Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #124: Western Port's tangled 795

Providing transit in low density fringe areas is always a challenge. Especially to multiple settlements around a bay or river with no direct road access between them. Such a fate befalls Cannons Creek, Blind Bight and Warneet on Western Port (Bay). 

A single bus that serves all of them is likely to be so slow and infrequent that only a few people (mostly schoolchildren) will use it. On the other hand splitting routes may introduce an unwelcome need to change. And in really lowly served areas where the aim is to get the most coverage from a single bus then it might not be possible anyway. 

Consider this geometry when you read what follows about the area's Route 795, a limited service metropolitan bus route that connects Cannons Creek, Blind Bight, Warneet and Tooradin to Cranbourne. 

Tooradin (the easternmost town in the above map) is much better placed. Being on a highway it enjoys service from both the abovementioned 795 and V/Line coaches between Yarram and Melbourne CBD. Service is frequent by rural standards, including 7 day service, operating along a simple direct route.  

795 maps

What does Route 795 look like on a map? This is how it's shown on the current PTV website. Only a little of it is a single line. So it's hard to know which way it goes, and whether all trips are the single same direction or whether they vary.  

The old PTV website (which I think in some ways was better than the current site) had more detailed maps for each route. 795's example is below. It shows the 796 (which may be useful for some passengers) and direction arrows for the 795. Some are the same direction all the time while others are marked as am and pm. So, unlike the previous map, you can trace where 795 goes, which is helpful. 

Having said that you can still get direction information on the new PTV website. You just  need to go to the Casey local area map that covers the area. Unlike the map above it is geographically accurate and shows more features. 

A close-up of one of the 795's more complex bits is here. 


The 795 runs Monday to Friday only. It is almost a school and peak only service though the start and finish times are not quite wide enough for commuters, especially those who work closer in than Cranbourne. As an example the first bus arrives there at 8:18am, meaning that even if connections are good you wouldn't be in the CBD before about 9:30am. And on the outbound the last afternoon trip is just after 5pm from Cranbourne. 

There are five trips in both directions. Two around 8 or 9am, two around 4 or 5pm and another around 2 or 3pm, which in the inbound direction operates on school days only. Buses appear to be kept near Cranbourne. It looks like the timetable has been designed to avoid dead running. For example the first trip to Cranbourne appears to be formed by an earlier arrival with the reverse being true for the last trip. While economical the effect of this is to narrow the span at times it could be helpful for commuters (eg an earlier first arrival at Cranbourne along with a later last departure from there). 

Hence the 795 as currently timed doesn't work as a commuter bus for most. However its times could work for some school trips. Also day shoppers from Westernport areas can get the second morning bus to arrive at Cranbourne at 10am. There being no midday buses they must stay four hours before getting the next outbound bus just after 2pm. 

Of note are the many variations and changes of direction. Few trips go the same way, especially towards Cranbourne. For example some finish at the shopping centre rather than go the extra stops to the station. And in the afternoon you can go from Warneet to Cannons Creek but not in the morning. However morning trips give access to Tooradin. See the 795 timetable on the PTV site to see if you can make sense of it. 


Route 795 started in 1987 with details on the BCSV history website. The route appears not to have significantly changed for about 30 years with the 1992 network map showing it similar to now. 

A weekend service was attempted in 2006 but patronage was not considered sufficient and it was dropped after a year. However the semi-rural Pearcedale is now served by the 792 from Cranbourne which runs a full suburban 7 day service (every 40 min). This contrasts to its long-standing complex loop route 776 from Frankston that runs only occasionally. 


795 is a puzzle. Is how it currently runs the best possibility for a difficult catchment or are there ways of unscrambling it to make it better?  Would trips at commuter friendly times help? Would anyone use it if a weekend service was revived? And is there scope for better integration with the V/Line coach to assist network reform? Comments are invited and can be left below.  

Index to Timetable Tuesday items

Friday, June 25, 2021

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 96: Spring clean for Night Bus Network

In the same media release that earlier this month announced Victoria's Bus Plan, was news that the bus portion of Night Network will be transformed from September 2021.  

Under the plan there will be more Night Network routes with some operating not as special routes but extra trips on regular routes to provide for 24 hour weekend service. The latter overcomes problems with the existing Night Bus network whose special routes were poorly understood and often poorly used. 

Running key routes 24 hours is the gold standard practice in big cities that treat buses seriously. It would make us more like Sydney which does this not only on weekends but also during the week on a few routes. Even Adelaide and Brisbane have extended service on some regular route corridors as discussed here. What was speculated about there is happening soon and to more routes than you might have thought.  

What is changing? Nothing specific has yet been released to the public. However Nine News on 13 June carried a report that mentioned the 24 hour running of some bus routes. These are mapped below.  

Some were incorrectly numbered so I annotated what I think are the correct route numbers. 

The map shows the entirety of all routes with the long 901 orbital between Melbourne Airport and Frankston especially conspicuous. Even if it only ran hourly it would be expensive relative to its benefits. So I really can't see it running in the north and south, though it could work in the east. Similar comments apply to the extremities of routes like 693 and 788 which either overlap train lines or are in low density areas. Hence I wouldn't take the full lengths of all the lines you see above seriously. When services are only hourly getting the route length right is essential for buses to both connect with trains and be efficient to run. 'Sweet spot' times  to the terminus are 25 minutes for a one-bus route and about 55 minutes for a two-bus route. 

To summarise, it looks like that the five regular CBD routes that will be part of Night Network include: 

908 (Note: usually commences at Doncaster Park & Ride with connections from 907)

All serve north or north-eastern suburbs. The last three are Doncaster Area Rapid Transit SmartBuses. 906 is the only one of these not included but because it has a large freeway portion it doesn't have as much unique coverage as other routes. All routes already operate long hours on their regular timetable so conversion to 24 hours on weekends won't be expensive given that Night Bus routes like 961 and 966 won't be needed anymore. Their frequency will be known when the timetables come out. 

The sixteen regular non CBD routes (and likely CBD connections) that will run include: 

150 (Werribee line train)
180 (Werribee line train)
190 (Werribee line train)
357 (Mernda line train) 
386 (86 tram and/or Mernda line train) 
406 (Werribee or Sunbury line train) 
410 (Werribee or Sunbury line train) 
420 (Sunbury line train)
630 (Sandringham, Frankston and/or Pakenham/Cranbourne line train) 
670 (Belgrave/Lilydale line train)
693 (Pakenham/Cranbourne line train) 
703 (Sandringham, Frankston, Pakenham/Cranbourne, Glen Waverley or Belgrave/Lilydale line trains)
788 (Frankston line train)
833 (Frankston line train) 
900 (Frankston and/or Pakenham/Cranbourne train) 
901 (Belgrave/Lilydale and/or Pakenham Cranbourne line train - assuming eastern portion only) 

In some of these cases passengers that had a one seat ride from the CBD with the current Night Network will need to take a train and change to a bus. That could be seen as unattractive. However the trade off is improved simplicity since users of these buses will be used to doing this during the day on these same routes. These will likely run hourly given the release's mention about them connecting to hourly trains. 

More detail by area

City of Wyndham

The City of Wyndham north of the Werribee line will have service provided by regular bus routes 150, 180 and 190. The Tarneit terminus of 150 is the start of 180 and the Werribee end of 180 is the start of 190 so it will be interesting if all these are run by the one bus. These should replace at least the outer portion of the existing 945 from the CBD. Route 180 and Route 190 already operate long hours so again these changes would not have been expensive to implement. 

The Point Cook and Newport areas don't feature on the map Nine News presented. However they currently have Night Bus coverage provided by Route 944. This means that they will continue to be served with 'bespoke' Night Bus routes with tenders called for them last year. These will also need to start in September. 

Maribyrnong and Brimbank 

Again three upgraded regular routes are involved. These include the very popular 406 from Footscray to Keilor East, 410 from Footscray to Sunshine and 420 from Sunshine to Watergardens serving a catchment quite similar to the current 942 Night Bus. 

Interestingly all routes selected operate only standard local bus hours with service finishing around 9pm. Of the three possibilities between Footscray and Sunshine (216, 220 and 410) the selection of the latter was interesting, possibly due to it being the most consistently distant route from the Sunbury line. This is even though 410 has shorter operating hours than the 216 and 220. However as it's shorter and doesn't run into the CBD it's a cheaper route to run. 

Darebin, Banyule and Whittlesea

Routes involved are the 250, 357 and 386. All are key routes for their area. 250 serves a low income catchment at Heidelberg West and also La Trobe University. 357 serves a part of Thomastown and new low income areas in Epping North. 386 goes along the alignment you'd expect any 86 tram extension to run to South Morang then serves residential areas to the north. They are not particularly direct routes but they have a lot of coverage. Their presence would substitute for the northern section of the 955.

Outer East

This area will gain extra trips on four regular routes including 670, 693, 900 and (likely) 901. The regular 670 is very similar to the current 963 Night Bus from Ringwood to Lilydale so this would have been an easy reform. The existing 969 through the Knox area is however very different to any daytime route with it looping from Caulfield around to Ringwood via Knox City. The revised network, featuring the 900 and (at least) a section of the 901 will make catching Night Network in the area the same as during the day. The 693 will also be of assistance. 


This area will get regular east-west routes in the form of the very popular 900 and 630, both of which run to Monash University Clayton. It will be interesting to see whether both connect with the same train at Huntingdale or whether they have been offset so that the 900 connects with a Frankston train at Caulfield and there is some spacing between the trips. Also notable is the 703 which would serve Centre Rd. These upgraded regular routes will require deletion or rerouting for the 969, 978 and 979 Night Bus services to avoid overlap. 

Outer south

Night Network's 970 is almost the same as the regular 788 from Frankston down the Mornington Peninsula. So it's not surprising that the 788 is joining Night Network. Provided coordination is maintained this should improve legibility especially for early Sunday morning travel where people no longer need to think about two routes. 

The main area where 970 did vary was in the portion between Carrum and Frankston where it went via Frankston North (with quite good patronage). To retain this a decision was made to include the 833 in the Night Network. This will expand Night Network coverage to Patterson Lakes and Carrum Downs while also improving Frankston North coverage. 


The above has discussed the 20-odd regular bus routes that will become part of Night Network with extra trips. These will make 'small hours' travel much easier in the areas in which they operate and contribute to the usability of the bus network. This should be the case not only for late night travellers but even more so on early weekend mornings whose passengers expect a regular network to be running. The presence of a 24 hour bus, especially if daytime service is frequent like the 907, might affect where some choose to live, a decision that may lead to increased patronage at all times, not just at night. 

It will also be interesting to see what happens to the 13-odd routes that will comprise those services that will remain dedicated Night Network only routes. More details here when information comes to hand. 

See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Timetable Tuesday 123: 19 bus routes we could upgrade soon

Last Friday I reviewed Victoria's Bus Plan. This was our first significant bus planning document for 15 years. It signals that bus network reform is back on the state government's agenda after a while in the wilderness. 

Most of the next two years will be spent planning reform, including preparing a detailed Bus Reform Implementation Plan. However there would still be some lesser reforms beforehand. For example a revised Night Bus network and timetable changes on 19 bus routes in September 2021. The 13 June release said that the latter would include "extra weekend services, earlier starts and later finishes".  

We don't know a lot about the routes that will get timetable revisions. 223 and 293, both operated by Transdev, have been mentioned in the media. But others have not been. Presumably more will be known when closer to the start date. Then after that there will be some other changes coming to the bus network including those funded in previous state budgets. 

Which brings us to today's hypothetical exercise. That is to come up with small upgrades for 19 bus routes with the number chosen because of what is happening in September. It is not an attempt to predict what will happen then. However it is still worth going through constraint-bound exercises like this due to the focus they can give, including critically assessing what is more or less important. And if things do happen it's interesting to see what was favoured and what wasn't to try to discern patterns. 

Deciding cheap upgrade priorities

If you could upgrade timetables on 19 of Melbourne's 350-odd bus routes which would you choose? Because some suburbs have a 30 year backlog in bus network reform and coordination, one could come up with hundreds of ideas, many with merit. 

The answers one comes up with may depend on what you most value, for instance benefiting the most people, better servicing an area with high social needs or taking an opportunity where a reform is so cheap you'd be silly not to do it. 

Expressed in another way these three reform groups are: 

A. High patronage and high patronage potential. Upgrades to these top performing routes would benefit thousands of passengers across much of the metropolitan area including to its biggest suburban destinations. 

B. Social equity connections. Benefits on these shorter routes are more localised and reverse past service cuts or where MOTC stopped short. But some are also strong patronage performing routes so justify upgrade on these grounds alone.   

C. Cheap fixes. Routes have average or less patronage but substantial overserving in one part of the day can allow more-than-offsetting 'greater good' upgrades for tiny amounts of money (we're talking about a few tens of thousands of dollars per project). Such over-servicing may occur on the same route  at another time or on a nearby route run by the same bus operator from the same depot. 

In a nutshell, if you wanted to benefit lots of people, you'd pick mostly A and B type reforms. But if you were keen to get bus reform moving but needed changes to be substantially self-funding then the focus would be C-type reforms. Or you could get creative and deliver some A or B type upgrades with a C type budget by working the pruning shears harder. I don't use them much today but other opportunities were discussed here, herehere and here. Hopefully the Bus Reform Implementation Plan will examine possibilities like these but execution won't then be as quick.     

Cheap bus fixes rarely excite many people. But they get the reform process moving and the Department of Transport in the right mindset for better things ahead. And, in a refreshing change from the billions we're used to in big infrastructure projects, $1 million annual expenditure (ie the pay of three DoT senior executives) could deliver a whole program, involving the odd trip slotted here and there, at $10 to $100k per tweak per route. 

I should mention that although A and B are not as cheap as C, they still rate well on a cost-effectiveness per passenger basis due to their high patronage. This is especially if (as recommended here) all upgrades involve added bus and driver hours only. That is they need no new buses to be purchased

Other criteria include simple implementation (no route changes, just timetables), upgrades that are only small to medium scale per route (one or two extra buses out with options depending on budget) and the previously mentioned willingness to reduce costs by tackling over-servicing. The latter is why the concept of having routes on positive or negative outlook for service changes (as mentioned on Friday) is so important. 

The upgrade list (19 routes)

1. Route 150: Williams Landing - Tarneit (A)

A very productive route serving a dense growth area in the City of Wyndham. Feeds stations on the Werribee and Geelong lines. Already has close to minimum standards operating hours but catchment is distant from stations. Catchment has low car ownership and high casual workforce.    

Basic: Add trips to increase operating hours by approximately 3 hours per day (60 - 90 min earlier starts and 60 - 90 min later finishes 7 days per week).  

Better: Above but approx 5 more hours extra per day (eg midnight finishes).  

Best: Above plus interpeak and preferably weekend daytime service increased from every 40 to every 20 minutes with some mid-evening frequency upgrades.  

2. Route 180: Werribee - Tarneit (A)

Another very productive route serving a dense growth area in the City of Wyndham. Feeds stations on the Werribee and Geelong lines. Already has long operating hours on Friday and Saturday nights. Large  catchment is distant from stations.    

Basic: The first Friday night only service each way upgraded to operate all five days. Where possible adjusting the peak timetable to provide improved evenness between trips (especially the 28 minute gap created earlier this year) and better interleaving with the new Route 182 on Tarneit Rd. 

Better: All Friday night services (two or three each way) operate all five days. 

Best: Above plus 60 min earlier weekend starts and mid-evening frequency upgrades.   

3. 270: Box Hill - Mitcham (A)

This is one of the busiest bus routes in Melbourne's middle-east with consistently strong 7 day usage. Assuming its present form in 2014, it is the main route through Blackburn North, feeds two major train stations and serves the large centre of Box Hill. Weekday services are about every 10-20 minutes in the peaks and 20 minutes interpeak. 270 enjoys longer than average operating hours with the last weekday bus leaving Box Hill after 11pm. However it never got 'minimum standards' upgrades and Saturday and (especially) Sunday operating hours are short, especially given its high patronage. For example the last Sunday buses leave Mitcham before 5:30pm and Box Hill before 6pm. Weekend am starts are also quite late.  

Basic: Commence weekend service 60 minutes earlier on both days. Extend Saturday pm service by 2 hours and Sunday pm service by 3 - 4 hours to provide for an after 9pm finish.   

Better: As above but upgrade Sunday daytime service to every 30 minutes.  

Best: As above but upgrade weekend daytime services to every 20 minutes given high usage. 

4. 271: Ringwood - Box Hill via Park Orchards (C)

Unlike others here the 271 is not an especially well used route. The 2014 experiment to operate a 30 minute Saturday service cannot be considered a success with below average boardings per service kilometre recorded. Also notable is the absence of Sunday service with no alternative routes in much of the area it serves. A resource reshuffle between the two days could thus permit low cost 7 day service to be provided. Weekday evening services also operate until unusually late for a neighbourhood route. 

Basic: Reduce Saturday service from every 30 to every 60 minutes. Use resources to operate a new Sunday service every 60 minutes. Review usage, operating hours and frequency of late weeknight service if needed to fully fund above.  

Better: Improvements on other routes presented here have higher priority.  

Best: Improvements on other routes presented here have higher priority. 

5. 279: Box Hill - Doncaster Shoppingtown (A)

One of Melbourne's busiest weekend routes feeding major shopping centres but only hourly on Sunday.  Runs until midnight on weeknights but unusually early finish on Saturday (earlier than Sunday).   

Basic: Increase Sunday service from every 60 to every 30 minutes. Add one extra Saturday trip from both Doncaster and Box Hill to provide a similar evening span to Sunday. 

Better: Above plus extend weekend operating hours to 9pm MOTC standards including a 60-90 min earlier am start. Increase 5 - 8pm weekend service from every 60 to every 30 minutes.  

Best: Above plus improve service to match SmartBus standards (basically only an early weeknight frequency and Saturday evening upgrade). Not to be done until route is simplified.  

6. 404: Footscray - Moonee Ponds (A, B)

The fastest and most direct route between two major centres. Also serves dense housing at Kensington Banks. Currently limited hours and no Sunday or public holiday service.   

Basic: Add daytime Sunday service similar to Saturday timetable. Operate on public holidays as per standard pattern. 

Better: Above plus extend operating hours to MOTC standard (ie 9pm 7 day finish). 

Best: Above plus boost interpeak weekday service from 40 to 20 min. 

7. 406: Footscray - Keilor East via Highpoint (A)

Like many routes in the inner west this popular route has a good Monday to Saturday service (every 20 minutes) but falls off greatly on Sunday (to every 40 minutes). Straightening in a future network reform is needed but for now a service upgrade would give worthwhile benefits. Its catchment around Highpoint is rapidly densifying.    

Basic: Upgrade Sunday daytime service to every 20 minutes. Add one Sunday am trip to provide an earlier start. 

Better: Above plus boost evening frequency from 40 to 30 minutes. Extend evening finish to approximately 10-11pm. 

Best: Above plus broaden weekday shoulder peak services so 15 minute service runs for more of the time. 

8. 408: Highpoint - St Albans via Sunshine (A, B)

Similar comments to 406 but frequency drop-off is more extreme with Sunday service only hourly despite high usage and favourable demographics. The only bus going past Sunshine Hospital and serves densifying area near Highpoint makes the 408 very popular.   

Basic: Upgrade Sunday daytime service from every 60 to every 40 minutes. Start weekday am service approximately 30 min earlier (one extra trip each way) and start weekend am service about 60 - 90 minutes earlier. 

Better: Above but with 30 minute Sunday daytime service. Boost evening service from 40-60 to every 30 minutes and extend evening finish to approximately 10pm. 

Best: Above but widen span that 20 minute frequency applies. Extend evening service to midnight with even earlier am starts. 

9 & 10. 423 & 424: St Albans - Brimbank SC (B)

With about double the boardings per service kilometre of the average Melbourne bus route, the 424 is the busiest of the two. However the 423 (that it is operationally linked to) is also an above average patronage performer. Both routes serve catchments with concentrations of social disadvantage away from train services. They gained seven day service in the 2014 Brimbank network reform but finishes remain 1 - 2 hours earlier than the 9pm minimum standards finish, especially on weekends. 

Basic: Insert two extra evening trips each way on each night of the week to improve early weeknight frequency and extend operating hours to approximately 9pm on all days. Commence morning service approx 30 minutes earlier weekday and 60 - 90 minutes earlier weekends. Improve Saturday morning  service from every 60 minutes to every 40 minutes. 

Better: Above plus boost Sunday service from every 60 to every 40 minutes. Further upgrade evening service from every 60 to every 30 - 40 minutes (timed to match trains) especially on weeknights until last bus.  

Best: Above but boost daytime frequency from 40 to 20 minutes on both routes (preferably 7 days). Further extend operating hours by adding earlier and later trips. 

11. 431: Yarraville - Kingsville (C)

Route 431 isn't particularly well used (especially on Saturdays) but it serves a densifying part of Kingsville with few other public transport options. It operates limited hours with weekday service ceasing at 7pm and Saturday service at 6pm. There is no Sunday service. Also serving Yarraville Station is Route 432 to Newport. This has much less usage per bus service kilometre than the 431 and the same on Saturdays. The very indirect 432 runs much longer hours and includes Sunday service. However its timetable is confusing with uneven 20 to 30 minute gaps on weekdays and a 45 minute weekend frequency which does not harmonise with trains. Hence there may be scope to trim services on the 432 to fund improvements on the 431. Because both routes serve Yarraville station there may be efficiency benefits if services were interlined. 

Basic: (i) Reduce Route 432's off-peak weekday service to a clockface 30 minute frequency that provides simplicity to users, evenly meshes with trains and better reflects usage. Use saved service kilometres to extend Route 431's service to finish 9pm weekdays. (ii) Adjust Route 431's Saturday service from every 30 to every 40 minutes but have similar number of trips due to increased operating hours (9pm finish). Consider interlining with Route 432 trips at Yarraville to permit an increase in the latter's frequency from 45 to 40 minutes. (iii) Commence new Sunday service, operating  hourly until 9pm. Funded by interlining with Route 432 and reducing 432's service from 45 to 60 minutes to reflect low patronage. Above changes should be more than self-funding. 

Better: As above but commence weekday, Saturday and Sunday service on both 431 and 432 one hour earlier as current starts are late. Also operate Sunday service every 40 minutes similar to Saturday service, aim for a 40 minute evening frequency on both routes (to mesh with trains) and tidy peak timetables on both routes to optimise train connections if possible.  This change should be close to self-funding. 

Best: Improvements on other routes presented here have higher priority. However both 431 and 432 should be part of a later network review to improve coverage and directness.  

12. 468: Essendon - Highpoint (A)

A short route that provides an important link from the Craigieburn line to Highpoint Shopping Centre. Currently limited hours and no Sunday service.  Weeknight Monday - Thursday timetable oddity ends service before 6pm. 

Basic: Add daytime Sunday service. Extend Monday - Thursday weeknight service to after 7pm. 

Better: Above plus extend weekend finish to 7pm. 

Best: Above plus 'minimum standards' hours (eg 7 day 9pm finish including Friday evening trips operating Monday - Thursday). 

13. 506: Moonee Ponds - Westgarth (A)

High patronage potential route across Melbourne's densifying inner-north. Has 15-20 min weekday service but lacks Sunday or public holiday trips. Has early Saturday finish and confusing summer timetables.   

Basic: Extend Saturday service to 7pm but reduce Saturday am service from 20 to 30 min to provide consistent all day clockface timetable and help fund Sunday service. Add hourly Sunday service until 7pm. Abolish reduced service summer timetable and add public holiday service.  

Better: Above but with Sunday service every 30 or 40 min. Extend hours to MOTC standard (ie 9pm finish).  

Best: Above but with weekend daytime service upgrade to every 20 min. Some minor span increases (beyond minimum standards).  

14 & 15. 529 & 533: Craigieburn - Highland Shopping Centre (A, B)

529 is the busiest route here but as it's operationally linked to the 533 (and that gets above average usage) I've opted to include both. These routes serve areas distant from trains and feature a densely populated catchment with low car ownership and a high casual workforce. The 40 minute off-peak frequency is low for the route's patronage and evening frequencies (typically every 40 min) do not always harmonise with trains (typically every 30 min).    

Basic: Extend operating hours with starts approximately 1 hour earlier and finishes approximately 2 hours later, taking care to optimise connections with trains at Craigieburn. 

Better: Above but also boost off-peak weekday frequency from 40 to 20 minutes. Evening service boosted to 30 min with aim to consistently meet arriving trains. 

Best: Above but also boost weekend daytime frequency from 40 to 20 minutes.   

16. 536: Glenroy - Gowrie (B)

A popular route linking two railway lines serving a low income catchment with limited operating hours and days. Limited hours and no Sunday service.  

Basic: Add daytime Sunday service. Operate on public holidays as per standard pattern. 

Better: Above plus extend weekend finish to 7pm. 

Best: Above plus 'minimum standards' hours (eg 9pm finish) Simplify route and upgrade to 20 min (weekday interpeak) to harmonise with trains. 

17. 733: Box Hill - Clayton/Oakleigh (A)

One of Melbourne's most productive bus routes on a boardings per kilometre basis. Serves large and popular destinations including Box Hill, Mt Waverley, Monash University, Monash Medical Centre and Clayton Station. Infrequent service for its patronage especially weekday off-peaks and Sunday. Current Saturday timetable has a frequency drop off after lunch (from 30 to 40 min). A confusing reduced service timetable operates over summer.  

Basic: Upgrade Sunday timetable from every 60 min to every 30 minutes for portion between Box Hill and Clayton (only). Adjust Saturday timetable to provide for even 30 min service between Box Hill and Clayton (only) with a 60 minute frequency permissible between Clayton and Oakleigh.  Commence weekend am service 60 - 90 min earlier both days. 

Better: Above plus remove confusing reduced summer timetable. Extend hours to start 30-60 min earlier on weekdays with a pm finish not before 10pm.   

Best: Above but with a 15 min weekday interpeak, 20 min weekend day and 30 min evening frequency. Extend operating hours to midnight and add one or two earlier am trips each day. 

18. 800: Chadstone - Dandenong (A)

A popular main road route that serves major destinations and interchanges including Chadstone, Oakleigh, Monash precinct/M-City, Daniel Andrews' electorate office and Dandenong. Every 20 minutes weekdays but currently only every 2 hours Saturday pm and no Sunday service. 

Basic: Upgrade to hourly on Saturday afternoon. Extend evening span to 8-9pm weekdays and 7pm Saturday. 

Better: Above plus introduce an hourly Sunday service. Extend finish to 9pm 7 days.  

Best: Above plus weekend daytime service upgraded to every 30 or 40 minutes. 

19. 844: Dandenong - Doveton (B)

Route 844 is a short 'out and back' line serving a low income catchment with limited operating hours and days. It lacks after 3pm Saturday afternoon and any Sunday service. 

Basic: Add extra trips to finish at 7pm Saturday. Add weeknight trips ex Dandenong around 6:40 and 8pm.  

Better: Above plus introduce Sunday service to 7pm. 

Best: Above plus 'minimum standards' hours (eg 9pm finish). 


Presented is a list of upgrades for 19 bus routes in Melbourne. They vary from substantial upgrades to key routes to 'smell of oily rag' efforts involving reallocating resources within and between routes. However none involve peak buses and all can be scaled to suit available resources. Please leave comments below if you think others should be in there as well. But since it's a list of 19 please also suggest any that shouldn't be here. 

Index to Timetable Tuesday items

Friday, June 18, 2021

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 95: Victoria's new bus plan


On Sunday June 13 Transport Minister Ben Carroll MP launched Victoria's Bus Plan (release here). It's the first significant bus plan from the state government since Meeting Our Transport Challenges came out in 2006. MOTC (as it was often abbreviated to) also covered other modes but the biggest impact it had was on buses.  

Here's my review. Either read it here or, if you prefer, jump down the page for a video session and chat. Even if you do watch the video make sure you come back here as there are many things explained not in the video. 

History and background

The MOTC upgrades boosted bus service by 25%, sparking a similar rise in patronage. Key MOTC initiatives were (a) minimum service standards on over 250 Melbourne bus routes (hourly until 9pm, 7 days), (b) new SmartBuses, mostly comprising orbital routes around Melbourne and Doncaster trunk routes, and (c) local area bus reviews. 

The MOTC program was about 60% completed. A substantial number of popular bus routes that should have it remain without 7 day service, not all promised SmartBus orbitals were completed and many bus review recommendations didn't proceed. The goal of synchronising timetables across train, tram and bus by years' end was never plausible and remains unresolved in 2021. Nevertheless MOTC deserves credit since what it achieved for buses far exceeded anything else for decades prior and in many years since. That includes 1988's MetPlan that fell victim to the early '90s recession.   

Bus network reform became cheaper but bolder after Labor lost government in 2010. Point Cook, Brimbank and some areas served by Transdev got radically reformed bus networks. However unless the buses were to feed new stations the funding was limited so these were 'smell of oily rag' upgrades. They lacked the grand sweep of the SmartBus orbitals but were cost-effective patronage successes locally. 

Not long after Labor returned in 2014 the transport minister Jacinta Allan flicked the switch to 'big build' infrastructure. Political interest in service or network reform slumped. The 2018 election saw the public transport portfolio briefly under first-time minister Melissa Horne before being taken up by the current and more senior Ben Carroll. Under his watch previously eschewed terms like 'bus network reform' could be uttered again. As indeed it was in 2021 budget documents.   

The plan

What's in the plan? There are 6 aims, 6 reform objectives and 6 actions. 2021 to 2023 will be mainly preparatory work with the big action happening from 2023 to 2030. The plan doesn't have funded initiatives for these so is dependent on future budgets.  

There's more after 2030. This is less defined but the thrust seems to be to build up buses as legitimate mass transit. The last attempt at this was over 10 years ago when SmartBus and DART routes started.  

These were big steps forward at the time. However with still slow travel times on the orbitals, half-hour waits at some times and, for a while, appalling cleaning and maintenance, SmartBus barely deserved to be regarded as a premium bus service. And within Australia it is inferior to the busway systems in Brisbane and Adelaide and even the frequent on-road 900-series routes in Perth.

Arguably this is less important in Melbourne due to our large train and tram networks. However it does make our fast public transport network notoriously radial. It may be that this inadequacy gave rise to the biggest proposed public transport project of the lot, the Suburban Rail Loop. Still that's just one corridor and fast and frequent buses remain needed to link key suburban hubs to each other, and on corridors like Doncaster, to the CBD. Not to mention the potential for the SRL corridors themselves before rail services start. Hence the plan's interest in reviving the neglected mass transit role for buses. 

Note the timing of the state election (late 2022) in all this. I'd imagine that work would be sufficiently advanced to be able to make some announcements in the campaign leading up to it. Due to the lead time involved between funding and implementation for a new bus route (about 2 years), the 2022 budget should give some clues as to how rapidly the government will move on bus service reform and expansion.  

The plan sets the scene with a 'what we know' section. For example frequency, span and timeliness of service are stated to be the primary drivers of customer satisfaction. These are the basics and it's really good that the plan acknowledges this. The plan even has an 'every 10 minutes' icon to hammer this home. 

The rise of a specialised 'user experience' professional group, split from planners (who should incorporate usability in their normal work) may have contributed to past misguidance where cost-adding gimmicks (eg free wi-fi) were given greater prominence than basics like useful routes and good service. This bias might, at last, be righting itself.  

Another thing that's obvious but always bears repeating (which the plan does) is that most passengers walk to the bus. Which figures as buses are the nearest public transport to two-thirds or more of the metropolitan population. Walking access to stops is key. Progress here requires work from parts of the Department of Transport well outside bus planning such as that responsible for roads. Importantly access needs to be viewed from a directness and catchment coverage lens as well as a safety lens (that if applied on its own can make walking around roads and barriers so indirect and convoluted that people either stay home or drive, thus perversely achieving pedestrian safety objectives).  

Use of information about the service is about evenly split between online and at the stop. We need to do a lot better on the latter, especially at interchange points. This is most effective where you've got a legible network. In the words of the plan we need to 'unscramble complex routes'.  

The plan talks a bit about innovation. It's worth a cautionary note here. Nothwithstanding some job titles in the Department of Transport, it often gives better returns to do something that's proved and successful in 100 places than 10 instead of chasing every last speculative 'innovation' for 'pilot projects'.

Demand responsive / flexible route services may have a place but it's not a very big one if you've got a well developed local and trunk route network. In Rowville they've made what I consider a mistake in starting FlexiRide before revamping the regular network then considering whether flexible routes are still needed at all. Flexible route services are discussed in more detail here

Before you can fix a problem you need to know what it is. The plan diagnoses key issues with bus services well. 

The mismatch between demand and service level was particularly noteworthy as it implies opportunity for cost-effective network reform that is generally beneficial. This should be done sooner rather than later as it needn't wait for large funding. At the same time we need to be mindful of the big picture, which is declining service per capita in the last 8 or so years, and that more bus service kilometres are needed to deliver true network transformation, especially more ten minute corridors.

Praiseworthy is the aim is to integrate bus reform with 'Big Build' infrastructure projects. This is well overdue. Many bus routes stay one side of the railway line in areas like Box Hill, Ringwood and St Albans as long boom gate down times would have reduced reliability. Removing level crossings would lessen that problem but bus routes were largely not rethought to take advantage of this. Hence level crossings remain somewhat of a 'Berlin Wall' for bus passengers still forced to change despite better road access across them. 

Another example is Southland Station which could have spurred on local bus reform, for instance simpler routes and a direct bus along Bay Rd to Sandringham (which could be beneficial when rail lines are closed for future projects). So I hope the plan encourages some catching up on neglected network reform at sites like these. 

Net zero emission buses is another theme. There are currently trials and general consensus we should be moving faster. There was an announcement about a faster transition in the 2021 budget. It's even better if we get people into high occupancy zero emission public transport which is why you also need network reform. 

Planning bus travel is acknowledged as being complicated. Mention is made of the need for real time information and simpler journey planning. It was good though that direct routes were mentioned. This is critical as far more people know their main roads than their bus routes. I'd have liked more mention of the need to simplify timetables and operating patterns. For instance on the long weekend that the plan was launched confusing variations on what bus routes ran on the public holiday Monday made catching buses a gamble

Six reform objectives

These can be summarised as: 

1. Making the network simpler, faster and more reliable

2. A cleaner, faster fleet. This may include smaller and larger buses. With a transition to zero emission. 

3. Better performing buses with priority measures and better interchanges. The rapid running trial on Route 246 where buses maintain a headway rather than a timetable is also mentioned as something that could be done more widely (although there is only one other standard bus route in all of Melbourne with a 10 minute weekday frequency - the 402). Implementation here would requires a different approach to measuring performance, for instance reliable headway maintenance rather than notions of lateness against a timetable. This in turn flows into how operator contracts are written including penalties for under performance. 

4. Better customer experience. Includes factors like accessibility. I'm pleased that network design is included as a factor here. Timetables could have been mentioned more since we have so many routes with restricted operating hours and days. Or non-clockface frequencies (like every 22 minutes) that are hard to remember and don't mesh evenly with trains every 20 minutes.

5. Governance and systems management. This is important as from personal experience information systems are not as stable, reliable and accurate as they should be. Especially during times of disruption. 

6. Better value for money with industry partnerships and presumably revised operator contracts or franchises. I wrote about metropolitan bus franchising here

Service categories (Good in theory but poorly articulated)

A lot of the meat in the plan is listed under the first point that defines a hierarchy of bus routes. It is very good that there is one. Routes are divided into four categories with (mostly) two or three subcategories under each. 

However I though that for it to be a genuinely useful planning aid it could have been less muddled and more specific. Read it below and judge for yourself (Click it for a clearer view).  

Category 1 is your top tier. These comprise Bus Rapid Transit services (eg City - Doncaster) and shuttle routes to major trip generators like universities. The BRT routes would offer frequent all-day service, presumably operating over long hours like the trains they are supposed to replicate. Shuttle routes would serve a more select market. They are not explicitly listed as frequent though they really should be if they are to earn top tier status. 

While we're talking about top tier services, it's worth mentioning that the plan has a picture of a SmartBus. This was the top tier in the 2006 plan and was significantly rolled out in the orbital and Doncaster routes. However its roll-out stopped short of certain ex-Met routes, like the 220, that had SmartBus or better service levels.

The plan also doesn't explain how SmartBus fits into its service categories and subcategories. If you were to reappraise SmartBus today most route sections would be in the top two categories. However quieter parts may only justify a local route service level. Any good bus plan will need to tackle the future of the SmartBus orbitals including whether they should be split to better match service provision to usage and harmonise with trains. Area and network rather than purely operator based thinking will be required to prevent a repeat of problems in 2015 when splitting was last attempted.  

Also relevant is the Principal Public Transport Network (PPTN) which is your top tier of the network across all modes (including buses). It's supposed to reflect and guide planning, zoning and personal location decisions. The Bus Plan's category hierarchy does not mention or integrate with the PPTN, indicating a disconnect between land use and service planning within the Victorian government.   

Category 2 is your more important suburban routes that may operate in mixed traffic. The most direct are 'trunk routes' that may have bus lanes. A step down are fairly direct connector routes. Their frequency and operating hours are not specified but it is mentioned that travel time should be good enough for car drivers to consider their use. Finally in Category 2 are Neighbourhood routes. These have a shorter span of hours but are strongly patronised. The two don't necessarily go together so I'm assuming that these are well used routes in densely populated areas or with favourable demographic characteristics. 

Category 3 is Local routes. They provide a minimum level of service (presumably every 60 minutes, as per the MOTC standard). However in their description it is hard to understand how they differ from the 'Neighbourhood routes' in Category 2. Maybe their population catchment is sparser? The bottom tier of this is demand responsive which in all versions tried here has limited operating hours and days. 

Category 4 is school routes, presumably operating one trip each way on school days only. They would run where a trip not provided for by a regular route is required. 

If you were going to create a bus network service hierarchy there are several characteristics you could use to define the groups. For example operating hours, frequency and speed (including whether the bus has its own right of way). 

By poorly defining operating hours or frequency standards the table above does not provide a sound means of classifying service. This is important because without it you don't have service standards and thus can't properly communicate what passengers can expect from buses. That flows back to issues of complexity that the plan correctly said was wrong with existing bus services.

The annotated table below is my attempt at 'reverse engineering' if you were to map service levels to their categories. I've included some example bus routes. But there are still some gaps and the top category frequencies I've guessed could be described as 'aspirational'.  

Even after that I didn't particularly like the classifications. It also leaves some service types out, for example peak only routes or off-peak shopper routes. These are very much minor supplements rather than mainstream in a developed bus network but should still have some place in the classification. And, as mentioned before they don't map very well to either SmartBus or the PPTN. 

An alternative bus service hierarchy that matches trains

If I was to design a service hierarchy I'd explicitly state operating hours and frequency with a minimum standard in each category. I'd have three main categories for (mostly) seven day routes with a fourth category for special purpose routes. 

To match recent Metro rail planning and practice (which call for a 10 minute main line daytime frequency and a 20 minute evening or branch line frequency), I'd do the same for buses with off-peak frequency being the main determinant of categories. 

It's not just me saying this; so was PTV (the DoT's predecessor in transport planning) who said it in their multimodal 'coordination framework' in their Network Development Plan - Metropolitan Rail from 2012. Any excuse in 2021 that better defining these should wait for a later document doesn't hold water since the Department merely needs to use work already done. 

A tidier set of service categories (which is critical to budgeting, work planning and priority setting - ie the whole success of the plan) could look something like this: 

Tier 1 would generally be every 10 minutes or better with long operating hours. This would match the Principal Public Transport Network and the portions of the SmartBus network that you would keep (I've advocated splitting SmartBus orbitals and reducing service on low density poorly used portions). Subcategories would cover BRT services, busy road services and frequent shuttles (that might have shorter hours). Only a few routes are currently in this category though the number increases if you count co-scheduled multi-route corridors (eg 200/207, 250/251, 905/906/907 etc). 

Tier 2 would generally be every 20 minutes or better with medium to long operating hours. This would be the Useful Network as often discussed here as the minimum service on all main roads and between substantial trip generators. Routes such as the 170 and 180 between Tarneit and Werribee already operate at close to the service levels defined here.  Also in this tier are what I've called 'Dense Local'. This is a category of routes in areas that have density or demographics particularly favourable for buses. Existing routes that run through them have above average patronage and deserve an upgrade. Example areas might include Craigieburn, Tarneit, Sunshine, St Albans, Glen Waverley, Springvale, Noble Park and Dandenong. Tier 2 routes might also be created by simplifying straightening or amalgamating lower frequency Tier 3 services as would be the 'bread and butter' of many local area network reforms. 

Ideally most people will be within 10 minutes walk of a Tier 1 or Tier 2 route. Improved passenger information at stations and interchanges would stress routes in this hierarchy (eg thicker lines on maps, more multimodal information, etc). 

Tier 3 is your neighbourhood suburban coverage routes every 30 to 60 minutes. They would meet minimum standards (ie at least hourly until 9pm) though there would be significant flexibility where needed. For example peak service could be higher in areas with a lot of school children and peak commuters. Many routes still fall below this tier because they don't run 7 days or are short hours only. Adding service hours to bring the busier of these (eg 536) up to the minimum standard would be the other high priority. 

Tier 4 are special purpose routes. For example they might be for school, commuter peak only, shopper or exurban routes where minimum services are not justified. Any demand responsive services (which would be a last resort for special needs not covered by Tier 1-3 routes) would be Tier 4. 

The table below shows these tiers. Advantages include better clarity than the table shown in the plan, better integration with trains and better compatibility with the PPTN and a reformed SmartBus. 

Key to hours: Long = 5am - midnight, Medium = 6am - 9pm, Short = 7am - 7pm.  

Service hierarchy as a tool for reform

How might one use a service hierarchy to weigh up priorities, inform budget submissions and plan bus reform work sequences?  

As a 'first cut', routes could be assigned a category that reflects their current service level. 

Then thought should be given to the category they should have. 

Deservingness could be determined with data like growth prospects, boardings per service kilometre and maps showing social disadvantage or car ownership along a route's catchment. 

Routes that score highly would get a promoted classification and a positive outlook for service. More frequent but quiet routes serving low social needs catchments in low growth areas could get a negative outlook. 

Notes (with symbols like crosses and question marks) could advise where a route is so useless or confusing that it should be deleted or reformed. This does not substitute for a full network review but is still worth doing for all metropolitan routes. The table below shows the concept for a few routes.  

This 'first cut' analysis could provide 'existing conditions' background information for detailed implementation plans and area reviews. These will capture instances where you'd only upgrade or demote routes if associated with reforms to other nearby services. This approach makes it easier to win public acceptance of new networks based on 'swings and roundabouts' reforms than instances where it is all cuts. This is too detailed to be in a plan like that released on Sunday but would instead form the substance of the Bus Reform Implementation Plan and/or area reviews. 

Detailed plans are essential. However they should not be used as a reason for deferring useful and beneficial upgrades. Especially where early implementation would not prejudice future likely network reform and where improvements jump out for action now.  

High priority examples include: 

* Popular routes where there are conspicuous service shortfalls. For instance three or four times as many trips on weekdays than Sundays despite high weekend usage. In other cases just a few extra trips can bring its frequency or hours up to the next tier (or even just the hourly to 9pm minimum standard). Examples include routes where service collapses on weekends to major shopping centres (eg 279, 406, 408, 703 and 800) or popular peri-urban destinations (like 685 and 788 - both included in recent budgets). 

* Crowded routes whose low to medium frequency but favourable catchments mean they are too productive for their own good with a mismatch between usage and service. The plan identifies this as a real issue that is holding back the usefulness of buses. Examples include routes like 150, 160, 495, 529, 533 and others listed before on some days of the week. Boosting these types of services is key to making buses useful in areas where people will appreciate and use them.  

* Well used but underserviced local routes in areas with high social needs. The case for upgrade may be strong where services don't meet minimum standards, eg short operating hours or no Sunday service. Examples might include 404, 414, 506, 536, 804, 814 and 844.

Implementation sequence

The above are three cases where you might improve service as soon as you can. Where the case is compelling the decision to proceed on selected routes might be made even if the implementation plan wasn't finished or there was no intention to review other routes in the area for a while. 

There was a hint of such early work in the minister's release which mentioned adjustments to the timetables for 19 routes from September 2021.  Changes like these might be the low-cost 'low hanging fruit' that could be cheaply done by reallocating service resources within a route or bus operator. 

Later the reviews could start by seeking opportunities to simplify Tier 3 routes to get their services to a Tier 2 level for relatively low additional cost. This is more complex where it involves route reform and potentially several different operators in an area. But in some cases reform may still be relatively economical, with a lot achieved from funding more driver hours rather than large-scale new bus purchases. 

While these were being implemented bus infrastructure could then be planned. These could support bus priority measures and busways including bus wormholes through slow spots with many buses serving major destinations. When these come on stream more Tier 1 services, typically every 10 minutes or better and likely requiring large scale (zero-emission) bus purchases, could be added.  

Six actions

Getting back to the plan, its six actions are as follows: 

1. Develop the Bus Reform Implementation Plan

2. Work with industry towards a zero emission fleet. 

3. Transform the bus network to better meet user needs. 

4. Systems and technology for better data and passenger information. 

5. Measures to improve customer experience.

6. Enhance on-road priority for buses.  

Of these the most detail appears to be in the Bus Reform Implementation Plan. This will be developed with input from industry and other stakeholder. It's not know exactly what form this plan will take, eg whether it will be a single document or several, possibly arranged by topic or area. 

Early initiatives announced on Sunday are as follows:

We don't know much about the 19 routes that are involved in the timetable changes. However we know that 223 and 293 (both run by Transdev) were mentioned in a Herald Sun report. Network reforms will be on the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley and Fishermans Bend. The proposal for a shuttle between Melbourne University and Victoria Park Station is still alive. The local network in Doncaster will have some big changes once the proposed busway comes in to operation. More on these changes here as timetables come to hand. 

Numbers, measures and funding

Where could the plan have been stronger? Compared to Meeting our Transport Challenges, this plan is quite short on numbers. There are no broad goals, such as the number of people and jobs that would be better connected. Maps are absent. Even the 19 routes getting new timetables in September 2021 did not get listed in the media release or supporting information.     

The plan diagnoses the problems well but there's no targets for network operating hours or frequency even at a 'minimum standards' level such as contained in MOTC. Even if specific routes were not listed  against them, having a clear service hierarchy with specific operating hours and frequencies would have added substance to the plan. After all, as the plan acknowledges, these are key drivers of satisfaction.

Good plans are measurable. High level measures that might have been useful here include those related to coverage and service level. For example the proportion of people within 400 metres of a bus operating every hour for basic coverage. Or, for more widely useful services, the proportion of people and jobs within 800 metres of transport every 20 minutes or better. The roll-out of buses in growth areas could improve scoring on the first while the extent and quality of bus network simplification and reform could improve the latter measure. As could land use if denser housing and jobs are clustered along main routes. This could happen if the PPTN had a higher profile in planning and funded bus plans respected it.   

Also notable was the absence of a mode share or patronage target. That doesn't mean there was never one; at one point the Department hoped for 200 million annual bus passengers by 2030 but wiped the goal off its website and left it out of the plan. Possibly this was due to uncertainty over COVID which has hit patronage. But to put this target in context, 200 million trips is less than that which (until recently) was carried by our trams with a much smaller network coverage. 

It looks like we'll need to wait for the Bus Reform Implementation Plan for details that some would have liked to have been presented earlier. This makes this document more a 'plan for a plan' strategy than something with targets, dollars, time-lines and well developed network concepts like MOTC had for SmartBus and minimum service standards. Also critical are state budgets for the next seven or eight years. The allocations these make for buses will determine to a large extent the plan's success or otherwise. 


Victoria's Bus Plan is the most important bus policy from the state government in fifteen years. Its writers deserve credit for accurately diagnosing the problems with buses and their proposed way forward that, if funded, should result in significant improvements. 

It also signals renewed political and administrative interest in bus service reform after a long period where transport infrastructure projects took precedence. This is also welcome. 

It is however a high level plan. There are few measurable targets and only a vague service hierarchy that does not take advantage of work already done around intermodal integration. Its success will thus depend on the availability of funding and the rigour of the Bus Reform Implementation Plan process that will need to contain detail not in the high level plan. 

If you prefer listening to reading this video is my take on the plan. And there's responses to questions and comments from viewers. And don't forget to subscribe to MelbourneOnTransit on YouTube!

What do you think about the plan? Was more detail needed or does it represent a good start? Your comments are invited and can be left below. 

See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here

PS: For a multimode plan that never was, see this Daniel Bowen blog post. It was developed as part of modelling for the East-West Link. Page 18 contains ambitious SmartBus networks much bigger than now. Download it from here