Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Timetable Tuesday #144: Bus 732 - Burwood Hwy's tram connector

Which is Melbourne's most frequent 7 day bus route? It's neither a SmartBus nor something in a dense inner suburb that replaced a cable tram. Instead it's a short section of a suburban route boosted because the early 2000s era government only half fulfilled a promise to extend the 75 tram to Knox City. The tram was extended from Burwood East to Vermont South with the remainder to Knox being a bus. The 'Knox Transit Link' is just one of the multiple roles served by Route 732 between Box Hill and Upper Ferntree Gully in Melbourne's east. 

For a Melbourne bus the route is amazingly straight with just one significant bend. It starts at Box Hill and runs due south, skirting the eastern part of Deakin University. Then it runs east along Burwood Hwy until Upper Ferntree Gully Station. 

Burwood Hwy is a significant transport spine in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. Many shops and corporate headquarters are lined along it. Tram 75 along it has been extended several times, with Vermont South being the current terminus. Route 732 overlaps part of the tram but has the benefit of running to Box Hill which is a major destination for people in the area. Another overlap is further east, in a sparser area. Here the overlap is with the 693 though this is different in that it deviates north via Ferntree Gully. 

Arguably, the further east you go the less there is a need for a one seat ride to Box Hill as taking the train will probably be quicker. However this is not necessarily so when comparing it with a bus + train trip noting the poor (30 min) interpeak frequency of trains on the Belgrave line. 

You can get a better idea of the 732 from the annotated network map below. 

The full route runs from Box Hill to Upper Ferntree Gully station. A dotted line east of there is an off-peak daytime loop to serve Angliss Hospital. The thick line is the Knox Transit Link from the tram terminus to Knox City Shopping Centre. This includes a lot of short trips to provide a frequent service and connections from each tram (in most cases). 

Route 732 serves a swathe of seats in Melbourne's east - all marginal. These include Box Hill (Paul Hamer MP - Labor marginal), Burwood (Will Fowles MP - Labor marginal), Forest Hill (Neil Angus - Liberal marginal) and Ferntree Gully (Nick Wakeling - Liberal marginal). The redistribution will reduce the number of seats in the area but many will likely remain marginal. 

Timetable and service levels

The timetable for the 732 is best explained in two parts: (i) the full route and (ii) the Knox Transit Link section between Vermont South and Knox City. 

The full route almost but doesn't quite meet the 2006 minimum service standards. That is service up to approximately 9pm seven days per week with maximum intervals between trips of an hour. 

Monday to Friday interpeak service is three trips per hour from the unusually early start of 5am. However its times are uneven with gaps of up to 27-28 minutes. Thus it gets close to but does not qualify for inclusion on my Useful Network frequency maps, which have a maximum wait cut-off of 20 minutes. Another issue is that even if it was an even 20 minutes it would not harmonise trains at Box Hill due to these following a 15/ 30 minute pattern (despite a more suitable 10 / 20 minute pattern operating on weekends). 

Saturday service is roughly 40 minutes during the day and 60 minutes at night. Sunday service is mostly about hourly. However it doesn't quite meet the hourly minimum service standard as intervals are lumpy. For an example there is gap of around 90 minutes in the morning and around 75 minutes inbound from Upper Ferntree Gully. The span is asymmetrical, with the last weekend buses leaving Upper Ferntree Gully at 8pm as opposed to after 9pm for Box Hill. 

The Sunday timetable excerpt above shows how much more intense the Knox Transit Link service is compared to the route 732 as a whole. In addition the Knox Transit Link operates over almost the same wide operating hours enjoyed by the 75 tram. The concept was there would be a seamless tram / bus connection, though in 2011 the PTUA complained this wasn't so

Noteworthy though was when the 75 was one of the six tram routes chosen for Night Network operation in 2016 the connecting 732 Knox Transit Link bus did not get a corresponding 'meet every tram' upgrade. Instead the link is provided with the hourly 967 special Night Bus route. More recently late night 732 service was cut earlier this year, presumably due to low usage. 

In the morning peak the short 732 trips operate about every 8 to 10 minutes. Interpeak service is about every 10 minutes for the short trips on their own. However the full route passes every 20 minutes or so, reducing some gaps to 5 minutes. Arguably this is excessive - one wonders whether economies might have been possible with short trips being spaced between the full length trips. This would however require the full length trips to be run at an even 20 minute interval, which is not currently the case. This does not happen as the bus operator concerned (Ventura) tends to avoid clockface timetabling, even interpeak and on weekends. This is because our Department of Transport does not enforce network-wide frequency planning standards. In this we lag Switzerland, which does through its Tactfahrplan (clockface) scheduling policy.  

Early Saturday morning frequencies are every 20 minutes, improving to 12 minutes for most of the day. Like on weeknights evenings drop to approximately every 20 minutes with some unevenness. Service is least (about every 30 minutes) early Sunday morning and evening to reflect the drop off in tram services then. 


The 732 as we know it has been going since 1980, though there have been similar routes going back to 1944. For much of the 1970s it provided a bus along both Highbury Rd and part of Burwood Hwy, with other routes (735 and 736) going further east along Burwood Hwy. Both have since been made less direct with the 732 becoming the main Burwood Hwy route. 

The short Knox Transit Link trips between Vermont South and Knox City were added in 2005. These ran as extra trips in between the full length 732 trips. Hence you had Melbourne's most frequent bus service on the overlap section while the full length route was the usual six day per week / short operating hours service typical of Melbourne buses. This went a long way to being corrected a couple of years later when the full 732 route gained an (almost) minimum service upgrade in 2007 with longer operating hours and Sunday service. 

For a long time (up to early 2021) the 732 was scheduled in a manner where the short Knox Transit Link trips combined with the full length trips to provide the high Vermont South - Knox City service. However the 2021 service change decoupled them to make them effectively separate services. While this might have improved the reliability of the Knox Transit Link part of the service, it resulted in a 'lumpy' timetable with some trips only two minutes apart. Also the number of trips added may not have necessarily been the most efficient use of bus resources in Melbourne's east given (a) Knox Transit Link's low usage and (b) the extreme lack of bus services in parts of Knox (such as Scoresby Rd). 


The 732 is one of the busiest bus routes in the eastern suburbs. Both in terms of overall patronage and boardings per service hour. The latter is 35-36 boardings per hour on all seven days with the highest number recorded on Sundays. This is due to a combination of a favourable bus using demographic (most likely at the electorally marginal Box Hill end) and the poor hourly service provided. High productivity can wreck a bus route with the 732 on weekend a prime example. 

The goodness of the 732's catchment and the strength of Box Hill as a centre appears to offset its overlap of the 75 tram on Burwood Hwy. The bus goes to Box Hill and the tram doesn't so they have different roles. Where both routes perform strongly and the catchment is favourable then you might accept what you might at first sight consider a duplicative service. 

The Knox Transit Link further east is a different story. Board one of the short trips and there often won't be that many other passengers. It's a frequent service but it is very slow if taking it all the way to the CBD. Camberwell (on the way) may attract some but not necessarily very many passengers. Certainly having more buses between Vermont South and Knox City than trams that they meet is overkill not justified by patronage numbers. Especially when the number of such trips was greatly increased in the early 2021 recoordination.

Another thing about the 732's extending so far east is that it precludes many one-seat rides, even for local trips, for passenger boarding routes south and east of Belgrave without even more network duplication than currently exists. This may be one of the reasons for the low patronage productivity of routes like the 695. It may be possible for it to do better if it ran to a major destination like Knox City instead of the 732.  

Reform options

Route 732 has a lot of potential for reform. Not least because it serves the major centre of Box Hill, just misses Deakin University and will just miss the proposed Burwood Suburban Rail Loop station. And, as mentioned above, parts of the route are well used while other parts are poorly used, despite its strong overall usage. 

The map below is a potential network concept for a reformed Deakin area trunk bus network involving the 732 and 903. 

In a nutshell both the 903 and 732 are rerouted to better serve Deakin University. As well the short poorly used Knox Transit Link trips are replaced with frequent service all the way between Knox City and Box Hill. This may seem expensive but resources can come from amalgamating the 201 and 768 Deakin University shuttles into the extended 732.

An attempt could be made to lessen run time with express / limited stop running between Vermont South and Box Hill, with the tram or the 767 available at all stops missed. Service could be every 10 minutes weekdays and 20 minutes weekends, with the inferior weekend tram connections at Vermont South accept as a price for the vastly improved frequency to Box Hill. Every second trip could extend from Knox to Upper Ferntree Gully to preserve the existing 3 buses per hour but (hopefully) with a more even 20 minute interval. This would nicely complement needed upgrades of Belgrave line weekday interpeak services from every 30 to every 20 minutes. 

If funding is limited a 15 minute weekday frequency between Box Hill and Knox City may be acceptable. This has the advantage of evenly meshing with the current 15 min base train frequency at Box Hill and, if every second trip is extended to Upper Ferntree Gully, trains there as well. And, while still not quite 'turn up and go' it would offer a superior service to the 20 minutely Deakin 201 shuttle. The main trade-off is inferior timetable coordination at the Vermont South tram terminus (trams every 10 min, bus every 15 min). But you are still getting a much simpler network and far better Deakin access at a very small cost. 

The eastern part of the 732 also bears looking at. Simplification might involve operating the Angliss Hospital trip full time as part of a regular route extended from the east that might make other local trips easier. It might be possible to consider this in conjunction with reforms to 693 and 695


Route 732 tries to do a lot of things. Does it do too much? Or are there more things it could do, eg a better Deakin University connection? Does the Knox Transit Link get too much service while the Box Hill end gets too little? And is there scope for timetable neatening, such as an even 20 minute service and more weekend trips? Comments are welcome and can be left below. 

See all Timetable Tuesday items here


Heihachi_73 said...

I've been stung by the Knox Transit "Link" a few times, where the bus has driven off the instant the tram's doors have opened to let everyone off, or having got off the tram, the bus is long gone (75 tram and late are synonymous, worse if a tram driver dawdled along at 30 km/h despite the Burwood Hwy being an 80 zone at the outer end of the tram line). The bus stop is roughly 200 metres from the tram stop (trams tend to terminate at the city end of the stop to make a quicker return, making the walk to the bus longer than necessary). It would be nice if the link was actually coordinated.

No myki top-up machine is provided at the tram/bus interchange, and of course, ever since COVID became a thing, you can't top up on a bus either.

In the early 2000s, the then-new low floor C class (Citadis) trams were intended to run on route 70 and 75, but were banned from running due to the Riversdale Rd level crossing (aka tram square) after a tram on a test run bottomed out on the vertical curve (Riversdale Rd is on a somewhat steep hill, with the Alamein line train crossing naturally being on level ground). Despite this not affecting route 75, and the 75 having so many DDA-compliant platform stops it's not funny, no other attempt has been made to run low floor trams, although plenty of modern trams (C, D and E classes) have been all the way to Vermont South on test runs.

Kane said...

Having spent two years commuting on the 732, I think the best option would be to truncate the route at Vermont South, with a 10 Minute Service running between there and Upper Ferntree Gully. The Eastern portion lacks love and the irregular timetable makes it hard to work with, and the Knox Transit Link is under utilised given its short length. I think integration of the 732 and 75 is a far better goal, creating a frequent, but slow, local service from the City to Upper Ferntree Gully and Angliss Hospital. Similarly I think a bus should run from The Basin to Vermont South all the way along Mountain Highway to replace the useless 745 and provide frequent and reliable service for this part of the east, linking with trains at Bayswater.

Heihachi_73 said...

If anything, truncate the 732 at Westfield Knox (not Vermont South as it's a weak terminus) and extend a more frequent 693 from Upper Ferntree Gully up to the 75 tram. Obviously though, another bus route would have to replace the Ferntree Gully Rd to Oakleigh section so it will require quite a few more buses to implement. The former U.S. Bus Lines services do need a shakeup though.