Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #55: Hot waits - where summer timetable cuts make catching buses a misery

Today some Melbourne bus routes are operating on a reduced service. 15 or 20 years ago it would have been a lot more. For at one time it was customary for bus routes to operate a reduced timetable for a few weeks over December - January when commuter demand falls. 

While this practice saved money it confused those who did travel. And it required a substantial information campaign to warn passengers beforehand. Of course it didn't reach everyone and there were passengers inconvenienced by the reduced timetables. 

A welcome consequence of the 2006 - 2010 minimum standards upgrades were that they usually deleted holiday timetables. Instead the same services would run all year (apart from some school day only trips). This made buses easier to use and reduced the risk of passengers being caught out by non-standard timetables and operating patterns over summer and on public holidays (which exist on those routes that didn't get upgrades). Old post on this from 2011 here.

Unfortunately these upgrades were not well targeted. There were only tenuous links between a bus route's patronage and whether it got service upgrades or had its irregular timetables rectified. Hence, while many minor routes had their summer timetables removed, some of our most used routes still cut service over summer. Combined with non-standard public holiday patterns and heat-related rail network breakdowns, summer timetables make public transport at this time of year confusing and unreliable.    

A newer treatise on summer timetables is on the BCSV site at http://bcsv.org.au/vm/2016-12-to-2017-01-christmas-new-year-timetable-changes/ . That was written a couple of years ago. Today I'll summarise some salient points from it and add other comments. 

Kastoria routes 475 and 501 cut their peak service over December/January. 475 peak service, for example, reduces from every 20 to every 40 minutes until 11 January. However with a bus network review under way and new routes to start next year this summer is likely to be the last with a reduced timetable.  

Moonee Valley routes 503 and 506 also have reduced service over summer. 506 has the biggest cuts, with peak service dropping from every 10 - 15 min to every 20 min, again until January 11. 503 also cops a reduction in operating hours. The 503 and 506 summer timetables, along with restricted operating hours and schedules virtually unchanged for decades illustrate the extent to which both these routes are frozen in time, despite their potential to attract patronage across Melbourne's inner north. 

At one time Route 605 had several timetable quirks. For example it never got upgrades to minimum standards. Its Sunday service started late in the morning. And certain trips did not run for approx. 3 or 4 weeks after Boxing Day. However PTV's website is showing a full timetable throughout this period. So it would appear 605 no longer cuts service over summer. However its operating hours are short with an unusually late Sunday start and low Sunday frequency.

At least two busy Ventura routes have summer timetables. Most notable is the 733, one of Melbourne's busiest bus routes (which deserves to be a 7-day frequent SmartBus). Peak period waits  can blow out from 15 to over 30 minutes. Services are cut for four weeks but PTV provides conflicting advice on when this period starts and finishes. 

Also reduced in the Box Hill area are the two Deakin Uni - Box Hill shuttles (201 and 768). They're basically an embarrassment where two routes run instead of one, with differing holiday patterns adding confusion. 

On the bright side of the ledger is the 788 down the Mornington Peninsula. Its summer timetable actually has increased service. Instead of running every 60 - 80 minutes, weekend buses are every 40 minutes for about a month from Christmas Day. However this remains insufficient for demand, which is high from Schoolies week to the end of summer. 

Also worth noting is the temporary 700 shopper shuttle from Oakleigh to Chadstone, somewhat hobbled by the current works at the station. And of course tonight there will be enhanced New Years Eve services on trains and trams. As well as some Doncaster area buses eg 907.

Trams also cut their service on a few weekdays days between Christmas and New Year. The approach here is to run a Saturday frequency. Although that would mean a service upgrade on Tram 82, which oddly has a better weekend than weekday service.

Reduced summer timetables on buses are one of the things that trip bus passengers up and make travel confusing. As there's few left, scrapping those remaining on less frequent residential area routes, would be fairly cheap to do. One might also query the tram cuts, given scenes like below:

That's my thoughts. What do you think? Maybe there is a place for summer timetables, as some routes are genuinely quiet, especially over the Christmas - New Years Day period. Or, would it be OK to trim service only on frequent routes where you'd still have a turn-up-and-go service after the summer cut? And what about trains, where an intensive peak service runs despite low usage on some days? That deserves a future post. In the meantime, please leave your ideas about summer timetables in the comments below. 

PS: An index to all Timetable Tuesday items is here.

PPS: This is the last post for 2019. Thanks for your readership, comments and support and see you all in 2020!

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Monday, December 30, 2019

10 years of myki

Daniel Bowen reminds us that yesterday marks ten years since myki commencing public operation on Melbourne's train network.

Here's a video I made back in September 2009. At that time myki was in use on buses in regional areas including Geelong. Also note the short-lived paper disposable myki tickets.

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Sunday, December 29, 2019

Politicians talking transport: Extracts from Hansard

They don't always make the metropolitan-wide news. But extracts from speeches and answers to questions are a way of finding out what's happening in particular areas. Especially in transport. Here's a few links to recent Hansard items, mostly on bus services. 

Search on key words to find the item. 
31/10/2019: Return of buses to Young St Frankston (near station)

It is known that some politicians (or their staffers) read Melbourne on Transit

If I'm missing one of your questions or replies please include a link in the comments below.

For what politicians talked about more than ten years ago, see this similar post from 2006 though most of the links are now dead (Parliament doesn't seem good at providing long-term stable links). 

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #54: Bus 431 the dead end loop route

How long should a one-bus route be? One answer is however far out you can go with one bus and return to the terminus by the time the next departure is due in 30 or 60 minutes time. 

Or, if you already know the route that's needed, is to run the highest frequency possible with a given number of available buses. Whether the frequency chosen aligns with trains and/or is an even clockface figure is secondary.  

Instances of both are found around Melbourne. They are remnants of old-style scheduling which in turn reflect history of small family bus companies running a few routes each. Bus companies have got fewer and bigger but old practices remain, even on relatively new routes. 

Today's route, the 431 from well-served Yarraville to lesser-served Kingsville is an example. It runs roughly east-west. It runs from Yarraville, where there are shops and a station, to a residential area otherwise remote from facilities and services. Its western end forms a loop that it goes around before returning to Yarraville. 

The map is below:  

This is not to scale. You can see how it fits in with other routes on the network map below.

Because there isn't anything at its western terminus the route is strictly a Yarraville station feeder. Counter peak patronage would be very low. This is unlike more efficient routes which run between two stations where peak loadings exist in both directions at both ends of the day.  Usage is about average for a Melbourne bus route on weekdays (24 passenger boardings per bus service hour) but low on Saturdays (13 boardings per hour). 

Route 431 is a product of a bus review around 10 years ago. Before then the bus network was even more complicated than it is now and it was difficult to reach major shopping centres like Altona Gate or interchanges like Newport. The review led to some routes (eg 432) getting minimum standards upgrades while the shorter 431 missed out. Before the 431 there were other (also short) routes like the 429 and 430 serving the area. Route 431 operates in the electoral district of Williamstown, held by public transport minister Melissa Horne MP. 


Despite its relative newness, Route 431 has operating hours reflecting the pre-minimum standards 1990s era which was a low point for bus services in Melbourne. That is finishes at 6 or 7pm and no Sunday service. However unlike many other 6 day routes there is service on some public holidays.

Service frequency is a flat 30 minutes from first to last trip at all times the bus runs. Run time is also flat. There appears to be no layover time in the public timetable at either end but in practice the bus might arrive slightly early.

The timetable below shows trips from Yarraville only. A similar service level applies for inbound trips.

What about coordination with trains? When the 431 first started there wasn't any. This was because Yarraville just had trains every 20 minutes off-peak and the 431 was every 30 minutes. Then Yarraville gained a 10 minute off-peak train service interpeak on weekdays, harmonising with the 431. However connections only repeat hourly on Saturdays as trains then are still on 20 minute headways. 


What do you think about Route 431? Is it a good route or should it be straightened to feed a terminus like Tottenham Station or even Highpoint via Ashley St so it becomes useful in both directions? Should its timetables be harmonised with trains, even if it means dropping to every 40 minutes on Saturdays? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 

PS: An index to all Timetable Tuesday items appears here.

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Sunday, December 22, 2019

Wish List: Ten Christmas presents the network needs

Christmas is in three days.

The public transport network rarely speaks for itself. The Department of Transport and (indirectly) operators are on the government payroll so aren't as free as those outside to publicly advocate what the network needs. With the Andrews government dogged by cost blowouts on its infrastructure projects and strikes hurting service delivery, we haven't heard much on its longer term plans for public transport services.

To fill the gap here's a Christmas wish list for Melbourne's public transport network. None of it is achieveable this Christmas, but most should be doable in four or five Christmases from now. Work on them needs to start now if the government is to have more immediate positive stories to tell about transport or the opposition wishes to seize the momentum on a portfolio that's weaker for the government than six or twelve months ago. 

Even North American cities not known for their transit do better than us. The Europeans and Sydneysiders beat us hands down. Even Perth can claim superiority. I'm talking about service frequencies on our suburban train network. Even our busiest lines drop to every half hour at night and 40 to 60 minutes on Sunday mornings when substantial demand remains.  

It didn't used to be like this; trains on most lines used to run every 20 minutes on Monday to Saturday nights until last service. Massive service cuts in 1978 ended that. Except for Sundays, the cuts have remained unreversed on most lines despite our city's population and train patronage doubling since. 

A service upgrade would use the same fleet but work it harder. A staged program could enable gradual improvement until Metro and Geelong trains are never more than 20 minutes apart. Possibly starting with weeknight and weekend service until 9 or 10 pm, then extending to last service in later stages.

Two hours extra of 20 rather than 30 minute evening service on our Metro trains requires just two more return trips per day per line. And boosting Sunday mornings to every 20 minutes for two hours needs just two or three more return trips per week. Almost nothing in the whole scheme of things.

Trams just need attention to Sunday morning and evening services while weekends are the major priority for busy weekend bus routes such as 150, 279, 302/304, 508, 630, 703 (part), 733, 737, 767, 800, 900, 901 (part), 902 (part) and 903 (part).

The result would be a far more useful network with easier connections between services and flexibility for different trip types. Once done attention can then shift to rolling out 10 minute frequencies on the network's core.

We're falling behind on the conversion of the tram fleet to be fully accessible. And trams can get so crowded that passengers are left behind. Our city is growing and densifying but our tram fleet and service levels aren't keeping up. More trams would address this and create local jobs. 

Melbourne's bus service provision is patchy with some routes having more service than they need and others having less than patronage would justify. Here's my list of 13 well-used bus routes that most need Sunday service. A great job creator that helps us get more from our existing blus fleet. 

Melbourne is notoriously poor at this. You alight a bus at somewhere like Monash Uni or Chadstone with the intent of changing to another bus. But where do you go? More often than not you won't know. You may have to traipse all the entrance of the interchange to find maps or directional signage. And in the process potentially miss your bus. Railway stations, even new ones, often have next to no bus information. Simple maps and interchange guides at every station and bus bay would solve this and at minimal cost.

There's lots of talk about rail options to the airport. But there's stuff we can do now for the price of several buses that would greatly slash travel times from many western suburbs. Key is a direct bus from Melbourne Airport to Sunshine operating every 20 minutes or better 7 days per week over long hours. In conjunction with stopping Bendigo trains at Sunshine and upgrading frequencies of trains to Watergardens, Melton and Geelong this would greatly boost connectivity from regional and suburban areas to Melbourne Airport, the CBD, Footscray, Sunshine and other key destinations. A few million each year on these service upgrades would quickly deliver maybe half the benefit of airport rail at a tiny fraction of the cost. 

It's the season for unwrapping things. And we should be permanently banning window cover advertisements on our trains, trams and buses. Then people will be able to see out to find their stops. There will also be better passive surveillance, improved exposure for businesses along the way and even fewer headaches. There's foregone advertising revenue but the passenger experience benefits will be worth it. 

Melbourne's trams are close to the slowest in the world (although Sydney's new system offers stiff competition). Prioritising their movement where they share the road with cars would improve their usefulness and allow a faster, more reliable and more frequent service.


The more people can walk to a station the more patronage it will attract, other things being equal. Some stations only have entrances at one end of the platform, resulting in unnecessarily long walks. Opening up station platforms to be accessible from both ends can increase a station's pedshed and thus its potential catchment for a fraction of the cost of building extra stations.

Friday Useful Network items are packed with ideas to make buses more useful and easier to use. Proposals include more direct routes, timetable connectivity with trains, higher frequencies and less duplication of services.

There's many reasons why you'd want to do this. One of the key ones is to boost employment participation and improve peoples commutes, as discussed in this Jobseeker Inquiry submission.

100 to 200 new buses and 400 to 800 more driver jobs created would deliver transformed bus networks throughout Melbourne, benefiting catchments of millions with improved fringe coverage. Even one-tenth that number could deliver network and service upgrades to high priority areas. And, if Scrooge comes knocking, network reform can deliver some great improvements with no extra buses needed if wasteful service duplication is pruned. Abolishing reduced summer timetables on the few bus routes that still have them, fully standardising public holiday schedules and adding afternoon service to routes that finish midday Saturdays are further cheap upgrades.

If passengers can't reach stops they won't use public transport. High car traffic speeds and volumes is a major impediment in many areas. Agencies like Vicroads, whose mission has been to maximise car traffic throughput, have tended to regard pedestrians (and public transport users) as inconveniences rather than people with legitimate transport needs.

Hence roads often have excessive turning radii, unnecessary slip lanes, long gaps between signalised crossings and roundabouts that keep pedestrians stranded indefinitely. The cure is a program, pursued with no less vigour than the current level crossing removals, to replace roundabouts with signalised intersections on busier roads and install raised paths and zebra crossings across quieter streets. The aim could be to achieve easy pedestrian access to every tram and bus stop at any time of the day within four years.

OK, so none of this will happen by this Christmas. And getting two done by next Christmas would appear a miracle. But doing most by five Christmases time would transform public transport. Probably by as much if not more than the Metro Tunnel at a fraction of the cost and risk.

Yes, finding funding is an issue. But it's less an issue than political will and a willingness to shift resources to where they'd have greater benefit. For comparison, the cost of one level crossing removal could fund a year's worth of massive service upgrades across the whole network well beyond everything listed above. Ten level crossing removals would do the same for a decade. Similar comments apply to new freeways and (to a lesser extent) boondoggles within public transport such as the 'Free' Tram Zone and duplicative bus routes.

What are you thoughts? I'd enjoy reading them so please leave them in the comments below and have a great Christmas and new year.

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