Tuesday, February 28, 2023

TT #179: Infrequent public transport explained to motorists

Infrequent service on public transport is like boom gates for car drivers except the waits are often longer. A government serious about improved mobility should be removing both. 


The fix (including a 5 word transport plan)


Index to Timetable Tuesday items here

Friday, February 24, 2023

UN 143: Level crossings gone and better services - having both on the Upfield line

Few rail lines have more level crossings per kilometre than the inner portion of the Upfield line around Brunswick. This is due to its dense urban fabric and permeable street layout, both characteristics that are worth preserving. 

Right now the rationale for removing them appears thin; the Upfield line sees no freight traffic and even peak frequencies never exceed 15 to 20 minutes. Boom gates are down for 30 minutes of the (2 hour?) morning peak - much less than on busier lines. 

Still, the area is densifying. And a more frequent Upfield line would offer relief for the 19 tram, that though slow, attracts people due to being up to three times as frequent. If you can remove many closely spaced crossings in a job lot, say by elevating the railway, then the cost per crossing removed should be lower than with other examples. The area could also do with open space and active transport opportunities similar to those unlocked in the Carnegie - Murrumbeena area. 

And so, two months before last year's election, the premier announced the removal of 8 level crossings on the Upfield line. These are almost all in the state seat of Brunswick - once safely held by Labor but now a strong seat for the Greens' Tim Read MP. The Big Build website has details of the project.

Just like with other level crossing removals significant synergies are possible if a wider view is taken with regard to local connectivity needs. For example bus service upgrades and reforms could improve connectivity to the new stations being built as part of the project. Doing these would avoid the Reservoir problem where a new station got built but the same old complex and non-connecting bus network and timetables remained. 

Bus service upgrade opportunities

Five of the eight level crossings to be removed have a bus route that passes through it. Thus there are close synergies between removed level crossings and the potential for improved connectivity to Upfield line stations via buses. Proposed level crossing removals and corresponding bus routes are mapped below:  

Although the Department of Transport has not assigned a publicly known network hierarchy to these routes, four of the five (503, 504, 506 and 508) could easily be considered middle to high level routes (ie connector or premium) with 509 a neighbourhood-type service. Service levels are moderate on weekdays and low at other times; as it stands just 2 out of 5 routes run on Sundays and evenings. 

Possibilities for each route include: 

503 Albion St

Issues: No Sunday service despite serving density. Short operating hours.  Weekday interpeak timetable is non-clockface 25 min frequency. Uneven Saturday frequency with afternoon drop-off. Complex Saturday afternoon route deviation at Essendon end. One of the few remaining buses in Melbourne with a complex reduced service summer timetable.

Solutions: Upgrade to 7 day service. Extend operating hours. Upgrade to operate every 20 min weekday interpeak to harmonise with trains. Operate at same frequency all day Saturday. Remove reduced summer timetable. 

504 Brunswick Rd

Issues: 30 min interpeak frequency not harmonised with trains. Drops to every 40 min on weekends despite serving dense catchment.  

Solutions: Boost 7 day frequency to 20 min (note: increases peak bus requirement). Has high potential as a cross-town route due to the number of trams and trains it intersects

506 Dawson St 

Issues: One of Melbourne's busiest bus routes that lacks Sunday service despite the State Government declaring it a main route on the Principal Public Transport Network. Short operating hours. Has unnecessary Smith St kink in Brunswick West. Like 503 this is one of the few remaining buses in Melbourne with a complex reduced service summer timetable

Solutions: Upgrade to 7 day service. Extend operating hours. Boost weekend frequency to every 20 min. Remove Smith St kink for improved directness and simplicity. Remove reduced summer timetable. 

508 Victoria St

Issues: A high potential cross-suburban route with many destinations between Moonee Ponds and Alphington but low service for this role, particularly on weekends (eg Saturdays every 30 min, Sundays every 40 min). 

Solutions: Upgrade to a SmartBus-style service with frequency boosted to every 15 minutes 7 days with earlier starts and service until midnight. This would make 508 the premium bus route across the inner north.

509 Hope St 

Issues: Catchment overlaps other routes. A previous government deleted it but this government reinstated it in modified form.  

Solutions: The future of this route is likely to be considered in the recently started northern suburbs bus network review. Route 509 does not operate seven days but it lacks unique catchment so resources are better spent on upgrading 503 as per above instead.  

Making things easier is that, except for removing a minor kink on Route 506, there are no route changes needed, just timetable improvements. Of these all but one can be done by working the existing bus fleet harder, making them relatively low cost. 

Out of these the top priorities would be 7 day service on the 506 and 503 followed by better frequencies and hours for the 508. The community gains are not just for Brunswick but stretch west to Essendon (represented by Danny Pearson MP) and Northcote (Kat Theophanous MP).

More discussion of these (and other) bus upgrades in Melbourne's north is contained in UN 10 inner north buses and in Victorian Transport Action Group's Networking the North.

Rail service upgrade opportunities 

In addition to bus upgrades rail service upgrades are also possible. Having an inner suburban rail line with such low frequency (where waits can exceed journey times) would be unthinkable in Sydney or Perth. However the Upfield line (and others in Melbourne's north) has intervals between trains as long as 40 minutes on Sunday mornings (compared to 15 minutes in Sydney and Perth) and 30 minutes at night (compared to widespread 15 minute evening frequencies in Sydney). 

Eventually it is desirable that services operate at 'turn up and go' frequencies, ie with no more than 10 minutes between trains, at least during the day. This level of service would encourage low car lifestyles as needed in areas like Brunswick to reduce traffic congestion. Also it would relieve pressure on the 19 tram which is most suited for shorter trips but gets used for longer trips due to its higher frequency.

Priorities for Upfield line service upgrade, starting with two that can be done cheaply with the existing infrastructure and rolling stock, are below:  

a. Upgrade Sunday morning frequency from every 40 to every 20 min (as done on the Werribee line in 2021)

b. Upgrade evening frequency from every 30 to every 20 min (as done on the Werribee line in 2021)

c. Upgrade peak and off-peak daytime frequency from ~20 to 10 min all week (following infrastructure works required). 

d. Commence planning for a station at Campbellfield to provide connectivity across Melbourne's North (via the existing 902 SmartBus), with potential for a Melbourne Airport connection if the western ends of 901 and 902 buses are swapped. 


The project to remove eight Upfield line level crossings has great opportunity to transform the community and transport for the better. Today I've given some cost-effective service-related tips on doing this to help people get to stations and have a better service when they get there across a wide part of Melbourne's inner north. 

Your thoughts are appreciated and can be left below. 

More Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Clarinda's 1 for 2 SRL road closure bus deal: Any good?

Changes are proposed for Clarinda area buses in the middle of this year. Route 821 between Clayton and Southland will be deleted. Route 631 will be rerouted and gain extra weekday peak and Sunday morning trips. And as can happen with bus reform, some passengers will be better off while others will be less so. 

Do the benefits greatly outweigh the losses? Keep reading!

Locals found out about the proposal after seeing a notice on a walk. It reached a somewhat wider audience when a photo of it was posted on the SRL Community Discussion Facebook group. There's nothing about it yet on the PTV website service change page (as of 21/2/2023) even though the change is significant and providing such advice here is standard practice for bus network consultations in other areas. UPDATE: PTV website advice added Tuesday afternoon. 

The street poster (pictured below) seeks public feedback in a low-key manner. Unlike recent bus network reviews, which featured an easy online survey, people need to compose an email or phone PTV to have their say. There is just over a month to do this with a March 17 deadline. However given the very emphatic "We're making changes" language and that they are being triggered by a permanent road closure, the difference feedback could make is uncertain.  

Clarinda is one of Melbourne's most culturally diverse neighbourhoods. The PTV poster is English only even though those speaking English at home are a minority in many areas the affected routes pass through. Clarinda also has a fair percentage of people on low incomes. These characteristics make Clarinda more like Springvale/Noble Park than much less diverse Dingley Village or parts of Heatherton (also served by both routes). 

The Suburban Rail Loop (which did run surveys in languages other than English) will pass through Clarinda area neighbourhoods. With the SRL plans lacking a station in the 7km stretch between Southland and Clayton, the project's local benefits will be limited unless really good feeder buses are provided. More on how this change should be transformed into an opportunity to lay the groundwork on that later.  

Clarinda (the suburb) has given its name to the geographically larger state seat. It has reliably returned Labor MPs. However, like demographically similar seats in Melbourne's north and west, Labor's support is slipping with their 2022 primary vote falling 9 percent and the result coming down to preferences.  Local MP is Meng Heang Tak.  

PTV said the network changes were needed due to the permanent closure of Old Dandenong Rd in Heatherton. Route 631 currently operates along Old Dandenong Rd but would not be able to after the closure. Though not stated in the above poster, the closure is due to Suburban Rail Loop's train stabling being built in the area. Heatherton residents, who want the train yard somewhere else, say that the closure will also extend driving distances to local services. 

Existing bus network

Mapped below. Routes 631 and 821 both run from Southland to Clayton with 631 continuing, somewhat indirectly, to Waverley Gardens via Monash University. Route 824 is roughly east-west, starting at Moorabbin and continuing to Keysborough via Clayton. Routes 703 and 733 skirt the northern part of the area along Centre Rd with significant overlap until 733 turns north to Oakleigh via a path behind Warrigal Rd. Routes typically operate every 30 minutes off-peak weekdays except for  703 every 15 minutes, 824 every 20 minutes and 821 every hour (and not on weekends). The network is basically unchanged from 30 years ago though some routes got timetable upgrades about 15 years ago. 

The Moorabbin industrial area is served by more north-south than east-west routes. East-west routes are typically occasional deviations of routes 811, 812 and 821 on Keys Rd. Bernard St also has Route 821 and 631 operating along part of it. Jobs in the area are poorly connected to the Frankston train line with routes like 631, 767and 821 stopping short of stations on it. Discussed in detail here

Proposed network

This is a 'swings and roundabouts' affair. Some people will be better off while others will be worse off. It appears to be close to a 'cost neutral' exercise with upgrades on Route 631 funded by deleting Route 821 entirely. Route 631 also changes alignment so not everyone on the current 631 will benefit. 

The service gains on the 631 include a worthwhile peak period boost from every 30 to every 20 minutes. The benefits of this are quite wide, extending east to Waverley Gardens Shopping Centre. It is however expensive to provide as 631 is a long route. Neither is it necessarily cost-effective since not much of 631 can be considered to be unique catchment. The reason for this goes back to the origins of 631 as a route drawn up to use spare buses after the government lost a contract dispute in the 1980s. Subsequent reform has only partially addressed some of the overlaps that created. 

The other 631 improvement is some extra trips on Sunday mornings. This is also useful as many ex-Moorabbin Transit routes have a habit of starting later than they should on weekends, possibly due to a misinterpretation of the minimum service standards about 15 years ago (and not subsequently corrected). Route 824 (also in Clarinda) has the same problem, but is apparently not getting a similar timetable upgrade despite its low cost.

Below is the PTV poster map with annotations to more clearly explain the changes.   

Who gains, who loses?

The reformed 631 is made more like the current 821 except that it veers off Clayton Rd between Centre and South Rd. It is operated along more of Springs Rd, passing near Clarinda Shopping Centre. However this alignment removes it from Bunney and Clarinda Rds, leaving western Clarinda and adjoining parts of Oakleigh South with the 824 only.

Those near Carroll and Bunney are particularly disadvantaged by the 631's rerouting, being placed more than 400 metres from any public transport. In contrast, because the moved 631 is more frequent with longer hours than the deleted 821, those near Clayton Rd are better off. The same can be said for low density areas on Kingston Rd east of Old Dandenong Rd. 

Where two routes are replaced with one there is an overall reduction from 3 to 2 buses per hour in weekday off-peak times. However this is not as bad as it seems as the 3 buses per hour was never even and parts of Clayton Rd have other routes like the 824. Catching buses to Clayton will however be more confusing on parts of Bourke Rd as you will need to wait at the eastbound stop for the 824 and across the road at a westbound stop for the rerouted 631.

Better clarity of winners and losers is below. 

To summarise, Clarinda is the biggest loser from these proposals with reduced Route 631 coverage. That's important as 631, unlike other routes like 703, 733 and 824, operate to the nearest major shopping centre (Southland). Some of Heatherton and part of the Moorabbin industrial area also go backwards.

However Clayton South, including some low density areas, is generally better off. As are those along the rest of the 631 from Clayton to Mulgrave and around Friendship Square in Cheltenham.


Politically you can't blame the government for not announcing this before last year's state election as wins hardly exceed losses and you'd be giving an opening for its opponents to campaign on a 'stop the bus cuts' platform. Just because you can never please everyone with bus reform doesn't mean it shouldn't happen if there is an over-riding greater good. 

Unfortunately this plan does not have enough 'winners' to sufficiently outweigh the losses in areas like Clarinda that need better public transport. If you're not going to give them an SRL station the least you can do is provide good bus service. This change does not do this nor even establish how it might be done in the future.  

This proposal's problems appear to stem from the following:  

1. It had to be strictly cost-neutral. Route 631 being much longer than Route 821 placed a limit on how much you could boost 631 services by deleting the 821. The strict cost neutrality prevented even measures that did not require new bus purchases from happening. Potential sweeteners could have included running Route 631 (which is strongly performing route) every 20 minutes interpeak weekdays and weekends rather than just peak periods. Given that this network change was necessitated by the SRL project (a road closure) an argument may exist for it to be funded by it.   

2. Its scope was the bare minimum, being confined to two routes - 631 and 821 - the latter of which this proposal deletes. Inclusion of surrounding routes like 703, 704, 705, 733 and 824 (even if just for timetable upgrades) would have made the proposal more palatable in Clarinda. People may still have to walk further (or change to a train for Southland) but at least the service they are walking to or from would be better. It is understood that some passengers are willing to walk further to a bus if it was more frequent. The (then) Department of Transport asked people this in a bus reform survey of northern suburbs passengers last year but aren't asking this of Clarinda residents.  

Any solution would likely have to be without the first and preferably also the second constraint. Options, of varying quality, could include: 

A. Direct and frequent approach 

Here we accept the proposed PTV network including walking distances up to 800 metres. But as a quid pro quo compensations like longer operating hours and improved all day frequency are added to reduce waiting. A recipe for this could include: 

1. Boost Route 631 to operate every 20 minutes 7 days per week with some extra am and pm span (especially weekends). This does not require additional buses as 20 minutes is already proposed for peak periods. Ideally associated with network reform in the Waverley Gardens area for best efficiency. 

2. Boost Route 824 to operate every 20 minutes 7 days with some extra am and pm span. Route 824 has a particular problem with late weekend start times so this should be top priority. This does not require additional buses as 20 minutes already operates on weekdays (for its western portion). Ideally associated with network reform in the Keysborough area for best efficiency.

3. Boost Route 703 to operate every 15-20 minutes on weekends with some extra am and pm span. This does not require additional buses as a ~15 minute service already operates on weekdays. While expensive the resultant service upgrade would cover a wide area as far west as Brighton and north to Blackburn. Ideally associated with network reform to Route 733 to reduce duplication on Centre Rd.  

B. Quick & dirty coverage fix

You might come up with something like this if you have an urgent request at 5pm on a Friday afternoon to quell a mounting protest about people losing their bus stop. It's basically the PTV proposal but with existing 631 stops kept in Bunney and Clarinda roads to retain coverage. This is at the expense of speed, directness and legibility (as the Bourke Rd problem mentioned before would happen at more stops). And the extra 1.5km or so would increase operating costs. In an extreme case you may be unable to run an even 20 minute peak timetable and may need to use an extra bus off-peak, further increasing costs. Or, if you really had to keep 631's run time down you might (controversially) skip Monash University and run the route straight to Waverley Gardens via Centre Rd to provide a fast Clayton Station feeder. 

Despite the problems this network could get you out of an evening's bother and your boss out of the news. The only problem is that bodge jobs like these look like they've been done on too many bus routes, leading to the often complex network we have today. 

C. Real network reform (including SRL SmartBus)

This requires more planning effort (and funding) than the 631/821 change currently being pushed. But the benefits are much greater. And any increased costs are a very small percentage of the sums involved in the Suburban Rail Loop which set off the need for these changes anyway. 

A wider view can help because surrounding routes may have duplicative overlaps that could be modified to help Clarinda. Likely candidates include 704, 705, 733 and 824. 703 is also in the mix but only for timetable upgrades as its route alignment is already strong. Reform opportunities include a. the duplicative nature of Route 733 west of Clayton with other routes, b. the indirectness of 631 east of Monash University, c. the overlap of Route 824 with other routes in the Keysborough area and d. potential over servicing of Route 704 relative to usage. 

Clarinda is somewhat remote from rail but has no full-service SmartBus serving it. Neither will it receive an SRL station. However its demographics and population are significant enough to have some form of high order bus connection. 

The most logical concept for this is SRL SmartBus connecting Clarinda with key destinations such as Southland, Clayton, Monash Clayton and Box Hill. At its best this would be a high frequency long hours limited stop service operating with good priority for adequate travel speed. It would be a key feeder for the Suburban Rail Loop once it opens and a precursor for building its patronage beforehand. 

Even if these points cannot all be delivered at once the corridor should at least be established with a better than average 7 day service through the area with now the best time to start.

The most suitable existing bus route between Box Hill and Clayton for this is the 733 (which got some 2022 budget funding for a boost). The nearest existing bus route between Clayton and Southland for this is the 631. Both routes go on to serve other destinations but flexibility exists to split both routes at Clayton to form a single through service from Box Hill to Southland, serving 4 out of 6 SRL station locations. Both 631 and 733 are both run by Ventura, making such an amalgamation easier.  

Several alignments for SRL SmartBus are possible. Each has pros and cons with regards speed, coverage and economy. To allow adequate coverage and the highest possible frequency to be funded it needs to be planned in conjunction with other routes to minimise duplication. 

One rough concept network is below. It deletes both 631 and 821 but replaces them with two other routes in the area that get extended to Southland. These include the 733 from Clayton (to form an SRL SmartBus) and the 704 from Oakleigh. The 704 extension retains an Oakleigh connection to the area that removing the 733 from Oakleigh would otherwise lose. Surrounding routes 703, 705 and 824 would be unchanged though timetable upgrades would be desirable, especially weekend hours and frequencies on the 824. 

As you are replacing two existing routes with two extended routes the result is less disruptive than the PTV proposal which replaces two routes with one. The Bourke Rd problem is also resolved as the westbound 704 bus runs to Oakleigh and not Clayton. The eastern (Clayton - Westall) portion of 704 could remain but this is a very short route so there could be gains from amalgamating this with the remaining eastern part of the 631 to create a direct Centre Rd Waverley Gardens - Clayton feeder via the newly removed level crossing. 

The network has a clear hierarchy with the two more frequent routes, the 733 and 824, being most direct (subject to what the road network allows) and the coverage / industrial area feeder 704 less so. Connectivity to Clarinda Shopping Centre is excellent. 733 overlaps a portion of the 824 but the alignment shown has a large residential catchment including coverage of the shopping centre. Scope may exist to make it limited stop if travel time is objectionable. A 733 via Clayton and Kingston Rd would offers better directness but has inferior population catchment to the alignment below. 

Each network concept contains a series of judgements and this is no exception. For example it is thought that Warrigal Rd is sufficiently close to Golf Rd (about 400m) not to require a bus on the latter. If this is accepted then this opens scope for an economical 733 / 631 amalgamation and supports a higher network aim towards SRL SmartBus. If it is not accepted then a coverage alternative would be needed for Golf Rd. However if you agree with that then you cannot possibly support the PTV network proposal for Clarinda due to the even larger coverage gaps that this creates.

Conversely some might take a more ruthless approach to coverage, saying that even the above map has too many overlaps. Some economies may be possible by leaving 704 as is and rerouting 733 via Bunney Rd, however this has its own problems including lessening connectivity with the local shopping centre and an extra turn on what should be a direct route. There could also be issues for Kingston Rd and Friendship Square as these would lose long-standing services. You will however note that 704 is drawn as a thinner line to indicate lower frequency than 824 and much lower frequency than the extended 733. 


The Department of Transport and Planning has proposed bus network changes for Clarinda. They are a  mixed bag for passengers. Some people, especially in Oakleigh South and Clarinda, will face a longer walk to services that are still not particularly frequent. Others will gain from the 631 upgrades.

However the basically zero budget of this change and its non-consideration of other routes in the area limit its benefits versus disbenefits. Some flexibility here could have improved public acceptance of reform with an overall better network. And set the area up for even better service in the future.

What do you think? Please leave them in the comments below. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

UN 142: level crossings gone and improved buses - having both in Parkdale and Mentone

Today we continue discussion of level crossing removals and service upgrades that could be associated with them to widen the projects' benefits. This time we're looking at Parkers Rd, Parkdale and Warrigal Rd, Mentone. Both are adjacent level crossings on the Frankston line. 

The Frankston line is already the most frequent of all Melbourne's train lines. Other lines in Melbourne's north, west and outer east, often with only half the service, have higher priority for upgrade. Thus all initiatives here concern bus and connectivity improvements. 

Parkdale (Parkers Rd) 

Parkdale's level crossing removal involves raising the rail to form a bridge over Parkers Rd. A new Parkdale station will also be built. 

Route 708 is the station's only bus route. It is roughly north-south running from Hampton to Carrum. It serves many Frankston line stations but provides coverage of many areas in between. There is substantial unique coverage particularly in the Aspendale Gardens area. It will also be the main public transport route serving the proposed aquatic centre at Mordialloc.

Current service is every 60 min on weekends and evenings, compared to 30 min during the day on weekdays. Thus a lot of buses sit in the depot on weekends when they could be out on the road serving shopping centres like Southland. Potential Route 708 service improvements with the existing fleet could include:

* Boost weekend service from every 60 to every 30 minutes

* Add extra operating  hours with earlier starts and later finishes (especially weekends) 

* Add one or two early evening weeknight trips so the hourly frequency cuts in later

* More evenly space commuter peak trips to form as close to as possible a 20 minute frequency (the current timetable is very 'lumpy' likely due to the route's large school transport role). 

The above would boost 708's utility as a feeder bus at stations including Highett, Mentone, Parkdale, Mordialloc and Carrum. Connectivity to Southland Shopping Centre would also improve. There would be residential area benefits in large parts of Parkdale and Aspendale Gardens where the 708 bus is the only walkable public transport. I discussed a larger 708 (and other routes) upgrade in UN 7 on the Mordialloc Freeway corridor

What about route reforms involving the 708? These may have merit as parts of Nepean Hwy (including near Thrift Park Shopping Centre) have no bus. Ditto for the northern part of Warren Rd near Parkdale Secondary College. Reform here may involve the 708 and possibly an additional route. 

This is possibly better done as part of a more comprehensive review as they involve more complexity than simple service upgrades. It's worth noting that the (then) Department of Transport's record in the area hasn't been good, with them basically dumping what they proposed in a 2018 Mordialloc area bus review. The DoT plan involved scrapping the cheap-to-run 706, some modifications to the 705 and a split of the 708 at an inconvenient place for much of the route's school student traffic. If was probably for the better that it didn't go ahead, though there may be overall benefits in splitting the 708 elsewhere, especially if accompanied by service increases.  

Mentone (Warrigal Rd) 

This project is only a short distance between Parkdale (mentioned above) and Mentone station to the north (which got rebuilt as part of the Balcombe Rd grade separation).  

Route 708, which also serves Mentone, has already been discussed. 

Routes 811 and 812 currently go over the Warrigal Rd crossing. These are long complex route operating between Brighton and Dandenong. Their alignment is the same west of Braeside. There is a strong need for reform and simplification but this is best done in conjunction with a review of the Keysborough - Dandenong network. In the interim a weekday pattern could be adopted on weekends so weekend frequency in the area increases from 60 to 30 minutes. 

The area's main interchange is Mentone which got a rebuilt station when Balcombe Rd was grade separated. Heritage considerations of preserving the old station building trumped transport connectivity with the result being much longer walks to buses than with the old station. The video below compares Mentone station with Ormond station, a better designed result of a level crossing removal further up the line. 

It would be sensible to review the arrangements at Mentone to see if improvements can be made to make the best of interchange arrangements including considering if and how buses can be brought nearer trains. 


With fewer intersecting bus routes and dependencies on reforms to other areas there isn't as much here to easily reform compared to some other sites. However just the Route 708 frequency boost and some extra operating hours could make a significant difference, especially on weekends. As far as bus reforms at level crossing removal sites go this is one of the simplest, being merely a timetable change not needing an increase in the peak bus requirement.  

More Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here

Friday, February 10, 2023

Sydney versus Melbourne - Who really has the better transport?

Just over a year ago I compared Australia's big capitals to see who had the worst transport. It was long and I forgive anyone who didn't reach its end. Let's simplify it a bit. After all for us here in Melbourne there's just one other Australian city that we need compare ourselves with. 

Today's question therefore is who has the better public transport - Sydney or Melbourne? 

I'll break it down into 8 points, equally weighted. Whoever gets the most out of 8 wins. 

1. Metropolitan rail network

Both cities have large electrified rail networks. Sydney has a full-on Metro operating on one line while we're still building ours for the central bit of a rerouted Dandenong - Sunbury railway. Sydney's rail network has vastly more suburban connection points while Melbourne's is strictly radial. And Sydney's maximum waits at most stations (15 min) are half or better ours (30-40 min) day and night. We can boast multimode Night Network while Sydneysiders just have buses (albeit on more nights of the week). Still, especially given Melbourne's reluctance to boost frequencies, the answer is pretty indisputable and no correspondence will be entered into. 

Winner: Sydney

2. Regional rail network

Country people say that NSW stands for Newcastle - Sydney - Wollongong and that's a fair summation of regional rail in NSW. Sure country trains go to a couple of other places (including Canberra) but they're infrequent. In contrast Melbourne has substantial service on five V/Line corridors (Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Seymour, Traralgon) with more trips added on lines like Warrnambool. And our fares will be super cheap from March 31 (though good luck getting a seat at busy times). 

Winner: Melbourne

3. Tram network

Sydney has lately rediscovered something that we've known all along. But their tram network is still a fraction of our size. Despite Melbourne trams being the nation's slowest, its lines often finishing short of stations and network expansion being off the agenda, there's really no contest here. 

Winner: Melbourne

4. Bus network 

Buses in Sydney do a lot of what trams do in Melbourne. But even in areas beyond where the trams went Sydney buses are often better. Western Sydney has T-ways that have no real equivalents in Melbourne. Melbourne's made a few attempts to fix its buses but only haltingly in some areas. Hence 2/3 of its network is substantially unchanged from 20 or 30 years ago, the public image of buses is poorer in Melbourne than other capitals and its 2021 bus plan appears both vague and unfunded. 

Winner: Sydney

5. General network service levels 

I mentioned Night Network before, which is a feather in Melbourne's cap. There have also been significant regional rail frequency upgrades, especially weekdays off-peaks. But when Sydney wants to boost service they measure it in thousands of trips per week as opposed to our few hundred. Hence the gaps between Sydney and Melbourne has widened since about 2017 in the former's favour. These increases have been applied to metropolitan rail, metropolitan bus and regional city buses. Melbourne had a strong bus service uplift program between 2006 and 2010 and boosted train frequencies a few years after that but has mostly stagnated since despite higher population growth than Sydney.  

Winner: Sydney 

6. Fares 

Sydney has a tradition of modal-based fares and little stomach to properly integrate them. Melbourne integrated fares across modes from the 1980s, enabling free transfers between bus and train, for example. Due to political pressure our fare system is too flat with some short trips expensive and long trips too cheap (outrageously so after the government's V/Line fare cut comes in). Hence fare equity isn't so good for Melbourne but at least it is integrated between modes (Early Bird train travel excepted). 

Winner: Melbourne

7. Ticketing 

We have myki, Sydney has Opal. Our myki is good for trains but trams and (since COVID) buses have had no means for casual riders to purchase or top up a ticket. Hence Melburnians without topped up mykis are either brazen fare evaders, guilty riders or honest people shunning PT over ticketing doubts. In contrast people can use their credit cards as tickets in Sydney which helps a lot failing cash or at least better top-up options.  

Winner: Sydney

8. Leadership, policy, planning and direction

Transport ministers here have done good things. Our infrastructure program, in particular, has been extraordinary, notably our level crossing removals. The previous Coalition government presided over some significant bus reform and 10 minute off-peak rail frequency improvements (albeit concentrated in their then south and east winnable seats).  But Sydney has done more when we look at purely public transport projects, including new Metros, major train frequency upgrades, new tram lines and dramatically reformed buses. Sydney's new interchanges are better designed and they've achieved a vastly better balance of service and infrastructure investment compared to us.   

Winner: Sydney 

Summing up

Sydney 5 points to Melbourne's 3. As much as I hate to say it, the winner is Sydney. That's confirmed when you look at modal share and recent patronage growth statistics. And it's progressed hugely in the last 10-15 years with substantial improvements to train frequency, cleanliness and ticketing compared to my visit in 2009.   

Still, Melbourne has a lot of scope to cost-effectively narrow the gap, especially with regards to train frequencies and bus reform. 

Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! 

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

TT #178: The real speed of our trains (and why frequency matters)


How fast are our trains? You could ride each line to time it or look up a timetable. Then use published information (like Vicsig line guides) to establish the distance and work out the speed.  

This was done last December by Declan Martin who made a nice network-wide comparison map (that got both newspaper and radio coverage at the time). 

Not surprisingly outer suburban trains, with fewer inner area stops, were fastest with speeds of 55-60 km/hr to areas like Wyndham Vale, Melton and Sunbury. These are mostly but not always diesel V/Line services. Metro trains on lines with more stations were much slower at 35 to 40 km/h as we don't have a tradition of off-peak expressing. Longer lines like Pakenham, with some longer gaps between stations, did better at 50 km/h while shorter lines like Williamstown and Alamein were nearer to 30 km/h. For context buses on local streets average around 22km/h with Melbourne trams in mixed traffic often slower

The table below lists lines in descending order of speed (km/h using figures from the abovementioned map). 

Not just about in-train speed

End to end travel speed is only part of the story. Firstly no one lives and hardly anyone works at a station. So getting to it, possibly via another public transport service, needs to be factored in. And, unless you are very lucky, your journey will involve a wait. Count both these things and end-to-end speeds may halve or more. Reliability and consistency of travel time are also very important.  

I won't cover station access today but will discuss the waiting component of train journey speed. Including this gives a more representative view of how much time to allow for a trip. Especially if you've arrived at the station randomly, such as might be the case if coming off a bus (Melbourne still has many bus routes every 22 - 30 minutes that attempt to meet trains every 20 minutes) or returning from a job or show with a fixed finish time. 

How much slower with average waits?

Unlike Perth and Sydney, which runs more consistent and usually higher frequencies, off-peak trains in Melbourne operate every 10, 15, 20, 30 or 40 minutes off-peak on weekdays depending on time and line. Such widely varying frequencies have a big average effect on travel time and an even larger influence if a train has just been missed. 

Just how big is frequency's influence? And could it even be more decisive than express running under some circumstances?

I took the abovementioned map and reworked the data so speeds included average waits. I assumed a random arrival at the station during an off-peak weekday period. That is passengers were using it as if it was a turn-up-and-go service. The average wait time in this case is half the interval between trains. Hence you would wait 10 minutes on average if you rocked up at a station with trains every 20 minutes. Adding the average wait time and recalculating the speed gives a fairer overall speed for passengers who waited an average time.   

You can see the result of this below (click for better clarity): 

Which terminus stations had the most reduction in speed when the waiting experience was factored in? As you'd expect infrequency is the biggest factor. Also important was travel time; lines with low travel times have a proportionately higher waiting component so counting waiting meant a larger percentage reduction in speed. 

Including average waits has also changed the relativities between how terminus stations rated for average speed. Frankston (on a line with many closely spaced stations) rated 10th out of 17 for speed if frequency wasn't considered. However counting frequency boosted its ranking to 7th place due to its excellent 10 minute frequency (or 5 min average wait). 

The biggest relative fall was for Sunbury station due to the 20 minute average wait caused by its 40 minute frequency. Belgrave and Lilydale also dropped. After average waiting time travel from these stations was slower than for Frankston. This is remarkable as Belgrave and Lilydale have off-peak expressing whereas Frankston does not and started off at a much slower speed. The difference is entirely attributable to frequency with Belgrave and Lilydale being fast and infrequent versus Frankston station's slow but frequent service.    

The above numbers are conservative as I've used actual time rather than perceived time (waiting is perceived to be longer than in-train travel time so some analysts give it a multiplier weighting). Intermediate stations will have different speeds but I'm considering only the termini here.   

Factoring in maximum waits

Here's the above table expanded to include a maximum wait column. The numbers in it are the speeds you get if you just miss a train and need to wait for the next one. Re-sorting on maximum waits has changed the rankings and accentuated speed differences further. 

Cutting variability the real way to speed

We've talked about comparisons between lines.

Now run you eye across some of the rows. Notice the extent to which speed drops off for some lines. Stations like Sunbury drop dramatically with average speeds almost halving if you happen to just miss a train. Whereas there's only a small change for Frankston. This is because Frankston has quadruple Sunbury's frequency with a quarter the wait. 

High frequency like Frankston also means less variable travel times. That's equally as important as speed for many passengers, especially those making shorter trips. Low variability means people can plan their day better and don't need fat contingencies for waiting that can easily double the time allowed for. Having to allow such high contingencies encourages too many to drive even for 'best case' scenario trips where both origin and destination are on the one train line.

I got a variability figure by comparing the travel time of worst case (train just missed) with best case (train just caught). For example if a train trip takes 60 minutes and the gap between trains is 30 minutes then travel time could be as high as 90 minutes if a train has just been missed. That's a 50% higher variation. In contrast the same length trip on a line with a 10 minute service would (at worst) take 70 minutes, or a 17% variability. 

Frequent service means low variability as the worst-case waiting time is never a high proportion of the journey time. The table below ranks termini by variability with Frankston performing the best due to its length and frequency. In contrast infrequent lines like Sunbury and short lines like Williamstown perform worst.

I didn't plot these but stations like Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo have less variability than Wyndham Vale, Melton and Sunbury due to longer travel times. Boosting frequency may be desirable for capacity reasons but they don't need to be particularly high for acceptably low variability (at least for full length trips). Instead the emphasis should be on speed and reliability, though when that's done frequency needs boosting again to preserve the low variability previously obtained through slow travel times.       

The average variability in travel time for most lines is around 50%. This means that travel can easily take 1.5 times as long as it would if a train was just at the platform when you arrived. These figures are for off-peak weekdays from terminus stations. But with a range from 15 to nearly 100%, the 6:1 variability in variability is higher than the 2:1 variation in travel time between our faster and slower lines. And, unless they enjoy higher frequency, the variability percentage tends to be higher at intermediate stations on a line as travel time is a smaller component of overall trip time. 

I'm not denying the value of speed but it is often oversold compared to variability. And often you can actually get better overall speeds if you tackle variability first (which includes not only service design elements such as frequency but also reliable operations to minimise cancellations and delays).  

Actual passenger experiences are better if using inner stations with more frequency (eg inward from Watergardens on the Sunbury line or Eltham on the Hurstbridge line). But they can be worse at night / weekends (with lower frequencies) and for the majority of passengers who use intermediate stations. Add this, plus indifferent bus connections and it is very possible for trips to take double the time they should, and maybe four times longer than driving. 

Frequency's the fix

What's the good news? The answer is that this is fixable. Often without the big builds and long shutdowns that have made taking trains such a gamble lately. Let's see what happens to speed and variability if we boost frequency, especially on lines to growth areas or through established areas undergoing residential densification and jobs growth. 

For the sake of this exercise no line is worse than every 20 minutes with the majority getting a 10 minute service. Rather than being an unattainable dream, a network vision like this was 2013 official policy as published in the Network Development Plan - Metropolitan Rail. You can see how frequency uplift improves average speeds and lowers variability from terminus stations below: 

Speeds for average waits are up by nearly 10% with typical variability cut from 50 to around 30%. In raw minutes terms this is a saving of 20 minutes for those who just miss a train on a 40 minute line and 10 minutes for those currently on 20 minute lines. Proportionate time savings for those making shorter trips or changing services are even better, especially if accompanied by bus reform, tram speed improvements and even higher frequencies for inner area stations (eg 5 min in from Dandenong or 10 min inwards from Ringwood, Watergardens and Greensborough).

The lessons are clear. If we want faster overall train travel we should be tackling frequency first. That speeds overall travel times and makes them less variable - a good aim in itself.

As well as higher frequency and fewer unique stopping patterns, revised greenfield timetables should incorporate quicker run times where there is known timetable padding for even greater time savings. Active management including headway running should be considered on very frequent lines that are operationally isolated without lower frequency branches. And all-day off-peak expressing is desirable on longer lines provided each metropolitan area stopping pattern can be run frequently.  

Given that most of these gains are possible with existing infrastructure and rolling stock, the benefits are relatively high for the effort required. To say that better frequency cures all the network's issues is exaggerating. But not by much. 

Index to Timetable Tuesday items here

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Next tram information at major stops: A better way?

When you step off the Metro Tunnel train at Anzac station and want to know when the next tram is should one need to listen to over 3 minutes of announcements before you know? Or is there a better way? I investigate.

As you might have gathered, I'm a fan of time rather than route order for departure information. Especially on common corridors where most people are able to catch the next arriving tram or bus. 

If we have information that tells people what they want to know within 10 or 20 seconds rather than ten times that then the network becomes more efficient. This is especially important in space constrained locations (like CBD tram stops) where you want to get people on their way as soon as possible to distribute loads and minimise crowding. 

Friday, February 03, 2023

UN 141: Ringwood East and Croydon - level crossings gone and reformed buses

Last week I discussed the potential of integrating bus network reform with level crossing removal projects. This would broaden these projects' benefits with improvements for all modes of transport. 

Like Narre Warren covered last week, the East Ringwood/Croydon area also hasn't had much love with regards to train and bus service reform. Its trains continue to run on archaic half-hourly timetables outside peak and, except for a couple of routes, buses are limited with sparse coverage and restricted operating hours. These traits make it another good candidate for service reform in conjunction with the level crossing removal. 

I'll mainly discuss two outer suburban level crossing removals on the one line. These are Dublin Rd/Ringwood East and Coolstore Rd/Croydon on the Lilydale line in Melbourne's outer east. They are adjacent stations 3.5 km apart so the same bus and train service issues affect both. 

Key public transport service issues in the area include:

* 30 minute interpeak train frequency is network's worst given the area's CBD proximity (<27 km) - demographically similar Frankston line suburbs enjoy trains every 10 minutes
* Complex and confusing bus routes like the 380
* Infrequent weekend service on main routes like 670
* Widespread lack of 7 day service on local bus routes
* Significant bus coverage gaps in parts of Ringwood East and along the Eastfield Rd corridor. 

If you need more detail I discussed them for Maroondah Hospital (Ringwood East) in 2022 and Croydon/Mooroolbark in 2020 . There have been no significant changes since. 

Local MPs for this area include Will Fowles (Ringwood ALP) and David Hodgett (Croydon Lib). 


Ringwood East

The Lilydale line in this area will be lowered to run in a trench. A new Ringwood East station will be constructed. Key service upgrade initiatives for Ringwood east could include: 


* Boost weekday interpeak frequency from 30 to 20 minutes to match already upgraded weekend timetables 

* Simplify weekday peak stopping patterns with fewer variations but more frequent service on each one

This upgrade is best done as part of a 'greenfields timetable' for the Belgrave and Lilydale lines. This would deliver wide benefits including 7 day 10 minute frequencies to Ringwood and simpler peak services. The Frankston and Dandenong lines have already had such improvements but only the weekend timetables for Belgrave and Lilydale only ever got done.  

* Improved wayfinding signage and paths between the rebuilt Ringwood East Station and Maroondah Hospital. Upgrades to both should minimise walking distance between the two. 

Once in a lifetime opportunity exists and should be siezed due to the almost simultaneous rebuilding of both. Ringwood East Station is the hospital's nearest station and is within walking distance for some. 


* Split bus Route 380 into two linear Ringwood - Croydon routes, one north and one south of Maroondah Hwy. 

Route 380 is currently a confusing circular route that runs in both directions from Ringwood to Ringwood via Croydon. Its circular shape can make it harder for people to know which side of the road to wait on for the shortest journey time. Splitting into separate north and south routes (Nos 669 and 668 suggested) would simplify local bus services around Ringwood East and Maroondah Hospital without skipping currently served stops or adding service kilometres. The recent conversion of Narre Warren's 834 and 835 circular routes into linear routes in December 2022 is a welcome precedent for this. 

* Extend operating hours and boost weekend frequency of simplified Route 380 replacement from 60 to 30 minutes to better service Maroondah Hospital as discussed here

This boosted service would aid connectivity to Maroondah Hospital as the southern portion of this route is the hospital's nearest public transport. It could improve convenience for workers and visitors and help relieve parking pressures. Choosing the southern portion to boost (668 on map below) would also greatly enhance bus services at all three level crossing removal sites.  

* A new Ringwood - Croydon bus via Maroondah Hwy and Eastfield Rd. 

This could further improve hospital access, provide new coverage in Croydon South and allow existing Croydon area main road bus routes to be simplified (eg 737 deviation removed). Wider benefits could accrue if this is implemented by extending existing Route 688 to Ringwood to provide a stronger terminus and a single route along more of Mt Dandenong Rd. 

click map for better view


The Lilydale line will be elevated with a new Croydon station built. All of the train and bus service upgrades for Ringwood East would also benefit Croydon. Croydon is however a much larger centre than Ringwood East with many more bus routes feeding it. Additional upgrades for Croydon could include: 

* Boost Route 670's weekend frequency to 20 minutes from current 40-60 minutes 

Route 670 is a major Maroondah Hwy bus route connecting Ringwood, Croydon, Chirnside Park Shopping Centre and Lilydale. It already runs 24 hours on weekends. A weekend frequency boost would greatly improve connectivity between key stations (like Croydon) and shopping centres in the area. It would be relatively cheap, merely working the existing bus fleet harder. 

* Add 7 day and public holiday service to local Croydon routes without it (eg 671, 672 and 675).  

The Croydon and Lilydale area has some of the least weekend bus services in Melbourne with 5 and 6 day operation common on local routes. This upgrade would widen access to a 7 day network, improving connectivity to trains at Croydon (which can only be walked to by a small proportion of the local population). 

* Commence planning on a wider area bus network review for Melbourne's outer east. 

Bus routes in the Croydon and Mooroolbark areas have not been reappraised for years if not decades. Scope exists to widen coverage, simplify networks and enhance connectivity to trains. Some ideas (including a map) on what a reformed Croydon area bus network might look like are given here

Bedford Rd 

Too close to Ringwood East to ignore is the Bedford Rd level crossing that is also planned for removal. The Belgrave line will be lowered through here to run through a trench. Unlike Ringwood East and Croydon there is no station to rebuild.  

Bus routes 380, and, to a lesser extent, 679, operate in the area. Complementary network reforms and upgrades could include the already discussed splitting simplification of Route 380 and boosted weekend services both on its replacement and Route 679.  


Sequencing train and bus network and service upgrades with level crossing removals allows the delivery of integrated transport upgrades to communities with benefits for everyone - not just car drivers. The latter is important as in some previous projects passengers have borne the brunt of disruptions but had the fewest direct benefits from completion.

Today I discussed potential cost-effective service upgrades for the Ringwood and Croydon areas. Let me know what you think in the comments below. 

More Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here