Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #104: 28 February 2021 bus recoordination

 Timetables for the second tranche of bus recoordinations are now out. Starting on February 28, the new times are intended to restore coordination with trains whose revised timetables started on 31 January. 

I covered the first round of bus changes three weeks ago. Today I'll talk briefly about the second round. These are listed by PTV here

Nearly 50 metropolitan and 70 regional city bus timetables are changing on the 28th. I'll discuss a few of interest today. 

Ballarat's broken harmonisation

Although my focus is metropolitan Melbourne I thought I'd first look at Ballarat timetable harmonisation. This is because their off-peak trains have improved from hourly to 40 minutes on weekdays. This means that their buses, at 30 and 60 minute headways would have to change to every 20 or 40 minutes maintain coordination.

Did they? 

I looked at a few routes. 

Route 10 every 60 min to every 60 min

Route 11 every 30 min to every 30 min

Route 12 every 30 min to every 30 min

Route 13 every 60 min to every 60 min

Route 14 every 30 min to every 30 min

Route 20 every 60 min to every 60 min

That's not all of them but it's enough of a sample to conclude they haven't headway harmonised buses with trains off-peak. Though there have been minor time adjustments, presumably to better meet peak trains. Although there remains the problem of early evening finishes with down trains not met by buses, especially on weekends.

Does this matter? Ballarat's distance (or more precisely travel time) from Mebourne means that there might not be that many who'd take (say) a midday bus then change to a Melbourne-bound train. Although it's not implausible they may wish to do so for some closer in trips. A bus every 60 minutes meeting a train every 40 minutes means recurring connections every 2 hours, that is just one in every three trains off-peak. 

As I mentioned last month, the Department of Transport has oversold these bus recoordinations. But whereas last time timetables that were unharmonised before were not harmonised afterwards, in this case bus timetables harmonised before have been unharmonised with this change. This will mean passengers attempting bus - train trips will need to more carefully plan their trips and potentially face longer or at least less consistent waiting times if they don't have much discretion over when they travel. 

The reformed 512 - Now on the Useful Network (sort of) 

Just over a year ago I profiled Route 512 through the back streets of Coburg.  Its timetable could have harmonised with trains every 20 minutes but it didn't. The reason? Some trips did a deviation through Coonans Hill that took extra time. The result was a timetable that had some 25 minute gaps. Thus there weren't consistent connections with trains nor memory 'clockface' times. 

Apparently the deviation was not well used, with this fact known by people in the Department of Transport. This timetable change quietly drops it, provides an even harmonised 20 minute frequency and even slightly extends Saturday service so it finishes just after instead of just before lunch. This is the stuff that 'smell of oily rag' bus network reform is made of. 

Researching this item required resort to the abovelinked post and memory. Why? When bus routes have complex deviations the Department of Transport frequently trips up when it comes to communicating their services accurately on the PTV website. 

DoT's automated systems may work when every trip goes the same way, but when they don't then  painstaking manual checking by people who know every deviation of every route is required. When that doesn't happen, or systems are slow to update any manually entered corrections then information presented is wrong and the travelling public gets misled.  

The 512 example below is where if you wanted to look up a trip for today you would enter the route number and select the 'until 27-02-2021' link. However the timetable under that will contain only a few trips, those that do the deviation. 80% of the route's trips won't be there. You'll only find them if you select the later date (despite you travelling before then!) and digging for a timetable (that shouldn't be there) for the earlier period. That timetable has the missing trips but needs to be read in conjunction with the trips with the deviation to see all trips. (click for better view below)


Fortunately, that problem is only temporary. The bigger picture is the improvement coming in just over two weeks. The map below shows the improved consistency and directness (which enables the consistent 20 min weekday service). 

The Saturday service becomes a flat 40 minute frequency for most of the time that it runs. The 512 is one of those routes that hasn't had a serious timetable revamp for 30 plus years. Hence it reflects past retail trading hours, such as midday Saturday shop closing. 

This new Saturday timetable improves things here. But only by a little. Instead of having to skedaddle before lunch (last bus 12:10pm Strathmore, 12:35pm East Coburg), one can now linger until 1:15 and 1:45pm respectively. A small but welcome span improvement. I haven't tallied the service kilometres added but it might break even with that which was saved by removing the deviation. 

The extra 65-70 minutes span illustrates the difficulty of bus service upgrades in Melbourne. At the current rate of service growth we are more likely to have Airport Rail operating in 2029 before the 512 (or many other busier higher priority routes) get their next lot of service increases. 

Recoordination in Werribee

A major change was the improvement of the Williamstown, Altona and Werribee trains to operate every 20, 20 and 10 minutes (respectively) in peak. As opposed to harder to remember 22, 22 and 11 minute frequencies with some extras thrown in for Werribee. 

There are not many buses that feed (as opposed to parallel) trains for Altona and Williamstown. But there are many bus feeders at stations like Werribee, Hoppers Crossing and Williams Landing. It is understood that services are tightly and efficiently scheduled. This means that if train frequencies improve then bus frequencies would also need to improve. Even if it's only one or two minutes here and there the knock on effect may require more buses to be bought to maintain good timetables without too many peak period 'holes'. Especially given the area's continued growth and increased post-COVID traffic volumes. 

Unfortunately it looks like this recoordination was done on the cheap. The result is that gaps between buses can be longer during peak times than off-peak, especially if run times are lengthened. I didn't look at all timetables but a peak-of-peak 28 minute gap for Route 180 (which is nominally every 20 minutes) towards Werribee stood out. 

Route 180's fate is the sort of 'death of a thousand cuts' atrophy that Melbourne bus services often experience, as travel times deteriorate due to rising car traffic. It's also worth noting that Route 180 is one of Melbourne's highest performing bus routes in terms of patronage per service kilometre and need for improvement. 

A kludge that's outlived its usefulness

Not that it's been fully implemented network-wide, but the minimum service standard for buses in metropolitan Melbourne is one bus per hour (introduced 15 years ago in 2006 - more here). 

There are times though when the 'least worst' outcome is to stretch that. For example where trains run every 40 minutes, such as is common on Sunday mornings, a bus every 60 minutes won't connect evenly with them. And it is known that many people wish to travel on Sunday mornings before the 9am start stipulated in the minimum standard. You can tell that if data indicates that the first Sunday trip is busier than any other that day. 

A cost-effective solution to both problems can be to permit an 80 minute gap between buses early on Sundays. If timed well this can permit even connections with trains and improved span with the same number of trips. And the inferior frequency is possibly more tolerable when in most cases the bus is the first public transport trip people take that day so they can more easily plan when to leave home.  

Hence, if you look at bus timetables like the current one for Route 498 there is approximately an 80 minute gap between the first two trips. Then there might be a 40 minute gap (uneven but harmonises with trains). Once trains have gone to their 20 minute service the buses can then go to their usual hourly headway with connections to trains maintained. 

One of the major improvements in the 31 January train timetables was to boost the Werribee line's Sunday morning frequency from every 40 to every 20 minutes. This higher frequency means that buses can run hourly from first trip and still harmonise with trains (in the to city direction).  However Route 498's new Sunday timetable, with its uneven 80/40/60 minute frequency continues to reflect a pattern that was necessary with the old train timetable, not the new one.  


No doubt many more stories could be told about the revised, apparently coordinated, bus timetables starting later this month. However those reviewed give a taste of what was done. It's been a very bare bones 'quick and dirty' exercise that leaves several ends loose, including harmonisation in Ballarat and even peak frequencies in Werribee. The next, and final, tranche of bus timetable changes (including for Melton) will be announced in several weeks. No doubt the topic of a future post here.  In the meantime if you have comments on these timetables, including some I didn't look at, please leave them below. 

See all Timetable Tuesday items here

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