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

PS: An index to other useful networks is here. 

Melbourne on Transit bookshop

Favourably reviewed books about transport and cities. Purchases via these links support this blog and its independent reporting (at no extra cost to you).   

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #50: Index to them all

This week I'll take a break and present an index of Timetable Tuesday items covered so far.

I'll update this post each week with links to future Timetable Tuesday items.

1. 609
2. 800
3. 681
4. 788
5. 558
6. 823
7. 506
8. Evening Metro train services 1975 vs 2019
9. 733
10. 553
11. 82 tram
12. 201 768 (Deakin Uni shuttles)
13. 566
14. Sunday morning Metro train services
15. 279
16. 410
17. 556
18. 420
19. 513
20. Weeknight Metro train services
21. 736
22. 280 282 Manningham Mover
23. 414
24. 460
25. 844
26. 504
27. 627 822
28. 745
29. 600 922 923
30. Learning from Perth's train timetable revolution
31. 526
32. 624
33. 271
34. 538
35. 673
36. Thirteen bus routes that most deserve Sunday service
37. 685
38. 302 304
39. 561
40. 503
41. 582
42. 777
43. 695 695F
44. 664
45. 216 219 220 reform and new 429 603 604
46. 700 Chadstone shuttle
47. 512
48. 580
49. 475
50. INDEX (continually updated)
51. 456 along Ballarat Rd
52. 559
53. 525
54. 431
55. Hot waits - where summer timetable cuts make catching buses a misery
56. 699
57. 577
58. Thirteen bus routes that most deserve Saturday service
59. Six places where 2am Sunday service is better than 2pm Sunday service
60. 704
61. Belgrave/Lilydale line
62. 770 771
63. 706
64. 680
65. 380
66. 821
67. 925
68. 293
69. 232
70. Bingo buses
71. 787
72. 432
73. 843 845 861 (new)
74. Flexible route buses (Telebus and 490)
75. Mornington Peninsula community bus network
76. Where are the non-train harmonised bus routes?
77. 694
78. 460 462 463 476 (timetable change)
79. 740
80. The 7 ages of Melbourne's buses (1950 - )
81. How Perth makes bus reform work (frequent Route 915)
82. 888 889 (proposed)
83. The Metro train timetable that never was
84. Victoria's most complex city bus network - Wodonga
85. 270
86. COVID-19 timetables
87. 508
91. 542
92. 385
93. 890
95. Kilmore / Wallan

PS: An index to the Friday Building Melbourne's Useful Network series is here.

Melbourne on Transit bookshop

Favourably reviewed books about transport and cities. Purchases via these links support this blog and its independent reporting (at no extra cost to you).