Friday, July 10, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 52: New deal for Melbourne north buses can save families thousands

Melbourne's northern suburbs have examples of many things wrong with buses in Melbourne.  

Routes have accreted over time, often without change to what they are layered over. In other areas they stop short of places people need to go, such as shopping centres. Some sparsely populated areas are overserviced, with frequent buses carrying fresh air through bush until midnight. Meanwhile other neighbourhoods lack even basic 7-day service or need more trips to cope with crowding.  

These are just some of the issues that bus passengers in Melbourne's north deal with each day.  

Recent ministers haven't always helped. Transport infrastructure minister Jacinta Allan presided over infrastructure projects costing billions but refused to toss a few million to junior minister Melissa Horne to ensure that new stations like Reservoir had buses that evenly met trains. The result is maps like you see below where very few buses in the City of Darebin have timetables that meet trains.    

These problems make buses less useful than they could be for everyday trips to school, shops and work. Poor bus service limits locals' job and education choices while good service expands opportunities. Useful buses benefit family budget where they save the need to purchase a second car.  Better buses provide alternatives to having to find scarce parking at stations. And they lift the barriers to increased business turnover at local shopping strips such as Coburg and Preston without being constrained by limited parking. 

My Useful Network series has often discussed bus networks in Melbourne's North. Usually they take a small  number of routes to make a local change. 

This is a reasonable way to reform bus networks. Especially if it is accepted as regular business rather than something special that mostly only happens due to an external change like a rail extension, bus operator refranchising or even a political demand. Otherwise the pace of change is too slow and established areas with no new stations rarely get their bus networks reviewed. I said more about different approaches to bus network reform on Tuesday when I discussed what succeeded in Perth versus what recently failed in Adelaide.

Introducing Networking the North

Networking the North is a bus network upgrade plan for Melbourne's northern suburbs. Produced by the non-government Victorian Transport Action Group, its 26 proposals roughly cover the Northern Metropolitan Partnership area. Many are refinements of Building Melbourne's Useful Network concepts as I was involved in its writing.

Networking the North can save households up to $6000 per year where the mobility improvements it enables allow people to defer or cancel the purchase of an extra car.  It is possibly the most substantial publicly available review of the area's bus services since the government-commissioned reviews of more than ten years ago. Only a few recommendations were implemented in Melbourne's north. Many of today's routes are similar to what ran 30 to 50 years ago despite being outpaced by subsequent growth. Consequently we thought it was time for a fresh look, based on what  had been learned from new bus networks implemented in areas like Brimbank and Wyndham. 

It's fairly long but the list below gives a flavour of what's in it. 

26 proposals for better buses in Melbourne's north

Networking the North does not seek to fix everything to do with buses in Melbourne's north. But it does build a simpler and more frequent network that connects people to key universities, hospitals, shopping centres and train stations. This is supplemented by upgrades to local routes that would bring convenient 7 day service to more residential areas. 

The proposals are as follows:

1 La Trobe Uni: Extend Route 301 express shuttle to Macleod Station. Would provide shuttle buses from La Trobe University every 10 minutes to the Hurstbridge as well as the Mernda line.

2 La Trobe Uni: Extend Route 561 to Greensborough Would provide a faster and more frequent La Trobe university connection to Greensborough. Serving a low car ownership part of Greensborough it would form an extended cross-suburban route from Pascoe Vale linking major centres across the north including Coburg, Reservoir and La Trobe University.

3 La Trobe Uni: New Route 550 – New La Trobe University to Camberwell connection Replacing the existing Route 548, this route would provide a better university connection to the eastern suburbs due to it meeting Belgrave/Lilydale/Alamein trains (which 548 stops short of) and more trams. Heidelberg also gains with better La Trobe access and connections from Doncaster possible via Route 903. Potential exists to extend further south to Caulfield to feed Monash University and the Metro Tunnel there. Other benefits include a straightened 548 and simplified service to Springthorpe Estate with a new Route 514. More here.

4 La Trobe Uni: New Station St/Albert St/Northland to La Trobe University connection This shifts Route 567's northern terminus from Regent (a legacy of a prior tram terminus) to La Trobe University to provide new direct university access from Thornbury and Fairfield. Frequency is also boosted from every 22 minutes to an easier to remember every 20. Changes to other routes such as 526 and 566 retain local coverage. More here.

5 La Trobe Uni: New Route 560 – New La Trobe University to Hawthorn connection Building on Proposal 4 this is a southern extension to provide a new La Trobe University connection to Melbourne's  inner-east. It also links the paper mill development to local shops and train services and replaces the infrequent Route 609. The cost of this proposal could be reduced if this extension substitutes for the existing Route 350. More here.

6 Growth corridor: Craigieburn North to Roxburgh Park - merger of routes 529 and 544 A frequency upgrade to better serve high patronage areas distant from trains. Also improves connections to the Craigieburn Town Centre from the south. 

7 Growth corridor: Western Craigieburn - extend Route 533 to create a loop with proposed Route 535 operating at improved frequencies Another frequency upgrade to serve high patronage  densely settled growth areas distant from trains. More here.

8 Growth corridor: New circumferential links to Mernda, Epping and Greenvale A new connection across Melbourne's outer north feeding people to trains and jobs. 

9 Melbourne Airport:  A faster way to the airport by swapping Routes 901 and 902 west of Gladstone Park. This makes Route 902 the airport route and speeds travel from the Bundoora/Greensborough area to Melbourne Airport. This includes the La Trobe National Employment and Innovation Cluster. No stops would lose SmartBus service and bus kilometres would be the same as now. More  here.

10 Melbourne Airport: New fast bus from Sunshine to Melbourne Airport. This is a precursor to the proposed Sunshine - Airport rail link. It greatly improve airport access from many western areas including St Albans, Caroline Springs, Melton Tarneit and Geelong.  More here

11 Melbourne Airport: Airport West to Melbourne Airport A small upgrade and simplification of routes 478 and 479 to Sunbury and Airport West. More here.

12 Mid north: Coburg to Heidelberg - Route 904 Murray Rd Megabus A bus every 10 minutes across Melbourne's north connecting major stations, hospitals and shopping centres. Enabled by amalgamating parts of Routes 527 and 903 to form a more frequent combined service. More here.

13 Mid north: Dallas-Coolaroo Network Upgrade to Route 532 to provide more frequent service to local jobs, simplify local routes and extend 7 day service in the Campbellfield area. More here.

14 Mid North: Coburg to Broadmeadows A new north-south connection between major centres by extending Route 534 to Broadmeadows. Also includes 7-day service upgrades and more direct routes in the Glenroy/Hadfield/Pascoe Vale areas. 

15 Inner north: Minimal cost straightening of routes Low cost network simplification and service speed-ups to provide better east-west connections and more direct services.

16 Inner north: Low cost extensions of service hours and frequencies To provide more 7 day service and improved services feeding trains and trams.

17 Inner north: Larger extensions and upgrades to inner north buses Provides new Carlton North and Heidelberg links for easier travel to major destinations.  

18 North east: Northland-Reservoir-Epping - Route 556 straightening and frequency upgrade Delivers improved access to major centres and stations and a simpler service. More here.

19 North east: Reservoir simplification and new West Lalor connection Simplifies and extends routes 526, 553, and 558 with improved 7 day service and directness. More here.

20 North east: Extend the 552 to Keon Park Station An improvement for local connectivity, allowing Reservoir north-west residents to travel north and west without backtracking. 

21 North east: Epping to Greensborough - 566 split, frequency upgrade and Epping extension Simplifies a very complex existing network and provides better access to shops, hospitals, education and trains. More here.

22 Outer north east: Heidelberg, Macleod, Greensborough Straightening and upgrade of Routes 513 and 517 for more direct and frequent connections.

23 Outer north east: Swapping the SmartBus routes 901 and 902 Provides a more frequent direct Doncaster - Greensborough connection with the 902 SmartBus. Would not change service kilometres. More here.

24 Outer north east: Route 582 extension and Bolton St coverage for improved local coverage and a direct bus to Greensborough from parts of Eltham currently without it.  

25 Outer north east: Simpler Eltham/St Helena/Diamond Creek network  Simplifies local services, enables better train connectivity and reduces inefficient overlaps. The latter is a particular issue as the area has many poorly used routes operating through low density areas that do not justify the frequency provided especially where these do not mesh with trains.

26 North west: A Highpoint SmartBus Achieved by rerouting 903 via Highpoint to directly connect to northern suburbs. This addresses a major network gap where the northern suburbs lack 7 day bus access to Highpoint. Would be introduced with other network changes that improve connectivity to Sunshine. More here

Implementation and cost

The 26 steps suggested look a lot but there is a method in it. Each involves relatively few routes. There is scope to modify if required and most can be done as stand-alone changes. This can allow an implementation program to be more easily managed and the pace to be varied according to available budgets or even political priorities.  

Some steps cost more than others. Some require no new buses while others will require several. Where there is improved operating hours and weekend service there will be extra bus and driver hours. However this works the bus fleet harder with a possible partial offset fare revenue increase from increased patronage. In all cases however some capital expenditure will be needed for the 'nuts and bolts' of changing signage at stations and bus stops.

Electoral districts

The 26 proposals involve revamped bus services in 22 electoral districts mostly across Melbourne's north. These are as follows:

Brodmeadows Frank McGuire MP
Brunswick Tim Read MP
Bulleen Matthew Guy MP
Bundoora Colin Brooks MP
Eltham Vicki Ward MP
Essendon Danny Pearson MP
Footscray Katie Hall MP
Hawthorn John Kennedy MP
Ivanhoe Anthony Carbines MP
Kew Tim Smith MP
Melbourne Ellen Sandell MP
Mill Park Lily D'Ambrosio MP
Niddrie Ben Carroll MP (Minister for Public Transport)
Northcote Kat Theophanous MP
Pascoe Vale Lizzie Blandthorn MP
Preston Robin Scott MP
Richmond Richard Wynne MP
St Albans Natalie Suleyman MP
Sunbury Josh Bull MP
Thomastown  Bronwyn Halfpenny MP
Yan Yean Danielle Green MP
Yuroke Ros Spence MP

Five of these seats are marginal. These include Brunswick, Melbourne, Northcote, Richmond and Hawthorn with the main competition in most being Labor vs Green. Also marginal is the fifth Northern Metropolitan Legislative Council seat, held by Reason's Fiona Patten.

Where to from here?

VTAG will advocate cost-effective bus network reforms along these lines to the Department of Transport, local councils other interested stakeholders. Comments are invited and can be left below. 

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is there a way to view these changes as part of a google maps overlay or something similar?