Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #56: Route 699 - the three loop bus

Back with another year for Timetable Tuesday. Today's is Route 699. It's a coverage oriented bus route through treed hills intended to serve people away from the Belgrave train line. The area is on Melbourne's fringes but has been long established. House blocks are somewhat larger than the metropolitan average but are too small to be defined as rural. Route 699 is entirely in the seat of Monbulk, held by deputy premier James Merlino MP, a somewhat marginal seat influenced by Greens preferences. 

The 699 starts at Belgrave (the rail terminus) and runs to Upwey (closer in on the same line). However it's strictly a coverage service, as you can see from the map below.

Route 699 tries to do a lot, as you can see from the map above. It's both indirect and confusing. The area map below shows how it relates to other routes. The most notable of these is the 693, which runs along the highway, parallel to the train line. There are also some routes that finish at Belgrave. 

Major shopping hubs in the area are Ferntree Gully, Upper Ferntree Gully and Belgrave. Little commerce happens at Upwey, where the route finishes. The 699's Belgrave - Tecoma portion is fairly straightforward, serving areas south of the railway only. The route gets more complex south of Upwey with unidirectional loops hanging off unidirectional routes. Not all trips go the same way, with some stops being skipped and express patterns, including on Saturdays. 

Route 699 is one of Melbourne's least used and least productive bus routes. It attracts just five passenger boardings per bus service hour. This is much less than the network average (over 20) and the threshold that Infrastructure Victoria considers is a productive bus route (20). Part of this can be attributed to its catchment, part to its alignment and part to its limited timetable as you'll see below.   


Route 699's timetable is very limited. Morning starting times are too late and afternoon finishing times are too early for it to be useful as a train feeder service for commuters. This makes it largely a weekday shopper and student travel bus, with seven trips each way. Only a minority of trips serve all stops and gaps between them can exceed two  hours. 

A Saturday morning service runs although most stops get just one trip each way. One can shop in Belgrave or Upway for an hour or so but the Saturday patronage numbers indicate low usage for this or any other purpose. 

  Timetables are below. 

Route 699 has not had substantial changes or upgrades for the better part of 40 years. Old timetables, complete with footnotes even more complex than now, can be viewed on Krustylink.


The low patronage numbers indicate that bus route 699 is not very useful due to its limited operating hours, complex route and low frequency. It appears to be a classic example of a bus route trying to do too much but ending up doing nothing very well. The only reason why it survives is that the area has had bus network reform in many years.

What would you do with the 699? Would you leave it as is accepting that buses in the catchment it has will never carry many people? Or would you scrap it, extending some routes like 695 or 697 to Upper Ferntree Gully and/or modifying routes like 693 or 732 to compensate? If you have ideas please leave them in the comments below. 

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

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Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit Steven Higashide NEW!

The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees Gleeson & Beza

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, Institutions (Access Quintet Book 4) David Levinson

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives Jarrett Walker

Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees

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Ricky said...

I think I’d be somewhat slightly controversial with this one. Ditch the waste of canned air known as the 694, use the money saved to convert this to a telebus, extend it to Upper Gully via Angliss Hospital.
Would that necessarily be an improvement? Probably not. But given it’s extremely low density, and high car usage, a basic 2-3 an hour telebus probably is the best option, with extended hours.
However, investment should really go into extending 900, or dealing with the mess that is Knox, over anything major for the 699.

Peter Parker said...

Ricky - I like your thinking. I'd probably scrap 699 and have two routes - one north of the higheway and one south. Arguably the highway itself between Tecoma and Upper FTG doesn't need a route as it's fairly close to stations. You could do this by:

1. Extend 697 (a low frequency route) to Upper Ferntree Gully or Ferntree Gully running via north side.

2. Terminate 693 at Upper Ferntree Gully or Ferntree Gully (discussed in previous Useful Network post). Operate another route east from there to Belgrave covering off the 699. At a lower frequency than current 693 (which I'd upgrade further).