Friday, March 20, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 41: Caulfield - Feeding the Metro Tunnel

(This was written before the COVID-19 epidemic. However this will pass. My tip is that Melbourne will remain desirable, there will still be immigration and people will continue to work, study and travel. Hence we will still need a transport network that is fit for purpose: now and into the future)

Universities, international students, big shopping centres, high density living and many car-free households are highly supportive of public transport. Even hourly services can be crowded and patronage keeps rising as you boost frequency to every 30, 20, 15, 10 every minutes or even better. 

All these characteristics combine on and near the Dandenong line between Caulfield and Dandenong. Density of major destinations is particularly high between Caulfield and Monash University, also encompassing Chadstone and Oakleigh. 

While all these are served by the busy Route 900 bus, other routes are also important. This is because key passenger markets (such as renters and overseas students) in the area have other destinations. Despite residential densification in areas such as Carnegie, little has changed on the local bus network since Route 900 started in 2006 and other routes gained 7 day service around this time. 

Caulfield, already a major rail junction, will become even more important with a direct connection to the Metro Tunnel currently under construction. If you want a quick connection to Melbourne University and the nearby hospitals from anywhere in the south-east, Caulfield will be your launching place. This will justify a reimagined bus network with frequent service in all main directions. The nearby Monash University campus is growing and there is scope for more intensive development around the underused Caulfield Racecourse. 

Existing Useful Network

I explain the Useful Network concept here. It's those routes that are frequent enough and run over long enough hours to be useful for many trips. I've specified a 20 minute frequency on weekdays and 7 day service until 9pm. In other words the coloured lines on the Melbourne Public Transport Frequent Network map with the 20 minute frequency selected. This map shows the sparsity of Useful Network routes in most fringe areas, despite their sometimes high population densities. 

Below is the existing Useful Network for the Caulfield area. There's an east-west divide, with service declining to the east when the trams peter out (normally in residential areas away from useful interchange points). Trains are frequent for north-west to south and south-east travel. However only one Useful Network bus operates. This is the 900 which parallels a section of the Dandenong line but serves a different catchment including Chadstone and Monash University out to Rowville. 

Major access difficulties from Caulfield are to the north (towards Glenferrie/Camberwell) and the north-east (to Ashburton/Glen Waverley). Access to parts of the south-east, such as parts of Murrumbeena and Bentleigh East, is also difficult. 

There are wider network issues. There are no good north-south connections across much of Melbourne's east and south-east with junctions like Caulfield and Camberwell only connected to their surrounds (in some directions only) and not each other. This network gap has gone unfixed for the better part of a century.  It affect public transport mobility for a catchment population bigger than Adelaide with implications for areas as distant as Frankston and Ringwood. 

This gap is not for the lack of routes or coverage. Rather it's because what routes are there tend to be slow and short feeding a single centre. Routes that could do the job either terminate short of where they need to run (Burke Rd tram), are infrequent and indirect (eg Route 612), missing (eg Caulfield - Glen Iris) or slow (eg the 903 deviating off Warrigal Rd into Chadstone or the 902 deviating into Glen Waverley Station). The result is that there is not a single fit-for-purpose north-south public transport link across the busiest, largest and densest part of Melbourne's south-east.

The lack of such efficient connections has likely sparked interest in mega-projects like the proposed Suburban Rail Loop which is a gold-plated solution for just one out of ten essential upgraded north-south connections.

There are also issues with local, less frequent bus routes. Shown below the main ones include complexity, indirectness and limited operating days. Certain short-distance trips that should be possible on a single bus are not. There are also some overlaps, such as between Route 900 and parts of 623 and 624 on Dandenong Rd. The latter two also overlap on a section of Neerim Rd. Summary below.   

Suggested revised Useful Network

The map below shows a revised Useful Network for the Caulfield area. It requires extra buses and drivers as there are some improved frequencies. However they are justified by the area's favourable demographics and high patronage on existing routes. And some economies are made by merging part of the duplicative 624 with an upgraded and rerouted 623.

Major components include:

* Route 900 SmartBus frequency upgrade. This involves boosting interpeak and weekend frequency to better serve major destinations including Monash University (both Caulfield and Clayton), Chadstone Shopping Centre and Stud Park Shopping Centre. The frequency upgrade is justified (particularly on weekends where currently frequency is just 30 minutes) due to the route's very heavy usage. The Route 900 upgrade also retains bus capacity on short parts of Dandenong Rd that would lose buses if other services are rerouted (suggested later). No extra buses will be required as a ten minute frequency already operates during peak periods.

* Route 734 Caulfield extension and optional frequency upgrade. Route 734 is a legible and direct bus route that has potential to be so much more. It has a strong eastern terminus (Glen Waverley) and intersects with trains at Ashburton. However at Glen Iris, its western terminus, there's nothing to speak of except a quietish train station and the Route 6 tram an unfriendly road-cross away. A short extension to Caulfield Station would change all that with connections to three more tram lines and three railway lines. And, not least, direct access to Monash's Caulfield campus and the Metro Tunnel, going the fast way to Melbourne University and hospitals. 

Four other benefits include improved access from Caulfield to Camberwell (two major centres with no easy direct access between them), greatly reduced travel times for some short distance trips (eg Ashburton - Caulfield), improved network resilience in the case of disruption and compensation for the deletion of the confusing Route 624 in Malvern East. 

A 'quick and dirty' extension might be possible with one extra bus. However, with two strong termini the new route should be fairly popular so a service at least every 20 minutes is suggested to upgrade it to 'Useful Network' status. Three extra buses should be sufficient for this. More on the 734 extension here

* New Route 620 to replace existing 624 between Caulfield and East Kew. Places further west have frequent north-south trams connecting the south-east with the eastern suburbs. Despite it being a major rail terminus served by three busy lines, Caulfield has just one bus to the north that operates half-hourly on weekdays and hourly on weekends. This is the route 624 which is complex and confusing with different stops around Caulfield.

As part of wider changes it is suggested that the Caulfield to Kew portion run as an independent route (620 suggested) operating at a higher frequency. For example every 15 minutes peak, 20 minutes interpeak for an improved north-south connection. Scope may exist to merge with Route 548 to provide a Monash Caulfield - La Trobe Bundoora route in a future network reform. Depending on estimated patronage a small number of school-day only trips may operate on a route similar to the existing 624. This upgrade would likely require two to four extra buses, depending on peak frequency required. Caulfield's inaccessibility to the north was a major priority in this previous Top 10 missing links post.

* Simplified 624 and upgraded 623. Route 624 is a very complex route operating between Oakleigh and East Kew.  The Oakleigh - Chadstone portion provides local neighbourhood coverage and no changes are suggested. The Caulfield to East Kew portion was discussed above. This leaves the Chadstone to Caulfield portion to discuss. This is indirect and complex with every second trip on a weekday deviating via Malvern East. This is just one weekday trip per hour and usage is understood to be low, with most locals preferring to use nearby trains and trams. The other trips run via Carnegie with portions overlapping the 623. Stops around Caulfield are complex. 

Then there is the Route 623. This is a well-used route, particularly on weekends, despite its hourly frequency. A section between Chadstone and Carnegie overlaps the Route 900 SmartBus. This is because the 623 did not get reformed when the SmartBus started in 2006. Another oddity is that the 623 passes somewhat near but remains beyond practical walking distance of Caulfield Station to which it could potentially act as a feeder. 

A simplified network would tackle all these issues. One solution could be to delete Route 624 between Chadstone and Caulfield with resources transferred to a 623 rerouted from Dandenong Rd to Neerim Rd. The combined route could then be upgraded to every 15 min peak and 20 min interpeak for improved access from Chadstone. Route 734's extension to Caulfield (mentioned above) would provide a more frequent 7-day service along Burke Rd. Some of this currently lacks a bus while the rest only has the hourly weekday-only 624 deviation. Hence it would be a major service increase. More on this here.

A rerouting of this combined route via Caulfield Station would allow it to provide a station and university feeder from the Neerim Rd area while also providing a direct St Kilda-Caulfield service (currently only available on weekends via Tram 3a). No changes are suggested for the Mt Waverley/Glen Waverley and St Kilda ends of the 623. Because of this extra buses would be required to deliver the frequency suggested.    

* Route 612 extended operating hours. Route 612 is a neighbourhood service operating between Box Hill and Chadstone via Camberwell. It missed out on minimum service upgrades. Hence it has no evening or Sunday service. Given that Box Hill and Chadstone are major centres with 7 day trading extended operating hours, including Sunday service, are suggested. No extra buses would be needed.

Loose ends

The above network greatly improves bus services in the Caulfield area but there are some outstanding issues. These can be initially ignored but a wider network review might tackle them. The two main examples are:

1. Route 620. An option exists to a. operate it as the current alignment of 624, merge with Route 548 to La Trobe University or terminate it at Camberwell, possibly with an extended 548 extended to compensate for the deleted 624. Another possibility is a Caulfield connection to Glenferrie Station given its proximity to Swinburne University. The correct approach depends on what is the highest priority - a direct Caulfield to Camberwell connection, the existing 624 alignment or (potentially) a new Swinburne connection. More on a La Trobe University network here.

2. Route 623. There is currently a confusing double-backing via Mt Waverley. A network simplification may involve removing this. However this would likely be controversial. The Mt Waverley area is noted for its very well used Route 733 (which justifies a frequency doubling) as well as the long distance between routes (as some of its mid-block neighbourhoods lack buses).

It is suggested that reform in both of the above is part of another network review and that they not be used to delay the worthwhile upgrades for Caulfield described above. 


Described is a major upgrade for buses in the Caulfield area. It complements the transit-friendly educational land uses, the increasing residential density and the greater access to other areas provided for when the Metro Tunnel opens. Please leave your thoughts on it in the comments below.

PS: An earlier version of this post appeared back in 2010. Read it here and see what's different. 

1 comment:

Tom said...

A few points on the Caulfield Racecourse area:

It is probably a good idea to wait for the Neerim Rd level crossing to go before diverting the 623 via Queens Avenue, particularly eastbound, because at busy times the left turn out of Queens Avenue gets very delayed by the level crossing and light cycle.

Given the short distance between Neerim Rd and Glen Huntly Rd, the choice of rail under and the desirability of excavation minimisation, there is a chance that the new Glenhuntly station concourse may be on the north side of Glen Huntly Rd. This would make transfer between the station and the 623 easier, so interchange bus stop location needs to be well thought out (a right turn into Queens Avenue could complicate this, unless there is a traffic island bus stop (like in Lygon St, for the 200/207 to turn into Elgin St) likely requiring a wider road bridge over the railway).

There is still the issue of the massive gap in north-south services between the 64 tram and the Frankston line.

Diverting the 623 away from the Neerim Rd/Booran Rd corner actually diverts it away from a likely major patronage generator, Glen Eira College (a state secondary college). Both the Queens Avenue/Neerim Rd and Glen Eira Rd/Kambrook Rd/Booran Rd intersection, likely bus stop locations on the diverted route, are likely still walkable from the school, it may still be an issue.

On the 624 Darling Rd diversion:

The area between the 612 and the 900 is devoid of non-624 public transport, largely due to the graviational pull of Chadstone. Without Chadstone, the 626, 822 and 627 would likely continue north to their nearest Glen Waverley line station, better connecting the local area as well as Carnegie/Murrumbeena with the Glen Waverley line.