Friday, June 12, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 48: Clayton and Springvale's unserved junction

Two weeks ago I reviewed the recent service upgrade of bus route 704 between Oakleigh and Westall. The patronage data isn't in yet but all indications are that we could have spent the same money to benefit 10 or 20 times the number of passengers on popular but underserviced routes such as 733 or 800. 

Part of the 704 change was a minor (under 1km) eastward extension to Westall Station. There is some dense housing and a small shopping strip nearby but overall it's not a strong terminus for a bus that  roughly parallels the railway. And it didn't solve the lack of a route on some corridors with recent or under construction development. Today I will describe two network steps that can join loose ends and bring full bus coverage to Centre and Westall roads. The area is in the state seat of Clarinda, safely held for Labor by Meng Heang Tak.

Step One: Full Centre Rd coverage with an 814 extension

Centre Rd just west of Springvale Rd lacks a bus. There's also poor connections from locations near Westall Rd including the IKEA Centre. The map below shows the main roads, including parts of Westall Rd and Centre Rd, without buses. While there's also the 800 on Princes Hwy, its appearance on the map gives a false sense of service due to its limited days and operating hours.

Given the limited coverage, it would have made sense to extend 704 to provide a direct connection to Clayton from Centre Rd east of Westall Rd. A past objection to it, namely delays due to the Centre Rd level crossing, vanished a few years ago when the railway got elevated.

Springvale or Waverley Gardens?

There seem two main choices: Springvale Station or Waverley Gardens. Both require some extra bus route kilometres. You could scrounge some by starting the 704 at Huntingdale instead of Oakleigh. That reduces duplication but weakens its western terminus; Huntingdale by itself isn't much of a destination.

The Waverley Gardens option involves more route kilometres but it's easier to recoup this from reforms to other routes. It also better takes advantage of the Centre Rd grade separation and produces a simpler network with a straight route down more of Police/Centre Rd. And it allows direct access to trains and other buses at Clayton from the Waverley Gardens area. Overall this appears the better approach.

Extending the 814 

The simplest arrangement involving other routes might be to not lengthen the 704 at all. Instead you could change the 814 to finish at Clayton Station instead of Springvale South. The route kilometres is similar so there's no extra cost. This delivers a simple and direct service from Waverley Gardens to Clayton, serving the missing gap on Centre Rd.  Connections to Springvale remain from Waverley Gardens/Mulgrave via the existing routes 813 and 885.

Because we don't need two routes on Centre Rd, the 704 could be shortened to operate between Oakleigh and Clayton only. That's a run time comfortably under 30 minutes, even in peak times. This is very good for efficiency as we can retain the existing 30 minute peak frequency with two instead of the current three buses. An hourly off-peak and weekend service could operate with one bus, instead of two currently (for a 40 min service).  The bus no longer needed on the 704 could allow Route 814 to be boosted from every 60 to every 40 minutes. An increase in operating hours for the 814 is also desirable since it currently only runs a limited Monday to Saturday morning service. Such a resource transfer from the 704 to the 814 is highly needed since 704's weekday passenger boardings per hour (pre-upgrade) was just 13 versus 40 for the popular 814.

What happens to Springvale South that the 814 currently serves? That could be served by a rerouted 811. Like the 814 the frequency is low (hourly) but the 811 operates 7 days per week, unlike the 814. So there's an overall service gain for people in the area. While the area loses a one-seat ride to Waverley Gardens (unless they walk to the 813 on Springvale Rd) they gain a more direct trip to Dandenong via the 811.

To summarise, there's not many losses and some good gains in this network. For example Centre Rd gets a full bus coverage and Waverley Gardens gains a new connection to Clayton. Springvale South gets 7 day service. And both 704 and 814 get stronger termini. Springvale South loses some stops but other stops get some new connections. The reduced interpeak and weekend frequency on the 704 would better match demand on a route just one-third as busy as the upgraded 814.

So far, at every 40 minutes, the extended 814 would fall short of the 20 minute frequency required for it to be a Useful Network route. Clayton to Waverley Gardens is a 7km trip each way. A single bus could provide a 40 minute frequency assuming a 22km/h travel speed (achievable for an almost dead-straight route section). It may be possible to schedule this in between the full length 814 trips to provide a 20 minute combined service on this section. This would provide a good train feeder to Clayton for the Waverley Gardens area, more direct and more frequent than any other option.

An option also exists to operate the 814 to Noble Park instead of Dandenong to save on route kilometres, provide a direct train feeder from Noble Park North (which does not currently exist) and potentially support an upgrade of the whole route to every 20 minutes (possibly requiring only one more bus).

Step Two: Westall - Monash link

One could leave things at Step One. It's a substantial improvement over now. However one should not ignore major development at the southern end of the Monash precinct. This includes housing densification at Westall, the home maker/IKEA centre on Princes Hwy and the M-City development near Blackburn Rd. Existing transit in the area is either indirect (Route 631) or operates limited days and hours (Route 800). There are no connections from the north or to the nearest station at Westall. Also access to Monash University from Westall is difficult for what should be a very short one-bus trip.

One option could be a southern extension of bus route 737. There's many benefits. It's easy to understand, strengthening the network's grid in the area. It improves a lot of local connections. And it means that people working on Blackburn Rd can catch any southbound bus (703 or 737) to reach a Dandenong line station.

The 5km distance should allow a 30 minute interpeak frequency with one bus, though a higher frequency is suggested given the density of development. In peak you'd allow two buses, assuming you want all trips operating the full route (highly desirable). Such an improved service would also be compatible with other upgrades to the 737 described last year in Useful Network 16.

Paying for it

The apparent lack of money for buses should not be used as an excuse not to implement better Westall area connections on one or both the routes described. The resources are available if we're willing to review other routes. An important question to ask is whether you are achieving a higher aim with network reform or whether it's just change for changes sake.

Both the above connections have strong points going for them. So strong that even if there was no earmarked funding you could look at other services in the area.

I discussed Route 704's weaknesses previously. Also one might wish to reappraise the merit of Route 631 between Monash University and Waverley Gardens in light of its partial replacement by 814. It contributes no unique catchment and the two replacement extensions above are simpler and more direct. Deleting the eastern portion of the 631 may allow above mentioned upgrades on the 814 to be self-funding and a simpler network overall. Or, if the direct Monash connection is considered too significant then the 631 could be replaced with an alternative Monash to Waverley Gardens service such as could come from changes to other routes, potentially involving 802/804/862, 848, 850 and/or 885. More on those in future weeks.


I've discussed two gap-filling network upgrades for the Westall area. Are they worth the buses that would be used? Do you think people would use the extended services? Can we help pay for it with Route 631 or 704 resources? Or are there better ways to fill the gaps? Comments are invited and can be left below. 

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