Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #49: The confusing but soon to vanish Route 475

Timetable Tuesday spends a lot of time in Melbourne's north because so many of its bus routes reflect a previous era where buses carted children to schools and mothers to Saturday morning shopping.  

Whether it's indirect routes, middle-of-nowhere termini, deviations for reasons that no longer exist, a noon Saturday finish, frequencies that don't mesh with trains, confusing deviations, no Sunday service, reduced service summer timetables or unproductive overlaps, the northern suburbs have them all. The north is also the last hold-out of small family bus operators that previously peppered the suburbs with a menagerie of bus liveries. 

There would be no Timetable Tuesday without these service quirks. However they make bus use  tricky for all but those without an alternative. Their existence makes much of Melbourne's bus network a serial underperformer, carrying just 120 million passengers per year instead of the 200 million plus it should be.

Introducing the 475

Route 475 between Moonee Ponds and East Keilor exemplifies many of these twists. But not for long as you'll read later.  Below shows where it goes.

Just west of Essendon the 475 is a straightforward feeder service, serving an established residential area with a mix of houses and walk-up apartments.

Then it goes north to Niddrie, where it might have stopped or continued via the back streets of Airport West to Westfield (as it did in 1978 and similar to recommended in the 2010 Bus Service Review). Instead it heads west then does a loop including Milleara Shopping Centre. This is confusing for regular passengers but allows access to various schools (Essendon/East Keilor, like Mentone, Ivanhoe and Hawthorn, has clusters of established schools that attract students from long distances). 

The to scale map below shows the 475 relative to other routes. That more clearly shows that from some parts of Keilor East you can use the 475 to go to Milleara Shopping Centre but not from it. Also there is Valley Lake (a former quarry) which the route skirts around but does not directly serve. 

History is another reason why the 475 goes the long way to Milleara Shopping Centre from Essendon (its nearest station). Milleara enjoys a very generous seven buses per hour to Essendon via Buckley St. It's even better during peak, nearer to 10 buses per hour. The reason is because there are now two routes directly via Buckley St - the 903 SmartBus and the 465.

The 903 SmartBus orbital went in about 10 years ago, with an odd decision made to overlap the popular Route 465 (more detail in Useful Network Part 6). The 465 has existed for decades but not always in its current form.

The 465 used to be much shorter, terminating at Essendon West. It couldn't go any further because Buckley St was then a dead end due to the creek. Buckley St got extended west about 40 years ago. A few years later Route 465 was extended to take advantage of this new and more direct connection. Though this reduced the need for it and non-school patronage is quite low, the normal inertia that pervades the bus network kept the indirect 475 running to this day. 

The area where Route 475 is most useful is its school transit role as it serves many schools in the area. It includes deviations to Rosehill Secondary College and Penleigh & Essendon Grammar.

Patronage productivity

Route 475 is a below average performer in terms of boardings per bus service hour. Usage is skewed towards school students. On school days its attracts 19 boardings per hour, dropping to 14 boardings per hour on non-school weekdays. Weekend usage is low on Saturdays (9 boardings per hour) and very low on Sundays (5 boardings per hour).

Some passengers have the option of walking to Buckley St or the 59 tram may do this due to higher frequency on these routes. And the western terminus is weak because travel to Milleara Shopping Centre is unavailable in both directions from the loop part of the route.

Route 475 timetable

Route 475 operates to minimum standards. That is service until 9pm seven days per week and standard public holiday patterns. Weekday frequency is every 20 minutes peak periods, 40 minutes off-peak / weekends and every 60 minutes evenings.

One of the byproducts of most minimum service upgrades has been the abolition of summer timetables. These reduced service over several weeks during December/January, ostensibly due to lower passenger demand. They were very common until about 10 years ago and have been gradually been weeded out since. They caused problems because they confused passengers and sometimes provided inadequate service for the numbers still using the bus. Route 475 (and the nearby 501) remain two of the few Melbourne bus routes that retain a summer timetable.

What does a summer timetable look like?

This is the regular timetable to Moonee Ponds. Its peak frequency is every 20 minutes.

This is a summer timetable to Moonee Ponds. Its peak frequency is halved to 40 minutes. Oddly there is a trip marked 'SS' which is meant to signify school days. However school's out over summer so the trip shouldn't be in there at all.

Below is a regular timetable from Moonee Ponds. Again peak frequency is 20 minutes.

Below is a summer timetable from Moonee Ponds.

You will note that, unlike in the opposite direction, the summer timetable has more trips. Closer inspection reveals many are duplicated, as if the summer timetable was superimposed over a regular timetable. The result is a published timetable that is wrong and misleading passengers.

PTV routinely has difficulties with the completeness and accuracy of information presented to the public. The more complex a service is (for instance routes with deviations, non-standard public holiday patterns and summer timetables) the higher the chance of errors.

The existing metropolitan bus network is too complex for PTV to accurately communicate to passengers. Improvements to PTV internal processes could help. However the long term fix is to make bus routes and timetables simpler and less tricky to make errors rare.

In 475's case, a major part of its complexity is its (now unusual) practice of having a reduced summer timetable. This has occurred since at least the early 1990s. While there's often a lack of will to tie up loose ends like these on existing routes (despite the low cost of doing so), very often these issues get fixed when networks are reviewed. Which is currently happening as you'll see next.

Route 475 and the Keilor East review

Route 475, along with 501 and 476 are currently under review. Public consultation has closed. Introduction of a new network, featuring the replacement of Route 475 with revised surrounding routes, is due next year. Some summary network maps are below.

If this happens there will be better coverage of Valley Lakes and a bidirectional route operating to Milleara Shopping Centre. Route 476 will duplicate the tram less and replace parts of Route 475. A new route 469 will go from Milleara Shopping Centre to Moonee Ponds though it's so indirect no one will ride it end-to-end. 

Basically this network removes one indirect route (475), reduces duplication on another (476) and makes the 501 less direct but with some coverage improvements (as the new 469). While the public hasn't been told the service frequencies that will apply there will hopefully be some benefits, especially if summer timetables are deleted. 

A potential subsequent change could be splitting the 469 at Airport West Shoppingtown and merging the western portion with 407 to provide a direct Highpoint connection. However this would require some additional expenditure as the 407 would gain 7-day service.  


Route 475 is a complex and mostly underused bus route that hasn't seen significant reform for decades. What's your view of it and do you think the Department of Transport's proposals for it are right? Please leave your comments below if you have a view. 


Anonymous said...

I'm not digging the whole Keilor East Network revisions, I've always felt like the 476 was 4 routes meshed into 1, making it 5 won't help (I'm talking about the Vaynor street dogleg).

Personally, I think the 475 should be kept, but should run along Dinah Parade and Rosehill Road, I'm not sure how this would work exactly (Rosehill road is quite hilly.)

Not sure if it would make it productive but we can see.

Craig Halsall said...

Making the 475 bi-directional in Keilor East is a pretty basic fix and at least three decades over-due, so well done on that front at least.

As for the rest of the proposal, I don't understand their logic why 476 passengers from Keilor will be forced to endure another 5 or more minutes in the back-streets of Essendon West when their bus already does that that annoying detour through the back of Keilor Park, duplicating the 465. The 476 has strong potential to be a proper cross-town route from Melton right through to Moonee Ponds, but instead it does endless deviations off main roads and seems confused as to its purpose, not to mention the numerous school-time detours it offers as well!

Duplicating the tram is not ideal but it offers quick access into Essendon for train connections.

Despite the good tram link between Essendon and Niddrie, and high frequency Buckley St buses from Essendon to Milleara Mall, I can't be convinced many of those in Valley Lakes and East Keillor ill be keen to change to vehicles twice to reach town. With school buses supplementing the 469 anyway, I don't see how overall how the solution is going to save many resources, although trying to make 476 a more consistent 20 min service in peaks is a good aim.

The 469 on a map is just a long-winded mess to me and is the type of route that is often mocked. For East Keilor residents, Airport West can be accessed by a tram connection at Niddrie, which even with connection time would be quicker than the zig zaging of the 469/501.

It will be interesting to see if PTV end up keeping the status quo of 476 on Niddrie Rd or go ahead with their original underwhelming proposal.

Anonymous said...

Not happy with the 469, don’t see the point going through Valley Lakes. It’s discusting that you buy a property and build a house with no indication from the council or Vic Places that they are placing a bus stop outside your home, then they remove all your street parking and you have no say in it. I chose this particular block knowing my need for street parking and now it’s gone. Discussed with council and local member of parliament that do nothing but hold out their hands for rates etc.

Peter Parker said...

People in Valley Lakes have wanted bus coverage for some time. The street in front of your house is public property and you have no special rights over its use. It might have been wise to have bought a larger block with more of its own parking if this is essential to you.