Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #58: Thirteen Melbourne bus routes that most deserve Saturday service

Twenty years ago Melbourne had only a rudimentary bus system. Operating hours catered for school, and some shopping and commuting trips but little else, with almost nothing running after 7pm or on Sundays. What service improvements occurred in the 1980s were more than reversed in savage 1990/1991 cuts. Then networks and timetables largely sat idle for ten or fifteen years as the rest of society changed its living, shopping, working and travel patterns.

There were some small upgrades a few years prior but the 'big bang' was the arrival of the 2006 Meeting our Transport Challenges plan (MOTC). It promised seven day service and longer operating hours on 250 existing bus routes. At the time there were about 300 routes, with most of the difference being industrial, peak-only or university routes that did not need weekend service.

Something like 100 (maybe 150) routes did get upgrades by 2010. However it wasn't the 250 within the four years promised. Consequently there remain many routes with six day service, including some quite busy ones. Those that were most in need of upgrade were identified in Thirteen Melbourne bus routes that most deserve Sunday service back in August. 

A smaller but still significant number of bus routes lack Saturday as well as Sunday service. This is today's topic. The total would be close to fifty if you included weekday only routes such as various peak industrial, commuter and university routes. Leave those out and the number comes down to about thirty. That is roughly ten percent of the remaining bus routes in Melbourne. However that number still includes some fringe area and interpeak shopper routes that typically attract very low usage. 

Here's the list with top priority first. I'll discuss how I arrived at it later. 

#1. Route 802 Chadstone - Dandenong. The 802 serves major train stations at Oakleigh and Dandenong. As well as the massive Chadstone Shopping Centre and Monash University bus interchange. Weekday patronage is good. It has a low income catchment that heavily uses buses. 804's main unique catchment is in Dandenong North. While the 802 overlaps other routes like 804 and 862 introducing Saturday service would allow a higher combined frequency on a major bus corridor and improve service consistency. Hence I've made the 802 high priority. Costs of an upgrade could be reduced by doing it in conjunction with a local network restructure that simplifies routes.

#2. Route 821 Southland - Clayton. This is a cross-country route that connects Clayton Station to the larger Southland shopping centre. It has some similarities with the 631 (which does run Saturdays) but goes a different way. Also Clayton, being home to many university students, has excellent demographics for high bus usage throughout the week. Much of the route is industrial but an upgrade would improve connections to Southland from the residential area of Clarinda.

#3. Route 675 Chirnside Park - Mooroolbark. The 675 is the second busiest route on weekdays that lacks Saturday service. It also serves a lower-middle income catchment with limited weekend public transport and connects a major shopping centre with its nearest train station.

#4. Route 551 Heidelberg - La Trobe Uni. This is a short route connecting some residential areas to Heidelberg Station and La Trobe University. The latter is probably why its weekday usage is good. The route would likely disappear or be incorporated into another but for the interim a Saturday service would assist students who go to the university library to study on weekends. 

#5. Route 531 Upfield - North Coburg. Weekday patronage on the 531 is fairly weak due to overlap with other routes. However a social case for an upgrade exists as it serves the low-income Somerset Estate, Campbellfield which is unwalkable from other areas and has only the Saturday morning Route 538 operating. Saturday (and Sunday) service would be most economical if the upgrade was introduced along with network reform in the area that would amalgamate routes 531 and 538.   

#6. Route 774 Frankston - Delacombe Park. The 774 is the busiest route on weekdays that lacks Saturday service. Some of its weekday patronage comes from Frankston High School which it passes. However even on school holidays productivity is still an above-average 30 boardings per hour. This strengthens the case for Saturday service even though it's a short route. Addition of Saturday service would also improve frequency in the area and potentially assist simplification of the loop routes and occasional deviations that plague the area's bus network.

#7. Route 783 Frankston - Hastings. This route parallels and partly overlaps the 782. However the 783 provides better coverage of parts of Somerville and West Park Estate, a low income area near Hastings with little other service. Adding Saturday (and preferably Sunday) service could simplify buses in the area with other network reforms.  

#8. Route 546 Heidelberg - Queen Vic Market. This is a moderately used route that almost but does not quite run to Melbourne CBD. It provides unique coverage to parts of Eaglemont that currently only gets 5 day service. 546 also serves a densifying and developing area including that around the old paper mill at Fairfield. Other local network reforms discussed here.

#9. Route 680 Lilydale - Mooroolbark. Weekday patronage is only average (or slightly below) for the area. However Saturday service is recommended because the residential area it serves has coverage from no other bus route.  

#10. Route 823 North Brighton - Southland. The 823 is an hourly weekday route with limited operating hours and not much of a train feeder function. However it has greater potential on Saturday thanks to its ability to provide a direct connection to the busy Southland shopping centre. A northward extension to Elsternwick should strengthen its currently fairly weak patronage. More on the 823 here.  

#11. Route 758 Knox City - Knoxfield. Much like 680, this is a route that is the only one in its neighbourhood. Monday to Friday patronage is weak due to its limited frequency and operating hours. Saturday service would add service to an area where a substantial walk would otherwise be required. 

#12. Route 757 Knox City - Scoresby. A very similar route to 757 except it's on the other side of Stud Rd. Comments are as for 758.

#13. Route 842 Endeavour Hills - Fountain Gate. Currently a thrice daily weekday route with low patronage. However its operation between well-populated Endeavour Hills and the larger Fountain Gate shopping offer some potential if it operated on Saturday.    


How did I arrive at that list? I think its contents are OK but every time I look at it I have different thoughts about the priority order. You might also have opinions on what is more or less important.

Anyway to make the list I started with a list of routes without Saturday service. Peak only, industrial and special university routes were removed. 

I then ranked them in reverse order of weekday passenger boardings per bus hour (highest first).

Admittedly this is a poor measure for a couple of reasons:

(1) Peak and school trips can make numbers irrelevant for what you might get on a Saturday.
(2) One can argue that you can't estimate demand for a bridge by counting the number swimming across (ie the service isn't there to start with).

Anyway the list is below. (*) indicates inclusion in the top 13 list above. 

774 suburban residential and school 37 *
309 suburban residential  mainly peak 36
675 suburban residential 33 *
821 suburban residential 32 *
551 suburban residential & university 31 *
802 suburban residential 29 *
783 suburban residential 26 *
546 suburban residential 21 *
886 fringe & TAFE 20
680 suburban residential 18 *
609 special  17
343 special (duplicative) 14
704 suburban residential 13
531 suburban residential 11 *
758 suburban residential 11 *
757 suburban residential 10 *
823 suburban residential 10 *
686 suburban residential 9
842 interpeakpeak shopper 9*
795 fringe semi rural 8
TB9 suburban residential 8
838 fringe semi rural 7
TB7 suburban residential 7
706 interpeak shopper 6
887 special and university (partly duplicative) 6
777 interpeak shopper 5
TB8 suburban residential 5
687 fringe semi rural 2
673 suburban residential (duplicative) 1
696 interpeak shopper 1
511 suburban residential ?

Other factors used included whether the route provided much unique catchment, catchment demographics and attractions like large shopping centres that boost Saturday patronage. For example routes like 309 and 343 are entirely overlapped by other bus or train routes so did not feature. And most interpeak shopper and fringe routes have too limited unique coverage or sparsely populated catchments to justify inclusion in the top 13.  

Special mention must be made of 511 to Craigieburn. This currently has a token one weekday trip each way to a far flung but fast growing estate. That almost certainly could do with a Saturday service but not until there is a proper weekday service.  

Half-day Saturday service

Another quirk with Melbourne's buses is that some routes remain with half day Saturday timetables. Melbourne got Saturday afternoon trading in 1987. Many routes gained Saturday afternoon trips. However not all did. And many timetables were subsequently slashed by the Cain/Kirner axe a few years later.  

Today at least eight routes reflect old times with only Saturday morning service. In reverse order of Saturday passenger boardings per hour they are as follows: 

814 suburban residential 29 (larger area reforms discussed here)
559 suburban residential 27 (discussed here)
815 suburban residential 21 (larger area reforms discussed here)
512 suburban residential 17 (discussed here)
844 suburban residential 16 (3pm finish - discussed here)
538 suburban residential 14 (discussed here
558 suburban residential 13 (discussed here)
697 suburban residential/fringe 11
857 suburban residential/industrial 9
699 suburban residential/fringe 5 (discussed here)

The main concentrations are in Melbourne's established northern suburbs, around Dandenong and in the outer east. Some have high weekday usage. The existence of these oddities owes not to low demand but because bus timetables are rarely reviewed and outdated service arrangements can endure for decades. 

Other short operating hours on Saturday

Even more numerous than routes only with Saturday morning service are routes with Saturday afternoons but not evenings. These are legacies of the bus network that never got MOTC upgrades. Back then the standard bus finished before 7pm on weekdays and about 6pm on Saturdays with no Sunday service. MOTC upgrades were skewed towards bus routes on regular contracts; those franchised out to operators like Melbourne Bus Link and National Bus rarely got a look-in. 

This 'path dependency' influences today's timetables, even where routes got reformed or upgrades. For example some results of Transdev's 2014 revised network in the eastern suburbs still have pre-2006 Saturday finish times and either no Sunday service or only two hour gaps between services. Reflecting divisions between operators, most of these are found in the eastern suburbs, most notably around Doncaster and Ringwood (where services are run by Transdev) and in some northern, outer-eastern and south-eastern suburbs that have routes passed over by the MOTC upgrades. 

Public holidays

There's a complex relationship between Saturday timetables and public holidays. The standard arrangement is that bus routes with a weekend service operate on public holidays (either a Saturday or Sunday timetable depending on the holiday). However there are many 6-day and even some 7-day routes that have no public holiday service. Read an earlier post at The public holiday gamble on Melbourne's buses or a detailed treatment of the topic here: http://bcsv.org.au/vm/public-holiday-inconsistencies/.


What do you think? Should more buses get Saturday service? Is the list of 13 selected fair? Should other routes be included. Or should some not be. Please leave your comments below if you have an opinion.

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

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Ricky said...

Going through that list Peter, I see a few that definitely shouldn't get service.

774 - whilst, yes, on paper, 774 would have potential, adding an extra bus to 772 would be much more substantial. It's always struck me that 774 is basically just a school bus in commuter guise, and would be a fairly easy one to chop.
However if you were to split the 772 in half (with 774 being the other half), then it would be possibly a better idea.

675 & 757/8. Realistically either these should only get a very low (once an hour at best) frequency, probably a good use for the telebuses, instead of them being cooped up in the depot all weekend. Cheap and easy, and could easily be added tomorrow.

546. I've always been of the opinion that 546 is better off being cut into other routes. No change here. An extra bus on 508 or 567 or similar would be a far better use.

783. I'm torn on this one. 782 is probably the more important route, needing an extra bus. However, given a good percentage of the patronage is Hastings>Frankston, is it justifiable to extend the extra bus to Balnarring? Not sure.
I'd be interested in seeing a future useful network on this one (as well as 772-6)

823.. that's a complex one. At present, definitely not. Whilst it may mess up the frequency, adding an extra bus once an hour on 811/2 from Southland to Brighton, might be more worthwhile.

842. I would be very interested to see the patronage figures for 863, somehow imagine that's swallowed up any potential for 842. Would far prefer the extra cash be spent on 844 though.

Two outsiders I'd probably be considering though would be 704, (with a short extension to Monash via M-City), and 887 (surprisingly, even though it's very low frequency, might be a great way to fix 788's issues on the cheap.)

Of course, the half day route we'd all consider for upgrades is poor old 800, which is crying out for something major to be done with it.

Out of the half day ones, I'd definitely select 558, 559, 814, 815 and 844. All have solid potential.

511, I believe is run by a minibus, so if patronage is more than 9, I'd be amazed. Probably the only route in Melbourne to be run by a minibus too.

Peter Parker said...

Ricky - agree on all points. 774 is interesting is that even on non-school days it's well used on boardings/km. But whole network down there needs a rethink. On 675 you might be able to get away with scrapping the telebus in at least parts of the area in exchange for improved hours including 7 day service. 757/8 also need much better weekday hours - they don't even meet commuter needs. 546 - my ideas for the area have part of it served by a new La Trobe Uni - Heidelberg - Camberwell route hitting the main centres (as an alternative to 548). Then 546 could be shortened to terminate at Ivanhoe and 548 shortened to La Trobe to East Ivanhoe only. If 783 is upgraded you could upgrade whole network. Need some better coverage in West Park area near Hastings. Balnarring is nice but I'd regard it as far lower priority than better serving low income residential areas around Hastings. 823 - I would. I suspect it would be like 623 to Chadstone - ie it gets higher use on weekends than weekdays due to it serving a big shopping centre. But it should run to Elsternwick with reform in Brighton area. On 842, what I've seen for the 863 is it's very poorly used. But oddly of all the routes in Endeavour Hills 863 has the best operating hours and (especially) Sunday frequency. An example of tacked on planning. I'm hearing that something may happen to Endeavour Hills buses but haven't seen anything official. Someone else have suggested 704. Yes, definitely enough unique residential area coverage near Clayton to justify. If I was rewriting the post I'd have included it to the exclusion of something else. I think 887 has limited stops - it actually fills some coverage gaps - but needs serious reform before upgrading - all resources in area should go onto 788 - then a network reform. 800 is almost but not quite a half day route - slightly later finish than 844 which I did include with a note. Definitely top priority.

Unknown said...

511 is run by a full size bus

A said...

546 used to have Saturday morning service, but it was cut with the 8 March 1993 timetable. It also has to be said that, when it had Saturday service, it only went to Collingwood (until the 5th October 1991) and Clifton Hill (between the 12th October 1991 and 6th March 1993). The truncation to Clifton Hill also cut the Saturday headway from 35 to 60 minutes.

I would also point out that the 546 does go through roads that no other bus does (from when it turns off Royal Parade to near Clifton Hill Station). Patronage is abysmal (at times), partly because it's infrequent (and sometimes prone to cancelled buses).

As for a solution, IDK. There's not really another route that takes over it's area, although it passes not too far from the Hurstbridge Line from Station St to Ivanhoe.