Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #78: It's not all good - north-west bus timetables cut service

July 12 will be the biggest day for buses in Melbourne's north west for quite some time. There will be  network changes in the Airport West/Keilor East/Niddrie area and some others around Caroline Springs. 

To summarise: 

* New Route 469 replaces 501 and 475 with changes that introduce service to Valley Lake. Route 476 is rerouted in the Essendon area while 463 is a new route to replace the portion of the 476 west of Watergardens Station. PTV summary here. I discussed this when it was proposed last year so won't go over it again. 

* Route 462 extended to Caroline Springs Station with new coverage in Caroline Springs South and a much-needed frequency upgrade. New timetable for Route 460 provides a more even service. Last year I criticised 460's timetable due to its waits of up to 75 minutes so it will be interesting to see if it improves.  Premier's website summary here.

It's a story of two steps forward, one step back. Most new timetables are better than the ones they replaced but not in all cases. Here are a few interesting points that arise from them. If you wish to look for yourself they are mostly on the new PTV website. However not always. At the time of writing, the new timetable for Route 460 in one direction was only available on PTV's classic website.  

* Existing 476 vs new 463 (Watergardens - Hillside) 

Operating hours for the new 463 closely match the western end of the 476 that it replaces. This is not much of a surprise because if you were going to prioritise connections with trains in any direction then it would be from Hillside to Watergardens because Hillside has no other stations nearby. In contrast though 476 goes to Essendon there are other routes nearby (including trams). The new 463 timetable offers a more even am peak frequency and improved Saturday evening frequency from Watergardens. However the weeknight peak frequency finishes earlier. One could plausibly argue the original time was too late as the evening peak would have subsided well before then. However under current conditions if you were seeking to maintain social distancing on a busy route then you would seek to have broader peaks.  

* Existing 476 vs new 476 (Moonee Ponds - Watergardens)

Although it's travelling slightly backwards, there would be passenger travelling north-westward from about Keilor towards Watergardens to catch trains at their nearest station. If you're one of these passenger this timetable has some cuts you may not like. Most notable for commuters is that the first trip is over 30 minutes later, arriving at Watergardens at 6:38am. There are also earlier finishes on Monday to Saturday, with the latter having the last bus nearly an hour before the current last trip. Oddly Sunday keeps its after 9pm departure despite this trip being lost on Saturday.

Here's another timetable nasty. It will kill off 476's usefulness for commuters in the Keilor area. People often can't time their departure from work. And even if they can things like train delays could cause them to arrive late at the station. The best antidote to this is a frequent bus service so that the wait isn't very long even if a bus has been missed.

Unfortunately the new 476 timetable makes things worse rather than better in the direction towards Keilor. At the moment buses leave every 20 minutes approximately until after 7:30pm. This means that city workers can stay at work until around 6:30pm and still enjoy the higher peak frequency for buses. Whereas the new timetable has services falling off a cliff from 6:04pm, with a 40 minute gap afterwards. A 6:04pm time at Watergardens coincides with the peak-of-peak time in the city (just after 5pm), meaning that commuters could be inconvenienced with waits up to 40 minutes at the height of peak hour. It also flies in the face of health advice that we should avoid travel, and where it is necessary stagger it so that peak periods are longer and flatter to avoid crowding. Feeder bus timetables that scale down service at peak-of-peak times are incompatible with this and should never have been approved.

Normally when revising timetables the Department of Transport seeks to maintain existing frequencies and operating hours unless changes are justified. It doesn't look like they did here.  If this affects you complain to either Ben Carroll MP (Niddrie district) or Natalie Suleyman MP (St Albans district), saying you want your buses back. It's not all bad though; the earlier Sunday morning start will be a welcome change.

* Existing 462 vs new 462 

It's overwhelmingly good news for the 462. The route gets extended so there's a chance to meet trains at Caroline Springs. There's some new coverage and welcome weekday peak and interpeak frequency boosts. The weeknight finish from Watergardens is later (unusually good for a local route).

The quiet Sunday evening period though is where the service loses. The last trip from Watergardens is about 40 minutes earlier than now. The difference is even greater in the opposite direction. The result is that the route no longer meets minimum service standards with regards to operating hours (although it does now for frequency thanks to the horrid 68 minute weekday frequency being upgraded to 40 minutes).

If a choice had to be made as to whether to coordinate night buses at Watergardens or Caroline Springs Station, I would pick Watergardens every time. This is because (i) Watergardens has more frequent trains, (ii) Watergardens has City Loop trains, (iii) Watergardens is less remote with other bus connections, (iv) Watergardens is a more convivial place to wait with nearby shops compared to the extreme isolation of Caroline Spring Station. The above is why cutting Sunday evening operating hours from Watergardens is a bad move. 

* Existing 460 vs new 460

The 460 steadily has had improvements. At one time it was only an hourly service, even during peak times. Trips were added on several occasion since. Then, several years ago, in an act of timetable butchery, its trips were made less regular with long gaps between some. This timetable change appears to make things better. However there are still some oddities. For instance in the northbound direction there's nearly an hour between trips on weekday afternoons. And there's one bus that overtakes another. The 460 timetable deserves further scrutiny for those with some time to spare. 


This is my list of quirks from next month's bus network and timetable change in the north-western suburbs. The changes are overall good but there's some nasties that will cut service for some passengers.  It's hard to tell whether they were deliberate cuts or a sloppy checking and approval process. Feel free to comment below if you find other oddities. 

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