Friday, December 13, 2019

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 32 - Fixing Bayswater's buses for a million dollars a year

No residential area within about 30 km of Melbourne is less effectively served with buses than the City of Knox. While suburbs in it started developing from the 1960s, the bus network hasn't kept up. Key main roads, for example, may have as little as three buses per day. 

Improvements typically skirted the area's western edge. For example the Stud Rd and Wellington Rd SmartBuses. The 732 Knox Transit Link delivered in exchange for a promised tram, penetrates only slightly further east. Some bus routes gained 7 day service about 10 years ago but their coverage is patchy. 

Bus network reviews done last decade have largely gathered dust. The result is a complex network where routes miss popular destinations and may run just once a day. It is also common for bus routes to run only in the middle hours of the day, missing trips at times when commuters would need them to get to work. Weekend service is even more sparse. 

These issues afflict transport throughout the City of Knox. An overhaul would be complex. Fortunately it can be broken down by region as part of a staged plan to improve the network. Today I'll concentrate on the Bayswater area south to Knox City, east to Ferntree Gully and west to Stud Rd as this is almost continuously developed and has major destinations like Knox City.  The seat of Bayswater is held by Labor's Jackson Taylor MP who won it by a slim margin in 2018. 

Existing Useful Network

I normally start with looking at the main routes. That is those 7 day routes operating every 20 minutes or better on weekdays. They're shown below or on the zoomable map.   

There's not much is there? Mainly it's the Stud Rd corridor with the 901 SmartBus. Though to be fair Route 732 on Burwood Hwy further east has close to a 20 minute weekday frequency but gaps mean it doesn't quite make it to the map.

Existing routes

Because the Useful Network is so sparse we also need to look at all the routes in the area. At first sight coverage looks quite comprehensive.

Unfortunately not all is what it seems. Dotted routes are either very occasional (eg one to three trips per day), occasional deviations of regular routes or Night Network routes. Remove all those and coverage becomes sparse. 

Scoresby Rd is the stand-out example. Much of it has the 745A. However inspection of its timetable reveals just one trip per day. 753 along part of it is not much better with 7 or more hour midday gaps. Finally there is the 967 Night Bus which runs hourly. The result is that Scoresby Rd has more service at 3am on a weekend than it does at any other time, day or night.

Main routes, with half-hourly weekday frequencies, include the fairly direct 664 and 737 along with the very indirect 753 (Glen Waverley - Boronia only) and 755 (Knox City - The Basin only). All  have occasional deviations or extensions which mean that some stops get less service and make buses hard to understand.

Bayswater Station is particularly poorly served with the 664 being its only regular service route (ie at least hourly until 9pm, 7 days). Other routes, including 745A, 745B, 745C, 745D and 753, operate only occasionally. 755 is better, running a flat hourly service, though finish times are early on weeknights.  

Boronia fares better with three half hourly routes (691, 753 and 755) operating to minimum standards. It also has the 690 operating somewhat less frequently. 

To the south and west are the half-hourly 693 along Ferntree Gully Rd and the very limited service 757 and 758. The latter two are weekday only services that operate during school and shopping times only. 

Comparison with the past

How does this network compare with older networks like you can see here? As far as routes go there's been very little change for the better part of 20 years.

The older map looks simpler because limited service routes or deviations were either not shown or shown as continuous lines. This can give a misleading impression of service as some routes like the 745 variants can just be single trips. You can find some old timetables here

Network issues

Key structural issues with the Bayswater area bus network include routes that are confusing or don't go where people are likely to want to go. For example neither 690 nor 753 run to Knox City. 755 does but is very indirect.

As in 2002 most of Scoresby Rd lacks a full route of its own (the 745A is just one trip) while other parts of Scoresby Rd have four buses per hour with overlapping routes. Routes like the 753 overlap large parts of main road routes like the 693 along Ferntree Gully Rd but miss popular destinations like Knox City. Both it and 755 are very complex leading to poor patronage for the service offered.

Amost all routes have confusing deviations that only run part-time. Then there are those those shown in solid on the network map but still offer limited service, for example no service at commuting times or on weekends. Routes 758 and its mirror image west of Stud Rd (757) are examples.

Usage of existing services (skip if you just wish to see the new network)  

How productive are the local bus routes in and around Bayswater and Knox City? 737, 732 and 693 are stand-out performers with over 30 passenger boardings per hour on weekdays. The thing these routes have in common is they go outside Knox to busy destinations like Monash University (737), Glen Waverley (737), Deakin University (732), Box Hill (732) and Oakleigh (693). Two (732 & 737) serve Knox City. The favourable catchment demographics in the north-south strip between Box Hill and Monash University (eg many bus-using students) would also help. 

Around the middle (approx 25 weekday boardings per bus hour) are routes like 664, 690 and 753. Both the 664 and 753 are long routes that go outside Knox. For example 664 goes to Chirnside Park and 753 to Glen Waverley. 753's performance is likely handicapped because it overlaps many other routes (eg 693) for much of the way. 

20 boardings per hour is the minimum threshold that Infrastructure Victoria consider a productive route. Several in Knox, most notably the 691 and 755, get below this number. Both have sections that overlap other routes or serve areas unfavourable for public transport patronage.

It is common for Melbourne buses to run less or more frequently than what patronage would justify. Buses operating every 30 minutes between the weekday peaks include some of our most and least productive routes. For example Route 733 has a very high 64 bus boardings per bus hour. The 737 at 43 is also high.

In contrast the abovementioned 691 attracts only 17 per hour and the 755 15 despite both also operating every 30 minute off-peak. If you had to do network reform without buying new buses you'd consider shortening or reducing frequency on these routes so saved resources can be moved to corridors with no or occasional service.

Languishing at the bottom, around 10 boardings per bus hour, are the routes that are rarely useful as they run only a few weekday trips.  These include the 745, 757 and 758. 

What about weekends? The 737 and 732 are again excellent performers that probably justify frequency increases. 693 is also OK.

Other routes have quite low usage. Again, the more a route is almost entirely within Knox the lower its patronage performance is likely to be. One could attribute this to Knox being a high car owning area (partly due to decades without a full bus network) and the fact that the quieter local routes such as 753 and 755 either do not go or are very indirect to Knox City, the area's key weekend destination.

A reformed Bayswater/Knox bus network - Stage 1

Below is Stage 1 of a reformed Bayswater/Knox bus network. It seeks to address many but not all of the problems mentioned. Unlike other Useful Networks I've chosen 30 instead of 20 minutes as a base frequency. While a lesser service level it permits even connections with the 901 SmartBus at Knox City (every 15 minutes) and trains at Bayswater, Boronia and Ferntree Gully (every 30 minutes). Key routes can always be upgraded to every 10 or 20 minutes when local trains are. 

Because the existing network is so dysfunctional, it is better to install a low-cost reformed network based on buses every 30 or 60 minutes than to do nothing at all. To maximise benefits and minimise the number of people that reform would disadvantage, I've assumed the purchase of two new buses. These, plus some other minor service extensions, might cost approximately $1 million annually.

What's changed compared to now? 

Scoresby Rd is the centrepiece of the revised network. Instead of having one bus per day (745A) it has a full 7 day service. This is achieved by routing 664 via there instead of Stud Rd. It directly connects people to Knox City, Bayswater and beyond. Fairhills High School and Melbourne Eastern Private Hospital gain regular public transport for the first time. The kilometres involved is about the same as now so no extra buses should be required. 

Stud Rd gains a replacement for the rerouted 664 in the form of a rerouted 753 that runs to Bayswater full time instead of Boronia. This realignment allows a new connection to Knox City and for it to replace the limited-service 758 in Knoxfield with a full 7-day service (routing shown here is  a concept only). The overlap with the poorly used 755 on part of Scoresby Rd is also removed. The 753 covers Bayswater's Jersey Rd industrial area, allowing the 664 to be simplified with its deviation removed. Because the 753 becomes longer I've assumed an extra bus for this route. 

Colchester Rd, Bayswater North and parts of Ferntree Gully get a new direct bus to Knox City.  This is done by extending the 690 westward via the 753 alignment and then via Burwood Hwy to Knox City. This change should boost 690's low weekend patronage. Again because of the longer route I've assumed an extra bus. Scope may exist to merge with 738 to Mitcham if an east-west connection is valued. An option exists to improve directness in Bayswater North on the 690 by straightening along Colchester Rd if desired.

Jersey Rd, Bayswater gets service from the extended 753 rather than 664. This is an industrial area that currently only gets peak trips via a 664 deviation. An option exists to operate all 753 trips there to provide an all-day service. Shortening 664 gives it extra time, allowing all trips to operate via Glen Park Rd, Bayswater North. This is a lowish-income residential area with many units that could benefit from a full-time service.

Major themes of this network include: 

* Better access to Knox City from three directions where there is currently no or limited service (Knoxfield, Scoresby Rd, Colchester Rd)

* Better access to trains from Knoxfield (at Glen Waverley) and Scoresby Rd (at Bayswater). 

* Full 7 day service extended on two routes (Knoxfield and Scoresby Rd)

* Simpler network with fewer complex extensions, part-time deviations and occasional routes. Deviations removed from Routes 664 and 753. Limited service routes 745A and 758 replaced with full services. 

This network delivers substantial benefits but there remain some areas without coverage or with inferior service. For example the confusing 737 deviation, complex 755 routing and the limited service route 757. If another bus could be found a Stage 2 upgrade might resolve these issues.

A reformed Bayswater/Knox bus network - Stage 2

Stage 2 (map below) incorporates all of Stage 1 plus an extension of Route 757 north to Bayswater and south to Scoresby Village shops. You might do this at the same time as Stage 1 if funds were available (extra $500k pa approx).

Why do Stage 2? A 757 extension would bring major benefits including 7 day service at each stop and complete the removal of confusing deviations and occasional routes.

The extended 757 would use the bus currently used for it (currently shared with the 758 which got replaced before) plus one extra bus. The route shown is indicative only. It aims to maximise directness yet retain coverage on a difficult street network.  It could run every 60 minutes, seven days per week. While not frequent it plugs major coverage gaps, more than doubles 757's current service and allows the rest of the network to be simplified. 

For example Route 737 would run its shorter more direct route on all trips. This should increase scheduling flexibility to permit a more even service (the current timetable has gaps of up to 40 minutes between the peaks on weekdays). All Route 745 trips and their variations would be deleted, with the new full-time route being superior replacements. 

The main remaining complexity is Route 755 around Ferntree Gully Station. This already has access from the west via the 693. Running 755 via Commercial and Dorset Rd to Boronia Station would greatly simplify the network. As route kilometres is less than now this step would save a few dollars which could be put into adding one or two extra weeknight trips from Bayswater to The Basin to standadise operating hours with weekends. Because it's independent from any other network change this could be done in either Stage 1 or Stage 2.  

To summarise, Bayswater Station would gain an extra feeder bus route while connectivity to the south (via 681, 682 and 901) would be improved with 757 brought as close as possible to Stud Rd. Dorset Rd would gain simpler service with a new direct connection from Mountain Gate Shopping Centre to Boronia Station. 

Stages 1 and 2 together would provide the Bayswater area with a simpler bus network with no deviations, 7 day service on all routes at all stops and better access to local train stations and shopping centres. In other words a basic minimum-standards bus network that beats the mess that's there now.

And the cost? $1.5m is chicken feed in today's world. It's not even a rounding error. And the amount wouldn't even cover the public relations budget for major projects which routinely suffer blowouts in the billions.

Even more service?

The simpler routes and better coverage from Stages 1 and 2 should allow easier transition to a more frequent network if resources were to become available.

The most obvious priority for upgrade would be to boost 737 to every 15 minutes weekdays/20 min weekends between at least Knox City and Glen Waverley.

693 could be boosted to run every 20 minutes 7 days between Oakleigh and Ferntree Gully. The cost of this could be cut if Route 753 is shortened to reduce the overlap with 693. Route 742 also has substantial overlap with 693 further west, presenting opportunities for a very cheap upgrade on a main road route. More detail in Useful Network Part 16.

Also desirable is a boost in 664's frequency to 20 minutes Monday to Sunday. The map below shows how these changes would bring large service improvements to thousands of homes east of Stud Rd which lack service much better than every half hour and often have much less. 


What do you think about this suggested network for the Bayswater area? Is it better than what's there now? Or have you other ideas? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

PS: An index to other useful networks is here. 

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