Sunday, November 27, 2022

2022 Victorian state election wrap-up

Labor was returned at yesterday's state election for a third term. There were big drops in its primary vote, particular in Melbourne's west, north and, less consistently, south-east. However as these were confined to its 'safe' seats and the Liberals rarely had significant swings to it, Labor retains a large majority with minor changes. Thus predictions of a hung parliament or a substantially reduced majority came to nothing. 

The low primary vote does however mean that Labor has to negotiate with more minor party or independent MLCs to get legislation through. Also it provides less of a buffer for future election or by-election swings. 

There were high and low lights in this campaign. Highlights included the realisation by parties that service is important. For instance the Coalition's policy on improved buses and Labor's on V/Line weekend timetables. The Greens had some train, tram and vaguely bus services upgrades that could make an even bigger difference if implemented. The Coalition promised some interesting train and tram extensions. Labor stuck with its tested formula of level crossing removals and pressing on with the Suburban Rail Loop.

Lowlights include the political bidding war over fares during a cost of living crisis where the most urgent need was service that was useful rather than merely cheap. 'Free' or very cheap public transport has greatest effect in locations (often inner) where services are abundant and also for reducing active transport rather than driving trips. Whereas affordable fares with higher quality service is useful to more people in more places more often and offers an alternative to higher cost car and taxi travel. I have always advocated the latter, even though there are some imperfections in the fare system that do result in some trips being too dear or poorly priced relative to other trips. 

Some parties could have been more detailed in their policies. For instance The Greens could have been specific about their bus improvements. The Coalition could also have pushed its bus message harder in some seats as promotion seemed disorganised and patchy. Also, over the last four years in opposition they could have been much stronger in holding Labor to account on matters such as inadequate bus services and V/Line reliability (which has fallen over the last few years). Oppositions do have a role in ensuring good government and opportunities have been missed by this one in recent years (which could also have been politically beneficial for itself). 

Some more observations in these brief threads.

More about Route 800 on the Fix800Bus Facebook page here.

Many existing MPs chose not to contest this election. Thus there are many newcomers to both the Legislative Assembly and Council. Some have transport experience. From the Labor side these include Luba Grigorovitch (Kororoit) and John Berger (Southern Metropolitan MLC). Michael Galea (South-East Metropolitan MLC) also has experience in successful transport advocacy. 

I spent several months speaking to many MPs, candidates and political staff before the election about transport opportunities and priorities for their area. Congratulations to those who were successful on Saturday. I look forward to being able to write about your advocacy and results in getting transport improvements in your area in a future blog post.  

Comments on the election, especially the implications for transport services, are welcome and can be left below. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

2022 Victorian state election: A service scorecard

It's just two days before the Victorian state election. A record number of people have already voted. 

I'm going to take a punt that all major policies and promises have been released by now. 

The Public Transport Users Association has a scorecard for both transport infrastructure and service promises here. That's more comprehensive than what I'll cover below. 

Still I wanted to do a scorecard specifically for public transport service. That's basically timetable matters eg operating hours and frequencies but also network coverage and accessibility. 

This is important for three reasons. 

Firstly service is a must. It makes all the difference between whether you're waiting 10 minutes or 60 minutes for a train or if your bus even runs on the Sunday you need to catch it. And it needs to be accessible otherwise people can't catch it at all. Cheap fares are no good if no service runs when you need to travel. PT is most popular where there are affordable fares and good service rather than cheap fares and sparse (or no) service. Hence, unless fares are very high, it's best to fix service first. 

Secondly while you need a minimum amount of infrastructure to provide a service, there is no guarantee that if infrastructure is upgraded you will necessarily get a significant increase in or reform of service. Unlike infrastructure, service has historically not come naturally to this government. Instead it must be advocated, and what better than to highlight service issues during an election campaign?   

Thirdly good transport is like a three legged stool with infrastructure, pricing and service being the legs. All three are essential. Take out one and it collapses. We've heard more about the first two than the third in this campaign. Even those who should know better, like the Grattan Institute, short-change service. For example this shoddy write-up moans about the poor quality of transport promises in this campaign yet ignores some (very good) promises on aspects of service from major parties. 

Anyway, here's the comparison table, by public transport mode and party: 

This table is inevitably an over-simplification compiled with limited information. I stress again that it's entirely service based, omitting infrastructure upgrades that nevertheless can benefit network connectivity. See the PTUA comparison for an evaluation that includes both infrastructure and service. 

Here's a run-through each mode so you get why the parties were rated as they were:

V/Line: Increasingly an outer suburban transit operator these days, serving areas like Tarneit and Melton. Needs a service to match, and to be fair there have been substantial weekday timetable upgrades on the Geelong and Ballarat lines. Reliability however is inferior to Metro and has been in a pattern of deterioration since 2016.

Labor's weekend service boosts are really good and would make a huge difference in the trips the network can support due to the power of frequency. They 'only' got a B as I still think they short-changed Melton (should have got 20 min weekend frequencies) and they needed to be clearer on earlier weekend starts. V/Line and other regional coaches also need some love. The Coalition gets credit for advocating some service upgrades, eg on the Gippsland line. 

Metro train: Currently a huge east-west service divide with lines like Frankston getting twice the frequency (at most times) as also busy lines like Mernda, Craigieburn and Sunbury (to Watergardens). There is no guarantee that the Metro Tunnel will deliver all-day turn-up-and-go service to Watergardens (unlike in the east). 

The Greens are the stand-out performer here, proposing a large uplift in service frequencies, even though some of their proposals need refining. Labor's and the Coalition's quietness here have not been to their credit, given the relatively low cost of transitioning from 40 min to 20 min maximum waits across the network and even some extra 10 minute service (eg to Ringwood). Labor could also have assured people that the Sunbury line out to at least Watergardens will get a similar all-day frequency to the east when the Metro Tunnel opens in 2025. Labor's Suburban Rail Loop and the Coalition's Clyde and Baxter extensions, being infrastructure, are not counted here although their benefits are acknowledged.   

Tram: Trams are already pretty frequent most of the day. However there are still some issues eg evening and Sunday morning services where gaps are every 20 - 30 min. That's heaps better than buses but the density of many inner areas justify a turn-up-and-go service over more hours. That can largely be done with the existing fleet. DDA accessibility is another major issue with only slow progress towards mandated requirements. And excruciatingly slow travel on some corridors can be helped with some better tram priority. 

Greens again get the highest score, likely reflecting the interests of their inner suburban base. The Coalition are proposing some handy network-connecting tram extensions but again the service-only remit of the table excludes these.

Bus: Needs a huge amount of work. Major issues with coverage, operating hours and frequency. Service upgrades would vastly improve connectivity and address high cost of living in the suburbs

I'm going to credit the Coalition for being the only main party grouping to be specific about promised bus upgrades across both Melbourne and regional Victoria. The amount ($40m per year) is a decent start but still not enough with insufficient mention of higher order frequent routes, especially given their plans to shelve the SRL. This is why I've given them a B rather than A. 

Greens talk big about frequent electric buses but have not been as specific as the Coalition. Apparently they wish to leave the details to the Department of Transport and future public engagement. I've marked them down for this as voters do need specifics and the Greens presented just that in 2018. 

However both Coalition and Greens outrank Labor which, in a repeat of 2018, has so far promised nothing specific for bus services. Labor can claim to have kept its 2014 promises for buses. It also announced bus reviews for Melbourne's north and north-east. That's very worthwhile but it's a long process with nothing definite to sell yet. Meanwhile there are popular routes in Melbourne's west and outer south-east outside the review area that need better service now. These are most common in 'safe' Labor seats with low income populations and strong usage of the services they do run. Upgrades could have been promised on selected priority routes (eg Route 800 in Dandenong) but haven't been. Labor rates a fail here, given high community needs and the gains possible even if they just matched the Coalition's plan. If Labor do retain government let's hope that many of their 'safe' seats become marginal and the panic finally jolts them into action on local services like buses.  


What do you think about this comparison? Have I been fair? Have I missed anything out? Comments are welcome and can be left below. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

TT #176: The power of frequency

Add one or two extra trips to a country train or coach service that has only a few trips per day. It doesn't sound very exciting does it? Especially for city people who take more frequent service for granted. 

However it is actually very significant. It is not often enough remarked that the number of travel options increases exponentially with frequency. Here's some examples based on hypothetical regional rail timetables. 

2 trips / day trip one end

The diagram below is a train graph as often used by schedulers. 24 hour time is across the bottom (x-axis) with location being the y axis. B is a hypothetical regional city while A is the capital. Each line is a scheduled train service going in the direction shown by its arrow. Each trip takes about 3 hours. If you were able to make the train faster the line slopes would be steeper. Rail planners often refer to trains from B to A as 'up' and those from A to B as 'down'. 

This timetable is operationally elegant and quite efficient. Just one train does all trips. It's running about 75% of the time, with the 3 hour trip followed by 1 hour dwell time. The service is self-contained so any problems are isolated to it. There are also no crossing paths so the whole line can be single track the whole way. That reduces construction and maintenance costs, though there is less flexibility if a train needs to be terminated mid-way.    

Some people might be content to leave things there. This is not good enough. The timetable might be operationally efficient but is still poor if it doesn't meet community needs, eg allow convenient day trips.  

The above timetable works for that purpose for someone living in B wishing to spend a day in the capital A. Provided they get up early enough. In theory they could spend just an hour in A but this is unlikely given the length of the trip. Hence only one of the two scheduled return trips is useful. The same can be said for the afternoon trip to A since the choice is either stay an hour or stay overnight. Consequently for day trips from B to A only two out of four trips in the timetable are really useful. Also those in B wishing to use the train will almost certainly have to make their way to and from the station as local buses are unlikely to be still running at the time the first train departs and the last train arrives. 

How useful is the timetable for those in A travelling to B for the day? Unfortunately it's not. Whereas people in B can have a long day trip to A, those in A cannot in B. Their only option is a 1 hour visit in the middle of the day. Hence this timetable might be good for B residents but is poor for businesses in B who might otherwise benefit from their town being accessible for day trippers. 

2 trips / day trip both ends

You could fix the latter by adjusting the first down train so it departed A about 2 hours earlier, reaching B around midday. Departing the second up train 2 hours later completes the picture. Instead of an unusable 1 hour in B those from A can spend a much more useful 5 hours. If the last down train had catering then that could look after evening meal requirements. The trade-off with rescheduling these  trains is that those in B lose the ability to spend 1 hour in A but this is probably no big loss. 

The above timetable is more useful than the first but there are some operational issues. The crossing lines mean that there are two trains in the same place at the same time. Thus there needs to be dual tracks or, as a minimum, a passing loop. This needs to be about 30 minutes outside the capital for the above timetable to work. It sometimes needs explaining to country people that intelligently planned rail infrastructure near the city can benefit them. This would be a classic example with the timetable it enables being less capital-centric.

The other thing that would need to change is train scheduling - rather than a full use of one train this timetable relies on part-time use of two trains with interlining likely required. The midday 5 hour dwell at location B is another inefficiency, especially if B is a rail terminus with no other line to interline with. Accepting this means accepting poor asset utilisation and lower than possible patronage from the network.  

3 trips / more options

Shuffling earlier and later trips (and/or increasing speeds) can create a midday gap enough for a third trip each way. A graph is below. The 3 train each way Warrnambool weekend timetable is not unlike this pattern.  

Those extra midday trips make a huge difference for those living in B. A traveller from B now has the option of spending either a half or a full day in A. That half day can either be a late morning or late afternoon. The effect of adding two extra trips has meant that instead of one (long) full day option there are now three choices.   

The gains for those visiting B (eg Melburnians making day trips) is less. They retain their ability to make a day trip with a little more time. However they can't make useful half-day trips. This is because efficient train turnarounds at B mean that two out of their theoretical three options are impractically short for a day trip, although some multi-day travellers would still benefit.  

4 trips / even more options

Below shows a fourth trip added each way. The gaps between trains are uneven as I haven't shuffled the existing trips. To add it you may need extra trains and (certainly) at least an extra passing loop (about an hour from B) where trains cross if there is only one track. 

More trips means more options, and, in this case, multiplying options. Those in B no longer need to rise very early to see someone for lunch in A. They, plus those who took the first up train, get a new late afternoon departure with an arrival home just after the more respectable time of 8pm. This trip also benefits visitors from A who can finish work and reach their accommodation at a reasonable time. This could be a particular benefit on Fridays as it would permit almost a full weekend away.  

5 trips / filling the gaps

The above timetable still had some 6 hour gaps, making some trips inflexible. Just one extra trip each way cuts maximum intervals between trains to 3 hours. You are still very dependent on timetables but there is now a much greater chance of the train being suitable for a wide range of trips. 

This timetable adds a late morning trip from A to B, allowing an (almost) half-day stay. Although 2 hours is still a short time away for those making a 3 hour train trip, it still allows those in B to make a quick trip to A and be home by early afternoon. The second trip, which is formed by the last, enables those in B to make a dinner appointment in A. And if they are not too long (about 2 hours) they would be able to be home that evening on the last down train. 

6 trips / big gain for regional day trips

The above timetable is better than previous ones. Those in B visiting A have quite good flexibility of arrival and departure times. However it's still not so good for those visiting B. This is because you can't arrive much before midday, more leave after 6pm.

Adding one more trip each way transforms this. An early trip from A gives an option of an early morning arrival. And, possibly more popular, a late trip from B enables an evening meal there with an arrival at A at around midnight.  Neither may not be the most popular trip in the schedule but they add a much wider range of times that adds flexibility, again multiplying the trip combinations possible.    


I've discussed six hypothetical regional rail timetables. They show that adding trips multiplies the number of travel combinations and thus greatly increases the range of trips possible. In many cases higher frequency makes the network less Melbourne-centric as well-timed additional services can facilitate regional tourism. The best thing you can do to boost rail patronage is to do what you can to run the trains you have more frequently and thus harness the power of frequency.  

In the current state election campaign we've seen pledges for increased V/Line frequency from both major parties. These include promises from Labor for major weekend frequency upgrades and the Coalition for an extra morning service from Sale.  

Index to Timetable Tuesday items here

Friday, November 04, 2022

Service upgrades promised in $160m Coalition Bus Plan

The Liberal-National Coalition is the first of Victoria’s major political groupings to propose specific upgrades for the state’s neglected bus network. The Better Bus Routes package, worth $160m over 4 years, proposes to deliver at least 45 new or expanded bus services across the state.  

Key statements from the release include: 

“Commuters understand the frustration of train and bus services not being in sync, so we will increase bus frequencies to match train timetables and allow for a more seamless journey.”

“People shouldn’t have to rely on taxis or rideshare services to get to a train station, a bus should get them there”

The Coalition's 5-page 65 point bus plan is route-level specific on the upgrades proposed. There is a strong regional focus with half the initiatives devoted to bus services outside Melbourne. 

The level of detail and its advance release (three weeks before the election) is a welcome change from 2018. Back then neither major party said much about buses. The opposition Coalition was hardly trying with a vague one-page release coming out on election eve and nothing specific that candidates could sell to voters. This time they've learned their lesson with specific route by route upgrades communicated in sufficient time for voters to consider their merits. 

So how good are the Coalition's bus policies? If the Coalition were to win and all were implemented in the next term they would represent much faster bus reform than we've seen in the last few years. This is because Labor's emphasis has overwhelmingly been on 'Big Build' infrastructure projects rather than service for most of its time in office. 

I will go through the Coalition's metropolitan proposals one by one, with a quick summary of the benefits and/or alternatives. 


1. Sunday service on Route 414 Laverton - Footscray. Welcome service upgrade in poorly serviced parts of Kingsville and Laverton.  

2. Sunday service on Route 415 Laverton - Williamstown. Also welcome, providing 7 day service to isolated parts of Altona and adding all-week direct connection to Williamstown. 

3. Sunday service on Route 479 Airport West - Melbourne Airport - Sunbury. Not sure what is meant here as there is already 7 day service on this route. However weekend service is very token, with just 2 trips per day. However if Route 479 was boosted to run hourly on weekends then it could improve 7 day connectivity between the 59 tram and Melbourne Airport in conjunction with the hourly Route 478 if it was scheduled to provide a combined half-hourly service (as runs on weekdays). 

4. Deliver a FlexiRide service for Sunbury. This could remove some coverage gaps in a growing area. To the Coalition's credit the FlexiRide proposed will run 7 days. However the Labor government has recently announced a new Diggers Rest - Sunbury Route 475 which should provide some new coverage in the area. 

5. Review bus routes in the Melton area with a view to increasing routes and services in the Eynesbury and Thornhill Park areas. Melton certainly needs a bus network review as, unlike Wyndham and Cranbourne, it hasn't had one for many years. Consequently I'd prefer that its scope includes established as well as growth areas with the aim being to provide service levels in Melton that more comparable with those currently running in Cranbourne and Wyndham. Ideas here.   

6. Extend Route 463 down Aspire Bvd. This is a route from Watergardens that provides coverage in the rapidly-growing Fraser Rise area. An extension is much needed and would improve local bus coverage. 

7. Greater frequency on Route 461 from Caroline Springs to Watergardens. A significant route in the Caroline Springs area serving areas where bus routes are quite widely spaced. A 7 day frequency upgrade here would be most welcome, especially if it was every 20 min to mesh well with trains.   

8. Increase Route 512's span of hours and introduce Sunday service. This is a fairly quiet route in the Coburg area. Not my first choice for 7 day service in the north (I'd boost 503 and/or 506 first) but a 7 day upgrade will still be beneficial. The state government's just-started northern bus reform review will cover the 512's neighbourhood. 

9. Review all bus services in the Wyndham municipality to accommodate demand due to population growth. Thanks to new networks in 2013 and 2015 the 'bones' of this network are better than those in many other parts of Melbourne. However growth means there's scope for extra residential area coverage and direct connections to key employment areas like Laverton North. Plus the high boardings / km productivity of existing routes mean that many deserve 20 rather than 40 min off-peak and weekend frequency. There is also scope for longer operating hours with no reason why key routes cannot operate as SmartBus style services such as run in many eastern suburbs. A review of the Wyndham network against these points it thus highly desirable (provided that there are resources to implement its recommendations). More discussion on this here.     

10. Route 624 frequency upgrade on weekends and weekdays. Highly desirable - in parts. An upgrade of the Kew - Caulfield portion would fill in a major north-south missing link in the transit network. However other parts of the 624 route need reform or even deletion as it is so complex and confusing. The best value for money in the area is likely to come from a Caulfield reform package comprising upgrading the Kew - Caulfield portion of the 624, extending the 734 to Caulfield and merging the Caulfield - Chadstone part of the 624 with a reformed and upgraded Route 623.    

11. New Sunday service on Route 407. Route 407 is not the most productive bus route without Sunday service but its upgrade is still beneficial, improving access to the popular Highpoint Shopping Centre. 
12. Increase frequency of Route 841 to every 20 min. This is a main road route serving popular transport hubs and destinations in the south-east including Cranbourne, Narre Warren and Fountain Gate. A welcome upgrade in a poorly served area, especially if the 20 minute service applies 7 days.  
13. Extend routes 791, 795, 796, 798 to new residential estates in the Clyde area. Not sure about this one. The current Labor government has recently extended some routes in this area. Personal view is that 791, at least, should be left as is. Due to high growth area needs a review of buses as there are many routes that are either infrequent, overlap one another or finish at inconvenient dead-end locations. 

14. Extend Route 898 to link Casey Fields with Cranbourne.  Yes, there should probably be a bus connection here but I'm not sure if Route 898 is the best route to accomplish this. I'd leave this to a local bus review rather than being too prescriptive here. 

15. New express bus between Box Hill and Glen Waverley via Deakin University. Previously announced. There may be some overlaps with other routes but these are major destinations so it should get reasonable to high usage. Three destinations mentioned will be linked by the proposed Suburban Rail Loop so this route is arguably a form of 'SRL SmartBus' that I've written about previously.  

16. Increase service on Route 800 to 7 days per week until 9pm with increased frequency on weekends. Route 800 is the most used and most important bus route in Melbourne without 7 day service. It serves major destinations and transport hubs including Chadstone, Oakleigh, the Monash precinct and Dandenong. There are also many low income residents in areas like Noble Park North and Dandenong who would benefit from a boost to this route. These reasons (and more) make the 800 a top priority for upgrade. The Coalition has taken the lead here on boosting this route that runs right past the premier's electorate office. Labor has no excuse not to at least match this given the case for upgrading is so strong.  

17. More buses between Wonga Park and Croydon particularly around school times. 

18. Expanded bus routes through Wonga Park with specific destinations mentioned including Doncaster, Warrandyte and Ringwood. Not sure what is in mind here. The bus network certainly needs a wider review with some basics like 7 day service needed. However existing patronage, demographics and population growth makes the area a lower priority to put large amounts of bus resources in than service-starved districts such as Greater Dandenong, Knox and some growth areas.   

19. Inclusion of Ringwood Station and Doncaster Park & Ride in any expanded routes. Again not sure of proposals here. However there is certainly a need for improved bus coverage near Ringwood along corridors such as Eastfield Rd. Maroondah Hospital also needs simpler routes and better connections, as previously described here.

20. Upgrade service on Route 542 and extend service to Pascoe Vale on Sundays. A welcome upgrade. 542 is an oddity in that only half the route runs 7 days. It's one of the many things that makes buses in Melbourne so complex to explain and catch. Like many bus initiatives fixing it is more about working the existing bus fleet harder rather than having to buy new buses. Thus it's low cost but there has been scant interest by recent governments to fix even issues like this. 

21. Upgrade frequency and bus priority on bus routes 525 and 541. These well-chosen upgrades would deliver major connectivity benefits in northern suburbs including Meadow Heights, Roxburgh Park, Craigieburn, Mickleham and Donnybrook. The extra service should get good use as Craigieburn is a growth area with dense housing and high bus usage.       

22. Upgrade span of hours on weekends for routes 536 and 538 in line with other routes. So good that the Coalition are now seeing the social and transport needs around areas like Hadfield and residential Campbellfield in a way that Labor has neglected to do so over many years. Route 536 is up there with the 800 (also proposed for upgrade) as being one of the busiest bus routes without 7 day service. Thus it is an extremely worthy inclusion for upgrade. Route 538 is somewhat quieter but its upgrade would bring much overdue 7 day service to isolated and low-income residential Campbellfield. These areas have historically been safe Labor seats but the relationship has all been one-way, especially with regards to bus services. If Labor wishes to consider itself a contributor rather than a safe-seat exploiter then it will need to match if not exceed the Coalition promises in seats like Broadmeadows and Dandenong with respect to essential local services such as buses. 
23. Extend Route 561 to major hub / interchange Watsonia/Greensborough to boost patronage. A good idea as the 561 currently has a weak terminus at Macleod. An extension would improve access to La Trobe University and provide an east-west route between key destinations. It runs every 20 minutes on weekdays but ideally its weekend service should be boosted from 40 to 20 minutes to make it more useful 7 days. 

24. Upgrade frequency on routes 517, 555, 556, 566 and 567 to match the train timetable. Another good (and overdue) initiative that hits Labor in an area where its past performance has been poor. Right now these routes run every 22 - 25 minutes off-peak with timetables that are neither easy to remember nor harmonise with trains every 20 min. Boosting to every 20 minutes would make these services more serviceable and better connected. To be fair the Labor government has started a bus network reform review for the northern suburbs which should also address these issues. Thus there now appears to be welcome bipartisan support to fix problems that should have been resolved years ago.  

25. Night services on Routes 356, 381, 388 and 564 to connect with trains at Epping, South Morang and Mernda. Not clear whether this is additional services or a retimetabling of existing services. There are cases where it is difficult to schedule buses to connect well with trains at multiple stations in both directions. In some cases bus timetables can be optimised but improved train frequency is the best bet of improvement with other side benefits as well. Mernda trains run every 30 minutes at night versus every 10 minutes (weeknights) for Dandenong trains and 20 min for Frankston and Werribee trains. 

26. High frequency service connecting Epping North and Wollert with Mernda train line at Lalor Station with bus priority on Edgars Rd. Expectations about a train line to Wollert have been raised but never delivered. A fast and frequent bus could be the next best thing. Wollert is a growth area that needs better transport services so the Coalition's promise to do something here is welcome. I discussed Wollert bus rapid transit in my item on bus wormholes.  

27. Introduce a bus in Wollert East along Salt Lake Bvd. A bus here could be a welcome coverage gain for a growth area. 
28. Introduce bus services in new estates in Wollert.  Also good. 
29. Upgrade bus routes 781 and 785 to better service several retirement villages in Mornington East area. Not sure about this specific proposal but the Frankston South/Mt Eliza/Mornington area has significant bus coverage issues and a network review is desirable. Such a review should be considered in the context of a cross-peninsula bus (30). 

30. Introduce a new express bus route between Hastings and Mornington. There has long been advocacy for a cross-peninsula bus. The Hastings/Mornington area also has issues with bus network coverage generally. It may be easier to address these coverage problems at lower cost if any cross-peninsula route was not express. Serving more stops would also make the cross-peninsula route useful for those making local trips to Hastings and Mornington, and thus assist the route's viability (as past limited service cross-peninsula routes had failed due to low usage). 

31. Introduce additional evening and weekend service from Lilydale to Healesville on Route 685. A good idea as weekend service (especially) is so limited. The government is currently working on Healesville area plans to deliver Route 685 improvements along these lines. 

32. Introduce new peak services in the Kilsyth area to serve the industrial area and provide direct linkages to railway stations. Better connections to jobs definitely desirable. However I'd be looking at this in the context of a wider bus network review rather than as a stand-alone initiative. This may allow more useful all-day rather than peak-only service to be provided.

33. Undertake a whole of network review for the Lilydale area with longer hours and 30 minute minimum weekday frequency. A good idea for an area in which bus services have been largely stagnant for many years. This is best done in conjunction with rail timetable reforms that deliver maximum 20 min waits for Belgrave and Lilydale trains. That could allow key bus routes to run every 20 minutes over a more extensive network than now. The service backlog in the outer-east justifies a wide review area, including the triangle between Ringwood, Lilydale and Belgrave, extending south to the Knox area.    

34. Introduce a new direct peak service between Healesville, Yarra Glen and Warburton with Lilydale Station. Presumably two routes. Personally I'd look at boosting frequency as a higher priority than express services. The government is currently doing a review on Healesville area buses. 


I won't go through these individually, except to say there are a lot of good initiatives that add coverage and/or boost frequency. These should make buses in many parts of regional Victoria more useful for more people. The bus network reviews in places like Wodonga, Shepparton and Wangaratta are especially welcome. 

Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula also have a strong program of service upgrades, including on weekends. These would make a big difference to the ease of getting around. The only negative point in the plan is the policy to relocate Geelong's Moorabool St bus interchange. Other locations have been tried but the current spot is likely the most convenient for bus access and interchange. 


The Coalition has made a welcome contribution to the election campaign with a serious plan to upgrade bus services across Melbourne and regional Victoria. They have helpfully been quite specific with many proposals. And they have released the policy in good time for voters to discuss and consider. 

The content is pretty good. It sets a standard others should follow. However, especially given they propose to scrap the Suburban Rail Loop, I'd have liked more 'big bus' upgrades featuring more fast and frequent SmartBus-style routes in middle and outer Melbourne. These would be particularly useful in areas like the outer west, outer north and outer south-east along with denser inner and middle job-rich areas. My Future Frequent Network is one such concept. Still, the Coalition's plan includes many worthwhile upgrades to popular but long-neglected routes that have long deserved attention.  

It's now over to the other parties to declare their vision for buses and transport services generally. To date neither Labor nor Greens have been very specific. I think they should be. I suggest they borrow the best from the Coalition and add some of their own. This will enable electors in 2022 (unlike 2018) to have several strong transport service related policies from key parties to compare.  

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

TT #175: Election 2022: Make all transport run 7 days

We're in a state election campaign. Simplicity is king when it comes to policy.

You want policies that are practical, affordable, beneficial, have broad appeal, are easy to communicate and specific. I had a go with a list of five here. One of them was effectively:

Make all public transport run 7 days 

is a pretty good one that ticks a lot of boxes. It's certainly practical as all trains, all trams and most bus routes already qualify. This makes finishing the job off relatively affordable. That it's beneficial is beyond dispute, with particularly strong wins for disadvantaged pockets who have been taken advantage of for their loyal votes for too long.

There's general goodwill towards public transport, even if not everyone uses it themselves. So you could argue there's broad appeal. It's pretty non-ideological and you won't get the polarisation you have like on some social policies. Even Labor's more niche Homesafe (Night Network) policy had broad appeal in 2014. Finally, it's easy to communicate, with a single line tolerably accurate. Though you want some wriggle room as it wouldn't be anyone's intention to run special routes like university shuttles 7 days.  

As for being specific, so people know they'll benefit, you can't get better than a list of 5 or 6 day routes to be upgraded. Here it is with top priority first: 

Six day routes in descending order of Saturday usage (boardings/hour, 2018)

800 Dandenong - Chadstone SC
506 Westgarth - Moonee Ponds
536 Gowrie - Glenroy
885 Glen Waverley - Springvale
281 Templestowe - Deakin University
804 Chadstone SC - Dandenong
814 Dandenong - Springvale South
284 Box Hill - Doncaster Park & Ride
559 Thomastown Station
612 Chadstone SC - Box Hill
773 Frankston South - Frankston
509 Brunswick West - Barkly Square SC
404 Footscray Station - Moonee Ponds
503 East Brunswick - Essendon
549 Ivanhoe - Northland SC
----- >> (20 boardings/hour)  << -----
772 Eliza Heights - Frankston
414 Footscray - Laverton Station
512 East Coburg - Strathmore Station
542 Roxburgh Park - Pascoe Vale (southern half)
550 La Trobe University - Northland SC
844 Dandenong - Doveton
677 Chirnside Park SC - Lilydale
671 Croydon - Chirnside Park SC
538 Somerset Estate - Broadmeadows
431 Yarraville - Kingsville
558 Reservoir - Reservoir
776 Pearcedale - Frankston
271 Box Hill - Ringwood
694 Belgrave - Mt Dandenong*
468 Highpoint SC - Essendon
526 Reservoir - Coburg
697 Belgrave - Belgrave South
415 Williamstown - Laverton Station
548 La Trobe University - Kew
236 Garden City - Queen Victoria Market
407 Highpoint SC - Avondale Heights
483 Moonee Ponds - Sunbury
273 Nunawading - The Pines SC
857 Dandenong - Chelsea
490 Airport West - Gowanbrae
689 Montrose - Croydon Station
766 Burwood - Box Hill
672 Chirnside Park SC - Croydon
285 Camberwell SC - Doncaster Park & Ride
699 Belgrave - Upwey*
840 Pakenham - Gembrook*
786 Rye - St Andrews Beach*

FlexiRide Croydon
FlexiRide Lilydale
FlexiRide Mooroolbark

Five day routes in descending order of weekday usage (boardings/hour, 2018)

237 Fishermans Bend - City
774 Frankston - Delacombe Park
309 Donvale - City (Queen St)*
675 Chirnside Park SC - Mooroolbark
821 Southland SC - Clayton
551 Heidelberg - La Trobe University
802 Dandenong - Chadstone SC
783 Frankston - Hastings
546 Melbourne University - Heidelberg Station
----- >> (20 boardings/hour)  << -----
680 Lilydale - Mooroolbark
705 Mordialloc - Springvale*
609 Kew/Hawthorn - Fairfield*
343 Greensborough - Hurstbridge
389 Mernda Station
758 Knox City SC - Knoxfield
531 Upfield Station - North Coburg
823 North Brighton - Southland SC
757 Knox City SC - Scoresby
842 Fountain Gate SC - Endeavour Hills SC*
686 Badger Creek - Healesville 
745 Bayswater - Wantirna / Boronia*
795 Cranbourne - Warneet*
838 Fountain Gate SC - Emerald*
706 Mordialloc - Chelsea*
511 Craigieburn Station - Mandalay Circuit*
777 McClelland Drive - Karingal SC*
687 Chum Creek - Healesville*
886 Rosebud - Chisholm TAFE Rosebud Campus*
696 Monbulk - Olinda*

FlexiRide Rowville
FlexiRide Rosebud

(*) Routes that run only a few trips

How did I establish this priority to make the above lists? I used objective data (August - October 2018 boardings per hour). This is a standard measure of the productivity of bus routes standardising for length, number of trips etc. 

The problem is that estimating usage of a bus service that doesn't exist is like estimating usage of a potential bridge by counting the number of people swimming across a river. We do however know that for the large number of bus routes that operate on both Saturdays and Sundays that if a bus route has high boarding numbers on a Saturday it will also be well used on a Sunday. You can see the closeness of the relationship on the graph presented here. Hence you can be confident that if you add Sunday service to busy Saturday routes that lack it then you will also get strong Sunday usage. These appear at the top of the six day list with a marker showing routes that rate above a respectable 20 passenger boardings per hour (on Saturdays). 

Weekday and weekend usage is less related than Saturday versus Sunday usage. However there are few other options when looking at the merits of 5 day routes that should be upgraded to 7 day service. Whereas the priorities in the 6 day list are good there's more scope for discussion with the 5 day list where you'd leave quiet peak or shopper routes with little unique coverage as running 5 days. From a cursory glance, higher rating routes like 237, 774, 675, 821, 802, 546, 680 and maybe 10 others have enough residential coverage to justify 7 day service. 

Want more detailed discussion on the most important? See TT #36 Thirteen Melbourne bus routes that most deserve Sunday service and TT 58 Thirteen Melbourne bus routes that most deserve Saturday service.

As for lower order (but still desirable) upgrades you'd be a bit flexible with priorities. For example 538 (6 days) and 531 (5 days) aren't that busy. But the demographics, social needs and isolation of residential Cambellfield mean there's grounds to be upgrading them before a route like 343 or the industrial 705. Data is a useful decision support tool but does not replace judgement in the final decision of according priorities.  


All up you would need to upgrade about 50 bus routes to 7 day service for you to be able to claim that the whole network runs 7 days. No route should run 6 days per week. It should be either 5 or 7 days. And the 5 day only routes should all be justifiable on the basis of being a supplementary peak-only, university shuttle, industrial or midday shopper routes. 

Most improvements can be simple timetable changes. For best value for money, especially on the quieter routes, there may need to be wider reforms. For instance Route 694 is substantially redundant and possibly does not need to run. There may also be a scope for rationalising or merging quiet routes like 531 and 538 to deliver a full 7 day service to a currently cut-off low-income area. 

It is to be re-emphasised that these changes work the existing bus fleet harder with no new purchases required. Thus adding network-wide 7 day service is cheaper than adding peak frequency. Even if frequency is not particularly high, there is much to be said for the dependability of all areas having a 7 day service and standard, easily communicated arrangements on public holidays. Because we don't currently have this, the DoT often doesn't understand its own complicated services and PTV frequently gets public information wrong.  And, especially during weekends with consecutive public holidays, areas without 7 day service can encounter 100 hour 'super waits' between buses

Large progress was made under Peter Batchelor in 2006 - 2010 where over 100 Melbourne bus routes got minimum service standards including 7 day operation. It's more than time that we finished the job with upgrades to the 50+ routes remaining. 

Index to Timetable Tuesday items