Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #82: Clyde North's proposed routes 888 and 889

Something is happening for buses in Clyde and Clyde North. It won't be before time. We got early warning last month via a post on local MP Jordan Crugnale's Facebook page

She and another local member (Pauline Richards MP) discussed bus services with then Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne. They invited us to 'watch this space'. 

Development has far outpaced local bus services. Buses currently only run a little east of Clyde Rd. But housing continues almost two kilometres further east. The last significant changes to buses in the area was in 2016 when the new Cranbourne network went in. That's recent in bus network reform terms but an age ago when it comes to fringe area growth. Since 2016 thousands of homes, many in unserviced areas, have since sprung up west, north and south-east of Melbourne. In Clyde North the now established Grices Rd  area is a large coverage gap but the even less accessible St Germaine estate further south also looms as an issue. 

We're not talking about sparse hobby farms or spacious 'lifestyle blocks' either. Here houses almost touch each other on small blocks. Residential density in unserved new estates is often higher than established suburbs with a full set of services. 

Clyde North in relation to the existing transport network is on the map below. 

Existing services in surrounding areas

The area is far from any train lines. Local advocacy for a rail extension to Clyde has got nowhere despite other works such as Cranbourne duplication. The closest SmartBuses are at Dandenong, sixteen kilometres away. Northern areas like Narre Warren and Berwick have had no serious bus network reform in at least a decade, with indirect routes operating every 30 or 60 minutes where coverage exists. Cranbourne though is better served with some of its routes operating every 20 minutes seven days per week thanks to that area's 2016 network upgrade.

Berwick aspirations, Cranbourne budgets

While Cranbourne's upgrade improved frequency and directness it didn't address a popular request which was direct buses to Berwick. This demand can be understood by differences between where people want to go and where they live. To summarise, it's a case of Berwick aspirations and Cranbourne budgets. Many established and preferred education and health services are in upscale Berwick. But many families have a Cranbourne-type real estate budget, which dictates where they live. This is why when you ask Cranbourne locals about buses they will say they want routes that run to Berwick. Currently none do even though both centres have dead end routes that go not far from each other.  

New bus routes 888 and 889 planned

Eagle-eyed followers of the Tenders Victoria website will have seen something that adds meat to what the pollies said last month. It is a request for bus operators to bid for new bus services in the Clyde and Clyde North areas. You need a login to view more but getting one is worthwhile.

Two new bus routes - 888 and 889 - are proposed. Both will run south from Berwick Station via Clyde Rd. 888 will run south to Clyde while 889 will branch east to connect currently unserved Grices Rd. 

More details later when we review the service specifications. First though notes on other key documents needed when tendering for bus services. These include: 

* A temporary bus service contract. Two things are interesting. Firstly that the contract is temporary (two years or a bit over). Secondly 'GAIC'. This means the service is funded by the 'Growth Areas Infrastructure Contribution' that developers pay. The Auditor General reported on the GAIC process back in March. They made some adverse findings. 

The concept of having developers fund the early introduction of bus services through a process like GAIC is good but has limitations. For example one might ask that for something that needs ongoing funding like bus services, what happens after the GAIC money runs out? Especially noting these are temporary contracts. Also, if funding is tied rigidly to specific growth areas, is there a risk that the network delivered is not the best overall? For example routes may inefficiently overlap, finish in a dead end or miss important centres. More on that later.  

* Master Fleet Guide. This style guide sets down what your buses need to look like. Basically PTV livery. It covers the whole network so will appeal to train and tram enthusiasts also. 

* The Offer. What intending operators fill in to demonstrate why they have the capacity and competency to run the service within safety and other rules. 

* Pricing Schedule. A spreadsheet to work out costs. Key components include labour, fuel, maintenance, bus costs and other items.

* Addendum. This has revised information on the proposed start date for the new services (March next year) and the length of the temporary contract (either two years or two years four months depending on route). 

* The Request for Tender document. Mainly heavy reading legal stuff. But also an interesting map showing how the Berwick bus interchange will be moved south of the station. This will move buses further from the shops but nearer the hospital.

The proposals

Here's the new routes drawn on the existing PTV network map for Casey. Clyde Rd becomes a busier bus corridor with both new routes supplementing the existing 899 already along it. 

Route 888 connects Clyde (but not Cranbourne) with Berwick once an hour (including peak times). In theory there is extra coverage on Berwick-Cranbourne Rd but traffic volume, speed and the lack of signals make crossing on foot there a choice between failure and danger. That, plus the hourly wait for the next bus if there's no gap in the traffic before your intended one arrives, makes catching it chancy.  

Route 889 provides welcome coverage of Grices Rd. It is a bit more frequent with a 40 minute service. This will be offset with the existing Route 899 to provide a combined 20 minute service seven days per week to Glasscocks/Grices Rd. 

That's at least in theory. Bus stops should be near major intersections to maximise walking catchment and enable connections between potential intersecting routes. We don't always do that in Melbourne, partly because bus services often appear decades after roads have been built and years after people have moved in. Land uses like service stations and fast food seem to get first dibs on intersection sites which they value due to their high visibility. When driveways are built it is harder to find space for bus stops in the best locations. 

The Clyde/Grices/Glasscocks intersection currently has no bus stops with long distances to those either side. Unless stops are added the coverage of the combined 889/899 20 minute frequency corridor won't be as good as it should be. 

The 20 minute 889/899 offset on Clyde Rd is laid down in the service specification document. This is a large step forward. Other examples of new routes (eg the partly duplicative 627) did not always respect this. 

However it's not perfect. Take the puzzling comments on the 888. Because this runs only hourly it cannot evenly offset with the other routes on the Clyde Rd corridor. Because daytime trains at Berwick mostly operate every 20 minutes, the 889/899 should be able to feed each one (in the specified direction). If you also want 888 to connect with trains then its times will need to be closely spaced with the other routes. Hence bunching will be inevitable unless a decision is made not to have it connecting with trains, at least outside peak. 

Passengers near 888's south have much more frequent buses to Cranbourne, and those near its north have other routes. Possibly the main patronage base for the hourly 888 will come from the unfortunates who must trudge along Thompsons Rd from estates to the east. These areas form the main coverage gap in the area that the 888/889 proposals do not address. 

The wider network

Apart from the very good 889/899 co-scheduling, these network changes if introduced in isolation would represent a continuation of the current 'grafting on' approach to network planning where multiple infrequent new routes are layered over existing infrequent routes. 

You can see this on the map before. For example the 798 from Cranbourne and the proposed 888 from Berwick terminate fairly close to one another. Operating them as one route would provide the much-requested Cranbourne to Berwick connection. 

Admittedly this will increase costs since 798 is every 20 minutes while the 888 will he hourly. On the other hand there are potential savings at the cost of directness. A kludge solution could be to not have the 888 at all and to amalgamate 798 and 799. The combined route could operate every 20 minutes weekdays and 40 minutes weekends. The latter would represent a weekend service cut for the 798 but, unlike its weekday patronage, weekend usage is low. However there would be an overall gain with many areas gaining from a weekday connection from Cranbourne to Berwick every 20 minutes for relatively little extra cost. 

Route 798 is currently run by Cranbourne Transit. Because it's an open tender we don't know who will get to run the 888. There is precedent in Melbourne for multi-operator routes (eg 400, 900) but it's operationally less tidy than if a single company ran all trips. And it might make ideas like amalgamating routes harder to organise if more parties are involved. 

A review is likely to rethink bus routes nearer Berwick. Especially if trains remain at every 20 minutes having many routes along Clyde Rd would be inefficient especially if these are also upgraded to every 20 minutes. Scope may exist for better coverage of the underserved Kangan Rd and Soldiers Rd corridors to the Thompsons Rd area and west to Lynbrook or Cranbourne as the area develops. 

Also notable are the 834/835 bidirectional circle routes south and north of Berwick. These are indirect. They may have had a rationale when Berwick and Fountain Gate were the key centres. However improved legibility and directness is likely to call for the replacement of loops in favour of simpler two-way routes feeding trains on both the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines. This is the same approach as taken for bus routes between the Werribee and Geelong lines with successful results. Reform here could also increase access from some areas to key destinations including Fountain Gate and the education and health precincts around Berwick.

Longer term

Longer term Pakenham trains to Berwick and Cranbourne trains to a new Clyde station should run every 10 minutes, with SmartBus also every 10 minutes between Berwick and Clyde along Clyde Rd. This is not an excessive level of service given the sparsity of rail infrastructure and the generally higher density of newer development. Major east-west bus routes also need to run along O'Shea, Grices, Honour, Thompsons, Hardys and more of Pattersons Rd to feed people into Cranbourne (Clyde) line stations and Soldiers Rd to connect to Berwick.

The ten minute train service should combine at Dandenong to provide a 5 minute 'Super Metro' service to Sunshine via the Metro Tunnel (a 10 minute off-peak service being poor utilisation of such expensive infrastructure). From there it could branch off to provide both Melton (or Melbourne Airport) and the Sunbury line (as far as Watergardens) each with a ten minute off-peak 7 day  cross-city service. 


New bus routes 888 and 889 are a step forward. They will provide coverage to thousands of people currently beyond walking distance of bus routes. However their 40 to 60 minute frequency (even in peak period) and dead-end termini makes them much less useful than they could be. Also, due to  uncrossable roads and missing stops, access may be an issue even amongst passenger groups considered young and fit. 

The temporary nature of the contracts invites questions as to whether funding for these routes is sustainable after they expire. On the positive side they do not lock areas into what could be unsuitable routes and service levels for many years. This is important due to continued growth and the urgent need for a Cranbourne-style network overhaul in the Narre Warren, Berwick and Clyde North areas.  

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MikeM said...

An interesting discussion Peter which reminded me of a region on the west side of Melbourne which lacks a direct link. The one I am referring to is from Melton to Watergardens.

Some years back when Sita were introducing upgrades in the Melton area I spoke to someone at Sita about the lack of a service to Watergardens. They suggested that the reason for this was that the council & shops in Melton didn't want to lose business to Watergardens although I am sure that large numbers of shoppers take the relatively short drive along the Melton Highway.

Whether this true or not I don't know but you can never discount the influence of local politics on transport planning.


Peter Parker said...

MikeM - Woodgrove at Melton is always expanding so I'm not sure if Watergardens will be seen as big a threat as it was. The main problem with a bus between the two is (for now) little unique coverage of residential areas. Far more important local coverage issues to fix first.

Longer term when Melton rail is electrified you might double the frequency of the 426 and finish the 456 at Caroline Springs Town Centre (instead of Sunshine). From there people can catch many buses to Watergardens. It is one change but is fairly direct. And very cheap.

MikeM said...

Good point about the 426 & 456 although where any change is required good connections are needed. In general terms though the Victorian government spends large amounts of money on bus services & I can't help feeling that we could get better value for it.