Thursday, May 25, 2023

UN 155: How long does it REALLY take to start or upgrade a bus route?

I covered this in detail for a new bus route overlaid over an existing network (UN 83). The answer was about 2 years from budget funding. Add to that the pre-budget preparatory work required it's more like 3 years.

It seems extraordinary but it takes Melbourne about the same time to add a modest bus route as it does to remove a road/rail level crossing. This is largely as there's a big political will to do a lot of the latter but not much of the former. It's as simple as that. 

Not all bus reforms take the same time. Just adding frequency to existing routes takes a shorter time, especially if the peak bus requirement remains unchanged. Conversely network reforms involving public engagement may take longer, especially if important stakeholders (including, at times, bus operators who may not be fully on-board). 

Here's examples of recent or soon to be implemented bus network reforms in Melbourne and how long they have taken from budget funding to implementation. This could be useful for governments wishing to devise time-lines working back from the 2026 state election. That's doubly important given that Tuesday's state budget had so little for new or reformed bus services. 

TL;DR version: Get a move on - you've almost run out of time! 

12 months 

A year following funding is enough to do significant off-peak timetable upgrades on a bus route. It's simple as there's no consultation needed nor changes to routes or stops. However you will need new drivers and some extra maintenance resources given the increase in bus operating hours. 

An example is the 733 and 767 service upgrades which got funded in the May 2022 budget and implemented at the end of April 2023. 

More here and here

18 months 

This lead-time after funding will allow some small network reforms that involve minimal consultation. Or a rerouting of a major route provided it's not too big and stops largely already exist. 

An example, again funded in the May 2022 budget, is the consolidation of routes 768 and 201 to create a single frequent Box Hill - Deakin express shuttle. Also in the Deakin area is the rerouting of the 4 hour long 903 orbital to serve the campus. Both these changes are expected to commence 'later this year' so about an 18 month lead time. 

Also funded in May 2022 was the Greensborough FlexiRide which (commendably) will include reform to the ends of indirect or duplicative local routes including 514 and 517. The stated start time is late 2023, giving an 18 month lead time. However no one we know of has yet seen the consultation report, which was supposed to have been out in April 2023, so I won't be surprised if there's some slippage. 

2 years 

You can allow two years (after budget funding) for a modest new bus route that's layered over an existing unchanged network like the 627 between Chadstone and Moorabbin. Or one that's created out of some network reforms like the 469 between Keilor East and Essendon

You'll find a lot more detail about the steps (and how long each takes) in getting a new bus route in the 627 item linked above. 

2.5 years 

It sounds a long time but it's true in the case of the much needed Healesville area bus network reform. A rough time-line is below: 

* 2020/2021?: DoT/DTP drafts proposal for budget
* May 2021: Funding announced in state budget
* March 2022: Public consultation on proposed network
* April 2023: Public advised of outcome
* Late 2023: New network commences

This was a small bus network reform involving 4 routes. But it involved significant consultation and some public disquiet. The bus operator, who the taxpayer subsidises to run the service, wasn't entirely on-board either.  

Note that the lead times quoted are publicly visible times - from budget to implementation. A line in the budget doesn't just pop up from nowhere - there's a significant business case or proposal from the department to be done beforehand with its own internal processes. The public doesn't know about this preparatory work. That could add a year or so to the above figures. 

This has political implications given the 4 year election cycle. The long lag times means that if you want anything big with bus reform implemented before the next election then a newly elected government needs to start work straight away. Otherwise, with existing time-lines, it won't happen. 

The need for immediacy could clash with the budgetary cycle where generally the first budget after an election can be quite tough. This is not even considering the current phase of the economic cycle where a combination of high borrowings (notably for big infrastructure) and rising interest payments is pressure on the state's finances and thus its willingness to fund transport service improvements despite their transformative benefits.  

To summarise, a government that really wants bus (and other transport service) reform needs to look at ways of streamlining implementation through process reform and capability enlargement in the DTP.

There will always be certain limits, such as the ability to get new buses delivered and recruit operator staff, that may not be so easy to overcome. However some of the above times do appear excessive and a transport reform-minded government should look at how delivery can be improved by looking at its own processes first.  

Further reading: Recent state budgets and when funded upgrades happened

Index to other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items 

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

2023-24 State Budget special: What do public transport services get?

Big builds win again in bus-starving budget


Faced with the rising costs of servicing borrowings arising from the COVID response and its ambitious major transport project program, the state government has made some tough revenue and spending decisions in this year's budget. These include tax hikes for employers, land owners and private schools. Spending has also been reduced or deferred including public sector job cuts and some major projects being put on ice. 

The 2023-24 Victorian State Budget contains mixed fortunes for public transport. 

Metropolitan trains received funding associated with Metro Tunnel network integration and expanded Kananook stabling for the Frankston line. Election promises to cut regional fares and (later) add regional trains on weekends are honoured. Maintenance investment should allow V/Line to become more resilient and Tarneit will gain a second station. 

But as publicised previously, Geelong fast rail and airport rail be subject to Commonwealth review. If the feds pull out then that gives the state licence to also hold back, with any savings handy for budget repair and other priorities. In this budget these include investments in suburban regional rail, especially in growth areas like Melton and Tarneit. There's no denying this is much needed. If it's not Metro electrification it needs to be at least an improved V/Line service to support new suburban stations and add capacity while (hopefully) retaining travel speeds to regional centres. This seems to be the option they've picked. 

Favouring Melton over Melbourne Airport is the sort of switch a traditional Labor government might warm to, especially a long-term one worried about its falling primary vote in traditionally safe heartland seats. One could argue that this is better policy anyway; improvements on a line like Melton would benefit a growing cohort of daily commuters with few local jobs and limited other transport options.

Whereas many airport line users would use it much less frequently, already have an acceptable Skybus alternative and may not even be Victorian voters. And airport workers, if the government really wanted to service them, would gain most from revamped buses to surrounding suburbs charging regular fares (a cost-effective initiative that should have been done yesterday).

Those around Keilor East would be most concerned by the new uncertainty over airport rail. This is especially since their hopes were raised a few short months previously that it would include a local station following vigorous advocacy from council, community, federal MP Bill Shorten and state MP Ben Carroll. A Keilor East would have improved local connectivity and increased the railway's usefulness for day to day travel. It would also bring wider network benefits for bus connectivity (as dead-end routes would likely serve the new station) and improve train passenger load distribution between the busy Sunbury line and the likely quieter Airport line. 

Do these considerations outweigh Melton's claims if one had to choose? Probably not, though Keilor East should get bus upgrades in the interim.     

The Andrews government has never really taken buses seriously beyond the piecemeal promises made (and mostly honoured) back in 2014. We saw some welcome increased interest in the 2021 and 2022 budgets but it was not to continue. 

While it's mentioned in budget documents, it's clear that Victoria's Bus Plan carries little weight in the parts of government that matter. The lack of initiatives in this budget means that unless existing lead times radically shorten, we'll see nothing major with buses until at least 2025-2026. A shame given the low cost and wide benefits of well-selected 7 day bus upgrades, particularly in neglected areas that need it like Greater Dandenong.  

About the best that can be said is that frontline public transport services don't cop cuts. While not a high bar, this could still be seen as a win compared to parts of the UK, USA (and the ACT) which have seen significant bus service reductions in the last few years.   

With basically no budget funding for additional bus services, an active DTP will need to take matters into its own hands to keep bus reform alive. It should adopt a 'no job is too small' credo and identify even the smallest gains possible from (say) shuffling trips within routes or operators to deliver overall 'greater good' service upgrades (like PTA/Transperth routinely do). Some simpler potential opportunities are presented here with wider network reforms possible in areas where multiple near-duplicative routes operate. 

The budget documents: Where everything is

See or straight to the papers here

The budget papers most important for public transport are:

* Paper 2 (Strategy and Outlook)  

* Paper 3 (Service Delivery)

* Paper 4 (State Capital Program) 

* Paper 5 (Statement of Finances)

* Budget Overview (a simpler look at items funded) 

Salient points from Paper 2 (Strategy and Outlook)

Contains the wider budgetary context including global outlook and debt forecasts. Also includes a summary of initiatives, for instance on public transport: 

The Government is also investing more in public transport across Victoria to improve reliability, performance and accessibility. This includes $650 million to upgrade the Melton line and $339 million to prepare the Metro Tunnel for opening, $60 million to enable the deployment of Next Generation Trams on routes 57, 59 and 82 by 2025, and a $36 million investment to deliver Victoria’s Bus Plan – including the commencement of the transition to zero-emissions buses in new Metropolitan Bus Service Contracts from 2025. 

Page 16 also mentions the $190m cost of the (now-implemented) election promise to cap statewide public transport fares to the metropolitan level. Claimed benefits of this (p47) include: tackle congestion on roads and further support emissions reduction by encouraging public transport use. The initiative will also promote economic opportunity by reducing the costs for Victorians taking regional public transport to go to work, connecting with family and friends, or accessing vital healthcare.

Salient points from Paper 3 (Service Delivery)

(see p96ff, p307ff & 396)

Output initiatives

Output initiatives are probably of most interest. 

Victoria's Bus Plan gets a very small but rising amount, starting at $2.2m in 2023-24 and levelling off at nearly $13m from 2025-26. Buses are so insignificant in this coming year that they get less extra than the "Free registration for our hard-working apprentices and tradies" initiative ($3m). 

This budget funds the following for buses: 

* A new Eynesbury - Melton station bus route (Eynesbury problem explained here)
* A minor extension of Route 433 to Stone Hill Estate (Maddingley)
* Continuation of four already-started growth-area bus routes (152, 182, 888, 889)
* Planning for a cross Mornington Peninsula bus
* Continuation of the West Gate Punt
* A minor community transport grant

I've discussed transport to new estates like Mt Atkinson, Mambourin and Thornhill Park. Their residents will need to wait longer as the government falls further behind in the provision of growth area bus services. 

In contrast this was a good budget for regional rail. The already implemented cheaper regional fares (an election promise) costs $41 to $48m per year. 'More trains more often' upgrades seriously kick in from 2024-25, reaching around $90m per year. This funding delivers Labor's promises made for more frequent V/Line train services on weekends. This initiative is much needed and should make travel across the state easier for many passengers. It's still underbaked for Melton, with the improvement from every 60 to every 40 min on weekends short of the 20 minute frequency needed (and which Tarneit will get). The package also includes the Mernda and Hurstbridge upgrades discussed here. These make minor improvements but barely affect the basic service offer. 

V/Line should gain from 'Regional Rail Sustainability' which funds 24 hour heavy maintenance at Bendigo workshops and extra drivers to support maintenance activities. Hopefully this will improve reliability and fleet availability which is much lower for V/Line than Metro. 

Asset initiatives

Asset initiatives feature the stuff needed for things to happen. One of the largest in this budget is $600m for 23 V/Locity trains. These will boost capacity to Melton, facilitating the running of 9 car trains and allow older trains to be retired on the Melton and Geelong lines.

Complementing these train acquisitions is $641m for a Melton line upgrade, $287m for Dynon stabling and $28m for maintenance capacity. Melton's upgrade will include a rebuilt station and four level crossing removals in the area. 

Metro upgrades include $238m associated with preparation for and operation of the Metro Tunnel and $353m for expanded Kananook stabling. Presumably this will allow the Frankston line to operate independently after the Metro Tunnel opens (when its services return to the City Loop). 

Trams in Melbourne's north-west get $59m. This is to support stabling and operation of next generation trams on routes 57, 59 and 82 (which have traditionally had some of the smallest, oldest trams). 


The budget documents also contain some service delivery statistics. Here's a few. 

* Operating costs p310: These are typically higher than budgeted, especially for tram. 

* Metropolitan bus services outputs p313: Patronage is recovering post-pandemic, with 2022-23's figure being about 83% of pre-pandemic levels. It's common for people to assert that 'bus users rarely touch on'. The state government disagrees, claiming a 92% compliance. 

* Metropolitan train services outputs  p320: 2022-23 patronage is about 64% of pre-pandemic levels. Fare compliance is higher than bus being at around 97%. Availability of rolling stock has fallen from 95 to 94%. 

* Regional train services outputs p321: Scheduled services delivered are well below target. V/Line has a major problem with rolling stock availability being in the 86 - 88% range. This can result in cancellations or short trains (which can get crowded). This is attributed to "maintenance capacity constraints and increased animal strikes requiring repair and biowash facilities." 

* Tram service outputs p323: Usage continues to rise towards pre-pandemic levels with it around 74% of target (which appears to be an achieved pre-pandemic patronage figure).  The 96% fare compliance rate is higher than for buses which is a turn-around from many years ago when compliance was lower on trams. 

Salient points from Paper 4 (State Capital Program)

(see p83ff and 182ff)

You'll probably be most interested in the page of new projects (p83) for transport. These amount to a shade over $9 billion.

There's only a few items with two-thirds the funding being $6.5 billion for 25 level crossing removals. That makes their cost roughly $260m a pop. Completion of this program will see the Lilydale, Sunbury, Cranbourne, Pakenham, Frankston and Werribee lines level crossing free (for cars - though there will still be some foot crossings). This program also includes 40 new and upgraded stations and 50km of walking and cycling paths.  

The capital component of Victoria's bus plan is a mere minnow in comparison, amounting to under $2 million. Even new fishing piers got $40 million (possibly for political reasons I discussed here). 

Most of the remainder (about $2b) was road improvements and maintenance. 

Existing projects start on p85. This is much longer. Again the level crossing removals take a hugely dominant position (billions) with active transport, bus and tram projects in the millions. I discussed items from past budgets here.  

Completed projects are in Page 90. 

A number of rail projects are reported under Victrack. These are on page 182. These include upgraded and new stations. Upgrades include stations at Albion, Ballarat and Boronia. There will also be a second station in Tarneit West. This will bring trains nearer to more growth area homes and take some pressure off the existing busy station at Tarneit (the busiest on the V/Line network outside Southern Cross). 

The Suburban Rail Loop gets its own page (p17). The budget reports that planning, development and early works are progressing on it. SRL East cost is estimated between $30 and 34.5b. Of this only $11.8b has been announced by the state government with $2.2b announced as an 'initial investment' (ie they're hoping for more) from the Commonwealth. The project is described as being 'well on its way' with the first trains running by 2035. 

Page 183 lists existing projects. Page 187 has completed projects. These are long lists so I won't go through each item here. Of note is that 'Geelong Fast Rail' is effectively deferred with 'tbc' (to be confirmed) and a note saying the project is subject to commonwealth review (explained more on page 3). Ticketing renewal will cost $543m with $183m of that in 2023-24. The contract for this was recently awarded to American firm Conduent. 

You'll all be interested in airport rail (which the government branded 'Suburban Rail Loop - Airport'). About 630-odd million has been spent already with a similar amount tipped for 2023-24 (for early works). However it's 'tbc' after that with a note about the Commonwealth Infrastructure Review.   Roughly similar figures apply for the Suburban Rail Loop East though this also has over $1.1b earmarked for beyond 2024. 


The 2023-24 Victorian state budget perpetuates the government's current policy setting of feeding infrastructure and (V/Line excepted) starving service.

Its program of infrastructure upgrades, including new stations, increased capacity and network resilience for regional and outer suburban rail will be warmly welcomed in places like Melton and Tarneit. Other points in favour include preparing for the transformative impact of Metro Tunnel services and supporting larger and more accessible trams in Melbourne's inner west and north-west. 

The budget's main failing is that it does pretty much nothing to improve bus services, the nearest and often only public transport for the vast majority of Melburnians. The gradual upward trajectory in the number and significance of improved bus services seen in the 2021 and 2022 state budgets has been arrested. And, bus electrification aside, Victoria's Bus Plan is now effectively in tatters. 

Areas that most miss out include (i) numerous growth area estates and (ii) established areas (like much of Greater Dandenong) that haven't had bus timetable improvements for decades. Some of these neighbourhoods have voted solidly Labor for decades but have swung so hugely away that results are now often decided on preferences.  

Enough time has passed with so little achieved to fairly conclude that the current government has a 'bus problem'. This may stem from (a) the government's most senior ranks underappreciating the extent to which better job-ready bus services can cut living costs and transform lives and (b) certain ministerial portfolio and factional realignments that may have weakened pro-bus voices within this government. It can't be a money problem as buses rank amongst the most cost-effective public transport there is. 

Most people care little about the political machinations that may have caused buses to be side-lined in this budget. However buses are part of the local service offering that they expect will be provided and be operated well. If Labor can't run services in the suburbs then the electorate, even in previously considered 'safe' seats, will increasingly opt for candidates and parties who say they can.    

What's your thoughts about the 2023 state budget? Thoughts are appreciated and can be left below. 

Background: Service measures in past recent Victorian state budgets here 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

UN 154: Lessons from Auckland - Bus reformers speak

You can't have bus network reform without people to plan it.

Success here is not a foregone conclusion. And failure can put reform back years if not decades.

High profile failures in the last decade include Brisbane 2013, Melbourne (Transdev) 2015 and Adelaide 2020

In at least the last two cases politicians got cold feet and pulled the plug before new networks got implemented. Consultation processes were poor. And there were enough 'nasties' in the latter two to outweigh the gains for too many people. 

Learning from these failures is important. But they should not discourage governments from pursuing bus network and service reform. That's especially so for quick wins like enhanced off-peak and weekend frequencies and small-scale reforms involving up to 5 or 6 routes.

Very few public transport projects can return a higher benefit / cost ratio than well-conceived and executed bus network reform. That's important in periods where money is tight but there's still a desire to improve service. In other words, right now! 

Where have the successes been? I would nominate Sydney, Perth and Auckland.

Perth has long regarded bus network reform as day to day business rather than a one-off heralded by high-profile (but unfunded and unspecific) plans and overseen by dedicated teams. Learn more about their formula here

 As for Auckland, we have the extraordinary privilege of hearing practitioners speak in detail both before and after their network reforms. 

Both video presentations go for about an hour. They are unlisted or difficult to find. This is possibly why they have only a handful of views despite the great content. 

But anyone who wants bus reform needs to watch. And take notes. Several times. 

2018 Anthony Cross (Auckland before/during implementation)

YouTube link if above does not show (also )

2021 Pete Moth (Auckland after implementation)

Presentation part of UITP ANZ webinar series. 

Zoom presentation link

Note: UITP ANZ is now PTAANZ. Their new website appears not to have material from the previous organisation. This link was only retrievable as it was posted on a bus enthusiast forum. 


Both are essential viewing for policy makers and planners interested in getting the most from their city's extensive but underperforming bus network. Please share widely and leave your comments below. 

Index to other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items 

Thursday, May 11, 2023

UN 153: Buses for Thornhill Park


A couple of suburbs west of Mt Atkinson (which I covered two weeks ago) is Thornhill Park. Like Mt Atkinson it abuts the Melton train line but there's no station, though a town centre is promised for the end of next year. The developer has raised expectations of a local station or, failing that, Melton line electrification, but the government has committed funding to neither.

Delivery of infrastructure is a thorny issue in these parts. Buyers purchase with expectations raised. They blame the developer if facilities and services don't happen. The developer in turn blames the government, pointing to the GAIC contributions they've made. However these don't cover the cost of large projects like rail electrification. 

There's also sometimes tussles between local and state governments where responsibilities are shared. Local government planners tell me that it's hard to get developers to fund transit-friendly infrastructure (eg bus lanes) when there is no assurance that the state will deliver the frequent service it needs to be worthwhile. This is important as, even if it gets built, transit infrastructure like bus lanes unbacked by frequent service is vulnerable to removal due to political pressure, such as happened on Stud Rd about a decade ago.

Thornhill Park doesn't even have a regular bus route, though it is within the catchment of the Melton FlexiRide. Such flexible routes work when hardly anyone is using them but as soon as usage exceeds a (low) threshold reliability can break down (as has been encountered with Tarneit FlexiRide). Hence they are more symbolic than real transport for those who need to reliably get somewhere, especially in peak periods. 

Thus Thornhill Park is going to need a fixed bus route to connect to train stations, shops and other facilities. Especially as there is so little within the suburb itself, even though plans are for it to be home to over 30 000 people by 2050. 

A recent adjournment speech from Western Victoria MLC Joe McCracken (Hansard 2 May 2023) drew members' attention to the suburb's lack of services and poor connectivity to the outside world. Locals are petitioning for a station. Concern about Thornhill Park's lack of access and services has been mounting for some time with A Current Affair featuring a report last year. 

Where would a bus route from Thornhill Park go? Like Mt Atkinson the answer isn't immediately obvious. Hence I will once again set down some options. 

Option A Thornhill Park - Cobblebank Station

A short route about 7km long. A single bus should (just) be able to operate a 40 minute service with two buses needed for a 20 minute service. Reliability could however be affected by the level crossing at Mt Cottrell Rd (which the local council wishes to see removed). 

This route would get people to the train station at Cobblebank and basic shopping facilities (including a Coles supermarket). However direct connectivity to other services will remain limited, requiring one or two changes to other buses or trains). 

Option B Thornhill Park - Woodgrove SC

At nearly double the length of Option A, this option requires double the number of buses to provide service at a given frequency (ie 2 for a basic 40 min service). However it directly connects Thornhill Park to many major destinations, jobs and services which a lot of residents would like.

There are also some wider benefits, eg improved frequency on the highway spine from Woodgrove to the main street shops to the industrial area. This would be particularly advantageous if services can be scheduled to depart in between Route 456 departures to provide a combined 20 minute frequency. 

Option C Route 454 extended to Thornhill Park

This takes the existing Route 454 (Melton to Cobblebank) and tacks Option A above onto it. While it is still inferior to Option B with regards to the local destinations covered, it still connects to a wider range of intersecting bus routes than Option A. The route's total length is about 13 km, making the 454's existing 40 minute interpeak service possible with two buses. As Route 454 appears to be a one-bus route (15 minute run time gives approx 40 min frequency) this option appears to be a similar cost to A. above but connects to more destinations.  


My comments for Mt Atkinson apply here. Thornhill Park is a planning and development failure with development patterns that condemn it to years if not decades of substandard and indirect service. There is only so much that can be done with bus network design if there are no stations, no destinations and little permeability to allow simple and direct access.

Thus all the network options above have problems and I don't think any are particularly good. In particular they involve back-tracking to catch a city-bound train. And connectivity to eastern areas like Caroline Springs or even nearby estates like Aintree is poor. This is attributable to the currently disconnected road network and Route 456 tending to skip Caroline Springs Town Centre in favour of Burnside, Albion and Sunshine.

With two railway lines (one electric), rail-based centres, a better road grid and more permeability, the City of Wyndham (including Mambourin discussed last week) is generally more conducive to better transport than City of Melton suburbs like Mt Atkinson and Thornhill Park. 

Nevertheless there must still be better options for local buses in Thornhill Park. Your thoughts on this are appreciated and can be left below. 

More Useful Network items

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Past budget funded service upgrades - what's been done?

With the federal budget tonight and the 2023 Victorian budget in two weeks let's do a review of what the previous few state budgets have funded. That's important so we know which budget has funded what service upgrade. 


From what I can tell everything service-wise funded in the 2019 state budget has been delivered. 

Notable examples include the new route 390 Craigieburn - Mernda bus, the new route 816 Keysborough South bus plus bus improvements in Romsey, Lancefield, Alexandra and Eildon. 

Metro trains on the Werribee, Williamstown and Frankston line got a major upgrade with maximum waits reduced from 30-40 min to 20 min in early 2021. Such reduced maximum waits have been unheard of on the metropolitan rail network for decades, particularly since the evening service cuts made in 1978. The City Loop was also simplified with single direction running for trains coming from Dandenong. I'm going to hazard a guess and say this was funded from the $56m allocated to new train services from 2020-21 in the 2019 budget. 

The main rail infrastructure projects on the planning agenda in the 2019 budget included Suburban Rail Loop planning, Melbourne Airport Rail planning and Western Rail plan, including electrification to Wyndham Vale and Melton (p 5).

There was funding for planning and business case development of tram and active transport connections between Fishermans Bend and the CBD. Remember 'Fishermans Bend' as it comes up in future budgets. 

And, returning to buses there was $6.8m for a 'Bus Industry Innovation Fund'. This was to support the bus industry "through delivering initiatives focused on improving network efficiency, patronage, customer experience, safety and driver support. Maybe it was used to develop Victoria's Bus Plan (which came out in mid-2021)? If you have an idea of funded examples then please mention in the comments below. 


The 2020 state budget was generous for infrastructure but  parsimonious for service. 

The only really new item for the public bus network was network reform and service upgrades on the Mornington Peninsula. This featured much needed upgrades to the 788, a new 7 day Rosebud - Frankston express buses, some welcome coverage extensions and simplification to other routes and a new FlexiRide for Rosebud. However service levels remained underbaked with some routes shutting down as early as 3 or 4 pm and not running weekends. 

The Route 390 Mernda - Craigieburn bus from 2019 also got a mention with accelerated delivery. Actual delivery was October 2021.  Some outer suburban secondary colleges will get improved school special services in this budget. 

$3m was committed for a tram corridor strategy. This was to consider network reform to optimise the use of both existing and next generation trams. Again comments on this are appreciated as we haven't yet seen a lot of tram network reform. Maybe, like mooted rail frequency upgrades, these will wait for the Metro Tunnel's opening? 

Airport rail and Geelong fast rail were the major projects in the 2020 budget. However recent media reports indicate that these may get delayed. We'll know for sure in two weeks.

There was also funding for 100 next generation trams, the Dandenong rail corridor, station parking and more. Furthermore, this was the budget that introduced a (modest) charge on electric driving along with $20m for a zero emission bus trial. 


2021's budget was an advance on the 2020 low point with regards to service. The year also marked a revival of official interest in bus network reform after several years of not much. A way forward was charted in Victoria's Bus Plan, out six weeks after the budget. Areas for the first network reviews were announced in late 2022 with an online survey done. 

Growth areas in the south-east got some love with new or extended routes in Clyde, Clyde North and Cranbourne in the last few years. 888 and 889 started in early 2021 (so would have been funded from a previous budget). Then 881 from Lynbrook started in January 2022. Finally 897 and 898 got extended in August 2022. 

Tarneit North gained a FlexiRide though the original plan was for two fixed routes (154 and 155). This started in October 2022. High usage may mean that fixed routes will be needed as discussed here

Also implemented were Moonee Ponds - Melbourne University improvements as extra trips on Route 505. These started in February 2023

Funded in the 2021 budget and starting in October 2022 were large improvement to buses 235 and 237 between the city and Fishermans Bend. These two routes run at 10 min (ie tram-like) frequencies during the day on weekdays but remain with either occasional or no weekend service. These upgrades may buy some time given there's been no government interest in tram extensions to this area (or anywhere else) for a long time.

In a similar vein, the West Gate Punt retained funding as a foot and bike alternative to a Metro 2 rail tunnel or even a direct Fishermans Bend bus from Newport over the West Gate. Planning money for future Fishermans Bend transport was still there but this time it was broadened to 'high capacity transport' (rather than the tram-emphasis in 2019).  

Also mentioned were network changes in Yarra Valley and Broadmeadows. Yarra Valley changes aren't operating yet. However an update last month indicated the new network will be running later this year. As for Broadmeadows, there's less definite to report. However Craigieburn got significant upgrades with four local bus routes improving from every 40 to every 20 minutes later, in April 2022. Route 538 was mentioned in some material but that's had no service uplift. 

2021 also saw some low cost but worthwhile bus network reforms associated with (i) Night Network reform and (ii) redistribution of service within the Transdev / Kinetic network. The former was planned some time ago while the latter was so low cost that I don't recall any mention of it in either 2019-2020 budgets. It seems to indicate that a resourceful department can get smaller service reforms through without recourse to the drawn-out budget process. There should be much more of this, with some examples presented here

To sum up most of the 2021 funded bus upgrades have been implemented except for the more complex ones involving network reform. On the infrastructure side the budget mentioned the development of a battery electric train potentially for Wyndham Vale as part of the Western Rail Plan. It would be interesting to see an update on this project in the light of current concerns about rail in the west being de-emphasised, firstly in relation to airport rail and latterly in relation to projects like SRL in the east.   


Last year's budget continues the gradual upward trajectory of funding for service. As it's more recent it's reasonable to expect that less of it will have been done given that current DTP processes require two or more years to implement new or greatly reformed bus services once funded. 

Here's the status of some of the funded service initiatives from the May 2022 budget: 

Bulleen Park & Ride: OPERATIONAL. Associated route and service changes only minor.  

Improvements to bus routes between Box Hill, Deakin Uni, Monash Uni and Southland: PARTLY OPERATIONAL. Route 733 and 767 gained their service upgrades last month. Other reforms involving 201/768 Deakin shuttle and 903 via Deakin University planned for later in 2023.  

Greensborough FlexiRide and associated network changes: IN PROGRESS. A survey was done in 2022. The website states that the consultation report was released in April 2023 (though there is no link to it). A late 2023 start is stated. Background here

Network changes in Heatherton to complement SRL works: IN PROGRESS. Information at stops and online put out to advise of changes. Involves the deletion of Route 821 and some upgrades and rerouting for 631. Background here

Weekday shuttle between Donnybrook and Craigieburn stations: IN PROGRESS. Route 501 due to start some time in 2023

New Diggers Rest - Sunbury bus route: IN PROGRESS. October 2022 release from Josh Bull MP gives Route 475's service levels but not a start date. 

Improved buses for Torquay and Armstrong Creek: IN PROGRESS. Consultation April 2023. Implementation planned for 2024.

Bus upgrades in Cranbourne West and Narre Warren: UNKNOWN - PRESUMED IN PROGRESS. Release here. Local bus network is very complex and infrequent with inefficient overlaps so waiting a bit longer for proper network simplification may be desirable. 

I'd expect there'd be announcements about at least some of these upgrades later this year. 

Other funding items in last year's budget was work on the tram plan, V/Line improvements, new V/Line trains, a northern transport and land use plan and Caulfield station interchange. 

Related: Has State Labor kept its transport promises? (2014 - 2018)


This has been a run down of funded implemented and forthcoming service upgrades for the Melbourne and Geelong areas. Regional and school bus improvements have been omitted.

Join me in two weeks for a look at what (if anything) new gets funded in the 2023 state budget

Thursday, May 04, 2023

UN 152: Transport for Mambourin

Take the train from Melbourne towards Geelong. Look right towards the YouYangs a couple of minutes after you depart Wyndham Vale Station. You will see lots of houses. That's Mambourin.

Their local station at Black Forest Rd is neither funded nor built. While a cruel tease for now its appearance on some maps may build expectations that cause it to eventually happen. But for now, like many new estates, service provision is lagging with not even a local bus route serving a now populated area. 

The nearest bus stop is 30 minutes walk away. Like at Mt Atkinson, locals are campaigning for a local service with a 'bus marathon' held last month. Mambourin is in the state seat of Werribee, held by Treasurer Tim Pallas.  

Mt Atkinson, discussed last week, was quite difficult to draw a bus route concept for. I presented several potential alignments, each with its pros and cons. Fortunately better planned Mambourin looks easier with a potential through route between two major stations. 

The first, and most easily resolved question, was whether an existing route could be extended. That would be the most economical way of improving coverage if this was possible.

The only route in the area is the 192 between Werribee and Wyndham Vale. That has a lot of unique coverage and is a good patronage performer. So it's best left alone and a new route added for Mambourin. 

Desirable features of such a new route include: 

* Connectivity to trains on both lines in the area (Geelong and Werribee)
* Good access to the nearest shopping centre (and preferably others)
* Good coverage of residential areas with reasonable directness
* Potential to feed trains at a future station at Black Forest Rd
* An efficient route length for a frequency that harmonises with trains

Mapped below is a rough concept for something that might reasonably satisfy these points. I've called it the 193 given that its nearest existing route is the 192. 

It feeds trains at both Wyndham Vale and Werribee, serves local shops and provides reasonable (though not complete) coverage. Its 12-13 km length should take a little under 40 minutes.

A very basic service every 40 minutes (meshing with off-peak trains at both stations) would require two buses while four buses would be required for a more attractive 20 minute frequency (which a lot more routes in Wyndham should have - all day - due to strong patronage). 

If the cheaper 40 minute option is chosen it is desirable that timetables are offset with those for Route 192 (also every 40 min off-peak) to provide a combined 20 minute frequency on common portions.   

That's the concept anyway. The actual alignment might be different, depending on roads that are open and where further housing has been built by the time that service starts. 

Thoughts on all this are appreciated and can be left below. 

Index to other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items 

Note: From now on I will post on Thursdays instead of Fridays. This should widen readership and discussion on a day of the week where influential readers are more likely to be in their offices with colleagues rather than working from home.   

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

TT #183: New Hurstbridge, Mernda, Belgrave & Lilydale train timetables

Being a regular train rider hasn't been easy on much of the network in recent years. 

Prolonged bus replacements of busy line sections have slowed travel, with rail's main selling point - freedom from being stuck in car traffic - gone. 

Furthermore increased travel time variability has made trip planning harder, especially for time-critical trips or if the journey home requires a change to an often infrequent bus.    

Passengers accept these inconveniences for a better future, such as promised by 'Big Build' advertising. That could include removed level crossings, new stations, new paths and capacity for better service.  

As more projects reach fruition it's worth asking whether the benefits were worth the hassle.  Or will some who switched to driving never return to rail if the post-project service is hardly better than before?   

Two significant rail projects will reach operating completeness on Sunday May 28. These include track duplication on parts of the Hurstbridge line and two (more significant than normal) level crossing removals in Surrey Hills/Mont Albert. Both have resulted in revised timetables that are now available.   

A summary of these projects and what the new timetables offer is below: 


Project purpose: Duplications of some single track sections on Hurstbridge line. Single track sections can be a hindrance so project should permit improved peak capacity and better reliability. 

Infrastructure gains: New duplicated track for Greensborough - Montmorency and Diamond Creek - Wattle Glen. Two new stations at Montmorency and Greensborough (latter with much needed bus interchange). New shared path between Greensborough and Montmorency.

Disruptions: Long term bus substitutions between Macleod and Hurstbridge and other portions of the line at times. City Loop not always operating.  

Rail service gains? An extra 40 services per week mostly in peaks. This is made up of 25 in the peaks and 15 off-peak. That's 8 per weekday. This has helped give the Hurstbridge - Diamond Creek section a fairly even am peak service with 20 rather than 30 min intervals as well as better shoulder peaks later on. Also the extra tracks permits greater scheduling flexibility with more and more evenly spaced counter-peak trips. 

Another gain is shorter dwell time at Flinders St, speeding travel for those travelling to City Loop stations. Many more (if not all) trains from both the Hurstbridge and Mernda lines will stop at Victoria Park. This should aid connectivity to Melbourne University via the newish 202 shuttle bus

Talking about expressing, patterns will be swapped south of Clifton Hill with Hurstbridge trains stopping all stations (even in peak) and Mernda trains express through Collingwood and both Richmonds on that line. The travel time in the timetable is similar whether trains are express or not so I'm guessing this is done for load balancing purposes and to maximise reliability.  

There are no weekend timetable reforms as far as I can see with the dreaded 40 minute Sunday morning headways remaining. Neither has the start time for the 30 minute evening service been pushed later. This makes the timetable largely a peak affair, though reliability should improve with the duplication. 

Complementary bus service gains or network reform? Minor timetable changes on some bus routes to maintain coordination with trains. However this does not fix systemic issues such  as the chronic mismatch between train and bus frequencies on routes such as 517, 566 and 580 whose frequency will continue to not harmonise at most times. No bus network reform was included as part of these changes but some will come when Greensborough FlexiRide starts. 

What further cost-effective service upgrades could have been done? A good way to assess priorities is to look at times of the week where a significant number of people wish to travel, frequencies are very low and worthwhile upgrades could be done by inserting a small number of train trips per week. Three particular service opportunities stand out. 

a. Sunday morning frequency. This is most notable with passengers having to grapple with a 40 minute frequency until a (not early) 10:26am arrival in the CBD. This compares to a 20 minute service on lines like Frankston, Werribee and Williamstown that got upgrades in 2021. 

An upgrade to start the 20 minute service at a 7:05am CBD arrival would need 10 extra trips per week (5 each way starting/finishing at Eltham like the Saturday timetable). That's only a small increment on the 40 services per week that got added. However it would simplify train service with a maximum 20 minute wait (from Eltham inwards) between 7 am and 7pm 7 days per week so would have been worth doing. 

b. Mid-evening frequency upgrades. With evening trains 30 minutes apart on most of the system, Melbourne has amongst the least evening service of any similar developed city's train network. Sydney, for example, runs a lot of its lines every 15 minutes following large service upgrades in 2017.  

The Hurstbridge line is a bit of an oddity in that there's an uneven and non-clockface mid-evening frequency on weeknights. That's been retained in the new timetable. Departures from Flinders St are 8:18, 8:42, 9:04, 9:19, 9:42pm. That is varying gaps of 15-24 minutes.

It is strange that this has not been made an even 20 minutes given that this regular service is achieved at other times. It might have been possible to juggle existing services to close the gap. Or failing that, one extra trip each way per weekday could have helped with a roughly 20 minute service until approximately 10pm. That's an extra 10 trips per week. 

If you wanted to do weekends you'd need to add more trains per day as the 20 minute service finishes at 7:19pm (from Flinders St) and it falls off more quickly to 30 minutes. That would need two trains each way, or 8 added per week to cover both weekend days. 

To summarise, a revised Hurstbridge line timetable involving a 20 min maximum wait between 7am and after 9pm 7 days per week would need a total of 28 additional trips per week, mostly between the CBD and Eltham. That's an average of just 4 per day - ie pretty small relative to the number of trips that currently run.

Or, even bolder, you could run the upgraded 20 minute service to midnight all week if about 4 trips per day (on average) were added after about 9:30pm. This would make the timetable like that of the Werribee line, which got an upgrade similar to this in 2021.   

That none of these options were done indicates a reluctance to fully exploit our rail assets to  transform service from their now obsolete narrow commuter orientation to a more broadly useful all-week service suitable for diverse trips. 


With Hurstbridge, the Mernda line is part of the Clifton Hill group, so-called as trains pass the same stations between the City Loop and Clifton Hill. As a result the two lines operate as an interdependent group. Hence timetable changes for Hurstbridge typically require a complementary change for Mernda, if only to ensure reasonably even intervals between the CBD and Clifton Hill. 

There are exceptions but generally speaking the Mernda line serves a more diverse, growing and lower income catchment while the Hurstbridge line is a more established, slower growing and typically wealthier catchment.  

Rail service gains? Mernda will get 35 extra services per week, made up of 25 in the peak and 10 off-peak. In other words 7 per weekday. As noted before, the Mernda line gets more inner area expressing though no time is saved. The pm peak builds up a bit earlier from the 20 minute interpeak pattern. This should be a handy benefit for school students and early finishers. Depending on your destination the City Loop can be either a blessing or a curse so the 2 minutes faster travel around it should be welcomed.    

There are no weekend timetable reforms with the dreaded 40 minute Sunday morning headways remaining. There is also no change to the weeknight frequency, with the half-hourly service continuing to start at 8:30pm from Flinders St. Evenings are the major area where Melbourne is less served than Sydney with them having a lot more lines with trains every 15 minutes until midnight.  

Complementary bus service gains or network reform? There are some minor timetable changes on some South Morang and Mernda area bus routes to maintain coordination with trains. However the changes overlook systemic coordination issues with bus routes further south such as the huge number of routes around Preston, Reservoir and Epping which will remain with odd 22 or 24 minute frequencies (as they have for years). Also Route 389 in Mernda remains without weekend service. The Mernda line operates through an area that is slated for the northern area bus review so there may eventually be some network reform.  

What cost-effective service upgrades could have been done? Many of the comments above made for Hurstbridge apply for Mernda, but even more so due to stronger demographics and higher patronage potential.

This includes the need for Sunday morning and evening frequency upgrades. The number of extra trips required would be about 2 to 4 per day higher than for the Hurstbridge line as Mernda drops down to every 30 minutes earlier on weeknights. As the Mernda line is more urbanised than Hurstbridge all trains added would run the line's full length.  

Belgrave and Lilydale

Project purpose: Remove level crossings at Union Rd and Mont Albert Rd

Disruptions: Long term bus substitutions on one of Melbourne's busiest rail corridors through crawling traffic. High risk of losing people to public transport permanently unless service is improved afterwards.  

Infrastructure gains: Two level crossings gone. One new station (Union) to replace two old stations (Surrey Hills and Mont Albert).   

Rail service gains? Very limited. Union Station will get a more frequent peak service than the old Surrey Hills did with three morning and three afternoon peak trains altered to stop there. Higher peak frequency may compensate some commuters for their longer walks. 

The line's peak timetables will remain complex with numerous stopping patterns. Stations beyond Ringwood remain with infrequent 30 min service weekday interpeak with a missed opportunity to deliver 10 minute frequencies to Ringwood.  

Complementary bus service gains or network reform? None. Routes and timetables for 284, 612 or 766 in area will remain unchanged. All operate limited hours with no Sunday service despite serving the major hub of Box Hill. A low-cost 7 day upgrade would have been a good starting point, though further network reform possibilities are discussed here.  

What cost-effective service upgrades could have been done? This is a bit different to the Hurstbridge and Mernda line in that, except for weekend evenings, most of the reform possibilities are on weekdays. These include:

a. Simpler peak 'Greenfields' timetable with fewer stopping patterns. Needed because current arrangements are extremely confusing with too many variations. More here.  

b. Reformed weekday interpeak timetable.  including a 10 minute frequency for Ringwood and 20 minute service for Belgrave and Lilydale. Essentially it is running the weekend timetable (which got a frequency upgrade several years back) on weekday interpeaks as well. More here.  

c. Evening and Sunday morning frequencies increased from 30 to 20 minutes. Issues basically similar to the Hurstbridge line except that Sunday morning frequencies are 30 rather than 40 minutes. This makes an upgrade to every 20 minutes relatively cheaper as there is less to add. Ringwood also has a relatively good weeknight service until about 10pm from the city, though service drops off east of there. Like with the other lines you don't need to add very many trips per week to make a worthwhile difference, especially if the general reluctance to improve before midnight weekend timetables can be overcome.   

d. 7 day service on 284, 612 and 766 buses. Would have been a nice touch for relatively little cost.  


The 75 trips added are a step forward for Hurstbridge and Mernda line passengers. However they mainly benefit peak passengers. They also fall short of getting the most from the infrastructure we build (and must now pay for).

The peak skew means that the overall service offer on both lines remains substantially unchanged, with the hours per week that trains are operating at 30 to 40 minute frequencies hardly budging.
Just a few extra trips per day (on average) could have ended the despised 40 minute Sunday morning gaps and pushed the start of the 30 minute evening service later by one or two hours. 

Such a reformed timetable would have delivered a simpler, more attractive and more usable service with maximum waits reduced to 20 minutes from 7am to 9pm (or later) to Mernda and Eltham. 

Similar comments apply for Belgrave / Lilydale especially with regards to simpler weekday peak timetables, interpeak service levels and evening service - again only a few extra trips can make a big difference. 

While the opportunity might have been missed this time, it's never too late to start. More frequent service is the missing ingredient that makes trains genuinely useful for diverse trips. Indeed it may become necessary as economic pressures force a 'making the best with what we have' thinking that recent governments, side-tracked by cheap credit, have tended to downplay.  

Index to Timetable Tuesday items