Sunday, August 28, 2022

Inside Frankston's 100 year old signal box

I was fortunate to be on a tour inside Frankston's signal box to mark its 100th birthday. This lever-based box remains in service today.

Here's excerpts from speeches given at the Frankston CWA hall and a tour inside all three levels of the box. 

Present were Frankston Mayor Cr Nathan Conroy, Frankston MP Paul Edbrooke MP and Public Transport Minister Ben Carroll. 

Friday, August 19, 2022

UN136: Too good? Will better buses break the train system?

Over the last three years I've been proposing area by area bus network reform through the Building Melbourne's Useful Network series. Each week I'd appraise a local area's bus network, look at service gaps and outline a revised network. These were progressively plotted onto an interactive map. 

Confusing backtracking, routes stopping short of popular destinations, wasteful route overlaps and restrictive timetables common in the current network would be replaced with simpler, more direct and more frequent 'Useful Bus Network' routes. Timetables would be more even 7 days per week and hundreds of thousands more people and jobs would be walkable to buses every 20 minutes or better. 

Revised networks typically involve some added costs though these would often only involve extra operating hours (ie 'working the fleet harder') rather than new bus purchases.  Because we have had so little bus reform in years fixing this backlog would deliver huge mobility benefits right across Melbourne for an affordable price. 

A boost to every 20 minutes would be a large service uplift by Melbourne bus standards. But is still not the sort of exciting turn-up-and-go service that main roads and key destinations deserve. To address this I upgraded the interactive map to include 963 km of frequent bus routes operating every 10 minutes or better with inspiration from the DoT's 2006 Principal Public Transport Network, existing SmartBus routes and some upgraded Useful Network routes. I called this the Future Frequent Network, intended to be introduced over about a 5 to 8 year period, along with train and tram service upgrades. The bus component of this transformed network would alone increase usage by more than the Suburban Rail Loop would while also being an essential feeder to it. 

2036 modelling

Improved bus services would encourage more people to use them, especially during off-peak periods. But would other transport modes that the buses feed cope? This is what the 2021 ATRF paper The impact of bus network reform on the resilience of Melbourne’s public transport system by Dr Ian Woodcock and Dr Jan Scheurer sought to answer. 

This work considers how things might be in 2036. It (optimistically?) assumes various rail project including Melbourne Metro 1, Airport and Melton electrified rail, Doncaster and Rowville rail, Metro 2 and Suburban Rail Loop East to be operational by 2036. Metropolitan train and trams frequencies would mostly be upgraded to 10 minutes where not already so. Also included is the DoT's Principal Public Transport Network (PPTN) which is basically an expanded SmartBus system. 

In the absence of specific network proposals in last year's Victoria's Bus Plan, I am honoured that they chose my 2021 Useful Bus Network (UBN) as a test component in two further scenarios. It was noted that "The UBN generally conforms to the principles of good network planning..." including a network hierarchy, simplicity, good interchanges and multi directionality. Furthermore, it would "place about 70% of Melbourne’s residents and jobs within walking distance of a public transport service of this standard or better, up from just over 56% in the base scenario for 2036 (and up from 51% in 2016)."

In other words we're talking about an accessibility uplift involving over a million people and jobs. Which makes the UBN a big deal (and the Future Frequent Network, which incorporates the UBN every 20 min plus a 963km long 10 min frequent network) an even bigger one. 

Woodcock and Scheurer's work says some interesting things about the Useful Bus Network and its impact. Much of this knowledge was gained through use of SNAMUTS tool for analysing transport networks. Key points include: 

1. Adding the Useful Bus Network would increase service intensity per 100 000 people but not unreasonably so. The base case cites 14.5 vehicles per 100 000 people compared to 13.4 in 2016. The base case plus the UBN increases this to 18.8. This is comparable to Adelaide in 2016 (18.4) and much less than some European cities (around 25). The Melbourne figure would rise to 19.7 if rail frequencies are boosted further to address expected crowding. 

2. Even though adding the UBN would not increase service to extravagant levels (note the Adelaide comparison above), it would deliver a coverage 'unprecedented' amongst New World Cities at 70%. On this metric we would beat both Vancouver and Sydney. This demonstrates the high potential of bus network reform to extend access to useful service. 

3. A UBN increases the share of travel opportunities captured by the bus system. This is described as 'modest' even though, looked at another way, a 10.5 to 13.4% increase is substantial. This share would be at the expense of tram, although this is mostly a relative drop. Rail's share would rise by 1%, largely due to the much increased catchment provided by the upgraded buses. Big increases in interchange would occur at key stations on the Sunshine - Dandenong (Metro Tunnel) rail axis. The availability of circumferential buses would also relieve pressure on radial trams across the inner north and east. 

4. Can a public transport initiative be too successful? Apparently the UBN is so good that it could be. Increasing access to rail also increases its likely usage to the point of overloading. This can cause the  rail network to be less resilient (UBN Scenario 1). Some of this is clawed back in the rail service increases contained in UBN Scenario 2 due to its upgraded 5 min train frequencies. Some feeder bus services in busy middle suburban and outer growth areas would also be taxed to the point of needing higher capacity with specific routes nominated. 

5. It is worth noting that some bus corridors to come under stress either do not or hardly exist today. Examples include Yarra Flats - Camberwell - Caulfield, Northland - Fairfield and the straightened 902 orbital between Keon Park and Doncaster via Greensborough. These are examples of high-demand bus routes that should be there but do not or only exist in amputated or infrequent form. Those advocating for a Burke Rd tram extension south to Caulfield and north to the Heidelberg area may get some satisfaction from this analysis pointing to likely heavy use. 


The paper shows the power of a modern bus network designed around sound principles like the Useful Network. However it points out that it can put pressure on the rail network (while relieving pressure on trams). Further rail network frequency and capacity improvements would be needed in some cases to maintain network resilience. 

Are these reasons not to introduce a basic upgraded bus network like the Useful Bus Network or a better version like the Future Frequent Network? I would argue not. 

After all these risks have not stopped other initiatives of lesser merit, such as cheaper (or free) fares or expanded parking at popular train stations in built up areas. The same goes with freeways which are often built piecemeal fashion. Those who commission them know full well that they will induce traffic onto other parts of the road network. Yet they build nevertheless, with the resulting congestion being used to strengthen the business case for the next stage of their project or related add-ons. Could transit system builders learn from this too, after all it's often only after times of network stress that there's been political pressure to upgrade infrastructure or services?

With  the COVID shock and what appears to be enduring acceptance of working at home for at least some days of the week, stresses on the rail network may be less than envisaged. The possibility of stagnant or at least slower growing rail usage has already been used in arguments against the Suburban Rail Loop which the Coalition has just said will shelve should they win office.  

Professional concern might have swung back from how to manage rail crowding to getting passengers to return. If this is the case then better buses, along with benefits in their own right, could be key to reviving rail usage. This analysis has demonstrated their power in doing just that. 

See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Public transport to Melbourne's hospitals: How good?

How well are Melbourne's hospitals served by public transport? Do routes to them run at reasonable frequencies over long hours and are thus usable by visitors and staff? Here's a quick hospital by hospital summary of available services and quality. The hospital list came from here. Those interested in how I arrived at these ratings can scroll further down. There you'll also find practical recommendations on transport service improvements to make reaching them easier.

Alfred Health

* Caulfield Hospital 260 Kooyong Road Caulfield 

FAIR Bus 605 at door but limited hours and very infrequent weekend service. Quite near trams 64 and 67 operating over long hours but may be unsuitable for those with limited mobility. Also near bus 623 running every 30 min weekdays and 60 min weekends.  

* Sandringham Hospital 193 Bluff Road Sandringham 

POOR Buses 825 and 600/922/923 pass nearby. 825 has poor weekend frequency and operating hours. 600/922/923 have good operating hours but complex routes that are hard to understand. Not near station.

* The Alfred 55 Commercial Road Melbourne 

GOOD Tram 72 out the front and numerous trams on St Kilda Rd. 603 and 604 buses operate long hours but less frequently than trams. Some might find a walk from Prahran Station an option with trains every 15-20 min or better at all times except Sunday morning. Access will improve further when Metro Tunnel opens with an easy change from trains at Anzac Station. 

Austin Health

* Austin Health - Austin Hospital 145 Studley Rd Heidelberg

FAIR-GOOD Walkable from Heidelberg station. Also near buses including 903 SmartBus orbital, 513/514 and weekday only 551. Evening and often weekend frequencies on all these services are typically 30 min or worse. 

* Austin Health - Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital 300 Waterdale Road Heidelberg Heights

FAIR Near buses including 903 SmartBus orbital and 513/514. But nearest bus is limited service 548. Some may also be able to walk from the long operating hours 250 and the limited service 350 and 549 on Oriel Rd. Weekend service frequency limited on all routes. 

* Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre 1 Yarra Boulevard Kew 

VERY POOR Only served by 3 trips/day Route 609 and weekday peak only Route 350. Significant walk to weekday only 546 on Heidelberg Rd. 

Calvary Health Care

* Calvary Health Care Bethlehem Ltd 476 Kooyong Road Caulfield

FAIR Several bus routes nearby but have limited operating hours and/or weekend frequencies, notably popular 630 on North Rd. Some may be able to walk to Gardenvale Station (15-20 min service all times except Sunday mornings) or 64 tram on Hawthorn Rd. 

(Note: currently operating from a temporary site at Parkdale, conveniently near the station) 

Dental Health Services Victoria

* Dental Health Services Victoria 720 Swanston Street Carlton 

VERY GOOD Frequent trams pass by but accessibility is a key issue. Metro Tunnel will further improve connections. 

Eastern Health

* Angliss Hospital Albert Street Upper Ferntree Gully 

POOR On limited service Route 732 deviation. Some could walk from Upper Ferntree Gully Station but only half-hourly trains interpeak weekdays. Bus services in surrounding suburbs limited. 

* Box Hill Hospital 51 Nelson Road Box Hill 

FAIR Buses outside (281, 293, 302, 612) run half-hourly on weekdays and generally every 60 min (or not at all) on weekends, typically with limited operating hours. Tram 109 on Whitehorse Rd or trains at Box Hill are an option for some. Train service drops to every 30 min at night and on Sunday mornings despite density in area. 

* Healesville and District Hospital 377 Maroondah Highway Healesville 

VERY POOR A hike to the 685 bus which runs infrequently and irregularly. 686 is nearer but even more occasional. Plans are afoot to improve bus services in this area. 

* Maroondah Hospital 1-15 Mt Dandenong Rd Davey Drive East Ringwood 

POOR Served by complex and confusing 380 circular bus route. Walking to Ringwood East station may be an option for some but route is indirect and trains come only every 30 min off-peak weekdays. 

* Peter James Centre, The 321-345 Burwood Hwy Forest Hill 

FAIR On frequent 75 tram along Burwood Hwy. Also walkable to 902 bus on Springvale Rd. 732 bus also operates on Burwood Hwy. Both bus routes however have limited evening and weekend frequencies. 

* Wantirna Health 251 Mountain Highway Wantirna 

POOR-FAIR Main bus is 901 SmartBus up Stud Rd to Ringwood with a frequent weekday service and long operating hours (except Sunday evening). Bus 738 also operates at lower frequency and fewer hours. However travel in some directions is only possible on the once-daily 745 bus and its complex variants. 

* Yarra Ranges Health 25 Market Street Lilydale 

FAIR Walkable from Lilydale train station which features good operating hours but 30 minutes between trains weekdays off-peak. Local buses cover a wide geographical area, but except for Route 670 on weekdays, are infrequent and may not run weekends. 

Melbourne Health

* Royal Melbourne Hospital - City Campus 300 Grattan Street Parkville 

VERY GOOD Frequent trams pass by. Some buses including 401 to North Melbourne Station on weekdays. Metro Tunnel will further improve connections. 

Royal Melbourne Hospital - Royal Park Campus 34-55 Poplar Road Parkville 

FAIR-GOOD Route 19 tram nearby offers frequent 7 day service. Also served by hourly Route 505 bus. Route 504 bus and Upfield train line are other options but evening and weekend frequencies for both are limited. 

Mercy Hospitals Victoria Limited

* Mercy Health - O'Connell Family Centre 6 Mont Albert Road Canterbury 

FAIR Not far from 72 tram on Burke Rd but doesn't go to many useful places. No trains or buses nearby but some trips are possible by walking to 109 tram on Whitehorse Rd. 

* Mercy Hospital for Women 163 Studley Road Heidelberg 

FAIR-GOOD Walkable from Heidelberg station with trains every 20 - 40 min most times. Also near buses including 903 SmartBus orbital, 513/514 and weekday only 551. Evening and often weekend frequencies on all these services are typically 30 min or worse. 

* Werribee Mercy Hospital 300 Princes Highway Werribee 

POOR-FAIR Nearest transport is 153 bus every 40 min. Walkable to Hoppers Crossing Station (trains every 20 min or better at any time) but pedestrian amenity isn't very good. 

Monash Health

* Casey Hospital 52 Kangan Drive Berwick

FAIR Served only by short 831 bus from Berwick Station every 40 min weekdays and hourly weekends. Walkable to trains at Berwick every 20 min day and 30 min weekend evenings and Sunday mornings. Other buses depart from Berwick Station but none are consistently frequent or operate long hours through the week. 

* Cranbourne Integrated Care Centre 140-154 Sladen Street Cranbourne 

POOR-FAIR Not easily walkable from station. Many bus routes but none operate frequently over whole week. Little or no service after 9pm. 

* Dandenong Hospital 105-135 David Street Dandenong 

POOR-FAIR Nearest buses are 802, 804 or 811 that typically operate approximately hourly and not on weekends. 901 SmartBus is walkable with good operating hours (except Sunday evening) but low (30 min) evening weekend frequencies. 

* Kingston Centre 400 Warrigal Rd Cheltenham 

POOR-FAIR Main bus is 903 SmartBus up Warrigal Rd with good operating hours (except Sunday evening) but low (30 min) evening and weekend frequencies. 631 to other destinations is every 30 - 60 min with shorter operating hours. Other routes eg 821 also pass nearby but only infrequently and weekdays only. 

* Monash Medical Centre, Clayton Campus 246 Clayton Road Clayton 

FAIR Buses that pass typically finish around 9pm and run every 15 - 30 min during the day (and about half that on weekends). A walk to Clayton station connects to the mostly frequent Dandenong line. However even here frequencies drop to 30 min on Sunday mornings and weekend evenings. 

* Monash Medical Centre, Moorabbin Campus 865 Centre Road East Bentleigh 

POOR-FAIR Strictly buses only. Four routes pass nearby (627, 701, 703, 822) but none run much after 9-10pm nor operate better than every 30 - 60 min evenings and weekends. 

Northern Health

* Broadmeadows Health Service 35 Johnstone St Broadmeadows 

FAIR Walkable to Broadmeadows Station but pedestrian hostile environment. Being on a line in the politically neglected safe seated north, trains are only every 20 - 40 minutes most times. Weekday service is good with 901 and 902 SmartBuses but service drops to every 30 minutes on weekends with no Sunday evening service. Other local bus routes operate at lower frequencies. 

* Bundoora Extended Care Centre 1231 Plenty Road Bundoora 

FAIR On 86 tram and quite near 902 SmartBus. Former has good all week frequency, latter good frequency only on weekdays. Lower service bus routes include the 382 and the very complex and indirect 566. Distant from trains with bus frequencies unharmonised with them. 

* Craigieburn Health Service 350 Craigieburn Road West Craigieburn 

POOR-FAIR Walkable from the Craigieburn Town Centre with many local bus routes (but not the main north-south Route 541). Most buses were upgraded to run every 20 min during the day on weekdays but remain every 40 min on weekends. Bus operating hours have been improved a little but still feature later starts and earlier finishes than trains. 

* PANCH Health Service 300 Bell Street Preston 

FAIR-GOOD Near 86 tram with generally frequent 7 day service. Walkable from Bell Station (trains every 20 - 40 min most times). Directly on 513/514 bus (less frequent and shorter hours than train and tram, especially on weekends). 

* The Northern Hospital 185 Cooper Street Epping VIC 3076

POOR-FAIR Served by 901 SmartBus. Offers long hours (except Sunday evenings) and frequent daytime weekday service but does not harmonise with train times. Slightly beyond easy walking distance of Epping Station (trains every 20 - 40 min most times). Also served by local bus routes (typically every 40 min finishing around 9pm). 

Peninsula Health

* Frankston Hospital Hastings Rd Frankston 

POOR - FAIR Slightly beyond comfortable walking distance of Frankston station which nevertheless offers good service, with waits never more than 20 min and often 10 min maximum. Buses are complex and infrequent with often limited operating days and hours. 

* Mount Eliza Rehabilitation, Aged and Palliative Care 33 Jacksons Rd Mt Eliza

POOR Requires an uphill walk to Mornington Rd but once there one will find three buses per hour 7 days to Frankston and Mornington. No service much after 10pm or very early mornings. Jacksons Rd has no footpath on either side so accessibility to these stops is very poor.   

* Rosebud Hospital 1527 Point Nepean Road Rosebud 

POOR-FAIR Relatively well located for the area. Bus route 788 was recently upgraded to run every 30 min weekdays and 40 min weekends. Also has Night Network service. However service frequencies may still be insufficient for those with fixed start and finish times. Other bus routes on the peninsula are notorious for their short operating hours so connectivity is limited. 

Peter MacCallum 

* Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute 305 Grattan Street Melbourne

VERY GOOD Frequent trams pass by. Some buses including 401 to North Melbourne Station on weekdays. Metro Tunnel will further improve connections. 

Queen Elizabeth Centre

* Queen Elizabeth Centre 53 Thomas Street Noble Park 

FAIR - GOOD A short walk from Noble Park Station. Offers frequent service most times except weekend evenings and Sunday mornings where it drops to every 30 min. Local buses include 709 and 816, typically every 30 - 60 min. No bus connections in some directions eg to Noble Park North. 

St Vincent's Health

* Caritas Christi Hospice Ltd 104 Studley Park Road Kew 

FAIR-GOOD A bit out of the way but is right on long hours and mostly frequent 200/207 bus route from city. Also has Night Network service for early weekend starts. Connectivity from the north and south is a problem though. 

* St George's Health Service 283 Cotham Road Kew 

FAIR Mostly frequent tram 109 stops at door, providing convenient CBD and Box Hill access. North and south access is however poor due to infrequent and somewhat limited Route 624 and 548 to north and south. No local train station easily reachable. However those willing to walk to Burke Rd can get a tram south to Camberwell. 

* St Vincent's Hospital (Melbourne) Ltd 41 Victoria Parade Fitzroy 

VERY GOOD Near all modes of transport including trains at Parliament Station, numerous trams and some of Melbourne's most frequent bus routes. 

Royal Childrens Hospital

* The Royal Children's Hospital 50 Flemington Road Parkville VIC 3052

GOOD No trains but three tram routes (57, 58 & 59) stop nearby. Connectivity will improve further when the Metro Tunnel opens. Improved tram accessibility an essential here.

Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital

* The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital 32 Gisborne Street East Melbourne 

VERY GOOD Near all modes of transport including trains at Parliament Station, numerous trams and some of Melbourne's most frequent bus routes. 

Royal Women's Hospital

* The Royal Women's Hospital Levels 6 & 7 Cnr Grattan St & Flemington Rd Parkville 

VERY GOOD Frequent trams pass by. Some buses including 401 to North Melbourne Station on weekdays. Metro Tunnel will further improve connections. 

Tweddle Child & Family Health Service

* Tweddle Child and Family Health Service 53 Adelaide Street Footscray 

FAIR-GOOD 216 and 220 bus provide long hours and generally frequent service. Route 410 also in the area but limited operating hours and only hourly Sunday frequency. Walkable to West Footscray station with trains mostly every 20 - 40 min. 

Western Health

* Footscray Hospital 160 Gordon Street Footscray 

FAIR 410 bus outside hospital has limited operating hours and poor Sunday frequency. Bus 223 and Tram 82 has better operating hours and 7 day daytime frequency but service drops off at night. New Footscray hospital will be somewhat better placed. 

* Sunshine Hospital 176 Furlong Road St Albans 

POOR - FAIR Popular 408 bus doesn't run late at night and is infrequent on Sunday. Stop is also distant from Ginifer Station. Some may walk from Ginifer Station with trains only every 20 - 40 min most times (being a taken for granted historically safe seat). 

* Williamstown Hospital 77b Railway Crescent Williamstown 

FAIR Close to Williamstown station. Trains operate over long hours every 20 min day and night but some trips require a change at Newport.  Bus 471 and 472 are nearby with good weekday frequency but less weekend service and shorter operating hours. Connections to Altona area limited due to infrequent Route 415 (every 40 - 80 min with no Sunday service). 

Assessment criteria

Done via quick desktop assessment based on four key requirements. These are based on the service existing when people need to travel (long operating hours 7 days), frequency being good (every 10 min  would be ideal but points really get lost if it's worse than every 20 min), runs in all main directions and is accessible (including stations, vehicles and surrounding footpath path network). 

Summarised below:

Hospitals with the best service are typically in or near the CBD where many frequent routes converge. Those with the least typically only have infrequent buses. Middle suburban facilities may enjoy good services in some directions (typically towards and away from the CBD) but not in others. 

Weekend frequencies are typically not much less than weekday frequencies for trains and trams but often drop to about half for buses. Operating hours for the latter also vary, though some of the latter now run 24 hours on weekends thanks to Night Network upgrades in 2021. 

As important as the frequency itself is how much of the day it operates, or even if there is service at all. Nursing shifts can be 8, 10 or 12 hours. There can also be variation in working hours for the many support staff hospitals need. Without sustained high frequency it could be common for services to be every 10 - 20 minutes at the start time but with a fall to every 30 - 60 minutes at finish time (or vice versa). This also affects connectivity since it would be rare for someone not to require at least one change when travelling from home to work by public transport. 

Accessibility can include varying factors ranging from whether trams and tram stops are DDA compliant, walkability to stations or bus stops and perceived personal safety, especially at night. The latter is more likely to be an issue with workers than day visitors. 

Summary of ratings

Most ratings are in the poor to fair range. I've given no hospital an excellent rating, even those in the CBD. This is due to limited frequency of trains and buses at times health professionals start or finish and the high likelihood that those on moderate pay will be living in an area that needs at least one change to another service which will almost certainly be infrequent or not be running. Some 'good' ratings may even be generous for travel in some directions or where a change is needed. 

Where a range of ratings is given, the better one mainly applies to daytime hospital visitors while the lower one applies to hospital workers (who need to arrive and leave over a wider span of hours). Tram accessibility will also be an issue for some.

Making hospital travel better

Transport policy in Victoria can best be summarised as "We want to build X infrastructure" rather than "How best do we make service better to the most number of people for the most number of trips". This big infrastructure-centric approach has got a lot built (which is often good and needed) but left it grossly underserviced with infrequent trains and archaic bus routes and timetables unreformed for decades. Small infrastructure projects like minor tram extensions have also been neglected despite their ability to improve connectivity. 

I think we're starting to see a creeping realisation of this. The government has talked about 'switching on the Big Build' which would represent a much needed swing to service. The Liberal opposition has publicly cited the importance of frequency while The Greens have proposed frequent electric buses. I am hopeful that we will see more announcements from all parties before the state election. 

Let's use the four assessment criteria above to list the main ways we can make transport to hospitals better. In 99% of cases transport to other destinations would also improve with these changes. 

* Long hours 7 days

Trains and trams are already pretty good with the minor exception of Good Friday and Christmas Day mornings (which need earlier starts). The big improvement needed here is buses. Even our top tier SmartBuses mostly do not run on Sunday evenings. 

Local bus routes finish around 9pm and may start too late in the morning, particularly on weekends. As well a large number (over 50) have no or limited Saturday afternoon and Sunday service. Increasing operating days and hours is a cost-effective improvement as it can be done by working the existing fleet harder. 

* Frequent service

Trams are the best out of all the modes. Maximum waits rarely exceed 20 minutes except for Sunday mornings and evenings. Still, even a 19 minute wait is inconvenient if making a connection so even higher frequency is desirable. But it's on trains and buses where the real problems exist. 30 to 60 minute waits are the rule rather than the exception at night and still too common during the day (particularly  for buses). 

Even where there is frequent 10 minute service (such as on the Dandenong and Ringwood train lines) it may only run for only about 8 hours of the day before collapsing to 30 minutes after 7pm (notably on weekends). Also 40 minute train frequencies are common on Sunday mornings. This approach compares unfavourably with Sydney where most stations enjoy trains every 15 minutes until midnight. While still not ideal, getting to 20 minute maximum waits across the rail network would make a big improvement and can be done very cheaply. And, looking further ahead, we need to resume work on greenfields train timetables (stalled in 2015) to deliver simpler and more frequent trains across the network rather than just on a few lines (as current). 

As for buses, the easiest win would be boosting weekend and evening service. This is particularly the case for the busier parts of our orbital SmartBuses whose service (mostly) drops to every 30 minutes on weekends versus 15 minutes on weekdays. Other key routes that pass near hospitals deserve similar boosts. Quick wins are possible by working the existing fleet harder. Longer term we need a Future Frequent Network and allied reforms to local routes for the biggest impact. 

* From all directions

In many cases hospitals are easily accessible from some directions but not others. Improvement here can range from boosting bus and train frequencies to rethinking the network to provide for more convenient routes. For example due to competition between modes a century ago we still have the problem where many tram lines finish short of their nearest station despite their potential to feed trains. 

The benefits of bus network reform should also not be underestimated given the ability to relatively quickly improve connectivity from multiple directions. 2021's Victoria's Bus Plan has signalled some encouraging directions but lacks maps or a funded program so we don't yet know what will come of it. The nearest we have to a coherent multi-directional network plan is possibly the Future Frequent Network outlined here. 

* Accessible

Our most high-profile shortcomings here are with our tram network where many stops and vehicles still don't allow easy level boarding. The pace of improvement here is slow and it is most unlikely that we will meet legislated deadlines

Other accessibility issues exist for stations and walking connections at bus stops. While the latter might be technically accessible, missing paths, traffic volumes, pedestrian hostile roundabouts and the lack of zebra crossings make some roads hard to cross, even for fit people with no impairments. The placement of stops away from intersections also reduces accessibility if changing between buses or trams.  

A major accessibility program would greatly improve network connectivity and thus improve the system's ability to function as one rather than being a series of isolated routes. 

Effect of fares

The Coalition has promised free public transport for health and aged care workers if they win office. However the likely take-up is low with existing service levels since most would find public transport is two to five times slower than driving quicker given their journey and working hours. Free transport doesn't change this whereas better service could.  

Most people (especially the time-poor) are pragmatists. They'll use the least worst transport option for their trip. The main barrier to higher public transport use is not fares but service. Other studies have also found that patronage responds more to better service than fare cuts. While you'll never get all health and ancillary workers on public transport, the high personal and community costs of driving, its space inefficiency, and complaints sometimes heard about parking charges or scarcity does mean that public and active transport to hospitals should be much better so that those who want to have good options available.  

I've found that most hospitals aren't currently that well connected by public transport in most directions for most hours that they are operating. But the good news is that many improvements can be done relatively quickly, provided that we are more willing to invest in service and network reform than we have been. 

As always your thoughts are invited. Are my ratings for each hospital fair? What would get more hospital visitors and workers on public transport? Please leave comments below if you have a view. 

Friday, August 05, 2022

SmartBus turns 20 today!


SmartBus turns 20 today. Starting as a pilot project on Blackburn and Springvale Rd its first decade saw an expansion to include new university, orbital and Doncaster area routes. It changed how thousands get around Melbourne, adding to previously sparse evening and weekend service on major roads, particularly in the eastern suburbs. And the increased service it brought was a prime reason for the commensurate boom in bus patronage encountered.

See my 18th birthday write-up for a more detailed story

SmartBus had a huge growth spurt in election year 2010. Then nothing new for the decade-plus since. Ex-Met routes that already closely meet or exceeded SmartBus service standards (eg 216, 220, 223, 234, 246 etc) remain outside the SmartBus house. The proposed Blue Orbital and western part of the Green Orbital didn't happen despite even bigger PPTN plans existing. And a bold $1.5b 2015 BusVic proposal for 20 new SmartBus routes got no further than this TV news report

Government and bus operator commitment to even the existing routes has lessened with the use of specially liveried SmartBus vehicles, though effective in promoting the service to car drivers, declining. SmartBus probably reached its low point under the disgraced former bus operator Transdev Melbourne who ran dirty and/or unsafe buses on its routes until pinged by Transport Safety Victoria in 2017

Transdev then smartened its act, with the COVID pandemic assisting already improving cleanliness. But that didn't stop it losing the operating franchise to Kinetic which has since maintained better standards. And there's been some good news on the service front in the last few years. These saw small weekend service upgrades on routes 703 and 900. Also Doncaster area SmartBuses gained long-overdue Sunday evening services and in some cases Night Network and weekend frequency boosts as well. 

SmartBus has been transformational. It helped change the public transport network from a CBD-centred asterisk to a more versatile web. And it showed conclusively that if you improve service more people will use buses. These are, I think, its two biggest achievements.

SmartBus' three big remaining challenges include a. still low frequencies, particularly weekends, b. slower than ideal travel speeds due to car traffic, and c. lack of expansion since 2010, particularly in Melbourne's west, north and outer south-east. 

What about the future? Victoria's Bus Plan mentions a hierarchy of routes but had little specifics of future network changes.  My Future Frequent Network adds needed detail, proposing a direct frequent network similar in size and concept to the PPTN outlined in 2006. 

So happy birthday to SmartBus. If you've had any interesting SmartBus experiences please share them in the comments below. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Are these seven train stations Melbourne needs?

Does Melbourne need more train stations? Putting them in costs money and slows travel for existing passengers (unless they're right on the end of a line). On the other hand they provide fast transit to large and sometimes growing areas that need it. And sometimes they fix holes in the network where a bus might cross a train but no station means no interchange and thus lots of backtracking. 

Here's ideas for seven new stations and quick notes explaining why they'd be good. 

1. Campbellfield (Upfield line)

On the Upfield line, a station at Campbellfield would plug the 4km gap between Gowrie and Upfield. 

The area is very pedestrian hostile and the station would have little walk-up residential patronage. But there are a couple of business parks and shopping centre (including a K-mart) within 400m. Of greatest network significance though is that it would connect the Upfield Line to the 902 SmartBus on Camp Rd, thus plugging a hole in a currently coarse grid. And if 901 and 902 were swapped at the Broadmeadows end so that 902 went to Melbourne Airport then a Campbellfield Station would enable direct airport access to suburbs like Coburg and Fawkner without backtracking via the CBD. 

Hence, although Campbellfield might not bring network coverage to the same extent as new stations elsewhere, the connectivity gains could give a much needed boost for northern suburbs public transport including the ability to get around in all directions. 

2. Paisley (Werribee line)

There once was a station here but it closed in the 1980s. The Park & Ride is open but gets very little use with it serving as the terminus for the once-popular 232 bus

A Paisley station at Millers Rd would plug a 10 km gap between Newport and Laverton on the Werribee line. It would serve a large part of Altona North without a station and permit a connection between the Werribee line and several bus routes including the 903 SmartBus. Right now the 903 is western Melbourne's only SmartBus and lacks a direct connection with the popular Werribee line. A Paisley Station would resolve this and facilitate trips like Hoppers Crossing to Altona North that currently involve significant backtracking. It may also be possible to better use the existing Park & Ride and potentially regenerate local shops on Ross St. 

Similar comments for Campbellfield apply to Paisley with a new station here greatly improving network connectivity and removing backtracking for some trips that should be easy on public transport but currently aren't.  

3. Keilor East (Airport line)

Not on an existing passenger line but will be when Melbourne Airport line gets built. A station here would be about mid way between Sunshine and Melbourne Airport and bring rapid transit to a large area with only buses and trams. Another benefit is that it would give the airport line a larger and more diverse patronage base; a formula successfully followed on airport lines in Sydney (and soon Perth) but not Brisbane. 

A station here is not the sort of place that you would expect much walk-up patronage. But there may be scope for some park and ride with some great road connections. Of greater network importance is that it could form a useful stop for existing well-used buses eg 406 and 465 that have weak termini. And even more exciting it could be a stopping location for a north-west BRT that would join several close but hard to travel between points between Broadmeadows and Caroline Springs, also giving them an easy airport connection. Hence this plus the abovementioned Campbellfield station would make Melbourne airport so much more accessible from Melbourne's north and west.

4. Clyde (Cranbourne line)

Did you know that, well before the housing came, there was once was a Clyde station in the days when trains went to Leongatha? A massive growth area south-east of Cranbourne, there is much local advocacy for a rail extension along the disused alignment. 

There's a reasonable case for it as development spreads further from established stations such as Cranbourne and Berwick. Cranbourne has recently had its line duplicated to facilitate such an extension. Not only could there be a station at Clyde but also Cranbourne East (shown on street maps as proposed).

5. Truganina (Geelong line)

Another growth area but in the west. It already has the RRL line passing through but no station. Currently residents must take a bus backwards to Tarneit or south to Williams Landing. Tarneit is the busiest V/Line station outside Southern Cross so an extra station would offer some relief. 

It's shown in street directories so there's a widespread expectation that it would be built (along with two other stations between Wyndham Vale and Tarneit). If people were asked in 2015 (when Regional Rail Link opened) if there would be a station by 2022 they'd probably thought there would be. But there's been zero action since. Even the government's 2018 Western Rail Plan appears stalled despite fast population growth. 

Complicating factors for a Truganina station include ensuring that metropolitan passengers get capacity while preserving speed for Geelong and Warrnambool passengers. Thus the station may need to be considered as part of wider works to deliver a true two-tier service.

Local seats were formerly considered safe for Labor but independents and Liberals are sniffing opportunities given big anti-Labor swings in the 2018 state and 2022 federal elections. It's clear from last Thursday's Transport Forum that the Liberals are showing increased interest in the west despite currently being without local representation. So I wouldn't be surprised if there's promises here in the lead up to the 2022 state election. 

6. Black Forest Rd (Geelong or Werribee line)

This would be another Wyndham growth area station. It's also shown in street directories with similar local expectations raised as to its construction. 

If built now it would be on the Regional Rail Link to Geelong. Or, more ambitiously, it could be done as a Metro train station if the electrified line from Werribee was extended to there or Wyndham Vale (which would bring network connectivity benefits). 

A Black Forest Rd station can be justified by the degree of development and its distance from Werribee and Wyndham Vale stations. 

7. Cave Hill (Lilydale)

An idea that's been around for at least 20 years but nothing ever seems to happen. For example PTUA proposed it back in 2008. Street directories show it as proposed (between Hull Rd and Maroondah Hwy). Construction would plug the 5km gap between Mooroolbark and Lilydale. 

I've put it here to give some representation for the east but just can't see the same interest or momentum compared to new stations in the faster growing west.


Seven station ideas have been presented. All but two are on existing operating lines. 

They would add seven new stations with boosted multimodal network connectivity at four of these. The cost? Even with today's inflated construction costs it would likely be in the low billions. 

Some might wish to compare this with the (much dearer) six-station Suburban Rail Loop East which, in contrast, would add rail coverage at just two sites and extra rail connectivity at the remaining four. 

Which of these stations are worthwhile and which should have lower priority? Maybe there's others that are needed? Will MPs and candidates propose some in the state election campaign? Comments are appreciated and can be left below.