Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #128: This month's Night Bus Spring Clean - All the details


In June came news that the weekend Night Bus network would be reformed. Instead of just having special routes different to what ran during the day, regular routes would instead get trips added to operate 24  hours on weekends. This is more like how night services operate elsewhere and makes travelling so much easier. 

My write-up about this revised network is here. However with only a blurry and partial network map and no timetables I had to make some guesses. In particular it wasn't clear whether all of some routes would run and what would happen to those special Night Network only routes that would remain. 

The missing details became public on Friday when the timetables became available on the PTV website. A leaflet was also found on a bus advising the change. The changes were officially announced on the PTV website yesterday in their usual deadpan style. 

Network description

The new network will start on 27 August. It has two parts: 

* Regular bus routes that will run 24 hours on weekends (on at least some portions). Four (207, 250, 905 & 907) operate from the CBD while seventeen (150, 180, 190, 357, 386, 406, 410, 420, 630, 670, 693, 703, 788, 833, 900, 901, 908) will operate from suburban train or bus interchanges. Because about half of those routes now finish around 9pm, not only will they gain trips in the normal 1am - 5am span but also trips before and after that block to provide the continuous service on Friday and Saturday nights and into Sunday morning. Services will be hourly with a slightly longer interval (up to say 80 minutes) allowed during transition times in the evening or early weekend mornings. 

* Special Night Network only routes. These have route numbers above 940 and only operate during the 1am - 5am period. That's like how all prior Night Bus routes ran. However there won't be as many of them as the aim has been to replace them with regular bus routes running extended hours. Some special routes have been scrapped, others modified with three new ones created. 

Some of the old Night Network routes, especially from the CBD, ran every 30 minutes. But, as noted before they only ran over a four hour window. Especially in areas where buses finished at 9pm and didn't start until about 8 or 9am on weekends there were these three or four hour gaps where there was no service. The new Night Network removes these multi-hour gaps by adding service along the same routes people are used to during the day. 

There are two trade-offs with this. Firstly services are now only hourly (as opposed to half-hourly for some special routes that ran before). Secondly some areas that got a direct Night Network bus from the CBD will now have to take a train and change at a suburban station. The revised network removes  bus service from some areas (eg City - Footscray) in exchange for additions in places like Altona Meadows and Tarneit. 

For the next little while you can identify both finishing and starting Night Network routes by searching for 27/08/2021 on the PTV website. 

Regular routes 

Some of the 21 regular routes do not run their full length, with one even operating a little longer. In other cases some routes skip portions in the less popular direction (normally inbound). These are noted below: 

Regular routes operating full length and stopping all stops: 150, 180, 190, 250, 406, 410, 420, 630, 703, 833, 905, 907.

Regular routes operating full length with portions skipped in some directions: 357, 386, 670.

Regular route operating beyond full length: 207 (extended to Box Hill to replace current 966)

Regular route operating part length: 693 (Oakleigh - Stud Rd only), 788 (Frankston - Sorrento only), 900 (Oakleigh - Rowville only), 901 (Ringwood - Dandenong only), 908 (Doncaster P+R - The Pines as per off-peak service).  

Special Night Network routes (940+)

This is a little hard to explain. I'll start with a list of the current routes and what will happen to them. They will either remain, be modified or be replaced with either abovementioned regular routes or new special routes (described later). 

Route 941: City, Footscray, Sunshine North, Taylors Lakes, Watergardens
* Shortened to operate Sunshine - Watergardens only. Footscray - Sunshine replaced by 410. 

Route 942: City, Footscray, Sunshine, Deer Park, St Albans
* Deleted. Replaced by 420. 


Route 943: Watergardens, Caroline Springs, Melton
* Modified. Made more like existing route 460.

Route 944: City, Newport, Altona, Altona Meadows, Point Cook
* Deleted. Replaced by new 947 and 949.

Route 945: City, Geelong Road, Tarneit, Hoppers Crossing, Werribee, Wyndham Vale
* Deleted. Replaced by 150, 180, 190.

Route 951: City, Moonee Ponds, Brunswick West, Pascoe Vale, Glenroy
* Modified. Commences at Brunswick Station, runs via 58 tram alignment, part replaced by new 959. 

Route 952: City, Footscray, Maribyrnong, Airport West, Gladstone Park, Broadmeadows
* Deleted. Replaced by 406 and new 959.

Route 953: Broadmeadows, Meadow Heights, Roxburgh Park, Craigieburn

Route 955: City, Brunswick East, Ivanhoe, Bundoora, Mill Park, South Morang, Mernda
* Deleted. Replaced by 250 and 386.

Route 961: City, Collingwood, Eastern Freeway, Templestowe, Doncaster
* Deleted. Replaced by 905, 907 and 908.

Route 963: Ringwood, Mooroolbark, Lilydale
* Deleted. Replaced by 670.

Route 964: Croydon, Kilsyth, Mt Evelyn, Lilydale
* Deleted. Replaced by 967 and modified 965.

Route 965: Lilydale, Woori Yallock, Healesville loop
* Modified to replace part of 964.  .

Route 966: City, Kew, Doncaster Road, Box Hill
* Deleted. Replaced by 207.

Route 967: Glen Waverley, Burwood Highway, Bayswater (returns via Bayswater North, Ferntree Gully)
* Modified including a Croydon extension. 

Route 969: City, Caulfield, Ferntree Gully Road, Rowville, Wantirna, Ringwood
* Deleted. Replaced by 693, 900 and 901.

Route 970: Carrum, Frankston, Mornington, Rosebud
* Deleted. Replaced by 833 and 970.

Route 978: Elsternwick, Ormond, Huntingdale, Mulgrave, Dandenong (returns via Princes Highway)
* Modified. Western portion replaced by 630. Forms simpler route north of the railway.


Route 979: Elsternwick, Bentleigh, Clarinda, Keysborough, Dandenong
* Modified. Western portion replaced by 703. Forms simpler route south of the railway.

Route 981: Dandenong, Berwick, Narre Warren South, Cranbourne
* Modified. Increased coverage east of Cranbourne.

Route 982: Dandenong, Endeavour Hills, Hampton Park, Cranbourne
* Modified. Increased coverage in Cranbourne West.

Notwithstanding the trend to regular routes, there are three new special Night Bus routes. These are: 

Route 947: Footscray - Altona North - Newport.
* Similar to regular route Route 411 down Millers Rd then east to Newport via Mason St. Replaces part of existing Route 944.

Route 949: Williams Landing - Point Cook - Altona Meadows
* Similar to regular route 495 and part of 496 in Point Cook area before veering east to serve Altona Meadows. Then returns to Williams Landing in a loop. This adds some new coverage. 

Route 959: City - Moonee Ponds - Niddrie - Airport West - Broadmeadows
* Similar to 59 tram to Airport West. Then extends to Broadmeadows. Replaces part of 951 and 952.


Adding the new routes with retained routes, we get left with 13 special routes, as follows: 

941 Sunshine - Watergardens
943 Watergardens - Caroline Springs - Melton
947 Footscray - Altona North - Newport
949 Williams Landing - Point Cook - Altona Meadows (loop)
951 Brunswick - Glenroy
953 Broadmeadows - Craigieburn
959 City - Niddrie - Airport West - Broadmeadows
965 Lilydale - Healesville (loop)
967 Glen Waverley - Knox City - Croydon - Ferntree Gully (loop)
978 Clayton - Mulgrave - Dandenong
979 Clayton - Keysborough - Dandenong
981 Dandenong - Berwick - Cranbourne
982 Dandenong - Endeavour Hills - Hampton Park - Cranbourne

Maps can be viewed on the PTV website against individual routes. As a tip, search 27/08/2021 to get links to timetables starting and ending on that date. That includes ending, new and modified Night Network routes. Here's a quick link to this. 

Stopping and connection policy

Current Night Network policy is to allow pick-ups from designated stops only. These were wider spaced than regular bus stops. Even if your Night Network bus went past a regular undesignated stop you couldn't board there, but you could be dropped off. This policy remains for the remaining special Night Bus routes (eg 959 below). But the 21 regular routes that gain Night Network service (eg 386 below) will enjoy pick ups at all regular stops the service passes. Having more departures from dozens if not hundreds more stops is a major gain for people travelling inwards, particularly on weekend mornings (where this is likely to be the dominant travel direction) and to a lesser extent Friday and Saturday evenings after about 10pm. 


Also notable is a connection policy publicised in the timetable footnotes. Buses will wait up to 20 minutes at a train station for connecting services. To see the footnote you will either need to visit the printed timetable at the stop or look at the pdf timetables on the PTV website. The online htm version of the timetable either misses or hides these notes. 

This connection policy is a little different from the existing one (current mentioned here). This allowed buses to wait up to 30 minutes for trains at key interchanges such as Broadmeadows, Carrum, Croydon, Dandenong, Elsternwick, Frankston, Glen Waverley, Lilydale, Ringwood and Watergardens stations. Five minute waits applied at Bayswater, Caulfield, South Morang and Ringwood (repeated!) stations.

A publicised bus waiting policy like this is both good and novel in Melbourne. We do not apply it for daytime bus routes despite many operating at 40 to 60 minute frequencies. 


Timetables

Services on each route run approximately hourly with some larger gaps during transition times such as when the added trips meet existing trips in the timetable. The suburban-only routes are intended to connect with hourly Night Network trains. 

The 21 regular routes will provide a continuous service from Friday morning to Sunday evening. Even though some might scoff at the hourly frequency this still represents an improvement over no service on those 21 routes involved. And not only will late night revellers and workers benefit; those who need to travel around 10-11pm Friday and Saturday nights or 6 - 9am weekends but find there are no buses will gain from these improved hours. 

The special 940 plus series routes only operate during the 1 to 5am 'small hours' period where trams and most buses are not operating. Where these routes serve tram corridors (eg the 58 and 59) and some long hours bus routes, the effect is a 24 hour weekend service, albeit more complex than in areas with continuous regular tram and bus routes.  

In some (especially outer) area with only regular bus routes (finishing 9pm and starting late on weekends) there will remain 3 - 4 hour gaps in the evenings and (especially) early Sunday mornings. However there are a few routes (like the 460 in Caroline Springs) that have later than usual finishes on Friday and Saturday nights to lessen these gaps. 

The 'old' Night Bus network was designed to be optimised for travel in one direction only - that is from the city back home to the suburbs. This was even clear in 'Homesafe' - the original Labor Party policy name for what became the multimode train/tram/bus Night Network. Those buses that originated in the suburbs were intended to meet hourly trains from the city. 

The extension of Night Network into Saturday and Sunday morning has meant a revised approach. At a certain time (say 5am) there are more people wanting to go towards the city than away from it. This means that at a certain time bus timetables 'flip' to connect to inbound rather than meet outbound trains (they might still do so but with hourly service any good connections are fortuitous).

Some timetables have features worth commenting on. Inner parts of Route 905 and 907 provide a common corridor between the CBD and the Collingwood area.Thoughtfully their schedules have been offset to provide a combined 30 minute frequency to the area. Access to the Doncaster Shoppingtown area is available via both the 207 and 907. The spacing isn't quite as even but these two have also had departures timed to provide benefits of having the two routes. 

In some cases there are two or more potential connections. For instance the 386 could connect with not only trains at South Morang but also the 86 tram (which is also a Night Network service). Some buses like the 703 or 630 pass two or more stations. Some routes intersect in the suburbs, such as the 900 and portion of the 901 that runs. The 959 might even connect with some 59 tram trips. There may be some  fortuitous connections that I'll leave you to experiment with using the journey planner (just remember to set the date to a Saturday or Sunday next month). 

In a number of cases some corridors will continue to have better service at 2am Sunday than the busier 2pm Sunday (or even 2pm weekday). An example is Route 788, most of which will run hourly during Night Network times but only about every 70 - 80 minutes on weekends. This is a temporary issue that will be resolved when the promised upgrade to every 40 minutes on weekends is delivered. Other areas where the Night routes will continue to be more frequent include in the Healesville area and on Scoresby Rd. These require reviewing regular bus networks to sort out. 


Implications for public holiday services

(this is prolix - you may skip this)

Those used to catching public transport, particularly buses, will know that service levels vary by day. Operating hours on some days are longer or shorter than others. Times and frequencies may also be less. 

While there are exceptions, generally weekdays have more trips than Saturdays which in turn often have more trips than Sundays. Sunday may have a later start and earlier finish than Saturday. The same may happen for Saturdays versus weekdays, though this is not always so. Some routes, not all of them Night Network, may have extra trips on Friday and/or Saturday nights while there are other bus routes that finish 5 or more hours earlier on Saturdays than they do on weekdays.  

Public holidays may have either a Saturday or Sunday timetable, depending on which holiday. Although this is a crass generalisation; there are some routes that run at least on Saturdays but not on any public holiday. Conversely some five day routes operate on public holidays that are university teaching days as universities do not observe all public holidays. 

The earlier comment about Saturday timetable applying on public holidays does not completely apply for some services including trams. A Saturday timetable may indeed apply but services may finish at the same time that it does on Monday to Thursday evening. These included late Friday and Saturday trips added to trains and trams in late 2007 that preceded and are not officially a part of Night Network. 

Night Network could be described as 'public holiday agonostic'. If a day like Christmas or Anzac Day fell on a Saturday then Night Network would still run. This could create some interesting interactions between timetables on certain days. 

For example if December 25 fell on a Saturday (like it does in 2021) a Sunday timetable would run, it being the public holiday timetable applicable for Christmas Day (and for that matter Good Friday). Hence most buses, including SmartBus, would stop running at 9pm. However as Saturday is also a Night Network night, and this does not observe public holidays, those bus routes with Night Network service will still be running all night. One hazards a guess here but this might mean that a route like 905 and 907 would have an hourly Night Network service after 9pm, something that it doesn't normally do since on regular Friday and Saturday nights the route runs every 30 minutes until about midnight after which the hourly Night Network trips kick in.  

Just like how trams have extra but non-Night Network late trips on Fridays and/or Saturdays, the same is true for some regular suburban buses. The difference is these kick in earlier - as early as 6pm in some cases such as with Route 468 whose Friday only 6pm - 9pm trips is for late night shopping. This was more common before many bus routes got extended hours 10 - 15 years ago so that service until 9pm ran on all nights, not just shopping nights.

A more recent example is Route 460 through Caroline Springs that has after 9pm trips on Friday and Saturday nights only. The difference here is that as these are non-Night Network trips the 460 actually has a much later finish on public holidays where a Saturday timetable applies than ordinary Monday - Thursday weeknights. 

These inconsistent and complex arrangements are understood by only a few, and frequently not even by the Department of Transport / PTV whose unenviable job it is to explain things that make no sense. This explains their poor record when it comes to providing accurate timetables and information on their website, especially around public holiday times. 

The only long term solution is to simplify routes and timetables to lessen the chance of errors. This would allow holiday arrangements to be communicated in a single sentence rather than a long essay with many notes and exceptions (as you've just read above). 


Summary

The revised Night Bus network is a significant improvement, especially in the areas that will gain 24 hour weekend service on regular bus routes. The improved operating hours on these will make service nearer to what you'd expect from a big city's bus network for the busiest two nights of the week. And it will make catching buses easier and more consistent no matter what time you travel. It represents the largest across-Melbourne bus network reform for 10 years and the first significant one for minister Carroll. 

Many middle and outer suburbs will no longer have 3 or 4 hour gaps followed by a different route then another similar gap until regular services resume. This should benefit a wide range of passengers, not just existing Night Network clientele. For example those who travel around 10 - 11pm (when most local buses have stopped) and 5 - 8 am weekends (before most service have started - particularly Sundays) will be able to make trips not before possible. Our bus service offering will thus be nearer what other cities like Sydney and Brisbane have. 

No doubt there will be a small number of people for whom the current Night Bus routes suited their travel. But they did not vote with their feet with patronage very low on most. There will be complaints but my tip is that a much larger number will gain from more trips on their regular route. The extra  regular services probably will still be quieter on average than trips during the day but will likely be busier than the special routes they replaced. Something else to watch is that if people can get somewhere or get home when they previously couldn't because the buses run longer hours, there should be some knock-on patronage gains for trips at other times as new trips (involving two uses of the bus) become possible. At least that was the experience about 10 - 15 years ago when buses gained after 7pm service so became useful for more trips. 

Unfortunately you won't necessarily get the network significance of this if you just read what PTV has written so far.  Instead they have gone for a boring "just the facts ma'am" communications style listing what's changed with no colour or network maps. This undersells the widely spread benefits of this revamp and how it could change peoples lives. It's interesting to compare this with the more exciting approach taken in level crossing removal videos like this and even how individual MPs have communicated bus service upgrades in their area.


The future

This is a low budget network upgrade and as such there would have been things that were desirable (eg even more regular routes running) that were not done. I've already mentioned timetable complications that remain in relation to public holidays.  Scope remains to reduce the list of 13 special routes further, possibly as part of local network reviews. For example there may be merit in the alignments of some of the revised more direct Night Network routes, such as 941 and 978, being adopted for daytime routes as well, which could then become 24 hours on weekends. And a revamped 220 'Megabus' simplified to run along more of Ballarat Rd could be a better candidate for 24 hour operation than the 410 chosen. 

Where existing networks are already sound extra funding could add trips to replace special routes. For example running 411, 494/495 and possibly 497 for longer hours could replace 947 and 949 at the expense of some gaps in Altona North and Seabrook. However before this is done it would be worth letting this network operate for a while to see which parts work and which need revision. 

Further down the track, something might need to be done about the hourly frequency. Cities like Toronto, for example, enjoy half hourly service during the wee hours. Given that we have made the decision to run our trains overnight (which is not cheap given the station staffing and PSO costs) the marginal cost of going from a 60 to a 30 minute service at least to key termini like Werribee, Watergardens, Craigieburn, Mernda, Greensborough, Ringwood, Dandenong and Frankston would be a relatively small increment. The busier Night Network buses could follow suit. Having said that you could get a lot of daytime bus reform for similar costs and arguably benefit more people by doing that first.

The concept of Night Network, while desirable for initial awareness, might potentially vanish, especially for the bus routes that are getting extra trips before midnight Fridays and Saturdays and after 5 or 6 am on weekend mornings. Like with trains and trams, these are very much mainstream times that buses ought to run and should be considered part of the regular timetable (including, ideally other nights such as Sunday to Thursday). 

A simplified approach could be to only use the Night Network terminology to refer to midnight to 5am services across all modes (including the hour extensions to the the Friday and Saturday train and tram timetables added in 2007). Also there may be a need for network maps to highlight such service across all modes since for the foreseeable future these will continue to be an exception rather than the norm for buses and trams. 

In summary the changes described here are welcome and represent the first concrete evidence of official interest in Melbourne-wide bus network reform after a long period of lethargy. There should be much more of it, including for the regular daytime network which could benefit even more passengers. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Whilst I am supportive of any bus upgrades and this will benefit passengers who travel at night, I feel the resources would have been better spent upgrading day time bus services to have more frequent and direct services, as this would benefit far more people and help people to get access to jobs and services, as significantly more people travel in the day than late at night between midnight and 5am.