Friday, October 01, 2021

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 107: Could do better - the verdict on Keysborough's new 816 bus

Let's pretend we can go out tonight. We're off to the Keysborough hotel for a game of 'bad bus bingo'. 

The card we get looks something like this:

Before long we had lines through everything. Everything on the card reflected how buses in Keysborough were like in real life. 

The game showed that if there was anywhere in Melbourne that deserved bus reform and had the greatest opportunities for same, it would be Springvale/ Noble Park/ Keysborough/ Dandenong. Specific issues are mapped below with a more detailed write-up here

There's money but is it going on the best possible network?

Funding is sometimes stated as a sticking point to bus reform. Some smaller reforms, such as simplifying overlapping routes, can be done very cheaply. Still it's a lot easier if some extra money is thrown in as you can have higher frequencies, longer hours and more winners from network reform. 

As it happens there is money for Keysborough area buses. The 2019 Victorian State Budget committed resources for a new bus route for Keysborough South. The lead time for new bus routes meant that nothing was heard about it for a while.  

Back in May I speculated on what the new Keysborough south route might look like, with several options presented. One idea was a new route simply layered over the existing network. This would be less disruptive to users of other routes but would add complexity and benefit fewer people than a wider network reform. 'Grafted on planning' is (regrettably) common Department of Transport practice with the 709 extended to Noble Park several years ago being a recent local example. Other options present larger reforms with wider benefits out of proportion to their cost. These chiefly involve a doubling of service on the busy but still only hourly 813 bus. 

What we currently know

More information about what's actually happening has come out since I wrote that item back in May. The new service will be known as Route 816. It will start on November 28 with the timetable available from 29 October. A written description of the changes appears on Gabrielle Williams MP's Facebook page with more information provided in replies to queries. 

The welcome news is that the new 816 route is not simply grafted on to an unchanged local network. Instead Route 815 will be deleted while 813 will get more trips. The second message states that no Route 815 stops will be left unserved. These will either be covered by the new 816 or the boosted 813.

From this we can surmise that the north half of the new 816 will replace the Noble Park - Parkmore portion of the 815. The Dandenong Star article says that the rest of the route will run via Church, Chapel and Hutton roads. Local schools and the shopping centre at Keysborough South will be served. Like the 815 the 816 will run every 60 minutes off-peak. However its peak service will be every 30 minutes. It should also operate 7 days over longer hours. This was something that the 815, with its midday Saturday finish and no Sunday service, sorely lacked.

A notional map of this revised network, based on currently available information, is below.  

What happens to the buses?  There may be scheduling and rostering subtleties, with buses moving between routes for improved reliability and shift efficiency. But if you were going to rigidly assign buses to routes the allocation would look something like this: 

In summary the deleted 815 loses a bus to the boosted 813. The new 816 has a peak requirement of two buses (presumably new). Because the timetable drops to hourly off-peak one of those buses would only be used during peak times. Not running it all day saves some driver hours but represents an inefficient use of assets that we should try to avoid. This is especially so in a low-income area (like Noble Park) whose demographic uses off-peak buses a lot.   

Winners and losers

The big gain is of course the improved coverage of Keysborough South. The new 816 also brings higher peak frequency and better operating hours for those on unique parts of the 815 that currently get only a limited  5.5 day per week service. However 816's hourly off-peak frequency remains underwhelming. 

Then there's Route 813's frequency boost. Any amount is welcome but what's being delivered (an increase from every 60 to every 40 minutes) does not reflect its very high boardings per kilometre productivity. The 813 could easily justify a 20 or (at minimum) 30 minute service on at least the Dandenong to Springvale portion. In addition while the 813's Dandenong to Springvale alignment of the 813 is sound its continuation beyond there to Waverley Gardens makes the route confusing and arguably duplicative with parts of the 814. 

The decision to route the 816 via the current 815 alignment means that Corrigan Rd does not get a direct bus to Noble Park Station. In contrast Dandenong - Chandler Rd gets two overlapping routes but with a mostly inferior service to now. These include the hourly 812 and the 40 minutely 813. Because these are at incompatible frequencies it will not be possible to provide an even combined service, resulting in long gaps. Overall there will be fewer buses on that portion than now where there is a three bus per hour service between Monday and Saturday morning. 

How did the Bingo game go? 

Check the card. 
The new network sorts out coverage (Keysborough South) and operating hours (no more midday Saturday finish or routes without Sunday service). Not all main roads get a simple direct route and operating hours aren't quite as good as they could be so these are down as partial fixes. Hourly waits, weak termini, confusing routes, inefficient overlaps and nothing direct to nearby employment areas like Dandenong South remain unresolved. 

Missed opportunities

November's Keysborough network is generally better than what currently runs. It delivers some upgrades outside Keysborough, notably through the 813 frequency upgrade. But it could have been better still if a fuller review, involving two to four more routes, was done. Along with resourcing that reflected the area's needs, demographics and high bus usage. 

Given that it was funded in the May 2019 state budget there should have been enough time to have delivered a wider network reform. If there wasn't (COVID notwithstanding) the Department of Transport needs to speed its internal processes and boost delivery capacity. Otherwise it will have difficulty meeting the even bigger reform expectations raised by Victoria's Bus Plan.  

Even if the network wasn't reformed as much as it should have been, running the new 816 only hourly  off-peak in an area dense enough to support frequent all day service is particularly poor. This is because there'll be a bus sitting around idle except for a few trips in the peaks. A hint could have been taken from the 709 which runs a flat half-hourly service at all times instead of dropping back off-peak. 

The big missed opportunity however is better frequency on at least the Dandenong - Springvale portion of the 813 given its high usage. The increase from 60 to 40 minutes is insufficient to offset the cut made on Chandler Rd arising from the (justified) deletion of the 815 on this portion. Furthermore a boost to 813 could allow reform and simplification on heavily duplicative parts of the 812. 

Route 813 deserves a 7 day 20 minute service given its patronage (>40 boardings/hour) and catchment demographics. But even every 30 minutes would be more usable and memorable than the proposed 40 minute service. Also notable is that with imaginative bus reform of the sort we're not getting it might not even involve additional bus purchases. 

How could you get Route 813 up to every 30 minutes? It's roughly 60 minutes end to end so it needs four buses dedicated to the route. As opposed to two that run now and three that would operate if it was every 40 minutes. Because its route length is uncomfortably close to 60 minutes (and sometimes over) it might be desirable to shorten it for directness and efficiency. 

Improvement options (Phase 1)

Whether the shortening is done or not there's still the need to find the extra bus if we want service better than every 40 minutes. Or reduced overlap between routes so we can increase frequencies while retaining coverage. There's several options. 

A messy and not necessarily cheapest approach is just to operate 816's peak bus on the 813 between say 10am and 3pm weekdays and preferably also weekends. That delivers a partial off-peak upgrade from 40 to 30 minutes but doesn't help peak service. 813's run time of very close to (and sometimes exceeding) an hour might not be ideal for reliability without reforming the route.    

Those after 'cheap' might look at the 709 between Mordialloc and Noble Park. This has a patchy catchment, with it being weaker at the Mordialloc end than the Noble Park end. With a 40 - 45 minute route length it currently uses three buses to run a 30 minute frequency. This gives it double the service received by the busier 813. 

The 709 on its own can't be efficiently cut to every 40 minutes with two buses (unless there's excessive run times in the timetable which I won't assume). However if it was operationally joined with the new 816 at Noble Park then you could run a 40 minute frequency on both routes with four buses. This frees up one bus for the 813 upgrade while delivering better (40 min) off-peak service on the new 816. Unfortunately this cuts service on the existing 709 route as well as the peak frequency planned for the 816. And there may be similar issues with 813's run time.

Both options have problems. I don't like them very much because of the service cuts they introduce on large parts of the network where only one route runs. 

A look around Waverley Gardens, where the 813 terminates, is more promising. The area hasn't had reform to its local routes for years. An opportunity exists because it has three routes along Police Rd where routes overlap to serve catchments most populated by dead people. And there is a risk of becoming one of them since pedestrian crossings here are few, making access to stops difficult or risky (choose wisely!). If one of those routes with the least service was removed or redirected then it may be possible to get the extra bus we want and deliver wider upgrades like consistent 7 day service.    

To progress here we need to meet Route 814. This runs from Dandenong to the dead-end terminus of Springvale South via Waverley Gardens and Springvale. It has a limited timetable much like the 815. That is a flat hourly service with a midday Saturday finish and no Sunday trips.  

We don't really need to run 814 all the way along Police Rd given the existence of other routes, the lack of residential catchment and the difficulty of reaching stops. Instead we can run it via the 813 alignment on Hansworth St. Even better if it can be made more direct with a short busway. The presence of the 814 would now mean that we don't need the 813 north of Springvale Station. Shortening the 813 in this manner reduces its run time from 60-odd to about 40-odd minutes. A shorter route means more frequency, allowing us to run an improved 30 minute service between Dandenong and Springvale with three buses. Both locations are strong termini and make the route easier to understand than previously. 

Every bus network reform creates some issues and this is no exception. Although they should be fixable. Both 813 and 814 run to much the same major places, including Springvale, Waverley Gardens and Dandenong, with the revised 814 being quicker to Dandenong. The 814 is also hourly, the same frequency as the 813 it replaces on Hansworth St. However the 814 needs additional hours, including Saturday afternoon and Sunday service to properly replace the 813. Doing this costs money but is a cost-effective ''hours and kilometres only' upgrade in an area that needs it. 

Secondly the revised 814 is a little longer than the existing 814 due to it running via Hansworth St. This is particularly if the bus short-cut is not built and it needs to run via the current 813 alignment (ie Bertrand Av). A way around that could be to terminate the 814 near Springvale Station. Like the 813 terminus this simplifies the route with a stronger terminus. 

If 814 is removed from the area Springvale South needs an alternative. This could either be a slightly rerouted 811 and/or 824. Both offer more destinations and 7 day service compared to the existing dead-end limited service 814. Also, if it is done, removing the hourly 811 from a section of Springvale Rd is more than compensated for by doubling 813's frequency from 60 to 30 minutes on a longer section of Springvale Rd. 

A possible Phase 2

Something like the above network is about the minimum required to qualify as a significant reform of buses in the Springvale/ Noble Park / Keysborough area. It delivers 7 day service on almost all routes, provides logical termini and delivers doubled service on most of the well used 813. 

Notwithstanding this there remain ample scope for a Phase 2 or 3 series of network reforms. Examples include: 

* Further network reform to boost Route 813 to every 20 minutes 7 days with longer operating hours
* Simplification to cut the 812's duplication with other routes (709, 813, 824) between Keysborough and Dandenong and complexity involving the related 811.
* Improved service on corridors and destinations including Heatherton Rd, Monash University and the Dandenong South industrial area. 
* A possible direct Corrigan Rd route to Noble Park Station and Keysborough South similar to Options 1 or 2 here
* Possible excessive closeness of routes 709 and the new 816 south of Noble Park Station
* Other coverage, frequency and legibility improvements in Mulgrave, Noble Park North and Dandenong North as discussed here, here and here.

Addressing these could make the network even simpler and more frequent.  As Phase 1 has already tackled many overlaps, most of the above would require extra resources. However these are justified in this particular area on the grounds of patronage and social need. 


Route 816 and the associated 813 upgrade bring some long needed improvements to buses in  the Keysborough area. However they fall short of the comprehensive network reform the area needs to make buses more useful and frequent. This is despite routes like the 813 being excellent patronage performers that justify service far better than their currently hourly timetable. 

The first stage of a potential reformed network has been presented. Ideas for a further phase have also been listed. No doubt other reforms are possible. Please share your thoughts in the comments below. 


Craig Halsall said...

Leaving runtimes aside, running both 709 & 816 every 40 mins outside the peaks could allow them to be off-set at the Noble Park end, to a 20 min combined headway for those near both routes, and helps justify retaining the bus down Buckley St. Peaks you would still aim to run both at a (mediocre) 30 mins, with departures from Noble Park 15 mins apart.

The networks in Keysborough, Noble Park & Mulgrave were largely developed in the 1970s, a time when bus funding was lean, especially in new suburbs. However, a closer look at timetables from the time does show former operator Grenda's long understood the benefits of shared corridors to provide usable frequencies at low cost.

For many years Chandler Rd buses used to depart Dandenong 20 mins apart (:15 (813), :35 (812) & :55 (815). Hourly 814 & 848 are effectively off-set through Noble Park North, while 813 & 814 are somewhat off-set as well (:20 & :52 from Waverley Gardens, :32 & :56 past from Springvale).

Over time the off-sets on Chandler Rd have fragmented, especially after changes to 812 in 2010 (re-routed along Howard Rd in Dingley and direct along Railway Pde to replace a small section of 828) but indeed these changes represent a cut after over 40 years.

It is important to acknowledge these scheduling efficiencies when looking at a map and deciding routes needlessly duplicate each other and makes finding savings for a cost-neutral 813 upgrade rather difficult.

Deleting 812 is unlikely to deliver needed savings, as any resources saved should be redirecting into upgrading Heatherton Rd frequencies on 811 to 30 mins (or better) and creates new coverage gaps on Corrigan Rd and Howard Rd in Dingley Village.

One idea (although not cheap) is a second Noble Park - Mordialloc route via Corrigan Rd, Centre Dandenong Rd, Howard Rd, Lower Dandenong Rd and Warren Rd. Existing Parkdale Secondary College school buses could potentially be incorporated into the route, although these buses are currently tied up with Haileybury College shifts.

Re-routing 814 via Hansworth St but maintaining its hourly timetable is a clear downgrade for Mulgrave (One would assume a direct link to Clayton via Centre Rd is tied with changes to 631) while increasing 814 to half-hourly would not deliver any savings.

Ultimately, there are few efficiency gains in either Keysborough or Mulgrave and the area really is calling for extra buses/kilometers as part of network reform. Unlike some areas, this is justified on current service levels, social needs and already strong patronage.

Hopefully this can happen well before Sandown Racecourse is sold off for housing at some point, which would exacerbate local bus issues.

Craig Halsall said...

One correction to your maps - 816 runs via Church Rd (south of Dandenong Bypass), not Cheltenham Rd

This is confirmed in the Dandenong Star article and a map of proposed stops that local community advocate Dom Boccari has shared in the comments on Gabrielle Williams MP's Facebook page -