Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #132: Double Frequency on Everything - the video

On Friday I released Double Frequency on Everything - my five word public transport plan. It is the logical follow-on from last Tuesday's item about no/low cost 'build back' better timetable reforms that would cut maximum waits. 

I recommend reading it if you haven't already done so as it has some nuances that the somewhat glib title misses. 

Watch this video if you just want a quick summary of it. It's just 2 minutes. I'm particularly pleased with the bus reform animation that I might use in other contexts. 


Index to Timetable Tuesday items here 


Friday, August 27, 2021

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 103: The 5 word public transport plan to transform Melbourne



The minister summoned the department secretary to their office.  

The conversation was brief. But its nature made an in-person delivery essential. 

"I present this plan to you. Cabinet has authorised funding on the condition that you implement it in the most widely beneficial and economical way possible. Funding for the first four years will be in the 2022 budget. However early scoping must start today as we have neither minutes nor money to waste". 

The Secretary was expecting a weighty document with hundreds of pages.

"Yet more weekend reading", they must have thought. 

Instead in their hand was a paper slip, hardly bigger than a business card.  

On it were just five words that would change the way many Melburnians travel, especially in the suburbs. Experts brought in to advise the Minister found it would carry more people than the Metro Tunnel and even rival the $50 billion plus Suburban Rail Loop for impact. 

A bit like the level crossing removal program, almost no suburb would be untouched. Instead of a 'big bang' single date opening, implementation would be staged over ten years with a start made in mid-2022 and key parts operating before the 2026 election. Media events almost each week would announce the commencement of some new addition. Backbenchers appreciated the minister's constituency visits but journalists secretly wished most weren't so far from Gertrude Street. Especially as the minister had a thing about giving preference to answering questions from reporters who had raised their mykis.  

The plan?

The Secretary was speechless. Their thoughts alternated between "Is that it?" and "This is impossible!". Old hands who pine for a different era lament that Frank and Fearless had long left such rooms. But even if they hadn't it would not have been astute for the Secretary to disclose such thoughts to a reform-minded minister eager to make things happen. 

A bad sleep

For a moment the secretary was privately hoping they received a 400 page report instead. At least that would have sent them to sleep, as opposed to the five words that would keep them awake at night.

Sleepless nights can sometimes be intellectually productive. As was indeed the Secretary's. 

First their mind churned with thoughts as to the unworkability of the Minister's request. Ordering hundreds more trains and trams, let alone bus vehicle numbers in the thousands seemed impossible. We would run out of rail track capacity without massive quadrupling and tunnelling. Our remaining level crossing boom gates would never lift. We'd also need new signalling, substations and recruitment of train drivers (a specialised skill) at a pace never before seen. Yet the minister wanted everything done within ten years! For a moment resignation seemed the path of least resistance (and not recently unprecedented when a secretary was handed a bold plan from God). 

A more flexible application

Fortunately further reflection on the day's conversation gave the Secretary heart. What if the plan could be more flexibly implemented? 

After all the minister was very interested in it being 'most widely beneficial'. And the entire cabinet, each backing their own portfolio's bids for funding, would have wanted 'economy' in a portfolio that already took the lions' share of state infrastructure spending. All this while the exploding City of Melton limps along with just two public libraries in the whole municipality. Not to mention other pressing needs like new schools, hospital waiting lists and backlogs for public housing and social services. Or payroll tax relief that governments wish to give from time to time to prove we're more competitive than Sydney.  

A more flexible approach could not only be cost-effective but also spread benefits over a wider area, including, as the political mind would not fail to consider, each suburban seat, marginal or otherwise. Which could aid party room and cabinet support. 

By morning the Secretary's funk had receded. With flexibility it might be less outrageous and actually doable. There might still be double the number of timetabled trips but not every line or route need get them equally. The hundreds if not thousands of good stable jobs created would be another plus, especially for suburbanites who have had a tough time lately in a 'gig economy' labour market or  COVID-hit sectors. New jobs could bring new hope to many homes while others will find getting to them easier. 

Quick network assessment

For reasons then undisclosed, the Secretary had been advised several days prior that it would be wise to bone up on the network's routes, timetables and frequencies. This was often considered 'lower level' detail stuff that most above middle management avoided. Some high-flyers instead preferred  attending fluffy 'stakeholder relations' junkets like launching trams with guide dog window wraps that (paradoxically) made passengers blind. 

The secretary though was wiser. Knowledge gained during those winter nights scouring the PTV website was to prove invaluable for the early scoping work the Minister requested. We're talking compressed time-lines involving days not months here. 

Peak train frequencies on the better served lines might not change at all, although revised greenfields timetables could even up spacing and simplify stopping patterns. Off-peak could rise by more than double at certain times. 

An 'off-peak first' approach would quash worries about train ordering, stabling, track capacity or boom gates. Besides the clever data analytics people found that boosting off-peak frequency had a better effect on patronage for less cost. And COVID arguably made some peak frequencies look excessive. Public transport needed to be made more useful for off-peak and local trips anyway. 

Some lines already have suitable timetables that could just be extended to run longer and later. Drivers would still be needed but improved timetables could be phased in, line by line, as their numbers allowed. Even earlier upgrades could happen if some trips were shuffled from peak periods (where they'd hardly be missed) to off-peak (where they could boost frequencies during key times). That would deliver some 'quick wins' to get the show on the rails with an initial threadbare budget.  

Peak frequency improvements dependent on infrastructure or rolling stock could happen towards the later part of the ten year period. So it's not all-or-nothing right now. The first (and low cost) priority could be to get to a 20 minute maximum wait between 6am and midnight 7 days per week. That's quite cheap, mostly inserting just one trip extra per hour each way into the timetable. Similar comments apply to a line like Belgrave/Lilydale where even cheaper reform could deliver 10 minute interpeak trains to Ringwood and 20 minutes beyond, benefiting many marginal seats. Some reforms might even cost nothing.  

Ten minute service would then follow on more sections of more lines over more of the week. On average that would be nearer to a 50% boost than a 100% boost, although frequency at certain narrow times like Sunday mornings on some lines might quadruple from forty to ten minutes. 

Trams already seemed pretty good, especially during the day. Much less than a doubling overall would suffice for all routes but the 82. Because trams generally have higher frequency than trains, the increase in service needed to get to (say) a 10 minute maximum wait all day would be less than the percentage that trains require. However a boost is still needed to reverse the erosion of service - over  much of the day we wait for trams about twice as long as our grandparents did.   

The same could not be said for buses, which provide the nearest public transport to most Melburnians. A few routes are pretty good in the peaks but not many. Only a handful have wide operating hours that match trams. Again application would be selective. You might not do much with quieter routes beyond ensuring they met a minimum service standard. But major routes could be doubled or more in frequency with longer hours, resulting in three or four times the number of trips. 


Currently metropolitan Melbourne has just two (2) seven day bus routes that run every 10 minutes or better on weekdays (246 and 402). We have quite a few routes every 20 minutes but the basic bus frequency in many outer suburbs is nearer to 40 minutes with even this falling off on weekends and vanishing after 9pm. A doubling of service could deliver a strong 7-day 10 minute network on many more corridors and a vast increase in the number of people and jobs within an 800 metre walk of service every 20 minutes or better. Spans could also be lengthened to match trams to work the bus fleet harder. 

This step up need not be as scary as it looks. Some trips could be created out of thin air simply by splitting some over-long SmartBus routes. Network simplification, as often discussed here, can reduce overlaps. This can make 10 and 20 minute frequencies cheaper to achieve than if you were just to add trips to existing unreformed routes (although some existing routes are direct or popular enough to warrant early upgrades). As we don't need to quite double trains and trams, any savings could be put into more instances of buses being increased to more than double.

Since peak bus services can be low (often hardly better than interpeak) there will need to be extra bus purchases to strengthen the network, especially in growth areas. Plus the associated costs of new depots and maintenance, not to mention staffing. However the peak upgrades could be shifted to later in the ten years, with the really cost-effective upgrades 'sweating the assets' happening first. Hence many 'quick wins' are possible. Again not an 'all or nothing' project, though large scale bus upgrades would improve bus' low image amongst Melburnians and drive patronage growth. 

What we'd get

With tentacles penetrating virtually every suburb, a revised network could look something like this. 


This would be a step-change compared to the current network which has so many routes only running every 30 or 40 minutes at most times with 9pm finishes common. 

I didn't show an existing frequent network map as it would be almost blank (just a few overlapping tram corridors near the CBD) if we only showed routes featuring Toronto-type service standards all day. Specific discussion on each route featured can be found here with the busier examples operating every 10 instead of 20 minutes as is now done in Sydney after their bus reviews.  

Would double frequency boost usage and revenue? 

About 10 to 15 years ago Melbourne greatly boosted bus services with many routes gaining early evening, weekend and public holiday service. Some peak services increased but most of the gains were evenings and weekends. The overall increase in service kilometres was about 25%. Patronage also rose by a similar percentage, indicating an elasticity of about 1. It's a decent result achieved without a lot of detailed network reform that could have increased elasticity further. 

Our experience almost exactly matched what Transport for NSW found. Increase off-peak service and in the long run you get a patronage increase by about the same amount. Short-run and (especially) peak period elasticity is less. 


This means that if you want to deliver the most usage gains you increase off-peak frequency first. The economies especially work where you can do this without increasing the peak fleet requirement by working your trains, trams and buses harder for more of the day. Even if usage only rises in proportion to the service increase you gain because the fixed component of your systems's costs is spread across more passengers. This is why networks with good off-peak frequencies (like Toronto's) often have higher farebox recovery ratios. 

Counting the cost

How much extra would all this cost? 

Only seeking a crude guess, the Secretary first grabbed Budget Paper 3 from 2021-2 (page 329). Across the state buses cost roughly $1.4 billion, trains $2 billion and trams under $400 million. Or a bit under $4b the lot. Melbourne only figures for buses and trains would be lower. A crude doubling of that would add something like $3 billion per year recurring to the budget. And that doesn't include capital (which would also be needed). 


That extrapolation lacks both rigour and fairness, especially for rail given its high fixed costs. And the Secretary would not dare raise such a high guesstimate figure with the Minister who has a whole cabinet to win over. It's not just a big number in the transport portfolio but for the budget as a whole, even if it is less than 10% of the claimed cost of the first stage of the Suburban Rail Loop. 

The Secretary digs further and finds a 2018 Parliamentary Budget Office estimate of the cost of ten minute services for Metro trains and trams. With a much lower number of $200 million per year (or about the same as one grade separation) this comes as a relief. Especially if it works out even cheaper than that. Last week Infrastructure Victoria suggested a $120 - 200 million range in its 30 year strategy. For our purposes it's not quite enough as ideally the 10 minute service would run until midnight instead of 9pm. And you might want to allow for service upgrades at metropolitan V/Line stations in the west. Still even just the unamended proposal would be a great start within say the next four or five years. 

So depending on how good you wanted, $150 to 250 million opex, with a lower number initially, would transform train and tram services. Why would you not do it?

Bus needs more but would be even more transformative given the limitations of existing routes and timetables. Because of this trains and trams need less than double but buses would more than double for an average doubling across all modes. Can we afford this? 

Bus network reform without any increase in operating budget is difficult. This is because a 'cost neutral' network may require you to sacrifice coverage in order to deliver desired operating hours and frequency improvements. Lessening a new network's coverage makes reform controversial, especially amongst those who would lose service. On the other hand, if you had a little more funding you can run a two tier network with both 'frequent' and 'coverage' routes that is far less controversial. This was the successful model that got implemented in the City of Wyndham. 

The good thing is that if you do have a bit of money for buses it can go a long way if you have an unreformed bus network, such as is the case in about two-thirds of Melbourne suburbs. This is because efficient networks can deliver a disproportionate increase in service hours for the extra money put in.  The experiences of Auckland's bus network reforms described in a UITP ANZ webinar delivered yesterday make this point well. 



The other concern people have about buses is their capacity to move big numbers of people. Especially in Melbourne where buses don't have much of a mass transit function outside the Doncaster corridor. Historically thinking here has limited bus' role to local type services. But if bus reform and service boosts gave us 200 million bus trips per year (a rise of about 70% on pre-COVID numbers) it would be bigger (from a passenger mobility point of view) than either the Metro Tunnel or the Suburban Rail Loop. Plus benefits would be more widely spread, especially in terms of access to dispersed jobs and destinations. 



'Small bus' or 'Big Bus'? 

Unlike 'Big Build' infrastructure projects, improving buses is more easily scale-able. 

You could get small scale bus reform for a couple of million per small area involving a few routes. That's great locally but is not transformative over a wide area. We've done so little with bus service reform lately that even that looks big news when it occasionally happens

Tens of millions will deliver many more improvements, including a big revamp in a targeted area or fixing a lot of long-standing timetable annoyances across Melbourne like lack of Sunday service or early finishes on major routes. But even that can only go so far. 

Victoria's Infrastructure Strategy, tabled last week, proposed a spending boost of $115 to 135 million per year on bus services. This would mainly go on 'next generation' bus routes, operating at better but not specified operating hours and frequencies. Mid-tier connector routes would also be rolled out. However IV is vague as to how far their plan would extend since they did not publish conceptual frequent network maps nor data on how many more people and jobs would be near high quality service.   

For serious Melbourne-wide reform something big, involving hundreds more buses on the road, is needed. Like with trains and trams a couple of hundred million per year would go a fair way. Even semi-revolutionary provided it was well targeted. 

Poor targeting was an issue with some of our SmartBus orbitals which overservice sparsely populated areas while underservicing busy corridors. Still SmartBus did really change how people got around and was a major contributor to increased network patronage via top-performing routes like 900 and 907. However SmartBus timetables today look decidedly second-rate against premium routes in other states like Perth's Route 950 let alone Sydney's iconic 333 so are in need of a refresh.   


Putting in say $200 million per year for buses would be amazing. But it probably won't get us to quite Toronto level bus service (particularly at night) on as many routes as we'd like. To give a rough idea, boosting weekend SmartBuses from 30 to 20 minutes adds 1 bus per hour to the timetable so is relatively cheap (ie 2 to 3 bph). Whereas a Toronto-style 10 minute service would require 4 more extra buses per hour to run (ie 2 to 6 bph). That's four times the service kilometres needed at certain times. 

We might be able to get Toronto-style service on a few key bus corridors but my tip is you'd have to settle for something nearer to a Perth  premium style service with less consistently high night frequency if you wanted to do a lot of routes for the money. Especially if you also wanted to boost some mid-level corridors. Still that would be a huge advance over now.  

Frequent on-road buses could provide good connections out to maybe 5 or 6 km from a station (pretty good for most Melburnians). The limitation is travel speed due to traffic, making them slow for longer trips (for which significant demand exists) especially to job-rich health, education, shopping and innovation precincts. Once basic frequencies are fixed speed improvements should be the network's next evolution. Quicker running times should allow further increases in frequency which would release capacity for the higher patronage the improvements would unleash. 

A high quality intersuburban network requires higher speeds with buses having their own priority and never having to wait for cars. That requires both capital expenditure for substantial bus-only infrastructure (see my item on Bus wormholes) and ultra-high frequency (say every 2-5 minutes) to spread the cost of 'Big Bus' works over millions of passenger trips per year. The three examples below would feed rather than duplicate large rail projects such as the Metro Tunnel and Suburban Rail Loop while connecting major outer and middle area destinations. 


Although bus rapid transit is described here, the mode is less important than its speed, frequency and connectivity, with light rail and even light metro being other possibilities. The trade-off with dearer modes per kilometre to construct is that you get less of a network with fewer connection points for the same budget. This is important because a dispersed suburbanised city like Melbourne needs at least ten (and preferably more) new L-shaped and circumferential lines to link radial corridors and activity clusters in the CBD fringe, job-rich middle areas and more densely populated outer growth areas with 'Ubiquitous Network' mobility. If you're going to have that number of high quality links then infrastructure costs for each one need to be kept down. 

Bus users in the outer east are still smarting from a local campaign to remove a bus lane from Stud Rd. The main service that used it, the 901 Smartbus, ran only every 15 minutes even in the peaks. Hence car drivers saw it was mostly empty and successfully agitated for its removal. The lesson is that bus lanes are politically unsustainable if not backed by high frequency and usage that would see buses  carry more people than car lanes. 


Toronto compensates for its relatively small frequent urban rail network by having express feeder buses. Unlike other cities where express buses generally operate during commuter peak times only, these buses operate at high frequencies over long hours. They complement a slower all-stops bus that also runs a frequent service along the same road. 

Because we have more rail lines and stations, such an arrangement is less widely applicable in Melbourne. But two tier bus corridors with frequent all-day express services may still be appropriate for SRL SmartBus type services. Frequencies will need to be consistently high (at least 10 minutes, preferably 5, for each route). This would inflate costs, including requiring a large bus buying program. That could be tied in with other plans, such as for zero emissions vehicles. And because a quality precursor service is already there it could increase confidence in the SRL project which is so important for investment and development decisions. 

Even ignoring the infrastructure, we might be talking about nearer a billion dollars rather than tens or hundreds of millions. A billion dollars recurrent for service is a large amount but is still under 1/30 the estimated cost for SRL Stage 1 and would have sooner and larger network gains than it (although having both together would be even grander, especially if frequent buses were only a minute's walk from train platforms).  

The first known association of buses with billions of dollars (rather than just being 'cheap transport') was with a local government-based campaign a few years back called 'Billions for Buses'. Unfortunately it was weakly executed, didn't make a splash then and is rarely remembered today. However its aims were laudable and, if only they said which 30 routes would be upgraded on a map (they didn't) could have formed the basis of a great plan.  

The Secretary will by now be aware about how scale-able bus reform it. It can be big or small. That is good in that the department's sails can be trimmed to suit the prevailing budgetary environment (largely set by a small number of central ministers and agencies). Hence you might still be able to have small service reforms even when money is tight (assuming a minister interested and engaged in service issues).   

However when we've been scrimping on service for too long (as we have for buses) the network can atrophy. So now could be the time for 'big bus' reforms, given the population served has been left out of transport plans for too long. Like people in residential Campbellfield who have fewer buses now than 35 years ago or Glenroy that saw their Sunday bus cut 30 years ago and never restored. Another advantage is that, especially in the early years when you're just working the existing fleet harder, much of the extra funding goes to create jobs and into bus drivers' pockets as wages. 

Remember that Toronto bus timetable again. Service every 10 minutes until after midnight even on Sundays. Whereas Melbourne has nothing of that frequency on any myki public transport mode due to our tendency to lock trains, trams and buses in their stabling or depot for too much of the day. The more our vehicles are idle the less they are in revenue service, which makes the network recover less of its costs. The TTC area of Toronto is an interesting comparison with both higher all-day service levels and higher farebox cost-recovery than us.    


Integration with Metro Tunnel, SRL and other rail projects 

Although we should have had large scale bus, tram and train service level reform earlier than our two  rail mega-projects were announced, we didn't. That history can't be changed. 

However improved buses and trams can be rolled out any time (sooner the better). And they can complement the mega-projects after and even before they come on-stream.  

For the Metro Tunnel better buses could support higher rail usage on the emerging Watergardens to Dandenong major corridor by efficiently bringing people to stations and permitting access to destinations just away from the rail network. These include institutions like VU and Monash University, hospitals and key shopping centres such as Chadstone. Filling in network gaps to major stations such as Caulfield is important too as discussed here. And the added speed and capacity on the Swanston St axis could provoke a rethink of trams, with the aim being to distribute them more evenly over the CBD and boosting the widespread 12 minute (weekday) and 15 minute (weekend) frequency to 10 minutes with a simpler network.

The Suburban Rail Loop needs network integration to work. Not only when it starts but before it starts. The SRL SmartBus concept provides frequent service along the corridors that the SRL will operate along, preparing the ground for SRL usage and encouraging faster uptake (a point IV makes in its new strategy). The operating cost for ten years wouldn't even be a rounding error in SRL calculations. Also, because the SRL stations are far apart, these routes would continue as strong feeder services after it opens. 

SRL SmartBus was presented as an affordable concept that would provide good frequency but be much slower than the SRL. That's acceptable for local and short feeder trips but less so for longer trips. But SRL SmartBus could be sped by running a two-tier all stops and limited stops service, both at high frequencies like Toronto does on some of its key corridors. Then when SRL opened you would remove the express services and retain the all stops service. This would however require excellent bus - train connectivity at stations. Unfortunately Melbourne hasn't always done this well, even recently; some new stations like Mentone were poorly planned with concerns recently raised about proposed SRL station designs

Also key to the SRL's success is train to train connectivity given that most of its stations intersect existing radial lines. Not only must it be good physically, with no road crossings, barriers or long walks, but also feature frequent service in all directions to minimise waits. It would be no good, for instance to have SRL trains every few minutes but 20 to 40 minute gaps on the radial lines that feed it. This five word plan would ensure that this doesn't happen and connections are good from SRL Day 1.  


When you improve access to something (like a train) you generally increase its usage. The bus component of this plan would do just that for trains and, to a lesser extent, trams. Thus consideration needs to be given to train upgrades that would support this improved usage if capacity looks like being approached.  

Last year academics Ian Woodcock (Swinburne) and Dr Jan Scheurer (RMIT - of SNAMUTS fame)  analysed an augmented version of the series of Useful Bus Networks presented here. They found a substantial improvement in access and connectivity compared to the current bus network. Further additions, more 10 minute frequencies and higher bus speeds in 'pinch point' areas enabled by 'bus wormholes' would give an even bigger lift. 

Depending on the extent to which patronage recovers post-COVID this improved bus network might put pressure on our rail network. There will likely be a need to consider rail capacity and frequency in the latter half of this ten year plan. Potential projects that could assist include high speed signalling, orders for more or higher capacity trains, continued level crossing removals, track amplification and of course the Metro Tunnel currently under construction. Infrastructure Victoria's 30 year strategy discusses further capacity-enhancing initiatives such as splitting the City Loop, Melbourne Metro 2 and demand management approaches including cheaper off-peak fares. 

Relationship with other plans

The Secretary was still smarting from the VAGO Integrated Transport Planning report that found that the Department had no overarching transport strategy. Lots of little plans, yes, but nothing that encompassed them all. That's what the auditor wanted, even though the Secretary said that their surfeit of separate strategies, despite some not being public, should suffice. Also adding pressure was Infrastructure Victoria who said last week there should be a plan, with about $10m allowed for its development.  

The five word plan would change everything for public transport with implications for related areas like planning, road space and parking policy. So much so that it would become the overarching strategy at the top of the tree, at least for public transport. That could (sort of) make the auditor happier. As doubling frequency changes conditions for everything else, from network design, to vehicle procurement to the zero emissions transition, all other plans, which would become subservient, would have to change to support it. These could be amended to suit and published (another thing the auditor wanted). 

Starting with service (like this plan does) could change how we think about and plan transport infrastructure. We'd assess the requirement, plan the service, write the timetable then use that to determine what infrastructure we build. That can be anything from passing loops to enable higher regional train frequencies, faster signalling, capacity amplification near the network's core, new bus depots or even new suburban bypass or loop lines. This is the reverse of an 'infrastructure first, service second' doctrine that can compromise connectivity, frequency and asset utilisation. 

Having a five word strategy at the centre of everything is definitely unorthodox. 

To keep uncomfortable insiders happy words may need to be written to buttress it. That's easy though. For frequency has many benefits that furthers the aims of dozens of other plans, including those that go beyond transport. Whether it be enabling access to jobs, helping household budgets, growing suburban centres, improving commutes, boosting social inclusion, better placemaking, 20 minute neighbourhoods, encouraging physical activity, relieving parking pressures or the transition to a low carbon economy, 'doubling frequency on everything' supports them all in a cost-effective way. 

This allays the Secretary's first concerns about whether the five words was all there is. In fact, when considered more thoroughly it said more than most of the other plans put together. 

Conclusion

That's it. 

It's fast to roll out, affordable and goes to more places. It is as significant as current mega rail projects and will directly create more ongoing jobs for Victorians. It will also relieve many household budgets and lessen spacial inequalities due to its widely spread benefits.  

Double Service Frequency On Everything is the only plan that works our transit system harder to connect more people to more opportunities. It makes the most of what we have and sets our city and suburbs up for a fairer, more prosperous and sustainable future.  

Comments are appreciated and can be left below. 


PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.

PPS: A 2 min video summarising the plan is at the head of this item. You can also see a 90 sec preview video released before the plan was. There's no need to see if it you've seen the 2 min video but if you want to it's here .


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #131: Five 'build back better' timetable reforms for Melbourne


Last week we read of bold changes to Washington DC's transit services to cater for revised post-pandemic conditions. Transit systems that heavily relied on white collar city commuters have suffered huge patronage losses as more switched to working from home for more days of the week. This is forcing transit authorities to rethink their service offering. Especially given that their historical bias has favoured middle-class city daytime workers at the expense of suburban and off-peak travelling workers, who have long suffered inconvenient timetables, operating hours and frequencies. This has happened despite intensive peak service being dearer to provide than good off-peak service. 

DC transit honchos have recognised this doesn't make sense. So they're shifting service around. Peaks will be flattened, with savings reinvested in better off-peak frequency. Not only for Metro trains but also 36 key bus lines. Fare system bus-train transfer penalties (something Melbourne abolished years ago but the misguided Infrastructure Victoria wishes to bring back) will also be removed. 

Modelling shows that off-peak patronage responds better to increased frequency than peak patronage. Farebox cost recovery is generally highest on systems with high off-peak frequency. So DC's shift  to embrace off-peak passengers should be good for both its finances and social equity. 

We in Melbourne should sit up and take notice. Here's five examples where Melbourne can follow DC's lead for close to zero extra ongoing cost. This is based on an unchanged number of trips per week but a small shift in when they run to favour off-peak periods. The examples selected will benefit the most people on our busiest lines and routes. 

1. 10 minute or better all-day trains to Ringwood

This is the biggest and best. Currently the Belgrave and Lilydale lines have a very intensive peak service with many stopping patterns that just confuse people. Off-peak service, in contrast, is sparse, with half hour gaps between trains at the twelve stations east of Ringwood. Weekends actually get a better timetable on these lines, with 20 minute daytime intervals except for Sunday mornings. 

Reform here would simplify peak services with fewer unique stopping patterns. There could be fewer trains per hour passing in the peaks but there would be more frequency on each stopping pattern that is retained. The savings would go to adopting a superior weekend day-style timetable during interpeak (and preferably evening) times. This should deliver consistent off-peak trains every 10 minutes to the 17 stations from Burnley to Ringwood and 20 minutes to the 12 stations beyond for no extra operating cost.

There are two main trade-offs but both are minor. Firstly, interpeak trains would stop all stations, unlike the expressing we currently see. However the better frequency would more than offset the extra in-train travel time (especially as waiting is perceived longer than time in motion). Also the Alamein line would drop from every 15 to every 20 minutes interpeak. However its usage is low with the loss far outweighed by the much larger gains elsewhere.     


2. Cutting Sandringham line maximum waits from 40 to 20 min

This one is smaller but still good. After setup costs it should be operationally cost-neutral. Peak service would remain at turn-up-and-go levels after this change. 

Currently the Sandringham line has 20 minute maximum waits at all times except for early Saturday morning (30 minutes) and much of Sunday morning (40 minutes). Adding just five extra trips each way per week (1 on Saturday, 4 on Sunday) would slash maximum waits to 20 minutes between 6am and midnight, 7 days per week. Those five trips would be funded by removing one or two weekday peak trips and re-arranging other trips to close gaps otherwise created.  

Because these will still be at turn-up-and-go frequencies (every 8 - 9 minutes), no one would notice this change yet resources would be freed for a more consistent service with halved maximum waits. The message to passengers would be an 'all-day railway' suitable for more types of trips at more times. 

3. Doncaster Rd off-peak buses every 10 minutes?

Buses in Melbourne are not known to be particularly frequent, but Route 906 from Warrandyte Bridge to the city is an exception. Especially in peaks. The route's origin is not particularly densely settled and it's likely that residents want to keep it that way. Yet it enjoys an amazing peak-of-peak frequency of 4 to 5 minutes. This is over its entire route, even though economies like operating only every second trip the whole way could reduce operating costs.  

Other Doncaster area routes also have high peak frequencies. Where peak service is better than every 10 minutes and occupancy is low, there may be scope to redistribute resources to better off-peak service. The stand-out route for this treatment is likely the 907 along Doncaster Rd. It's a busy route that links many local trip generators. It also provides a freeway express service to the city. Potential 907 upgrades could include boosting interpeak service from 15 to 10 minutes, boosting weekend service from every 20 to every 15 minutes or, less radically, widening the span that the existing 20 minute weekend service operates so it starts earlier and keeps going later. 

4. Mernda, Craigieburn and Watergardens 20 min max waits

Seven day/all day 10 minute service would be desirable here. You can't fund that by redirecting peak services alone. But you could remove a lot of the 30 - 40 minute waits that plague these lines. 

The key point is how few extra timetabled trips per week are needed to make a big difference. 

For example these lines all have 40 minute Sunday morning frequencies, that is 3 trains every 2 hours. Increasing this to every 30 minutes for a two hour period requires just one return trip per week to be added. For the more desirable 20 minute frequency a still low three extra return trips per week would be needed. As comparison, lines in Sydney and Perth have 15 minute Sunday morning frequencies so those proposed here are unexceptional and even niggardly. 

Where else could a few extra trips make a big difference? Early evenings is most notable. Instead of starting as early as 7:30pm, the 30 minute service these lines get could be pushed back to late evening or even eliminated. Two extra return trips per day could deliver a 20 minute maximum wait until 9:30 or 10pm, greatly improving each line's usefulness, especially for service workers. 

The above improvements are scale-able, depending on how much you wanted to flatten peak service. In no case would you want peak gaps more than 10 minutes. And you might even want to slightly boost peak frequencies at certain times like early mornings when blue collar workers, who can't work from home, travel. These are important lines serving areas serving a lot of low income workers with irregular hours. Getting to a 20 min minimum frequency is essential even if you needed to flatten the peaks of other lines where spare capacity may exist (eg Frankston).  

5. Dandenong line weekend evening and Sunday morning boost

There is currently no relationship between how busy a rail line is and its frequency, particularly on weekend evenings. For example the short and quiet Williamstown line enjoys a 20 minute maximum wait on Sunday mornings and weekend evenings. In contrast, Melbourne's busiest line to Dandenong/ Pakenham/ Cranbourne has 30 minute waits on weekend evenings and Sunday mornings. This is even after timetable upgrades that boosted weeknight service to 10 minutes until late. 

Ultimately there should be no time that trains run from the city to Dandenong at intervals of more than 10 minutes, except for Night Network during the wee hours. For now though, even an upgrade from 30 to 20 minutes, requiring maybe 10 to 12 extra return trips per week, would be significant. Again a redistribution of two to four trips from the weekday timetable to pay for it might be possible without noticeable impact. 


Conclusion 

Opportunities exist for basically zero cost service upgrades that flatten the peaks, respond to COVID's changed travel patterns and make our network more fit for modern and emerging travel needs. This should be possible while retaining a 'turn up and go' peak service. Hence their effect on peak passengers should be minimal while delivering reduced maximum waits at over 100 train stations and some bus stops. The result would be an 'all-day railway' that's easier to use with more consistent service. It would also extend to much of the network many benefits that upgrades to Frankston, Werribee and Williamstown train services did in January 2021.  

Index to Timetable Tuesday items here 


Friday, August 20, 2021

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 102: Victoria's Infrastructure Strategy 2021 - 2051


A quick run-through Infrastructure Victoria's 30 year infrastructure strategy that was tabled in Parliament yesterday. 

You can see it and all the associated papers here. This builds on the draft (which for now) can be found here

There's two volumes, a major transport infrastructure assessment report, papers on costings, land use and emissions and fact sheets on specific major projects. It demands a capital spend of $100 billion over 30 years on many and varied projects and policy changes. It was prepared by Infrastructure Victoria, a body that provides advice to government on infrastructure challenges and needs.  

What's in it? Keep reading! As it's so big I'll mainly stick to the public transport aspects. 

Volume 1

* The term 'frequencies' appears 10 times, 'frequency' 18 times and 'frequent' 43 times. 'Network' 410 times, 'roads' 152 times, 'walking' 62 times, 'buses' 53 times, 'interchange' 8 times and 'turn up and go' just once. 

* IV says we need a transport plan. Singular. And published. Like what VAGO recommended. That could be done this year and cost up to $10 million (Recommendation 33).

* Progress towards zero emissions a theme - both for private and public transport. 

* Intelligent transport systems that could track buses and make traffic signals more responsive gets a mention in Recommendation 24.

* Charging for parking at stations and transport hubs is recommended. Also parking price reform in inner areas. Fair. 

* Support for congestion pricing on new freeways (51). Some argue it should be on existing main roads which more often carry trams and buses. Recommendation 52 suggests this for inner Melbourne.  

* Recommendation 41: Support for reallocating road space to priority modes. 

* They're into the mobility as a service thing with apps and ticketing platforms. They want new providers to be able to bid for services currently run by buses. Regulatory reform is proposed (22). This is the flexible route stuff that I've written about here

* Recommends rail electrification to Rockbank (not Melton), Beveridge and Wyndham Vale by 2031. Unusually prescriptive re operating patterns, including running Rockbank trains to Pakenham. More stations on Wyndham Vale and Melton corridors.

* A separate fact sheet discusses the Western Rail Corridor in more detail, though there electrification is described as  being to Mt Atkinson. These services will use the Metro Tunnel,  along with trains from Sunbury and Melbourne Airport. Thus there are three branches from the west and two in the east. I'll speculate here and presume that one line from the west, possibly Sunbury, will terminate somewhere in the east with airport trains going to Cranbourne and Rockbank trains to Pakenham. Specific frequencies are not mentioned but surely you'd ultimately want a 10 minute interpeak service on each west - east pair (though the Fact Sheet, being light on the service aspects, doesn't say this). A peak frequency on each line of 7.5 minutes (8 trains per hour) or 6 minutes (10 trains per hour) on each line would make for 24 to 30 trains per hour through the common Metro Tunnel section. That 10 trains per hour is about what the Sunbury line already gets in peak, although the HCMTs will add capacity. Also there could be unhelpful interactions between multiple lines including with V/Line trains which can chew up train paths if they are to operate at reasonable speeds. This is where capacity enhancements for Geelong and Metro 2 could come in, as discussed next. For a reason I cannot fathom, the fact sheet has a strange reference to Cheltenham in the south. 

* Melbourne Metro 2 and associated projects. The biggest rail project mentioned is Melbourne Metro 2 which also gets its own fact sheet. This is tied with plans to speed up Geelong trains, boost capacity from Werribee, connect Fishermans Bend to the rail network (this being a development site that's currently poorly connected to the rest of Melbourne), and increase capacity on the Clifton Hill group. Also significant, according to rail advocates, could be the pressures through Sunshine and Footscray which would increase with the (partial) Melton line electrification mentioned above, not to mention the Airport line. The thinking appears to be that you can relieve this by electrifying Geelong trains and shifting them to run via the older and shorter alignment to Newport. From then they would run under the Yarra to Fishermans Bend and Southern Cross, thus relieving pressure near Footscray. The rest of MM2 would extend from Southern Cross to Clifton Hill via Flagstaff and a new station in the inner north. That could then form the Mernda line with Clifton Hill become an important connection point between the two different CBD operating patterns available. 

* The Suburban Rail Loop appears on maps but doesn't get its own Fact Sheet or examination. 

* Those in Melton and Clyde will be disappointed that they don't get rail electrification and an extension respectively advocated. Clyde and the whole area to the north towards Berwick is a massive growth area with buses as infrequent as once an hour. Other parts of the IV report suggest improved buses instead of rail for Clyde. 

* The City Loop, with its archaic midday reversal still on 2 out of 4 lines, is an embarrassing carbuncle on our train network which continues to suffer from being a country system that aspires to be a metro but doesn't (yet) do that very well. The City Loop increases CBD coverage but makes travel confusing and slows some trips with interchanging particularly difficult. We'd be better off going to a through service model for more of our lines even if some people need to transfer. IV recommends, in 60, a reconfiguration to increase capacity and simplify operations by splitting the loop so that there is a path for trains from Richmond to North Melbourne via Parliament provided by some extra tunneling.  This would be very cost-effective for the capacity released, especially if tacked on to the end of the Metro Tunnel project in a way that minimises disruption. A separate fact sheet has been prepared for this.

* Recommendation 59 of improving off-peak train services is important and would make the network much more useful. Improvements within 5 years are suggested. Also recommended is a 15 year service upgrade plan. This is good as service has been neglected for too long in favour of infrastructure. But  I didn't see specific frequencies given nor even a multimodal coordination framework recommended. They draw on the PBO calculation of about $200 million per year but use a lower figure of $120 - 200 million. To that they add $4 - $10 billion in capital costs. Both these figures are in Vol 2.  

* Parts of the tram network are getting full and network redesign is recommended (42). Melbourne Metro is a significant catalyst to this. Recommendation 43 proposes some tram network extensions including two routes to Fishermans Bend. Other possibilities include the Arden area, Footscray via Dynon Rd and the former Maribyrnong defence site. Accessibility is discussed in Recc 44.

* IV don't like the Caulfield - Rowville tram proposal. They want a 'next generation bus' instead. More on 'next generation' buses later. 

* Suburban Rail Loop stations should be connected with a bus network to build patronage for the new stations. This is similar to my 'SRL SmartBus' concept, even though I would not necessarily follow all of the loop if better alternatives exist.   

* Talks about 'next generation bus services' running Clyde, Mornington Peninsula, Wollert and Armstrong Creek in next year. Note: 788 is already slated for upgrade but its proposed 30 - 40 min frequency is not what one might expect from a premium route. Also, new bus services typically have much longer lead times than one year, at least in Victoria so I'm not sure how doable IV's plan is. 

* State government funding for pedestrian infrastructure with local governments. Recommendation 38. At $150 - 250 million (or about the cost of a level crossing removal at one site) this looks small when compared to the billions that might be spent on a single road project. However it illustrates the low cost and likely high effectiveness of active transport projects. Cycling does better though with about 4 times more  recommended (Recc 39). There is attention to the larger regional centres as well as Melbourne.

* Recommendation 57 is a key one dealing with buses. They see a need for more frequent and direct buses that people are willing to walk further to. They're on the right track here. SmartBus and reformed local bus networks in areas like Wyndham and Brimbank are cited as examples, though frequency in all three at certain times is often still too low and spans could be better. 

* Recommendation 57 also refers to reforming Melbourne and Geelong's bus network. However they ignore the fact that Geelong's buses were completely reformed in 2015. Thus the most need for Geelong is merely growth area coverage and boosted frequencies on the largely existing network. Most of Melbourne though is in a different category with many unreformed routes and networks. Big bus network reforms in many (not all) metropolitan areas is very important, with recently reformed areas mainly just needing service upgrades. IV put an $85 million per year price tag on this, based on a 10% increase in  bus network operating costs. $85m would represent the biggest bus boost in years but still strikes me as being too cheap for truly transformative change including all day 'turn-up-and-go' frequencies on main routes. 

* The 'next generation' bus services are the top tier of a three level hierarchy which also includes middle level 'connector' and lower level 'local' bus routes. 'Next Generation' routes would be frequent direct services possibly on their own rights of way and using zero emission vehicles. The specifics with regarding frequency and operating hours are vague - a problem this strategy shares with Victoria's Bus Plan. Mention is made of coordination with other modes, though if they are at 'turn up and go' frequencies then this would not be necessary and be impossible anyway where many routes intersect. Connector routes are a middle level services. There is a tantalising mention of operating hours being coordinated with trams and trains which would require a large extension, especially in the evenings and weekends for these bus routes. Again there is no mention of frequency apart from coordinating with trains. Local routes are the lowest in the hierarchy. They needn't even be fixed routes, with explicit mention of Telebus (even though this was recently replaced with the similar 'Flexiride' in Rowville). You may wish to compare IV's hierarchy with my more specific one mentioned here in my discussion of Victoria's Bus Plan. 

* La Trobe, Monash and Sunshine National Employment and Innovation Clusters would be the first in line to get improved transport, including 'next generation bus' services (Page 160). It should be noted that some of these have quite wide catchments with explicit mention of improved buses for Highpoint, Footscray and Hobsons Bay as these areas are within about 10km of Sunshine NEIC. My Friday Useful Network series has several items on better buses for these localities. If similar thinking was extended to La Trobe, this would cover areas like Preston, Reservoir, Thomastown, Epping and Heidelberg, whose bus networks are notoriously complex and unharmonised with trains. Similarly Monash's area might extend to areas like Caulfield, Glen Waverley, Mulgrave, Springvale and Dandenong North which need similar network reforms. $30 to $50m per year is suggested as an annual operating budget. Note this would be on top of the $85m for the similar Recommendation 57 that is applied over more areas. 

* Recommendation 75 talks about 'next generation buses' to areas where you might consider electrified rail extensions such as Baxter and Wollert. IV make some interesting comments about the development effect of an extended Frankston line. They object to this on the basis that electrified rail extension would encourage sprawl on the Mornington Peninsula (which is agriculturally and environmentally important). Instead they suggest 'next generation buses' which apparently deliver similar mobility gains but would not shape or encourage development to the extent that rail might. The implication is that there is a 'rail effect' that shapes development in a way that buses don't. Clyde and Armstrong Creek are other areas that IV recommend better buses at least as stop-gap measures.  Similarly with Wollert which is considered lower priority for rail than Melton or Wallan (and there would be frequency splitting issues where lines diverge at Lalor unless you force transfers there). 

* The paper's lowlight is IV's now tedious tosh complaining about integrated fares. Page 130 refers to 'simplistic' fare structures which I'd have thought is good as people understand what they're paying. And they still don't like low income earners using the train (even if off-peak) so they'll make train travel dearer relative to bus travel. IV assumes that people can choose between bus and train for the same trip. This is usually mistaken and is not how an efficient network is configured as buses feed rather than parallel trains, with integrated fares required for this to work. Looking at how hard fare integration has been to get in other cities (with all sorts of complex ways to apportion revenue between operators and even different tiers of government), we are envied by many in having integration. We can't afford to lose what we have. IV are not even very good at economics as differential mode pricing may give rise to wasteful service planning that (for example) parallels trains with duplicative bus routes, with the buses hard to remove due to the cheaper fares they offer. Cities like Adelaide and Brisbane are examples where you can get to the CBD but few other places as buses and trains parallel rather than efficiently feed each other like they do in more developed networks such as operate in Melbourne or Perth. IV should definitely be ignored here. Cheaper fares, if thought necessary, should instead be done with off-peak discounts across all modes, which IV recommends elsewhere. 

* Something else that should be ignored is Recommendation 48 on the transport price adviser. Such an advisor exists in Sydney (IPART) and they are the furthest from having genuinely integrated multimodal fares. Also fare policy should be integrated with service planning in the one transport authority or department since there are often interactions between them. Volume 2 appears to have some major inconsistencies with regard to the cost of implementing this recommendation.   

* On firmer ground is support for permanent off-peak fare reductions. This could shift some trips to off-peak periods and relieve peak crowding. Also welcome is support for removing the inequitable 'Free Tram Zone' (Recc 47). 

* Major road links. Recommendation 62 includes a connection between City Link and the Eastern Freeway - ie an 'east-west link' or 'cross city motorway' as they call it in one of their fact sheets. They're not enthusiastic about it as their wording is about 'preserving the option'. There is also an outer metropolitan ring road and railway. This would service the western and Beveridge intermodal freight terminals and support a lot of orbital car travel, especially from regional Victoria and to the airport by linking radial freeways including Hume, Calder, Western and Princes.  

Volume 2

Includes a list of recommendations, comparisons against objectives, costs and timing. Look here if you want more details on the recommendations in Volume 1. 

Major Transport Program Strategic Assessment

See this for a more detailed look at big road and rail projects including City Loop reconfiguration, Melbourne Metro 2, Cross-City motorway, Western Rail Corridor upgrade, Northern Rail Corridor upgrade, Outer Metropolitan Ring Road and more. 

Driving down emissions: accelerating Victoria’s zero emission vehicle uptake

Read this for a roadmap of getting to zero. For both public and private vehicles. Page 10 has some sobering comments regarding the continued dominance of private vehicles, with them continuing to account for over 90% of motorised trips, despite investments in public transport infrastructure. The state's high projected population growth is given as a key reason for more driving, 

The implication is that despite all the billions of dollars on public transport projects, these, current service policies and other transport portfolio policy settings will not deliver large-scale modal share shifts to public and active transport. Hence the stated importance of transitioning the private car fleet to zero emissions (in usage, not in their manufacture!). Given that most of our public transport (when measured by passenger trips) is already run by electric vehicles with that proportion to increase when electric buses come on stream, more consideration needs to be given on modal shift, noting its wider urban, social and liveability benefits. Cycling infrastructure to support the wider take-up of ebikes could be another cost-effective intervention as part of a low emission future. 

Major Transport Program Capital Cost Report

See this for more detail on some of the major transport projects featured. This is good if you want to see the itemised scope for major projects. For instance the City Loop reconfiguration includes some northern rail corridor upgrade projects like new stations at Beveridge and Lockerbie, duplicating the Upfield line and electrification from there to Roxburgh Park. 

However the infrastructure bias of the  strategy is clear when there is no equivalent paper for service uplifts including routes, frequencies and operating costs of suggested off-peak service upgrades and the 'next generation buses'.  

Victorian Land Use and Transport Integration (VLUTI) Model Architecture Report

Here you'll find an explanation of the Victorian Land Use and Transport Integration model used to assess transport demand. This is the 'boring but important' paper that talks about some of the assumptions used to assess the merit of projects and policies. 

It's very complicated but I think the conclusion is that if you make something (including transport) better, cheaper and / or quicker then people are going to use it more. Conversely, make it worse, dearer or slower and they'll use it less, with some trips not made or shifted to a different time and/or mode. Someone else (can't remember who) said that transport demand behaves more like a gas than water - that is if you increase (say) road capacity or public transport frequency you'll get higher (induced) usage volume as people change their behaviour to favour greater use. 

Also released

This wasn't the only major report related to transport infrastructure to come out yesterday. There were two others. 

The Suburban Rail Loop Business and Investment Case was released. 

And the Auditor-General reported on the capability to do major infrastructure projects

Conclusion

Victoria's Infrastructure Strategy is good (sometimes very good) on some things like rail network planning, tram simplification, off-peak service improvements, top tier bus network reform, road charging and parking pricing. Although I thing it should have been even stronger on the service aspects with specific frequency targets and recommendations to remove 'pinch points' where infrastructure constraints either prevents high frequency service (where desired), compromises reliability or slows travel (particular for buses).

The fact that you can wade through hundreds of pages and not see a map for a multimodal frequent public transport network on its own rights of way is damning. Although maybe we should cut them some slack; after all they are called 'Infrastructure Victoria' and not 'Service Planning Victoria'. And they do commendably support measures that would better use our infrastructure like parking policy reform, road pricing, road space reallocation and unspecified (but probably under-baked) off-peak public transport service upgrades. 

You should be wary about the roles assigned for 'flexible route' buses and transport payment systems spruiked by tech-geeks. The former risks having over-blown benefits versus its cost with very variable travel times and low usage in many places it's been tried. While the latter risks being a next generation scratch ticket/Metcard/Myki type time-waster that diverted attention from the basics of useful networks like span and frequency during much of the 1990s and 2000s while we obsessed about ticketing media. This retarded our network's development for many years and we still have main road bus timetables that bear the scars of early '90s cuts and no improvements in 30 state government budgets since. It's important to focus on what truly matters to avoid repeating such unproductive diversions in the future. 

Finally, when it comes to their crackpot scheme to disintegrate fares between modes, you know what to do. Just say no no no! 

See more Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #130: Route 417 - Western Melbourne's Jobs Loop

 

Serving no homes that other bus routes also don't serve, the 417 is an unusual bus service in Melbourne. A bit like the Fishermans Bend routes it is an industrial service. It connects Laverton Station with the vast light industrial area of Laverton North. In this it is like other routes from Laverton like 400 and 414, but it has significant unique coverage those routes don't cover. 

Route 417 is a clockwise loop as you can see below. It needs one bus to get from Laverton to Laverton. This takes 45 minutes which is also the route's peak frequency. The loop means that travel times vary for those going to jobs near the start or end of the loop with backtracking sometimes encountered. 


In between the peaks the route is a few minutes longer, starting and finishing at Aircraft Station. This wasn't part of the 417 when it started but was added later to provide connectivity to local shops since the Bladin St residential area could fairly be called a 'grocery desert', especially for parts away from the station. This is because the area has poor access to a supermarket with reasonable prices. It's quite a long bus trip to shops at Derrimut or Sunshine (via 400) or Footscray (via the limited service 414). Central Square in Altona Meadows should be walkable but isn't very due to obstacles like freeways and railways that prioritise trunk radial over local travel. And local shops near Laverton Station have a limited range (although it's perhaps better than 10 years ago). To partly fill the gap interpeak 417 trips provide an hourly service to the small but useful strip of shops near Aircraft Station, 


417 is the yellow line on the PTV network map below. Parts overlap the 400 and 414 (both linear bidirectional routes). Its northern part has unique catchment. It should be noted that Laverton North is pedestrian hostile with a mix of impermeable street layouts, limited footpaths, large trucks and limited signalised crossing points. However road upgrades have resulted in some extra signalisation. This is critical as it affects walking access to bus stops. 

Also worth mentioning are the surrounding interchanges. These are Sunshine, Tarneit, Williams Landing and Laverton, mostly likely in decreasing order of importance. Slightly off the map is Deer Park which should become a proper interchange with the grade separation and a continued increase in train traffic to Melton. The 417, being a loop route serves one interchange only (Laverton) which is the least significant of those listed. This is because it was conceived as a route that would mostly be fed by Werribee line train passengers boarding at either Werribee or Hoppers Crossing. 



Timetable

Route 417 was conceived as an industrial route. It is assumed that industrial area workers work only daytime Monday to Friday, so has a timetable that reflects this (including a start a little earlier than most other buses). However the area's workforce now includes many in transport and logistics with more widely spread working hours. 

As mentioned before service is every 45 minutes during weekday peaks and 60 minutes interpeak. There is no evening, public holiday or weekend service. 


History

Route 417 commenced in April 2010. It is a product of the Melbourne bus service boom that started during the tail end of Steve Bracks' premiership and continued under premier Brumby. Seriously commencing in 2006 with the release of 'Meeting our Transport Challenges', it upgraded over 100 bus routes to include evening and Sunday service. Major SmartBus routes were established and a series of bus reviews recommended substantial network reforms (though implementation was patchy). Area by area upgrades are listed here

Interpeak trips were extended to Aircraft shops in 2015. This replaced a previous Route 414 extension. 


Patronage 

Industrial bus routes sometimes have a poor reputation in some CBD-based planning circles. The latter, with their postgraduate degrees and homes within earshot of a tram ding, could not be more socio-economically different to 'working poor' suburbanites on the buses. 

It is sometimes thought that with some jobs requiring drivers licences, high car ownership, and universal free parking it would be futile to run buses to industrial areas. At best a few apprentices might use them, quitting as soon as they can afford a car. 

A largely industrial route on the other side of Melbourne, the 890 from Dandenong to Lynbrook, gives hope. It gets 25 passenger boardings per bus service hour on weekdays. This is higher than the 20 boardings per hour minimum that Infrastructure Victoria regards as constituting a viable route. And it's very close to average for buses in Melbourne, nearly all of which serve residential areas. Non-school days is only slightly less at 24 boarding per hour on weekdays. Hence you can run buses through industrial areas and have people use them. The weekday numbers indicate 890's worth. I said more about 'job ready' public transport networks with improved service to industrial areas here

Route 417 is a weaker performer at 16 passenger boardings per hour. The network map above gives some clues for this. In summary:

* First, its unidirectional routing makes it slower than a bidirectional route for some trips. 
* Second portions of the 417 overlaps some routes like the 400 and 414 that might take some of its patronage.
* Third, the 417's terminus at Laverton is weak. It is relatively less important than it was (since most Point Cook area routes now leave from the new station of Williams Landing). And, even if this wasn't the case the Laverton bus interchange is poor with it being split north and south, with the latter having a longer than desirable walk from the station. Laverton Station has buses arriving from a smaller catchment than Williams Landing and especially Tarneit. This means that most trips involving the 417 would involve two changes with likely long waits.  
* Fourth,  The 417, being a loop route, serves only one station. Melbourne's most productive suburban bus routes typically run directly between at least two stations on different lines, making them more useful for more trips.    

417's future as part of a bigger network

In 2010, when the 417 started, the population of places like Point Cook and Tarneit was lower than today. There were no stations at Williams Landing or Tarneit. Sunshine was less of a hub as the Regional Rail Link had not been built. And the residential population of suburbs like Truganina was a fraction of today's. 

Hence, in 2010, if you were going to put in a 'smell of an oily rag' industrial route for Laverton North and only had one bus to use the logical choice would have been to depart it from Laverton Station. Which is what they did. Then people could catch it after coming off trains from Werribee. 

An issue here is that most of Wyndham lives beyond walking distance of Werribee line stations. Unless you were lucky with connections a bus - train - bus trip would involve a lot of waiting given the 417's 45 minute peak frequency.  

If you were designing an industrial area network for Laverton North in 2021 you wouldn't do it like was done in 2010. You would definitely have connections to Tarneit and likely Williams Landing. Such routes could serve residential areas so that some people wouldn't need to change buses while many others would have just one connection. Cutting out transfers is a massive time-saver where routes are infrequent. It also makes efficient network planning if you can do it without overlapping multiple routes on long corridors that don't need them. 

As well you might have linear routes that instead of doing a loop would run straight through to another important terminus like Sunshine. That way the population with a one-change connection to an industrial area bus would double if not more. And there may even be enough demand to run a basic weekend through service, such as currently operates on Route 400. A concept for a more 
'job ready' network is mapped below


Such a network appears more affordable now than before with recent growth presenting opportunities. Residential development at Truganina has edged closer and closer to the industrial area. Tarneit Station is now a large bus hub with many bus routes today and more being planned. 

One of those funded (the 154) is a bus that goes to the edge of the Laverton North industrial area from Tarneit Station. Even if only done on weekdays, there may be scope to extend trips on this route deeper into the Laverton North jobs area. Connecting with a significant hub the other side could assist with some non-industrial trips as well. The busy interchange of Sunshine looks the front-runner but Altona Gate or even Laverton (merging with the 417) may also be possibilities. A proper implementation would likely involve a rethink of Route 417 and likely also 400 and 414 to provide a simpler and more connected network.     

Another opportunity for the 417 (or some other local route such as the 414) is presented by the removal of the level crossing near Aircraft Station. In the distant past buses connected Bladin St north of the line with Central Square shops south of the line. However as train and car traffic increased this connection was severed with separate routes north and south of the railway (likely superior for operational reliability). However there may be scope to restore this connection to improve Bladin St's access to local shopping. The economy of this depends on whether the extra run times can be accommodated without increasing the bus requirement.  

Conclusion

What are your thoughts of the 417? Should it remain as is or is there scope for a rethink given the growth of surrounding areas? Does its timetable suit jobs in the area? And is it a good idea to try to combine industrial and residential routes? Comments are appreciated and can be left below. 

Index to Timetable Tuesday items here