Friday, November 27, 2020

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 71: Better transport for Melbourne's new social housing growth areas

A major part of Tuesday's Victorian state budget was a social housing package. The headline numbers include a $5.3 billion spend for 12 000 housing units. I will not go into the intricacies of these arrangements. Nor will I dwell on the distinction between social housing and government-owned and lower rent public housing. However the initiative does mark a substantial increase in activity in a portfolio that Victoria has for several decades paid little attention to (even compared to other Australian states). Welfare advocacy and housing groups have generally praised this new attention.  

The main housing announcement came out a few days before the budget. The first sites to be developed will be in Heidelberg West, Ascot Vale, Flemington, Hawthorn, Richmond and Ashburton. No doubt there were other reasons to choose them but these locations are reasonable choices for low income people who may not own cars.

For example all are handy inner to middle distance suburbs and have at least reasonable public transport in some directions. Many needed services are within a 20 minute ride on public transport running every 20 minutes or better (at least on weekdays). Apart from the socio-economic diversity that the new housing might incorporate within them, these locations all abut higher income areas, something that's desirable to avoid large geographical concentrations of disadvantage. 

The maps below show the current Public Transport Useful Network (ie service every 20 minutes or better) in the six abovementioned areas proposed for redevelopment. Click for a sharper view. 

The rest of this item will propose service improvements, mostly to buses, by area. These are needed to complete sometimes disjointed networks or correct timetable irregularities. These should provide a good return in the form of increased patronage since areas with high densities of public and social housing tenants are conducive to high all-day public transport usage. 

West Heidelberg

Most of the area is fortunate to be near a long hours bus route (250) and a SmartBus (903). However weekend frequencies are still quote low. There is some poor legibility caused by limited service on routes including 350 and 550 in or near the area.  Recommendations include: 

* Add after 9pm Sunday service and increase weekend frequency on Route 903 SmartBus from 30 to 20 minutes or better. Even better and potentially cheaper is to replace Route 903 with a Route 904 Megabus operating every 10 minutes (with knock-on improvements for La Trobe University if the 903 SmartBus is extended there).  

* Increase Sunday frequency on Route 250 (and hence also Route 251) to 30 minutes (to provide a 15 minute combined service on the common section). 

* Reform local buses including Route 350 and 550 as per the VTAG publication Networking the North with simpler service and seven day operation.  

* Upgrade weekend frequency on Route 513 and extend operating hours to provide parts of Heidelberg West with a more direct connection to the west. Because it can go two possible ways east of Rosanna, the 513 is currently a very confusing route. Service upgrades should preferably be done in tandem with network reform such as proposed in Networking the North eg having all 513 trips going via a single simple path to Greensborough.  

Ascot Vale

The main public housing area is a bit away from the railway. Two tram routes operate though Route 82 is a 'Cinderella' route, operating less frequently than other tram routes. This is due to ancient history, namely that 82 is a tacked together remnant of the old Footscray tram network, and the lack of subsequent reform. Bus route 472 is the nearest public transport to many homes. It runs to a good 15 minute frequency during the day but services fall sharply at night and on Sundays to approximately hourly.  Recommendations are as follows: 

* Reshuffle and add a few early evening trips on bus route 472 to improve evening service from every 60 to every 30 minutes. 

* Boost bus 472's Sunday frequency from every 50 minutes to every 20 to 40 minutes with an earlier am start. 

* Boost weekday frequency on Tram 82 from every 20 to every 10 - 15 minutes (noting that weekend frequency is currently better than weekdays at every 15 minutes). 

* Boost Sunday morning and evening frequencies on trams so intervals are never more than 20 minutes (currently 30 min maximum waits are common). 


Area has substantial train and tram services. However, as is common, especially in northern and western Melbourne, evening and Sunday morning trains only come every 30 to 40 minutes. Long waits even on our main lines stymie access to many casual jobs that typically involve night and weekend work. There could also be some connectivity benefits of upgrading the nearby Route 404 bus to Footscray and Moonee Ponds. Suggested upgrades are as follows: 

* Upgrade Craigieburn and Upfield line evening train frequency from every 30 to every 20 minutes and Sunday morning frequency from every 40 to every 20 minutes. Both upgrades would have far wider community benefits than just for the social housing developments discussed here. 

* Upgrade bus route 404 to operate (a) 7 days per week, (b) over longer hours with a 9pm finish, and (c) every 20 minutes on weekdays to form a 'Useful Network' route that provides a useful connection to some major suburban centres just outside Flemington. 

* Boost Sunday morning and evening frequencies on trams so intervals are never more than 20 minutes (currently 30 min maximum waits are common). 


Hawthorn is well served with trains and trams. However parts have poor connectivity in some directions, especially north-south. For instance the 609 bus operates only occasionally across the Yarra. And the confusing 624 bus, while potentially a major north-south corridor linking multiple train and tram lines, operates only every 30 to 60 minutes, even during peak times. Recommendations include: 

* Split Route 624 bus at Caulfield and reconfigure as a more frequent north-south route, extending north to La Trobe University, potentially through an amalgamation with Route 548. A 15 to 20 minute 7 day operating frequency is suggested with somewhat longer operating hours. This would benefit public housing on Bills St. More detail in the Route 620 concept (Useful Network Part 41)

* Consider scope for a north-south route from Swinburne University and Hawthorn Station operating via Denmark St and Princess St. Scope exists to continue to Alphington, Northland and potentially La Trobe University as part of an extended Route 567. The main benefit of this would be to address a structural difficulty with the current network which provides difficult north-south access. More in Networking the North.

* Boost Sunday morning and evening frequencies on trams so intervals are never more than 20 minutes (currently 30 min maximum waits are common). 


The area around Richmond is generally well served with frequent train, tram bus services during the day. At night though the popular 246 bus drops to half-hourly. Burnley St used to but no longer has a bus, making some local cross-Yarra trips difficult. Restoring it would deliver a full network in a fairly densely populated areas. Recommendations include:  

* Commence a new Burnley St bus from Victoria Gardens to the Elsternwick area, potentially involving a modified and extended Route 603 or 604.  

* Upgrade late weeknight, Saturday and Sunday evening service on the 246 bus from every 30 to every 15-20 minutes to provide better north-south connectivity. 

* Boost Sunday morning and evening frequencies on trams so intervals are never more than 20 minutes (currently 30 min maximum waits are common). 

* End the midday loop reversal and weekday/weekend variations on the City Loop to make trains simpler to catch 7 days per week.  


Ashburton has the most disjointed public transport network of the six sites. It's not for lack of routes but lack of frequency, particularly on bus route 734 along High St. 734 also suffers from a weak western terminus that retards its usefuless.  Recommendations include: 

* Extend bus Route 734 to Caulfield Station. This provides access to a key railway junction, Monash University and (eventually) Metro Tunnel and Airport services. More on that here

* Upgrade Route 734 from every 30 to every 20 minutes, thus making it a Useful Network service. Also improve weekend frequencies and add span if desired. Again, more here.

* Upgrade SmartBus Route 903 to operate every 15 minutes on weekends on the portion between at least Doncaster and Oakleigh South. Add after 9pm Sunday service to provide a comprehensive full-time service (buses, even SmartBuses, are currently the poor relation with regard to weekend frequencies and operating hours). 


Described are several Useful Network expansions to serve areas earmarked for expanded social housing with some wider connectivity benefits as well.  With few exception they only involve boosts to existing routes. Are these sufficient or should more network changes be made? Please leave any comments below. 

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