Saturday, August 29, 2020

Train and tram privatisation turns 21 today


Today is an important anniversary.

21 years ago, August 29, 1999, Victoria's trains and Melbourne's trams were franchised to international operators. It took over two years to happen after it was announced in 1997. Then the PTC was dismantled and the trains and trams split into separate business units in preparation for franchising. As a precursor Met Buses were franchised out a few years previously in two tranches. 

National Express was the biggest operator, taking over V/Line, Bayside Trains and Swanston Trams. 

The other half of of metropolitan trains was Connex while the other half of the trams was Yarra Trams. 

I won't go into too much detail but will leave you with these links and accounts. 

Archived Connex website https://web.archive.org/web/20040601000000*/connexmelbourne.com.au

Hillside Trains website before that (still going!) http://www.buslines.com.au/hillsidetrains/index2.html


Histories and accounts

My item on the National Express pull-out 

PTUA history of it https://www.ptua.org.au/campaigns/govern/priv-1999/

Paul Mees' screed on how privatisation didn't deliver the hoped for benefits.  https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/documents/council/Select_Committees/Trains/Submissions/SCTS_18_Att_3.pdf


Support from minister Lynne Kosky for privatisation https://www.smh.com.au/national/kosky-stands-by-privatised-trains-20090123-7ors.html

Overall the above is much ado about nothing. There are bad public systems and there are good public systems. There are good private systems and bad private systems. Other matters, such as planning, oversight, maintenance and overall funding are more important determinants of whether a system is good.

However some aspects of it in Melbourne were clearly botched, particularly the operational splitting of the network (with initially incompatible trains being ordered), the highly fragmented information and the ever-changing branding that wasted everyone's time. Not to mention the original contracts that were based on financial moonshine due to a mixture of greed and wishful thinking by both parties. These rewarded conniving carpetbagging managers, consultants and lawyers who made a motza while being personally unaccountable for bad advice, decisions or judgment.  

Recordings from National Express managers

Hear from National Express managers here in these staff videos.  




Friday, August 28, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 59: 10 tips for better buses without losing votes

There are often big gaps between what might be an ideal bus network for an area and what exists now. There won't be unlimited funds to run frequent buses on every street to every destination so choices will need to be made. What's decided will please some and displease others. 

You can bet your life that when reforming bus networks you'll only hear from only those who feel worse off under a change. Along with their friends, even though they've never ridden a bus for years. That can make change harder than initially envisaged. It may even scare some ministers and governments from doing much at all, particularly before an election. 

On the good side bus network reform is highly cost-effective, especially in some established areas where indirect and overlapping routes can be simplified and made more frequent for little money. It's also necessary in growth areas where existing routes stop short of new subdivisions, schools and shopping centres. 

Trams rarely operate beyond the inner suburbs while trains serve only narrow ribbons further out. Thus the nearest public transport to most Melburnians is a bus. Efficient bus networks are essential if you wish to provide useful public transport to most people and jobs. That particularly includes outer suburbs which are being built at higher densities than was usual in the past and middle suburbs that are being redeveloped from predominantly houses to more townhouses and apartments.

Not long ago a billion dollars could build a massive transport infrastructure project. These days projects can cost tens of billions. Individual grade separations are $100 million or more each. Even smaller projects, like commuter parking, costs millions per site, or tens of thousands per individual uncharged for spot. This is a large per-passenger private benefit given how little is recouped from fares (capped at less than $2000 per year assuming use of a full fare  365 myki pass). 

Along with walking and cycling infrastructure, buses are about the only things in transport that remain relatively cheap. A local government area with a population of about 200 000 can get its existing basic network upgraded to something substantially better for $10 million. Double that if you want even better operating hours and frequencies. Going the other way, if you only had $2 or 3 million then you could greatly upgrade one or two key routes and reform some others. If that's all the money you can get, don't turn it down. 

These numbers are operational expenditures rather than capital expenditures like the big infrastructure projects. They need to be found each year otherwise the service stops. That commitment scares treasuries, whereas amounts for what might be seen as one-off projects may be easier to find, despite them being many many times larger. Still, if we're maxed out on the big projects, buses are the only remaining option if you're keen to quickly deliver improved service to many areas for low cost. 


The need for parsimony leads to a conflict between what maximises patronage and what minimises political risk. The best bus network may involve route reform to optimise coverage and frequency for the largest population possible. However this ideal might be steered away from if there is wariness about the political risks of too big a change. 

The latter happened in Adelaide. A bold citywide bus network proposal recently got abandoned following a political backlash and the premier's intervention. Adelaidians will thus be stuck with their often indirect, infrequent and confusing buses for the foreseeable future. 

Melbourne had its Adelaide-type moment in 2015, when Transdev's proposed Greenfields network was abandoned. A period of reduced activity in bus network reform has since followed.  

Perth, in contrast, has procedures that allow multiple and, when combined, transformative, bus network changes without attracting much controversy. This has endured over at least 15 or 20 years under governments of both persuasions.  

Here are 10 ways for us to be more like Perth and less like Adelaide in delivering reformed and more useful bus networks.  


1. Know the area whose buses you're trying to fix

A new bus network will never fly unless it's more useful than what's there now. Planners need to know local demographics and travel patterns so revised networks don't make things worse or over-service some streets. For example low income high density areas (including some outer areas like Tarneit and Craigieburn) justify more frequent service at all hours. Whereas some lower density rich areas with parallel train lines (eg Brighton) have frequent buses running at midnight that few use.   

Localities with many older or less mobile people may value short walking distances more than high frequency. Other catchments may prefer directness, speed and frequency. Revised networks should seek to serve local hospitals, schools, shopping centres, train stations, jobs and residential communities with coverage and frequency (where justified) at least better than now.  


2. Know what's wrong with the existing network 

It's useless to try to make things better until you know what the current problems are. Otherwise a revised network may be a solution looking for a problem. A recent example is the ill-fated Mordialloc review, which, except for some school bus upgrades, was wisely not proceeded with.  Other areas, such as the premier's seat of Mulgrave (below) have major issues that are high priority for an improved network. 

Some problems can be seen just by looking at maps and timetables. For example routes that look indirect, irregular bus times that don't match trains or the lack of a Sunday service. Others, such as  trip-level punctuality and patronage, require more detailed data. Talking to bus companies and councils can be helpful with regard to local road and traffic issues that delay buses. 

Direct observation by planners can sometimes reveal excessive run times, poor patronage or inefficient usage of buses. Bus operators can vary in their openness on such matters. However knowing where inefficiencies lie is necessary to deliver the most upgrades for the least cost.  

Before reforming a network planners should make themselves aware of local transport network issues by analysing requests and complaints, surveying local news and social media, reviewing the punctuality and patronage of existing routes, examining census and other data, site visits (including riding local buses) and talking to people.   

3. Come up with several network options

It is human to create something and to love it. So much so that you get defensive protecting it. Your mind may close when others make suggestions. That can include planners and their revised bus networks. As an antidote it is wise to develop several network options and list their pros and cons. Then they become less wedded to one and are more open to ideas.

Some options will be more radical than others. Some might be simpler while others give more people direct access to a large shopping centre. Think of who will gain and lose from each and check it against what has been learned about the area. Be prepared for options to change. For example an initially attractive option might not be practical as roads are too narrow for buses. Or a hybrid option that solves several problems and is more generally acceptable may emerge. 

You may end up with two or three refined and workable options. Any would represent a significant improvement the existing network and cost about the same. You may wish to throw them open for public comment and surveys. Asking people to choose can help with community engagement - more on this later.   


4. Don't do too much at once (but don't stagnate either)

Adelaide tried to reform its whole bus network at once. Auckland, a similar city, split their reforms into eight regions done over three years. Perth is even more gradual, but the cumulative result is transformative with reviews being routine business. 

Houston also did everything at once, but, unlike Adelaide, succeeded. However, because it has a stronger CBD and a weak rail network, Adelaide's bus ridership includes many middle class commuters coming from politically marginal seats. It also has an older population, with a median age of 39 versus Houston's 33. If age and 'middle classness' correlate with political clout, the hard time that Adelaide had may be more understandable. 

Overall a staged approach presents less political risk and allows more consistent workflow than a 'blg bang' change. A model could be what we did in the 2006-2009 period with upgrades every few weeks to some small cluster of routes. Staging allows minor issues to be sorted out with less risk to the network as a whole. 


5. Explain network changes by suburb

The first instinct people have when confronted with a new network is to find their house and see what's happened to their nearest stop and for trips they often make. This needs really good information eg detailed maps and information on service levels including operating hours and frequencies. 

Adelaide didn't do well on that. Whereas Houston did.  Its public information included dual trip planners on the old and new networks. People could plan test rides. This personalised information helped reassure people that the new network would be better, or at least no worse, for them. Reassurance is key to assuaging the fear of a new network. 

Network changes should be explained at the street and suburb level. There should be notes describing alternatives where routes are split and how common trips would be improved. 

Before and after network maps are essential. Ideally these should show more frequent routes as thicker lines. That better communicates cases where routes have been upgraded in the proposed network. Special detail is needed where stops are closed and people need to walk elsewhere to use the new network. 

Communication should also stress improved operating hours, including new seven day service that a new network may extend. Feelings of wariness can be moderated if people see that there are 'swings and roundabouts' changes with good and bad rather than it being all bad. 


6. Don't hide the bad stuff

Adelaide lost points here. The initial word was that 500 bus stops would shut. However this proved to be an understatement. It  turned out that hundreds more stops would also lose public routes (though they would keep school services). 

Understatement of losses is particularly politically damaging if it's uncovered by the opposition, as occurred there. And it overshadows the more important question as to how many of the closed stops had useful alternatives nearby. 

Those who propose revised networks need to show their community benefit. Evidence needs to be furnished where poorly used stops do not justify existing services. Reasonable alternatives should be provided for people near closed stops. This may involve a stop on a nearby street or main road where a more frequent service can be accessed. Special attention should be given to pedestrian connectivity, with zebra crossings, wombat crossings, refuge islands and signalisation of roundabouts examples of measures that could accompany a new bus network (with local benefits wider than just bus users).  



7. Make consultation real (but always ask who is not in the room?)

People tell me that consultation for Adelaide's proposed bus network wasn't very good. The same could be said for Transdev's 2015 greenfield network attempt in Melbourne. Although it had some good stuff, there was relief that the then new Transport minister Jacinta Allan stopped it from happening. 

Consultation has to be real. As opposed to just giving out information and presenting a network as a foregone conclusion. Multiple channels are needed to hear what people have to say. And people need faith that the time they spend attending sessions or completing an online survey will be worthwhile. 

People value face to face sessions but be wary that those attending them will only be a small fraction of existing or potential passengers. And they may not be typical of bus users. 

Scheduled day and evening meetings were tried extensively during the first round of bus reviews about 13 or 14 years ago. They were somewhat unrepresentative. Daytime meetings excluded many working people. However they attracted some seniors and council and community stakeholder types who are well-meaning but rarely have personal familiarity with buses. Meanwhile evening meetings (especially when held in areas with no or few buses running) exclude people without cars, time-poor families and many seniors. 

Noisy groups of three or four can dominate discussion tables with their agenda (which can sometimes be anti-bus). And at some 'real passengers' (as opposed to consultants, bureaucrats, representative groups and out-of-area enthusiasts) were a minority.



Better engagement is achieved for drop-in sessions where people don't need to go out of their way and it is at a location that generates passing interest. A train station during commuting time can work well, as can a bus interchange or shopping strip in the middle of the day. Weekends at major shopping centres are good, especially for people who don't currently use buses. Some suburbs have combined childrens and community centres that attract the after school crowd if sessions are held there. 

This approach was tried during the PTV era when several major bus network reviews were happening. While more representative one should still ask who isn't there and to weigh feedback received accordingly. 

Technology can help get the word out and attract engagement from busy people 'who don't do meetings'. It should be used through online surveys and the like. It is desirable to tap into service group, community and ethnic networks and social media pages. However you will get a backlash from those less connected if the only means of engagement is electronic. 

Departmental bureaucrats and the private sector consultants who sometimes advise them are overwhelmingly tertiary educated, middle class and comfortable with technology. A proportion of bus passengers, especially in regional areas with an older population skew, are not. Be mindful of this bias. 'Who is not in the room' is again an important question. 


8. Don't combine with other controversial changes

Do an opinion poll on privatisation. Most people in the street will oppose it. In favour are fat-cat consultants who try to convince governments that privatisation will save money, shift political blame or smash the unions. 

The truth lies in between. There is good and bad in both public and privately operated transit networks. Even the same global operator can perform well in one city and poorly in another. Other factors like planning, overall resourcing and contract oversight are bigger influencers of service quality. 

Remember how controversial myki in Victoria was? For a time it seemed to be blamed for many things, including those unrelated to transport ticketing or even transport. 

Adelaide tried to introduce its new bus network alongside new operator contracts and rail privatisation.  There were some good things in it but it got conflated with cuts and privatisation. The proposal didn't last many days until it was killed by the government that hatched it.  

The lesson is do not combine a new bus network with potentially controversial changes eg franchising, privatisation, ticketing or even headway-based timetables. Sort these out at another time. Otherwise the network could be unfairly blamed for other issues. 


9. Brief key stakeholders beforehand

A lot of work is needed before a new network proposal goes public. For a start it should be run past important stakeholders like bus operators and local councils to comment on its workability. It's no good if buses can't fit down the streets you propose to run them or there are too few buses or drivers for hoped-for service levels. 

Even if all that is fine you need to communicate the changes as misunderstanding can arise. Even a simple joining of two routes may cause some to think their bus has gone, when in fact it is still there but with a different number. Without good information a proposed network can appear detrimental when in fact there are many overall benefits, including those less visible like operating hours, service frequencies and connectivity with trains. Customer service staffing at key bus interchanges around the time of the changeover and even a two week free travel period may be useful to help people get used to the network and explore its benefits.    

Local councils and politicians should be briefed on the network's impact on their constituency with area-specific answers to likely questions. Material should list the 'local wins' and altered arrangements where routes and stops are moved. Apparently they didn't do this well in Adelaide, with the result being a political backlash and abandonment of the network. 


10. Have an allowance for minor post-implementation fixes

Even good planning can lead to cases where, while a new network is overwhelmingly beneficial,  local issues exist. Consultation may bring out unforeseen problems. It may be worth having some wriggle room in the budget so that tweaks can be implemented while retaining the proposed network's routes and promised service levels.  

That could involve giving a frequency range (eg peak service every 15-20 min) so that if changes are needed only a 20 minute frequency could operate without losing face. Having said that often the loudest complainants are the less mobile who want a shopper type route. This can be cheap to run if operated between the morning and afternoon peaks. While it introduces some extra complexity, a small modification is better than abandoning the whole proposed network.  

A subsequent opportunity exists of modifying or deleting it in a subsequent mini-review if usage proves disappointing. Those who follow what Transperth does sometimes see this approach where occasional deviations and duplicative routes fade away over several timetable changes as other nearby services get upgrades. 

 

Conclusion

Described are ten tops to introduce a revised bus route while minimising political risk. Have other thoughts? Please leave them in the comments below. 


PS: Want some simple quick wins for the next election? See these 2022 marginal seat upgrades. 

PPS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.


You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics

Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit Steven Higashide 

The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees Gleeson & Beza

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, Institutions (Access Quintet Book 4) David Levinson

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives Jarrett Walker

Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees

(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #88: The train line with the best evening service (and how it got there)



Did you know that the Sandringham line is the only rail line in Melbourne that runs twice as frequently at midnight on a Sunday than 9am on a Sunday? This is just one quirk that has left the Sandringham line, although a long way from being Melbourne's busiest, with the network's best overall evening service seven nights per week. 

The parents of the baby boomer generation were too busy raising families to bother with going out at night. Even if they had time a new-fangled thing called television proved a tempting diversion. And when they did wish to go out the chances are the new family car could provide a fast point to point journey.

Meanwhile labour costs were rising with the militant Clarrie O'Shea winning pay rises for trammies during a time of falling patronage. Evening tram timetables got scaled back to every 15 and then every 20 minutes (30 minutes Sunday night) around the time that the offspring, now going out at night, got cars or at least the use of their parents'. Their nightlife destinations might have had trams, the homes they drove from increasingly didn't.  

Evening train services were never as frequent as trams were. The postwar pattern here was a switch to a more commuter style service from growing outer suburbs with falling frequencies closer in and off-peak, including at night. The 1970s were a horror decade for trains with patronage reaching its nadir in about 1981.

A major contributor to this were the swingeing service cuts in 1978 that stripped one in every three trains from the Monday to Saturday evening suburban timetable. That saw frequencies slashed from 20 to 30 minutes on most lines. As well as blowing out waiting times that removed timetable harmonisation with trams that then (and still do) run every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday evenings. I discussed this in more detail last year here.  

Melbourne has doubled in population since 1978. As has train patronage. Working hours spread. Until COVID-19 and the more recent curfew people talked about the 24/7 society and the night time economy. Patronage on the services that ran rose. However basic evening train service levels remain little better than they were just after the 1978 cuts except for some mid-evening upgrades on some lines.

A reversal of the 1978 cuts seems as distant a prospect as ever. Consequently, against comparable-sized cities, Melbourne runs about the least frequent evening metro trains service in the world. Even US cities like SF, Chicago and Atlanta do better than us with 15 to 20 minute evening train frequencies typical. Sydney boosted its evening services to every 15 minutes in 2017. 


There is however an exception to this story of decline then stagnation. The Sandringham line. It got its evening frequency restored to pre-1978 levels nearly 30 years ago in the early 1990s. This is even more remarkable given the fashion then was cutting services, especially after 7pm trips on Melbourne's buses that were mostly curtailed. 

You can see the progress of Sandringham line timetables through the 1990s on Krustylink. There were three timetables issued in 1990. Evening service levels remained unchanged with service dropping from every 20 minutes to half-hourly from about 6:10pm. 


Timetables advised that on most trains after 8pm only the first carriage would be open to increase safety and reduce vandalism. 


A big revival then happened. The August 1993 timetable shows the weekday interpeak service boosted from 20 to 15 minutes. Evening service went from 30 to 20 minutes until last train Monday to Saturday. 


How did this upgrade happen? The PTUA claims to have persuaded the authorities, during a time of  tight budgets and recent cuts elsewhere to boost Sandringham's train service. This happened early in an election year though it appeared not to be heavily driven by politics as there were no marginal lower house seats in the area. Below is an extract from its 2002 policy publication It's Time to Move.

An extract from the 1990 timetable is below. End to end time was 29 minutes. Assuming trains returned to Sandringham at Flinders St there were dwell times of 11 minutes at both ends. Hence trains were only operating for 72.5 percent of the time. 


Run time was reduced by 2 minutes to 27 minutes. Dwell time at Sandringham was also cut by 2 minutes. By itself that wouldn't be enough to allow the large train frequency boost that happened with four trains. Some fancy timetabling may have helped, possibly in conjunction with other services. You can see the new timetable here where about half the trips continued via the City Loop. The main disadvantage of this is the reduced legibility compared to a consistent schedule.  


The 20 minute upgrade back then applied Monday to Saturday only. Sunday service remained every 40 minutes. The late 1990s saw these improved to every 20 minutes, not just on the Sandringham line but across the whole suburban train network.  

The Sunday upgrades were only half done, with the improvements only starting at about 10am. In 2020 Sunday morning services remain at their 1978 pared-back frequencies of every 40 minutes on lines in the west, north and, interestingly also the Sandringham line. However at some stage Sandringham's Sunday evening service went to every 20 minutes, better than all trains, all buses and nearly all tram lines.


This pattern compares with longer and busier lines in the east like Frankston and Dandenong. There both Sunday am and evening services are every 30 minutes. In other words they get a better service in the morning and an inferior one at night. 


Summary

The story of the Sandringham line's superior evening service is one about transport planning in Melbourne I never tire of telling. People outside transport sometimes assume that there is a rational reason for why service levels are what they are.

The truth is messier. What we have today is what we had yesterday. Plus the accumulation of large and small decisions over 50 or more years. 

No transport plan has been more influential on service levels than some single decisions affected by other factors, such as a government's need for economy (service cuts) or a desire to become a 24 hour city (Night Network). 

The influence of the 1978 cuts cannot be underestimated. They date from when patronage was falling and the looming Lonie Report threatened the very existence of some lines. Melbourne then was half its current size with evening train usage perhaps one-fifth of that forty years later. Although there have been some subsequent early weeknight upgrades, these cuts remain a key shaper of current service patterns, that is a half-hourly service, on many lines after about 7:30 or 8 pm. 

Except for Night Network (whose cost would exceed boosting pre-midnight weekend service from every 30 to every 20 minutes), metropolitan train timetable development has basically stalled in Melbourne. This is due to a political emphasis that aggressively favours infrastructure over service.  

Unlike its equivalents elsewhere, the Department of Transport does not have much of a culture of continuously reviewing timetables and making adjustments like Perth's Public Transport Authority does.  The COVID-19 pandemic has made our inflexibility particularly apparent, with frequent peak services still operating, despite the collapse in passenger numbers. In contrast those who need to travel (basically only essential workers post-curfew) have seen evening frequencies halved with hour-long waits common. The longer we neglect timetable review and development the more they reflect past patterns and decisions, making our services increasingly unfit for a modern city.    

When timetable changes are made where do they come from? Some can be attributed to network-wide timetable reforms while others are more piecemeal. Important network wide changes include (a) the large evening frequency cuts of 1978, (b) the large 10 am to 7pm Sunday upgrades of 1999 and (c) the introduction of hourly Night Network services on all Metro lines in 2016. There were some improvements to peak services in the 1980s followed by some cuts in the early 1990s due to government economic imperatives.

Other changes are more piecemeal. They may benefit one line or a group of lines. Line-specific upgrades include the abovementioned Sandringham line frequency upgrade of 1992, and, only a few years ago, Watergardens - Sunbury evening upgrades. That's interesting from a timetabling point of view as it makes Watergardens - Sunbury the only part of network with more frequent trains at 11pm on a Sunday night than in the middle of the day (every 30 versus every 40 minutes). 

An even more recent winner has been the extension of 10 minute services later at night to Dandenong. The interesting feature here is that trains are three times more frequent at certain times on a weeknight than the flat 30 minute network-wide Saturday and Sunday night frequencies that kick in from around 7:30pm (earlier for inbound trains).   

Also benefiting the Dandenong (and Frankston) lines were were off-peak upgrades to Dandenong and Frankston where trains went from every 20 to every 15 minutes. Implemented in early 1996 (an election year), these served seats important for the then Kennett government. We had a more recent echo of this when these eastern lines improved further from every 10 to 15 minutes at least on weekends (weekdays are still lagging on the Ringwood lines, despite these now being marginal seats). 

During all this time, while the east was getting improvements, lines in the politically safe north and west stayed at every 20 minutes interpeak, although some, like Werribee and Williamstown, gained some evening upgrades from every 30 to 20 minutes when routed through to Frankston. The result is that long busy lines like Mernda and Craigieburn remain with a less frequent interpeak service than shorter and quieter lines like Alamein and Glen Waverley. This is despite the longer northern and western lines having demographics more likely to support heavy all-day usage than Glen Waverley or Alamein that have more of a rich commuter skew. 

Sometimes an upgrade can affect the course of history much later (ie path-dependency). For example ex-tram routes had a long period of government operation under Tramways Board. That had a tradition of higher service levels including frequent evening service, even on routes that do not justify it.  Getting back to the Sandringham line, because Saturday night services were already every 20 minutes (better than on any other line) a network-wide decision to boost Sunday night frequencies to Saturday levels gave it a superior service seven nights per week. 

Conversely, because the 1992 Sandringham upgrade did not boost Sunday morning services, and the 1999 changes did not benefit services much before 10am, even today early Sunday Sandringham line trains run at their unimproved 40 minute intervals. 2016's Night Network improved early Sunday services but its scope was limited to early Sunday operating hours rather than frequency improvements. 

To summarise, constraints like signalling, track capacity and numbers of trains affect peak period timetables but are less likely to prevent improvements at other times of the day on most of the network. Simpler and more frequent timetables are possible but only if there is the political will, as found in 1992 for the Sandringham line, to implement them.   

Friday, August 21, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 58: Clarinda area SRL SmartBus



Having discussed some metropolitan-wide network issues on recent Fridays, today we return to the usual fare of looking at a particular area's network and proposing improvements to make public transport more useful. In most cases this involves examining a local bus network and identifying opportunities where routes could be made more direct, more frequent and fill coverage gaps. 

Today it's Clarinda's turn. Clarinda, just south of Clayton, is a lot like other ethnically diverse suburbs on the other side of Melbourne like Sunshine West and St Albans. Most of it suburbanised in the 1960s through to the 1980s, during which mass motorisation had made proximity to a station less important. Melbourne's grid still defines most of its main roads but streets in between are less straight. However this is less of a concern than in other areas as buses almost all stay on the straight main and semi-main roads. 


Clarinda has lower than average incomes and car ownership compared to the rest of Melbourne. It marks the western edge of a large belt of low incomes that runs south-east through Springvale, Noble Park and Dandenong. Part of this is because a markedly higher than average proportion of the population are not in the labour market. Households most commonly have one car, as opposed to two in the state generally. Although there are no high-rise apartment blocks, Clarinda has nearly a quarter of its homes as semi-detached, row or townhouses, a much higher percentage than the state generally. Also, more people rent their homes than pay a mortgage, with the proportions reversed compared to the state-wide average.  

All the above demographics make Clarinda the sort of area that would respond favourably to improved bus services. And, although we can't tell precisely from route level statistics, as the routes all serve areas much larger than Clarinda, buses in the area seem well used. 

Existing services

The orange line (Route 824 between Keysborough and Moorabbin via Clayton) is Clarinda's main Useful Network bus route. That is a 7 day service with a weekday frequency of every 20 minutes or better. The lime green line is the 703 between Brighton and Blackburn, also via Clayton. That's a part-SmartBus useful to those parts of Clarinda near Centre Rd. 


Other routes serving Clarinda are on the PTV map below. Most notable is the 631. This runs every 30 minutes interpeak between Southland and Waverley Gardens via Clayton. Also present is the 821 down Clayton Rd. This is an infrequent weekday service to Southland via the industrial areas to the south and the Kingston Centre.  As well as the 703 to Brighton mentioned previously there is the 733 to Oakleigh along Centre Rd. More on this later.


Clarinda had its bus network reviewed more than ten years ago. It made several recommendations for revised routes in the Clarinda area but not one got implemented. You can even go back nearly 30 years and see that the same routes ran then as today (1992 map below).  


Although the routes haven't changed, the timetables for Route 824 (especially) gained longer hours and Sunday service when minimum service standards were introduced for many Melbourne bus routes from 2006. 

Unfortunately minimum standards can be misinterpreted by bus operators and the Department of Transport not always vigilant enough to pick them up. For example, although minimum standards call for 9am to 9pm service on Sundays, the 825 at Clarinda operates from 10am to 10pm. This is disadvantageous as there is much more travel demand at 9am Sundays than 10pm Sundays. Even 8am Sundays can be quite busy, with it being practice on some routes to start Sunday service at 8am rather than 9am.  


Productivity of existing services

Existing routes serving Clarinda are better used than average. Weekday boardings per bus service hour (2018) are as follows: 

631 Waverley Gardens - Southland 38
705 Mordialloc - Springvale 18 (not currently in Clarinda area)
821 Springvale - Southland 32
824 Moorabbin - Keysborough 35

The Clarinda area routes are about 50% up on the numbers for the average bus route in Melbourne. 821 is unexpectedly strong given its sparse industrial area catchment in its middle. On weekends 824 gets reasonable usage while 631 is a very strong perfomer, particularly on Sundays. This might have something to do with retail activity - on weekends Moorabbin is quiet while Southland is busy.  The bus review mentioned before confirmed that Clarinda was a strong patronage area. 

Network issues

Most residential areas of Clarinda have access to a Useful Network service on Centre Rd (703) or Clayton Rd/Bourke St (824). However some denser areas near Clarinda Rd have only the 631. As mentioned before the 824 doesn't quite comply with minimum standards due to the late Sunday start. Also due to the area's demographics and distance from a train station a reasonable case could be made for at least one major route in the area to operate over longer hours more similar to a SmartBus (eg a midnight finish on most nights). 

631 and 821 serve jobs in the Moorabbin area but are prevented from reaching their full potential due to a route alignment that does not connect them to the Frankston train line. The 631 runs to Monash University but the 821 (more direct from Southland) does not. These points were picked up more than 10 years ago in the Booz & Co bus review.  



However neither the new station at Southland nor the very recent reconstruction of Cheltenham (due to a grade separation) triggered a network review so the same situation remains today. 

Route 821 operates to Southland, providing a handy connection to Clayton Rd. However it does not operate on weekends which are busy shopping days. Route 824 is a strong route but is only hourly on Sundays. The Saturday timetable has a higher Saturday morning frequency on the Clarinda part of the route, dropping to hourly on Saturday afternoons. 


A revised more useful network

The revised more useful network for Clarinda will require more buses on the road than the current network. This is considered justified for the following reasons: 

* The desirability of a 'SRL SmartBus' roughly following the proposed Suburban Rail Loop between Southland, Clayton and Monash University
* The favourable demographics for buses in Clarinda, good usage of existing routes and likely responsiveness of passengers to use improved services
* The desirability of improved connections to major destinations including Monash University and Southland, as well as an improved feeder to Clayton Station 
* Growth of the Kingston Centre and the commercial area to the north and the need for a strong east-west connection to supplement the existing north-south 903 orbital SmartBus.
* The need to establish a strong 'future proof' corridor that complements the SRL by serving intermediate destinations such as the Kingston Centre, Moorabbin (east) area jobs and housing at Clarinda. 

A map is below. Line thickness reflects frequency with the 824 remaining a Useful Network route (every 20 min) and the extended 733 being a high quality SmartBus every 10 minutes.  


The centrepiece is a Route 733 extension to at least Southland Station. Instead of duplicating the 703 along Centre Rd and then running near the 903 to Oakleigh, it operates to Southland via Clarinda and the Kingston Centre. Ideally it would have stops near Southland Station and continue west to Sandringham via Bay Rd. This would replace the existing Route 822 along this corridor with some small network changes in the Highett/Cheltenham area. 733 is a well-used route that follows other parts of the SRL by connecting Monash University with Box Hill. Accordingly it is recommended as a SmartBus upgrade, though as an intermediate step an improvement to every 20 minutes off-peak 7 days per week and some longer hours (eg 6-7 am to 11pm 7 days) would be a substantial gain and an excellent intermediate step. 

Route 824 has a minor route change to lessen its overlap with 733. Some slightly wider operating hours and better weekend frequencies - eg every 30 - 40 min on both days is suggested. The Clayton - Keysborough portion can be kept for now but may be subject to a separate review. Notes on Greater Dandenong here.

Route 631 again has only a minor change in the Clarinda area but becomes a much shorter route overall. A connection to a Frankston line station is desirable. Due to the new extended 733 it can terminate at Clayton rather than running to Monash University. The Waverley Gardens section can be replaced with an extended 814 to Clayton as discussed here with benefits for a network 'hole' near Westall in a separate network review. An improved weekend frequency (to every 30 - 40 min) is suggested given the current very high Sunday usage (where the service currently only runs hourly).  

Route 705 from Mordialloc is suggested to be rerouted so that instead of finishing at Springvale it finishes at Monash University. Off-peak trips would be desirable, especially given the route is effectively a public transport alternative to the Mordialloc Freeway (under construction) and a poor quality one at that due to the low frequency existing. The Boundary Rd corridor is attracting increasing development including a Costco. An alternative will be needed for Fairbank Rd to Springvale - this could be a reformed 704 or extended 631 from Clayton. Removing the 821 removes that route's inefficient overlap with the 631 in a quiet industrial area but the new extended 733 retains the Southland connection with a higher frequency and more operating days. 

Overall the network is fairly direct and retains or improves connectivity to key destinations like Southland, Clayton and Monash University from most areas. A common stop outside Clarinda Shopping Centre allows 733 passengers access to Holmesglen TAFE/Moorabbin and 824 passengers access to the Kingston Centre/Southland. Another gain is that almost all of Clarinda and Clayton South is near an efficient 7 day service to Southland, something not currently available from Clayton Rd.  

Conclusion

We started talking about Clarinda and ended up outlining a Suburban Rail Loop SmartBus that benefits many other areas as well. Other options were considered but discarded. For example 631 could have been made the SmartBus instead as it already runs from Clayton to Southland. Another possibility could have been to extend 733 to Moorabbin via the 824 alignment. However this would not perform the SRL SmartBus role that is attracting some popularity amongst people it's been discussed with. 

Have other ideas or wish to comment? Please leave them below. Note that to avoid span they are now reviewed so won't appear immediately.