Friday, October 15, 2021

Building Melbourne's Useful Network Part 109: Fixing Maribyrnong public transport's black hole

Want the worst of both worlds in a suburb? Combine high-rise with high car dependence. Here the sacrifices made on outdoor space and privacy are not offset by superior accessibility. In some cases facilities may be physically close but walkability is compromised by wide fast roads and seas of parking one must cross to go anywhere. 

Melbourne is building such developments apace. We have no enforced coverage, service or speed standards for public transport for any housing development, let alone that which is high density. And we're not great with active transport either. 

While often derided by developer interests and their urbanist cheerleaders as 'NIMBYs', opponents of high rise in poorly serviced areas are absolutely right given our track record of not backing density with service. 

Even the 2006 program of minimum service levels for buses (ie seven day service, hourly to 9pm) missed areas not then considered residential. Some of these areas now are but only rarely have had bus timetables updated to suit. 

Many large scale or dense developments have proceeded despite lacking good transit access and service, even in inner or middle suburbs. A few examples include:

*Alphington Paper Mill site (weekday buses half-hourly and no weekend service - see 546)
* M-City Clayton on Princes Hwy (two infrequent bus routes, only one is seven days)
* Kodak site housing at Coburg North (served only by half-hourly six day per week 526)
* Factory and retail outlets such as near and behind Moorabbin Airport (828 infrequent weekends)
* New Quay Docklands (yes it has trams but speed and geometry are poor) 

Fishermans Bend threatens to add itself to the above if much more gets built there before Melbourne Metro 2. 

Dense places like Moonee Ponds have both trains and trams but one must choose between speed (trains) and frequency (trams). No mode offers both because of our habit of running trains infrequently off-peak and accepting slow speeds on trams. Not only that but one of the latter, the 82 tram with 20 minute gaps on weekdays, offers neither speed nor frequency. 

Current connectivity from Maribyrnong

Mention of the 82 tram brings us to what's near its middle. Highpoint Shopping Centre. Not only that but a growing forest of apartments as industrial landholders sell or develop. More people means more cars and continual gridlock, unless transport other than driving offers a reasonable alternative. 

A quick summary of current public transport offerings in Maribyrnong and surrounds is as follows: 

Tram 57: Frequent but slow to CBD, with am peak time to Flinders St approaching 50 minutes. May be possible to save some time by changing to train at Ascot Vale but off-peak trains only every 20 - 40 min. Physical tram/train interchange not well provided for. 

Tram 82: Operates to Moonee Ponds and Footscray. Less direct than most tram routes. Least frequent tram in Melbourne with 20 min frequency off-peak weekdays. This is a lesser service than in the 1980s when the area was far less developed. Requires a change at Footscray for CBD travel. 

Bus 223: Operates to Footscray and then on to Yarraville.  A remnant of the Footscray tram system it offers no unique coverage as it is largely overlapped by other routes including the 82 tram and buses 406 and 472. Its Monday to Saturday 15 minute frequency doesn't evenly mesh with trains at Footscray (either every 10 or 20 min) yet is not enough to be considered turn-up-and-go for short trips in dense areas such as this. Poorly used at the Yarraville end. 

Bus 406: Footscray to Keilor East bus via Victoria University. Indirect between there and Highpoint with a different path north and southbound. High usage not reflected in its low service levels. Every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday, but only every 40 min Sundays with finish approximately 9pm most nights. However route has recently gained 24/7 operation on weekends under Night Bus reform.  

Bus 407: A minor coverage bus route that operates from Highpoint to East Keilor. Limited hours and lacks seven day service. Useful to consider if reforming the 406. 

Bus 409: Infrequent and indirect Yarraville - Footscray - Highpoint bus providing local coverage for Edgewater Estate. May however come into play if straightening and simplifying other routes like the 406. 

To summarise, the main routes that connect Maribyrnong with the outside world are the 57 and 82 trams and the 223 and 406 buses. None offer fast turn-up-and-go access from a densifying area. Issues are summarised on the map below. 

Some have suggested heavy rail options, including having Highpoint as a stop on an airport rail line. This alignment however has been rejected by the state government with the proposed airport rail instead to operate via Sunshine. Here I will only discuss shorter term measures, such as service improvements on existing lines and bus network reform. 

Six steps to better Maribyrnong transport access 

Here's how you might make Maribyrnong less of a transport 'black hole'. More detail under the map. 

1. 406 Footscray - Highpoint Megabus. This is a consolidation of bus resources from routes 223 and 406 to create a single, simple and frequent route between Footscray, VU and Highpoint. Buses could run every 10 minutes seven days per week to provide a turn-up-and-go service connecting evenly with trains at Footscray. Maximum waits late at night would be 20 minutes, timed to connect with Werribee line trains at Footscray (also every 20 minutes). Route 409 would be modified (and potentially upgraded) to retain coverage in the area missed by the straightened 406.  Every second 406 trip would extend to Keilor East or beyond (see later). 

2. New 405 Tottenham - Highpoint bus. A proposed route to give Tottenham station its first feeder bus. This is intended to provide a faster train feeder than existing routes via Footscray. Service could be every 20 minutes or better, especially in the peaks. The route via Ashley St could enable other reform such as a frequent 220 tram-like 'Megabus' down Ballarat Rd in conjunction with reform to Route 410. A side-benefit would be an extra connection to Highpoint for parts of Braybrook and West Footscray. A potential later extension might see the route run south to Yarraville, providing a feeder for another densifying area.  

3. Upgraded 82 tram frequency. First priority would be to boost weekday off-peak service from 20 to 15 minutes, and then to 10 minutes. Evening service could be boosted to 20 minutes with services optimised to meet with Werribee line trains at Footscray and/or Craigieburn line trains at Ascot Vale. 

4. Routing 903 SmartBus via Highpoint. When the SmartBus orbital network was planned it was proposed that there would be a 'blue orbital' that would connect to Highpoint. This never happened. The only SmartBus that made it to the western suburbs was the 903 or 'red orbital'. It overlaps much of the 465 along Buckley Street, missing major destinations between Essendon and Sunshine. The map shows the 903 being rerouted via Highpoint to replace the existing but lower frequency routes 468 and 408 (eastern part). This would improve connectivity to the Craigieburn line at Essendon and through Braybrook to Sunshine. To retain service in the Keilor East area there would be a compensatory extension of Route 406 (to Sunshine), reform of Route 407 and improved operating hours and frequencies on routes such as 406 and 465. More detail here

5. Trains every 10 minutes to Craigieburn and Watergardens. These are the two train lines either side of Maribyrnong. They are amongst the busier lines on the network but off-peak frequencies are only every 20 minutes (weekday interpeak), 30 minutes (night) and 40 minutes (Sunday morning). An upgrade might boost daytime frequency to 10 minutes and night frequency to 20 minutes, such as enjoyed on the Frankston line. This increase would assist connections with the 82 tram at Ascot Vale and the proposed 405 bus at Tottenham. 

6. Upgraded Route 57 tram frequency. Frequency is already good at most times. A key upgrade could be reducing maximum waits from 30 to 20 minutes by boosting Sunday evening service. Later upgrades would reduce maximum waits to 15 and then 10 minutes for more of the day. 


Described have been six upgrades to improve public transport access in fast-developing Maribyrnong. Most involve off-peak upgrades and bus network reform. Once done the area's density and activity fully warrant infrastructure upgrades, for instance tram modernisation and bus speed upgrades including 'bus wormholes' on the major corridors. Comments are invited and can be left below. 

See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here


Steve Gelsi said...

They're all very good suggestions. Another direct connection between Highpoint and the Sunbury line at Tottenham would definitely add, along with streamlined services between Highpoint and Footscray. The 405 could potentially go to Highpoint via Wests Rd and Raleigh Rd to provide another transport option for Waterford Green. The other challenge to walkability in this area is the topography. Running 903 where it will actually pick up passengers makes sense too.

Tony Smith said...

From Keilor Plains, 408 Sunshine to Highpoint works fine and combines well enough with visits to Melbourne's Living Museum of the West. On the other hand, combing Highpoint and the city on the one day is never a good idea, despite Footscray connections working for many other destinations. Regardless of Airport Rail and even Maribyrnong Defence Site, extending Racecourse line to Highpoint and running it as the far end of some or other eastern suburbs service might be useful. Given the residential growth in Flemington Kensington, more trains stopping at Kensington and Newmarket court be a good thing and could allow peak Crsigieburn services to run express through that section.

Anonymous said...

Another low cost upgrade would be to reroute route 57 via Haymarket and reinstating the former route 50 North Melbourne shuttle.