Tuesday, May 31, 2022

TT #165: The 850 Glen Waverley to Dandenong connector

Many eastern Melbourne middle-suburban centres have bus routes running between them. They often provide diagonal connectivity to complement the area's mostly grid-based network and improve transfer-free access to the larger centres. Examples include routes like 738 (Mitcham - Knox City) and 742 (Chadstone - Ringwood). 

Another example is Route 850 between Glen Waverley and Dandenong. Shown below, key intermediate destinations include Brandon Park Shopping Centre and Waverley Gardens. 

It's hard to see on the network map below, but not much of Route 850 has unique coverage. Key overlaps include with 742, 885 and 902 on Springvale Rd, 862 on parts of Wellington, Jacksons and Police roads and 804 on Gladstone Rd. There is unique coverage on Brandon Park Dr but the nearby parallel Monash Freeway limits walking permeability. Otherwise 850's strongest areas were it's the only route are on Menzies Av and James St in Dandenong. 

Route 850 serves several state seats including Mt Waverley (Matt Fregon MP), Mulgrave (Daniel Andrews MP) and Dandenong (Gabrielle Williams MP). Mt Waverley is considered marginal with the others considered safer. However recent elections (eg 2018 Vic state and 2022 federal) have redrawn the political atlas with large anti-Labor swings in some of these 'safer' seats despite overall Labor victories. The common thread, whether it's areas as diverse as Melton, Kooyong or Fowler, is that voters hate being taken for granted.  

Timetable and service levels

A large stretch of suburbia between Mulgrave and Dandenong has many bus routes that (at best) operate hourly and lack weekend service. This is despite favourable catchment demographics and strong patronage on the trips that do run. Even the otherwise comprehensive 2006 minimum service standards upgrades extended to less than half of the area's routes.   

This pattern continuing to this day. Whatever shortcomings premier Daniel Andrews may have, pork-barrelling in his own seat of Mulgrave with regards to bus services is not one of them. In fact it is hard to find anyone who has benefited less from his government's transport agenda than local bus users. Such populations, once considered reliable Labor voters, are no longer necessarily so, as this year's federal election results showed with large anti-Labor swings in 'left behind' low income catchments.   

The 850 bus, however, is better than most. Unlike many nearby routes such as 800, 802, 804, 814 and 885 it runs seven days per week. Finish time is around 9pm as, unlike those just mentioned, it gained upgrades to 'minimum standards' about 15 years ago. 

Also, apart from the area's widely spaced SmartBuses, the 850 wins on the frequency stakes too. On weekdays interpeak it runs a clockface 30 minutes, beating the more common 40 - 60 minute frequencies on local routes like 813, 848 and 862. Morning peak waits are a little longer, with non-clockface 32 - 33 minute frequencies typical, possibly due to traffic delays. Also weekday starts are somewhat late for a minimum standards route with the first arrival at Glen Waverley not until 6:44am. 

Weekends, as normal for buses in the area that run, has close to a flat hourly frequency. Last buses leave Dandenong and Glen Waverley just after 9pm on both days. However, like many former Grenda group services, Sunday starts are late, with the first bus getting people to stations not much before 10am. This was an austere interpretation of the 2006 minimum standard which specified a 9am start. 

Even 9am has been realised as being too late for many travel needs with some local bus routes starting at around 8am or before. Particular effort to improve early Sunday services was made recently in Craigieburn where earlier Sunday trips were added on several routes. A good example is Route 529 whose first Sunday trip now arrives at Craigieburn station before 7:30am.  

Travel time from Dandenong to Glen Waverley is slightly under 60 minutes most times. This means that the 850 uses four buses on weekdays and two buses on evenings and weekends.  


Route 850 is a long-standing route that has seen minimal change over the last 50 years. Network maps show it first appearing in 1972. Then its alignment was slightly different in the Dandenong North area, with the later discontinued Route 847 taking its place on James St. 

The most significant change occurred about 15 years ago, when the 850, like many others across Melbourne, gained longer operating hours including new Sunday service as part of 'Meeting Our Transport Challenges' minimum service standards upgrades.

The Manningham Monash Whitehorse metropolitan bus service review from April 2010 recommended that Route 850 be rerouted via the Waverley Park housing development to improve coverage. It also considered Route 850 to be significant enough to be included on the Principal Public Transport Network of major routes with more frequent service. However, like many other review recommendations, neither happened.  


You might think that Route 850 wouldn't get much usage given all the overlaps it has with other bus routes. However much of its catchment demographics are so good that you can throw bus service at it and people will use it anyway. Boarding numbers reflect this strength. With passenger boardings per service hour at 31 (weekdays) and 26-27 (weekends) it is an above average performer for buses in Melbourne. 

Other factors that help include its strong termini at both ends, reasonable directness and higher service levels than other routes in its catchment. 


Despite overlap with other routes, the 850 serves a useful function. While those travelling direct from Dandenong to Glen Waverley stations might get the train to Springvale and then the 902 to Glen Waverley (about 45 min), those who want to start from Dandenong North might prefer the 850 rather than backtracking. The route also serves some medium sized destinations, often being one of the few 7-day routes along the way. 

Due to overlapping in areas like Mulgrave and Dandenong North there may be scope to reduce the number of bus routes while increasing their frequency and operating hours. The area has not had significant bus network reform for decades and is overdue for it. But no matter what happens it is hard to see a future reformed network that does not keep the 850 in a form at least similar to now, likely with increased frequency.  

Thoughts on the 850 and its future are appreciated and can be left below. 

More Timetable Tuesday items are here

Friday, May 27, 2022

UN 127: Top 40 bus upgrade stocktake

Today we're counting down Melbourne's 40 most heavily used bus routes and seeing which have had service upgrades and which are still waiting. Stocktakes like these can be useful to assess progress made and priorities for the future. 

Why is this important? Transport usage is supply led. People respond to better service by using it more. 

You get that with roads where more people start driving if you widen a road or build a new freeway. The public transport equivalent of that is service frequency. Provided a transit route is sensible the most potent way to boost ridership is to throw more trips on it. Increased population density along a route and busways are nice to have but the key really is service if you want more usage. It's really that simple, as Currie and Delbosc found in their 2010 comparison of bus ridership across four Australian cities.

I'm using 2018 DoT boardings per hour figures to rank each route's usage. These are weekday statistics but weekend numbers are often well correlated except in special cases like university shuttles that don't run then.   

Ordering is based on boardings per hour with the highest first. However even bottom listed routes are still highly productive, with 40 boardings per hour. That's double the threshold that Infrastructure Victoria considers makes for a productive bus route. Below them is 300-odd routes that are less highly used than those listed. These include the three orbital SmartBuses, all of which have quieter sections that depress their averages.  

Read what I said about the 10 most productive of those routes (using the same numbers) back in 2019 for some background. And about top performing routes in new 'ethnoburbs' here.

The list

Route details in black. My comments in red.  

👍👍= major upgrades budgeted or recently implemented. 

👍 = minor upgrades budgeted or recently implemented. 

🙏= Deserve upgrades but not funded.   

601 Monash University (Clayton) - Huntingdale Station. Already very frequent. Corridor gained when Routes 630 and 900 were added to Night Network. 

301 La Trobe University - Reservoir Station.  Already frequent (every 10 min). 

495 Point Cook South - Williams Landing Station.  🙏 Currently only every 40 min most times outside peak. Needs off-peak 7 day upgrades and longer operating hours. Ideally should be on Night Network. 

401 North Melbourne Station. Already very frequent. Role will lessen when Metro Tunnel opens.  

733 Oakleigh - Box Hill. 👍👍 Currently every 30 - 60 min most times. Needs all day upgrades and extended hours on busy Clayton - Box Hill section. Upgrades funded in 2022 state budget. 

529 Craigieburn Station - Craigieburn North. 👍👍🙏 Major upgrades in April 2022 with 20 min weekday service and some longer hours as part of broader network revamp. Needs further longer hours and weekend frequency upgrades. 

180 Werribee Station - Tarneit Station. 👍🙏 Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021. Longer weeknight hours desirable.

167 Tarneit Station - Hoppers Crossing Station. 🙏 A high performing route in 2018 though much of catchment now has new Route 182 nearby. Longer hours desirable.  

150 Tarneit Station - Williams Landing Station. 👍 🙏 Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021.  Currently only every 40 min most times. Justifies 7 day off-peak boost to every 20 min and longer weeknight hours. 

630 Elwood - Monash University. 👍 🙏 Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021. Saturday service currently every 30 min and Sunday every 60 min. Very early finish on Sunday. Justifies Saturday and especially Sunday frequency upgrade with later evening finish. 

160 Hoppers Crossing Station - Tarneit Station. 🙏 Currently only every 40 min most times. Justifies off-peak boost to every 20 min and longer operating hours.

406 Keilor East - Footscray Station. 👍🙏 Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021. Every 20 min Monday - Saturday but only every 40 min Sunday. Justifies 20 min Sunday service and longer operating hours. 

151 Williams Landing Station - Tarneit Station. 🙏 Currently only every 40 min most times. Justifies 7 day off-peak boost to every 20 min and longer operating hours.

494 Point Cook South - Williams Landing Station. 🙏 Currently only every 40 min most times outside peak. Needs off-peak weekday upgrades and longer operating hours. Ideally should be on Night Network. 

170 Werribee Station - Tarneit Station. 🙏 Currently every 20 min daily but could benefit from longer operating hours. Potential BRT/SmartBus corridor due to trip generators.

900 Caulfield - Stud Park SC (Rowville). 👍🙏 Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021. Given a minor weekend frequency upgrade recently but mostly still half-hourly. Needs upgrade to every 10 min weekday, 10-15 min weekends with weekend upgrade most important.     

703 Middle Brighton - Blackburn. 👍 🙏 Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021. Needs improved operating  hours, a more even frequency and more trips.  

318 City (King/Lonsdale Sts) - Deep Creek. Peak only commuter route. 

192 Werribee Station - Wyndham Vale Station. 🙏 Significant unique catchment to growing area. Currently only every 40 min most times. Justifies off-peak boost to every 20 min and longer weeknight hours.

201 Deakin University - Box Hill Station. 👍👍 University shuttle route less frequent than it should be and duplicated by other routes eg 281 and 768. Upgrades funded in 2022 state budget. 

907 City (King/Lonsdale Sts) - Mitcham. 👍👍 🙏Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021. Received major upgrades with weekend service boosted to every 15 min in 2021. Scope for further upgrades to every 10 min off-peak and evenings boosted to 20 min. 

533 Craigieburn - Craigieburn North. 👍👍 🙏 Major upgrades in April 2022 with 20 min weekday service and some longer hours as part of broader network revamp. Needs further longer hours and weekend frequency upgrades. 

505 Moonee Ponds - Melbourne University. 👍 🙏 Minor upgrades in previous budget but still only hourly off-peak. Increase to 30 min desirable. 

536 Gowrie - Glenroy. 🙏 Very popular 6 day route with limited operating hours. Scope to standardise route alignment also. Needs 7 day service and longer hours.   

740 Mitcham - Vermont East. Peak only route with weak terminus. Should run all day in broader network review and revamp.

424 St Albans Station - Brimbank Central SC. 🙏 Low income high bus using catchment. Currently has short operating hours. Upgrade with longer hours and preferably increased frequency.  

190 Wyndham Vale Station - Werribee Station. 👍🙏 Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021. Potential to improve weekend frequency to 20 min. 

410 Footscray - Sunshine Station. 👍🙏 Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021. Every 15 - 20 min Mon - Sat but drops to hourly on Sunday. Upgrade Sunday service to every 20 or 30 min. 

508 Moonee Ponds - Alphington. 🙏 major east-west route. Every 20 min on weekdays but drops to 30 - 40 min on weekends. Upgrade weekends to every 20 min and extend operating hours.  

737 Monash University - Croydon. 🙏 Major cross-suburban service. Currently frequency only every 30 min weekdays, 40 min weekends. Desirable to increase frequency to 15 min weekday / 20 min weekend. MP. 

908 City (King/Lonsdale Sts) - The Pines SC. 👍Upgraded with Night Network service added in 2021.Weekend service reduced from 20 to 30 min in conjunction with Route 907 upgrade to retain connectivity. 

570 Bundoora RMIT - Thomastown. 🙏 Significant cross-suburban service. Every 20 min weekdays but 40 min weekends. Desirable to increase frequencies (especially for Saturday) and extend operating hours. 

893 Dandenong Station - Cranbourne Park SC. 🙏 Major cross-suburban service. Good frequencies but needs more operating hours including earlier starts (especially weekends) and later finishes. Possible to do this economically by spreading some trips out, notably on Sunday. 

237 Fishermans Bend - City. 👍 Monday - Friday only service to proposed development area. Upgrades budgeted but not delivered.    

302 City (Lonsdale St) - Box Hill. 🙏 Popular route that doesn't meet minimum standards re operating hours. Slightly increase operating hours and boost Sunday service (with related 304). . 

497 Williams Landing Station - Saltwater Coast Estate. 🙏 Significant unique coverage in new estate.  Every 40 min off-peak. Desirable to extend operating hours and boost interpeak patronage. 

813 Dandenong - Waverley Gardens SC. 👍🙏 Upgraded from every 60 to every 40 min weekdays. Welcome but didn't go far enough with at least southern catchment justifying a 20 min frequency. Could benefit from longer hours and further network reform. More here

423 St Albans Station - Brimbank Central SC. 🙏 Low income high bus using catchment. Currently has short operating hours. Upgrade with longer hours and preferably increased frequency.

537 Craigieburn Station - Craigieburn West. 👍👍 Major upgrades in April 2022 with 20 min weekday service and some longer hours as part of broader network revamp. 

814 Dandenong - Springvale South. 🙏 High usage route only every 60 min. Limited hours with no Saturday afternoon or Sunday service. Extend to minimum standards and increase frequency.  

279 Box Hill - Doncaster SC/Templestowe. 👍👍 Major upgrades commenced in September 2021. 

270 Box Hill - Mitcham. 👍👍 Major upgrades commenced in September 2021. 

There's actually 42 routes listed. This is because No 41 and 42 attracted a still strong 40 weekday boardings per hour and I thought it fair to include them. 

The three SmartBus orbitals (901, 902, 903) are notable omissions. Sections of them are very busy but quieter portions depress productivity overall. However if split (as I suggested here) then their busier parts would easily make top 40 and possibly top 20 in passenger boardings/km. 

Routes that got service upgrades

Five routes (301, 318, 401, 601, 740)  have neither had recent upgrades nor any suggested by me. All are either already frequent university shuttles or peak only routes. 

Six of the remaining 37 routes (270, 279, 529, 533, 537, 907) got recent major upgrades. A further two  (201, 733) have what I believe to be major upgrades budgeted. 

Another ten of the 37 (150, 180, 190, 406, 410, 630, 703, 813, 900, 908) have had what I've termed minor upgrades. All but the 813 can be attributed to the 2021 Night Network reforms that introduced 24 hour weekend service on regular bus routes. As well as benefiting 'night owl' travellers these delivered much needed earlier weekend starts on popular routes. Two more routes (237 and 505) got funding for upgrades - I believe minor - in the 2021 state budget. 

All this means that about half of our 40-odd best used bus routes have had some sort of service upgrade in the last three years or so. The two biggest initiatives were two upgrades in 2021 (Transdev timetable reforms and the new Night Network) and one in 2022 (new Craigieburn network). Some other routes also got upgrades but aren't mentioned today as they missed the top 40 tally. 

Routes that didn't

The above is the glass half full summary. Which top performing routes have got nothing lately? These number around 17. 

About half are in the City of Wyndham with routes like 151, 160, 167, 170, 192, 494, 495 and 497. All but 170 have a 40 minute interpeak frequency despite usage and catchment that justifies service nearer to 20 minutes and some extended operating hours. As peak frequencies are typically already about 20 minutes these upgrades just need more drivers and the existing fleet to be worked harder. 

Moving north west and north there's 423 and 424 around St Albans and Glenroy's 536. These serve low income catchments with a high propensity to use buses but without matching service. All three would be very cheap upgrades being short routes needing some extra operating hours, and, for 536, Sunday service. 

Also in the north are the east-west 508 and 570. These provide important circumferential connections between trains and trams. Both are every 20 minutes on weekdays but drop off greatly on weekends. Extra operating hours would also be desirable. 

The remaining three are in the east and south-east with 302, 737 and 814 being either busy corridors or having high usage due to favourable local demographics. 302 (along with 304) could benefit from longer operating hours and a Sunday upgrade, 737 needs a weekend upgrade and longer hours while 814 is the runt of the litter, currently not running on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. It's also only hourly when it does run, including during peaks.  

Routes that only got Night Network upgrades

I mentioned before routes that got operating hours upgrades as part of Night Network but not frequency upgrades at other times. The City of Wyndham leads with three (150, 180 and 190). 180 and 190 run every 20 minutes at least on weekdays while 150 is only every 40 minutes off-peak. Given its large unique catchment this route is most deserving of a service boost then. 

The remaining four are in the inner west (406 and 410) and south-east (630 and 703). The biggest need for all four are weekend frequency upgrades along with some increases in operating hours. 406 and 410 are particularly notable (and cheap to upgrade) as they have good Monday - Saturday day frequency but need upgrades in the evenings and on Sundays were frequency can be as low as 60 minutes (for 410). 

These seven routes gained welcome extra trips as part of last year's Night Network upgrades but not at any other time. This is despite many more people being out at 2pm on a Sunday versus 2am on a Sunday. Their full patronage potential will only be realised if extra trips are added off-peak, particularly weekends.     

Already upgraded routes that justify more

Finally we come to popular routes that got some upgrades but deserve more. These are all high productivity routes whose upgrades fixed some problems but not all. 

For example Craigieburn's 529 and 533 got their off-peak weekday frequency doubled to 20 minutes but have weekend timetables stuck at every 40 minutes. 813 went from 60 to 40 but should have been every 30 minutes minimum and preferably 20 minutes (its passenger catchment is that good).  

900, past Chadstone, justifies a weekend frequency nearer to 15 min than the lumpy 20 - 30 minute service it currently has. Doncaster Road's 907 is another excellent performer that could do with higher frequency for more of its long span. 505 got only a small upgrade budgeted but its strong patronage productivity indicates an appetite for more. 


Today we've run through Melbourne's 40 most productive bus routes. Many had beneficial upgrades, especially as part of Night Network and other reforms during 2021. But too many still only run every 30 to 60 minutes during popular shoulder and off-peak times, notably weekends, when many are travelling. 

You might accept such infrequency on a neighbourhood bus route in a low needs area. However it doesn't make sense on our best used routes where there's a clear appetite for more. 

Upgrading their frequencies to every 20 minutes or better seven days would make for a much stronger and useful bus network more would choose to use. And it would be particularly cost-effective as all would involve adding driver and bus operating hours without needing to buy new buses.  

Other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items are here

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

TT #164: End to end in 8 minutes - Mooroolbark's 675


Board the bus at Mooroolbark Station and be at Chirnside Park Shopping Centre in just 8 minutes. This is the benefit of the 675, one of the shortest and most direct bus routes in Melbourne's eastern suburbs. It's almost a perfect south-north line up Manchester Rd except for a clockwise loop around Chirnside Park.  

Route 675's catchment is relatively low density 1970s - 1980s suburbia. It is lower middle to middle income with high rates of home and car ownership. Local curvy and disconnected street patterns (as fashionable at the time) make direct bus routes difficult to provide with 675 being a rare exception in the area. Almost all the route is in Evelyn, held by Bridget Vallence MP. 

The map below shows the 675 relative to other routes. About half is overlapped by the 664 from Knox City and Croydon. The area is also in the catchment of the new FlexiRide Mooroolbark and before that the old Telebus (which started in the late 1970s as an experiment to provide transport in new estates with narrow winding streets unsuitable for conventional bus routes). 

Timetable and service level

Route 675 runs a simple timetable with an hourly weekday service between about 6:30am and 7pm. The main exception is around 2:30 - 3pm where the gap narrows to 30 minutes, presumably for school patronage. 

Its span makes it just usable for weekday commuters working standard office hours in the CBD but they will need to time their trips carefully given the low frequency. Consequently it is difficult to see many people with a choice using it. 

Route 675 has no service on Saturdays, Sundays or public holidays. 

Those wishing to go from Mooroolbark to Chirnside Park on a shopping centre on a Saturday thus need to catch the FlexiRide while Sunday and public holiday travellers need to backtrack via train to Croydon and catch a northbound 664 from there. These three combinations are part of what makes catching buses in this area complicated. 


Route 675 was listed in the 2001 Melway street directory bus route lists but not in 2000. Hence it is just over 20 years old. It hasn't had any significant change in this time. Unlike the 664 with which it shares some catchment it never received 'minimum standards' service upgrades. 

If one goes back further it was possible to get a fixed route bus from Mooroolbark Station to Chirnside Park. The 1978 map shows both routes 673 and 674 via less direct paths west and east of Manchester Rd. These got replaced by flexible route Telebuses as the area developed.  


Route 675 gets an unusually high 33 passenger boardings per bus service hour on a school day. This doesn't make it a highly used route but means that it does very well for its 8 minute each way run time. On school holidays the figure drops to 22 boardings per hour (about average for a Melbourne bus). The variation means that 675 has a significant school student travel component. Route 664, in contrast, gets 26 passenger boardings per bus service hour on a school day, dropping to 22 on school holidays. 

These usage figures are from DoT for late 2018. 

Route 675 is likely to be several times more productive than the flexible route FlexiRide in the area. 


A distinctive feature of the 675's strong usage is that when you leave out university shuttles, industrial and peak only routes, the 675 is the second most productive weekday residential area bus not to have Saturday (or any weekend) service. The only route that's more productive without a Saturday service is Frankston South's Route 774. This makes the 675 a strong contender for an upgrade to 6 and preferably 7 day service. Longer service hours and public holiday service would also be desirable. 

Despite the presence of the nearby 664 and Telebus/FlexiRide services, 675 is a surprisingly good patronage performer as noted above. Of note is that it is very cheap to run using just a fraction of a bus. Presumably the bus is interlined with another route at either terminus for scheduling efficiency. 

However if the 675 was to have its dedicated bus it should be possible to run a 20 minute frequency with one bus (if 2 minute layovers at each end are tolerated). While this doesn't match with weekday trains (currently every 30 minutes) it would if they were upgraded to every 20 minutes with a timetable similar to that which currently runs on weekends. Provided it was accompanied by longer operating hours this service uplift could make 675 a strong feeder. 


Route 675 is a commendably direct bus that gets significant usage. However like most buses in the area it's had no service upgrades for 20 or more years. Its short run time however would make frequent service quite cheap to provide with a significant catchment that would benefit. 

Other Timetable Tuesday items are here

Friday, May 20, 2022

UN 126: The 'Perth model' and what it can teach us

Some cities are better than their public transport. Perth has public transport better than its city, which is overwhelmingly post-1960, built around the car. 

That wasn't the case in 1982. Back then Perth had just two operating diesel passenger rail lines that missed its two main postwar growth corridors not to mention a lot of infill. And in the early 1990s Perth had just one bus route more frequent than every 20 minutes off-peak, and even that was just weekdays. 

Despite having some of the nation's highest incomes and car ownership rates, Perth has showed that a city can build surprisingly good public transport that outperforms much better endowed Brisbane and even aspects of Melbourne's network. 

Here's a recent RM Transit video on Perth's rail network. 

Peter Newman on the background to Perth's rail revival. 

While Perth is most known for its freeway trains, these couldn't get the usage they did without space-effective ways of getting to the station. With widely spaced freeway median stations distant from most homes that meant a strong feeder bus network. Buses are also important for many cross-suburban trips. 

The early 1990s suburban bus network in Perth was only slightly better than Melbourne's after its Cain/Kirner cuts. Many routes were indirect, ran at irregular frequencies and ended at dead end termini. The slightest variation had their own route number. A different network often operated on weekends. There was however more after 7pm service and an occasional Sunday service (typically 4 to 8 trips per day) on many routes.  

The Joondalup line gave the first nudge to bus reform with freeway express buses configured to form train feeders. That was followed by network reform in other areas arising from the 'System 21' plan for premium direct bus routes operating frequently over long hours. There was also a Circle Route to overcome the network's main problem - that is you could take public transport to and from the CBD but not across suburbs. Since then there have been many more cross-suburban routes added, some at 15 minute frequencies, especially since the opening of the Mandurah line. Local routes have also been boosted with frequencies harmonised with trains and some higher frequencies, including on weekends.   

See this thread for key milestones in Perth's network development: https://twitter.com/MelbOnTransit/status/1520504671487807488

A recent case study on how Perth does bus reform is here. This is particularly applicable to Melbourne with its revived interest in this. 

Perth's transit network is a long way from perfect. Due to poor land use relative to transport many trips are still bus - train - bus and uncompetitive with driving. However in planning and running a transport network they give us much we can learn from. If what they do works there even better results should be possible in a city with a more transit friendly urban form - such as Melbourne.  

Index to other Useful Network items here

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

TT #163: Waiting for days: The hunt for Melbourne's bus super waits


It's widely known that many parts of Melbourne have sparse bus services. Hourly waits are common even on busy routes (like the to be upgraded 733) that should run every 10-15 minutes. 

We even have some two-hourly gaps on services serving dense suburbia with lots of homes, jobs, shopping centres and more (eg Route 800 down Princes Hwy past the high-rise M City development). 

But that's not today's topic. Today I'll identify where the super waits are. These are neighbourhoods where you could wait days for the next bus. Especially around holiday periods such as the Easter just gone. And they're not necessarily in the country; there's parts of established Melbourne suburbia built 30+ years ago that never got a full timetable, even to 'minimum service standards' laid down in 2006. 

I used this online duration calculator to calculate times from timetables. Here's where you'll find some of Melbourne's longest waits for buses if you're there at the wrong time: 

Lilydale/Mooroolbark: 106 hours Rt 680

When it comes to bus super waits, some places equal but none beat Lilydale, Mooroolbark and surrounds. Taking the title is Route 680 mapped below. It runs weekdays only despite significant unique coverage. There's also no public holiday service. This means that there's no service for four days in a row: Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. That's 106 hours. Over a normal weekend the gap between buses falls to the 60 hours approximately between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. For a long weekend with a holiday Monday? The wait rises to 83 hours or nearly half a week.  

The Mooroolbark FlexiRide (basically a rebadged Telebus without any extra service days)  is also shown. That has Saturday service. However without Sunday and public holiday service it leaves its catchment without public transport for 60 hours over ordinary long weekends.  Because Easter Saturday is a Victorian public holiday its super waits can be up to 106 hours on that weekend too. 

Not on the map is Route 675 between Mooroolbark Station and Chirnside Park. Like the 680 it tops the super wait charts with 106 hour gaps. However some of it is overlapped by the 7-day bus 664 (which runs all public holidays). Still if you want a quick trip up to your nearest big shopping centre from Mooroolbark you'll need the 675. Weekend service here is justified as it's the second busiest weekday bus route in Melbourne that lacks a Saturday service

Most of this area is in the seat of Evelyn, held by Bridget Vallence MP. 

Campbellfield: 106 hours Rt 531 & Rt 538

Low-income residential Campbellfield hasn't had a single bus service improvement in at least 30 years. Its two local buses even missed out on 'minimum standards' upgrades that many others received about 15 years ago. Thus its residents are left behind with bus super waits, especially over long weekends. Campbellfield has local shops only and has poor cycling and walking connectivity due to industry or  busy / impermeable roads. The role of buses is doubly important without these active transport connections.   

Residential Campbellfield has two partly overlapping bus routes, both with limited service. These include the Monday - Friday only Route 531 and the Monday - Saturday morning Route 538. Neither operate on public holidays. Super waits for both of approximately 106 hours have applied for both since Easter Saturday became a public holiday. On 'normal' Saturday - Monday long-weekends the super waits for 531 is approximately 82 hours and 64 hours for the 538 (due to the latter's Saturday service, albeit finishing at 1pm). That's a long time to be stuck in your own suburb. 

The 2021 state budget mentioned changes to Route 538 but it is not yet known whether this will include a timetable upgrade.  The area is in the seat of Broadmeadows held by Frank McGuire MP.

Brooklyn: 106 hours Rt 414

Brooklyn, like Campbellfield, is known for both its toxic waste industrial fires and limited buses. And there'd be people (including decision-makers) who didn't know it had a significant residential component. Its bus route 414, from Footscray to Laverton, hasn't had a significant timetable upgrade for decades. 

Without Sunday or public holiday buses it faces a 100 plus hour wait between buses over the Easter weekend. However on ordinary long weekends it fares better than Campbellfield as its bus runs on Saturday afternoons (until about 5pm). This brings its maximum wait then down to about 60 hours.  

Brooklyn is in the seat of Williamstown held by Melissa Horne MP. 

Rowville / Lysterfield 106 hours

Politicians have talked about trains and trams to Rowville for decades but their governments struggle even with running buses. Especially east of Stud Rd where most of its people live. A recent attempt (FlexiRide Rowville) didn't address the key issue of limited operating hours in the area. The result is there is just one 365 day route (the 691) in the whole large area east of Stud Rd. That puts tens of thousands of people distant from regular public transport in a massive service 'black hole'.   

As discussed here, Rowville has two half-networks. 681 / 682 are indirect fixed loop routes. They run Monday to Sunday but not 365 days per year. How can this be? It's because they are the only two 7 day bus routes in Melbourne that don't run on public holidays. With Good Friday, Easter Saturday, Eastern Sunday and Eastern Monday public holidays this means that these routes have a 4 day spell where they don't run. That means a long gap in service in locations distant from the 691. 

Ordinary weekends are better as there's at least the 681 / 682 running then. But on a normal 3 day long weekend the super wait is down to less than 40 hours (measured between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning). 

This area is in the seat of Rowville held by Kim Wells MP.

Reservoir: 105 hours - Rt 558

Reservoir is the size of several small inner suburbs. However its buses have been neglected with most of its routes being time-capsules from the 1970s. In no case is this more obvious than with the 558, attempting to serve the entire north-west of the suburb. 

Leaving aside its route alignment, odd frequency and midday reversal, the 558 timetable has problems with operating hours with that too missing out on minimum standards upgrades. Hence it remains without public holiday service and has a Saturday service that finishes at midday. 

The Easter bunny brings no joy for 558 users with a 105 hour super-wait over that long long weekend. On ordinary long weekends the super wait is nearer to 65 hours with nothing running between Saturday afternoon and Tuesday morning. 

Route 558 runs in the seats of Preston (Robin Scott MP) and Thomastown (Bronwyn Halfpenny MP). 

More examples

There's other examples apart from the above five that have long bus super waits. These are mostly in established areas that haven't had significant bus reform for up to 30 years and missed out on 2006's minimum standards upgrades. Some middle northern suburbs, much of the east around Kew, Balwyn and Ivanhoe, many places east of Stud Rd, the Mornington Peninsula and smaller regional cities have particular concentrations. 

Reasons for super-waits
Why might bus routes have super-long waits? It all comes down to service. There's not enough trips over enough of the week. In order of lengthening waits, issues are: 

* No service Sunday (hence ~36 hr Sat pm - Mon am gap) 
* No service Saturday afternoons or Sundays (hence ~41 hr midday Sat - Mon am gap) 
* No service Saturdays or Sundays (hence ~59 hr Fri pm - Mon am gap) 
* No service Sundays or public holidays (hence ~60 hr Sat pm - Tues am gap on long weekend) 
* No service Saturday afternoons, Sundays or pub hols (hence ~65 hr midday Sat - Tues am gap) 
* No service Saturdays, Sundays or public holidays (hence ~83 hr Fri pm - Tues am gap on a long weekend and ~107 hours over Easter) 
* The bus only runs weekly (hence ~167 hour gap) 

Lack of Sunday service is the most common cause of super waits around 36 hours. Lacking Saturday afternoon service can extend these to over 40 hours. That means no service from around midday Saturday to Monday morning. 

But it's public holidays that can double or triple super waits to over 80 to 100 hours. This is because most public holidays are tacked onto a weekend (mostly on a Monday). But sometimes it can be both Friday and Monday, as happens each Easter. There can also be similar issues in some years around Christmas and New Years Day, depending on when public holidays fall. 

Whereas the 2006 standard is to run a Saturday timetable on public holidays except Christmas and Good Friday) it was never fully rolled out. That leaves a lot of bus routes that run on Saturdays but not public holidays. And even a couple (681, 682) that run on Saturdays and Sundays but not public holidays. 

None of this is inevitable. What's there now is purely a result of history, state government priorities and current funding settings. These declare that buses (the nearest form of transport to 70% of Melburnians) are less important than trains and trams and don't need consistent, reliable daily service. More on the public holiday gamble on Melbourne buses here with further details via BCSV here

I've not discussed weekly buses. We have a couple in the outer east (extensions of 695 and 697) but typically there's coverage from other routes. Similar comments apply to the quirky Friday - Sunday 695F to Fountain Gate. 

Fixing the super waits

It's simple. Closing the gaps on the longest examples just need a small amount of funding and a revised timetable specification that applies across all Melbourne bus routes. The cost is low as not much more service kilometres per year is required. Most routes with super waits are short. Fixing them just needs a few more driver hours per route working the existing bus fleet harder.

In order of priority, fixing the easiest/cheapest first, these are: 

1. Add standard pattern public holiday service to all routes with 7 day service (involves only routes 681 & 682 plus Melton FlexiRide) 

2. Remove public holiday anomalies so that all routes that currently operate on Saturdays also operate on public holidays as per the standard (ie mostly Saturday timetable except for Good Friday and Christmas where a Sunday timetable operates). About 20 routes.

3. Add at least Saturday afternoon service to routes that currently finish around noon. About 8 routes (512 538 558 697 699 814 844 & 857).

4. Add at least a basic Sunday service to all routes that operate (i) Monday - Saturday only and (ii) Monday - Friday only if in a residential area. Maybe 50 routes?

Doing the first 3 would close most multi-day bus super waits in residential areas. It cannot be emphasised enough how incredibly cheap this is since we're adding something like an average of 3 to 6 service hours per week per route. 

Doing all four would deliver 365 day service in all residential areas as proposed in the 2006 'Meeting our Transport Challenges' plan and end all super waits. A little dearer at around 10 more service hours per route per week but still great value with outsized gains by upgrading say the top 13 to 20 routes to 7 day running.    

A few routes would remain weekday only, such as peak expresses, industrial and school routes. These would remain as is unless there is a need for them to run on public holidays (eg university shuttles on holidays not observed by universities). 

Service standardisation could actually lead to some operational savings due to fewer call centre queries and PTV getting it wrong less often. The benefits of this can't be underestimated; currently the Department of Transport often doesn't understand when its own services run because timetable arrangements are so complex. This makes errors on the PTV website and at bus stops common, thus confusing and potentially stranding passengers.  

Last week minister Ben Carroll said "Under me as Minister, they (buses) will not be the third cousin of public transport" (Whitehorse Leader - paywalled). For this to come about bus super waits will need to be abolished amongst other service reforms and upgrades. Reform here would be some 'quick wins'  with widely-spread gains including in marginal seats that could form the key to who wins the 2022 Victorian election

Know of any other suburbs with bus super waits? Please let me know in the comments below.

Friday, May 13, 2022

UN 125: Delivering for Deakin with the 903

The 2022 Victorian state budget announced several bus service upgrades. Most were coverage increases in fringe areas. These will bring public transport to growing areas that previously didn't have it. Extensions like these extend the network's tentacles, typically with a basic 40 - 60 minute frequency, in fringe suburbs.  

Up to recently other aspects of bus network development such as route reform and frequency upgrades in densifying middle suburbs, have often been side-lined as ministerial attention turned to infrastructure. 2021's Victoria's Bus Plan, though lacking specifics, recognised the issues and set a direction for reform. We've already had some, as described here.

Service upgrades on their way

The 2022 state budget included improvements to bus routes and services between Box Hill, Oakleigh and Southland. We could then only guess what they were as no route numbers were listed.  

A day or two later Will Fowles MP listed the routes involved. 

Then Box Hill member Paul Hamer MP wrote on his Facebook page that 733 and 767 will have higher off-peak capacity. A premier's website release confirms Box Hill - Monash - Clayton (busiest part of 733) and Box Hill - Deakin - Southland (all of 767).  

733 and 767 are both high patronage routes that deserve frequency upgrades. 733 between Box Hill and Clayton especially. Despite being one of Melbourne's busiest bus routes it groans under an hourly Sunday frequency and being no better than half-hourly at most other times. 

Last year's 234 and 907 frequency upgrades signalled a welcome new willingness to deliver 7 day frequent bus services on popular routes that need it. It doubled the number of bus routes running every 15 minutes or better 7 days from 2 to 4 (out of 300+ total). Upgrades like these add muscle as well as reach to the network. That's overdue as Melbourne's current bus network is a gangly thin-limbed adolescent with poor core strength and co-ordination.

Boosting the 201 Deakin University express shuttle is another capacity builder. Its current 20 minute frequency makes it much less of a 'go to' option compared to other university shuttles operating every 4 to 10 minutes. It's also not helped by being duplicated by an older university shuttle (the infrequent Route 768) that was not removed when the 201 started in 2016. 

A more frequent Route 201 should relieve pressure on other routes and, with reform, allow a two-tier style service to Box Hill in conjunction with other routes. A similar arrangements operates between Huntingdale and Monash Clayton where there is an overlap between the 601 shuttle, the 900 SmartBus and a local route 630. 201 has been the subject of work to speed travel though traffic signal priority. You can read about that here

903 rerouting

Now we get to today's main topic, the 903 being rerouted via Deakin University. This is significant because Route 903 is the area's orbital SmartBus. Operating more frequently and for longer hours than most other bus routes a rerouting would improve access to the campus from areas north and south including Heidelberg, Doncaster and Oakleigh.  

The map below shows the existing 903 and other routes around Deakin University. Four currently operate between Box Hill and Deakin University. These include the 201 and 768 shuttles, the 281 extension and the 767 down to Southland. Also starting at Box Hill is the 732 to Upper Ferntree Gully and the 766 to Burwood. These go near but not quite to Deakin University. 

Maps of 903's new alignment aren't yet out. How might it go? Just speculating, two potential options could be those below. Both involve one more turn than now.

Alignment A is perhaps simpler and retains connectivity with the Route 70 tram. However it doesn't quite go to the eastern part of the campus (which has an internal bus interchange). Still, uni campuses, like major shopping centres, are large places, and most people accept reasonable walks from one end to the other. 

Option B goes further east but overlaps the 75 tram more (along with the 732 bus). I am guessing that if adopted it would not pull in to the university interchange as it would usurp the distinctive role of the  (to be upgraded) 201 shuttle which does. Besides run time is money when planning bus routes and 903 needs good speed for through passengers, being the area's only frequent orbital transport option.

Network implications

These can be broken up into three main issues, as follows. 

1. Retaining Camberwell / Surrey Hills / Burwood local connectivity

Both 903 options pull service out of the west end of Wattle Park, leaving just the 766 remaining. To ameliorate this Route 766 needs, as a minimum, an upgrade to 7 day service, longer operating hours and an overhaul of its current timetable (which features some 80+ minute waits). I said more about Route 766 on Tuesday. 

2. Box Hill - Deakin University corridor

Existing connectivity is complex with the four routes operating at unattractive 20 to 40 minute frequencies each. Three routes (201, 281, 768) operate to the internal campus bus interchange while 767 stops outside. This network upgrade needs to simplify services including more clearly defining  each route's role with an appropriate service frequency. 

Orbital Route 903's routing via Deakin will add a major route operating every 15 minutes off-peak and better in the peak. Because Box Hill is a major centre with a large catchment increased speed on it would be desirable. This may include the potential for wider stop spacing if other routes exist for intermediate stops. 

Route 201 should remain as the express Box Hill - Deakin shuttle but at higher frequency. Ideally funded largely by a 'reform dividend' (eg incorporating the 768 and another route - more later). Combined with its speed a 10 minute frequency would make it the route of choice for everyone making that trip. This should relieve pressure on the 767 and rerouted 903, freeing these up for longer distance travel to Box Hill.  

A way of directing Deakin passengers to the 201 could be to make it the only route that runs to the university's internal interchange. It is also a good candidate for a 'rapid running' frequency timetable type service with minimal dwell time at interchanges. A cheap way of freeing up even more service kilometres to deliver a frequent 201 could be to truncate Route 281 at Box Hill. In exchange those who want a one-seat Doncaster - Deakin option would gain a more frequent service via the rerouted 903. 

Elgar Rd between Box Hill and Deakin is currently crowded with four bus routes but doesn't get consistently good service due to all being either infrequent, duplicative, irregular or express. The above simplification would leave it with just the (not stopping) 201 shuttle and the 767. Boosting the latter to say every 20 min (preferably 7 days) should provide a simpler, stronger corridor. Delays due to passenger loading between Deakin and Box Hill could be reduced as some passenger from Box Hill would shift to the 201 shuttle while some from the south would use the 903. 

The visual below shows how it might work.  

'Loose ends' created by the above include Route 766 (fixable - discussed at 1 above) and the southern end of the 767 (which justifies its own reforms around Bentleigh East/Southland along with 627, 701 and 822). There are also two bus operators involved with 281 and 903 run by Kinetic and the rest by Ventura. That makes reform harder than if there was just one. However pretty much all Melbourne bus operators have routes that justify upgrades so that if one of their routes required trimming some of their service kilometres / hours could be redeployed so they don't lose out. 

3. Surrounding network structural issues and SRL planning

You might wish to end things right here. And if you did a worthwhile network reform will have been delivered. 

However other issues with the bus network around Deakin University exist. These include residential area coverage south of Highbury Rd (which lacks its own bus route), 732 overlap with parts of the 903 and the 75 tram and 766's weak southern terminus. These are shown on the map below. 

Out of these the 732 overlaps may turn out to be non-issue as (a) the route gets good usage and (b) it relieves busy parts of the 903. On the other hand 903's rerouting may lead to other opportunities as discussed here.  

The Suburban Rail Loop's station at Burwood presents the opportunity of a terminus for a future revised bus network. This might involve routes such as 732, 766 and a Highbury Rd route. 

Southern opportunities (the Clayton / Southland end)

When you reform or boost services on one bus route you often unlock opportunities elsewhere on the network. While they might be considered 'out of scope' for this reform they should not be forgotten. That's so they can drive the next stage of cost-effective bus network reform. Both opportunities for this are at the Clayton / Southland end, as follows: 

Opportunity 1: Bentleigh East 

We know that all of Route 767 will receive service improvements. While it mostly has its own corridor north of Chadstone, its southern half around Bentleigh East has other nearby parallel and partly overlapping routes (map below). This is not desirable if you want the highest benefit from the extra resources you're spending on frequency. 

If you look at the broader north-south network you'll see the very frequent Frankston line to the west and the mostly frequent 903 SmartBus to the east. These are about 4km apart. 

Exactly half way between is a corridor formed by Murrumbeena, East Boundary and Chesterville roads. As you saw from the map above it has no simple continuous and frequent bus. But if it did then it would mean that almost everyone would be within 1km of a frequent north-south service to major destinations. 

With its frequency upgrades already funded in the 2022 budget, the 767 is the obvious choice for such a direct and more frequent route. It just needs rerouting between Chadstone and South Rd with about the same route kilometres as now. No new bus stops would need to be built on its new corridor as existing (less frequent) routes already serve it. However these existing routes (notably the 822 but also possibly 627 and 701) would need reform to retain coverage at stops the 767 is moved from. All the routes involved are run by the same bus operator, further simplifying reform. 

The simplified and rerouted 767 could be a candidate for further frequency and operating hours  upgrades as patronage warrants and funds become available. A simple route with enhanced service on the East Boundary Rd and Chesterville Rd corridors is also consistent with Principal Public Transport Network planning that guides land use decisions (see Glen Eira and Kingston PPTN maps here).

Opportunity 2: Clarinda/Southland 

The premier's release said that Route 733 will be upgraded between Box Hill and Clayton. This is only  some of the route as the full route operates to Oakleigh. However it is sensible as the Clayton - Oakleigh portion is both less used and is near (even sometimes overlapping) other routes offering higher service. Confining the frequency upgrade to the busiest portion allows the shortest possible waits where most needed.  

Terminating some trips at Clayton is also a step towards a next stage of reform. That is operating the Clayton - Oakleigh portion as an independent local route (if justified) and terminating all 733 trips at Clayton. 

That provides a simpler network as all 733 trips will finish at the same place. It also opens the way for a 733 extension to Southland (or Sandringham) to more closely replicate the Suburban Rail Loop, and, in the interim, boost service in the Clarinda area and improve connectivity to Monash University Clayton from the south. 

I presented more detail on this concept back in 2020. The most cost-effective implementation is likely to involve reform to and/or amalgamation with Clarinda area routes such as 631, 821 and 824. 


These upgrades will make public transport stronger in the Deakin University area. Even more so if wider network reforms such as at Bentleigh East and Clarinda are considered. The main remaining questions are the magnitude of the upgrades in terms of higher frequency and improved operating hours.  

When will these changes happen? Past bus upgrades have taken about 25 months from budget funding to implementation (for a new bus route). However a Whitehorse Leader article (paywalled) encouragingly says that these reforms will happen 'within 12 months'.  

Your thoughts on routing the 903 via Deakin and other network improvements you'd like to see in the area are appreciated and can be left in the comments below. 

See other Useful Network items here