Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #121: Footscray's 223 - the tram remnant that's still going


Next year marks 60 years since the Footscray tram system was closed and replaced by buses. However the end was nigh a few years before when service on Sundays was run by buses instead of trams. It is these tram replacement buses that form the beginnings of the 223 bus which plies the same streets (and a little further) today. 


The 223 is quite short. It starts at Highpoint Shopping Centre and runs along main roads to Footscray. Then it, like the predecessor tram, runs south past the Seddon shops in Victoria St. But unlike the tram it does a clockwise loop via Williamstown Rd, Somerville Rd and Gamon St before returning to Footscray. This loop adds travel distance compared to the tram which ran via Gamon St in both direction. 

Below is the 223 overlaid on a PTV local network map. It has almost no unique coverage due to the presence of the 82 tram and the 406 bus. Like the 82 but unlike the 406 it goes a fairly direct way to Highpoint. On the latter, there was some rationale for 406's indirectness when the student village was open (as the 406 provided a direct connection to Victoria University) but that need has vanished. 

South of Footscray the 223 has no unique coverage, with it never getting far from either Middle Footscray Station, Seddon Station, Yarraville Station and the 472 bus on Williamstown Rd. Neither does it have nearby unique destinations as all these run to Footscray. 

Seddon and Yarraville used to have infrequent (20 minutely) trains off-peak with even less at night and on Sunday morning. However service upgrades  on the Werribee, Williamstown and Altona lines (some as recently as January 2021) have seen these stations get a 10 minute daytime, 20 minute evening service. This makes frequency here way better than elsewhere.  

Add the 223's long operating hours and the 15 - 20 minute service of the 472 on nearby Williamstown Rd Monday - Saturday (with less service on Sundays and evenings), you can see that this pocket is one of the best served for buses and trains in Melbourne. 


The 223 is one of those legacy ex-Tramways buses that enjoys operating hours and service frequencies equal or better to SmartBus services. Most notable is that it is one of Melbourne's few full-time bus routes with 7 day early morning to late service (even on Sundays). 

During the day Monday to Saturday the 223 runs every 15 minutes with a 20 minute service at night. The Sunday timetable is a relic with services every 30 minutes in the morning and evening, improving to every 20 minutes after lunch until late afternoon. You'll see a similar pattern with other historic timetables, eg for trams where the Sunday service was either late starting or at reduced frequency. Another remnant of past working patterns (eg the 44 hour week) was that the Saturday morning timetable features a 15 minute service from first service, despite likely low usage. 

Services finish at or close to midnight seven days, which, as mentioned before, is rare for buses in Melbourne. However the weekday start is quite late, with first trips arriving around 6:30 - 7am. And in the northbound direction the first Saturday trip is about 15 minutes earlier than the first weekday trip.  


223 is an above average patronage performer compared to other Melbourne bus routes. Usage in late 2018 was 33 boardings per service hour on weekdays, 30 boardings per service hour on Saturdays and 36 boardings per service hour on Sundays. The high Sunday figure is likely due to the popularity of Sunday shopping at Highpoint and that service frequency is less than on Saturday. Catchment and demographics also help - just about all bus routes around Footscray are well used. 

223 is however less productive than the 406 which serves a similar and often overlapping catchment between Footscray and Highpoint. 406's usage is 55 boardings per weekday, 32 on Saturday and 39 on Sunday. The high weekday usage is likely due to Victoria University being on the route. And the high Sunday usage is due to the 406's low Sunday frequency. 

Another factor is Tram 82. This only runs every 20 minutes interpeak on weekdays but 15 minutes on weekends. Those travelling from Highpoint on weekdays might thus prefer the 223 over either the 82 or the 406 which are either less frequent or slower.  

More on how high productivity can cause bus routes to run at less than their potential here


The map below shows the Footscray local tram network in 1934. 

This was closed in 1962, though service was reduced in the years leading up. Barkley St became served by what we now know as bus route 220 while the Yarraville and Ballarat Rd portions were served by what we know as the 223. The 1971 map below shows these in green since they were operated under the government-run Tramways board (unlike the red routes eg the 408 and 410 which were and are privately run but now publicly subsidised). 

The 1978 map removed the colour distinction between government and private bus routes. Also at least some trips of 223 were extended north to the then new Highpoint West Shopping Centre. 

A more comprehensive history of the 223 and its relationship with the trams appears at BCSV here

Ideas and opportunities

223's alignment has been unchanged for close to 50 years. Its basic service level hasn't had much reform either. But bus routes in the area are either complicated, indirect and infrequent even though there is the patronage, demographics and busy trip generators for services to be so much better for little added expense if routes were straightened, merged and run more frequently. 

Several questions exist. Least radically, should 223's Sunday service be upgraded to reflect Highpoint's business as a shopping centre with the first step being to lessen early Saturday morning frequency in exchange for more Sunday morning trips? 

An advance on that could be to merge 223 with a straightened 406 to cheaply become part of a 10 minute frequent service corridor as discussed in Useful Network 11. Also, is the quiet Yarraville portion needed given today's increased train frequency at Seddon and Yarraville, especially if the nearby 472 was given some extra Sunday service and longer hours to compensate? 

More radically, does the density of development around Highpoint and it having only slow trains and buses justify a high-speed bus wormhole to improve connections to Victoria University, Footscray and the new hospital?  

If you have any thoughts on the 223's future please leave them in the comments below. 

Index to all Timetable Tuesday items


Craig Halsall said...

As you've covered in detail before, definitely scope to merge the 223/406 into a single high frequency corridor with 409 rerouted via Mitchell St and Hampshire Rd (ideally with some frequency upgrades too), potentially running every 2nd trip into the Maribyrnong defense site as it is redeveloped.

What do with the Seddon section? In the mid '90s Met Bus tried a Yarraville extension via Williamstown Rd and Anderson St (but clumsily leaving the loop) but this was soon deleted due to local resident complaints and weak patronage.

My thoughts would be to extend 431 to Footscray via Fehon St, Gamon St, Charles St, Victoria St & Buckley St. This would reduce the over-serving without complaints of suddenly leaving Seddon shops without a bus altogether (despite walkable to other options) and serve another local destination.

431 has potential for a frequency & span boost along with simplification at the southern end to serve the Bradmill development on Francis St.

Regarding the 30 min Sunday morning frequency - until 1996 or so there was only an hourly morning service, despite a 20 min service after 2pm. On Krustylink you can see this was also the case back when the 223 replaced the 82 tram - yet another example of Melburnians expected not to travel on Sunday mornings!!

Steve Gelsi said...

Looking at that 1971 map, the 406 route without the Highpoint deviation actually makes sense!

It looks like you could almost entirely remove the 223 without too much loss of coverage. I know they are different operators but could there be a pairing of the 223 with the 409 to remove the loop and make a circular route between Footscray and Yarraville, with both heading to Highpoint via VU and Edgewater?

And just a couple of comments on the historical maps - very hard to imagine a bus travelling along Victoria St at Middle Footscray under the low clearance bridge, and when did the 217 become the 216? And I didn't know the 408 terminated in Maidstone.