Thursday, September 28, 2023

UN 164: Better transport in Mulgrave (6 point plan)

This week's resignation of Daniel Andrews as premier since 2014 and member for Mulgrave since 2002 creates an opportunity for improved public transport in an area that has never had very much. The opportunity is perhaps amplified because we now have a deputy premier who strongly supports bus service upgrades, even saying that a dollar invested in service returns five dollars to the community

For those who don't know it, Mulgrave is an almost square-shaped seat in Melbourne's mostly 1950s - 1980s (then) outer south-eastern suburbs. Ferntree Gully Rd forms its northern boundary with Heatherton Rd to its south. The east and west boundaries aren't quite as straight but roughly align with Westall Rd and East-west Link. Key suburbs include Springvale, Noble Park, Noble Park North, Wheelers Hill and Mulgrave, its namesake. Average incomes vary greatly from very low to high, generally increasing from south to north. The seat, especially its southern half, is very diverse, with a high proportion of families speaking languages other than English at home. 

Ever since it urbanised the seat (and its predecessors) have been safe Labor. While there is no party with a primary vote that rivals Labor, the latter's primary vote has been falling. Such a swing away from the major parties has been particularly notable in high average income inner suburban seats (which returned 'teal' independents or Greens in the 2022 federal election) and low average income ethnically diverse outer suburban seats (most notable in parts of Melbourne's west, north and south-east). 

You could watch the above video, but to put it in a nutshell, major parties took the latter areas for granted. Liberals considered they'd not win them while Labor (including in government) regarded these areas as its own and directed funding for services to more marginal areas such as the Frankston line sandbelt.

To take a transport example, while all of Bentleigh East's buses got 7 day service about 15 years ago, only about half of those in Dandenong did despite high social needs in the latter area. And, due to a preoccupation with infrastructure, the roll-out of 7 day service has ground almost to a halt with 'safe' Labor seats that missed out last time falling even further behind. Mulgrave is a classic example, with five bus routes not operating 7 days despite all recording above average usage on the days that they do operate. My 2022 election write-up on Mulgrave is here.

Existing public transport services in Mulgrave

What public transport exists in Mulgrave now? The Dandenong line serves the south-west of the seat. This has had significant level crossing removals at Springvale and Noble Park to general acclaim. There have also been some improvements to train timetables, though waits on weekend evenings and Sunday mornings remain long. This line will run through to the capacity-increasing Metro Tunnel but actual service levels are as yet unknown. Westall, Springvale, Sandown Park and Noble Park are the four stations nearest to Mulgrave residents, though some in the north may use the Glen Waverley line. 

The rest of the Mulgrave seat has buses. The highest served routes are the 900 on Wellington Rd between Caulfield and Rowville and the 902 on Springvale Rd. Both get above average usage but weekend frequency on both is low for premium routes, with 30 minute gaps typical. Local Mulgrave bus routes typically operate every 30 to 120 minutes and may not run evenings, Sundays and even Saturdays. As noted above failure to meet minimum service standards for buses is more prevalent in Mulgrave than elsewhere. 

A six point transport plan for Mulgrave

Quite a bit can be done for public transport in Mulgrave. Some areas have complex, indirect and overlapping bus routes that could be simplified. Key examples being the 802/804/862 along Wellington Rd and the 631, 813, 814 and 848 along Police Rd. The 802/804/862 should be relatively simple to reform while Police Rd probably requires a larger local bus network review. These can be drawn out affairs and an election campaign isn't necessarily the best time for such deliberations. Especially if you want 'quick wins' that fix the most pressing issues now. 

Such issues include short operating hours unsuitable for the times that many people wish to travel, a lack of 7 day service, crowding on busy routes (notably Springvale Rd) and long waits at certain times even on busy lines and routes. The good news is that all of these are fixable by working the existing fleet harder for more of the week on existing lines and routes, with the main expenditure being additional rostered driver hours. 

Such a plan would have benefits across almost the entire seat, as mapped below:  

In more detail, the six initiatives could be: 

1. Route 800 upgrade. Would gain longer hours (to at least 9pm) and new Sunday service. As this is a main road route serving major centres at Chadstone and Dandenong, a 20 minute weekend frequency is suggested (matching the 893 along a portion of Princes Hwy further out). As Melbourne's busiest bus without 7 day service, this upgrade would be the highest priority of the six for Mulgrave (and has certainly been the most publicised). 

2. Route 814 7 day upgrade. Would gain longer hours and new Saturday afternoon and Sunday service. An hourly frequency appears low but reflects the existing weekday and Saturday morning timetable. It would also enable co-scheduling with the partly overlapping 848 to provide a combined 30 minute service on sections. 

3. Route 802/804 7 day upgrade. Route 802 would gain new Saturday and Sunday service while 804 would gain improved Saturday afternoon and new Sunday service. Operating hours would also be extended to 9pm. We suggest hourly weekend service on each route with the timetable offset with Route 862 to provide a 20 minute combined frequency on the overlap.  

4. Route 885 7 day upgrade. Would gain an extension of operating hours to 9pm and a new Sunday service. Hourly suggested to match existing Saturday service levels and meet minimum service standards. A later network review in the area may have scope to increase frequencies further. 

5. Route 902 15 minute frequency 7 days on Springvale Rd. Route 902 SmartBus currently operates every 15 minutes on weekdays and 30 min weekends. This is a busy corridor and weekend crowding can ensue on parts of the route. We suggestion the addition of short trips every 30 min between Nunawading and  the Keysborough depot to to provide a combined 15 min service during the day. 9pm to midnight Sunday evening service would also be desirable on this section. 

6. Dandenong line frequency upgrade to a 20 min maximum wait. This is Melbourne's busiest rail line with Springvale one of its busier stations. Service is currently 10 min during the day (7 days) but there is a sharp drop to 30 min on weekend evenings. Sunday morning service is also half-hourly. A worthwhile and relatively economical upgrade would be to add trips so maximum waits at these times are 20 minutes - same as that on the quieter Frankston, Werribee and Williamstown lines. This upgrade would move the Dandenong line nearer to a true turn-up-and-go service across the day, though ultimately the aim should be 10 minute maximum waits at least as far as Dandenong. 


The above forms the basis of an affordable transport upgrade agenda for Mulgrave. It's not complete but it does cover matters of most immediate importance, including completion of the minimum standards roll-out (promised in 2006) and 7 day frequent Springvale Rd service. 

Subsequent stages could include frequency boosts for Route 900 on Wellington Rd, the abovementioned 802/804/862 simplification, a Police Rd corridor review (including a direct Centre Rd route to Clayton) and a start on a Monash - Dandenong frequent route on Heatherton Rd as per the Future Frequent Network

Candidates and advocates may wish to consider it when shaping their policies for the by-election. The increased attention given to Mulgrave in the next couple of months will give a welcome opportunity for transport services to have a higher profile than they did in last November's general election. And, as you saw above, Mulgrave most definitely needs it! 

More on the Mulgrave by-election

Antony Green's election analysis page

#Fix800Bus on Facebook

Index to other Useful Network items

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Top 5 priorities for Transport Equity Week

17 to 23 September 2023 is Transport Equity Week.

I discuss transport equity quite a bit here. Examples include my look at the systemic inequity of current routes and timetables, the extent to which existing service priorities entrench poverty traps with routes and timetables that are not 'job ready', priority service upgrades to new social housing developments and, more recently, the case of most diverse but least served Greater Dandenong

With cost of living pressures hurting demographics that one might consider 'middle class', equity issues are no longer just a 'poor people thing' that governments (especially Labor) could safely ignore with no electoral consequences. Especially with the collapsing major party primary vote in areas that were previously 'taken for granted' (Labor) or 'not our people' (Liberal). 

I'm talking the likes of Dandenong and Broadmeadows where there are neighbourhoods whose buses have not had a single trip added for 30 years or more despite high patronage, strong social needs and the routes being passed over when there was last a serious upgrade program about 15 years ago.  

Young Labor has recently cottoned on to this, passing a motion backing train frequency upgrades (especially in Melbourne's north and west) as well as reformed routes and minimum service standards (ie 7 day operation) on buses. It remains to be seen whether the senior party, parliamentary party and most critically the cabinet take heed. 

As well as a service existing, it must also be accessible. That means being able to cross the road to get to stops and once you're at a stop being able to board a vehicle (a particular issue with trams).   

Service and accessibility themes feature in Transport Equity Week events being held around Australia. Of interest was that the idea for local activity in Melbourne came from a chance meeting with Minister Carroll at a post-election function

So what are the service-related measures that would further transport equity in Melbourne? 

Here's my top five.

1. 7 day buses in high needs areas that currently lack them. The most notable gaps exist in Dandenong but attention is also needed in areas like Glenroy, Thomastown/Lalor, Campbellfield, Croydon/Lilydale, Frankston, Knox and more. That's good for equity as currently the only after 7pm or Sunday transport some neighbourhoods in these areas have are expensive taxis/ubers.  

2. Faster roll-out of bus routes in new estates without them. Eg the likes of Mt Atkinson, Mambourin and Thornhill Park. Having even a basic bus service assists with cost of living pressures as it enables more households to get by without a second or third car (which the RACV recently told is is expensive). 

3. Completion of missing bus links that would speed access to jobs. Some cross-suburban trips require needless backtracking and thus take too long to be a practical commute despite the short distances involved. Examples include Tarneit - Laverton North, Sunshine - Melbourne Airport, La Trobe University to Swinburne via Chandler Hwy, La Trobe University to Caulfield via Camberwell, Dandenong South to Keysborough and Narre Warren to name just a few. 

4. Progressively cutting 40 and then 30 minute waits on trains to deliver 20 minute maximum waits across the network all week. This would particularly benefit those who don't work standard M-F 9-5 jobs (disproportionately the 'working poor' service sector). Especially those who need to be somewhere at a particular time or making connections. Areas with the longest waits for trains are the west, north and outer east. This is incredibly cheap to do and should be a prelude to more widespread all day 10 minute service. 

5. Various active transport and accessibility works to improve connectivity to and between transport modes and suburban centres. Could include bus and tram priority measures, roundabout removals, placing bus stops nearer intersections, new pedestrian crossings, etc. 

Many of these are cost-effective, whether it's working existing trains or buses harder or doing small works that if replicated would deliver last and very cost-effective connectivity and access gains. And often it's not even a case of choosing between equity and patronage goals - there are high patronage growth potential instances (eg Craigieburn line trains and Dandenong area buses) where boosting service furthers both without needing to compromise. 

Have any other thoughts? Please leave them in the comments below. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

UN 163: Deakin Uni area bus reform starts next month

More than expected bus service improvements are coming to Melbourne's eastern suburbs a month tomorrow. The news broke last night via a media release on the premier's website

The changes implement Deakin University network reforms funded in 2022's state budget . Not only that but there will be some 'greater good' timetable changes similar to that done on the then Transdev network in 2021

The timetables go online tomorrow. However there's enough in the media release to provide some tentative views, which I will do so later. 

The changes

First of all, what's changing? 

* 201 Box Hill - Deakin shuttle boosted. Will be improved from every 20 to every 15 minutes with the service also running on Orientation Week. This will be close to cost-neutral as two duplicative Box Hill - Deakin routes will be deleted. These include the entirety of the 768 and the southern portion of Route 281. However as compensation Route 281's early weeknight finish time will be extended a little to 7pm making it more useful as a feeder to get people home. The 201/768 duplication has long been a network inefficiency so it's great to see this sorted out. Some 281 users will be upset that they lose their one-seat ride from High St Lower Templestowe to Deakin Uni but I think reform could have gone further, cost-effectively merging 281 and 293 to provide a 15 minute weekday/30 minute weekend service in conjunction with Montmorency/Greensborough area changes that could have been coordinated with the Hurstbridge Line Duplication project (and new stations).    

* Route 903 routed via Deakin Uni with extra Saturday morning short trips added. The Deakin route alteration was expected. However the Saturday morning improvement came out of the blue and should partly remedy some historical errors on a high demand route about which more will be said later. 

* Route 766 to run more frequently on Saturdays, gain Sunday service and be run via Union Station. These are welcome changes. As discussed here, this timetable upgrade pretty much had to be done as otherwise some in its catchment would be too heavily disadvantaged by having the rerouted 903 taken away from them. It is also heartening that Route 766 will at last be rerouted to serve the new Union Station, something 
discussed here but not done at the time. 766's upgrade will also give the area its first 7 day bus route as others like 284 and 612 do not run Sundays.    

* Route 271 to operate 7 days. Another surprise but very welcome. Route 271 has significant unique coverage and I considered 7 day service essential, even if it was at the expense of frequency on other days of the week. We'll know tomorrow if it has had timetable changes on the other days to help fund it.  


What are the two big stories of these changes?

Firstly I would have expected the 201 Box Hill - Deakin shuttle to operate every 10 minutes rather than every 15 minutes as advised. A 10 minute service is much more 'turn up and go' with people relying less on timetables. It is also more marketable as waits longer than that would cause people to consider other routes, making the service offer more complex. Other key university shuttles have a 10 minute or better service including the 301, 401 and 601.

However I can also see why they opted for 15 minutes. Deakin is a smaller campus than the others. Deakin already has the recently upgraded 767 to Box Hill and will soon have the 903 also, both comprising 7 trips per hour. Adding a 201 every 15 minutes would boost that to 11 trips per hour, which DTP might have considered sufficient, despite not all Deakin stops being served by all routes. Also, unlike other train lines that other university shuttles serve, trains at Box Hill operate on a base 15 minute frequency, making a well-timed 15 minute shuttle potentially OK. And, especially for Box Hill - Deakin trips there may be scope to stagger a 15 minute shuttle to operate at times offset with the 903, creating a 7.5 min combined service, especially if stops are closely spaced at Box Hill interchange and adequate information exists. 

If the Deakin shuttle was less service than some might have assumed, the busy 903 on Saturdays via Chadstone Shopping Centre is a case of more. Why is this important? These changes may start to unravel a historical error that's existed for the better part of 15 years. First some background. 

Before the long 903 Altona - Mordialloc orbital there was the shorter Box Hill - Mordialloc Route 700. This was at one time Melbourne's busiest bus route (at least amongst the private operators) and got upgraded to SmartBus status in 2005. The Saturday timetable then featured three buses per hour, ie a 20 minute service typically meshing with trains at the time. The SmartBus orbitals (of which 700 was to become a part) received 30 minute frequencies on weekends. As well as being poor for a premium route this did not mesh well with trains then every 20 minutes. However there was a will to at least retain previous frequencies so the eastern part of the 903 retained its 3 buses per hour with the northern and western portions at 2 buses per hour. That meant an uneven Saturday timetable with a mixture of 15 and 30 minute waits that was arguably inferior to the consistent 20 minute headway that it replaced. 

We won't know for sure the 903 Saturday improvements until we see the timetable. But if one extra short trip per hour was inserted then the busy eastern portion via Chadstone could improve to 4 trips per hour with an even 15 minute frequency. If this is the case then it would represent a significant improvement for the times that it applies. The release says morning though ideally this 15 minute service would, like on the 907, apply on Saturday afternoons and Sundays as well. However this requires operational funding and a few million for this is harder to find than a few billion of capex. Still, it's a start and indicates the beginning of an appreciation of what needs to be done. 

Unfinished business

Every bus reform package (and I do regard these changes as genuine bus reform) has boundaries where still desirable changes are out of scope. Those most notable for this package include: 

* 7 day frequent service on Route 903. This requires extending what (I think) is being done on Saturday mornings to Saturday afternoons and then Sundays to deliver a 15 minute frequency on (say) the Mentone - Heidelberg portion of this route. It adds a lot of route kilometres but would provide the first  genuinely frequent 7 day orbital route for Melbourne's east. Such a service could even cover the north to as far west as Coburg if consolidation in Melbourne's north along with the largely duplicative 527 is implemented. Even a cheaper version, involving a 20 rather than a 15 minute version of the above on weekends, could represent a step forward, though ultimately a 7 day 10-15 minute service remains a better fit for major orbital routes. 

* A new High St Templestowe Lower bus every 15 minutes by merging the 293 with the 281 as discussed here. Requires some Montmorency/Greensborough area reforms. Economy and connectivity would be best served if this was associated with 901 and 902 orbital reform in the north-east to provide a new frequent Doncaster - Greensborough connection via a reformed 902 with the duplicative portion of 901 being replaced by (say) a Pines Shopping Centre to Heidelberg east-west route. Presumably the currently underway north-east Melbourne bus review (announced exactly 1 year ago today) will examine bus networks in this area.  


Overall these look a good package of changes even though the extra service kilometre resources added appears small. It is particularly encouraging that DTP has used this opportunity to introduce other cost-effective reforms including boosted 903 Saturday service and 7 day operation on the 271 along with the previously budgeted Deakin-specific measures.

These are exactly the type of incremental service optimisations that DTP should be implementing at a far faster rate like Perth does. This would maximise benefits from constrained service funding and facilitate future wider reforms including simpler and more frequent routes. 

The timetables should be available tomorrow, with services commencing a month later on 15 October. 

15/9/2023 post script - new timetables

201 Every 15 min from 7am until just before 10pm. Approximately 15 min trip time. PDF on PTV website has major error in footnote referring to Monash & Clayton (which 201 doesn't serve). Also  box re operating days is unhelpful. 

271 Introduces an hourly Sunday service. Saturday service remains every 30 min. Span meets minimum service standards on all days of the week. 

281 6-7pm weeknight evening service improved with all trips going their full route and one or two later trips added. Saturday timetable substantially unchanged and there remains no Sunday service.  

766 Saturday service upgraded to every 30 min. New Sunday service every 40 min. Evening service typically every 30 min on all nights of the week. Span improved to meet minimum service standards on all days of the week. 

903 Saturday morning times 'massaged' to provide approx 25 minute headway from Altona with shorter average waits at Chadstone (15-20 min) but still lumpy timetable. Morning departures at Mordialloc improved to approx every 20 min but spacings increase with distance over the morning as traffic volumes rise. Route is basically too long to schedule evenly with varying run times. 

PTV write-up here

See other Building Melbourne's Useful Network items here

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Greater Dandenong area bus route productivity vs 7 day service

As I noted in How Dandenong got short-changed on buses, Greater Dandenong has some of Melbourne's most productive bus routes but the lowest proportion with 7 day service. 

Dandenong got less than its fair share when metropolitan buses were last majorly upgraded 15 years ago. And, despite high usage of the routes that do run, service stagnation remains today. Possibly due to the area having no politically marginal seats and/or the current government favouring infrastructure over service in its transport spending. 

This approach rewarded state Labor in 2018 and 2022 but is not sustainable long term. Even ignoring infrastructure's rising construction costs and interest bills, a neglect of basic services (not just in transport) bodes poorly for Labor long term as its eroding primary vote causes more of its traditional safe seats to be decided on preferences. 

Politics aside, let's talk in more detail about the productivity of Springvale/Dandenong area bus routes. I'm using passenger boardings per live service hour statistics for Spring 2022 as discussed here. One of the big trends was the relative (and also often) absolute rise in the importance of weekend travel despite timetables remaining stagnant, or in Dandenong's case, service sometimes not existing at all.

The numbers are below: 

I've excluded very long routes with the majority of their sections outside Springvale/Dandenong (eg 811/812, 828, 901) to keep the focus regional.

This leaves us with 12 routes. All listed happen to be in the top 50% of weekday boardings per hour for buses in Melbourne, with the first four in the top 20%. On weekdays all do as well if not better than the average bus in Melbourne. Most are above average on weekends too. 

Let's discuss them one by one. 

Route 800 tops the list on weekday and Saturday productivity. This is really not surprising - the 800 has all the ingredients of a top performing bus route including directness along a major highway, good residential catchment and lots of jobs including it serving or passing near SE Melbourne's biggest employment hubs at Chadstone, Monash University Clayton and Dandenong. Whether you use weekday or Saturday productivity figures, Route 800 is Melbourne's busiest bus route without Sunday service with only a two hour frequency on Saturday afternoons. Hence boosting its weekend service is top priority for the #Fix800Bus campaign

Route 814 is second ranked on weekdays. If you look at it on a map you wouldn't think it had much hope as it's incredibly indirect. It starts in the back blocks of Springvale South, runs into Springvale, then east across to Waverley Gardens and then south to Dandenong via Noble Park North. No one would ride it end to end. But its the sort of catchment that you could put any sort of bus in (even if only hourly) and large numbers would jump on board. Its weekend service is even sparser than the 800 with only a few trips on Saturday morning operating. 

Route 813 ranks third on weekdays. It's another route that you wouldn't ride end to end. However like 814 it serves key destinations including Dandenong, Springvale and Waverley Gardens. Weekend productivity is higher than weekdays. This is attributable to both its strong catchment demographics and that people will walk longer to it on evenings and weekends because other routes like 814 and 885 are barely operating then. 813 is the area's most productive weekday route to have got 7 day service about 15 years ago. 

Route 885 between Glen Waverley and Springvale is another strongly performing route, especially on Saturdays. Its Saturday patronage performance is so good that it's the third most productive Saturday route lacking Sunday service in all of Melbourne. That's important because Sunday usage is almost 1:1 correlated with Saturday usage meaning that if Sunday service is added there's a high chance of it being a top patronage performer then as well.  Parts overlap the 902 on busy Springvale Rd. Both termini are active on weekends. And it has some unique coverage in parts of Valewood. On paper this might not look enough to matter but the pedestrian hostileness of Springvale Rd would encourage those east of it to walk to the 885 if service is running when they need to travel. 

Route 850 connects the important centres of Glen Waverley and Dandenong via Dandenong North. The catchment includes significant low income housing in the Gladstone Rd area. It is the second most productive (on weekdays) route to have got minimum standards upgrades. The catchment demographics and the absence of 7 day service on the nearby 802 and 804 help to explain why its weekend service is more productive than weekday service (though all are above average). Route 850 has enough ingredients (including strong termini, directness and catchment) to be a more frequent cross-regional route operating (say) every 20 minutes or better 7 days. 

Route 802, 804, 862 are three roughly parallel routes between Chadstone and Dandenong via Oakleigh, Monash and Mulgrave. They are unnecessarily complex with varying timetables across the week. For instance 802 (despite significant unique coverage) is 5 days per week, 804 is 6 days per week (dropping to 2 hourly on Saturday afternoons) while 862 is the trio's only 'minimum standards' 7 day route. The latter contributes to 862's high Sunday productivity. Scope exists for some network reform but the highest priority should be 7 day service (even if only hourly) on all routes. The 804 ranks as No 4 (in all of Melbourne) as a high productivity Saturday route lacking Sunday service. Like the story about it being wrong to estimate demand for a bridge by the number of people swimming across, we can't use this metric to assess 802's likely Sunday usage because it doesn't run on Saturday either. However 802's weekday patronage productivity is only a little below 804's and the 802 arguably has more unique catchment that would benefit from 7 day service. 

Route 844 is the shortest route of the lot, connecting parts of Doveton with Dandenong. It is a coverage style route with a weak eastern terminus. Operating hours are short because, like nearly half of Dandenong's buses it missed out on minimum service upgrades. Usage is somewhat above average as part of its catchment is unique and demographics are favourable for buses. Again it justifies Sunday service given its reasonable Saturday productivity (ranking 14th in all of Melbourne out of residential area routes that lack Sunday service). 

Route 857 a longish route but is included as it provides important Dandenong South industrial area coverage. Very low Saturday usage due to both its catchment and its short (3 hour) span on Saturday mornings. Unless your stay is very brief you are battling to make a return trip due to this. Its usage and even productivity is likely to improve if its operating span was improved on Saturdays. And there's some residential area catchment that justifies a basic Sunday service. 

Route 816 the newest route introduced to extend coverage to Keysborough South. Runs minimum standard service. Part of its catchment is in an area with many parallel routes, reducing its productivity somewhat. 

Route 848 Dandenong to Brandon Park Shopping Centre. Serves parts of Noble Park North but other parts overlap other routes. Just falls in top 50% of routes but the lowest on the list with its weak northern terminus (Brandon Park instead of Glen Waverley) not helping. However it does provide minimum standards 7 day service with a flat hourly frequency. Much of it parallels Route 814, providing a 30 minute weekday frequency on the overlap. This would extend to 7 days if the 814 was was given extra Saturday hours and new Sunday service.

7 day gaps mapped 

The first starting point for a basic legible 'always there' bus network is that every stop should have a 7 day service with service at least hourly until say 9pm. While not a high threshold, this was the 'safety net' criteria behind 2006's MOTC minimum service standards. This got implemented on roughly 70% of bus routes across Melbourne (more if you exclude specialist peak, industrial and university routes) but only 53% of routes feeding Dandenong station

How does the lack of 7 day service in the Greater Dandenong area look like on a map? Below I've plotted only the unique coverage portions of non-seven day routes. That is if another route that runs 7 days serves the same stops then the the non-seven day route's line is interrupted. 

Most graphic is the Princes Hwy corridor due to the limited service on Route 800. The gap between Blackburn and Springvale roads is due to the 631 which runs 7 days (but to destinations different from the 800). 

802 and 804's part-week service create similarly large gaps in large parts of Wheelers Hill, Mulgrave and Dandenong North. The latter's low income Gladstone Rd corridor gets only the hourly 850 on Sundays due to 804 not running then. Also a substantial area east of there lacks any weekend service due to 802's 5 day timetable. 802 and 804's sparse timetables also mean that Dandenong Hospital gets a far inferior weekend service to what it should have. 

814 also ranks due to its second-ranked weekday patronage productivity and significant unique coverage. While the route itself is roughly 400m away from the parallel 7 day 848 in the Noble Park north area, a significant catchment west of Jacksons Rd is significantly further.

Other smaller (but still productive) weekend coverage gaps would be filled if 844, 857 and 885 gained 7 day service. 

I should point out that just because there's a gap in the line does not mean that it should be ignored. Eg 800's gap on Princes Hwy is near the dense high-rise M-City which also has the 631 on a section of Princes Hwy. However this is only every 40 - 60 min on weekends and goes to different destinations. So a boosted 7 day Route 800 on this section is in no way duplicative despite sharing some stops.

Similarly the strong propensity of people in the Dandenong area to use buses (driven by demographics) means that notwithstanding some overlapping coverage catchments all routes are likely to have above average  patronage productivity even if they all got 7 day service. On local routes like 802, 804 and 814 you might start with 40 to 60 min weekend frequencies on the existing alignments with potential future network reform boosting this to 20 to 30 min on reformed routes in areas like Dandenong North and Noble Park/Keysborough for little extra cost. The latter would lead to a simpler overall network but has a more complex implementation process than getting everything to a basic 7 day service first.   


All the Dandenong area routes listed are above average productivity. They should all have 7 day service but only half of them do. However this data could help inform priorities for campaigns such as #Fix800Bus which directs effort to routes whose improvement would benefit the most people. 800 is right at the top but cases exist for the rest with 814 and 802/804 ranking highly on usage and catchment grounds. 

Friday, September 01, 2023

A quick look at Melbourne's tram plan

While they feature on tourist tea towels, are frequently described as 'iconic' and carry more people than you'd expect from the network's limited catchment area, Melbourne's trams have long been underinvested in.

Major issues include: 

a. slowness and unreliability due to a lack of separation from car traffic
b. often poor stop and vehicle accessibility with glacial progress towards legislated targets
c. routes that stop short of logical termini or miss now dense inner area corridors 
d. crowding due to too small trams, the ill-advised Free Tram Zone and decades of declining or stagnant frequencies with timetables that don't reflect modern travel needs, especially nights and weekends

Yesterday the government released a vision for trams via Melbourne's Tram Plan (media release here). It's the second modal transport plan in as many years, with Victoria's Bus Plan coming out in 2021.

The plan

Melbourne's Tram Plan starts with a snapshot of the network. 475 trams carry over 200 million passengers per year on 250km of double track. 75% of this is shared with car traffic, making, as others have pointed out, Melbourne trams amongst the slowest in the world. Also just over one-quarter of stops are accessible (450 / 1600), making a new rapid-build approach necessary to deliver universal accessibility. 

A second theme is the extent to which trams support city commerce and activity. They connect densifying inner suburbs and activity centres in ways that our trains, with their complex and still half-reversing City Loop, do not. And they provide fill-in last-mile feeder coverage that trains do not. 

Infrastructure renewal is also important. Large accessible trams require new or rebuilt depots. They can also be power-hungry, drawing up to three times the power as older trams. This requires attention to the power system's capacity (although the Next Gen trams will be better with onboard storage and regenerative braking). 

What is the plan's response to these challenges? 

Here they are in summary: 

A network hierarchy comprising the CBD grid, trunk corridors and the suburban network 

The trunk corridors are basically the most heavily loaded inner suburban part of the network extending about 5 or 6km from the CBD (a bit more to the north).

Trunk corridors are intended to have 'high frequency service' while the suburban network is intended to have 'turn up and go' service. The plan doesn't specify the actual frequencies involved but I'm going to guess 5 minutes for trunk corridors and 10 minutes for the suburban portion. Suburban portions today vary from about every 6 to every 15 minutes off-peak with 12 minute frequencies very common on routes that feed into St Kilda Rd. 

How might one do this in practice? The most controversial approach could be to convert the network into trunks and feeders. Trunks might have big trams every 3 to 5 minutes while feeders have smaller trams every 6 to 10 minutes. This may raise objections as forced transfers may replace one seat rides on corridors like St Kilda Rd. A less radical approach, applicable to long routes like 59, 75 and 86, is to have half the trams going to the terminus with the other half going only half way out. This could enable higher frequency and capacity on the busier sections of routes, while those near the end still have a single seat ride. Other possibilities could include splitting indirect routes like the 3, 16 and 72 which few passengers would ride end to end. 

The above is just my speculation as the Tram Plan, like the Bus Plan, is light on network specifics. Given we're not far off the Metro Tunnel opening (which we're told is ahead of schedule) and its interactions with the tram network, a few more hints on what is envisaged here would have been nice. Also, even if resourcing is tight, there might still be scope for some 'quick wins', such as discussed here for Route 12.  

Central Melbourne connectivity and reform  

Certain corridors and precincts are identified including La Trobe St, Spencer St and the western part of the CBD. The latter could be enabled by the Metro Tunnel which could allow some trams to be shifted from the Swanston St corridor. The extent to which this can happen depends on how frequent Metro Tunnel trains end up being (which we don't know yet).   

Stops and corridor upgrades

Due to the scale of work needed, the plan says that stops will be upgraded to accessibility standards by corridor. 1600 stops will be grouped into 100 corridors (averaging 16 stops each) with this shaping how work is tendered out. Two of the first corridors to be upgraded will be along Route 86, with the third along Route 82. 

The future

Those who pick up a plan expect to read about the future. Horizon 1, or the current agenda, is all about more accessible stops and a lot of preparing (for new trams) and planning (for network reforms). Along with reliability and passenger information initiatives. 

What's called Horizon 2 is medium term up to 2032. This includes new trams and stops and exploiting opportunities presented by the Metro Tunnel. 

Finally Horizon 3 is post 2032. This encompasses further network development and some expansion. In political terms this is almost in the 'never never'. And there is a possibility that we will see services on the Suburban Rail Loop start (due 2035) before the tram network gets any longer than it is now.  

A lot of people mention trams to Fishermans Bend. These are not mentioned in this plan. Last year the government greatly upgraded bus services on two routes with an excellent 10 minute weekday frequency. Apart from some extra weekend trips serving nearby apartments, that is probably OK for now. Some will complain but I'm afraid I don't see their angst. Even with a tram Fishermans Bend would lack the fast accessibility from the multiple directions it needs to. It would just be another New Quay - out on a limb, commercially unsuccessful and ages to reach from most places. I'm inclined to prioritise developing the Arden precinct first, and then when Fishermans Bend's time for high density comes do transport properly with a Metro 2 from the west


That's a quick summary of Melbourne's Tram Plan. It's a useful document in that it gives stakeholders and the general public an insight into current departmental thinking. But as always more detail would have been nice. 

How much of it will happen? Parts have already been announced, budgeted and are underway. But other parts are subject to future funding, on which we'll get a clearer picture on in the 2024 and 2025 state budgets. 

While we'd all love to be optimistic, the record so far with 2021's Bus Plan indicates that those who don't expect too much too soon are unlikely to be proved wrong. This is especially given current trends (as exemplified by the 2023 state budget) is in the direction of less rather than more spending due at least partly to rising interest costs on major projects (committed to when interest rates and construction costs were lower).