Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #79: Route 740 - Going the same way for decades

The last time anything significant happened to Route 740 was when Henry Bolte was premier. For all the years since the 740 has remained static while surrounding routes were added, deleted, altered or lengthened. We're now up to our tenth subsequent premier with no substantial change to the route.

Melbourne is the opposite of Adelaide or Canberra; their bus routes have changed and renumbered frequently while any alteration to ours requires an extraordinary effort. Stability is good in that you can make a long term decision like buying a house near a bus with the assurance that a service will remain. However it can regress to a useless inertia if an existing route ceases to meet community needs and is not changed. This is a common issue here. A happy medium is a continuous but thorough review process most like what happens in Perth.

You only know this in retrospect, but the golden decade for buses in Melbourne was about 2006 to 2016. It started with major upgrades to operating days and hours, had big SmartBus roll-outs in 2010 and ended with reformed networks in some areas. This golden period was preceded by more than a decade of stupor after the massive 1990-91 cuts. We're currently in another lethargic period. More on this next week.

So what is the 740? It runs from Mitcham Station to Vermont South where it terminates at a small group of shops (pictured above). It's hard to see from the map below but it's one of Melbourne's shortest bus routes, being just 3km long.  

Route 740 fills a coverage gap between Mitcham Rd and Heatherdale Rd. These are about 1.5km apart. Thus, if you want buses to be within 400m of most homes, there needs to be a bus there. The map below shows where it is relative to other routes. 


Route 740 is a weekday peak-only service. This limits its usefulness to two categories of passengers; peak commuters catching the train at Mitcham Station and, in the morning, children going to Vermont Secondary College (which its only morning southbound service extends to). You can see from the timetable below that it fully utilises one bus for just over two hours in the pm commuter peak. 

Even though the 740 provides residential area coverage that seniors and shoppers would likely value, there are no midday trips that would be most useful. If one was to make a shopping trip from Vermont East to Mitcham one would need to board the 4:30pm service to arrive at 4:47pm. If you were quick then the 5:27pm trip would get you home, otherwise it's the 6:08pm trip which is the last for the day. Thus your shopping errand can be no longer than 80 minutes unless you plan to spend the whole day at Mitcham. 

As for commuters, short routes and low frequency are a bad combination for buses. Unless you're lucky with the timing of its departures from Mitcham Station there's about an even chance that you'll reach your destination before the bus does.  This means that, except for one group of passengers, the 740 isn't often very useful as you'll see later when we discuss patronage.

Route 740 is in the marginal seat of Ringwood held by Dustin Halse MP for the Labor Party. 


Other routes around Mitcham have been lengthened as bus operators merged. A spectacular example is the previously mentioned 742 which has steadily grown from being barely 2km long to over 20 times that in fifty years. However the 740 remains pretty much unchanged since at least 1971. See these network maps on the BCSV website to compare. 740 can trace its history back to 1957 as part of another route. 

The 740 timetable has the same number of trips it did in 1991. The main change since then has been the spread of trips over a wider span in the afternoon. This greater spacing has meant a drop in pm frequency from about every 30 to about every 40 minutes. 

The 740's stability perfectly exemplifies the static nature of bus routes and timetables over 30 to 50 years in many parts of Melbourne.  Rather than being a routine process based on patronage data and assessed needs, the Department of Transport reviews only a small number of routes per year. An even smaller minority of routes ever have review implemented.   


Route 740 is a real outlier. While you expect buses on school days to be busier than those on school holidays, the difference is normally quite small - say 10 or 20 %. Route 740 is a major exception. Its boardings per service hour are very high on school days (45) and very low (11) on non-school days. That 11 would comprise of the few who find the 740 will get them home faster than they can walk from the station. This limits its usefulness for commuters (who are normally more willing to walk longer distances). Meanwhile seniors and shoppers, who would more appreciate a bus on local streets nearer home, find the peak-only 740 runs at times inconvenient for them. 


What would you do with the 740 and its timetable? While it obviously is useful for schoolchildren on one at least one trip, what about the other trips? Would the 740 be more useful if it ran as an interpeak shopper service to provide coverage, with its pm peak bus freed to upgrade frequencies on another route? 

What about bigger changes to the network? Could 738 and 736 be swapped to provide some minor time savings? Does Mitcham Rd need two routes or can one be rerouted to replace the 740 and provide a full time service? Comments are appreciated and can be left below.  


Ricky said...

I see three distinct options there Peter.
First (and most complicated) would be a multipronged reorganization of 736/738/740/765, in that 765 being rerouted over the current 740 route, 736 swapped onto Rooks Rd, and 738 getting the fast Mitcham Rd route. Whilst yes, that's a little bit counter productive, it'd require the least resources, as well as giving better connections.
Secondly though, an extension to Vermont South or Tally Ho with the 740 whilst less of a patronage generator, would be a cheap and efficient option to link areas, especially to the high frequency tram/732 combo.
Option 3 would be Knox or Bayswater, somehow taking over one of 745's flavours. Whilst probably the most expensive option, it'd refine service rather nicely.
Just depends on the purpose that the route deserves.

Paul Nicholson said...

The 740 is an anachronism. One of the few remaining long established routes that doesn't terminate at a major traffic generator; i.e. Vermont East.

I like the suggestions from "Ricky" but I reckon the better option would be to combine the 740 and 738. It wouldn't impact too much on passengers from the Knox Medical Centre towards Mitcham.

Put the 736 onto Rooks Road and leave the 765 as it is. Would make the 736 even more "curvaceous"?

Mitcham Road used to have a lot of local passengers but things have changed and it's probably over serviced with the 736 and 765.

Heihachi_73 said...

Option 1: 740 to Vermont South/Knox Transit Link.

This cleans up the old route by getting rid of the useless zigzag around the quiet side streets of Mitcham, while retaining access to the schools, however it would also inherit part of the 742 which is also all over the place.

Mitcham Station, Brunswick Rd, Cochrane St, Orient Ave, Scott St, Churinga Ave, Purches St. Then, follow the current winding path of the 742 all the way to Vermont South and terminate at the 75 tram interchange with the Knox Transit Link (assuming the 75 tram still hasn't been extended to Knox as of 2050!)

The 742 could then be simplified by extending it further along Canterbury Rd to Terrara Rd, however this would duplicate the 736 to Vermont South (unless one of the 736's options from Ricky or Paul above are used).

Option 2: 740 to Bayswater Station.

This would be a simple extension from its current southern terminus (retaining the above improvements at the Mitcham end) along Boronia Rd and the under-serviced Mountain Hwy. Or maybe even straight along the also under-serviced Canterbury Rd until it meets up with (and duplicates) the 664 at Bayswater Rd (the 679 around Heathmont is hardly what you could call a frequent service so route duplication or over-servicing would not be much of an issue).

Both of these options would require the 740 to be upgraded to the "minimum standards" of 6AM-9PM 7 days a week.