Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #77: Through the Sherbrooke Forest on the winding 694

Here's an obscure little bus route in Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges that has so far survived proposals to delete it. It runs from Mt Dandenong to Belgrave as per the map below. 

A map showing 694 relative to other routes is below. Most of it is overlapped by other routes. This includes the 688 in the north and the 663 in the south from Belgrave. However at the times it runs it provides a one-seat Mt Dandenong to Belgrave connection. If the 694 did not exist passengers would have to get a 688 to Upper Ferntree Gully and then a train (half-hourly on weekdays) three stations to Belgrave. But as you'll see in the timetable later this option is still required or quicker much of the time due to the 694's limited frequency.


Route 694 has existed for nearly 60 years. Maps here show few changes. Sometime between 1978 and 1987 it got a minor extension to the north so it could meet the 688 from the north at the Mt Dandenong Hotel.  Apart from that the basic local network was unchanged for decades; that is the 688 coming from the north meeting the 698 (from Upper Ferntree Gully) and 694 (from Belgrave) coming from the south. More recently the 694 was extended north so that most trips serve the Mt Dandenong Observatory. 

Both Route 694 and the former 698 were limited service routes. 688 to Croydon had many more trips.  There was a large upgrade when Route 688 was extended to Upper Ferntree Gully about 10 years ago. This provided a vastly superior 7 day service and the ability to travel north and south without changing buses. The bus review at the time proposed deleting Route 694 since all but a few of its stops benefited from 688's extension or were on the more frequent Route 663. However this was not carried through and the 694 survives today. 


Route 694 is far less used than your average Melbourne bus route. Especially on weekdays. Weekday usage is just 7 boardings per bus service hour. This is approximately one-third the average for buses in Melbourne. Saturdays is a bit more at 13 boardings per bus service hour. This is unusual. Especially on routes with a similar number of trips on weekdays and Saturdays weekday patronage is normally higher. However patterns like this are more likely for routes serving leisure hotspots such as the coast, the hills or large shopping centres. 


694 has an unusual and irregular timetable. Its operating hours vary greatly by direction, sometimes in ways you don't expect. For example there is an am peak service but it's away from rather than towards Belgrave Station. And it's too early for local school starts. 

In the middle of the day is a roughly hourly service which might be useful for people shopping in Belgrave (as opposed to Croydon or Upper Ferntree Gully which the 688 serves).  There's no pm peak service from the station. But there is, several hours after the previous trip, an 8pm trip from Mt Dandenong to Belgrave. As you can see on historical Krustylink timetables that trip has been operating since at least 1987. That timetable also shows planned connections with 688 trips from Croydon in both directions. The presence of these connections makes the earlier trips mentioned before more useful. Apart from the Mt Dandenong extension there's no significant difference between 694's timetable for 1987 and 2020. 

Saturday's timetable is a daytime service suitable for shoppers and tourists. Service is roughly every 60 minutes in the morning, dropping to nearer to 90 to 120 minutes in the afternoon. All trips serve Mt Dandenong. 

If you look at the times below it looks like it's a one bus. I've grouped them so you can follow its likely progress from Belgrave to Mt Dandenong then back to Belgrave. There is possibly a driver lunch break at Belgrave at 12:55pm as there's a 2 hour gap in departures. 

694 is a limited service daytime service. However, unusually, it escaped the early 1990s with more rather than fewer services. For example its 1987 timetable had it providing a Saturday morning shopper-style service only. By 1992 this had been extended to include a Saturday afternoon service. This is the opposite of what happened to many other routes (including those serving denser and busier areas) that had their Saturday afternoon service deleted at this time, in some cases not long after it was added when Saturday afternoon shopping commenced in the 1980s. 

As you'll see in the Krustylink 1992 timetable there was an effort to promote local buses (including the 694) for tourism by including it in a brochure, though the early Saturday finish and lack of Sunday service on any local route then would have reduced its appeal. 


What would you do with the 694? Do you agree with the review's findings that it should have been deleted when the 688 got extended south given it has so few unique stops? Does its Saturday service (in particular) fulfil a useful tourist function? Or would it carry more people if the bus used was transferred to a busy route in a denser area, for example the underserved 800 from Dandenong to Chadstone? Please leave any comments below. 


Paul Nicholson said...

I have noticed a few international tourists using the 694 from Belgrave - possibly in conjunction with a trip on Puffing Billy! That's in normal times of course!

A smart international tourist (and there are quite a few of them so it seems and again in normal times) could make a lovely trip incoporating a train to Belgrave, Puffing Billy to Gembrook, 695 bus back to Belgrave, 694 to Mount Dandenong then 688 either to Croydon or Upper Ferntree Gully and back to Melbourne by train.

It didn't happen too often (in normal times) but it was impressive to see a non-English speaking international tourist having worked out and doing such a trip. Rare to see a local doing much the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Potentially that 8pm trip on the 694 may be intended for diners at the SkyHigh restaurant? Not that there is another trip to take them to dinner, but there is precedent for this.

Don't forget the old 968 NightRider which one had inbound trip start from Croydon Main Street at 11:27pm, run via Olinda to Belgrave, then continue to the CBD, designed for those wanting to take public transport home from a night out at the Cuckoo Restaurant! So that may not be without precedent.

This historic 688 timetable still references this trip, with a special timing point at the Cuckoo Restaurant! http://www.sherbrooke.vic.edu.au/uploads/1/2/5/8/12585186/04688_ttb_tp.pdf