Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #95: Kilmore and Wallan bus changes starting next week

Like Melton and Bacchus Marsh, the townsites of Kilmore and Wallan are not ideal for public transport. Preceding the train they are on the parallel highway. And the station is at a sufficient to be objectionable distance from the town centre. 

Still the towns are in Melbourne's exurban commuter belt and people do (or did pre COVID-19) take the train into Melbourne. And Wallan, at least, is likely to suburbanise after Donnybrook and Beveridge. 

Kilmore is in the mostly rural seat of Euroa held by the National's Steph Ryan. Wallan is in Yan Yean held by Labor's Danielle Green MP. As mentioned before here, Ms Green has been exceptionally effective at getting increased bus services for her seat, even in parts where existing ridership is low. 

With walking eliminated as a station access option for most and cycling requiring a separated-from-traffic path to be of broad appeal, the remaining two options to reach the station are Park & Ride and some sort of feeder bus. Parking at stations generates its own demand and there is normally never enough. And it entrenches multiple car households with their inherently high living expenses. Although it is hard to feel sympathetic for 'want both city and country' high income CBD workers commuting from acreages whose exurban lifestyles inevitably carry high costs with great public subsidy (including through very low V/Line fares for periodical ticket holders and 'free' parking at stations). 

What about buses? Connectivity with trains is essential, including during not infrequent delays, for them to be viable. And not just in the timetable, but enforced on the ground. Even a 90% train punctuality potentially means the bus leaving without you once per fortnight if it was not held back. And the vagarities of the City Loop can make it difficult to reach your V/Line train from some CBD locations in the first place.

Still, (i) where you've got dense concentrations of commuters away from the station (whose trains offer a reasonable alternative to driving directly), and (ii) you can make the bus reliably connect with the train, then feeder buses not only have a chance but become cost-effective. Combined with cycling routes this starts to provide alternatives to driving. That frees up (expensive to provide) station parking spaces for others and provides effectively an increase without a capital cost. There is also help for household budgets if the bus allows families living in the towns to get by without a second car. Both conditions (i) and (ii) apply for Kilmore and Wallan, which is what makes next week's change interesting.    

Existing services

The maps below show current routes near both towns. 

Kilmore has one indirect route that does too much. A contributing factor is the town's disjointed street network. Wallan also suffers this problem with the Hume Freeway posing a barrier to what could be. The low density enclave of Hidden Valley currently has no service. Its geometry is poor for both car and potential bus access to the station despite parts being under a kilometre away as the crow flies. It's one of those inaccessible areas that, like Eynesbury, Sandhurst, Martha Cove or Waterways one ought never develop but gets built anyway, even without direct roads and paths to town and station. 

The timetable below shows trips from Kilmore to Kilmore East station. Service is roughly half-hourly in the early part of the am peak. Frequency after then is roughly every 40 to 90 minutes with a big early afternoon gap. 

There are slightly fewer trips the other way. Afternoon and evening frequency is roughly every 40 minutes with the last trip being 8:16pm. There is no weekend service. 

Wallan's two main routes (1 and 2) operate mostly hourly Monday to Saturday. Operating hours are better than some Melbourne bus routes. Peak service is roughly every 40 minutes. The map shown before lists a Route 3 but the timetable for this was not found on the PTV website. 

Proposed services

The above will change next week. Both Kilmore and Wallan are getting revised bus services. Improved connectivity with commuter peak afternoon trains from Melbourne is the main selling point with buses being held for up to 20 minutes to meet late trains. These are going under the new brand 'Link Bus'. 

Kilmore is gaining extra coverage in the north and south-east. Frequencies are fairly similar to before but buses will finish later at night with one later last trip from the station Monday to Thursday and two later last trips on Friday. Saturday's service will be roughly hourly between 8am and 6pm. However roughly every second bus will go the full route to the station with gaps of almost four hours on Saturday afternoons. See Kilmore's Link Bus timetable here: https://www.ptv.vic.gov.au/route/timetable/13887/kilmore-town-service/

Wallan's arrangements are more complex. Numbered routes 1, 2 and 3 will operate until 5pm weekdays. Then after then 1 and 2 will change to Route A and Route 3 will operate as Route B, with the lettered routes being held back up to 20 minutes for late trains.  Link Bus A will operate approximately every 40 minutes between 5:30pm and 8:30pm (timed to meet trains). Like at Kilmore there will be a Friday only trip after 10pm. Link Bus B is a much shorter route with weekday peak service only. 

This is the Link Bus A timetable: https://www.ptv.vic.gov.au/route/timetable/13889/wallan-station-wallan-central/ (route mapped above)

This is the Link Bus B timetable: https://www.ptv.vic.gov.au/route/timetable/12749/wallan-station-wallara-waters-shuttle/ (route not mapped above)

In case you were wondering what happened to the existing Route 3 (Wallara Waters - Wallan Station) timetable you can find it in the timetable for Link Bus B. It would appear that the routes are the same as is the number of trips. This portion of the change appears to be only a renumbering exercise apart from the 20 minute holding of buses for late trains. PTV should however have had it on a separate data file on the website so as not to confuse those in the interim looking for Route 3 (and failing).   

This combination of letters and numbers on a town's bus network is unusual. The only other known instance of it in Victoria is in the very complex and unreformed bus network in Wodonga (where lettered routes operate on weekdays and combined numbered routes run on Saturday).  However the holding of buses for late trains may well increase the appeal of the service for commuters. 

Route 511 too

I mentioned Route 511 briefly here. A fairly new route it currently provides just one trip each way from Mandalay Estate to Craigieburn. It was frankly an embarrassment as the proportion of people who it would suit would be small. 

The revised route will be shorter, operating to Donnybrook Station instead. However there will now be three or four trips each way, with two of these trips operating in the peak direction. Like now there will be no off-peak or weekend service. 


What would you do think of these changes? Will the 20 minute grace period for late trains encourage commuters to try the bus? And what about the different numbers and letters depending on the time of day? Is simplicity and consistency more important or has the right decision been made to tailoring services for particular passenger demographics?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

PS: An index to all Timetable Tuesday items is here.

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Friday, October 16, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 66: Auditor General reports on tram accessibility

Yesterday the state Auditor-General reported on the accessibility of Melbourne's tram network. The findings were not rosy. It found that just 15 per cent of trips delivered a low floor tram to a level access stop. And that the Department of Transport had no finalised strategy or funded plan to fix it. 


Access issues remain with trains and buses but they are generally less severe than with trams. What does this mean for our network as a whole? Comparisons from the Melbourne Public Transport Frequent Network Maps give an idea. 

The map on the left shows all modes operating every 15 minutes or better on weekdays. The map on the right is train and bus only. Removing the trams reduces the amount of frequent service by approximately two-thirds within about 10km of the Melbourne CBD. On weekends the reduction would be even more, probably close to 90%. 

Another way to look at it is that annual tram patronage is close to 200 million trips, only a little below trains and over 1.5 times buses Melbourne-wide. So trams do a lot of the heavy lifting in the CBD and inner ring. A non-accessible tram network means that public transport is less accessible generally in the areas where patronage tends to be highest. 

All up, VAGO found that only 11 of 23 tram routes deployed low floor trams, with Route 96 being the nearest to fully compliant for stops and vehicles. Waits for a low floor tram on routes with mixed high and low floor trams can be up to 15 minutes on a typical day and as much as an hour on a bad day (see Page 34 of report).  

Then there are the people who would like to travel but can't due to inaccessible trams. VAGO cites statistics like 17 per cent of people living with a disability. If that number was proportional for Melbourne, that would be close to a million people, with the number growing due to population increase and ageing. 53 per cent of people with a disability work and 40 per cent of people with a disabilty use public transport. Hence poor tram accessibility could be an issue with regards to people getting to work. There are also issues with crowding, exacerbated by misguided policies such as the 'Free' Tram Zone.   


Legislated targets for tram accessibility exist. Trams need to be compliant by the end of 2032 with a target for stops by the end of 2022. The auditor found that the 2022 target won't be met. There is also a risk of the 2032 target not being met. 

38 percent of the tram fleet are low floor. 27 per cent of tram stops are level access. However low floor trams service many stops that are not level access. And there are some level access stops on routes that do not employ low floor trams. Since both requirements must be met for a service to be accessible the proportion is lower, at 15 per cent of trips overall. 

The pace that stops are being upgraded to accessible standards is slow and slowing. 1215 stops remain to be done. The average delivery trend is 21 stops per year. If we maintained the current pace it will not be until 2066 when it is all done, with potential time-savings if stops are merged. 

The Department of Transport is currently working on a strategy to upgrade these stops. Completion of it is expected in July 2021. However the existence of a strategy is no guarantee of funding from government. 

Current government priorities are with major road and heavy rail projects, with little for trams or service upgrades (on any mode). The last time there was a fast roll-out of accessible stops was in the 2007 - 2008 period. 2007 saw nearly 120 stops upgraded and 2008 nearly 60. 

Numbers have never been this high before or since.  Typical recent state budgets (eg 2017-8, 2018-9) have only funded one tram stop upgrade each. A typical stop costs between $2 and 4 million to upgrade. Wholesale upgrades would be in the hundreds of millions  at least (see page 35). 

Similar issues exist with the procurement of trams with the audit finding that nearly double the number of trams as can be delivered is required to meet 2032's deadline for rolling stock. VAGO found that matters were complicated by DoT not knowing whether 'low floor' trams were DSAPT (Disability Standards Australian Public Transport) compliant. No tram purchases have been funded since 2019. Also higher than expected patronage has meant that older trams have been retained with a larger fleet than planned. 

Barriers to a faster roll-out

The biggest would have to be government funding priorities. Much like bus services, there was a period of stupor then sluggish growth in the 1990s and the first part of the 2000s. Then a big surge during the Brumby era of 2007 and 2008 (funding via Vicroads under 'Think Tram'). 

That proved short-lived. When the trains collapsed under surging patronage resources were suddenly transferred to rail. The long lead time of this did not save the Brumby government, which lost the 2010 election. 

The financially parsimonious Baillieu and Napthine governments continued on with the previous momentum of adding train services but, while it reformed bus networks, did not greatly increase service kilometres overall. Trams pretty much stayed static. The current Andrews government ramped up road and rail infrastructure but left service levels and smaller projects like tram stop upgrades in the doldrums, as the VAGO report has demonstrated.  

In the case of stops there are also local considerations. This is because trams often run in mixed traffic on busy streets that are often lined with shops, many of which are struggling. Retailers are often wary about 'losing' car parking space, even though in some cases it's their own cars that are taking space that could be for customers. However they can be blind to the opportunities presented by passing trams, which greatly improves their business's exposure. Shop owners would instead be better off objecting to window wrap advertising on trams, which reduces the ability of passengers to see out. 

Then there are sometimes competing aims for traffic, cycling and walking access on, near and across tram corridors. Local politics on this can sometimes be fierce, as seen by debates over clearways and parking in inner suburbs. 

Other benefits

Improving tram accessibility, if managed well, doesn't just benefit those with a mobility impairment. It also benefits fully mobile people who can more easily wheel their pram or take their child onto a tram. Along with tourists carrying luggage. 

Also important is tram travel speeds. Most of our tram system operates in mixed traffic. As traffic increases trams get slower. That's worse for the efficiency of trams as a transport mode. And it means that more trams are needed to maintain a given frequency. The VAGO report identified this as a challenge to making our fleet fully accessible as it means that more older high floor trams need to be kept for longer.  

If planned well accessible stops create the impetus to be putting more of our tram network on its own right of way, or at least with separation from other traffic. The gains from that could equal or exceed those from the improved accessibility alone. 

Legal risks

VAGO reported that legislative requirement are currently not being met. Operators such as Yarra Trams have had temporary exemptions from the Human Rights Commission in relation to the non-accessibility of its services. VAGO found that the most recent one expired on 30 September 2020. This could increase risk of legal action. 

Some historical material on this is below: 

Recent reports from various Australian operators (including Yarra Trams) on their progress is below: 


The VAGO report illustrates the size of the challenge posed in making our tram network accessible, especially against other competing transport priorities. The Department of Transport has accepted all recommendations. Action on them depends on the extent to which the state government considers tram accessibility important and funds a major acceleration of the program. 

In the meantime VAGO will be investigating integrated transport planning. This, report, probably out some time next year, also promises to be of great interest.    

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Timetable Tuesday #94: Mernda's 388 389 loop

Mernda got two new bus routes when its train service started just over two years ago. These are the 388 and the 389, operating via Doreen. These are loop routes, serving the same streets. 388 is anticlockwise while 389 is clockwise. Key centres along the way include Laurimar and Mernda Village Shopping Centre. They provide a feeder service from residential areas to the train line (which has widely spaced stations remote from most homes).

These are rapidly growing residential areas. They are leafier, higher income, lower density and more car-owning than some other growth areas in Melbourne's north such as around Craigieburn. Local bus services in the Mernda area tend not to be as well used as similar services in Craigieburn and Tarneit. The area is in the district of Yan Yean, held by Labor's Danielle Green MP. 


Route 388 operating hours are slightly longer than minimum standards. First buses arrive at Mernda before 6am weekdays, before 7am Saturdays and before 8am Sundays. Off-peak frequency is approximately every 40 minutes, meshing in with every second train at Mernda. Peak frequency is 20 minutes over a wide 3 hour band in the morning and 4 hours in the afternoon/evening. Coverage of both the school and commuter peaks is provided. 

389 operates to similar frequencies on weekdays. However there is a 31 minute gap in the am peak followed by some 9 minute headways around 8am. This lumpiness would be inconvenient for commuters. 

The most distinctive thing about the 389 though is that it has no weekend service. At these times passengers only have the anticlockwise 388 to use. That makes travel highly indirect, adding an extra 20 or more minutes to some trips. 

In contrast, other routes in the area, such as the 381 and 385, which have large poorly patronised semi-rural sections, do operate 7 days. 


What would you do with the 388 and 389? Would you give the 389 seven day service? Does it need a more even peak service? Or does Mernda/Doreen area need a network rethink with simpler bidirectional routes? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 

PS: An index to all Timetable Tuesday items is here.

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Friday, October 09, 2020

Buildings Melbourne's Useful Nework Part 65: Upgraded Route 928 for Pakenham South


Pakenham is one of our emerging growth corridors. It's long been an established town around a station and gained electric trains early on. It became a suburban rail terminus in 1975 but frequencies were low until the 2000s. Most of Pakenham is in the marginal Labor seat of bass held by Jordan Crugnale MP. 

Development spread away from the stations. Buses, normally operating hourly, spread to provide a basic coverage. Hence the area's only Useful Network, that is service operating every 20 minutes or better, remains the train line. 

Because of its heritage as a regional line stations are spaced further than normal. Even if you live near the railway the chances of you being near a station are slim. Network coverage improved when Cardina Rd station opened in 2012. Still if you want good coverage you do need buses running parallel to the railway, despite it looking duplicative on a map. 

I discussed the need for a frequent bus along Princes Hwy, north of the railway, in Useful Network 26 and Useful Network 27. It needs to be three times as frequent as the existing 926 to properly mesh with trains. Given the development to the south a similar mirror image route is needed there. This is today's topic. 

The first problem is the road network. It's poor for an efficient east-west bus route that is both direct and gives good coverage without excessive walking. The existing 928 between Cardinia Rd and Pakenham does its best but has indirect sections.  

In this area there seems two approaches. Two routes or one. 

The two route option has a frequent route strictly along main roads and a less frequent route that weaves in and out of the smaller streets for local coverage. The problem with that is that two routes increases operating costs and the frequency that you can afford for a given number of buses. 

A single route option has a route that may sometimes veer off the road for coverage reasons. However as it's only a single route you can afford a reasonable frequency. And there could be less overlap than if you had two routes. This is the option, based on the current Route 928 alignment, I lean towards. 

What about future development? For a long time Pakenham (like Melton) was like a satellite town with about 10km of largely open land to the contiguous metropolitan area. However development has been trending inwards from Pakenham towards Beaconsfield. 

Almost the entire Princes Hwy/Pakenham line corridor is now developed or about to be. Part of this is a proposed town centre at Officer. Officer is a proposed employment hub and the council has moved there. However there are no bus routes approaching it from the south or south-east. 

Expanded Useful Network

The map below shows an expanded Useful Network for southern Pakenham. Unlike networks presented in previous weeks there's no pruning or modification of other routes. 

Instead Route 928 is left intact but extended west to Officer. And its service is increased from every 60 minutes to every 20 minutes. This might seem a big increase but the route does have a large catchment with almost 100% unique coverage. And new buses will need to be bought and run but again this can be justified by it being a growth area.  


What do you think of the upgraded Route 928? Do you think it would get a lot of use or should it remain a neighbourhood route? If you have any comments or ideas please leave them below. 

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Throwback Tuesday: Let's hear from the experts

There's an election coming up. A community group wants to make some noise. They come up with a campaign name, set up a website and hold an event. There they get some well-regarded academics or experts to speak. 

The event may be recorded and the speech placed on YouTube. The election comes and goes, the website is left and, in a good month the uploaded videos gets a handful of views. People soon forget they even exist.  

Yet the content is often good and the issues from 10 or 20 years ago retain their resonance today. The minister is different, the project is different, but the themes are the same. Who was it who said that history doesn't exactly repeat but it rhymes? 

Anyway grab a drink and watch these presentations from transport experts and activists, past and present.  

Prof Graham Currie 

The late A/Prof Paul Mees

William McDougall

(William McDougall's blog is here)

Prof Nicholas Low 

Dr Tony Morton 


Various, including Ken Mathers

Found other interesting transport video presentations? If so please link to them in the comments below. 


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Sunday, October 04, 2020

Vote for good transport in our council elections

Public transport in Australia is mainly planned and funded at the state and territory level. That's for the better. National governments are too remote from local needs while local governments are too small to oversee a useful city-wide network. And because the capital city is so dominant in four of our six states, the state government is close to being a city government anyway. 

It wouldn't be any better if our local governments were amalgamated into larger regional groupings. The network would still be highly fragmented. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Brisbane where the state runs trains, and the large city council runs buses. Service on both modes is substandard with attempts to reform buses to feed rather than duplicate trains considered too hard. In contrast public transport on the Gold Coast, where the state presides over the lot, has been more successful with many recent improvements. 

Why then am I writing about local government? 

First of all, although it rarely plans and runs services, local government has an influence over public transport's operating environment. Both now and how that might change in the future. 

Secondly now is local government election time in Victoria. Unless your council has recently been sacked you have the chance to elect candidates that favour development styles and policies that support public transport. Or the opposite. 

What local government does that affects public transport

What projects and activities done by local government can support public transport? As it turns out, there's quite a few. Like below: 

* Specify, build and modify roads and bridges. Our main roads are built by Vicroads but local government has responsibility for smaller streets. Including many that buses run along. New or redeveloped neighbourhoods need connected streets to enable direct and efficient bus coverage. If these are not provided early on residents may be waiting for years if not decades for service. In established areas roundabout removals, signalisation, traffic calming and wombat crossings can greatly improve walkabilty and access to buses.

* Develop local plans and strategies. Councils can be active in planning local shopping areas. These almost all have buses and sometimes trams. Ensuring their efficient movement has a large bearing on how well local services work. Supportive plans also favour higher density near frequent public transport and discourage development away from it. 

* Location decisions of council facilities. A council may choose to build a community or recreation centre near a station or where frequent bus routes intersect. Or they may locate it where driving is the only access choice. Obviously one decision would support public transport while the other discourages it. 

* Parking policies. Providing uncharged parking encourages more driving. Beyond a certain point that slows public transport and makes walking access to it harder. While a politically hot topic, challenging the entitlement to parking is key to making suburban centres prosper by bringing in more people than cars and resetting the parking mix near stations to favour shoppers more than commuters. Changing minimum to maximum parking requirements also allows higher business densities and lowers housing costs. 

* Walking and cycling infrastructure. Cost-effective footpath, cycle and crossing infrastructure can greatly improve connectivity within and between communities including access to public transport. Local budgets are often tiny but only small amounts can build 'missing link' paths or enable walking connections across busy roads including to bus stops and stations.   

* Encourage use of public transport. There's little point in promoting an infrequent service that is rarely useful. But where there are frequent services councils should promote their use. Why? It reduces pollution, encourages use of local facilities and relieves pressure on parking at retail strips. Councils can help by only holding meetings, festivals and events near public transport and encouraging its use. And internally they should encourage use amongst employees for both commuting and during work trips. That could include policies like freely available myki tickets and removing any requirement for council workers whose job does not require driving to have a licence.  

* Advocate for better infrastructure and services. Councils can develop transport strategies that list what is needed in their area. And they can advocate individually or via groupings (such as the Metropolitan Transport Forum and Eastern Transport Coalition) for improvements like extended rail lines or improved bus services. These need state and sometimes federal funding to make happen. Politicians tell me that local engagement and advocacy, including by councils, is important for projects to win government support.  

The issues

Much of the above is fairly uncontroversial stuff done by council officers. However plans that originate internally often need to be endorsed by council. Their acceptance is not a foregone conclusion. In addition enterprising councillors may be able to win support for a certain project, plan or line of advocacy that could benefit (or disbenefit) public transport. 

This why who gets onto council is important and why you need to vote wisely.  

These seem to three common issues around council elections. You could call them the 3 Ds. 

* Density. Partly because a lot of higher density looks awful, there is widspread resident opposition to increased housing density in many areas. Candidates often talk about preserving 'neighbourhood character'. Basically 'No Development After Mine' (NODAM). From a public transport point of view increased density along frequent transport routes is desirable in that it support ridership and supports investment in higher frequency service. On the other hand higher density where there is not frequent  transport, and especially where road geometry precludes this, should be opposed.  

* Development. Related to density above but also includes green wedge and fringe greenfields residential development. Or it might include 'big box' shopping outside established suburban centres. Both can undermine public transport, especially if the road geometry is not right to permit efficient routes. And the latter can undermine existing transit-served centres by encouraging more people to drive further for longer.   

* D'car. Or more precisely, parking issues. Tempers get hot over this. It seems that almost everyone wants the unattainable, eg abundant, unrestricted time, free parking. But you can only have two. And even if you could have all three the result would be a traffic-choked and unwalkable Dallas or Phoenix - ie nothing like what people say they want in their community.  

The candidates and how they all seem the same

Learn about your local government area, your ward and the candidates standing on the Victorian Electoral Commission website here.

Then read their 50 word summaries. 

Notice how a lot of them say the same things? That's because most like to make their ties to political parties less obvious. Liberal and Labor, at least, do not appear to formally endorse candidates, even though many are members or sympathisers. Candidates of all stripes will talk about neighbourhood character, making the area a great place to live, its diversity, value of open space, better parking, space for dogs and more. 

Never mind 'political correctness' or 'cancel culture', the range of views candidates are free to express if standing in local government is quite narrow. Aspirant councillors dare not mention the merits of parking restrictions, higher densities or the rights of non-dog owners to walk unharassed, for example. 

In the real world lofty aims, even those adopted by council, become specific policies that affect people. Unless carefully explained support can fall when translated into practice. Principles are often severely tested when issues arising get voted on at meetings. I've been told that implementing parking reform in some local government areas here is almost as hard as gun control in the US; such is the claim some have for certain rights even where they impinge on those of others or the public realm.  

There are cases of even modest development proposals where councillors have taken decisions away from officers, often due to concerns over parking. The effect of such a takeover, especially at this time, is that reasonable development proposals risk being rejected by councillors wishing to win  support from the NIMBY/more parking crowd. If this happens the developer is within their rights to challenge the decision at the Victorian Civil and Adminstrative Tribunal (VCAT). If they over-ride council then a lot of time and money will have been wasted for nothing. But the optics of being seen to oppose something (even if to no avail) might win local kudos for the councillors concerned.    


Questions to ask

As well as looking at candidate qualifications you may wish to ask them questions personally. Most candidates have phone numbers and email addresses in material provided to the Electoral Commission. 

You want to get answers that go beyond the platitudes in their material. 

Ideally you want them to shed their veneer to state what might be a mildly controversial view. If it's what you want then you might vote for them. If it's not then you might not. Or you might give them points for honesty. Those who don't reply should be right at the bottom since they are unlikely to be any better when on council. 

Be wary of those who state lofty principles without a willingness to back them with substantive policies or voting records. This can be a problem even in nominally 'green' inner areas where public and active transport usage is high. In fact councillors in such areas may be more likely to wash themselves in green symbolism only for their true colours to come out under pressure.  

Public and especially active transport uses less energy than if everyone drove their own car. Hence if your council considered itself pro-environment it would encourage more efficient modes and discourage driving, wouldn't it? Especially if it was the sort of council like green-tinged Darebin that voted to declared a 'climate emergency' and demanded action from all tiers of government?  One might expect a councillor who says the right things on climate to be green on transport, wouldn't you? 

The answer is 'not necessarily'. Talk is cheap. Voting on grand principles and moving motions that other people do or pay for something is easy. What's harder is making tough but fair decisions. Especially when you might be challenging entrenched entitlements like 'free' parking that clog neighbourhoods, discourage walking and increase emissions. Darebin showed that its 'climate emergency' stance was disposable symbolism when councillors unanimously abandoned its draft parking strategy that would have slightly challenged 'free' parking entitlements near stations. This came after pressure from high-income Northcote residents many of whom would see themselves as caring, progressive and green. Acknowledge country and stop Adani by all means, but we will defend unrestricted free storage for our Volvos on public land in front of our house to our death.  

The lesson is that councillors might say the right things but not carry through when they vote on substantive policies. Especially when entitled interests whisper into their ear. Don't elect councillors who fold under pressure like Darebin's have. Unfortunately that can be hard to tell, especially if you're considering candidates without a council record. 

Contact details for candidates are on the Electoral Commission page. These are normally a mobile phone number, email address or both. Many candidates have their own Facebook pages. You could ask them questions there. Or, for wider exposure, community Facebook groups. 

This exposure can be a curse though; a candidate may be less open where there is a risk of their comments being misconstrued or twisted such as on an online forum than in a one-on-one personal discussion or phone call. 

When you do make contact spend time in crafting your questions. 

You don't want to ask too many but you do want the ones you ask to count. 

You also want an asking manner that does not raise their guard. You don't want them to pigeon-hole you too early and thus clam up. 

One possibility is to get them beyond the simplicity of slogans and comfortable with you being the sort of person they can discuss nuanced issues with. A possible technique could be to acknowledge that they can't please everyone and there may be trade-offs. You might then ask them to choose between two options (one of which is close to your view).  


Make your candidate work for your vote. Ask them questions and tell them it will shape who they vote for. While councils don't directly run public transport they can affect how well it runs. And it's important that we choose councillors who make decisions that strengthen rather than weaken its role.

If there's a technique that you've found works please share them in the comments below. 

Oh and don't forget to vote and return your ballot by the deadline later this month!    

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Saturday, October 03, 2020

Melbourne Transport Camp 2019 Flashback

A year ago tomorrow (back when we could have large social gatherings to talk transport), a Transport Camp 'unconference' was held at Melbourne Town Hall. It was great.

My presentation topic was '10 ways to run empty buses'. A lot of it was eerily similar to current practice on many of our bus routes. 

Mine wasn't the only discussion about failure; others presented on bike share in Melbourne and the  rejection of the Darebin Parking Strategy.   

Other topics included a Doncaster Bus Rapid Transit, parking policy in Japan and autonomous vehicles. 

Notes from these and others here: http://www.transportcamp.org.au/2019-melbourne-sessions

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Friday, October 02, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 64: Undoing the mess - Simpler buses for Beaumaris

Sometimes you can pinpoint a single date when an area's bus network goes from being good to bad. For Black Rock and Beaumaris that date was August 5, 2002. 

On that date the simple and frequent Route 600 (previously known as the 901) was split into three complex and infrequent routes: the 600, 922 and 923. This was a result of a network reshuffle that also affected routes 822 and 823. It was uncharacteristic for the time as Melbourne buses were just awakening from a long stupor and getting modest service improvements. For example the first pilot SmartBuses and new outer suburban Sunday services started on that date.   


Beaumaris has some interesting transport history, as you can see below, with the Victorian Railways once running trams and later a replacement buses (which continues today in extended form). 

The Sandringham - Beaumaris tram, operated by the Victorian Railways, was poorly used and short-lived. Especially its Black Rock - Beaumaris section. And with 37 trips per day it was never that frequent anyway. Tram history here.

So it got replaced by bus route 901, also run by VR. Bus history here.  These replacement buses were coordinated with trains at Sandringham. They were popular with more than one bus sometimes needed to meet each train. Route 901 was later extended to Southland Shopping Centre when that opened. It got taken over by the Metropolitan Transport Authority (The Met) when the Victorian Railways was broken up in the 1980s. 

The 901 became part of the extended 600 from St Kilda in 1993. 1993's 600 timetable shows a basic half-hourly service on weekdays. However trips appear to have been added in the 1990s, with a 15 minute service operating by later that decade. That 15 minute service neatly matches the train at Sandringham (also every 15 minutes). Further reorganisation saw 600 became part of the privatised Melbourne Bus Link in the '90s and Transdev more recently. 

The 600 retained its long operating hours (a tram/ex government legacy) but had its frequency halved when the 822 and 823 were shortened and parts replaced by new routes 922 and 923. The 922 and 923 are about 80% the same as the 600 with some deviations where the old versions of the 822 and 823 went. 

The split up 600/922/923 routes have been with us for nearly 20 years but cannot be regarded as successes. They are complex. To know when the next bus is at a stop on the large overlap section you need to look at three separate lists of times at the stop as true combined timetables are not provided. Hence the high combined frequency is not communicated. Even the PTV website gets it wrong with trips missed. It's not a minor glitch either, with the omission lingering for over a year.  

More about how we got to the 600/922/923 mess is on my Timetable Tuesday write-up here

The area's local member is Brad Rowswell (Liberal) who represents the seat of Sandringham. 

c2008 Booz & Co Bayside/Kingston/Booroondara review

In 2006 the Department of Transport commissioned consultants to do sixteen bus network reviews covering all of Melbourne's local government areas. The Bayside/Kingston/Boorondara report discussed Beaumaris area buses. It recommended simplified routes, including operating the 600 between Sandringham and Southland only and removing the 825 between Mentone and Southland due to duplication with the 708.  The proposals had merit but none got implemented. But you should remember them as we'll return to them later.  

2015's attempt at reform

People within the Department of Transport knew that the area needed a reformed network. As did Transdev, one of the two companies running local buses. They proposed a major simplification in their 2015 Greenfields network. 

Residents and council immediately opposed the change. While it simplified services it did so by cutting routes and not offering sweeteners in return. These could have included higher frequencies on main routes or keeping service at more stops to retain coverage.  Below is a local paper report at the time (click here for a longer version).

The review could only ever be half-hearted as non-Transdev routes in the area were not included. That's significant if you want cost-effective network reform, as you'll see later. In the end it didn't matter; the whole 2015 Transdev greenfields network was aborted for reasons explained here.  

Existing Useful Network

I define the Useful Network as the network of routes that operate every 20 minutes or better, peak and interpeak on weekdays. They also need to have 7 day service. Qualifying services in the Beaumaris area include the 825 between Moorabbin and Mentone and the overlapping portion of the 600 / 922 / 923 from Sandringham until just before the Concourse shopping centre. These routes do not qualify east of there because they fan out to operate a less frequent service. 

A revised Useful Network

Black Rock and Beaumaris are not high population growth areas. Their demographics are skewed towards older richer people who use buses less than younger poorer people. Hence buses are quieter than average for Melbourne. However there is still a need for adequate network coverage. Opportunities exist for improved buses to relieve parking pressure at stations at Sandringham and across to the Frankston line. Also Mentone has a large number of schools likely to attract students living in the Black Rock/Beaumaris area. 

What this means is that local bus revisions are justified but need to be very cost-effective. Places like Springvale, Tarneit and Craigieburn are crying out for new buses. As soon as you put a new bus on, even if it's only every 40 minutes, people crowd it. Whereas buses in the likes of Brighton can run frequently into the small hours yet get little use. 

Black Rock and Beaumaris are more like Brighton than Braybrook. Analysis and efficient planning is key. In particular you would study the usage of existing routes. If it's low you could divert some resources into simplifying the network or improving frequencies of stronger routes. 

There are four routes in play. These are the long-established 825 between Moorabbin and Southland and the mostly identical and often overlapping 600, 922 and 923. Of the latter three the 600 is dominant, with the longest operating hours. However the 825 has the highest frequency on weekdays with a 20 minute service provided.  

Below are 2018 boarding statistics for the four routes concerned. They are average to slightly below average compared to other bus routes in Melbourne. And higher density or higher need areas might record 30 to 40 boardings per hour on their bus routes.  

There are a few interesting things about these numbers. First of all Route 825 is highly dependent on school students. You can see that with the large fall off in usage on school holidays. 12 boardings per hour is low for a route that operates every 20 minutes all day. Of note is that Infrastructure Victoria regard 20 boardings per hour as being where a bus route ceases to be viable. 

Development patterns have not been kind to the 825. These include (a) the decline of the Moorabbin town centre including its abolition as a municipality, (b) the construction of a Woolworths supermarket at Highett and (c) the construction of a station at Southland. These will have benefited other routes relative to the 825. Yet the 825 retains the same weekday frequency it had in 1991.      

600/922/923's numbers should be regarded with caution. This is because (a) these are long routes with quieter and busier sections, (b) their erratic timetables including short workings and (c) the significant coverage overlaps with trains and other buses in the portion north of Sandringham. While old data, the Booz & Co bus review found that the 600/922/923 were busier between Sandringham and Southland (where there is unique coverage) than on the St Kilda - Sandringham section (where coverage is largely duplicative).   

The above leads to four tentative conclusions.

* At least at non-school times Route 825 is over-serviced for the patronage it gets. Its relevance has declined due to the opening of Southland Station and continued overlaps with other routes (eg 708, 600/922/923). The Mentone - Southland portion might be redundant, although it's only a few minutes of bus run time. 

* There is a continuing need for bus access to schools, including in the Mentone area. 

* Route 600/922/923 should be simplified back into a single route operating more frequently along the 600 alignment. 20 minutes is possibly the ideal frequency given patronage levels and would make a revised network cheaper to run than what is there now. However it does not evenly meet trains every 15 minutes at Sandringham. While on the generous side a 15 minute frequency would meet trains. And it matches what currently runs with the 600/922/923 corridor so can be done without increasing costs.  

*  Coverage at all stops be retained given the hostile reaction to the proposed 2015 network. 

The map below shows what a revised network might look like.  It's greatly simplified. The centrepiece is the restored high frequency Route 600 running every 15 minutes on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends. This would run from Sandringham to Southland like the old 901 did. Other arrangements discussed in Useful Network Part 8, would apply north of Sandringham.   

A new route 608 could replace Route 922 and 923 in the Beaumaris area. It could run from Southland to Mentone, providing a new connection to several schools. As the route is about 10km long it may be possible for a single bus to provide an hourly service, augmented as required during school times. 

Some resources for this could come from changes to the under used Route 825. Currently it uses four buses to run its 20 minute service. Reducing its frequency to 30 minutes would reduce that requirement to 3 buses, providing the one bus needed for the 608. A decision would need to be made whether the 825 retains its 20 minute peak service or not, particularly during school peaks. The need for the 825 to operate to Southland could be reviewed given that the Mentone - Southland connection now has trains every 10 minutes and Route 708 overlaps the 825 between Mentone and Southland.

Implementation and costs

600/922/923 is run by Transdev as part of the Metropolitan Bus Franchise. 825 is run by Ventura. 

As the 600 frequency doubling just involves folding the 922 and 923 into more 600 trips it should involve the same service kilometres as now for the portion south of Sandringham. Possibly less if you rationalise Transdev services north of Sandringham as discussed previously.

Routes 824 and 825 run through to one another at Moorabbin. This is possible as both operate at the same 20 minute frequency. 824 deserves its current frequency whereas 825 does not. Dropping Route 825 to every 30 minutes would likely break this arrangement. If through travel is significant at certain times (eg to Holmesglen TAFE on South Rd) it may be possible to retain it for certain high demand trips. On the other hand a Route 825 at every 30 minutes may allow other through-running opportunities, for instance to Chadstone with the 627. 

One low cost option if obtaining peak buses is an issue is to retain the 825 at every 20 minutes in the peak and run the 608 only during off-peak times as a shopper style service. On the other hand the 608's connectivity to Mentone might be regarded as a plus during school and commute times since it will provide a new direct service from areas distant from the 825. The merits of this should be considered in conjunction with the Beaumaris - Mentone school bus network Ventura currently runs

All up the costs of this network revision are likely to be very low while delivering overall simpler services that better reflects demand patterns. 


What do you think of this network? Would it be an improvement? If you have any comments or ideas please leave them below. 

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

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