Friday, October 28, 2022

Has state Labor kept its transport promises?

Victorians go to the polls in less than a month. One factor that could shape voting decisions is whether the governing party (in this case Labor) has done what it said it would do. 

The previous two state governments this century certainly did not deliver on the expectations raised when they were elected with regards to public transport on almost any fair-minded assessment.  

For example Labor in 1999 presented a package that had trains on the wrapping, largely delivered buses but ended with renewed hopes for rail (while struggling to run what we had). Similar can be said for the Coalition government of 2010 which studied more than it built though it did improve operational performance and got the troubled Myki ticketing system running.

False expectations and financial blowouts (eg collapse of rail franchising, regional rail and myki) led to a big scaling back of what got done (if the government survived). That's not to say that good things  in transport didn't happen - they did. But significant time was wasted on side-issues (eg operator rebranding) while some new messes emerged (eg myki, falling rail reliability, growth management).

On the basis of what was promised in the election that got them to power versus what got delivered both governments' records cannot be regarded as entirely successful in the transport area. 

Public transport in 2014's Victorian Labor Platform

How does the almost 8 year old Andrews Labor government compare? The easiest way to form a judgement is to look at the Victorian Labor Platform 2014 to see what happened and what didn't. The section headed 'World Class Public Transport' takes a respectable 10 out of the 88 page manifesto. This section includes public, road, active and freight transport policies. 

Headline projects included removal of the '50 most deadly level crossings', starting work on the Metro rail tunnel and building the West Gate Distributor. The government has outperformed on the first, is delivering on the second and replaced the relatively low cost West Gate Distributor with the dearer West Gate Tunnel project.  

The platform committed to 'closely examine the status of the Mernda Rail Extension'. This lukewarm wording became a budget commitment in 2015 and completion in 2018. 

Buses get 1/2 a page while 'integrated transport planning' rates 1/6 page. The latter is concerned with integration on the major project scale, rather than the service scale. Thus weakness with regard to service planning has been with the Andrews government even before it took office.

The bus section is extremely general; one point reads "Improve the bus network to better connect Melbourne's North, South-East and West". However Melbourne Airport and growth areas were specifically mentioned, as was community involvement. Specific route-by-route measures appeared in a three page Labor's Plan for Victoria's Bus Network published on the website . Reviewed later. 

Remaining with the 2014 Labor Platform, a short section proposes "better decision making". One point reads: "Take a long term, strategic and coordinated approach to transport planning and engage in meaningful consultation". Given the Auditor-General found that Victoria didn't have an integrated transport plan and transport experts saying that recent planning has largely been project-based this promise cannot be accepted as being fulfilled. Arguably failure here has less impact outside Very Earnest Infrastructure Planning Wonk Land than a promise being broken on an actual major project. 

Two other points read: "Enhance the consumer and workforce voice within Public Transport Victoria decision making" and "Establish a Ministerial consultative group including public transport users, network operators, the RACV, unions, industry and local government". Some of this is likely due to controversial (but mostly good) bus reforms under the Baillieu - Napthine government that Labor was under pressure to reverse with a feeling (and I believe a reality) that public consultation had been poor, especially for Transdev reforms (whose more radical round in 2015 got vetoed by the new Labor minister).  

Homesafe was the policy for what became the Night Network comprising all-night trains, trams and buses. This was fully delivered in 2016 with a further enhancement for buses in 2021. It was then fashionable to propose a mobile app for everything, but fortunately sense prevailed and the proposed stand-alone Homesafe app never happened. Politically the government gets full points here, though 24 hour weekend trains (especially) present opportunity costs that haven't been discussed as much as they could have been.  

The platform acknowledges that some level crossing removals need new stations to be built with scope to innovate design approaches including "better community use of spaces". This has been fulfilled, especially in areas where elevated rail was built, though not without controversy at the time. Other types of grade separation have been mixed with some trench rail projects still splitting communities at a human scale. 

Prudent financial management is mentioned several times with regards to tram or regional rail services being extended. This could be used as reasons to not proceed with them. In contrast the major projects are supported unequivocally no matter what.  The Andrews government has however extended V/Line services and reopened or rebuilt closed stations. Frequencies, particularly for Geelong and Ballarat, have also increased greatly, particularly off-peak weekdays. Labor can take credit for much of this, especially where this is associated with the Regional Rail Link which it instigated along with the later Ballarat Line Upgrade. 

Their record is weaker when it comes to management and operations for regional rail. V/Line has been beset by management instability including probity issues with CEO James "Sprinkles" Pinder sacked in 2020, the V/Line Board abolished and it changing from a state owned enterprise to a statutory authority (basically a shorter leash as the government couldn't trust them). V/Line has been unusually prominent in IBAC investigations. Am I the only one who still occasionally checks for when any Operation Esperance report will be out? 

The 2014 Labor platform says in relation to V/Line: "In the last three years these rail lines have been beset with problems: punctuality, reliability, price, travel times and cancellations. By any measure, regional rail services have deteriorated.". Amongst other things, Labor promised to "restore confidence in V/Line" and "Improve service frequency, reliability and punctuality". 

How are things eight years later? You can give them wins on frequency. But V/Line cancelled over 4% of trains in the last twelve months versus 2% for Metro. Furthermore the long-term (20 year) trend has been one of deterioration with routine poor delivery (dotted line) seemingly locked in since about 2018.

The operational performance hopes raised in 2014 have been realised in neither Labor's first nor second terms. Growth has made V/Line performance as much an outer suburban as regional issue. Whoever wins next month will need to be especially vigilant to ensure that V/Line can be relied on to play its part in the smooth running of the largely regionally-based 2026 Commonwealth Games and not embarrass the state. 

A couple of paragraphs are about an equitable transport system. Topics touched on here include DDA accessibility for public transport and the suitability of regulatory frameworks to enable this (notably for taxis). It's fair to say that progress has been limited relative to what is needed with a critical auditor general's report coming out in 2020.

A criticism of the platform is that equity has been narrowly defined. I'd prefer a wider definition  of equity including class since so much of how we now run the network (notably priorities on routes, service hours and frequency) short-changes the less well off despite fixes being affordable. Service equity is a real issue because those who most need improved services are concentrated in taken-for-granted politically safe seats. These include service starved and often low-income neighbourhoods in suburbs like Glenroy, Campbellfield, Thomastown, Springvale, Noble Park North, Doveton and Dandenong North. More discussion on these issues here.


Large parts of Labor's 2014 platform has been delivered or is close to delivery, especially with regards to the major infrastructure projects. On this the Andrews government can claim greater success than either its 1999 Labor or 2010 Coalition predecessors (*). However it could have done better in smaller infrastructure, planning, service level and operational performance related areas. While the big emphasis of 2022's campaign may well not be transport, it is important that what attention transport does get is oriented to address these shortcomings, some of which are now chronic.  

(*) The Andrew's government's ambition with projects is partly attributable to prevailing economic conditions and policy fashion including low interest rates and a more permissive post-GFC financial environment in which even federal governments on the right accepted borrowing (despite the same people opposing the Rudd government's stimulatory GFC response). At the state level there was also renewed public appetite for big projects after the perceived stasis of the Baillieu-Napthine era and the success of the Regional Rail Link (which soon filled with outer-suburban passengers).

This political environment is different to that 15 - 20 years earlier. Like all centre-left governments that time (including Tony Blair's in the UK) the Bracks-Brumby government had to be seen as financially prudent and business-friendly with memories of the Cain-Kirner period still fresh in 1999. One consequence of sustained parsimony was an under-investment that left a public transport network unprepared for the high patronage growth that ensued from about 2003. This may have been exacerbated by excessive faith in rail franchising as exemplified (in the public's mind) by Lynne Kosky's famous quote about not wanting to run a train system. 

Labor's Plan for Victoria's Bus Network

The abovementioned platform left the detailed proposals for bus improvements to a three-page document called Labor's plan for Victoria's Bus Network. This had a headline commitment of $100m (presumably over 4 years). Key themes included: 

* Improved services to education with extra University shuttles and a Huntingdale Bus interchange

* Specific bus network upgrades in outer areas like Cranbourne and Epping North and major regional cities. These are provided, shopping-list style, with upgrades or extensions for existing local routes. It presents as a grab-bag of local catch-up bus initiatives, nearly all of which have some merit. However there are no transformative network-shaping changes such as upgrading all routes to 7 day service or a wholesale strengthening of main road routes. 

* Revisiting the Brumby government's bus reviews (as many recommendations remained outstanding) and evaluating the SmartBus network for improvement and expansion (Then operator Transdev had their own ideas for this which Labor rejected in 2015)  

* Wider public and stakeholder consultation when network reforms were proposed (as there had been disquiet over some of the reforms that were implemented under the 2010-2014 government) 

Now I'll go through the plan, point by point, with comments added. 

Above focused on improving services to universities, mostly in the form of dedicated shuttles from a nearby station. It was fully delivered. The Huntingdale interchange and La Trobe Shuttle (301 every 10 min) can be considered successful projects.

The Deakin Shuttle was also delivered but only as half a service with opportunities to do better by reforming other routes overlooked. Whereas Box Hill trains typically ran every 15 minutes (with Belgrave and Lilydales half-hourly) the 201 shuttle operated at an incompatible 20 minute frequency, meaning it lacked the turn-up-and-go allure of other shuttles like 301, 401 and 601 that ran every 4 - 10 minutes. Wasting money and adding confusion was the continuation of the older duplicative 768 Box Hill - Deakin shuttle every 40 minutes that did not get removed when the new 201 started (background here). After 7 years things are looking up with the 2022 state budget funding further improved buses for Deakin including a simpler and more frequent consolidated Deakin shuttle.  

Below are specific route-level upgrades promised for Melbourne. 

From what I can tell there is a good record of achievement against the promises made. Many are in particular areas. For example the Cranbourne changes were implemented as part of the new 2016 Cranbourne network. The modestly listed 'more services to support the Regional Rail Link' turned out to be radical reformed networks in Geelong and Wyndham. Planning for these had been finalised before the change of government. Epping/Wollert was another large change with three new routes replacing one existing route. 

The focus is overwhelmingly on 'coverage' type routes, typically operating every 40 - 60 minutes. The main exception was the direct Elsternwick - Clifton Hill route (246) which gained weekend boosts including a 15 minute Sunday frequency. Some of the new Geelong and Wyndham routes also operate at higher frequencies. 

The list contains some good initiatives. However inclusion does not mean that these are the most meritorious bus upgrades if measured by criteria such as the number of people who would gain or social equity benefits. At least some items are there due to political pressure.

The most well-known was a pledge to reinstate the deleted Route 509 bus along Hope St, Brunswick. This was honoured but in a different form; neither the original nor the replacement 509 serves Moreland Station, but my recollection was that the revised route adopted happened after public consultation on options so you can excuse them here. The new 509 is also a longer but less frequent service than the original. 

Areas like Diamond Creek have got a lot of bus routes added in the last few years even though the demographics and usage patterns make the case for service upgrades far weaker than in denser or higher social needs areas like Epping North, Dandenong or even 7-day service in parts of Mernda served by the weekday-only 389. The seeds of this were sown in this policy which was dutifully implemented by the Department of Transport. Buses in Melbourne tend to be a set-and-forget affair, with poorly used routes operating for years (if not decades) before DoT wises up and thinks about how resources could be better used for wider community benefit. 

To summarise, most of Labor's 2014 bus service promises had at least some merit, some were excellent and all got implemented.

Not all would have been the highest priority yet they happened. You could shrug your shoulders and say "that's politics!". But one should always be mindful of opportunity costs borne by those who deserve more buses on all objective measures. For example the sparse service as endured by the bus riders of Princes Hwy Harrisfield (Mulgrave) who have, to date, got exactly zero return from dutifully writing 1 in the box marked Andrews for two decades.  

The third and final part of the plan is wider and more general bus network upgrades. Unlike the specific route initiatives that all happened, there's a lot of crosses here. Some are not quite yes and no questions so people may disagree on some judgements. Nevertheless too little was achieved to award Labor a pass here. The responsible minister was Jacinta Allan, and, after 2018, Melissa Horne. I'll run through the more significant examples below: 

Progress with connectivity has been slow. In 2022 high numbers of bus routes remain at frequencies like 22, 24, 30 or 45 minutes that are unable to mesh with trains operating (say) every 20 minutes. It is common in areas like Reservoir for the vast majority of buses to operate at such frequencies incompatible with consistent train connections. These meet trains at new multi-million dollar rebuilt grade-separated stations but their routes are as archaic as ever, being confusing, indirect, uncoordinated and still sometimes finishing midday Saturday.  

The reduced pace of bus network reform under Labor (especially after about 2015-6) has also meant near-stagnation when it comes to harmonising frequencies with trains. Significant hope exists in 2022 though, with north and north-east metropolitan area bus reform reviews including regions where services are poorly harmonised and have multi-decade backlogs in bus network reform. Better late than never! 

The local bus service reviews done around 2006 - 2010 contains a large body of recommendations. Some good, others debatable. With some minor exceptions they have been ignored under the Andrews government. The comment about the Liberals was unfair with them initiating some successful bus reforms including Point Cook in 2013, Brimbank in 2014 and some lower-profile improvements.

As infrastructure was ramping up under Labor, service reform was ramping down. Hence the 2015 reformed Wyndham and Geelong networks (developed under the Liberals) got through but the 2015 Transdev Greenfields was abandoned. A major Metro Trains timetable reform that would have simplified services was also jettisoned.

The loss in momentum was so marked that I described the post-2016 period as a 'second stupor' (the first being the 1990s and early 2000s). This lethargy continued until about 2020 with a fresh minister. A new bus plan, revived interest in train and bus service reform and worthwhile service upgrades all happened in 2021. Ambitious bus reform reviews were announced this year. While the government is better placed than it was three years ago, it is still well behind where it should be due to a 4 or 5 year neglect of service reform (and likely run-down in DoT delivery capabilities). 

The extent of SmartBus has remained frozen since its last routes started in 2010 despite Melbourne adding a million people since. Attempts to rethink the network died with the minister's rejection of Transdev's 2015 network and a promised more balanced network proposal failing to eventuate. As a result SmartBus remains dogged by long orbital routes that are under-serviced on some portions, excessively served on others and wastefully overlap other bus routes on others. There is also a widening west/east divide with the fast growing west having just one SmartBus route versus the east's ten.

Transdev Melbourne, the franchise operator inherited from the Liberals who ran all but two SmartBus routes, was having its own problems with buses being unreliable, dirty and unsafe. It had got the business with a cut-price bid. Apparent lax contract management on the part of PTV meant the public got a substandard service even though the auditor-general thought that the contract was value for money. Annual patronage for the three SmartBus orbitals (901, 902, 903) plunged from nearly 15 million in 2014-15 to 11.5 million on 2018-19, though near the end of their time Transdev had made some reliability and presentation improvements. 

Labor has made relatively minor service upgrades on some SmartBus routes. However given that a. SmartBus is Melbourne's top tier bus network, b. there have been no new routes in a time we've added a million people, c. service levels lag equivalent premium routes in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, and d. the relatively low cost of particularly off-peak service upgrades, the government's record is still poor. To its credit though Labor chose a new incoming operator when the Transdev franchise expired. 

While they have their issues, transport networks in the main regional cities don't have the backlog that the confusing networks in Wodonga, Mildura and safe-seat parts of Melbourne have. Some new bus services have been added in growth areas, including Armstrong Creek. The 2015 Geelong network (planned under the Liberals but delivered under Labor) was a major uplift, especially with regards to network simplicity and off-peak frequency. Hence I've given this point a tick. 

This last section continues on the theme of consultative planning. I understand that a bus-oriented board member was added to PTV. However organisational reform later abolished PTV as a separate body with its own board. I've given efficiency a tick, though some might argue I've been soft. However we have seen a recent trial of 'rapid running' on some of our more frequent routes, as explained in the new Bus Plan.  

Where was the state opposition in all this? Regrettably they have been weak for much of the last eight years. They have let Labor off the hook despite clear shortcomings in areas like service that should have been great food for an opposition team good at retail politics. Neither have they used their ample free time mid-term to engage with transport groups to sharpen its critique and develop policy. The opposition's failure to do much of this preparatory work is possibly a reason, where despite issues people have with the current premier and government, so few are giving the opposition much chance of  significant seat gains.   

To summarise, Labor was strong on delivering on specific promises made. However, with no strong opposition to hold it to account, it was weaker in tackling longer term wider network issues such as the need for reform and developing the sort of high-amenity top-tier bus network that offers an economical and geographically wide supplement to trains and trams which can't go everywhere. This has had a real effect on services the public has received, making the network far less useful than it should be for their travel needs.  

2018 bus policies

You are probably thankful by now that I'll say much less about those than I've said about 2014. Basically it was a let-down. Neither Labor nor the Coalition presented substantive bus policies for the public's consideration in that year.

2018 marked Labor's peak obsession with Big Build transport infrastructure to the exclusion of all else. There were not even much in the way of pre-election sweeteners with new bus services added. This was unlike the case in 2010 and (on a smaller scale) in 2022. Also the Labor government had recently been in a dispute with private bus operators over contracts so might not have been disposed to fund more services at this time. 

The Coalition's shadow transport minister at the time was David Davis, a man sometimes effective at criticising Labor misdeeds but weak in the policy development sphere. Proof of this can be seen in the their $70m 2018 bus policy, comprising an election-eve media release with no specifics or sellable voter benefits. 

The Greens in 2018 presented substantial albeit lop-sided bus policies with a large SmartBus expansion and a massive network of frequent routes largely feeding La Trobe University. Even one of these would have made it the most ambitious party in the bus policy space in 2018.

Despite the heading I'll say a few words on infrastructure. Labor in 2018 announced a Caulfield - Rowville tram (April 2018), the Western Rail Plan, and most spectacularly, the Suburban Rail Loop. Despite its size and cost Labor has proceeded gung-ho on only the SRL while the Caulfield - Rowville tram has languished with only some planning work funded. Infrastructure Victoria is known to much prefer improved buses while a private group have been promoting 'Trackless Rapid Transit' with backing from the Eastern Transport Coalition. The business case for this received funding in the 2022 federal budget. The Western Rail Plan is mostly talked about in the context of Melbourne Airport Rail (announced in 2020) though in 2022 there have been announcements of new level crossing removals and larger V/Line trains instead of electrification for the foreseeable future.  

2022 public transport service and bus policies

We've heard from the parties on infrastructure with the Coalition also proposing fare cuts. But we don't don't yet have a lot of specific service policies. With the limitations of big transport infrastructure projects now apparent and a reduced appetite to fund them, it is in smaller infrastructure and service reform is where the most cost-effective improvements reside. The government itself has flagged a pivot in its talk of 'switching on the Big Build' while the Opposition has publicly mentioned the importance of frequency. Greens want to buy lots of buses but (unlike in 2018) seem weak on the routes they'd go on, with private electric motoring taking up more of their interest. 

I won't make grand projections for 2022 here except to say that I have spoken to more MPs and candidates about public transport services than possibly anyone else in the last few months. From these discussions my tentative view is that there is greater scope for optimism than in 2018, at least from the major parties. Time will tell if I'm right. 

If you have thoughts, disagreements, additions or predictions then feel welcome to use the comments box below! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

TT #174: Introducing the #Fix800Bus Alliance

Past transport portfolio antipathy to sustained bus network reform, optimisation and efficiency means that Melbourne has many cases where current timetables bear no relation to a route's existing or potential patronage. Hence we have back street buses running every 20 minutes on days where main road routes are every 1- 2 hours or not operating at all. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Princes Hwy between Chadstone, Oakleigh and Dandenong. Despite serving many jobs, education and 7 day shopping destinations its Route 800 bus runs to a cut-down timetable unchanged for 30 years. 


800's last significant change was a service cut in 1990/1991. This was when 'austerity timetables' were introduced on bus routes all across Melbourne. These cuts typically removed all service after 7pm weekdays, on Sundays (when this existed) and many if not all afternoon Saturday trips (which were introduced a few years prior when we got Saturday afternoon trading). In addition peak frequencies on many routes fell from 15-20 min to a much less usable 30 minutes. Their effect was to make buses the transport of last resort for Melburnians, with after-effects continuing today.  

Fortunately many cuts got reversed (and better) when 'Meeting Our Transport Challenges' upgrades were introduced from 2006. These introduced minimum service standards of at least one bus per hour until 9pm seven days per week. Not the sort of stuff that wins people from their cars but at least it was a basic service safety net that didn't before exist. At least 100 routes got 7 day upgrades between 2006 and 2010. This contributed to a significant uplift in patronage as people could take buses at times they previously couldn't, notably on weekends. 

Unfortunately the minimum standards roll-out was never completed. There remain about 50 residential area bus services without Sunday service. Public holiday travel is also confusing. Overlooked routes are concentrated in parts of Melbourne's north, a large swathe of the outer east between Knox and Lilydale and the south-east around Dandenong and Frankston. 

The busiest and most high profile of these overlooked routes is the 800 on Princes Hwy. It serves some of the largest shopping centres, transport hubs and employment areas in Melbourne's south-east. For instance shopping at Chadstone, Oakleigh and Dandenong and jobs along the highway. Also Route 800 is walkable from Monash University, Clayton. Plus there are low-income residential areas in Noble Park North and Dandenong for which the 800 bus is their only nearby public transport. 800 is also one of only two bus routes that serves the massive high-rise M-City development on Blackburn Rd (pictured above). 

The 800's strong case

The current state government has a record of feeding infrastructure while starving service. But even the crumbs that service received have not always gone to the routes that most deserve it on broad patronage potential and social equity grounds. Route 800 is the biggest casualty of this resource misallocation because on all objective criteria it sits at the top of the pack for upgrades. Instead no less than 8 successive transport ministers have been unable to get even a single extra trip added to its timetable.   

Exactly how does the 800 bus stand out? The 800 is like a one-legged runner that nevertheless finds itself in the leading group at the finish line. Despite being hobbled by 6 day service and short operating hours, it is Melbourne's 40th busiest bus route in terms of absolute boarding numbers (over 500 000 per year - data here). Every single bus route above it (except two special university shuttles) operates seven days. 

Standardise for route length with a proper productivity measure like boardings per service hour and the 800 performs well. In 2018 it enjoyed 40% more on weekdays and double on Saturdays compared to the average productivity for bus routes in Melbourne (25 and 19 boardings per bus service hour respectively). 

Of course we don't know how productive the 800 would be on a Sunday because it doesn't run then. But we can make a good guess. This is because if a bus route is productive on Saturday it will almost certainly be productive on Sunday. I graphed it here and it's close to a 1:1 relationship. Routes that serve big shopping centres and/or the Monash precinct rated amongst the top performers. Since 800 does both you can pretty much guarantee that Route 800 will enjoy strong usage if given a good 7 day service.

Comparable main road bus routes in other parts of Melbourne include 170 420 and 907. These all have service every 15-20 minutes or better all 7 days of the week. The same applies for Route 893 between Dandenong and Cranbourne, serving another part of Princes Hwy. All four offer a template for the 800. With buses only every 2 hours on Saturday afternoons, with the last departure from Chadstone before 4pm, and no Sunday service, the 800 is short-changed in comparison. 

Fixing 800 is good politics

There some interesting political twists too.  Route 800 runs between the safe Labor seats of Oakleigh, Mulgrave and Dandenong. It passes the premier's electorate office in Noble Park North. The low-income demographics of the surrounding Harrisfield neighbourhood used to be trusted to reliably vote Labor rain hail or shine but loyalty is loosening with large drops in their primary vote recorded in the 2022 federal election. If the local state member, who has the power to fund and improve local services (like the neglected 800 bus) does not do so, why should locals retain their support? Discussed more below:


Seats like Mulgrave and Dandenong need to become more marginal so that they are no longer subject to the 'safe seat syndrome' with no or substandard services while other areas get what they strictly don't really need. To take some non-transport examples, residents of the City of Melton have just two full-service public libraries for its over 150 000 people, with provision per capita way below other areas. Meanwhile, marginal Frankston line seats have all of a sudden got new life-saving clubs in the last few years, not to mention level crossing removals and new freeways.

Widening inequalities mean that locals in 'safe' taken-for-granted seats need to start demanding what is rightfully theirs through protest, advocacy and the ballot box. Which is all happening. 

Some (undoubtedly comfortably off) big policy thinkers look down at petty community parochialism. And it's got a bad rap lately with highly publicised 'sports rorts' or 'car park rorts' affairs. 

Bus services in historically overlooked areas could not be more different. Unlike station car parks in dense areas, improving the 800 bus is no boondoggle but rather a redressing of a past wrong and an essential for today given new and proposed development. Not only that but it (a) stacks up on all objective data including actual patronage and social need, and (b) is cheap to fix with just $1 - 1.5m per year worth of bus service hours enough to deliver a good upgrade. 

7 day upgrades for other Greater Dandenong buses 

Route 800 isn't an isolated example around here. While some part of Melbourne now have all their bus routes running 7 days, Greater Dandenong substantially missed out on the 2006 upgrades and has fallen further behind since. Hence, along with 800, there remain routes like 802, 804, 814, 844, 857 and 885 with 6 and sometimes only 5 or 5.5 days per week service.

Again all data strongly supports a high priority for 7 day upgrades; apart from the partly industrial and semi-rural 857, all have boardings/km patronage productivity about 40 to 100% above average for Melbourne bus routes. Even the 857 is close to average on weekdays while Saturday usage is weak because its short three-hour span makes return trips difficult. 

Governments need community pressure

"The government will fix it". "Surely they keep track of patronage". "There is no Sunday service because there is no demand". "Planning is data-driven". You might hear comments like these when talking about buses.

There is a blind faith that "they" (eg an active Department of Transport that continually reviews bus service levels according to community needs) will sort it out. You just need to study Route 800's 30 year timetable stasis while its surrounds built high-rise and traded 7 days, to show that's a false hope. 

Unlike higher profile infrastructure project bodies, the DoT comes across as an institutionally unconfident weakling that has all the data but needs assistance and direction to turn it into improvements that benefit the community. If this wasn't so how else can one explain that it can be quicker to remove a level crossing than upgrade a bus service? 

DoT however will act if there is a directive from government. That in turn requires political pressure from the community. Never is the opportunity greatest than right now, with a state election in barely a month, a large crop of relatively unknown candidates (due to retirements and factional issues) and restless voters in traditionally safe seats.  

2018's 788 bus campaign provides some encouragement. That year's election campaign was dominated by massive transport infrastructure promises. But it was particularly arid for bus services with nothing concrete from either Labor nor Coalition sides. However local interest got Route 788 (the southern Mornington Peninsula's only 7-day bus service) on the political agenda with advocacy from council. This proved effective with bus service improvements introduced in two stages. 2018 debate below. 

One can also take heart from there being an anarchic transport policy environment with no overall transport plan (according to the state auditor-general) and the abovementioned weakness of the Department of Transport leaving space for 'policy entrepreneurialism'.

Harder financial heads within the government may be thinking that with spiralling costs, labour shortages and rising interest rates, 'Big Build' transport infrastructure suddenly doesn't look as affordable as it did 4 to 8 years ago. 

While they might have been wary of increases to recurrent spending (such as what service boosts require) there are also strong economic and political arguments in favour of 'sweating the assets' to realise benefits from years of disruptions.

A strong pro-service plan for the suburbs could just be what the government needs to gently shift the political agenda away from one dependent on borrowing tens of billions for new infrastructure while delivering a 'good transport' rebuttal to the Coalition's 'cheap transport' $2 fares proposal. The latter, while nice for tram-crossed 'Teal' seats, doesn't help suburbanites who still need $24 taxi rides because buses like the Route 800 have unusably poor operating hours and frequency.

The objective data stacks up for a boost to Route 800 bus. As does the politics and economics.

Over to you!

All it now needs is the community. The idea, is like what was done on the Mornington Peninsula, to build a broad consensus in favour of a Route 800 service boost. You want candidates to hear from the community that 7 day improvements for Dandenong area bus routes like 800 are important. Not only that but fixing it would deliver substantial community benefits, address decades of service neglect and be very affordable at only a few million per year.

This is where you come in. To learn more about #Fix800Bus jump onto Facebook and like or follow the page at:  The contact email is . 

Other Timetable Tuesday items here

Friday, October 21, 2022

UN 138: Why reforming buses is like playing with string

Reforming bus networks is like unravelling an (often tangled) ball of string. You can cut it in any number of places but cannot vary its total length. One of the ground rules is that it must still go to a lot of places without too large gaps in between. Another rule is that it can't be spread too thinly. 

You could get crafty and split the string into fine strands to get more length but the result will be fragile and may break. Or you might double or triple up parts of the string for a stronger result. That's also got problems as you're then compromising on the distance it can extend to and/or the size of the gaps. 

Bus network planning is essentially a string running exercise. The service kilometres you can run each year is your ball of string's length; typically a non-negotiable budget. The frequency is the thickness of the string. You are not usually allowed to go to worse than one bus per hour so we'll use this as a base standard and not permit splitting. Paralleling strings for higher frequency remains allowed but you are going to have to shorten or more widely space strings to avoid running out.

There's another nasty as well. These are special strings that need renewal throughout the day. So to keep them up for 24 hours costs more than 12 hours. But there's an extra fixed cost involved in erection and dismantling so even if a string is only up for 3 hours a day it can work out quite expensive. So you don't want too much climbing up and down ladders twice a day. Hence there's much to be said for leaving string up all day unless there is truly no one around to appreciate it. In case you haven't twigged, the bus parallel with having the string up for only a few hours a day is running a frequent service during am and pm peaks with buses away in depots the rest of the time.   

The Department of Transport's job as network planner is to run the string available in the 'best' way possible. There is no one single definition of this. Every service planning decision favours some areas, some people and some types of trips over others. There is also a general wish to avoid too much disruption for existing passengers or to require people to walk too far. Again there are varying definitions of 'too far'; some people will walk 1000 metres while others will struggle with 200. It can depend on the service quality; if it is fast and frequent then willingness to walk more may increase. 

DoT wants to know the public's view on this before it starts to reform bus networks in areas like northern Melbourne, north-east Melbourne and Mildura. Hence its surveys are heavy with questions asking about people's willingness to walk 400, 800 or even 1200 metres for a service and under what conditions.

Assuming the same amount of string, you can have (roughly) double the frequency if you have double the route spacing and thus doubled maximum walks. Having a bus every 20 instead of every 40 minutes permits better travel time flexibility and shorter average waits for connections. The cost? Some people may have to walk 5 minutes more (which may or may not be acceptable). 10 minute frequency is even better with many people considering it as 'turn up and go' service. 

I will present 6 hypothetical bus networks. All use the same amount of string (ie bus service kilometres per year resources) so can be directly compared. 

Network A is an extremely fine meshed network with a grid of 16 bus routes 400 metres apart. No matter the location you are within 200 metres of two routes. Thus this network is very good for coverage. Unfortunately each route runs only hourly. So interchanging to get anywhere not on your two routes will be difficult unless you are very lucky. And even if a destination was a single seat ride away the hourly timetable is unlikely to be convenient.

Despite its good coverage this is a 'charity' type network whose use will be largely confined to those without cars because its frequency is so poor. Buses will run mostly empty and fares revenue will only contribute to a small percentage of operating cost. Adding extra service will be expensive and not necessarily attract that many more passengers. 

2006-era bus planning practice had a tough coverage requirement (eg 90% of people within 400 metres of a service) but a weak minimum frequency requirement (every hour or better seven days). This, combined with bus-hostile street layouts in many 1960s-1990s suburbs, delivered a network comprising many infrequent and indirect local routes but few if any frequent main road routes (SmartBuses are scarce, largely confined to the east and have had no additions since 2010). 

This outcome is like Network A, though with less direct routes and a tendency of them to converge on key destinations rather than stick to a grid. Typical examples are in Melton (where nothing runs better than every 30 min, even in peak) and large parts of the outer north, east and south-east (eg Clyde, where there's also many overlaps between routes every 40-60 min and weak termini). 

Network B below uses exactly the same bus resources as Network A (count the lines if in doubt - each line represents one bus per hour). The difference is that the 16 hourly routes are cut to just four wider spaced routes running every 15 minutes. That higher frequency gives more flexibility of travel times. And if your trip requires a change the most you will wait is 15 minutes. 

The trade-off is the increased walking distance; instead of 200 metres it becomes 800 metres.  Still, this simple frequent network is good for some trips rather than Network A which is poor for all trips. So it will probably get higher usage than Network A, including from those with an option to drive. Concentrating routes on a few corridors may permit enhancements such as bus priority and good shelters at all stops that should further boost usage. Either increased fare revenue or crowding might  strengthen the case for improved frequency, eg to every 10 minutes, and create a virtuous circle of usage and improvement. A network based on such a frequent grid has been proposed for Melbourne's west and was reviewed here. Unfortunately its wide route spacing gives rise to a risky dependence on flexible routes that are inherently inefficient and don't scale up well for moving more than small numbers of people.  

A network like B won't be universally acclaimed. The extra walking distances won't be welcomed by existing passengers, especially if walking conditions are poor due to neighbourhood severance caused by large roads and roundabouts. The latter can also cause problems at intersections where the network forces passengers to change to complete their trip. And some passengers are physically unable to walk long distances. Hence Network B is the coarse and frequent opposite to the fine but infrequent Network A.   

The nearest Melbourne examples of a network like this are in areas like Mt Waverley where buses don't always penetrate areas between widely spaced main roads. The routes involved are amongst the most productive on the network. However frequencies are likely to be only every 30 minutes rather than the desirable every 10 - 15 minutes so the frequency gains for the extra walk aren't always there.  

Network B was predicated on 800 metre walks, though this assumes a road network with good permeability into local streets and ample crossing opportunities without backtracking. Remove any of that and walks might be nearer 1200 metres.

Interestingly DoT asked about willingness to walk 1200 metres in its bus reform survey. My guess is that it was put in as an extreme to test the limits and make the 800 metre option (which they'd want most people to tick) not look outlandish. It's a bit like you're in an appliance shop and there is a choice of three different models. While the third most expensive unit might not sell nearly as much as the middle-priced model it is still produced as it makes the middle priced item look more reasonable and neither 'cheap' nor 'expensive'. 

Is there a middle ground between the extremes of Networks A and B? There are several possibilities. Take a look at Network C below. The 800 metres between routes means that no one is more than 400 metres from a route, similar to accepted coverage standards now. This is done by moving one trip per hour from the main corridors to a roughly parallel street. This creates a two-tier network where people have a choice of walking up to 800 metres to a more frequent corridor or 400 metres to a basic hourly service.

This network is far less austere than Network B so is a much easier sell to a community used to good coverage. While there is a frequency trade-off on the main routes (from 15 to 20 minutes) the latter meshes better with trains in many areas (especially if more lines move from a 15/30 to a 10/20 min frequency pattern). 

The two-tier Network C has similarities with the 2014 and 2015 revamped networks in Brimbank and Wyndham. The main exceptions is that the 'coverage' routes are typically every 40 rather than every 60 min (at least on weekdays) and service on some main road 'connector' routes often fall short at every 40 rather than 20 minutes off-peak. These are good patronage performing routes that justify an upgrade and it was only due to a lack of resources that has kept their frequencies (and operating hours) less than desirable.  

If you wanted to go even further along the coverage road, like how we went from Network B to Network C, then you might end up with Network D (below). Like Network A it has maximum walks of 200 metres. However the gaps are rectangular rather than square. This allows four routes to be doubled-up with a 30 minute frequency. However this is unattractive, especially in areas where trains run every 20 minutes. Hence I do not recommend this network style unless short walking distances are of utmost importance. Even then this network will have most of the problems of Network A with mostly unattractive service. 

If we wanted a 20 minute grid like Network C but still valued some infill coverage, an alternative two-tier option is Network E. It has only five routes with four being direct routes along main roads. This fifth route is a local service. It's indirect so it is about twice as long as the other routes. However as it replaces four coverage routes it can run twice as frequently with the two lines denoting a 30 minute service. As well as providing coverage this route might serve a major station or shopping centre, providing a local one-seat ride to areas that would otherwise not have it. 

Street layouts in many 1960s-90s subdivisions may force a bus network that looks more like E than C. This is because coarse main road grids lack finer grids within (though some newer subdivisions are better here).

An example is Hoppers Crossing (below) where routes like 161 and 181 provide within block coverage while also connecting people to major local attractions like Werribee Plaza that direct routes like 160 and 180 do not. No one would take the 161 end-to-end but it does perform a useful coverage role and is a decent patronage performer. It also supplements direct routes like 160, 170 and 180 whose patronage productivity is extremely high.

The Wyndham experience demonstrates that an efficient network need not all be straight routes; you may be better off to have several simple straight routes and one or two very indirect 'mop up' routes rather than have them all somewhat indirect in an effort to retain coverage. Having a mop-up coverage route also allows you to respond to customer feedback for deviations to retirement homes etc without compromising the basic simplicity of the direct route network. 

So far we've only discussed a two tier network. In DoT parlance these are 'Connector' and 'Local' routes. The bus reviews also have 'Rapid' routes for the top level. Eg the SmartBus type services that we have none of in the outer north, west and south-east. Rapid routes would basically be like Connector routes but with turn-up-and-go frequency and innovations such as bus priority, 'rapid running', off-vehicle validation and, in some cases, exclusive lanes.

How can you accommodate a frequent rapid route without needing more string? Of the above network options, Network E is most amenable to change. Supposing the windy route (which is twice as long as the straight routes) was cut from every 30 to every 60 min? That would allow one of the connector routes to go from three to five buses per hour (ie a 12 minute frequency). Now suppose that you added some priority and/or 'rapid running' to remove mid-route dwell time with a headway-based timetable. The extra speed gained might get you up to 6 buses per hour, ie a 10 minute service with the same number of buses. This is why the three tier Network F below has the equivalent of 17 rather than 16 lines.  

What style of network will reform produce?

There is broad agreement that Melbourne's more frequent and direct network is underdeveloped everywhere except perhaps the City of Manningham (which has 7 SmartBus routes versus zero in municipalities like Wyndham, Melton, Casey and Cardinia). Having a majority of survey respondents tick either 800 or 1200 metres would embolden the DoT to pursue cost-effective network rationalisation that could add more frequent routes. It is clear that DoT is encouraging people to give answers along these lines which would be in accord with successful bus network reform in places like Sydney and Auckland. 

Networks A and B should be ruled out as impractical extremes. They are either infrequent or have unacceptable walking distances. Adelaide tried the latter in a 'big bang' approach to bus reform and failed. Network D is insufficient radical with 30 minute frequencies being neither attractive nor harmonised with trains in most areas. That leaves either Networks C, E or F as being acceptable options. 

C most suits areas where there is a strong fine-grained road grid such as Melbourne's inner north, east and south-east and even some newer subdivisions such as Tarneit. E, the approach implemented in parts of Wyndham, could be another acceptable reconciliation of frequency and directness with coverage. Both are also consistent with the Useful Network mini-reviews covered here with a 20 minute frequency criterion adopted for 'useful' (or 'connector') routes matching SNAMUTS standards for network analysis. Because bus routes in Wyndham are very productive there's a good justification for more resources, including higher 7 day frequencies including potentially some running every 10 minutes. This could result in a network more like F, though if the local routes are decently productive (which they are in Wyndham) you'd retain or improve their service rather than reduce it like I did in the exercise here. 

I've focused on coverage and walking distances but bus reviews need to examine other criteria such as access to useful local destinations. There is some interaction because unless you have limitless money you cannot have a frequent bus from everywhere to everywhere. You are going to have to accept some level of interchange. This is made easier if routes are more frequent and this is made easier if the number route kilometres (as opposed to service kilometres) is kept to near the minimum needed to assure reasonable coverage. 

DoT's surveys has also tested peoples willingness to change services to complete a trip. The current network often offers many destination choices but buses may only be every 30 to 60 minutes, especially on weekends. People saying that they are unwilling to change may limit the radicalness of reform proposals, just as would be the case if they all ticked 400 metres in the walking distance question. This is because DoT must work with the ball of string it's been given, with extra balls a rarity (unlike the more generously funded infrastructure projects). 

Like with walking distances, a greater acceptance of changing is essentially a vote for network reform. It could lead to fewer but more direct and more frequent routes (since string is freed up to boost frequencies). 

Current interchange facilities, particularly for bus-bus changes at busy suburban road intersections, are both rudimentary and passenger-hostile, with stops too far back. Features needed to improve interchange including information, service frequency, shelter and accessibility are asked about in the survey. This is important because in some cases a reformed bus network will also need road works, including roundabout removals and stops being brought nearer intersections, to make interchanging practical.

See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Our 13 most service short-changed suburbs

The buses are so bad in some Melbourne neighbourhoods that their residents can't even claim that they've been 'taken for a ride'. That would imply that service exists, which is often not the case for most hours of the week. 

There's many such areas. This is because, while the Andrews government can claim it's built more transport infrastructure than any other in most peoples memory, it has underperformed with regards to service per capita. Especially when compared to the last term of the Bracks/Brumby government which greatly improved buses. Unfortunately for Brumby, another transport service-related issue, rail reliability, contributed to its defeat in 2010. 

Thanks partly to low interest rates, it's been easier to commit many billion for capital spending than the tens to hundreds millions for recurrent spending which is also needed to deliver the service uplifts a growing city needs. Hence it's very common for removed level crossings or new rail lines to see trains only every 30 to 60 minutes at times many wish to travel. And for buses at sites like Southland or Reservoir to remain unreformed or unconnected with trains at these new or rebuilt stations. 

What is a service short-changed area? I'll define it as a significant residential or jobs area without coverage. Or if there are buses they only run for some days of the week and/or are more than 60 minutes apart. This matches the safety net MOTC minimum bus service standards program that started getting rolled out in 2006 but was never completed.   

Below is what you came here for - the list! State seats are italic, coloured by notional party affiliation (given there's been a redistribution).

1. Campbellfield (Somerset Estate) Broadmeadows

If there ever was a one-sided political relationship in Victoria, this is is. Locals have reliably voted Labor for as long as anyone can remember. Yet, in public transport they have got precisely nothing back. Despite it being in government for all but 4 of the last 22 years, Labor has added a not a single trip to the timetables of bus routes 531 and 538. These are the only services to the estate which is hemmed in by creeks and big roads with poor walkability. These routes operate either 5 or 5.5 days per week only. And the 531 has has gaps of up to 2 hours in peak periods.

Any efforts made by the apparently non-locally living Broadmeadows MP Frank McGuire to deliver even low-cost minimum service upgrades have come to nothing. Or maybe his failure is attributable to party factionalism with McGuire even losing Labor preselection in the aftermath of the Adem Somyurek scandal. 

Some service upgrades may arise from the ongoing northern suburbs bus reform which covers Campbellfield. However don't hold your breath; nothing specific has been budgeted nor promised. Unless this changes in the next few weeks, locals need to stop reliably voting Labor to finally make Campbellfield count like marginal seats do. Interestingly they did just that in the 2022 Federal Election with the ALP primary vote collapsing by 17%. I discussed potential bus network upgrades for the area here.

2. Noble Park North Mulgrave & Dandenong

There's no excuses for bus services in this pocket not to have been upgraded since the Mulgrave local member is none other than premier Daniel Andrews. After all if you can't find a million or so to run 7 day buses on Princes Hwy Route 800 then what can you do?

Route 800 is no squiggly little back-street milk-run. Instead it serves major destinations such as Chadstone,  Oakleigh, Dandenong and the southern end of the Monash precinct including the high-rise M-City development. And it is the nearest public transport to low income rental housing in the Noble Park and Dandenong areas. 

Route 800 hasn't had trips added for more than 30 years despite all the recent development and healthy boardings on trips that do run. The last timetable change was actually a major service cut. Hence it runs to an early 1990s 'austerity timetable' complete with 7pm weekday finishes, 2 hour gaps on Saturday afternoons and no Sunday service. 800's continued existence at such a limited service reflects the disconnect between need, usage and service when it comes to planning buses with the very quiet 704 getting all the love instead.  More details on the Fix800Bus Facebook page

Other parts of Noble Park North are served by the 811 and the 814. The 811 on busy Heatherton Rd runs an inadequate 1 bus per hour (even in the peaks) but at least it's 7 days. The 814, on the other hand, is Monday to Saturday morning only. This is another strongly used route with no service upgrades for many years.  

3. Doveton (north-east) Dandenong

A very diverse low-income suburb with a lot of rental housing. The north-eastern part is served by the 844 bus which runs Mondays to Fridays and for a few hours on Saturdays. Like a large tranche of Dandenong area bus routes that missed out in the 2006 minimum standards roll-out, there is no evening or Sunday service. 844 makes the neglected route list as it hasn't had a service upgrade for years if not decades despite quite good patronage productivity. 

The southern part of Doveton has 7 day service with the popular 828 to many useful destinations including Keysborough, Dandenong, Fountain Gate and Berwick. However weekend service is lacking for a major route with frequency dropping from every 20 min weekdays to 40 min Saturdays and just hourly on Sundays. 

4. Glenroy (north) Broadmeadows

The Broadmeadows area's 'safe seat syndrome' strikes again! The only bus serving northern Glenroy is the east-west Route 536. Despite being one of Melbourne's most productive local bus routes with a substantial unique catchment it runs during the day Monday to Saturday with no Sunday or evening service. 

Like the 800, Route 536's timetable shows that Labor has been no friend of local bus users; it used to run part of Sunday until the 1990-1 Cain/Kirner austerity bus cuts. Not one of the many transport ministers since has seen fit to restore service. Route 536's catchment includes a diverse and low income population with high transport needs, again mostly reliable Labor voters. 

5. Dandenong North Dandenong

Another taken-for-granted area similar to and adjoining Noble Park North. The area has a lot of often overlapping bus routes. Many lack 7 day service with some with no or limited Saturday service too. These include the already mentioned 814 and others like 802 and 804. 

Dandenong North really needs a bus network review as discussed here. But given that many energies are being spent on the two large reviews in Melbourne's north and north-east (plus Mildura) it is likely to be a while until one happens in the south-east. In light of high usage, the fact that these routes serve major destinations like Chadstone, Monash and Dandenong, and significant social  needs, a basic 'safety net' 7 day upgrade (even if only hourly) would be desirable. Apart from Dandenong other seats to benefit would include Mulgrave and Oakleigh. 

6. North-west Reservoir Preston

This is a large residential pocket home to arguably Melbourne's most complex bus route, the midday-reversing and sometimes deviating 558 . The route stops short of Campbellfield Shopping Centre and has had no significant reform for many years. 558's timetable is also archaic, with no public holiday, Saturday afternoon or Sunday service. This compares unfavourably with the much more frequent (but also dead-ended) 552 serving demographically similar north-east Reservoir. 

The 558's numerous ails should have been fixed years ago. However they are now on to the case thanks to the recently announced northern area bus reform. 

7. Laverton North (industrial) Laverton

A bit different as it's an industrial rather than a residential area. But it still hasn't had any significant bus network upgrades since the 417 industrial route from Laverton Station was put in maybe a decade back. This infrequent weekday-only route requires a good connection from trains at Laverton to stop you waiting 45 minutes until the next bus. And that's just the last part of a complex bus-train-bus trip for most people. 

The biggest need here is a revamped bus network involving direct jobs area buses from where the people are. Tarneit followed by Williams Landing would likely be the biggest hubs yet neither have bus connections to Laverton North. Improvements from Sunshine and Deer Park are also warranted. More detail here though note that the proposed 154 has been replaced by a FlexiRide (starting this weekend). 

8. Pakenham Pakenham

Most bus routes here do run 7 days. However this is a growth area, that unlike Cranbourne, has had almost no reform to its local bus network for many years. This has resulted in coverage gaps, buses not serving new stations (like Cardinia Rd or Officer) and timetables with 75 minute gaps, thus not meeting minimum service standards, even on main highway routes like the 926. More detail here

9. Croydon/Chirnside Park/Lilydale Croydon Evelyn

A huge area with only occasionally running buses trying to meet half-hourly trains. Major infrastructure including level crossing removals has not been backed up by train and bus service increases. Only a minority of routes run 7 days per week with short operating hours on the days they do run. Routes like 675 and 680 are weekdays only with no public holiday service. Even though these are suburban areas, there can be 100+ hour super waits between buses when there's public holidays. 

The only significant recent reform was the replacement of TeleBus with FlexiRide, again operating limited hours. The Fix Croydon-Lilydale area PT Facebook page discusses local transport issues in detail.   

10. Beveridge Kalkallo

You basically need one car per adult to live here. And once you have that travel patterns are very hard to shift. Plus people are vulnerable to cost of living pressures. Nowhere is this more typical than at Beveridge's Mandalay Estate. 

It can claim to be served by public transport with PTV's Hume area network map showing the 511 bus from Donnybrook Station (in itself served by infrequent V/Line trains only). The devil though is in the detail with the 511 just running a handful of trips on weekday and none on weekends. Thus unless you are very lucky it's not at all useful. 

11. Ringwood East/Croydon South Ringwood Croydon

A long-established area but still with large transport gaps. It's getting a new station due to the grade separation but no word yet on whether buses will be reformed or trains will run better than half-hourly off-peak. Local street patterns aren't ideal but a look at the network map shows they're hardly trying, with no bus routes running along Eastfield Rd and odd deviations on routes like 737.

Bus network reviews were done about 15 years ago but almost nothing resulted from them. The one exception, of splitting the 366 and 367 to create the 380 loop around Maroondah Hospital, actually made the network worse due to the confusion added. 

12. Frankston South Frankston

Whether it's limited operating days, limited hours, low frequencies, odd deviations or confusing loops, the worst features of Melbourne's bus network are all represented here. A 1971 network  map is very recognisable more than 50 years later. Learn more about Frankston South buses in this long blog post about nothing ever happening. 

13. Rowville/Lysterfield Rowville

Rowville occupies a cursed position in transport as the place where everything gets promised but little ever gets delivered. Labor's Caulfield to Rowville tram, promised in April 2018, is just one of a long line of examples from both sides. 

Like Croydon/Lilydale, this is an area where the powers that be opted to convert the existing Telebus to FlexiRide rather than do substantial local bus network reform. The result is that Rowville/Lysterfield has two heavily duplicative half networks rather than a single full network with routes operating at least hourly seven days. 

You might notice the odd order; neither geographical nor alphabetic. That's because I've tried to present suburbs with the greatest social needs for better transport higher up the list. But it's not exhaustive; pockets of Melton, Hastings, Rosebud, Eltham, Templestowe and Balwyn, to name a few, easily qualify.    

Common threads (it's all about 'safe' seats)

Most of the listed areas have common features. Often they are established postwar suburbs about 15 to 30 km from the CBD with significant rental populations. 

Many are ethnically diverse. I have previously found a systemic bias against services to predominantly non-English speaking neighbourhoods despite high use of the services that do run. That list would have been even starker had it not been for substantial service upgrades in the diverse Point Cook and Brimbank areas introduced under the 2010-2014 Liberal government. 

Almost all listed underserved neighbourhoods are in long-term safe seats. Especially safe Labor seats. Given that Labor has governed for 18 of the last 22 years, voters in these areas have every right to feel neglected for the non-provision of service basics like 7 day local buses. Especially given the cheapness of adding it; a modest $10-20 million annual investment could upgrade a lot of routes across Melbourne.  

State Labor should be worried as much of this previously taken-for-granted demographic did not put a 1 in the Labor box at this year's federal election. The result was collapses of up to 25% in their primary vote in areas like Thomastown, Campbellfield, Noble Park, Hampton Park etc.

Opportunities to stress service exist across the political spectrum. Labor could add meat to its 'Switching on the Big Build' talk by swinging towards service. Conversely non-Labor candidates (including independents) could capitalise on the government's limited record with their own local advocacy and proposals. Even if they don't win they'd have done some good if incumbents can be made worried and cajouled into doing what it should all along with regards to service in safe seats. It's likely not just transport; many similar stories are likely in health, education, environment, libraries and recreation too. Interesting thread here

So far we've seen some infrastructure promises made. These need to be backed up by service to get full benefits from infrastructure. It will be interesting what eventuates in the next five or so weeks of the campaign - hopefully there'll be some strong and specific pro-service policies from all sides. Our transport system, and especially the user experience, will be much better for it.