Friday, May 29, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 46: How we could have got more from 704's bus upgrade

The saying is to never look a gift horse in the mouth. Especially during times, like the last few years, when bus service reform of any description has been limited. The Labor government's priority has overwhelmingly been big infrastructure over service. The government's had an easy ride on this score thanks to the passivity of Shadow Public Transport Minister David Davis. He's been all but silent on bus service issues including those affecting seats his party needs to win in 2022.

A vigilant shadow minister would find the government's few recently announced bus upgrades to be of mixed merit. The improvements to the 462 bus in Caroline Springs sound excellent. Endeavour Hills' new network doesn't quite deliver on minimum standard operating hours but is likewise a good step forward. 

Conversely there's the big increases to the very quiet Route 704 between Oakleigh, Clayton and Westall. These include a short extension to Westall, higher frequency, longer hours and new weekend service. It even finishes later on weekends than some Endeavour Hills routes. 

That boost has me flummoxed. Of the hundreds of things you could do for buses you'd think this would be low priority given 704's quietness. Route 704's recent upgrade carries a large opportunity cost. Had we not done it, or spent less on it, we could have instead improved other busier routes in the area for the same money. That would have benefited thousands more passengers and delivered worthwhile service upgrades to large shopping centres,  hospitals, universities and train stations.  Given how rare bus service upgrades are it's important that we make what we do matter. Ideas on this later.

704's service windfall

Let's look at 704 (in yellow above) in more detail.

Less than one-third of the 704 uniquely serves a residential area. Much of the rest is within the catchment of other more frequent services that often serve similar destinations. These include the 900 SmartBus Between Oakleigh and Huntingdale and other routes along Centre Rd. The eastern portion of the route is more industrial, with the previous terminus being the old Volkswagen factory. The new Westall Station terminus is only slightly stronger.

The effect of these overlaps is to depress patronage. And at just 13 weekday boardings per bus service hour, 704's patronage is very low indeed. The average for Melbourne bus routes exceeds 20. And busy routes not far away do many times better. For example Route 800 on Princes Hwy is 35 and 733 on Stephensons Rd at 64.

Comparison of old and new timetables show the windfall that 704 got. It's more than a doubling of service over a week. It was previously a very limited service that needed two buses to run in the peak and one interpeak. Operating hours were restricted and there was no weekend service. On weekdays it appeared to get an extra bus operating during the day. That was a gain from 2 to 3 during the peaks and 1 to 2 interpeak. Meanwhile evening and weekend service rose from nothing to two buses.

Hence the 704 got an extra peak bus along with the fleet being worked harder. The latter is good but only on routes most likely to attract higher patronage as a result of the improved service.

Remember these numbers as we consider what else could  have been done with those resources, especially on weekends and especially when combined with reform to other routes. Could another route, maybe one that carries 10 or 20 times more people, have gained from the same resources we put into the 704?
(data via

Next we'll see how we could have used what was spent on the 704 to generally strengthen the network in a larger area and benefit thousands more passengers.

Option 1: Upgrading a shortened 733 to a Useful Network route 

I talked about Route 733 in detail here and here. It's one of the busiest bus routes in Melbourne, connecting major centres including Box Hill, Mt Waverley, Monash University and Clayton. Patronage productivity is very high on the sections where it has unique coverage. This usage is high seven days per week with the 733 being Melbourne's second most productive bus route on Sundays. Despite that its service levels are low with it getting no significant frequency upgrades for decades. For example the 733 carries more people than many routes that run every 15 or 20 minutes yet its base frequency is just 30 minutes interpeak on weekdays dropping to hourly on Sundays.

One thing about the 733 is that parts of it overlap or pass near more frequent routes. This includes the Clayton - Oakleigh section on Centre Rd and Golf Rd. It's no accident that these are the less used portions of the 733, despite the route's very high usage elsewhere.

If these overlaps were removed by shortening the 733 it would be possible to increase frequency on its busier unique portion without additional resources. This is especially if an evaluation finds that Route 704 did not attract the patronage envisaged and it was fair to redistribute some resources from that.

Below is a look at the bus resources that the 733 uses for its entire Box Hill to Oakleigh trip. It's too small to read the times in fine print so I'll explain it here.

The coloured columns are an attempt to count the number of buses used on weekday mornings (peak and interpeak). Every different colour is a unique bus. Some buses may be used on routes other than the 733. This improves scheduling efficiency but makes it harder to count the number purely attributable to the 733. Those runs that may be one-offs or formed from services arriving on other routes are in the unshaded columns. Very roughly the 733 uses 5 buses to run its 30 minute frequency off-peak all the way from Box Hill to Oakleigh. Peak service needs roughly 11 buses.

Shortening the 733 allows us to operate a higher frequency with the buses we have. For example with the current five buses we may be able to operate a 20 minute instead of a 30 minute interpeak service between Box Hill and Clayton, thus making this very busy corridor an extra Useful Network route. If six turn out to be needed the extra could come from making 704 a one bus route interpeak. Shortening would also allow 733's peak service to be boosted to a more even closer to turn-up-and-go 10 to 12 minutes. As well as connections to Monash University this provides an efficient feeder service for trains at Box Hill, Mt Waverley and to a lesser extent, Clayton.

What about weekend service? The inadequacy of this has long been a problem on the 733, especially on Saturday afternoons and Sunday. A 30 to 40 minute service on Saturday and a 60 minute frequency on Sunday currently operates. The 733's very high patronage justifies something nearer to every 20 minutes.  Current bus usage (for the existing longer route) appears to be around 5 buses on Saturday morning, 3 buses in Saturday afternoon and 2 buses on Sunday.

The shorter route might (just) allow a 30 minute frequency on both days with 4 buses. If traffic is heavy then 5 would offer better reliability. Or there could be a middle ground where 4 buses are out most of the time but there are one or two midday depot pull ins and outs to avoid delays propagating over the whole day.

Again one bus could be freed by operating the 704 every 80 instead of every 40 minutes on weekends. If nothing else that should allow the shortened 733 to be upgraded to every 30 minutes all day Saturday and 40 minutes all day Sunday. If you shortened 704's operating hours to closer to that which it previously ran to then it may be possible to afford every 30 minutes Sundays on the 733 as well.

To summarise, if we shorten Route 733 to serve its busiest portion where it provides unique coverage and used some of the resources that went into upgrading the 704 then we could have delivered substantial 7-day increases in 733's frequency to major destinations without significant extra cost. Many more people would benefit than now with all the upgrade funding going to a quiet route of marginal network importance.

733 parallels parts of the first stage of the proposed Suburban Rail Loop. A service upgrade for this (and Route 767) would be a good first step to improved transport in this corridor. Politically the route is important with its catchment including marginal government seats such as Box Hill held by Paul Hamer MP and Mt Waverley held by Matt Fregon MP. Hence it features prominently on this 2022 election marginal seat upgrade list

Option 2: Minor upgrades to a full length 733

What if, despite the points made above regarding overlap with the 703 and proximity to the 903's catchment, you wanted to keep the full length 733 between Box Hill and Oakleigh? You can do that but you'll likely only get minor, mostly weekend, upgrades without spending more money. For example you might be able to get something like a 25 rather than the current 30 minute inter-peak service. That's not clockface and offers no potential connectivity with trains so you wouldn't bother doing this.

However it might be possible to do other 733 upgrades if you used a bus from the 704. For example you could add an extra couple of am and pm peak trips between Box Hill and Monash University or Clayton. That could help reduce maximum peak waiting times if the extra bus allowed you to shuffle some trips either side.

Secondly if the abovementioned 1 bus was cut from the 704 on weekends and put on the 733 then you could deliver a consistent 30 minute service all day on Saturdays and boost Sunday to every 40  - 45 minutes. Not ideal but still better than its current 60 minute frequency. And it would likely deliver a better patronage result than confining all the upgrades on the 704.

What if you really did want to upgrade interpeak service to every 20 minutes between Box Hill and Clayton while retaining the 733's Oakleigh portion? Then  you might consider an arrangement where every second trip extended from Clayton to Oakleigh, ie a 40 minute frequency on that portion.

You could potentially run a service every 40 minutes between Box Hill and Clayton with 4 buses. That's because the run time from Box Hill to Oakleigh is approximately 70 minutes and some recovery time is needed for reliability.  Short runs between Box Hill and Clayton could be judiciously inserted to provide an overall 20 minute service on the busy portion and a worthwhile upgrade. As that's a shorter distance than the full route to Oakleigh you might manage that with 3 buses. That's a total of 7 buses interpeak rather than 5 currently.

Cutting 704's interpeak frequency frees up one bus, but that's not enough. Another interpeak bus and driver would be needed to deliver this 733 20 minute upgrade. It's not a high cost and I'd regard it as highly cost-effective given the 733's patronage productivity.

The two tier every 20 minutes to Clayton and 40 minutes to Oakleigh 733 scheme has a minor shortcoming in that it introduces some confusion with half the trips terminating at Clayton. Still it's not unheard of, given that exactly the same is done with the nearby Route 824 with only half its trips continuing to Keysborough. And it's more politically saleable in the Oakleigh South area than Option 1 since it's merely a timetable change rather than a route being shortened.

Option 3: An upgraded Route 800 Chadstone - Dandenong

Another key bus service through the Clayton area is Route 800. It's the main Princes Hwy route between Chadstone, Oakleigh and Dandenong. It doesn't quite go to Monash University Clayton but it passes through areas where many students live. It runs past the high density M-City development (under construction) on Blackburn Rd, IKEA, the Springvale Cemetery and the premier's electorate office in Harrisfield. These have no or only indirect Sunday service from other routes.

If you do any sort of analysis on which main road bus route in Melbourne most deserves a service upgrade, the 800 (like the 733) ranks near the top. 800 has good patronage, great catchment but poor service levels, especially on weekends. It had more trips in the 1980s than now, including Sunday service. See old timetables here. Unfortunately it was a casualty of service cuts made in the Cain/Kirner era. Service never got restored despite the spread of Sunday shopping. Hence an assessment of all  bus routes without Sunday service ranked 800 as the No 1 priority to get it restored from a shortlist of 13.

What can we do with the 800 using some (but not all) resources from the 704? You might be relieved, having read this far, that the answer is simpler than our 733 options.

The 800 is timed to be roughly 50 minutes from end to end. Peak trips a bit slower. Two buses can provide an hourly service. One bus can provide a two-hourly service. Three buses can give a 40 minute service.

The 800 shuts down just after 7pm from Chadstone and around 6:30pm from Dandenong. It was probably the busiest route to miss out on the minimum service upgrades from 2006. Fortunately we can redress this at zero extra operating costs if we can borrow some resources from the 704.

The first upgrade needed is weeknights. 704, until a couple of weeks ago finished early, like the 800 does now. There would be a far greater benefit if the finish times were swapped so the 800 finished later and the 704 earlier. The two buses it uses could then be transferred to the 800 to provide an hourly service until at least 9pm. Since 800 already has reasonable weekday peak and interpeak service the 704's daytime service could remain similar to now, or be put towards a 733 weekday upgrade.

Then there are weekends. 800 currently uses two buses on Saturday mornings (60 min service), one bus on Saturday afternoons (120 min service) and no buses on Sundays. A 'greatest good for the greatest number' upgrade would transfer both of 704's weekend buses to provide the 800 with a 30 minute service on Saturday mornings, a 40 minute service on Saturday afternoons and a 60 minute service on Sundays. The increased Saturday morning frequency reflects the existing timetable rather than modern travel patterns including Saturday afternoon shopping. Ideally you'd change that to run a more consistent service, eg every 30 minutes all day Saturday or 40 minutes on both weekend days.

If you considered that removing all weekend service from the recently upgraded 704 was harsh you could have a compromise. You might operate the 800 every 40 minutes on Saturday and 60 minutes on Sunday. One bus could remain on the 704 to provide a limited Saturday service, preferably extending to at least 5pm.

800 almost certainly still deserves a better weekend service than 40 to 60 minutes but these upgrades would bring it to minimum standards and benefit a main road route serving a catchment of thousands. And all for zero extra operational expenditure compared to now.


Route 704 has just had lots of money spent on upgrading its service despite having just 5 or 10 percent of the patronage of other routes in the area. Upgrades could have done to these for the same money yet benefited more people. 

It would be worth reviewing 704's patronage performance (allowing for the current unusual circumstances) to see whether the improvements to it attract large numbers of passengers. If they don't it may be desirable to pursue upgrades to more useful routes like the 733 and 800 as described above.   

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #75: Mornington Peninsula's not quite public community bus services

What happens when an area doesn't have public transport? Everyone who can drives, walks or cycles. Those who can't do either of those things, possibly due to limited mobility or housing location, rely on family, friends or the occasional taxi.

All are limited, either by the indignity of continually asking people for favours or the high per-trip costs of personalised modes like taxis or Ubers. Personalised  modes are expensive not because their drivers are well paid (they're not) but because they are low productivity modes. That is one taxi driver normally only serves one paying passenger at a time, unlike bus, tram or train driver who can serve dozens if not hundreds.

The other option, is simply to live a socially isolated life, rarely venturing from home, years before we all had to do it.  This has substantial health and social policy implications in areas such as mental health,personal relationships and connections with community. 

Sometimes the neglect by governments (who fund public transport) combined with high local needs is so acute that local solutions have to be found. You see this a lot in the United States. While city centres may be served by common-carrier bus services, decades-old transit district boundaries can mean that quite populated suburbs remain without coverage. Targeted transport services may instead be provided as part of welfare, health and job programs as partial compensation to specific groups. 

They are not quite public transport as eligibility may be limited. Their schedules and destinations are  often tightly tailored to the program's objectives. Several programs may overlap in an area leading to an array of niche services for youth, seniors, jobseekers, disabled etc. These services assist particular client groups but do not have the versatility of even an hourly local bus running seven days a week that one can board without booking. And there can be significant inefficiency and duplication as there is just a collection of disparate routes without common information and ticketing systems. 

The situation is similar on the Mornington Peninsula (network discussed here). Population density here is not quite suburban but not rural either. There are scheduled fixed routes but coverage and timetables are limited, even in some more suburban parts of the peninsula. This is despite some routes having to refuse passengers due to overloading as discussed here. The Peninsula is not considered sufficiently 'Melbourne' to get minimum standard bus coverage that a growing outer suburb might (admittedly after a 5 or more year wait).

The location of schools and TAFE colleges can support, detract from or overload a regular bus network. Ideally schools and colleges should be on main routes so that these can operate without deviation. If services get crowded frequency can be increased, benefiting both school and non-school travellers. Poor location either means an expensive-to-provide extra route must be run (such as operates to the TAFE) or a dedicated school network is needed. Dromana Secondary College is in a particularly remote location as you can see on the map below.

These poor location choices make the regular bus network not useful for many school trips. This is especially important in lower density areas as regular public transport can only get good usage if its routes can be used for a wide range of trips over the day.

School buses fill possibly the biggest niche that the regular routes do not satisfy. Some local transport initiatives have emerged to fill some other gaps. 

About ten years ago the then Brumby Government had a 'Transport Connections Program' comprising small scale community transport projects in outlying areas. These were often short-term trials. Sometimes they would be continued. There was a Transport Connections Coordinator based at Mornington Peninsula Shire. You can read their newsletters here and here. The program introduced a degree of fragmentation in transport, not least because it was being run by a department other than Transport. The Auditor-General criticised the TCP for being unable to demonstrate its benefits. The TCP was not continued by the Baillieu / Napthine government. 

Students and jobseekers found it so difficult to get to TAFE and university that, for a while, the commonwealth government funded a service called 'PenBus' (which the state eventually made a regular, though limited stop, route). 

At the other end of the age scale is the extensive community bus network the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council runs. I briefly mentioned these buses two weeks ago in this item on Melbourne's flexible route buses. Today is a more detailed look at the network.

Unlike a regular bus this network is not true common carrier public transport. This is because eligibility is limited to over 60s and those with a disability (and their carer). However, with regularly scheduled services it is possibly the most geographically extensive network of its type near Melbourne and serves areas that regular route buses do not. 

Buses most be booked. They pick up from passengers homes in the morning and drop off in the afternoon with substantial flexibility with origins and destinations (but likely not in times). 

They operate on a weekly timetable with buses to somewhere operating four days per week. Some trips appear to be possible twice a week. Below is a rough schematic diagram of services. Some of the lines appear to parallel PTV routes like 788 and 782. However bear in mind these are flexible route buses and many areas are away from PTV services, especially for the less mobile. Red Hill is the main area where the community bus goes but regular routes do not. The Hastings to Mornington service is also a trip that isn't catered for on the regular network except via an indirect transfer at Frankston. 

More information on these services is provided on the council website.  This leads us to another point; information and fares tends to be fragmented. For example you can't use a myki card to pay for a shopper bus. And there are cases where rough alignments of routes may overlap but there isn't necessarily coordination with regular services.

To summarise, this network is somewhat flexible with regards to the places it serves but not in relation to times, offering just one return trip per week. However it provides an important 'last resort' mobility to those who may have no other means. This is particularly important given the area's settlement patterns means that some people are well beyond walking distance of local shops and services.


What are your thoughts on this network? Does it need to be as extensive as it is? Should the regular network be extended so that community buses can focus on the areas that remain without coverage? Conversely, is such a network expandable to other areas or would it run into the inevitable problems that face flexible route bus services for all but very small operations?

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Sunday, May 24, 2020

A tangled web: Internet history of public transport in Melbourne

About 20 years ago various parts of public transport in Melbourne were in almost continual organisational turmoil. Train and tram operations were franchised out, rebranded, left or lost their contract. Bus companies merged, got taken over or won franchises. Government departments responsible for transport renamed and restructured, mostly under the delusion that it makes much of a difference to service. 

Consequently operator and system branding has been in a state of flux. At this folly's peak, in the early 2000s, one would see multiple, sometimes peeling, brands on the one train, tram or station. This affected not only how the network looked IRL but also online. Rebranding also meant a lot of chopping and changing of web domain names as well as different approaches to presenting information (most infamously half-network maps). 

Melbourne was not late in starting public transport information websites. However, unlike states with more organised transit authorities, our web scene had five years as a feckless child that could not be relied on to provide easily accessed information on all routes operated. Our government largely funded public transport but no one really ran it. Information was typically presented on a single operator and single mode basis rather than a multi-operator and multi-mode network basis. 

This nonsense was not to end properly until the mid-2000s with two major advances; a proper multimodal website under Metlink and an integrated journey planner that could handle multi-mode trips. Though even in 2020 we still haven't got it completely right (especially with regard to short and long term service changes) as a future post will discuss. 

Writing a complete history would take a lot of time. For now I'll just give a few Internet Archive links and say some words about each. You will find hours of fascinating browsing. Make sure you go earlier and later to get an idea of how content and style changed (until the next rebranding). I'll include the full link text (rather than a concealed hyperlink) so you can see the date and original URL. 

Department of Infrastructure and its successors

The web only became a public thing during the Kennett government (1992 - 1999). The Department of Infrastructure presided over transport. This is the earliest working departmental archive link I could find. It's from Dec 1997. 

Following 'public transport' gives a description of the soon to be emasculated Public Transport Corporation and a link to Victrip Mk 1 (which started earlier as mentioned later). 

The department administering transport changed its name several times. The pattern seems to be that another word becomes fashionable until they drop the ball on transport. So then they put transport back into the department's name, either as part of a larger department, or when they really want focus, on its own (like now). At other times they spin bits of it off to other agencies, eg with Metlink and PTV. Or the basically aborted Transport for Victoria that was sort of an outfit inside an outfit. 

This chopping and changing with websites can result in good material being moved around or lost. This is a prime example. It records bus service improvements by area in the active 2006 to 2011 period. .

The first incarnation of the appears to have been archived in 2007 The department dallied with some other names afterwards. For example DTPLI from 2013 That didn't last long; by the start of 2015 they had become an unpronounceable acronym to do with economic development only to revert to transport, the old faithful, a little later. 

Metcard and Myki ticketing

One thing distinctive about public transport in Melbourne was the institutional (and web) separation of public transport ticketing from other aspects of operations and information. This is at least since Metcard, whose implementation pretty much coincided with the establishment and spread of internet access and websites along with the fetish for franchising. It meant that while fares were integrated information was fragmented until many years later. 

Here's Metcard's first website. Note the domain name.

Later, from 2004, Metcard got a dot com address, further fragmenting it from the main public transport information website that replaced Victrip.*/ This roughly coincides with the formation of Metlink (a private company) out of the old Melbourne Passenger Growth Initiative that the private operators had set up when they saw patronage wasn't growing enough to sustain their incentive-based franchise contracts. The address later redirected to Metlink and then PTV (where it still does today). 

Myki's site started in 2006. Note the dot com dot au domain, reflecting practice with Metcard and Metlink. Myki had a long gestation period and wasn't complete until several years later. It continued as a stand-alone website for some time until it was redirected to the 'one-stop shop' PTV website (which is back to being a domain). 

There were some ticketing arrangements outside the Metcard system. For example National Bus section tickets (abolished in the mid-2000s) and single operator tickets like the Baysider for Bayside trains. These were gimmicks that undermined the network and didn't help operators' financial woes. More about Baysider here:

A detailed history of Melbourne public transport ticketing (especially Metcard) is at (a current not  archived site).

Escalated complaints

People not happy with responses to complaints from transport agencies and operators can take them to the Public Transport Ombudsman for redress. This has been going since the mid-2000s and can be found here:

Metropolitan train operators

As a precursor to franchising, PTC's metropolitan train operations were split into two business units. These were franchised out in 1999 to overseas operators, as follows.

Bayside trains was run by National Express who also 'won' the Swanston Trams contract. Some bright spark rebranded them to M> Train and M> Tram. Or, as they were known on the web, This was in 2001 when frames and then flash players were the thing in web design. As you probably know National Express soon quit. For a while their website got links to the survivors who took over their services. . 2005 saw the domain taken over by a business directory start-up but they didn't last long, so it's once again available for purchase. 

Hillside Trains started with They too smoked the rebranding drug and became Connex, starting off, in 2000, with 

This of course was the half-network Connex, the people fortunate enough to stick around after National Express piked out. They weren't financially sustainable either but this didn't really matter. All that was needed in a two-horse race of attrition was to outlast their rival by one step. Which Connex did. So in 2004 they got rewarded with a more generous contract and control over the whole suburban train network (Connex Mk II). They were however to pay for it with their reputation which later copped a beating.  

Some historic Connex Mark II links (including timetables) are below.*/


When transport operators rebrand you normally expect them to remove all traces of their previous monikers. That means new paint jobs, signage and websites. In at least two whimsical cases this didn't happen with Connex. The first is Connex the seeing eye dog whose period in service outlived its train contract. The second, from earlier, is the survival of Hillside Trains on the web. This is the longest lived train operator transport website in Melbourne, with still active in 2020. I wonder whose paying for this interesting but redundant page? Remember that buslines name as we'll see it again later.  

Connex had operational challenges and punctuality fell. It lost the franchise to what became Metro Trains . For a while its website linked to Metro's. However it look as if no one has  picked up the domain since. 

Metropolitan tram operators

This is similar story to trains. The government operator got split into two business units (Swanston Trams and Yarra Trams).

Swanston Trams started at . A handy guide to service levels is

Swanston Trams, like Bayside Trains, got caught in the rebranding hoopla, becoming M> Tram at . That didn't do National Express any good and they handed back the keys for its half of the trams, suburban trains and all of V/Line when they couldn't make it pay. 

Receivers were appointed to run National Express services. A statement about this appears here:

Yarra Trams has been one of the most enduring names in Melbourne public transport. At over 20 years old it has already far outlived The Met. You can view its early page here:

Yarra was in a similar position to Connex where it started with half the network but picked up the rest when National Express finished. The incumbent operator of Yarra Trams was replaced in 2009, but unlike the Connex/Metro changeover the brand name (and thus the website URL) remained with the new operator.  

A signature late 1990s Kennett government project was the City Circle Tram. It got promoted here: 

Melbourne bus operators

Before bus operators got their own sites a lot of service change information was hosted on the Buslines page especially on the Bulletin Board. Buslines was hosted by PixelTech Design. It was an essential service when the official VicTrip had so little. Train and tram information was also sometimes included. Browse Buslines Bulletin Board archives in their heyday here . Like Hillside Trains, Buslines remains online today but there's little content apart from a 20 year old bus operator and route list (under 'depot').

Although there were some hold-outs, most bus companies had websites by 1998. Victrip had a list here:

Some historic bus company websites (with some newer ones) can be viewed here:

Most started around in this era with Moonee Valley staying offline for more than another decade. Hope Street Bus Lines, which ran the 509, never had a website.  Note the heavy use of Buslines as a host for many operators. As you'd expect the quality of operator websites varied significantly and those planning longer trips often had to navigate several. Operator websites played a diminishing role after Metlink started hosting maps, timetables and service information on its own site.      

Regional train operators

When you think of regional trains in Victoria you think of V/Line. It's been a strong and enduring brand. Much more than the chopping and changing metropolitan operators. However small operators ran on some lines in the early 2000s. These were Hoys Rail Road to Shepparton ( )  and West Coast Railway to Warrnambool ( ). Their services later reverted to V/Line.  

V/Line's had a few website addresses. Their first goes back to at least February 1998. See it at It's a basic but functional website that's stood the test of time; you can even look up maps and timetables on the archived version linked above. It predates that dreadful period when website design got worse before it got better. 

The website remained as a even through the early 2000s when National Express were running the service. It finished in early 2005, just when the new Regional Fast Rail era was dawning. 

V/Line also had from 2003. They appeared to run with two web addresses for a couple of years. Then the site supplanted the other with it remaining to this day. This creates the anomaly where during private operation the website had a address whereas during government operation it was . Having said that in their early years they also used but these days this redirects to the site.

Integrated network information websites

The late 1990s was the era of government divesting from public transport, splitting the network and letting private operators do their own thing. This contrasts with the concept of an internet website which was to bring disparate information together. However a couple of attempts at websites were made from 1997. I regard these as unsuccessful by the standards of their time and what was available in other cities. 

VicTrip appeared to start in 1997 with a government domain name. They appear to have been a bit confused with their identity as The Met also had a website in its dying years at . Its contents look much the same as VicTrip. 

Until the middle of 1997 the VicTrip was little more than a placeholder website. There was no information on regular train, tram or bus services. Neither was there anything on fares and ticketing. However the City Circle tourist trams and NightRider buses did have information. 

The City Circle and NightRider cases were interesting. Victrip was a good site for those. Eg  had integrated and accessible map and timetable information for this after-midnight network of buses run by different operators. However Victrip was never able to achieve this for regular daytime bus, train and tram routes despite these being vastly more significant. Instead passengers had to wait years for progress here. 

This is VicTrip in 1998. This was the beginning of what you'd call a real public transport information site. For example you could look up network maps and timetables for trains and trams. Fare and ticketing information was also available. But bus information was limited. All users got was a list of operators, only some of which had websites. Browse it here:

Finding a bus route map and timetable was quite a drama and success was not guaranteed. Victrip themselves were not confident that information would be accurate. You couldn't even search routes by suburb if it didn't have a railway station named after it. Neither could routes be selected from a list.

VicTrip remained a stagnant backwater and the situation did not improve the following year. Nor the year after that. But there was a new dot com web address, as advised here: 

This is 2000's VicTrip: It's duller than the 1998 page. And it removed the previous limited ability to find timetables by route number. Users needed to play bus enthusiast and guess which company ran the bus they wanted to catch. Bus operators were more and smaller then than now so it was almost a needle in a haystack exercise in parts of Melbourne. 

The VicTrip website worked for trains and trams but was near useless for buses. People often still needed to make phone calls to get details of services. This was the pre-Metlink era so stop signage was often missing, limited, inaccurate and unmaintained. Overall VicTrip was an embarrassment that got worse rather than better with age. Those behind it seemed content to take their fees without understanding passengers' information needs or routine good practice from cities elsewhere. An analysis of Victrip I did back in 2000 can be read here:

Everyone was getting fed up with the continual rebranding and fragmentation of the system. The private operators tried things that further fragmented the system, for example operator-only tickets and maps that only showed half the train network. Their franchise payments were based on big patronage increases that were not happening. When they found fragmentation failed the now financially bleeding operators set up the Melbourne Passenger Growth Initiative to make network integration, that they were complicit in smashing just two years previously, work. 

This became Metlink, a company owned wholly by the private operators. It would take over VicTrip's ailing website along with other activities like fare revenue distribution, timetable production and signage. was taken so the website became metlinkmelbourne . An early page is here:  A little later there was also*/ for regional Victoria. 

Metlink installed timetables at bus stops network-wide and printed local area network maps. It hosted route maps and timetables online so information could finally be complete, even if the operator lacked a website (which a few still did). And buses could be found with a drop-down menu so the need to know the operator had gone. A journey planner was added a few years later. This, along with extended hours and operating days for many Melbourne bus routes, coincided with a large increase in patronage which had previously been stagnant. 

Metlink still had problems. Published information was sometimes inconsistent or incorrect. There wasn't always the network knowledge amongst those whose job it was to communicate service changes to identify and challenge errors before publication. This was made worse by a heavy reliance on operators to initiate communication and a network that remained unmanageably complex. Bus operating hours, public holiday arrangements, summer timetables and occasional deviations had been simplified but there were still too many quirks to be simply explainable. To this day this increases the risk of errors and inaccuracies. This includes results produced when people use the journey planner. More recently there's been expansion into the mobile and real-time realms. This has placed further  pressures on information systems. And marketing could be stymied if those charged with promotions had poor awareness of the product they were meant to promote.

While Metlink unified most information provision, the service planning aspects of public transport remained fragmented. Metlink information could show that bus frequencies did not harmonise with train frequencies but they were unable to do anything about it. That was a planning matter for the (then) Department of Transport. 

Part of the Coalition's election pitch in 2010 was a 'one stop shop' responsible for public transport. In other words a public transport agency similar to those which successfully operate in other cities. Basically Metlink plus some functions from the Department of Transport, including planning. That was delivered in the form of Public Transport Victoria in April 2012. That name change of course meant another system rebranding and website URL. This is an early PTV website (basically a rebranded Metlink): . Note the return to a web address. 

The PTV structure was probably the best governance arrangement for public transport planning for at least recent decades.  There wasn't a lot of new money for services but there were some large local network reforms that have made services simpler and more direct. These were larger than what's happened before or since. 

The new government after 2014 has done some restructures since, including folding PTV functions  back into a revived Department of Transport. In bureaucrat speak this was supposed to mean more integration but in terms of networks and services it has only meant more inertia.  However they have at least had the sense to retain PTV branding to avoid another expensive signage and website change (Transport for Victoria being just a flash in a pan). 

Mention should be made that PTV 'refreshed' its website in early 2019. This is viewable at the regular link at . The old website remains at presumably as they aren't confident enough to go it alone with the new site. It's lingered longer than expected but has some great features (eg more descriptive route maps) worth preserving.

Campaign and marketing websites

Sometimes operators and agencies might have little 'spin-off' sites to promote a particular initiative. For example a marketing or safety campaign. Here's a few from over the years.

Buying A Ticket Before You Get On Board Saves Time Or Problems Later. Or BATBYGOBSTOPL for short. This was a Metlink campaign from 2006 to encourage pre-trip Metcard purchasing. They had a website.  And a video:

Taking public transport is nicer if people are considerate to one another. So Connex Trains got in fictional self-help guru Martin Merton (PhD) to teach passengers etiquette in 2008. This is his website: Read the backstory here: . MM PhD was not universally liked, as you can see here:

Metlink's had its 'Karma' campaign around then. Basically about doing the right thing by travelling with a valid ticket. It had a weird 'flash' introduction that does not suit all browsers. So you might just see a black screen at  Marketers like to talk about their works so you can see Karma pictures on places like and . The same goes for other campaigns mentioned here. The Karma campaign had some effect, including to inspire people to write blog posts disparaging it:

In 2010 everyone was enthusiastic about creating a 'Metro style' train network with simpler services every 10 minutes to replace the current infrequent and complex timetables. Metro Trains set up  a special 'Destination Better' website to explain and sell these changes: The greenfields timetables delivered the promised improved service and reliability but subsequent governments lost interest in extending them to other lines.

Melbourne's extensive rail network has a big problem with people being hit by trains because they weren't looking when driving or walking. To counter this Metro Trains launched its 'Dumb Ways to Die' safety campaign in 2012. It went viral with many downloading the music and video. Website here:

The new PTV revived behaviour campaigns several years later. Theirs was based on everyone being a 'model commuter'. That was supported by a website started in 2014 Also see Marcus Wong's write-up at .

Bus patronage was stagnant or dropping a few years ago. PTV thought a marketing campaign would help. They commissioned some beautiful and expensive posters to promote buses for leisure trips. Unfortunately the PTV marketing bods doing this weren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. They didn't know about things that make a bus route marketable, such as good hours and frequency. Hence they wasted resources on promoting buses that ran an unattractively infrequent service or didn't operate some days. This is the campaign website with a not very useful online map. All up it seemed a lot of work for little effect.

Another reason for a 'community engagement' type website is to consult the public on proposed service changes. For a while material was fragmented across two sites - one through PTV and the sub-site under the Department. They were independently maintained and sometimes had conflicting content. I think that's been resolved with  more recent consultation appearing on the latter. Get involved appears to have started in 2018.

Transdev was a franchisee that thought it had a bit more independence from government when it came to planning services. It revamped some of its routes in 2014 and planned a much larger 'greenfields network' change in 2015. It created a section on its website to explain this. Here it is: . There was a change of government, the new government didn't like the changes and they didn't go ahead. More on that here.

Unofficial transport websites

By 1998 it had became easy and cheap to write and host a basic website. So many did as a hobby. Despite apparently being a professional effort with paid staff, VicTrip had enough problems that people could build better websites than theirs in their spare time. Which is what I did in 2001 after approaches to them the previous year were unsuccessful. 

You can browse Metrip here. While basic it had things VicTrip lacked including route lists, details of service levels by route, routes by suburb and more. 

Daniel Bowen's Unofficial Melbourne Public Transport FAQ was also prominent then. See Again it provided concise material not provided on VicTrip. The service levels for key routes are some good background if researching timetable history.

The long-established Public Transport Users Association has been online for years. From 1992 to 2001 it was led by Dr Paul Mees who was a strident critic of then transport minister Peter Batchelor and Jim Betts who oversaw rail franchising and later became the Director of Public Transport. Some expressed a view during Mees' time (and for quite a while after) that the PTUA's combative media-driven approach lost it friends in government and bureaucracy and was unhelpful in winning support for change. To counter this a group called SmartPassengers, that saw itself working with rather than against the Department of Transport and operators, ran for a few years from 2008. See its archived website here: .

Enthusiast forums and message boards often had advice on service changes that was more detailed or more accurate than official channels like VicTrip or Metlink. A typical example was the bulletin board hosted, around the turn of the century, by the Australian Association of Timetable Collectors. Posts were in one long thread in time order. Look here to see what was written The main AATTC page was here: . AATTC also had a timetable list where you could check whether your printed timetable was current. It's here: .

The AATTC is now the Australian Timetable Association.  The bulletin board closed with activity transferring to the Bus Australia Forums (ATDB) at and to some extent Railpage forums at . These forums were very active about 10 or 15 years ago however most activity has since moved to Facebook groups.

I mentioned anti-fare evasion ads before. Two young entrepeneurs tried to harvest money from fare evaders by selling fare evasion insurance for $20 per month to cover fines incurred. They justified themselves by blaming what they saw as excessive fares on myki. Their venture, called Tramsurance, started in 2012 . It got big media attention (example below) but public transport authorities were not amused. Legal threats were issued. Tramsurance was closed after three weeks but not before significant publicity. More here. .

Not all passenger were content with the train service they were getting (or not getting). Some wrote blogs to share their transport woes. 2005 saw writings from 'Connex Whinger'. Read more here: There was also a website. That's here:  The posting ceased when the writer finished one job and planned to seek another at a location he could drive to. 

Not a website but a YouTube channel. Victoria Train Debacle is a huge collection of TV news clips covering rail issues. Watch them here:


It's been a wild surf across the World Wide Web. And you'd be wrong to say it's over. Have I missed anything? Do you have memories of using these or other websites? What did you think of them? Please leave your comments below.