Tuesday, March 29, 2022

TT #158: Craigieburn's new timetables and routes

It's years since we had a comprehensive bus service revamp that added substantial service kilometres to the network in Melbourne. Possibly the last were Geelong and Wyndham in 2015 and Cranbourne in 2016. 

Most others since were smaller scale coverage extensions (mostly new routes every 40 to 60 minutes in growth areas) or 'oily rag' resource shifts such as occurred last year with the Night Network and Transdev timetable adjustments. There was also the Endeavour Hills network revamp

All were highly worthwhile low-cost upgrades but have not exactly been transformational. It's not surprising then that population growth has outstripped service growth in Melbourne for most of the last decade as service took a back seat to infrastructure in public transport's policy emphasis and funding. 

Consequently Melbourne added close to a million people yet did not start a single new SmartBus route in this period. Trains also remain underserviced with frequencies every 30 to 40 minutes at times when Sydney and even Perth run them every 15 minutes. 

Next month's Craigieburn bus revamp marks an encouraging revival of interest in service. While there are no new bus routes, some existing routes get modified to extend coverage. Even more significant are the service increases. Four routes will have services upgraded to run every 20 minutes during the day on weekdays. This is a major improvement both on what's there now and the typical 40 to 60 minute frequencies most outer suburbs get. 

The new services will commence on April 24.

Route changes

The Department of Transport / PTV hates publishing maps if they think they can get away without. They may release explanatory network maps if they are consulting on a proposed network (like Healesville that I discussed last week) but mostly considers them unimportant when launching a revised network. Even before COVID encouraging patronage growth was not a high priority for the DoT. Instead it remains a bureaucracy of the 'old school' with its languid leadership disinclined to effectively promote public transport service improvements and their benefits. 

Consequently, while we may read about the Craigieburn network upgrades here and see turn-by-turn changes to some routes, PTV has otherwise exerted only minimal effort to communicate the changes. For example there is no network map to explain how everything fits together. This is even though some residents will be served by different routes under the change. 

It's become habitual; PTV was similarly missing / inaction with regards to network maps for last month's new Mornington Peninsula network too. This weakness  contrasts with the strong promotion done for 'Big Build' infrastructure projects (despite these being more physically obvious and arguably needing it less). 

Until the new Hume local area map is done (much closer the start date) intending passengers will thus need to look at new maps route by route on the PTV website or scroll through the pdf maps linked from Ros Spence MP's media release. (Direct link here). You can then compare these alignments with the network on the current PTV Hume local area map, helped by my annotations below.  

In a nutshell the route changes include: 

* A minor rerouting for the very infrequent Route 511 (starting 11 April, not covered further here). 

*  Route 525 to take a S-shaped bend north and south of Donnybrook Rd, Mickleham. While not direct this will improve coverage. It is also simpler than the current route where buses need to negotiate the same intersection multiple times each direction. 

* Further south, Route 525 will take a more south-western alignment via Highlander Dr. This will extend coverage to an area that didn't previously have it. Passengers in the skipped area will have the 529 and 541 as alternatives. 

* Route 529 (which is Craigieburn's busiest bus route) will have its coverage extended west as far as Highlander Dr. 

* Route 537 will be shortened to terminate at Craigieburn Central Shopping Centre. Its western portion will be replaced by an extended Route 528 with greater coverage. 

Other routes will remain with today's alignment including 533, 541, 544 and the recently introduced 390.

Overall these changes add coverage. They are however a different service model to the 2015 Wyndham network. Whereas the former has a clear two tier network structure, with very direct main road routes operating more frequently than 'coverage' style neighbourhood routes operating in between them, Craigieburn's network has a less defined main road / suburban street hierarchy. Instead even most local route operate at the higher frequency on weekdays (but not weekends) as will be discussed next.  


Here it could be said that the deity is in the detail. The abovementioned route changes, if introduced on their own, would not be exceptional. Where this network upgrade really shines is in the weekday service levels. 

No less than four routes (528, 529, 533 and 537) are being upgraded to operate every 20 minutes interpeak. This compares with 30, 40, 40 and 40 minutes respectively at the moment. 20 minute frequencies evenly mesh with interpeak trains at Craigieburn and represents a better service than the more widespread 40 to 60 minutes more often found in outer suburbs (including on new routes like in Tarneit and Clyde North). 

It is a long time since any outer suburban area got one let alone four new bus  routes operating every 20 minutes interpeak. Craigieburn is a good place to start such upgrades due to its high density, favourable demographics and strong patronage of existing routes such as 529 and 533. This excellent targeting should lead to patronage growth that is maybe 10 times better per service kilometre added than with other less well conceived bus service additions such as Route 704's

My detailed 2019 look at Craigieburn's network appeared here. This also recommended a revised network with routes boosted to operate every 20 minutes. 20 minute bus frequencies have broader network merits as explained here, especially if run all week and accompanied by complementary train service upgrades

Also welcome is the earlier weekend (and especially Sunday) starts on 525, 528, 529, 533 and 537. Start times have historically been much later on weekends than weekdays despite strong travel demand in the early mornings. It is good that this is being fixed. 

Potential enhancements

Where could the changes have gone further? Span is one. Last buses typically leave Craigieburn station at around 9:40pm. This means that you need to be out of the CBD before 9pm to have a chance of catching them. Given Craigieburn's propensity to use buses and the distance most homes are from the station it would be desirable for at least a couple of routes to have extra departures at say 10:40 and 11:40pm. 

Weekend frequency is another. This remains at 40 minutes (mostly like today). This compared with some main routes on the new Wyndham and Cranbourne networks with 20 minute weekend daytime frequencies. While not entirely straight main road routes, the 529 and 533 are possibly the front-runners for a weekend frequency doubling due to their high existing usage and coverage provided.   

Next month's upgrades boost just Craigieburn's local routes only. Those which approach Craigieburn from the south, such as 532 and 544 were not included. Both of these routes operate every 30 minutes interpeak. Because this is is unharmonised with trains every 20 minutes, the result is that the same connections only recur hourly. A simplified local network with the 532 boosted to every 20 minutes for little money was discussed in UN 30. This item also discussed Route 531 which, along with 544, is also getting a minor timetable change on April 24. 

Route 541 also didn't get a guernsey. This is a direct north-south bus corridor feeding into Broadmeadows. It already has a 20 minute weekday frequency. This too may be worthy of a higher weekend frequency and longer hours. Route 541 is even also a candidate for 24 hour weekend service if extra trips on it replace the existing special and less understandable Night Network Route 953. 


This is a significant bus network reform in a part of Melbourne that really needs it. Not so much due to the routes but because of the service levels involved. Let's hope it sets a precedent for similar reform to local bus networks that equally need it such as in the Preston-Reservoir, Clayton - Dandenong, Berwick - Narre Warren and Frankston areas.  

More Timetable Tuesday items are here

Friday, March 25, 2022

UN 121: Four routes to two - Healesville's bus revamp


Yarra Valley is (at last) getting a new bus network. Funded in the 2021 state budget, services will commence late this year. 

Reform has long been needed as little good can be said about what's there now. For example 684 was complicated with odd holiday patterns, 685 (the main route) was even more complex with many deviations and alternative termini, 686 had limited days and hours while 687 got used by basically no-one. 

Of these issues the most important ones are to do with the 685. This carries perhaps 90% of the area's bus passengers. Leaving aside the very occasional 684 it is Healesville's only public transport connection to the outside world. It is also the only way to Healesville Sanctuary on weekends. Any reform would thus have to have the 685 at its centrepiece, with route simplification and the elimination of multi-hour gaps between buses at certain time of the day. 

The proposed network

Details of the Department of Transport's proposed network appeared on the PTV website earlier in the week. Extra details including current and proposed network maps and a passenger survey, are here

In a nutshell the new network reduces four routes (684, 685, 686 & 687) to two (684 and 685 only). It does this by merging 685 and 686 and deleting the very poorly used 687. 

The surviving 684 and 685 will also be simplified and shortened in their western portions. For example Route 684 (which is like a quasi V/Line service but with a metropolitan route number and myki ticketing) will no longer commence at Southern Cross Station and travel via Ringwood. Instead it will start at Chirnside Park Shopping Centre and operate via Lilydale station. Those needing Ringwood or the CBD will need to change to the train at Lilydale with the 670 at Chirnside Park another option for Ringwood. 

685, which sometimes goes to Chirnside Park, will always start at Lilydale. However it will consistently extend to the Healesville Sanctuary and Badger Creek rather than just on weekends in a single directional loop. This will replace most stops on the deleted 686. The benefit here is a one-seat ride all week for most 686 passengers. 

All 685 trips will go the same way with Maroondah Hwy (which 685 sometimes currently takes) being served only by the 684 (which will also serve Coldstream). The main exception is an interpeak out and back deviation via Healesville Hospital (which currently has the to be deleted 686). 


What happens to service levels?

This appears to be a very low cost upgrade. With slower population growth than the north and west, relatively less social disadvantage than elsewhere and some poorly used bus routes this is not unexpected if you were using a rough 'needs and patronage' framework to assess priorities across Melbourne. Especially as under the current state government it has been very difficult to obtain funding for transport services as opposed to 'big build' infrastructure where money falls like confetti. 

You can get an indication on high tight things are by the lack of specific promises with regards to frequency and operating hours on the new network. 

The general intent is to shift resources from the 687 and what is seen as duplicative portions of the 684 and 685 to boost service levels on the 685, the main route between Lilydale and Healesville, and the portion of the 686 that the more consistently extended 685 takes over.  

There is also an un-numbered Eildon - Alexandra Wednesday and Friday shopper bus paralleling part of the 684. These aren't mentioned in the PTV website item and it is unknown whether this route is part of the reforms. 

So what's going to happen to service levels on the two surviving routes? 


The 684 is an odd beast with nothing else like it on the network. It has a metropolitan route number but has a timetable like a V/Line coach including trips starting from Southern Cross station and ending at very rural Eildon. Yet it accepts myki ticketing, unlike V/Line coaches. 

The timetable is another legacy with extra trips on public holidays, an assumption about Sunday day trips from Melbourne and even a later Friday departure so Melbourne people can visit on the weekend after they finish work. However the 684 has so few trips that you generally can't make a same day return trip in both directions.

On weekdays an early morning trip starts at Eildon while a later trip starts at Alexandra. The first could suit commuters while the second would be more shopper oriented.

The afternoon also has two trips but it's complex. You can return to the area by leaving the city in the middle of the day but you need to get a train to Ringwood as that's where the first outbound 684 trip starts. This goes to Alexandra only. Then there's one other afternoon trip. This varies with the days of the week. Monday to Thursday is after 3pm while the Friday trip is after 6pm. Arguably the latter enables people to finish work and be up at Eildon for the weekend.   

Otherwise the weekday arrangement allows Eildon people to spend a long day in the city while Alexandra people have some extra flexibility for a later arrival and earlier departure. It is not possible for Melburnians to use the 684 to spend a weekday in the area without an overnight stay. 

Saturday is just one trip each way. This allows Eildon and Alexandra people to spend a day in Melbourne (but not the reverse). Sundays is the reverse, permitting Melbourne people to make a day trip to Alexandra / Eildon (but not the reverse). Unusually, special timetables operate on public holidays with extra trips compared to weekends. 

PTV summarises the 684 changes in the table below. The concept of service span is meaningless for a route containing so few trips yet they promise it will remain the same. All up there will be two round trips on weekdays and one on weekends. It is not stated whether both weekday trips will go to Eildon or not (currently they don't). Presumably there will be uniform departure times on weekdays rather than having the later Friday trip. 

The key change involves making Sunday like Saturday to favour locals  making day trips to Melbourne rather than Melburnians travelling to Eildon. If it is standardised as per  most other public holiday timetables in Melbourne then the number of public holiday trips will fall to what applies on weekends. 


685 (at least the part between Lilydale and Healesville / Healesville Sanctuary) is the big winner in this reform. We know that it's currently a horridly complex route but what about the timetable? Where are the main service gaps? 

Firstly it doesn't meet even hourly minimum standards. Weekday peak service is roughly every 40 minutes while interpeak has varying intervals ranging up to about 90 minutes. Only a handful of weekday services start at Chirnside Park and even fewer go the full route. But one that does operates on Friday evening only for late night shopping. Apart from that the early finish means that you can't leave the CBD much after 7pm to get the last bus from Lilydale. 

Saturday has gaps of up to 100 minutes between buses. It is not possible to go arrive at Healesville from Lilydale before 9am (unless one gets the 965 Night Bus in the small hours). Evening span is as good as Fridays (with a 9:15pm Chirnside Park departure) but the previous bus is over 140 minutes earlier. Sunday service is even more limited with 2 - 3 hour gaps between buses all day and more limited span.  

Given the above limited schedules, even an hourly service until 9pm would be a large upgrade on what runs currently. The question is whether we are getting anything significantly like this. 

The notes below say 'more services more regularly'. Later it says 'better frequency and span'. 

Elsewhere it is mentioned that the public holiday timetable isn't clear. Infrequent Sunday services is cited as is the span (described as 'very limited' and unsuitable for a route of 685's size). It is later mentioned that 685 will gain extra trips on all days of the week. The mention of simplified timetables  (including for public holidays) may mean that Saturday and Sunday timetables are made more similar to one another (possibly with Sunday having a similar timetable but slightly less span). Later though it is mentioned that 'there will be an increase to the weekday spans for Route 685' with a note mentioning budgetary dependencies. 

Although we're not told much, I'm not surprised if the outcome for the 685 ends up being (i) a weekday service with slightly wider span and a flat hourly off-peak frequency, (ii) weekend services also being hourly during the core of the day and (iii) not necessarily much additional weekend span, particularly on Saturdays, although there may be an option for two hour gaps at the start and end of the day if wide span for little money is considered important. 

Local reaction

The Yarra Valley likes to see itself as comprising close-knit communities rather than more anonymous suburbia. An old tradition that has continued is the publication of a local newspaper with in-depth  reporting on local matters. 

Including on local bus services such as discussed here with reporting of a type that has largely disappeared from what remains of the metropolitan local press. 

Read Alexandra Newspapers report here. Included is commentary from the bus operator on travel patterns, preferences and patronage. 

The main concern is that the 684 truncation will force Melbourne-bound passengers to change at Lilydale. Currently they have a through service. Often such changes enable a more frequent service to be run but in this case it would appear that the service frequency is staying the same with any spare service kilometres going to boost the 685. That is unless the weekday short Alexandra services are extended to Eildon.  

Further comments appear on the paper's Facebook page (post 24/3/2022). These also indicate concern about changing at Lilydale for through passengers. Although there were other suggestions about more convenient times or increased frequency. Other comments appear on this item posted by the Yarra Ranges Council (see it here via McKenzies, the bus company who runs services in the area).  

The planning trade-offs are that when you have long routes that parallel others you are less able to deliver better service frequency in your local area where a route may have a unique catchment. On the other hand some people might prefer not to change from a bus to a train to complete their trip. 

Locals will have a chance to express their views via the online survey. There will also be two daytime drop-in information sessions at Healesville (31 March & 5 April).

We'll know what will happen for sure when timetables come out about a month before the commencement date later this year. We don't know the exact commencement date. But it will be within a few months of the state election. These reforms will affect two state seats (Eildon and Evelyn) both of which are held by Liberal members on thin margins. I recommended a local bus network review something like this in my 2022 state election special.   


The above changes simplify a very complex bus network. What's your thoughts on them? Do you think the coverage of Healesville's town is adequate after some stops get removed? And what about the 684? Is its CBD portion a useful service or just inefficient duplication? Should the Night Network 965 be replaced with extra trips on 683 and 685 for a simpler service or is improving day travel a higher priority? Comments are invited and can be left below. 

See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

TT #157: Hampton Park's snaking 894 bus


One of Melbourne's many neighbourhood bus routes is the unheralded 894. Snaking around the south-east it starts at Hallam station and ends at Narre Warren South. It calls in at Hampton Park shopping centre on the way. It (like the not unrelated 895) has an undistinguished terminus on Ormond Rd, not far from Amberley Park shopping centre. Its map (which does not completely represent how the bus goes all day for reasons given later) is below:

Taking over half an hour in peak, you probably wouldn't do an end-to-end trip on the 894 for the few kilometres to Hallam Station. Although other choices aren't necessarily much better.  Both the 892 and 895 turn off before they reach Hallam Station (currently being rebuilt with its level crossing removed) while the area lacks a route to nearby Lynbrook station. 834 and 835 (recently discussed here) are also complex and indirect (although their peak frequency is relatively good). 

Portions of Route 894 overlap multiple routes in the area. This is partly a legacy of past planning which has only sometimes reformed underlying routes when new routes (eg 863) have been added. The new 2016 Cranbourne network reformed some routes like 892 and 893 but left 894 alone. 894 does however have some unique coverage especially around Huntingdon & Laura drives.  The relationship between 894 and the broader rail and bus network can be seen below. 

The Hampton Park area has multiple destinations within a few kilometres. The 894 serves only a few. These include the station at Hallam and shopping centres at Hampton Park and Amberley Park. Key destinations missed include the large shopping and civic centre at Fountain Gate, Cranbourne shopping centre, Lynbrook station (which has benefited from the recent Cranbourne line duplication and peak frequency increase) and Casey Central shopping centre. It is unreasonable (and geometrically difficult) to expect a single bus route to serve them all. However a reappraisal of the 894's role is overdue given recent retail and housing growth in the broader region. 

Route 894 is run by Cranbourne Transit. The area has both other Cranbourne Transit routes (eg 891, 892, 893, 895) and routes run by Ventura (eg 834/835, 847, 863). Multiple operators can make bus network reform harder or at least limit options give DoT chariness about swapping routes between bus operators or instituting sharing arrangements (though it was done in 2006 for the 900 SmartBus and more recently the 2014 Brimbank review). 

The route is in the state electorate of Narre Warren South, represented by Gary Maas (Labor). 

Timetable and service levels

At first glance the 894 looks like your average minimum service standard Melbourne suburban bus route. It runs every 40 minutes on weekdays and 60 minutes on weekends until about 9pm Monday to Sunday. Peak service is approximately every 30 minutes. Fairly normal so far. 

Where 894 gets different is that its 30 minute peak frequency is obtained by running express in the counterpeak direction. Thus the route is effectively bidirectional outside peak but unidirectional in peak. This pattern is ingenious but adds complexity to the service. This includes 'holes' of 3-4 hours when you'd expect that service would run but it doesn't. 894 has shared this trait with the closely related 895 since the routes were created nearly 20 years ago in 2002's upgrades that parsimoniously added  bus service across much of outer Melbourne. 


Route 894 attracts about 21 passenger boardings per bus service hour on weekdays. This is very close to average for buses in Melbourne. About a quarter of this usage is associated with schoolchildren, with this number dropping to 16 on non-school days. Weekend usage is much less with 11 and 7 boardings per hour on Saturdays and Sundays respectively. This is possibly because the route does not serve major weekend destinations like Fountain Gate. 


Route 894 (along with its sister 895 and 892 and 893) started in 2002. This year marked the first stirring from the slumber that had characterised Melbourne bus services for the decade following the savage service cuts of 1990/91. We however had to wait a further four years for the full awakening marked by 2006's 'Meeting our Transport Challenges' plan. 

Before 2002 the area was served by high 700-series routes. Routes 792, 793 and 794 served the area from 1987. The first two went to Dandenong while the 794 ran to Fountain Gate. 792 was a Saturday only service from 1987 with the other two operating on weekdays. This network introduced a complexity to local buses that despite the 2002 route and number changes remains with us today 35 years later.  

Going back even further, there was just a single route, the 792, between Dandenong and Cranbourne which existed at least as far back as 1971 with a past traceable to 1946. This served areas west of Hallam Rd including the site of the Hampton Park shopping centre. It was Hampton Park's first and original bus route. Interestingly coverage was reduced in 1978 with the route modified to run along more of South Gippsland Hwy. You can see maps of the old 792 and other 1970s - 90s routes here


Route 894 is one of a complex tangle of bus routes serving the Hampton Park area. It does not run a full timetable at all stops with services not running in counterpeak directions. Patronage is low to middling, not assisted by the number of other routes that sap its usage along with poor directness, weak termini and avoidance of some popular destinations. 

Could 894 be improved? What do you think should be done with it? Please share your ideas in the comments below. 

Other Timetable Tuesday items here

Friday, March 18, 2022

More SRL East inquiry hearing material

No long post today because anything I write will not be as important as information recently released by experts as part of the Suburban Rail Loop East Inquiry and Advisory Committee process and hearings. I covered highlights last week

Since then more information has come out, notably responses from the Suburban Rail Loop Authority to some of the issues raised. This has shed more light on what's considered important and what's less so. 

You can be pretty sure that a project like the SRL will attract criticisms for its massive costs. It is quite possible that there will be internal pressure to avoid 'scope creep'. Attitudes expressed indicate a risk that should such pressures come to pass even basics like shelter for transferring passengers and proper connections with Metro stations could be omitted, making the project much less than what it could be. And even if there weren't such pressures, there is not necessarily the confidence that some pretty basic passenger experience aspects are not being accorded the weight they should be. 

See some extracts and discussion in this Twitter thread about all this. 

And always check (at least every few days) the tabled documents and recordings on the Suburban Rail Loop East Inquiry and Advisory Committee page. Some documents you can glance over but others are really important

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

TT #156: Belgrave's quirky 697

Maps are supposed to tell you where a bus goes but the one on PTV’s website for Route 697 raises more questions than answers. What you see resembles a chair. Dandenong and Fountain Gate form its feet, Lysterfield and Rowville form the seat while Belgrave – Belgrave South form the back. 

Does the bus run from Dandenong to Narre Warren with a backtrack via Belgrave? Or are there separate trips from Belgrave? And can one arrive at any location on the route with an assurance that there will be a bus soon (or even in the same week)? 

The first indication that all is not what it seems comes when you look at the stops. There are many between Belgrave and Belgrave South but only a few on the seat and legs. The timetable gives more an indication. More on that later. 

To put you out of your misery, the 697 proper is basically a Belgrave Station to Belgrave south bus. It’s topical to talk about it on Tuesday as this is one of the days that one of its weekly extensions (to Dandenong Market via Wellington Village Shopping Centre Rowville) operates.  The other extension runs on Thursdays to Fountain Gate Shopping Centre. Return trips operate from both destinations just after lunch.

Hence the 697 performs multiple roles. The first and main role is to link the Belgrave South residential area with the station and shops at Belgrave. The other roles involve providing weekly connections to a major market and a major shopping centre.

The latter, to Fountain Gate, involves a one-seat ride. Slightly further away but likely still visited by Belgrave South people is Knox City. This involves a complex bus-train-bus or bus-bus-bus trip involving the 697, Belgrave train (or 693 bus) and finally the 732 to Knox City. This is because all local buses from the south and east (eg 695 & 697) terminate at Belgrave Station with none offering through service to popular local destinations.  There is however a price to be paid for 697’s one-seat ride as you’ll see later.

Route 697 is in the seat of Monbulk held by deputy premier James Merlino MP. This is not a safe seat

(*) Strictly speaking though these are not quite extensions. A couple of stops off the main road are missed on the Dandenong Market and Fountain Gate trips. You can see the stops skipped when you look up the detailed timetable.


The 697 hasn’t had much of a service upgrade in years. It missed out on the ‘minimum standards’ upgrade that rolled out 7 day service to many bus routes about 15 years ago. Hence it only runs 5.5 days per week with no Saturday afternoon or Sunday service. There is however service on most public holidays (mornings only). This is due to the route adhering to the standard of a Saturday timetable (no matter how dated or unsuitable) applying on public holidays.

Monday to Friday service is from roughly 6am to 7:30pm. Peak service, at every 20 to 25 minutes, is surprisingly high for a quiet fringe area ‘coverage’ bus route. Buses are timed to take 10 minutes each way so this can be achieved with one bus on the route. 

The weekday interpeak timetable is unusual. Mostly it runs to a 30 minute frequency. This is also unusually good for a low usage fringe area route and meshes with trains. However it is not consistent with some 60 or even 70 minute gaps. 

Saturday service is available between approximately 8:30 am and 12:30pm only. An uneven 70 minute (approx.) interval is offered apart from the first two trips which are about 40 minute apart. The short span makes the bus suitable for morning shopping trips to Belgrave but not much further due to the travel times and transfer penalties involved. In cases like a trip to Knox City you would struggle to make the last return bus even if you caught the first unless the trip was very brief. 

Below is a screenshot of the timetable. A curiosity is the relationship between the weekday shopper extension trips and the regular Belgrave-Belgrave South trips. In particular it shows two Tuesday trips departing at 9:45am. One goes the normal short route to Belgrave South. The other goes almost the way there, missing the Morton Rd stops. This is to retain directness for the Dandenong Market trip.  The Tuesday return trip has a similar pattern but the trips are a couple of minutes apart up until Belgrave where they arrive simultaneously (due to different scheduled run times).

History and usage

The outer eastern areas around areas like Belgrave was already quite highly populated before WWII, though then as separate towns on main roads and around stations (that are typically adjacent). Population growth has been much more gradual than in other areas such as in the outer west, north and south-east. In the outer east postwar growth was higher in places like Croydon, Bayswater and Boronia than Belgrave.

However Belgrave has long had rural type bus services. Some like the 695 operate at surprisingly high frequency, even exceeding some suburban routes. As for the 697, service goes back nearly 90 years with a route from Belgrave South to Upper Ferntree Gully that was cut back to Belgrave in 1962. However there was a Narre Warren and Dandenong connection in the 1950s. The 1978 network map has the Belgrave - Belgrave South route similar to now but with no Dandenong or Fountain Gate extension showing. 1992's map however shows the Tuesday Dandenong extension.

The 697 attracts about 15 passenger boardings per bus service hour on weekdays (numbers from 2018). This is somewhat below average for Melbourne buses (around 20). Saturday usage is less again at 11 boardings per hour.

This lower than average usage can likely be attributed to relatively low population densities and less favourable demographics for buses compared to other parts of Melbourne. The significant transfer penalties for any destination apart from Belgrave could also be a factor as passengers must change for even local trips to places like Ferntree Gully and Upper Ferntree Gully.  


I previously discussed the local bus network here. I suggested that it needs a radical shake-up with simpler routes, less duplication and easier access to Knox City.  Other nearby routes such as 694, 695 and 699 are also often confusing and poorly used.

As for the Dandenong Market and Fountain Gate trips, how useful are they given their weekly frequency? Is there a place for weekly trips at all in a metropolitan area of over 5 million? Would it be better to simplify routes with consistent daily service to Dandenong or Fountain Gate/Narre Warren with connections from other routes?  Or would there be most benefit by sticking to timetable upgrades like Saturday afternoon 697 service? Comments are appreciated and can be left below.

Other Timetable Tuesday items are here


Friday, March 11, 2022

UN 120: Highlights from the Suburban Rail Loop East hearings

Want information and commentary about current transport planning and projects? You’ll get a flavour from media releases, newspaper articles and TV news items but rarely the detail. Especially post-COVID where there has been a transfer of interest and resources from transport to health. The Age, to take one example, has not replaced specialist Transport Reporter Timna Jacks who now covers health. The departure of Nine's Andrew Lund was another big loss. 

Not having this journalistic capability means a greater reliance on government media releases and less ability to spend time on issues beyond the usual news-making train disruptions, project blow-outs,  annual fare hikes or the odd corruption scandal. Today's hollowed out media can rarely find the time to scrutinise below-surface activities affecting transport including parliamentary committee deliberations, IBAC, Ombudsman  and auditor-general findings, longer term planning work, detailed reports, municipal meetings, internal union politics and critiques from independent experts. 

We do hear from transport academics via the media but generally only for short grabs or (at best) opinion pieces. Unfortunately their longer publications are not always readily accessible online to the general reader. And none of today's seem to quite have the punch-through and acerbic wit of the late Paul Mees.  

Within the bureaucracy information is tightly controlled, especially on matters considered to be politically sensitive. Modern management puts as much distance as possible between those who know stuff and those who say stuff. Those who know can’t tell while those whose job it is to tell don’t know. Private consultants have a little more latitude but may have a barrow to push or still be within the orbit of those who do or could engage them. Retired ex-transport folk are freer still but are no longer as close to the action.

Detail can make a project succeed or fail. Yet internal local transport expertise is not necessarily well rewarded with career progression at the very senior levels. Instead much upper management is transferred from another field or arm of government, may have party political backgrounds or be overseas imports (mainly from the UK). Our Department of Transport may be able to manage a contract or franchise but doesn't always have the vision, design and influencing skills to weave projects into a connected network or even interest the government in the most beneficial and cost-effective upgrades possible.

Published departmental annual reports are high level (ie low detail) only. Some light is shone by reports from government related bodies such as Infrastructure Victoria and the Auditor General and other such as the Grattan Institute. Much of this material though comes out well after the 'horse has bolted'. And their lessons are not necessarily learned in the clamour to jump on board the next big project.

SRL East submissions and hearings

One exception to all this, that is where the general public can get lots of detail early on, is via Environmental Effects Statements and other planning processes associated with major projects. These often include a process for submissions (which for the Suburban Rail Loop East you can read here) and hearings. 

Anyone can lodge a submission and nearly 400 people and organisations did. Submitters include those affected by or otherwise having an interest in the project. They range from private individuals to resident action groups, to local councils and major institutions along the project's route. There are also submissions from planning and engineering professionals who may suggest alternatives or improvements.  

Then there's hearings. Those making submissions can advise whether they wish to appear at a hearing. They may appear either personally or via representatives who may be experts in their field. 

These people are worth listening to. The information that comes out during this process can be gold to the interested observer. There can be way more detail than you'll ever find in the media. 

Hence today’s item. It hasn’t much made the news but for the past two weeks the Suburban Rail Loop East Inquiry and Advisory Committee has been having hearings.  The hearings will continue Monday - Thursday for eight more weeks with a break for Easter. 

 You can follow the hearings online via Zoom (details here). Documents submitted by those appearing are here. Multi-hour audio recordings, arranged by day, are here. The latter are actually delivered via YouTube but they are unlisted so you won't find them just by going to the SRLE IAC Recordings channel. But once you have the link you can share with YouTube's 'start at' function allowing you to highlight a particular speaker or point.

Good luck though - finding a specific person or topic is like finding a needle in a haystack. Professional YouTubers overcome this by having section in their video or at least a simple list of topics/people by time put in the video description or a pinned comment. Unfortunately not even the latter was done despite the tiny amount of work that would be required. 

Consequently following all this is pretty much a full-time job. You can however find some updates on the SRL Community Discussion Facebook page from people who are closely following the project (largely due to concerns over train stabling at Heatherton). 

Interesting points raised (especially on transport aspects)

Here are some interesting points from some of the documents submitted by those appearing. I've included the document number so you can look everything up here. Also if a document piques your interest it could be worth going over the audio recordings where they're speaking. 

1 - 229: Pre-hearing tabled documents. Include much material to do with the organisation of the hearings, who will be giving evidence etc. There is an attempt to group speakers by areas of expertise. Documents 52 - 56 are VISSIM transport modelling reports on various station precincts. There are many expert witness statements and opening submissions from stakeholders such as councils and major destinations. I recommend reading these opening submissions for an overview of commonly raised concerns. Also important is item 201 which is the SRLA's summary of themes raised in the public submissions. 200, from the Suburban Rail Loop Authority, explains the project's rationale (to move to a less radial public transport network) and broad alignment options considered.  

230: Expert evidence statement from John Kiriakidis & Robert Dus. Reviewed all 364 public submissions. They found that environmental project requirements for impacts around the project's construction were vague and should have targets, standards, and limits rather than use words like 'minimise impact of'. 

237: Michael Barlow from Urbis gave a land use and planning assessment. This is big picture stuff. The SRL would aid Melbourne's move towards a polycentric city (something that roads currently cater for but not fast public transport). This assessment is very supportive of the SRL but proposed clarity regarding public space and noise mitigation. 

274 - 279: Multi-part position paper and maps from Monash University. Monash previously expressed significant concerns about aspects of the project. One of the papers contained within 274 is the PTV 'Network Technical Standard' for railways in Melbourne. 

290, 291, 293: The cities of Whitehorse, Kingston as well as Monash University engaged Bruce Johnson from Arup to give expert transport planning evidence.

290 (for Whitehorse) includes a handy 3 page summary from page 9. Recommendations include a longer horizon year, clarity on land uses surrounding the stations, bus planning to be done and (importantly) paid linkages for interchanging passengers that are integrated with the SRL project (and not considered separately). A more rigorous approach to measuring interchange performance, gender impact assessments (for safety and security) and greater accommodation for 'kiss and ride' car drop-offs is proposed.  291 for Kingston has a similar summary. 

A useful thing about this evidence is that it quotes the DoT's Movement and Place Technical Guidelines (below). These define a Level of Service for intermodal interchanges. For example A grade (the best) requires less than 30 seconds walk time with excellent shade and shelter. In contrast E grade is poor with over 3 minutes walk time and no shelter. 

Many of the passenger interchange movements in the proposed SRL design would rate at worse than 'very poor' as I discussed here and confirmed in Johnson's work. Considering such linkages 'at a later stage' is cited as further indication of the low priority the project gives to efficient passenger interchange.   

The same evidence was critical of active transport aspects. 3.10.1 says: "In line with my comments provided in Section 3.5, it appears from the design solutions presented that a low level of consideration has been given to the need to provide for infrastructure beyond the immediate boundaries of the station realm. This is a key consideration towards achieving an integrated transport solution and applies to pedestrian and cycling infrastructure in the wider station precinct." 

A high use of active transport is needed to offset the low provision of car parking. However the former can only happen if adequate active transport provision is made in plans for the precinct and surrounding area. Similar comments apply with regard to connectivity from other public transport as mentioned above. 

Integration with the surrounding precinct was a concern with the following statement made. 

I recommend reading and listening to this evidence (dated 5 - 7 March 2022) if you're interested in interchange, active transport and surrounding precinct planning aspects of the SRL East. Detailed comments by station are also given. 

294: Expert evidence from Jason Walsh for the City of Monash. Another expert opinion dealing with the three stations in the City of Monash. The closure of Coleman Pde is a local issue opposed by this opinion. The evidence also recommends lowering of the existing Metro station and a fare paid connection between SRL trains and buses. 

314: Meg Caffin's presentation emphasised the importance of tree canopy cover. Alarmingly greater Melbourne has lost 5% of it just between 2014 and 2018. Includes data on what SRL project needs to do to offset losses during construction. This has a transport impact due to the relationship between tree cover, cycling and walking attractiveness. 

For further points see my Twitter thread here.

Even with the above I've only covered a tiny percentage of what was raised. In particular there was significant attention to tunnelling, earthworks, noise and construction impacts I haven't discussed. There are no doubt other important points. Have you found some interesting snippets not mentioned here? If so please mention them in the comments below. 

Index to Useful Network items

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

TT #155: The Sunbury Six


Sunbury, the home of The Ashes, is a long-established settlement about 40km north-west of Melbourne. It was there when Melbourne suburbia stopped at Sunshine. Locals think of it as a town with its own history and civic pride. It, like Melton, was dubbed a satellite city in the 1970s. Residential growth for a while was substantial. 

However growth in the last couple of decades lacked the explosiveness of areas in Melbourne's outer south-east, north and west. Neither has Sunbury yet merged with areas further in such as is fast happening now with Melton. Nevertheless its separate identity has still been challenged by local government amalgamations and commuting patterns which see many of its residents commute long distances outside the town. 

Like how Keilor became part of Brimbank, 1990s council amalgamations lumped proud, insular and monocultural ‘old Australian’ Sunbury into a new big and multicultural City of Hume. This did not sit well with some Sunbury elders who sought to restore local control by seceding from Hume with their own council. 

Much the same people were wary about (if not opposed to) rail electrification, preferring less frequent but more regionally-associated V/Line trains that they considered better suited Sunbury's self-image. Metro Trains were seen as slower, less staffed (no conductors), dirtier (a fact at the time) and less comfortable. The situation was resolved when (with minor exceptions) government plans to bar Sunbury people from boarding V/Line trains to and from Melbourne were scrapped.      

Sunbury’s urban structure is simple. It comprises a single CBD near the train station. Residential areas surround it in a radius of about 3 or 4 kilometres. There are no major destinations like shopping centres away from its CBD. This is different to polycentric towns like Melton, Bacchus Marsh and Werribee where multiple rail and shopping hubs exist within 2 or 3 kilometres. 

Sunbury’s monocentrism makes for a simple star-style radial local bus network. Six short feeder routes (481, 485, 486, 487, 488, 489) leave the station, go out to their termini then return to the station in time for the next train (typically 40 minutes later during the day). Routes are designed for coverage rather than directness with some having loops at the end. A network map is below. 

The remaining two routes, and the only ones that leave Sunbury, are the 479 to Airport West via Melbourne Airport and the 483 to Moonee Ponds. These are infrequent daytime only services. The relative stand-aloneness of Sunbury’s bus network makes it quite isolated if train services are not running.    

Service levels

Metro trains to Sunbury run every 40 minutes during the day, 30 minutes at night and as frequently as every 12 minutes during the peaks. Buses on all six routes harmonise with these, with a 40 minute minute daytime service and a 40 – 60 minute evening service. Route 485 and 486 run more frequently in the peaks (about every 15 to 20 minutes). The routes are each a similar length and their timetables are similar to one another. 

No Sunbury route fully meets minimum service standards, that is hourly 7 day service to at least 9pm. But the six local routes come close. The main discrepancy is weekdays where the last buses leave Sunbury station at a little after 8:30pm. This compared to nearer to 9pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Sunday service commences a little late with the first trips arriving at Sunbury well after 9am. 

History and service upgrades

Route 481 was Sunbury's original town route. It started in 1982, replacing an un-numbered service. There were north, south and Goonawarra routes. A feature (not unusual in the past) was that last buses for the day continued until the last passenger had alighted. Thus they could not be reliably caught for inbound trips.  

On 4 September 2006 Routes 481, 485, 486 and 487 were part of the first tranche of routes to gain Sunday and later evening services under a comprehensive minimum service standards upgrade program (Peter Batchelor's Meeting our Transport Challenges).    

Sunbury’s bus map has changed little in the last 10 or so years. Arguably network reform here is less urgent than in many other places due to Sunbury’s relatively low population growth and single centre. Any reformed network would likely look similar to now except for some minor coverage and directness improvements.  

Timetables and service levels though have not been stagnant. In 2016 frequencies were made more consistent on all six town routes rather than have large gaps during school times. Route 485 and 486 also gained a peak frequency boost to every 15 - 20 minutes (quite good for a Melbourne outer area). This reform, that also involved changes to school bus routes, cost-effectively delivered a much improved service. It also more than delivers on a 2014 Labor promise just to upgrade Route 486. Later, extra trips were added in 2018.  

Sunbury's success demonstrates how planning school and regular routes can interact. School routes that duplicate public routes may not deliver the best overall service, especially where high peak bus requirements can cause long gaps in timetables (particularly during peak times).

It can be counterproductive to separate the planning of school buses from regular routes as this may prevent synergies as were achieved in Sunbury. This is an opportunity cost the Department of Transport needs to consider in how it arranges planning. Inefficiencies here are particularly pernicious as they may contribute to poor bus vehicle utilisation, substandard service and even expensive purchases of new buses that are not strictly required. The lesson is that if you want the best possible network with the best possible frequencies you can't afford to ignore school buses, regardless of administrative 'silos'.  

Friday, March 04, 2022

UN 119: What to do about poor performing bus routes

The overwhelming issue with buses in Melbourne is that service is too sparse rather than too generous. However there remain occasions where thought might be given to reducing or even removing service on a route. 

Three reasons for this include: 

1. The government wants to save money, and, with significant public subsidy, transport services can be a target. Depending on how this is done cuts can be indiscriminate with even popular routes facing reduced service. 

2. The route gets so little use that even the social rationale for its continuation is weak, especially if there are alternative services nearby. 
3. The route is quiet and there is a ‘greater good’ use for the money spent on it that would benefit more people (eg a frequency or coverage upgrade on another route)

The first reason can happen when state finances are strained. Major bus cuts occurred about 30 years ago in the Cain/Kirner era. Notwithstanding significant Bracks/Brumby upgrades about 15 years ago, the axe marks of these swingeing cuts remain in some bus timetables today whose services have yet to be restored. 

More recently we've seen per capita cuts with service kilometres lagging population growth. With about a million more people calling Melbourne home since it added the last SmartBus, the average resident is further and further away from frequent service.  

An example of (2) happened recently when Route 673 got deleted. This was an off-peak weekday route that duplicated all but one of the stops on two overlapping routes in the Lilydale area. It ran for years with very low patronage. 

Most interesting to students of bus reform is reason (3). Because we've had long stagnant periods in buses where little happened, there is a huge backlog in bus service reforms that could be desirable. In some cases there exist poorly used routes that are either overserviced or duplicative of other routes which got added later. Past risk-averse transport ministers have let them be but their retention indicates an opportunity cost that is stopping us getting the most from our bus network by putting buses on routes where they would be better used.  

Last year’s Victoria’s Bus Plan was largely a ‘plan for a plan’ in that it had neither committed funding nor concrete measures attached. However it correctly recognized the need for simpler, more frequent and more direct buses. 

A start was made in 2021 with a redistribution of service hours between quieter and busier Transdev routes. The Night Network reforms which saw special routes being consolidated into upgraded regular routes with longer hours marked a further improvement.

The more reform you want the tougher will need to be the appraisal of the existing network, especially if there isn't much additional funding. This makes identification and treatment of under-performing bus routes doubly important. If you don't do it right you won't be able to reform much and will get an Adelaide-style backlash if you try.  

Where are the quieter bus routes?

A long bus route may have many passenger boardings. A short one may have much fewer. But the shorter one isn't necessarily less productive. A good way to compare productivity is to use a figure like passenger boardings per bus service kilometre or hour. This compensates for route length and the number of buses used. 

Infrastructure Victoria's Draft Infrastructure Strategy has mapped our more and less productive bus routes (as they were in 2016) with the line drawn at 20 passenger boardings per hour. Because in-service buses operate (on average) at 22km/h this is about 1 passenger boarding per kilometre.  The orange routes are under 20 boardings per hour while the red ones exceed this in the map below (click to enlarge). 

It's hard to see individual routes on a Melbourne-wide map but the big picture is clear. Our productive bus routes are mostly in the outer west (notably Wyndham and Brimbank), parts of the north (notably Craigieburn) and the middle south-east around Box Hill and Oakleigh down to Dandenong. Quieter routes are overwhelmingly in the outer east and north-east with smaller clusters around Sunbury, Melton, Greensborough, Brighton, Frankston and Casey. One should however be cautious about using this map to draw conclusions about routes around Mernda as their rail extension wasn't open then and travel patterns may have changed.  

Reasons for differing bus route productivity vary

You need to know why routes are quiet or busy before deciding what you want to do about it (if anything). Reasons for below average performance might include: 

Some of the above is in the hands of the road planning and traffic management authorities. Other aspects can't be changed, such as catchment demographics, petrol prices, working patterns and other external factors. However most of the listed points are within the powers of those who fund, plan and contract public transport services to change. 

Not all points apply equally to each route. In some cases there's things about the route that could (and should) be changed for better performance while in others the route is about as good as it could be with external factors more decisive.  

I discussed how excess productivity can wreck a bus route and stifle patronage back in 2019. Also back then I covered the 10 quietest least productive routes. Today I'll stay on that theme but be more wide-ranging. 

Scope for remedial action

Werribee's Route 439 (visible in the south-west of the map) is one of the below average routes. However its catchment includes a lot of low density market gardening areas between Werribee Station and high-density Werribee South beach. It provides significant unique catchment with no other routes being nearby. It doesn't need many buses to run (maybe only one) and all but a couple of other City of Wyndham bus routes are above average patronage performers. You would likely leave this route as is, accepting its lower than average boardings per hour as the cost of maintaining coverage. 

Having said that scope may exist to boost 439's usage given the popular destinations it serves through better network information and promotion. This is a recurring theme across the network. Promoting service is more important than promoting infrastructure but most marketing budget goes to the latter. The Department of Transport also often gets information wrong and undersells benefits when service upgrades do occur (with frequency improvements on the 82 tram and 788 bus being recent examples).    
The abovementioned 673 (which no longer exists) is the opposite extreme. It had no significant unique catchment as its stops were (with one minor exception) were shared by other routes going to the same destination offering longer  hours and better service. Given the route's low existing and potential patronage the decision to remove it was fair. 

In between these extremes is the large 'grey' area occupied by most of the routes marked orange on IV's map. You wish to neither accept the underperforming routes and timetables as they are, nor simply delete them without offering a 'greater good' benefit in return. It is in this space that the real work of bus network analysis and reform needs to be done as solutions are less unambiguous. 


Ways to boost a route's patronage performance

There are several ways, listed roughly in order of complexity and benefit, to boost a route's performance. Earlier ways are narrower while later points take a broader view, considering the overall network rather than a route in isolation.    

1. Get the most from an existing route and timetable

Includes looking at issues with existing service delivery, consider whether passenger information or promotion could be improved, and checking that stops along the route are in the right places and are accessible.  Sometimes there need to be minor tweaks to the timetable to correct for run-time issues. Where buses are being delayed by traffic or lack walking access you need to call in the road authorities to upgrade priority and pedestrian access. While such improvements often have high benefits, our institutional structures and the political bias towards big infrastructure can make these slow and expensive to arrange at the hundreds of locations that need them.  

2. Examine both existing and potential patronage and the timetable's suitability for it. 

Then modify the timetable accordingly. Choices may include: 

a. Increase service on a route
b. Decrease service on a route
c. Redistribute service on a route from quieter to busier times and/or between different parts of the route
d. Redistribute service across a network, from quieter to busier routes and times

The first option (a) involves additional resources. A good example of when this was done on a large scale was when numerous bus routes gained evening and weekend service hours between 2006 and 2010 under the Meeting our Transport Challenges plan. Overall patronage increased by the same percentage that service kilometres did. One effect of adding evening trips was that usage increased earlier in the day as there was now a bus to take people home at night. Hence patronage can grow at times other than just when extra trips were added. 

MOTC upgrades have largely stalled in the last decade or more and there is a lot of unfinished business. There are still some quite popular routes that finish at (say) 5 or 6 pm rather than 9pm. Or they may not run Sundays despite dead quiet routes like 704 jumping the queue with 7 day service. Northern suburbs around Reservoir have many routes whose 22-24 minute frequencies do not evenly mesh with trains every 20 minutes. In this case a frequency upgrade could improve intermodal connectivity. 

Where a route finishes before the pm peak has finished there may be cases where adding a few trips (whether on a weekday or weekend) to increase the span by 1 to 3 hours on a route may disproportionately increase the route's patronage. Midday or early afternoon Saturday finishes haven't made sense since retail hours were deregulated in the '80s and '90s but in 2022 we still have bus routes with them. 

Many bus routes remain a gamble on public holidays for the lack of service on about ten days of the year. Reduced summer timetables can trip passenger up and make using buses needlessly complex. Particular opportunities for cost-effective upgrades exist in areas where routes are productive but underserviced such as in high needs/high patronage areas like Glenroy, Springvale or Dandenong. 

Point (b) is where routes are over-serviced relative to their patronage or patronage potential. The most glaring examples are relatively frequent routes through semi-rural or industrial areas. These are mainly found to the east and north-east of Melbourne and include portions of SmartBuses like 901 and regular routes like 695. 

In some cases trips can just be deleted though a wider network rethink is more desirable. Removing trips (especially if you have usage numbers to justify a decision) is always less controversial than deleting a route outright. This example from Perth shows how you can achieve the latter longer term by whittling away service on a route considered redundant over several timetable changes. 

While it is desirable that all routes run reasonably frequently seven days over long hours there may be locations with poor road layouts or particular demographics that could benefit from an interpeak shopper style of service to retain coverage. As this does not use peak buses such a route might have relatively low operating costs. This might not in itself carry many people but still performs a social and community connectivity role in an overall more productive network. 

Your analysis might find that a route performs well at certain times of the day but not at other times. The difference might be enough to consider redistributing service within a route (c). Some cities have done this, due to COVID-driven reduced commuting activity, by thinning out peak service to boost off-peak service for a better overall all-day service offering. I discussed this, mainly for trains, here

Some of this happened in last year's Transdev timetable revamp.  For example Highpoint's 223 got a 7 day service every 20 min or better in exchange for reduced late evening frequency. The outer part of Route 907 got a reduced peak frequency (enabled by starting some am peak services part way along it) but countervailing 'goodies' included improved weekend frequency including 24 hour service. Similarly the new Night Bus network reduced some overnight frequencies from 30 to 60 minutes but extended 24 hour service including on critical but too often ignored Sunday morning timeslots. 

This approach can sometimes be useful but is limited in application - most Melbourne bus routes do not have 'fat' in excess service that could reasonably be cut for redistribution. Where it exists (eg Reservoir's 552 that has a 15 minute Saturday morning service that could more usefully be reformed to provide a more uniform frequency that meshes with trains every 20 min) it has been on established area routes that have rarely been high priority for review.     

Point (d), still dealing only with timetables and not routes, is not quite a network revamp but is heading towards that thinking.  In its simplest form it keeps resources within the one bus operator, which is administratively simplest. A good example is again the 2021 Transdev timetable revamp, which saw service kilometres transferred from the poorly used but overserved 603 and 604 to busier routes like 279 and 907 that needed more service.  

A more sophisticated version involves transferring resources between contracted operators but this is rarer given DoT's preference to confining service changes to one operator where possible. Doing large-scale network planning on an operator rather than area basis may have contributed to the political failure of Transdev's 2015 Greenfields network as it failed to deliver compensatory upgrades to other operators' routes in the west and would have left passengers worse off. The most recent large area-based network reform involving multiple bus operators was Brimbank in 2014 (also in western Melbourne).   

3. Simplify or modify routes individually

Complexity can turn people off using buses. A complex route running to a reasonably frequent timetable can be a poor patronage performer. In this case it might be worth examining the route in more detail. Maybe the route runs a confusing loop or hairpin shape that leaves people wondering where it goes? Where not many people are travelling through an interchange scope could exist to split complex routes like the 280/282380, 513566736 and 834/835 into two easier to understand direct routes, even if timetables are unchanged. 

These types of splits really help network legibility and serve all existing stops, making them fairly uncontroversial. Despite this none have been reformed in recent years. Indeed we actually added the new indirect Route 469 in Transport Minister Ben Carroll's seat of Niddrie instead of having it as two simpler straighter routes split at Airport West.    

Other routes have kinks or occasional deviations that make travel slower than it needs to be. If that can be straightened without losing coverage then it might improve patronage productivity. In lucky circumstances the time saved may enable a frequency increase that assists connections with trains. This further boosts the attractiveness of the service. Relatively recent minor straightenings include routes 512 and 624, though there is scope to do much more with routes like the 506, 556 and many others.

Especially where routes are very long it is no good just looking at patronage productivity numbers for the whole route. This is because it is an average that conceals high and low results encountered on different sections of the route. Some routes pass through catchments varying from dense to sparse. The same bus can be anything from almost empty to overloaded depending on which segment of the route it is on. 

If this is a consistent pattern you may be able to lessen the number of trips that go end to end but add short trips so that a more frequent service is provided on the busier portion. Or if there are few through passengers, the route is long and there is a logical terminus scope may exist to split the route into two, with frequencies more aligned to existing and potential usage. 

Most passengers get an overall frequency gain so such a change would meet a 'greater good overall' test for service reform, while again keeping service at every stop currently served. The biggest scope for network reform of this type are undoubtedly some of the SmartBus orbitals that waste some of their high frequency and long operating hours in sparsely populated areas that don't justify the service while underserving dense or high social needs areas, especially on weekends. 

Splitting would permit optimisation of service levels and scheduled train connections (which is currently pretty much impossible due to unharmonised frequencies and multiple connection points). As well cases splitting creates ends which can be extended to bring major destinations such as La Trobe University Bundoora onto the SmartBus network for the first time.   
4. A real network review (involving multiple routes and potentially operators)

This approach also looks at routes but from a network point of view. It's potentially more controversial but the gains are higher if done well. Examples of wins possible include improved directness, higher frequency, longer operating hours and better coordination with trains. This is paid for by deleting or modifying duplicative routes. Timetable tweaks like discussed above are worthwhile but can only go so far. In many cases the best solution to underperforming routes is inclusion in a network review. 

Such a review can enable steps other than retaining, rescheduling or deleting the poorly used route. For example it could be extended to a more logical terminus (eg a railway station on another line) to make its usage more bidirectional throughout the day.  Or a route, instead of being simply deleted, could be replaced by an extension on another route or improved service on one nearby. 

Consolidating multiple routes, each operating every 30 to 80 minutes into a single simpler 7-day route every 15 to 20 minutes timed to connect with local trains may assist in areas with multiple overlapping poor performing routes such as Beaumaris, Brighton, Templestowe, Greensborough and Eltham. These types of changes make network reform more a 'swings and roundabouts' thing with an overall greater good rather than a straight cut and potentially more politically sellable. 

Areas like Brimbank and Wyndham, which had bus network reviews in 2014 and 2015, have very few underperforming routes, though this is partly due to local demographics being favourable for bus usage. Meanwhile areas that just got new routes layered over others (eg Greensborough/Eltham/Diamond Creek) and/or haven't had reviews for years (eg Croydon/Lilydale, Knox and Frankston South) have many poorly performing routes.  

In Rowville and Lilydale's case Telebus became FlexiRide with few or no changes to underlying regular routes. The result is that these areas have effectively two overlapping half networks with poor patronage productivity on each. Again consolidation opportunities exist, noting that the biggest single cost involved is driver pay.  

It is currently fashionable in parts of bodies like Infrastructure Victoria and the Department of Transport to suggest flexible route buses to replace poorly used fixed route buses or to avoid doing the work required in planning and reforming the latter. Some even think that flexible routes save money that could be invested into main routes. 

Unfortunately flexible routes often have fewer passenger pick-ups per hour than even quiet fixed routes, making such savings unlikely. You might accept flexible route services to provide for a small or specialised passenger base. However the high subsidies per passenger relative to fixed routes means they don't scale up to a cost-effective mass transit job. 

The world is littered with failed flexible bus route trials. Overall we are probably better off to stick with reforming local fixed bus routes, recognising that some will always have low productivity but accepting this as the price to pay for comprehensive coverage.   

Greater Dandenong, is another area with many unreviewed/limited service routes. Unlike in parts of the outer east (eg around Lilydale) they get good usage despite the limited service. This is an area where bus network reviews are desirable not so much to increase (already high) patronage productivity but to provide a much more useful network desirable on both social and patronage growth grounds.  

Similar comments apply on main roads where new routes have been layered over existing unreformed routes. A review may allow economical upgrades such as 10 minute frequency on simplified routes serving popular destinations across Melbourne's north or between Footscray and Highpoint


With so many unrealised gains it is not surprising that Infrastructure Victoria has recommended bus network reform, starting with areas served by the Metro Tunnel. Although timetable and route level reform should be pursued (and is easier to do) it is really only network reform along with adequate resourcing that can deliver the high bus usage growth that Melbourne needs. This needs to start by understanding why route under and over perform. That knowledge can then be synthesised with what is known about peoples' travel patterns and preferences to produce a reformed more useful and effective network.