Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Better transport for our housing priority areas

Today's Age carried a story listing ten priority suburban areas for new and likely denser housing. Nominated areas are: Broadmeadows, Camberwell Junction, Chadstone, Epping, Frankston, Moorabbin, Niddrie (Keilor Road), North Essendon, Preston (High Street) and Ringwood.

This obviously triggers need for improved public transport. The government has called for a 'consortium of consultants to identify the transport and community infrastructure needs of the first 10 activity centres'. 

I can't talk about the community infrastructure but I will say a few words about transport. All right now and without you paying a cent. Aren't blogs wonderful? 

What will follow is broadly consistent with my Future Frequent Network. That's the basic grid of 10 minute service across all modes which you can see on the interactive map. You can also select layers for 'Useful Network' routes every 20 minutes. Together these provide a comprehensive network within 800 metres of most people and jobs. The FFN is just lines on maps and doesn't talk about capacity or speed (also needed) but it's still way ahead of anything the government's published for a long time. And the FFN is high impact, likely getting more people on to public transport than any single mega-project (though it would also feed, support and complement them). 

Three years ago the government announced six social housing growth areas. I listed their main public transport needs and opportunities here. My stress was on what was cost-effective and achievable so that the improved service is running as soon as people move in. 

I'll do the same for the ten housing priority areas below: 


- Rebuild Broadmeadows station to be a fit for purpose mixed use interchange
- Boost Craigieburn line frequency from every 20-40 min to every 10 min
- Upfield line upgrade including duplication, extension and a new station with bus interchange at Campbellfield
- SmartBuses upgrades to every 10 min 7 days with a rerouted 902 'SRL SmartBus' linking Melbourne Airport, Gladstone Park, Broadmeadows, Campbellfield, Keon Park and Greensborough. 
- Fast and frequent bus corridors on Aitken Bvd and Mickleham Rd feeding Broadmeadows
- A new direct bus route to Coburg (potentially by extending the 527 via Widford St)
- Better connections to jobs on Hume Hwy/Campbellfield
- Local bus upgrades with longer operating hours, higher 7 day frequency and maximum 20 min waits to surrounding areas including Meadow Heights and Dallas. 
- Major walking and cycling improvements

Camberwell Junction 

- Boost Ringwood line frequency to every 10 min or better at all times
- Maximum 10 min waits on all tram routes with boosted priority for higher speed
- Extend Burke Rd tram south to Caulfield and north to at least Kew East. Commence frequent bus service in interim period. 
- Reform bus 624 on Tooronga Rd to operate as separate Caulfield - La Trobe Unversity route running at high frequencies and with long operating hours.
- Commence new bus route from Victoria Gardens to Elsternwick area via Burnley station to provide an efficient north-south link (potentially reformed Route 604). 
- Upgrade all bus routes to run 7 days with higher frequencies especially on weekends, especially north-south routes, notably Chandler Hwy, Tooronga Rd and Balwyn Rd with network reforms also required. 
- Major walking and cycling improvements


- Boost service on 900 and 903 to run every 10 min or better 7 days
- Build large scale bus priority then Bus Rapid Transit (potentially grade separated on sections) to speed both north-south Warrigal Rd and east-west Princes Hwy connectivity
- Extend Alamein line to Oakleigh with a station in the Chadstone area
- Boost service on surrounding train lines (Dandenong & Glen Waverley) for maximum 10 min waits
- Extend tram route 3 to Chadstone
- Boost weekend frequencies on all buses to match weekday frequencies (short term) including 7 day service on routes currently without it eg 612, 800, 802 & 804. 
- Reform and simplify bus networks for simpler routes, each with 20 min maximum waits and long term operating hours. Priorities to include (i) combining 693 and 742 as boosted and extended 693 on Ferntree Gully Rd, (ii) 802, 804 & 862 combining into two routes including reform in Dandenong area, (iii) 627, 767, 822 reform to provide for frequent and direct East Boundary Rd route to Southland and (iv) Reform of 623 and 624 west of Chadstone to provide simpler and more frequent 623 to St Kilda via Caulfield station. 
- Major walking and cycling improvements


- Boost rail services on Mernda line to run every 10 min at all times
- Boost 901 to operate every 10 min or better between at least Roxburgh Park and South Morang
- Bus Rapid Transit from Wollert to Plenty Rd via Epping Plaza and Epping station
- 10 minute frequent bus corridor from Epping Station up Epping Rd to Craigieburn Rd. 
- Reform of local routes including removing kinks (eg 556), extensions to major activity centres (566) and boosting frequencies to 20 min or better
- Major walking and cycling improvements


- A new northern entrance for Frankston station to greatly improve walking connectivity to trains
- Minor improvements to train frequency to deliver 10 min service over more hours
- Upgraded Route 901 frequency with 10 min maximum waits 7 days
- Upgrade Route 791 to Cranbourne to operate more frequently over longer hours
- Reconfigure Frankston CBD buses to provide frequent north-south corridors to reduce need to change at Frankston station for local trips eg from hospital and Monash University.  
- Major bus network reforms in Karingal, Frankston south, Frankston East and Carrum Downs areas including more 7 day coverage, longer hours, simpler routes and more coverage. 
- Major walking and cycling improvements


- Minor improvements to train frequency to deliver 10 min service over more hours
- 824 bus on South Rd extended to Brighton or Brighton Beach and upgraded to run longer hours and higher frequency, especially on weekends
- Reformed bus routes in Cheltenham/Highett area to deliver a fast and direct Sandringham - Bay Rd - Southland bus
- Local bus reform including a frequent East Boundary Rd bus to Chadstone (reformed 767),  merging complex 811/812 routes, connections to Moorabbin jobs and improved east-west connections from local stations. 
- A new Southland - Nepean Hwy - Moorabbin - Elsternwick route operating 7 days incorporating current limited service 823 bus. 
- Longer operating hours and upgraded weekend frequency on local bus routes including 708, 822, 825 and 828. 
- Major walking and cycling improvements

Niddrie (Keilor Road)

- Boost Craigieburn train frequency to every 10 min or better
- Boost tram 59 to every 10 min or better at times it currently isn't. Seek speed & accessibility improvements. 
- Improve tram/bus/shopping centre connectivity at Airport West
- Simplify the complex 469 bus by splitting at Airport West
- Major walking and cycling improvements

North Essendon

- Boost Craigieburn train frequency to every 10 min or better
- Boost tram 59 to every 10 min or better at times it currently isn't. Seek speed & accessibility improvements. 
- Improve tram/bus/shopping centre connectivity at Airport West
- Improve bus 903 weekend frequency and improve currently poor physical connectivity between bus and train at Essendon station
- Simplify the complex 469 bus by splitting at Airport West
- Major walking and cycling improvements

Preston (High Street) 

- Boost rail services on Mernda line to run every 10 min at all times
- Merging the 527 and 903 to provide a simplified east-west bus between Heidelberg, Northland, Preston and Coburg for little cost operating every 10 minutes or better
- Simplify 513 and 514 bus on Bell St to operate as a single route to Greensborough with longer operating hours and a 10-15 min 7 day frequency for improved east-west connectivity. 
- Off-peak tram frequency upgrades to cut waits to 10 min 
-  Simplification of bus network with more frequent service, improved directness and logical termini involving routes such as 552, 553 and 567.
- Major walking and cycling improvements


- Upgrading train services to simplify peak timetables and cut maximum waits from 30 to 10 min until last train (achieved by operating Belgrave and Lilydale legs every 20 min as happens on weekends)
- Boost 901 to Frankston to operate every 10 min 7 days
- Boost 670 bus to run longer hours and maximum 20 min waits on any day
- A new Canterbury Rd bus to Box Hill operating every 20 min or better via Forest Hill SC
- A major reform of local buses, including adding 7 day service, simplifying routes and adding coverage
- Major walking and cycling improvements


That's a quick list. There's no doubt many omissions. Ideas welcome in comments below. 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Highlights from MTF's ZEBs and Beyond Forum

On Tuesday October 25 the Metropolitan Transport Forum held the Zero Emission Buses and Beyond forum as part of Bus Awareness Week. Addressed by Gabrielle Williams, the new minister for Public and Active Transport, it had some great presentations and discussions. Here they are: 

Minister's address

Victoria's Transition to Zero Emission Buses

Fair Share Cities: Gender and planning

Auckland’s New Network – a Bus Reform case study

Dr John Stone presents a frequent grid network for Melbourne's west

Panel discussion on FlexiRide bus performance in growth areas

Above has a particularly exciting mention of possible new GAIC funding for growth area bus services to be announced in December 2023. 

Watch one or watch them all. You'll be glad you did! 

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Research spotlight: How long do residents in new estates have to wait for bus routes?

Nothing much by me today but I can bring you something both better and more important. 

It's RMIT research on how long it takes for new estates in Melbourne to get bus routes put in. 

This is absolutely vital. Because people are most likely to change their transport habits when they face a major change in their life circumstances. That can include a new work location, large changes in income or (especially) moving house.

This is because peoples' habits are shaped by the transport they find (or don't find) in their new location. If cycling is easier and parking is harder then that will change how they get around. And in the long term households (especially couples) will sell their second (and sometimes even only) car. Thus further decreasing car usage.

Conversely if people move to an area with no public transport then high car use will be entrenched as part of daily life from Day One. Couples getting by with one car will buy another even if they'd rather use the money for another purpose (including affording the basics for those on low incomes) since having one car per adult is pretty much a pre-requisite to finding or keeping work. Or even a basic level of community participation. 

Public transport connections established well after most people move in will still get used but since people have bought all their cars usage won't be as high compared to if it was established early in a suburb's establishment  when it had a chance shape peoples travel habits from the start.   

Thus having even a basic bus service early in a new suburb's life is essential to give it the best chance of success. And to allow residents the choice of buying only the cars they want to have, not those that poor transport forces them to have. Getting more people on public transport right from their neighbourhood has wider benefits, especially if both road connections and parking at the nearest station are limited.

I've written multiple times about new suburbs waiting for public transport well after people have moved in. How typical is this experience in outer Melbourne? 

You're about to find out thanks to this great new paper by researchers Annette Kroen, Steve Pemberton & Chris De Gruyter. In a nutshell 3 to 4 years it typical, though waits can be up to 14 years. And, while it's beyond the research's scope, I'd argue that 30 to 40 year established areas like Rowville, Lysterfield, Ringwood East, Croydon, Frankston South and many more remain lacking without a full service too, getting, at best unreliable or limited hours FlexiRide services. 

The above doesn't do the research justice. So I think you should read the paper here. 


It's also worth nothing that even where there is service the limitations of leap-frog development, the lack of through roads and/or highly conditional GAIC funding can lead to a pattern of multiple overlapping and infrequent routes  such as in Clyde North where not a single bus runs continuously from Berwick to Cranbourne, despite both being destinations where people would wish to go. Long-term government uninterest in bus network reform and slow internal processes (when there is interest) can mean that even though suitable through roads get built and level crossings removed, it can take years (sometimes decades) for buses to get routes that take advantage of these works.  

In contrast things were done differently (and better) a century ago. For example here is a case (from a century ago) where the bus was put in before all the blocks were developed. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Minister Williams' top 5 local public transport priorities


Last week I welcomed the new Public & Active Transport Minister Gabrielle Williams and listed some important agenda items where she could make a real impact. These tended to be quite broad, even state-wide. 

Today I want to cover Dandenong area issues that are important in her capacity as local MP. As I've written extensively about most in the past I'll make this a short list with links for further detail. 

1. 7 day service on all Dandenong bus routes

First priority as it's important, cheap and easy to fix. Dandenong is amongst Melbourne's lowest income and most diverse areas but has the least 7 day bus service of any comparable area. There was a big push to fix that across Melbourne about 15 years ago but implementation was only half-hearted in Dandenong. Thus timetables for many routes remain untouched, retaining their early finish and limited Saturday afternoon and Sunday service. This is despite the buses that do run (especially the 800) being amongst Melbourne's busiest bus routes that lack 7 day service. 

Priorities for upgrade include 800, 814, 802/804, 885, 844 and 857, probably in that order. Funding for all these would be desirable in the 2024 state budget

2. Simpler, more direct and more frequent bus routes

Bus routes in Dandenong can be complex, overlapping and not have been reformed for decades. Along with the short operating days/hours mentioned above their frequency can be low, with 60 and even 120 minute service found on the network. Simplification of the network should allow some frequency increases especially if accompanied by some modest extra funding for weekend and evening operating hours. Simplification could mean that each route runs every 20 to 40 minutes at all times rather than every 40-120 minutes as currently. There could also be more even spacing on routes that continue to overlap. 

The simplest candidate for network simplification in Dandenong is a mini-review of the 802/804/862 corridor. Also worth considering is the complex network further west in suburbs like Keysborough and Mulgrave, which although outside Dandenong have implications for services in it. 

Network simplification often requires public consultation and takes more time to plan than a simple timetable upgrade. Thus it can't happen as quickly as a 7 day service roll-out. Nevertheless the 2024 state budget should allocate at least planning funding to enable a start to be made.

3. New bus routes to Dandenong South and the Monash precinct

Could be part of the network simplification reviews above but would require additional funding. Connections to jobs in Dandenong South is a key need with the desirability of direct routes to adjoining suburbs including Keysborough, Hampton Park and Narre Warren. Also important is better connections to the Monash precinct, which my Metro Tunnel Bus Network has from Dandenong via Heatherton Rd and Springvale. 

4. Trains every 10 min until midnight 7 days

Justified as Dandenong is Melbourne's busiest line. One hopes that this happens when Metro Tunnel opens next year, though Melbourne's record at adding service once infrastructure is built is patchy. Current waits for trains at Dandenong are 30 min on weekend evenings and Sunday mornings. This is despite high need for travel at these times with trains every 10 minutes from early morning to midnight, all week justified for the City - Dandenong portion. 

A good approach would be to extend the current daytime operating pattern (Pakenham/Cranbourne each every 20 min) into the night and Sunday morning as well.   

5. Regularly maintaining and cleaning the disgrace that is Dandenong Station

The centre of the area's transport network is dirty, dusty and unloved. And you can't blame vandals for most of it. Paint is badly chipped, platforms are unmaintained and certain areas look as if they have not been reached in for months if not years. Bus network maps are wrong, having not been changed since 2014. Hence there needs to be more regular maintenance and a deep cleaning regime. Stations that are a similar age to Dandenong (eg on Perth's Joondalup line) are better maintained. 

A spruce-up with regular maintenance and cleaning thereafter would do wonders for Dandenong's presentation. Better station maintenance is a no-brainer for the 2024 budget and/or should be a requirement of the new rail franchise currently being negotiated. 


Presented are five top priorities for the new minister. None are particularly expensive yet they together would make a big difference to how useful public transport would be in the Greater Dandenong area. 

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

The Allan government's new transport ministers

With Jacinta Allan becoming premier and Ben Carroll deputy premier (and Minister for Education), it was inevitable that there were going to be changes in who oversees transport after the resignation of Daniel Andrews. 

Hence it's a welcome to Essendon MLA Danny Pearson who adds Transport Infrastructure and the Suburban Rail Loop to his Assistant Treasurer role and Dandenong MLA Gabrielle Williams who becomes the Minister for Public and Active Transport, replacing Ben Carroll in the public transport role. Ministers Melissa Horne retains roads, Sonya Kilkenny retains planning and Josh Bull retains his parliamentary secretary role. 

I expect Mr Pearson to bring his financial management background to major transport projects, whose costs are escalating due to labour, materials and rising interest rates. The fact that other countries (and even other states) can build transport infrastructure cheaper than we can also needs a good hard look. 

As for public transport services, we don't yet know what Ms Williams has in mind. However there is mounting community demands for service increases, given V/Line weekend crowding, embarrassingly long evening Metro train waits, changing post-pandemic travel patterns and a backlog in 7 day bus services in new and established suburbs alike. 

Legacy of recent past ministers

Before we start on all that, let's look at recent past ministers (earlier ones discussed here). 

Previous premier Daniel Andrews and current premier (then transport minister) Jacinta Allan are most identified with 'Big Build' policies, especially in transport, after Labor's 2014 victory. Everything was about major project-based infrastructure, most notably the Metro Tunnel, level crossing removals and most ambitiously, the Suburban Rail Loop. Service, planning and network reform matters, despite being the most cost-effective measures to immediately improve public transport, were sidelined, as explained here. I discussed the Andrews government's record at keeping its promises (up to 2022) here.  

Reform of ministerial arrangements after the 2018 election brought first time MP Melissa Horne straight into the public transport portfolio. This time coincided with 'peak infrastructure', still handled by Jacinta Allan, with little progress on the service side. 

The Adem Somyurek affair brought ruptions to the government that resulted in the ministerial reshuffle that brought Ben Carroll to the public transport portfolio. Sometimes seen riding public transport, Mr Carroll immediately said that improving the long-neglected bus network was a priority with wide benefits and high returns for the money spent. Well-regarded by stakeholders, he presided over the introduction of minimum passing distance laws around bikes, launched Victoria's Bus Plan in 2021 and Victoria's Tram Plan two years later. 

It became permissible again to talk about bus network reform with modest upgrades funded in the 2021 and 2022 state budgets. However a tight budgetary environment, a continued reluctance to fund service initiatives and shifting attention to items like bus recontracting and electrification made service reform marginal once again, with little extra funded in the 2023 state budget

To put it crudely, the big projects that Jacinta Allan touched got money (often billions) while smaller (but very cost-effective) initiatives in Ben Carroll's area seemed to be 'frozen out' of the government's agenda. Greater support for these in party caucus and cabinet would have helped, but the infrastructure-first tendency remained strong, especially in the dominant Socialist Left faction (which gained numbers since some switched to it just after the 2022 election). Young Labor, in the party's organisational wing, does however back improved PT service, with a motion recently carried

Power relationships in the bureaucracy also seemed to have shifted with the new Department of Transport being bigger (though less influential on service matters) than the old but more targeted PTV, with infrastructure project agencies having sway reflecting their large budgets under this government. 

The department was further enlarged after the 2022 election with it incorporating Planning (hence DTP) with minister Sonya Kilkenny. Ms Allan's title was subtly expanded from 'Transport Infrastructure' to 'Transport and Infrastructure', which along with her gaining the Deputy Premier role, strengthened her (and infrastructure's) dominance of the portfolio. 

Mr Carroll appeared to have a win for his seat when the scope of the Airport Rail project was expanded to include a much-demanded station at Keilor East but this became embarrassing when it was announced that airport rail's fate was subject to a federal review. The post-2022 election reshuffle retained him in public transport but swapped roads for wider industry portfolio roles, effectively weakening his coverage of transport matters. It seemed that he could have his bus plan but not the funding to properly implement it. 

Although the Andrews government attracted criticism from what you might call transport's 'serious experts' (including the Auditor-General) for lacking an overarching transport plan, it could at least argue that (at least until recently) it had a better record than the Cain/Kirner and Bracks/Brumby governments in doing what it said it promised, even if some things done presented opportunity costs.   

Opportunities for the new Public and Active Transport Minister

There's quite a few. With the Bus and Tram plans, the agenda (especially the problems to be solved) is sketched out in more detail than was the case three years ago when Ben Carroll took over. 

On the debit side, interest costs are biting and the budget is increasingly under pressure. While that may make recurrent funding for service increases hard to find, the good news is that the amounts involved are relatively small and initiatives can be targeted to areas of greatest need or patronage potential. And where it's simple operating hours and weekend frequency upgrades on existing routes you are not subject to delays due to public consultation or fleet expansions. 

Cost-effective service upgrades in the 2024 Budget

Of particular interest to Ms Williams will be that pretty much on Day 1 of her ministry DTP will already be planning its agenda for the May 2024 State Budget, before initiatives go to the Expenditure Review Subcommittee. Therefore, in the words of her friend and former premier, "there is not a moment to waste".

Practical transport service agenda for the Mulgrave by-election

In relation to bus service levels, the minister's seat of Dandenong is also the least served when considering the proportion of routes that operate 7 days to minimum service standards. Politically this is of immediate interest as 4 out of 6 Dandenong's non-seven day routes (800, 802, 804 & 814) also serve the ex-premier's seat of Mulgrave with a by-election soon. Seven day service upgrades would send a signal that the government cares about local services and is willing to invest in improvements (like better transport) that improve access to jobs and address cost of living issues. 

Tackling long term issues for public transport

Seven key issues are detailed in my December 2022 item here. All remain relevant today. In summary these include:

(1) There have indeed been crowding issues on some V/Line services, especially since the fare drop. You don't want people left behind, especially if it's a long wait to the next train. 
(2) Metro trains continue to have below-par service, notably evenings and Sunday mornings on most lines including the minister's own of Dandenong. Removing 40 and then 30 minute waits would be top priorities here with only a small per cent increase in the number of weekly trains run needed.
(3) Bus service backlog in high needs areas of which the Mulgrave-Dandenong area is perhaps the epicentre on some measures, despite recording high average usage on the bus services that do run.
(4) Tram delays and accessibility issues.
(5) Issues with V/Line service delivery, though we no longer have to worry about the Comm Games. 
(6) Cost control of major projects and a need to identify and fix network inefficiencies to afford more widely beneficial service uplifts. 
(7) Falling fare compliance, with a deterioration on buses (especially) from the pandemic when they went cashless with on-bus top ups via card also unavailable. 

Added to this are the operational challenges of bringing the Metro Tunnel to fruition in 2025 along with complementary train, tram and bus network changes. Along with continued effort to make travel as good as it can be for those whose travel will be affected by the continuing program of level crossing removals and other major projects. 
Opposition changes also

The state opposition has also had a reshuffle of some of its portfolios including transport. Former leader Matthew Guy takes over the public transport role from Richard Riordan. 


I look forward to Mr Pearson's and Ms Williams' periods as transport portfolio ministers and trust that they will be able to preside over network reforms and service expansions necessary to make public transport more useful for more people for more trips.