Friday, June 19, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network: Part 49 - Fixing Dandenong North's complex 802 804 & 862

I looked at Greater Dandenong area routes last year in Useful Network 4. Discussion on the complex 802/804/862 cluster, approaching Dandenong from the north, was deliberately postponed. 

Despite the non-contiguous route numbers, the 802/804/862 form a related corridor between Chadstone, Oakleigh, Monash University and much of Wellington Rd. In the early 2000s they formed a consistent corridor with a service every 15 minutes on the common section (see Krustylink for timetables). At the time it was the most frequent all-day bus corridor in the south-eastern suburbs. This was before SmartBus and the most frequent service then was every 20 minutes. The even 15 minute frequency got lost over time and spacing became uneven (sometimes there's two buses at once with a long gap preceding or following). However service remained at close to four trips per hour.

The 802/804/862 routes neatly illustrate the inertia that is the single most important reason for buses being the way they are today. For example the new 900 SmartBus was run over the top of them (albeit with limited stops on Wellington Rd) but nothing was done to simplify the now duplicative network.

Also the 2006 - 2010 minimum standards roll-out seriously dudded Greater Dandenong with only a handful of routes ever upgraded despite high patronage and high social needs. The result is that of the trio only 862 got the 7-day upgrade. 802 remains as a Monday - Friday limited hours route while 804 is a limited hours Monday to Saturday service with frequency dropping to 120 minutes on Saturday afternoons.  

The map above illustrates this complexity. There is not even a link between the services each route gets and its network importance. For example the 862 has the 7 day service but of the three it is the route that partly overlaps the 901 SmartBus which also has 7 day service. In contrast other areas only get 5 or 6 day service.

Existing bus usage

Below is the multi-route weekday timetable for all three routes. I tried to follow the buses backwards and forwards, giving each possible run its own colour. There is no guarantee that the buses behave as depicted (one might form another trip or even route) but the method allows one to count the number of buses used. Counting the morning peak and into the interpeak I reach a total of 11 buses as a minimum requirement. That's useful as a baseline against which to compare proposals for upgrades. It's worth mentioning that 802/804/862 have about a flat frequency peak and interpeak. Any variations in bus requirements would therefore be due to slower run times during peak periods.

Weekend and evening bus requirements are less as frequencies drop from every 40 min to 60 min (or less) and not all routes operate at these times. So you might be running only 3 to 5 buses. As the frequencies are low (if service runs at all) any improvement would require more bus and driver hours on weekends compared to now. However this would be working the existing fleet harder rather than requiring new buses.

802/804/862 are well used

The Chadstone/Oakleigh/Monash ends of the 802/804/862 contain some of Melbourne's largest suburban trip generators and high numbers of overseas students. The Dandenong ends of these routes contain a high number of people on low incomes. All three routes have above average number of bus boardings per service hour, indicating that they justify service increases, particularly on weekends.

On weekdays 804 is the busiest with it having 33 boardings per service hour (2018 numbers), 802 29 boardings per hour and 862 a still slightly above average 25 boardings per hour. It's also busiest on Saturdays attracting a high 34 boardings per hour. 862 is a respectable 30 boardings per hour. This difference says more about 862's better span (which includes hours when buses are more likely to be quieter) than the comparative catchments of both routes. Sunday is Route 862's most productive day with 33 boardings per hour. This is because the other routes don't run and anyone who needs a Sunday bus must get the 862.

The good patronage of all three routes makes reform a high priority especially if it can be done in a manner that doesn't require buying more buses. A further benefit is that it may enable better service on the section shared with the 900 SmartBus, relieving pressure on that crowded route.

A simpler revised corridor

The Dandenong North area needs a comprehensive bus network review. Doing this could allow services on key corridors to be boosted from every 40 to 60 minutes to every 20 to 30 minutes.  However this could involve at least 8 or 9 routes. There are many wider implications outside the area and significant public consultation would be desirable. Both would slow implementation of a revised network. There are however some benefits of a bigger review. More on that later. 

For now I'll focus on reforming the 802/804/862 corridor independent of most surrounding routes. I'll pick the simplest approach that causes the least disruption. There will be a minimum of stops that lose service, and where it does happen there will be an alternative nearby. That allows consultation to be focused on just the small areas that would be directly affected especially if the range of destinations reachable from each stop  almost always remains the same as now. I'll also seek to simplify services and increase frequency where possible.

As you saw from the map before, there's a lot of overlap between the 802, 804 and 862. The overlap contributes more buses per hour but not necessarily shorter maximum waits as services are unevenly spaced where all three are together between Chadstone and Mulgrave. The Dandenong end has fewer but still substantial overlaps between the 802 and 804 and the the 862 and the 901.

Consolidating three routes into two has a number of benefits. Firstly it simplifies the network. It is not intuitive that a route numbered 862 is in any way related to the 802 or 804 yet it is, including replacing those routes at times when the others don't run. Secondly moving to two routes frees scarce signage space at stops and makes it easier to work out when the next bus it on combined sections. Thirdly, and more significantly, if you can reduce the number of routes without cutting coverage you can increase the number of buses on each route. That allows a better frequency on each route without buying many, if any, more buses. Fourthly a more regular service on these routes provides 7-day relief to the often crowded Route 900 SmartBus between Chadstone, Oakleigh and Monash University.

The key question is whether we can do this without removing bus coverage. The map below gives possibly the simplest option. Route 804 stays the same except for a frequency increase (from every 40 to every 30 minutes) and 7 day service. Route 802 and 862 merge to form a new route which I've called 803. This would also run 7 days per week with a 30 minute weekday frequency. 

If the existing network gets you to a place the new one will as well but with simpler and more frequent services. About 500 metres of Brady Rd loses a bus but the number of 7 day routes either side increases from one to three, with increased frequencies. This is achieved by removing the 862's overlap with 901 and routing it via the existing 802 alignment in Dandenong North. Ross St would also lose the 862 but scope exists to serve it by deviating the new 803 or extending a route from Dandenong South or Dandenong West to serve it. The latter would be desirable for people in other directions due to the connections it provides to Dandenong TAFE and the hospital.

Bus requirements at 30 minute frequencies would be unlikely to be more than 12 buses, ie quite similar to now. 11 may even be possible with smart scheduling. And, depending on how good you wanted to make the service, evening and weekend frequency could be every 30, 40 or 60 minutes for each route. Even the last option would provide a better overall service than now with only a minor increase in bus and driver hours required. Around $400k extra per year, mainly to ensure both routes operate on Sundays, would be required. If we didn't have that funding then both routes could run every 120 minutes, resulting in a Sunday service cut for the small section that is uniquely on the 862.

This is about the simplest upgrade you could do for buses in Dandenong North and parts of Mulgrave. It's economical and does not disrupt the existing network. It's so small that public engagement before the change could be limited to the few affected by the minor stop changes around Brady Rd. Not requiring new buses and a simple public engagement process add up to faster implementation well before the 2022 election. Seats to benefit include Oakleigh (held by Steve Dimopoulos MP), Mulgrave (premier Daniel Andrews MP) and Dandenong (Gabrielle Williams MP).

Some other notes. The routes may have slightly different lengths and run times. Normally a disadvantage it may be possible to turn this into a benefit. The portion from Chadstone to Mulgrave is best served with a consistent 15 minute combined service. At the Dandenong end if run times are different arrival times might not be spaced an even 15 minutes. This might be helpful to allow connections to be optimised with off-peak trains every 10 minutes in the area.

What about the effect this change would have on the Useful Network? There would be no change if we were to look at corridors with 20 minute frequency or better on weekdays. But if we were to look at the part of the network every 15 minutes or better a new 803/804 corridor would be added between Chadstone and Mulgrave. Also weekend frequency would improve dramatically for a more consistent 7 day service level with weekends at least half that of weekdays (rather than the current quarter service on Sundays).

Further ideas

Several further things need to be done to best connect people with opportunities with better buses in the Dandenong North area. Other routes remain only part-time. Hourly service is common. And the network is too complex with too many confusing routes.

Possibilities could include rerouting 850 via the current 804 alignment (to better serve the hospital and TAFE) and making the 804 a more direct Gladstone St bus. That would free one of the existing buses there (either 814 also discussed here or 848) to provide a new direct connection between Noble Park North and Noble Park Station. And consolidating the hourly 812, 813 and 815 into a boosted 813 could deliver a 20 minute frequency from Dandenong to Parkmore with a continuation to Springvale highly desirable. More on this at a future time.


I've discussed a major upgrade for buses in the Dandenong North and Mulgrave areas involving simplification and upgrading of the currently complex 802, 804 and 862 corridor. There are many benefits including low implementation costs, minimal disruptions for existing passengers but a much simpler network. Comments are invited and can be left below. 

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