Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Timetable Tuesday 136: New bus route 390 starts later this month

Quite a lot has happened lately with bus services. We've seen the new Night Network commence with extended hours on selected routes (though not 24 hours yet due to curfew restrictions), a much needed reshuffle of service resources within the Transdev group from quieter to busier routes, the new Route 202 shuttle and, yesterday, the end of Telebus, with FlexiRide taking over in the Lilydale area

On the weekend we learned that Skybus operator Kinetic will take over Transdev routes involving one-third of Melbourne's buses. Transdev's loss was not unexpected; they did some good things with run times and network reform but couldn't run a consistently clean, safe and reliable service. Key factors were thin margins, tight inherited timetables, lax contract supervision by PTV and internal management issues. Transdev's bad luck continued yesterday, today and possibly longer with mass cancellations due to COVID-related driver unavailability. 

The next cab off the rank (or bus out the depot) is the new Route 390. It will run from Craigieburn Station to Mernda, thus joining the outer stations of each line. It will start at the end of this month. Advice is on the PTV website here


Labor promised a Mernda - Wollert - Craigieburn bus in the 2018 election campaign. It got funding in the 2019/20 state budget. Public consultation was promised for late 2020. The pandemic greatly scaled back government face-to-face engagement with the public on many matters (not just transport) so I don't think this actually happened. 

Mill Park member Lily D'Ambrosio MP posted about its arrival later this year back in January, around the time that tenders were called. The route also serves Yan Yean (Danielle Green MP), Thomastown (Bronwyn Halfpenny MP) and a little Yuroke (Ros Spence MP). Dysons, who already operate all the buses around Mernda, was the successful tenderer. 

Route description

The route is almost a straight east-west route. The road layout necessitates a bend at Wollert. There is also a bend off Bridge Inn Rd at the Mernda end for improved residential area coverage. A map is below:

The special thing about the 390 is that it links the outermost stations on the Metro train network on parallel adjacent lines. This is rare as such routes would be pointless between most other rail termini due to unfavourable geometry, caused by lines being being different lengths, and development patterns with low catchment populations between lines. The only other cases where joining rail termini makes sense is Frankston - Cranbourne (provided by the popular Route 791) and possibly Belgrave - Lilydale (served by the less popular 663). Otherwise it is better to run direct bus routes along the road grid from the end of one line to the middle of another, such as Upfield to Broadmeadows, Sandringham to Southland or Cranbourne to Narre Warren/Berwick. 

How does the 390 relate to other routes and destinations? A large number of routes meet it at both Craigieburn and Mernda stations. Most are every 40 minutes off-peak so it's pot luck whether connections are good.

The 390 terminates at Craigieburn Station in the west. This means that it misses Craigieburn Town Centre and Route 541, the area's main north-south bus route (with a 20 minute weekday frequency, which in outer northern suburbs is rare). There is a small group of shops near Craigieburn Station but overall the main reason you'd alight there is the station to change to a train or another bus. Another  handicap is that the route passes but has no stops near the industrial area east of the station.   

Three Wollert area routes operate north from Epping Station (356, 357 and 358). Unfortunately they finish slightly short of Craigieburn Rd. Hence there will be no easy access from Epping North and parts of Wollert to Craigieburn as the routes do not intersect with the 390 and are not being extended to do so. 

This gap creates 'missing links', particularly as the Mernda line veers east from Epping and catching a bus to Epping to board a Mernda train and then the 390 results in more than doubled the distance travelled than should be necessary.

Service levels

Route 390 operates over hours broadly similar to the 'minimum standards' proposed in 2006 and partly implemented since. That is 6am - 9pm weekdays, 8am - 9pm Saturdays and 9am - 9pm Sundays. It was later realised that the weekend starts were too late for many peoples' routines so these were made an hour earlier on some new routes. This was notably the case for Mernda area bus routes like 386 with longer operating hours than most (even before its recent Night Network upgrade). 

There was never published information on the finer points of these standards. For instance whether the first bus should arrive at the station before 6am or whether it should just be on the road around then. 

However way you look at it it seems the 390 has span issues. For example the first trip arrives at Mernda after 7am. Given the length of the train trip from Mernda, this means even the first bus won't get you into the CBD before 8am, making it unsuitable for early starters. The first trip on Saturday arrives Mernda just after 8am and on Sunday just before 9am. Mernda also gets a raw deal at the other end of the day, particularly on weekdays where the last trip leaves Mernda at 8:53pm. Ideally there would be one or two earlier eastbound trips, even if they run just the eastern third of the route. 

The Craigieburn end is better looked after with first arrivals about 40 minutes earlier than Mernda. Last departures are also later with the last trip around 9:30pm on all nights of the week. This may be because the bus operator is based nearer to Mernda than Craigieburn and there would be a desire to minimise dead running. Also Mernda has other routes with earlier starts and those in the Wollert area might be more likely to go to Craigieburn rather than Mernda due to the former line's better directness for trips to the CBD. 

We haven't mentioned frequency. Like operating hours the service offering is what we've come to expect from an outer Melbourne route. That is every 40 minutes off-peak. This meshes with trains typically every 20 minutes (or, on Sunday mornings, 40 minutes). Peak frequency is 30 minutes.

Route 390's run time is just over 40 minutes in the peak and just under 40 minutes off-peak. Given the abovementioned frequencies this provides a fairly efficient operation with two buses off-peak and three buses peak. It is possible that an extension to Craigieburn Town Centre, while desirable to give it a stronger terminus, would make the route inefficient at its specified frequencies due to the increased run time. Or maybe not - keep reading.  

Likely usage patterns

We're going to have to guess as service hasn't started yet. I see two dominant use patterns for the 390, as follows:

(i) Western Mernda (Mernda Rise estate) to Mernda Station (as the 390 is the only bus in the area)

(ii) Wollert to Craigieburn (as the 390 is the only bus to the Craigieburn line and provides unique coverage to areas north of Craigieburn Rd, eg Amber and Arramont estates)

It will serve both rail feeder and shopper functions. Mernda should be stronger than Craigieburn in the latter as the 390 doesn't extend to the Craigieburn Town Centre. The 390 is likely to offer a faster connection to the rail network as it is more direct than existing Route 357 (especially) to Epping from parts of Wollert.

Far fewer passengers will travel eastbound from Wollert to Mernda. The main reason for this is that many of the Mernda line's major attractions (eg hospitals, shopping and TAFE) are at Epping. For those close to them routes 356, 357 and 358 will offer better access. The geometry of routes and railways is such that even if your destination was South Morang you would go this way.

Just like with the (longer) SmartBus orbitals, I don't think that many will travel end to end from Craigieburn to Mernda on the 390. This is due to (a) network geometry and (b) neither Craigieburn nor Mernda being really strong destinations in their own right. For travel across the north the 901 SmartBus will continue to be dominant, with the bonus of direct access to major destinations around Broadmeadows, Epping and South Morang. The lack of end to end travel is not critical to the success of the 390 due to the local coverage function it provides, including it being the nearest bus to many homes. 

Potential enhancements

390's importance will increase as the area develops. Nevertheless opportunities exist for it to be more useful to more people sooner. Examples may include: 

* Stop at Craigieburn industrial area east of station. This is distant enough to justify its own stop but the PTV website map is not showing one. 

* Northern extension of routes 356, 357 and/or 358 so they physically intersect the 390. This could assist some local trips from Mernda Rise Estate, such as to Northern Hospital and Epping Plaza. Without these connections travel for these quite local trips would involve getting the 390 east to Mernda, a train to Epping then another bus via an indirect route. 

* Extension to the Craigieburn Town Centre to provide a stronger terminus and connections with key routes like the 541. Many routes already join the station with the town centre so just extending the 390 would be an unnecessary and inefficient overlap. 

The shortest, and most 'east west' of these existing routes is the 537. It has a run time of under 20 minutes, making a 40 minute frequency possible with one bus. In theory merging it with the 390 should thus be efficient, at least-off-peak. In practice though such arrangements are made harder by the routes being run by different operators, in this case 390 by Dysons and 537 by Broadmeadows Bus. 

Successful precedents exists for multiple operators to run the one route. Examples include the 900 SmartBus to Rowville and the Route 400 between Laverton and Sunshine. Such arrangements may need to be countenanced more in the future if we are to develop the best possible local bus networks. 


This has been a look at the new 390. It provides a direct connection between two roughly parallel railway lines. Even more significant is its role as the nearest bus for growing parts of Wollert and Mernda to provide a feeder and local transit function. Its usage can only grow in the future but  some enhancements to improve its usefulness earlier have been described. Your comments on these would be welcome and can  be left below.

 Index to Timetable Tuesday items


Michael Iurovetski. said...

It was said that the bus routes to become 24 hours over the weekend would start not in August but in September. Nobody said it would be moved once again even though the curfew is still a few weeks from ending.

Craig Halsall said...

The Night Bus changes took place on 24 September as planned but without trips from 1am to 5am/6am Sunday.

The PTV website was slow to reflect this but is now correct.

Hearing reports signage updates to remove references to the old routes is incomplete though...disappointing if so given the focus on shiny new signs with moon symbols that was not as urgent.

Jade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig Halsall said...

Extending any of the Wollert routes 500m north might look simple on a map, but Dysons often report late running on these routes on Twitter - added runtime is likely to cost an extra bus resource, making otherwise logical extensions unlikely in the short term.

I feel unmet demand is already there for a direct Craigieburn - Epping link, and extending one of those routes west would be warranted in its own right. Hopefully the addition of the 390 doesn't preclude such an extension.

As for Craigieburn Central access - 525 is another option to provide one-seat access given its also run by Dysons but the 525 frequency is largely harmonised with the hourly trains at Donnybrook which mismatches with off-peak 40 min headways on 390. Extending 525 to join a Wollert route might be a better network outcome.

I'd like to see 537 (Kastoria/Broadmeadows) & 543 (CDC Tullamarine) joined as one, which would be convoluted if linked to 390 at Craigieburn as well, regardless of multiple operators adding further to the complexity.

Jade said...


Bus 356
Epping Station - Wollert East via Hayston Bvd

Bus 356 stops at Epping Rd/Pine Park Dr (Stop ID 47942)

walk 7 minutes (500 metres) to Epping Rd/Craigieburn Rd (Stop ID 28081) for Bus 390

Bus 357
Thomastown Station - Wollert West via Epping Station

Bus 357 terminates at Edgars Creek Secondary College/Edgars Rd (Stop ID 27683)

walk 7 minutes (500 metres) to Edgars Rd/Craigieburn Rd (Stop ID 28089) for Bus 390

Bus 358
Epping Station - Wollert via Epping Plaza SC

Bus 358 terminates at Evolve Esp/Contempo Bvd (Stop ID 47961)

walk 7 minutes (500 metres) to Evolve Esp/Craigieburn Rd (Stop ID 28087) for Bus 390

Jade said...

Bus 357 should extend about 1 km north from Edgars Creek Secondary College to the corner of Edgars Rd and Alkira Bvd where there is a roundabout to turn the bus around, this would link up bus route 357 with bus route 390 at Craigieburn Rd while also providing coverage to Lyndarnum North Estate and Stonefields Estate in the northern part of Wollert

In addition to this Bus 390 could deviate via Edgars Rd, Contempo Bvd and Evolve Esp to connect with the bus stops at Edgars Creek Seconday College for bus route 357 and Evolve Esp/Contempo Bvd for bus route 358, creating easy interchange for Epping bound buses

Jade said...

extension of bus 357 into Lyndarnum North Estate, Wollert would require installation of 3 or 4 bus stops

2 bus stops at the corner of Edgars Rd and Craigieburn Rd, after bus passes northbound traffic lights

Optional - 1 bus stop at Lyndarnum Estate Playground corner of Edgards Rd and Skyway Avenue (in the Epping direction only)

1 bus stop at terminus, corrner of Alkira Bvd and Edgards Rd, bus does a roundabout to travel Epping/Thomastown