Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Timetable Tuesday #53: The about to start 525



A new bus route will start in Melbourne's north on Sunday. Numbered Route 525 it will bring public transport to the new suburb of Kalkallo for the first time. Parts of Mickleham and Craigieburn will also benefit. It's not the most northernmost route in the area (The once-daily Route 511 goes up to Mandalay) but it is the first to offer seven day service.   

The 525 is roughly north-south running between Donnybrook and Craigieburn via Craigieburn Town Centre. Donnybrook is a lightly served V/Line station with roughly an hourly train. If you visited it you could be mistaken for thinking it was unpopulated; what passes for a town has a pub, post office, handful of houses and little else. 

Kalkallo, 1 - 2 km to the north-west, is where the real development is with house and land packages aimed at first homebuyers. Parts are close, as far as the crow flies, to the station but is severed from it by Merri Creek and a lack of walking paths. The bus will serve the southern part of Kalkallo but not the northern part which will remain without coverage. It's your classic story of people moving in first with services and transport (even as mundane as footpaths) arriving much later if at all. 




As significant as Kalkallo is the extension of service in north-western Craigieburn and parts of Mickleham. Existing routes in the area (eg the 529) are heavily used but don't go far enough west. The picture below shows 'leapfrog development' where instead of following a gradually advancing front, housing has skipped over areas planned for later development. Such patterns make the early provision of transport connections difficult.

 

Three versions of the map

At least three versions of Route 525's map are currently available.

First advice of the 525's route and service level came via information on Ros Spence MP's website. This is where you can view one version of the route map and timetable (map below).


The map has numbers showing the order of stops. This is particularly important in the confusing squiggle near Merrifield Park. In content but not format it matches the less clear version on the PTV website available when looking up the route (below).



However this is not the exact route that will start running Sunday. Buses leaving Donnybrook Station will deviate 2km east to turn around in Olivine Bvd before heading west along Donnybrook Rd to Kalkallo etc. You can see this on the map below (in yet another format) accompanying the PTV website announcement of the new route. 


Land at Olivine Bvd is currently selling with a major subdivision being built. There will no doubt be calls for a bus stop there as early residents will see buses going past. However this deviation is only a stop-gap until buses are able to turn around at Donnybrook Station. If a stop was to be installed there would be the expectation that a service continue after the station interchange is built since the one thing worse than not providing a service is to have one that's taken away.  



Bus routes are restricted by local street patterns. The whole area is a case study of how not to do development conductive to effective bus services. For example centring development away from main roads means that buses must deviate via confusing looping routes to assure adequate coverage. 

You can see this in Kalkallo with the hairpin-shaped route that double backs on itself and does not penetrate the north of the estate. Also Merrifield has a partial loop-the-loop which the PTV maps poorly illustrate. 

All this is a consequence of incomplete road networks and/or one bus route trying to do too many things. Consequently the 525 in its current form must be regarded as a stop gap until more direct routes can be implemented. Though the historical record is that stop gaps can last a surprisingly long time. 

Timetable

It's common for new bus routes to start (and often remain) with a limited service eg every 40 minutes even during peak periods. Route 525 is more 'peaky'. Its standard weekday and weekend headway is roughly 60 minutes, building up to 20 minutes for peak period trips to Craigieburn in the morning and from Craigieburn in the evening. 20 minutes is relatively good for an outer area bus. It's fully justified given the high usage of existing local buses and the area's favourable demographics including high population density along parts of the route.  

Unfortunately the 525's 20 minute peak frequency does not fully cover the pm peak. It finishes at 6:20 pm at Craigieburn. This means that you will need to knock off by 5:15pm (assuming a city job and 10 min walk to Flinders St) to reach Craigieburn in time to take advantage of the 20 minute frequency. After then it's down to an unattractive 40 minute service. Hence for the lack of a single trip the 525 timetable is inconvenient even for '9 - 5 ish' CBD workers. 

Operating hours meet minimum standards for local bus routes. That is starts before 6am weekdays, 8am Saturdays and 9am Sundays and no earlier than 9pm for the last bus on any day. A commendable tendency for some more recent upgrades has been to start weekend services an hour or so earlier than this as people are often up and travelling well before the normal bus start times. 525 does this on Saturday but not Sunday.

Thus there is quite an early Saturday start with the first bus arriving at Craigieburn at 7am. However the first arrival on Sunday is a late 8:40am. Another problem with its timetable is it doesn't harmonise with trains until 10 am or so due to the infamous 40 minute Sunday morning frequency that about half of Melbourne's train lines operate at.

While a good bus scheduling job has been done inasmuch as the first bus meets a train, the incompatible frequencies means that the second bus doesn't, with a 26 minute wait. Though it would not meet the minimum standard, it might be desirable to spread the first two trips on a Sunday out to an 80 minute frequency to allow both earlier starts and consistent coordination with trains. 



Weekend frequencies almost but not quite meet the minimum standard of an hourly service. This is because intervals between mid-afternoon trips can be 65 to 70 minutes. The timetable is harder to remember at some times as a consequence.  

PTV rarely publishes connection policies for bus routes. Route 525 is an exception. Its policy states that buses connect with trains at Craigieburn towards the city until 3pm and from the city after 3pm.

Conclusion

Route 525 brings a basic level of service to a transport-starved growth area. It should be well-used despite its hourly off-peak frequency. Given the rate of growth one would hope that other routes supplement it before long.


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