Friday, October 30, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 68: 10 tips for public transport to bounce back better

State Transport minister Ben Carroll has a problem. Public transport is on the nose. Patronage has collapsed and fare revenue is down. City workers, now staying at home, no longer needed to travel. Closed schools removed another important part of demand. And shut shops, distance limits, curfews and stay home restrictions curtailed demand for almost all other types of travel. 

Melburnians complied well with the tough COVID restrictions. Case numbers have slowed to a trickle, with zero on some days. We are opening up as European countries are locking down. The curfew's gone. We can travel 25 rather than 5km and can leave home for any purpose. School is back, shops are reopening and restrictions on sport and worship are fewer. 

This revived activity has returned traffic to our roads. Sometimes at quite high levels, with congestion happening already. 

The sorts of trips still not done (most notably CBD work trips) has meant that public transport usage is still depressed. And less rusted on passenger segments (eg safety-conscious car-owning middle class people with choices) will be driving themselves or their children for some trips that were previously made on public transport. Some will be walking or cycling but trip distances, unsafe infrastructure, over-protective parents and perceptions about relative safety will mean that the biggest increase is in driving. 

To avert gridlock once activity fully resumes our cities and suburbs needs traffic-busting public transport to bounce back. And for active transport to be better than ever, especially with regards to space, safety and visibility against the demands of increasingly bigger and higher bonneted cars taking over our roads.  

Here are my top ten tips for public transport to bounce back better. 

1. Clean well and reassure people that public transport is safe to travel on

Public transport has suffered a reputational blow. It must overcome this to win patronage back. 

That requires (i) a continuation of improved cleaning regimes (already put in place by the state government) and (ii) an assurance that taking public transport is safe. 

The second point is particularly hard since perceptions can linger after initial problems have been addressed. IBAC's Operation Esperance has been recently hearing accounts of alleged corruption involving cleaning contractors and senior management at V/Line and Metro Trains. Secret payments were made and corners were cut. 

Subsequent action has been swift. Yesterday V/Line has sacked its CEO James Pinder while Metro dismissed Peter Bollas. Both had been under suspension since August. Also V/Line's board has cancelled Transclean's contract while Metro is looking at how probity in procurement can be improved. With the affair making TV and front page news, more work is needed for the community to be assured that train cleaning is up to scratch and travel is safe.  

Part of this communications effort could be about advising on the relative safety of different forms of transport. Sometimes what is perceived as safe varies from the facts. 

For example if you were to ask people about the safety and security of various forms of transport, the private car will rank highly, especially when transporting children. Likely seen as superior to the risks of cycling or misgivings about what can happen on public transport. 

Cars are however a major source of injuries and death. The public mind tends to downplay that risk, accepting the road toll as an inevitably of modern living. There is some pushback against 'vision zero' laws in some other countries. Given the actual risk of car travel, campaigns highlighting the true risks of various transport modes may help to restore confidence in taking active and public transport.   

2. Promote across all modes, network wide

Some past bus-only marketing campaigns have been unsuccessful. These were often epheremal, piecemeal and single modal. Routes promoted were not always useful for many trips a person would make. And promotion was sometimes untied to service, for instance attempts to market an infrequent and/or five day bus route. 

Any promotion initiative should be network wide, multimodal and carefully channeled. 

3. Recognise that not all services are equal (or equally marketable)

A BMW does much the same job as a Toyota Camry. A bus vehicle on a route looks much the same whether it runs every 10 minutes or every 60 minutes. The same goes for most passenger information currently provided. 

What those outside public transport (and even some in public transport management) don't always grasp is that there is a huge difference between a route that runs frequent with long operating hours and one that runs only occasionally. The former service is useful for many types of trips throughout the day while the latter is rarely useful. In addition connections become easier when high frequency minimises waits. 

It follows then that most potential for a patronage return from marketing efforts will come from promoting the more frequent parts of the network with service all week. Interactive maps showing these are here, with an example presented below.   

Doing this is a very different approach to that historically taken by PTV, which generally promotes buses like the frequent and direct 246 (every 10 min on weekdays) as well (or as badly) as the 609 (a few trips weekdays only).  

4. Sell the system on the system 

The public transport network has a great deal of space that could be cheaply used to promote increased usage. For example maps, posters and billboard at stations or bus shelters. People seeing this include existing passengers, former passengers and potentially new passengers. 

Train and tram passengers, in particularly may have low awareness of the more useful (yet marketable) parts of the bus network. Meanwhile ads on bus shelters or on buses (avoiding the window space) could promote the service to car drivers. Marketing should concentrate on promoting the most useful part of the network for reasons mentioned before. 

5. More information to promote multimodal usage 

Current information at stations about buses and nearby trams is very limited. For example network maps are almost unknown. Great scope exists to promote multimodal 'useful networks' at points across the system, including at railway stations, bus interchanges, major destinations and locations where frequent routes intersect. 

The PTV website isn't very good at drawing users' attention to multimodal area maps or promoting service upgrades. In some cases their new website has made things worse. 

The change in travel patterns, including a trend away from CBD commutes to more localised travel over more of the day makes multimodal information increasingly important as travel patterns change . Even existing and otherwise knowledgeable passengers need to be 'retrained' to use the system for different trips if they are not to be lost to it. 

6. Small infrastructure works to improve access and interchange

Improving access to stations is a cost-effective way to boost train patronage. Too many of our stations (even some of our busiest rebuilt ones) have a single entry point at one end of the platform. Adding more entry points increases the population within convenient walking distance of a station without having to add new stations or extend lines. 

On-road access improvements can also boost usage of trams and buses and improve interchange. Example initiatives include adding stops where there are currently long gaps between them, moving stops nearer intersections, adding wombat crossings, closing slip lanes and roundabout removals. The latter, where large, are as significant impediments to walkers are train level crossings are to drivers. Many of these small road projects would assist cycling and walking connections as well.   

7. Selected off peak and weekend service improvements

Public transport is going to have to assume a greater role in off-peak travel if the traffic congestion issues mentioned before are not to materialise. Fortunately improvements here can mostly just require the existing fleet to be worked harder. Upgrades should be targeted at routes that most need it, for example those justified due to their existing high usage or because they service major destinations. 

Off-peak rail upgrades are also desirable where frequencies are half-hourly or worse. Particular priorities include Ringwood line services out to Belgrave and Lilydale (boost from every 30 to every 20 min), Sunday morning Metro train services, mid-evening trains and the Geelong line on weekends (at least as far as Wyndham Vale) on weekends (boost from every 40 to every 20 min), . 

8. Simplify peak train timetables

Scope exists to use the current patronage lull to make decisions that might have been considered difficult when patronage was higher. Such decisions are particularly important on lines that have never had revised 'greenfield' timetables. An example is the Ringwood line which has numerous extremely complicated stopping patterns. A reformed timetable would make services simpler with fewer stopping patterns and more evenly spaced trips. 

9. Special promotion offers

This is a bit of a side issue. Because if the main issue is cleanliness and safety then cheap fares won't necessarily lure people back to the system. Also the service has to be there and usable. Nevertheless, once these are taken care of, there may be scope to win people back to public transport for special days or events. 

10. Start overhauling bus networks 

Again the times give an opportunity to do this. Overhauls include reviewing the worth of existing routes and examining scope for networks to be made simpler. more direct and more frequent with harmonised connections with trains. Many ideas in the Useful Networks index link below. 


Cities do tend to bounce back. Public transport must be fit and ready to play its part in this revival. Ten cost-effective tips to enable this have been given above. 

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Ramp Ragers: Transport's best lobbyists?

There is a hierarchy of interest groups that governments of all stripes seek to keep happy with favourable decisions and budget support. 

Those advocating for public transport network and service upgrades of the type discussed here sit near the bottom of the pile for influence and success. Whether they are inside or outside government their voices are weak where it matters with few of their ideas getting budgetary support. 

The failure of public transport service advocacy

Think I'm being harsh? Sorry but the numbers are against you. Public transport service per capita in Melbourne has been falling for the better part of a decade. This has made proximity to frequent service, and even any sort of service at all, rarer for the average homebuyer, particularly in outer areas. The same goes for access to jobs, with the current network unsuitable for anything but the increasingly rare CBD nine to five. Had service merely tracked population growth, we would today have double the number of SmartBus routes and/or vastly improved outer suburban coverage. Infrastructure is where the transport progress is here, not service. 

What about Sydney? Their Liberal-National coalition government is killing it on the service side. Rolling out new bus networks with 1000 (inner-west) or 2000 (northern beaches) more weekly trips is regular business for them. The result of these gains is simpler routes with service every 10 to 15 minutes seven days per week. These are part of a bigger plan to add the 14 000 extra bus services per week promised at the 2019 election. 

In contrast we in Melbourne rejoice if an area's bus network gets 50 more services a week and some minor tinkering to routes. And we can have a habit of frittering the few extra resources for bus services we get on quiet routes almost no one uses (like the 704 upgraded in May). The last upgrades of Sydney's scale we had were 10 years ago (under John Brumby) despite Melbourne's population growth since being faster. 

The issue is not how much or how little money the government has. It's more how it spends what it has and the priorities chosen. Public transport infrastructure is heavily in. Public transport service is mostly out. 

The success of fishing and boating advocacy

Something else that's been in is fishing and boating. These are under the same department, and for a while the same minister, as public transport. The Department's strategic plan released last year gave a prominent role for fishing. It even included a participation target for fishing but not a usage target for public (or active) transport. In that spirit was devised the Fishing Useful Network which showed how we could justify improved trains and buses in bayside and coastal areas as a means of aiding fishing participation. 

Public transport advocates need to ask themselves how boating and fishing (both heavily recreational activities) got to become higher political priorities than bus services (key for getting to school and work). Especially under a Labor government, where expectations for any service with 'public' in them may be higher, yet a Liberal government in another state is clearly outclassing us.    

Part of it is politics and how Labor wishes to position itself. Another part may be to do with the effectiveness of fishing and boating advocates. Transport service advocates have limited ability to influence a party's broader strategy. But they may be able to learn from those who have won bipartisan support for their ideas. I'll discuss both. 

The politics of fishing and boating

Firstly the politics. 

Labor's electoral heartland is in Melbourne's multicultural and industrial north and west. There's two problems for Labor here. Firstly winning these seats alone is insufficient to form government. Secondly manufacturing employment has fallen with a shift to less stable and less unionised service sector work. Even though good for Labor elsewhere, the 2018 election saw it win a low primary vote in parts of Melbourne's west, especially where the member was seen to have taken the seat for granted or rorted allowances (eg Werribee and Melton areas). 

To narrowly win government, such as happened in 2014, Labor needs more regional city seats plus marginals in the south-east, mostly along the Frankston line. A big majority, such as achieved in 2018, requires inroads into Liberal's eastern suburbs heartland on the Ringwood and Glen Waverley lines. These areas only occasionally turn red. 

Inner-suburban battles are mostly with the Greens, although there are sometimes three-cornered 'anyone can win' contests such as Prahran. Greens will always preference Labor over Liberal. And there's fewer inner area seats than middle and outer seats. The middle and outer must be won to win the state. These factors determine whether state Labor positions itself leftward or rightward (or a mix involving social and economic policies).

Outer and regional areas view Greens as godless urban elite jobs killing vegans soft on drugs and boat people. Greens are widely regarded as extremists. Labor is only electable if it is not seen as being too close to them. Thus we are nearer Tasmania (with significant timber and rural elements) than the generally urban and wealthier ACT, where Labor and Greens together can retain broad support.    

Labor knows this. Even though some of their people are urban middle class types with backgrounds not dissimilar to many Greens, their political hard-heads take every opportunity to differentiate themselves from those they disparage as the elite GreensPOLITICALparty. 

Even (especially?) on sporting and cultural matters. Hence the populism over the Grand Final Friday public holiday, John Eren's legalisation of cage fighing and refusing to ban duck shooting. Along with targeting tradies with free TAFE and big infrastructure builds. Their MPs may also take the populist line on parking policies if local councils dare to recognise reality that restrictions are needed for everyone to get a fair go. 

Then there's fishing and boating. Rod fishing is pretty much classless (though better off often live nearer water) while boating has a skew towards middle and higher earners. Supporting these tick several boxes for state Labor. 

For example marginal seats like along the bay, with yacht clubs every few kilometres, and a higher representation of boat owners would likely react favourably. As would the outdoor-oriented bush bashing and shooters crowd. Retaining (but saying as little as possible on) duck hunting and strong pro-fishing policies is a way of reaching these people without opening the season on divisive gun debates (which could lose votes elsewhere). Fishing is wholesome, respectable and broadly accessible. 

Boats have supplanted the now unremarkable second car as a status symbol in many suburban neighbourhoods. Labor supporting them is basically a way to acknowledge that "We know you've worked hard for your large suburban home and boat. Unlike the sneering Greens (who go on about McMansions, stolen land and identity stuff) we recognise the legitimacy of who you are, what you have and what you enjoy". 

That position moves Labor nearer the Coalition parties than the Greensparty. Then political debate can shift to areas where Labor sees as its strengths, eg TAFE education, infrastructure, jobs and health. This is how I think Labor seeks to position itself in areas it needs to win. Explicit policies appealing to fishers and boaters are part of this appeal. These neither cost much money nor puts off inner city voters. 

Meanwhile the Coalition parties needed something to counter Labor's popular infrastructure projects since their single recent term appears a forgettable interregnum to many. And they needed to rebuild public trust, especially amongst parts of the electorate concerned about health, jobs and education.  

Both Labor and the Coalition had political problems going into the 2018 election. An interest group was successfully able to offer both parties politically acceptable solutions that could appeal to nearly two hundred thousand people, by no means all politically engaged, with some in key seats. That's what I'll discuss next. 

The Ramp Ragers success

When a pressure group wants a better deal they typically set up website and get on social media to generate awareness and hopefully policy change. Activity typically starts several months before the election. After the election the page either becomes a zombie website or is closed down. 

Ramp Rage can happen when lots of boaties jostle over the few launching ramps available with some taking more time than they should. It can sour an otherwise nice day. It's most likely around our major metropolitan and country waterways on warm weekends or public holidays. 

The boating industry had a simple message: The government was collecting $27 million in recreational boat licence fees but returning just $3m on public boat ramps. And the service they got from existing infrastructure was substandard. Like every other interest group they wanted more give and less take from government.  

 Before the 2018 election they set up a website, a Facebook page and YouTube. The Boating Industry Association got on board and there was favourable media coverage. Assisted by support from high profile TV celebrities like Rex Hunt. The audience was 193 000 registered boat owners, their family and friends. That could swing things in marginal seats. 

The website was very simple. It had the above video, a two-sentence message, details of the worst ramps and instructions on who to contact. It also collected peoples names and email addresses for updates. Unlike a website, which all can see, email updates are only seen by recipients, so can 'fly under the radar'. 

Ramp Ragers sent a questionnaire/wish list to major political parties. Responses were as good as any interest group could hope for. That is strong bipartisan support for what was requested. 

Buses, in contrast, did not feature significantly in the 2018 campaign. Labor slowed bus reform to a trickle during its first term and offered nothing new post-election. The Coalition  promised $70 million bus funding but the election eve announcement was too vague and too late to have an impact (eg it missed the transport policy scorecards that interest groups and others often compile). 

The picture was brighter for boating. Both major parties had supportive policies that they promoted heavily. When a leader promised something positive it would go onto the Ramp Rage Facebook page. 

Then when something was done it and Minister Pulford (the first ever minister for boating) would be promoted and praised. 

The strength of the above campaign is possibly why fishing and boating have continued to be such high priorities for the Department of Transport post-election. Not everything has been done however the campaign, simple as it appears to have been, can be considered a success. 

What can transport advocates learn? 

Buses and boat ramps are clearly different things. But there are parallels. The 193 000 registered boat owners is possibly not a dissimilar number to those who would take a bus at least once a month. Better boating makes peoples leisure better. Whereas better buses make their regular days better. And they are the unsung enablers in our transport network. The presence of a useful service can affect whether people take up and remain in a job or educational opportunity, for example. 

More frequent buses can save people as much if not more time than cutting waits at boat ramps. This time-saving can extend to not only those who catch buses but also those who would otherwise be the parental taxi. Once frequencies improve from every 40 - 60 min to every 15 - 20 min then parents are more likely to insist kids make their own way home from the station. Plus bus services are a massive creator of stable but not expensive to provide permanent jobs, with a high proportion of spending going straight to households through wages and trickling up to benefit the broader economy.

As for the campaign, success elements include a very simple request, involvement of well-known people, industry backing and supportive media articles. Both main political groupings took up the message with little prodding. There is a relationship between boating/fishing and tourism (as there also is, to some extent, with buses). 

Transport operators may be more limited in what they can publicly advocate than boat shop proprietors due to their franchises or contracts with the government. On the other hand there are industry associations, such as BusVic, that can perform this advocacy and lobbying role (which they were particularly active in about 10 or 15 years ago). 

Like with fishing and boating, better bus services are the sorts of things any side of politics can do without upsetting their opponents. It's not like tricky social policies that bring out extremists from all sides. Nor does the comparatively modest scale of spending require that parties give up on their pet capital projects. Much like appears to be the general view in NSW, buses are non-ideological basic services (like water and sewage) that people expect governments to do.  

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Friday, October 23, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 67: Kings Park and Albanvale

Today we'll look at the bus network for Kings Park, Albanvale and surrounds and discuss whether it merits an upgrade. 

Sitting on the east side of Kororoit Creek, the area is largely residential. The typical house has three bedrooms, was built in the 1970s and is on a block of around 600 square metres. Unlike the pattern in older areas, like Hadfield or Reservoir, where small strips of five to eight shops catered for daily needs, the most local shopping comprises of a single convenience store, often on a corner. It may however be set back from the road with parking out the front, unlike the older walking oriented milkbars or 'mixed business'.  Partly offsetting this are two medium sized centres with supermarkets, both on Kings Rd/Station Rd (the same road). Buses are the area's only public transport with Sunbury line trains two or three kilometres to the east and Deer Park Station well to the south. 

Both suburbs are largely peopled by residents of English-speaking background. Initially southern and eastern European and more recently Asian and African. Employment and income is less than the metropolitan average. The map below (click for improved clarity) shows that they are in the largest cluster of disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Melbourne. The area is almost entirely in Kororoit, a very safe Labor seat held by Marlene Kairouz MP.

Having this data is important as it affects the most appropriate types of bus services in the area. For example low employment participation and low car ownership suits routes that operate over long hours and with frequent service. Whereas a more white collar commuter-oriented area might need very high peak frequencies but a lesser service in the middle of the day.  Even though the first type of network may have more concession ticketed passengers it may actually have a higher cost-recovery as it is used more consistently over the day and lacks the cost of providing an intensive peak service whose buses may be very quiet or out of service at other times. 

Existing Useful Network

The map shows both suburbs' existing Useful Network, that is services that operate every 20 minutes through the day at least on weekdays, and with a lesser service on weekends. The only route that qualifies is the 420 between Sunshine, Deer Park and Watergardens. This was put in as part of 2014's reformed Brimbank bus network and has since been upgraded to operate every 20 minutes seven days per week. Before the 420 the only local buses ran only every 40 or 60 minutes with limited operating hours, although some areas had up to three routes (although the very southern part of Albanvale could walk to the old 451 which was a frequent Deer Park route).   

The PTV map below shows all routes in the area. Apart from the 420 (red line) the most notable for Kings Park is the 425 from St Albans to Watergardens (purple line). Thus runs about every 40 minutes weekdays and Saturdays and hourly on evenings and Sundays. Service finishes around 9pm. 

The 424 is Albanvale's bus, though parts are near 423 to the south via Deer Park. Both these have similar frequencies to the 425 but finish early at night.  Both operate to St Albans with it possible to ride them around as a loop, with the 424 forming 423 at Brimbank Shopping Centre (and vice versa).  These routes gained Sunday service in the 2014 changes but the budget then was not sufficient to extend evening service to the 9pm minimum standard. This is despite a low income catchment with a high propensity to use buses. Meanwhile, on the other side of town there exist train-duplicating routes like the 603 at Brighton Beach with low usage but frequent service until midnight. 

Proposed Useful Network

Other items in this series discuss the potential to make routes more direct. This is to free resources for upgraded frequencies. Because Kings Park and Albanvale had this done in 2014 there is no scope for further network reforms. 

The only possible exception is deleting the 422 in Deer Park which has little unique coverage. The 422 was not part of the original 2014 reformed Brimbank network but was later added due to political pressure for the retention of a one-seat ride to Sunshine. Usage on a boardings per kilometre basis however is lower than other routes in the area. 

UPGRADE 1: The first and cheapest network upgrades would be to extend 423 and 424's operating hours to at least meet minimum standards. As the main road route connecting to jobs at Sunshine and Watergardens the 420 could also benefit from longer hours, especially given that its catchment is overwhelming areas away from trains. 

UPGRADE 2: The second priority (also cheap) is to upgrade Route 425 from every 60 to every 40 minutes on Sundays. The 425 has significant unique catchment in a lowish income area so this upgrade is justified. The route suffers from late starts - you'd add two extra trips each day so that there's 60 to 90 minute earlier starts on all days of the week. The weekday starts would benefit blue collar workers while the weekend starts would correct a historical tendency to underestimate early weekend travel. 

UPGRADE 3: Thirdly, if you wanted more 20 minute routes (and the area's demographics justify this, even for local routes), the logical upgrades would be the 425, 424 and 423, probably in that order. More buses would be needed but the justification could be the area's low income catchment and the above average usage of the existing services that operate.  423 and 424's upgrade would provide direct feeders on two main roads. 425 looks more a local neighbourhood route. Still it  provides unique coverage to a substantial low income area. And the economical network design mean relatively few overlaps. 

UPGRADE 4: Upgrade service on Route 420 to become more like a SmartBus due to its large bus-using catchment and the increasing importance of Deer Park as a transport hub. Priorities here include boosting peak service to every 10 - 15 min (which would require more buses) and extending operating hours with earlier weekend starts (particularly Sunday) and later evening finishes. 

In addition, the northern part of Kings Park would benefit from the upgrade to Route 418 along Taylors Rd, as discussed back in Useful Network 1.

Other changes? 

All of the above are purely service upgrades, with no route changes. Since the 2014 bus network started there have been level crossing removals that may give extra options. The railway remains an artificial barrier for bus passengers, with those going from west of the railway to substantially east needing to change buses. 

Opportunity may exist to rethink the network with 408 crossing the line to serve Furlong Rd west of Ginifer (terminating at Brimbank Shopping Centre to replace the 423) and the 424 extended east then south to replace part of the 408 to Ginifer. The former might make the 422 to Sunshine less necessary, with that bus instead being used to as a St Albans - Ginifer - Cairnlea - Deer Park north-south route. These would make the network more grid-like. However these would break some existing single seat rides, such as to Sunshine and St Albans from some areas. Sunshine is a major centre while the importance of buses to access St Albans should not be underestimated. 

A similar change for St Albans could involve Route 424 being replaced with another route from the east to provide a single simple route along Main Road East and West. The route from the east could be the 406 from Footscray/Highpoint extended to replace Route 419 in the area if that is sent south to Sunshine as discussed in Useful Network Part 6


What are your thoughts on buses in Kings Park and Albanvale? Are these upgrades justified? Or is it desirable that other connections, for instance a new Deer Park - Cairnlea - St Albans route happen first? Please leave any comments below. 

PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

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:

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: (route mapped above)

This is the Link Bus B timetable: (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.

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.