Friday, May 31, 2024

Melbourne's PT service per capita: Ten years of trailing Sydney

A recent theme here is that Melbourne is in a per capita public transport service recession . We are adding population, we are building infrastructure but we are not adding public transport service at anywhere near the rate to keep up. This is particularly so for our heaviest used modes such as metropolitan train and tram.

It's true that, as cited by the minister, there have been gains in absolute terms (particularly for buses) but the method of counting by trip can give an inflated impression of service increases where routes upgraded are short. 

I prefer using annual service kilometres, as published in the state budget papers. These can give a per capita indication of service trends. I concentrated on Melbourne but was interested in how other cities were faring on the service intensity for their public transport networks. The SNAMUTS team has done a lot of good work on this, presenting time series maps and graphs for various cities including many in Australia/NZ. 

Today I wanted to highlight just one of several graphs available. This deals with service intensity per 100 000 inhabitants. It's a service quantity measure as this is most easily measurable. That says nothing about how efficiently the route kilometres are deployed in providing a useful service but you can look at other data and maps for that. And service intensity is good at establishing whether cities are keeping up with population growth and the extent to which public transport service is priority for various state governments.  

Let's cut to the chase. The fortunes of public transport service in Sydney and Melbourne are very different, with increasing divergence over time. 

* Sydney has more public transport service per 100 000 inhabitants now than in 2011, with strong growth in the last 5 years.  

* Melbourne's public transport service per 100 000 inhabitants peaked in 2011. It's declined since. 

These service increases are why waits for trains, trams and major bus routes at night in Sydney are typically now about half Melbourne's. They added service while we stagnated. 

See the numbers below, particularly the figure at the end of the bars, which encapsulate all modes (click for a better view). 

What are some other messages in the data? 

Melbourne did a lot with buses between 2006 and 2011. Bus service provision and patronage rose roughly 25% in that time. However the bus figure given above shows a much bigger increase as only bus routes with a 'useful service' were counted. The reason for this is that service that qualified increased greatly when the SmartBus routes were expanded. Melbourne has upgraded some bus routes in the years since 2011 but has not extended its SmartBus network. 

Auckland has been the star performer, increasing public transport service greatly. This has been both on its rail and bus networks with major network reform on the latter. The same can be said for Perth, which opened its Mandurah line in 2007 and upgraded buses then and in subsequent years. However both cities (plus Melbourne and Brisbane) have had fast population growth, which is why their 2021 service intensity is lower than in 2016. 

Adelaide features highly. Part of this can be attributed to 2014's Seaford rail electrification which improved services. However its attempt at bus reform failed and little has happened since. Its service per capita score is only high because its low population growth erodes per 100 000 service slower than in faster growing cities. And more of Adelaide has a more transit-friendly pre-car urban form compared to a Perth or Brisbane.

However Adelaide does demonstrate that a not particularly wealthy Australian city can afford a higher service intensity than we in Melbourne have. Their experience invalidates claims that Melbourne (for example) cannot afford substantially better public transport frequency, especially if done in a cost-effective manner, eg through bus network simplification and reform. Reflect on this the next time you've missed the last bus at 9pm or it's 30 minutes to the next evening train home.  

There's two take-home messages from this data: 

1. Melbourne is trailing Sydney on public transport service per 100 000 population, wtih the gap widening over time. 

2. Melbourne can afford better public transport service, with big bus upgrades possible if we choose to lift  service intensity to be comparable to Sydney, Auckland and even Adelaide. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Value for money from our transport operators: Are we getting it?

Last week I discussed per kilometre running costs for the various modes of public transport. Metro train was dearest, buses were cheapest while trams were in the middle. For the metropolitan modes costs roughly reflected capacity and speed. Metropolitan train, tram and bus came out at $55, $22 and $7 per kilometre respectively. 

Those per kilometre figures correct for service levels. But I did not correct for inflation. That's important if you're comparing 20 years of figures. Especially if you're interested in value for money.

Which everyone should be, given (i) Melbourne's population and need for transport is growing, (ii) the government says it's broke and (iii) we are in a service per capita recession for our busiest PT modes.

Melbourne's record on service

Melbourne's pipped Sydney as Australia's biggest city. However Sydney has added a lot more PT frequency in the last decade. That really got started under the previous NSW Coalition government and has continued under Labor. During this time Victoria's Labor government pursued a 99% infrastructure-based 'shovels not service' policy, with frequency improvements rare in metropolitan Melbourne. 

Hence it's now common for waits for trains and trams in Melbourne to be double Sydney's, particularly nights. To quote The Commercial Advisory Partnership (a consultancy specialising in transport franchising), ' in hard assets mean nothing unless they translate into better services'.

Melbourne's per capita PT service slump is deepest for trams, with this falling by over 20% in 20 years. Declining tram service has been a multi-generational megatrend; go back 70 years and waits for trams were half today's. Absolute declines in service ceased maybe 30 years ago but per capita declines have  continued and possibly even accelerated when inner area densification is counted. Tram service is topical today as the current operating franchise expires this year and the government is currently evaluating franchise bids from aspirant operators. 

Also last week the government exercised its option to extend the metropolitan rail franchise by 18 months to enable bedding down of Metro Tunnel operations. While we're promised more services under the Metro Tunnel associated timetables, there is uncertainty over whether these will go beyond the lines directly served by the Metro Tunnel, with the Minister at PAEC recently refusing to be drawn on whether busy lines like Craigieburn will benefit off-peak.

Government sensitivity on service matters can be measured by the frequency by which the Minister quotes the 2000/20000 number to sell the government's record. That is the addition of 2000 rail services and 20000 bus services since the current government took office in 2014. This was later confirmed (as in the abovementioned PAEC hearing) to mean services per week, which was a welcome clarification. 

However counting service numbers (as opposed to service hours or kilometres) is not the best measure of service uplift. This is because on this metric adding a 4 hour trip on an orbital route counts the same as a 10 minute ride on a university shuttle, despite a >20:1 difference in service hours and thus resource usage.

If a high proportion of services added have been on shorter than average routes (which is true given the government's strong record of adding or boosting short routes like 201, 202 and 301 university shuttles and 235 / 237 in Fishermans Bend) then a trip count method will exaggerate the quantity of service added. Conversely the method would unfairly downplay highly desirable boosts to long routes eg orbital SmartBus weekend frequencies (which the government hasn't done much of). 

This, and its accurate treatment of network reform (which may split or join routes), is why  the Department of Treasury & Finance method of counting annual service kilometres per mode as reported in the budget papers and discussed by me here is a sounder measure of service provision and trends. Thus, unless one is talking about a service uplift to one line or route only, quoting the number of added services is of only limited usefulness.   

Payment differences 

Are we paying more per service kilometres than we were 10 or 20 years ago? To find out I converted each year's per service kilometre budget costs to a 2005 base using CPI numbers via There'll be variations but CPI prices today are roughly 1.6 times what they were in 2005.  

Here's what I arrived at. 

Something measuring real costs of a routine service should be relatively flat, as it is for buses. However the other lines are volatile, especially metropolitan train and tram. Why? The best I could do is to refer to footnotes in the budget documents which explain some, but possibly not all, variations.   

The biggest spikes appear to be when a new franchise is entered into, most notably in 2009. This was the era of Connex and its terrible reliability. Patronage was surging, services were not and infrastructure was failing. Another large spike would have occurred before this data commenced in 2004 following the failure of the first round of franchising (referred to in the Mees paper linked below).  

This episode possibly reminded everyone that value should not just be measured in dollars per service kilometre; maintenance is important too for the performance and sustainability of assets. After nearly a decade of falling performance from 2003 metropolitan rail reliability sharply revived from about 2012 according to Track Record figures. While real dollars per rail service kilometre increased under the MTM franchise, at least some of this was returned in value in the form of improved reliability (the 2016 VAGO audit found weaknesses in PTV's information and knowledge here). Also rail, especially, has had a lot of renewal via capital investment such as the level crossing removals, the Metro Tunnel  and various regional upgrades (which are other buckets of money). 


I've left a fair bit unanswered and am reluctant to draw firm conclusions without further information.

However it seems that the relative cost increase for V/Line is lower than Metro Trains. And trams have grown even faster. However in both the metropolitan modes the biggest step change in real costs appears to be that following the 2009 refranchising (or before that in 2004, coming off unrealised assumptions regarding efficiency gains, patronage and diminishing subsidy from the first round of franchising). 

Experience has shown that there are both good and poorly performing public and private operators. Initial cost savings from a private tender may evaporate over time, with operators either walking outcutting corners or being retained under more generous terms. And the apparent accountability of a government operator might not necessarily mean superior service in practice, such as the stagnation in both rail and bus service levels in Brisbane. Those most heated about private franchise versus nationalised operations tend to be more loyal to their political ideologies than what is working well for passengers at a particular time.  

Given that Victoria has opted for a franchise model for its metropolitan transport, any work DTP does to sharpen its pencil and get more from franchisees so more can be put into service could be a wise investment given (a) the current government's reluctance to find money for significant metropolitan train and tram service increases and (b) the big cuts to maximum waits possible with as little as 1% more services added to the weekly timetable (but preferably more). 

Background reading on train and tram franchising

Improving public transport A pro-franchising item from Infrastructure Australia

The Commercial Advisory Partnership blog Various articles on rail franchising

Thursday, May 23, 2024

UN 173: How much does public transport cost to run?

We know how much transport infrastructure costs to build but transport operating costs get less publicity. Especially how much (or how little) it costs to add service and what factors cause this to vary.

Back in March I went through 20 years of state budget papers and population data to see how annual service kilometres per capita had changed over time. I found we were in a per capita service recession for our busiest metropolitan transport modes. Melbourne's grown fast in population, built lots of infrastructure but has hardly added service. This contrasts with Sydney that backed infrastructure with service such that waits for its trains, trams and some bus routes are now about half ours, especially at night. 

Annual cost

Last week I returned to past budget papers to examine how much we pay our transport operators (which, except for V/Line, are private companies operating under a franchise or contract agreement).  

In round figures this totals around $3.8 billion per year. Fare revenue would be well under $1 billion, meaning an average farebox recovery ratio of 20-something percent across the network. 

When assessing the value of this one needs to consider the broader transport system context including the public and private capital costs and negative externalities of roads and driving. While both are very expensive mega-projects, the North-East Link will have far less people throughput than the Suburban Rail Loop with the latter also offering accessibility and agglomeration gains. 

Active transport is the cheapest for all concerned yet gets the slimmest slice of the transport spending pie. It's also politically difficult with cycling and walking improvements frequently blocked by trader-dominated local councils scared at losing parking spots for transport's least space-efficient  and dearest to cater for mode.

And at the state level the most cost-effective public transport improvements tend to be overlooked due to a nearly decade old bias of prioritising peak-oriented infrastructure builds over good all-day service. That  might have made sense given pre-pandemic peak growth and premier Andrews' determination not to repeat the cautious 'too little too late' thinking that arguably cost premier Brumby office in 2010.

However changing travel patterns and the rise of off-peak and weekend travel is making most of our train and bus timetables increasingly look like museum pieces with 30, 40 and even 60 minute gaps between services widespread at some important times people are still travelling. All this is fixable. And as we'll discuss later, adding off-peak frequency to a peak-biased public transport network makes financial sense as existing assets is worked harder with fixed costs spread over more riders. 

The divide between regional and metropolitan transport roughly reflects the state's population split. In this case regional transport services cost roughly $1b to run with metropolitan close to $3b per year. The farebox recovery ratio is likely much lower on regional services, especially since the statewide fare cap was introduced last year. 

Today's main topic though is overall dollars per service kilometre for the various modes. This is calculated by dividing how much we pay operators per year (in millions) by the annual service kilometres (also in millions).  

Below is a table I did, comparing operator payments and service kilometres scheduled. Click to improve readability. Or scroll down for bigger versions, split by mode. 

Cost and value per mode

Metropolitan train is the dearest per service km, at around $55. Buses are the cheapest, with both regional and metropolitan around $6 - 7 per service kilometre. Tram and regional train/coach are in the middle at about $20 - 30 per km. 

Being cheapest is however not the same as the best value, especially when you factor in capacity and speed. One bus driver might carry 60 people in a packed standard bus. Whereas a train driver can carry 1000. Trams are in between. Which makes rail modes cheaper per person carried despite the higher cost and having to maintain their own lines and overheads. Then there's speed and comfort, with the train's superiority being enough to encourage people to travel to it from a wider area than a slower bus in mixed traffic. 

Mean versus marginal

Even more important is that the costs per kilometres is a mean figure. If we're interested in adding service the relevant figure is the marginal cost. Factors that cause the marginal cost to vary greatly from the average cost include:

(a) whether the network has high fixed costs and capacity constraints (more rail than bus issue), and 

(b) the time of day, with off-peak below average cost and peak service being much dearer, especially if it needs capital as the line is at capacity and all rolling stock is used.  

Especially on rail systems with substantial station officer, signalling and security staffing, expanding operating hours is cheaper than improving peaks but much dearer than boosting off-peak frequencies within existing operating hours. 

Having said that there are certain cases where longer operating hours are essential for network usefulness. Buses are the most glaring example given the late starts and early finishes on more than 90% of routes. For trains the main operating hours issues are with Geelong and Melton V/Line services, where a 60 to 90 minute earlier weekend start would make a big difference. A similar problem also afflicts Good Friday and (mostly) Christmas Day Metro services as these have inherited late-starting pre Night Network timetables. 

Speaking of which, the value for money we got from longer operating hours was perhaps less in the Home Safe/Night Network political promise, and its subsequent honouring, to operate Metro Trains 24 hours on weekends. The service we got was hourly, meaning that only a few train drivers were needed. However vast numbers of station staff and PSOs were needed, with the quantity being the same regardless of whether the service ran frequently or not. The policy was generally regarded as a success and no one batted an eyelid at its cost. 

While there are definite legibility benefits of operating trains all night, the opportunity cost was not  resolving our world worst train frequencies at other times of night and even Sunday mornings. That would have been excellent value given the numbers of passengers who would benefit.

Luckily this option remains open to us at modest marginal cost, with potential for us to have the best of both worlds. In the meantime we can give Night Network credit for finally fixing the Metro rail network's notoriously late Sunday morning starts (leaving just frequency as another, as yet unresolved, matter!) and for demonstrating that where there's the political will then something can happen, regardless of opportunity cost.   

Metropolitan train ($55/km)

A cut-down version of the above table, for metropolitan trains only, is below. 

The numbers start too late to show operating costs under Rail Franchising Mark 1 (effective for a few years up to 2003). That spectacularly collapsed because of a shared delusion about the extent to which costs could be cut while growing patronage and thus revenue under incentive-based franchises. Aggressive low-bidding foreign operators (after market share) and  bureaucrats (eager to please their political masters by getting a lot for very little) both contributed to this mess. 

Survivor Connex, whose operations were a little less financially parlous than National Express, got the keys to the whole network and a more generous contract, funded by tolling Eastlink under Rail Franchising Mark 2. This restored organisational stability but there were many network transition issues and reliability plunged as patronage surged. 

Connex became possibly Melbourne's most hated brand. The government dumped them in 2009,  refranchising with MTR from Hong Kong. MTM's first couple of years was rocky but reliability revived and train problems rarely made the front pages. The new franchise was also much more generous as can be seen in the payment leap between 2008 and 2009 that outstripped the rise in service kilometres. In 2016 the Auditor-General found that service reliability improved but saw scope for better value

There's another jump between 2017 and 2018. The current franchise commenced in this period, with MTM retaining the business. However the 2017 budget has a footnote saying that the payment excluded the revenue portion for train and tram. The current franchise was to come up for renewal at the end of this year but Metro Trains has been given an extension so it can bed down Metro Tunnel operations. 

As noted before, service kilometres for Metro Trains has remained flat, trailing population growth. It remains to be seen what gains the Metro Tunnel timetable will bring. But we can say that rail service costs around $55 per kilometre with the marginal cost for shoulder and off-peak service additions likely significantly lower given rail's high proportion of fixed costs. There may also be rostering efficiencies possible, especially for shoulder peak services, that would further lower costs if realised. 

Metropolitan Tram ($22/km)

Trams operating costs are below. 

Even more so than metropolitan trains, annual service kilometres for trams has hardly grown in many years. The main factor affecting per kilometre costs is the outcome of the tram franchising. Currently  there's three bidders in contention, comprising Keolis Downer (the incombent), Go-Ahead (including well-known bus operator Kinetic) and Transdev/John Holland (who have a poor reputation to overcome from Transdev's previous time here with buses). We're expected to know the successful bidder any time soon.   

Metropolitan Bus ($7/km)

Now we come to buses, which are the cheapest metropolitan transport mode per kilometre. Payments per kilometre are a gentle rise, as can be seen below. 

Buses have lower fixed costs than other modes (as there's no tracks and overheads), however on a cost per passenger basis they can still be dearer. For example we pay more to run buses than trams each year even though tram patronage is higher (admittedly including many very short trips).

However bus routes and timetables aren't as productive as they should be, with inefficient overlaps and  poor weekend service relative to usage contributing to patronage that is attainable.   

A bus upgrade example - what can we do with $1 (or $10) million?

A typical suburban bus route might be 15km long. One trip on it costs $100 each way, or $200 return to operate. This being based on 15km x $6.80 per km x 2. 

Sat it runs 15 hours per day. Service is every two per hour weekdays and every hour on weekends. That translates to 30 return trips per weekday and 15 per weekend day, meaning 180 return trips per week.

Multiply that by $200 to get a weekly cost of $36 000. Or by 52 to get an annual figure of $1.82 million for a route like that.

To prove that we're not way out, if we multiply that by 350 (the number of bus routes in Melbourne) we get $655 million per year. Which is not that far off the $897 million total given (a) some bus routes are much longer than 15 km and (b) some bus routes, including the very long orbitals, are about double the frequency of our example so would cost more. 

Boosting the weekend service on our example route from every 60 to every 30 minutes needs 15 extra return trips for each weekend day, or 30 more per week. In other words a rise from 180 to 210 return trips per week. That lifts weekly cost from $36 000 to $42 000, or $312 000 per year to halve maximum waits across the week. 

$1 million per year could upgrade 3 average length routes, while $10 million per year could upgrade 30, with gains all across Melbourne. And these are millions, not billions. The sums associated with big construction projects have stopped us thinking what we can do for a few million (or less) but this is an essential skill to retain, especially in tough budgetary times. 

Costs would be even lower if routes that already have good Saturday service just need a Sunday upgrade. They'd also be less if the existing base is higher, eg you just looking to upgrade a bus that's every 40 minutes to every 30 minutes.

Conversely, if you've got really strongly performing routes you might boost them from hourly to every 20 minutes on weekends, instead of just being satisfied with 30 minutes. Going from 60 min (1 bus per hour) to 20 min (2 more buses per hour) needs double the resourcing (or can be done on half the routes) compared to going to 30 min (1 more bus per hour). Still the cut in maximum wait from 30 to 20 minutes makes that well worth it for strongly performing routes from major weekend destinations. 

Bear in mind that weekend upgrades are marginal costs. Whereas I'm using the average per km cost. So the cost of service uplift may well be less since you're working the existing bus fleet harder. However weekend trips do have some extra costs with driver penalty rates, making them somewhat dearer than adding (say) extra midday weekday trips. However patronage productivity numbers often show stronger patronage numbers on weekends, making adding to weekends more worthwhile, especially on lesser served but high patronage potential routes.

Maximising cost-effectiveness with simpler routes

Opportunities to get results just from a simple upgrade to an existing route are highest where the route is already an above average patronage performer, it goes to useful destinations, it's already reasonably straight and it doesn't inefficiently overlap other routes.

If it's the first three and not the fourth then network simplification can help deliver even better value frequent service across a wider area. In some cases it may even be possible to do it with the same or less live kilometres per week, especially if there is scope to redistribute service hours from weekdays to weekends.  

Six strong opportunities to provide cost-effective 7 day frequent service along main roads to Melbourne's biggest suburban destinations include:

Footscray-Sunshine along Ballarat Rd (220/410 simplification)
Sunshine - Highpoint via Braybrook (408/465/468/903 simplification)
Footscray - Highpoint (223/406 simplification)
Footscray - Laverton via Millers Rd (232, 411, 903 simplification)
Coburg - Preston - Northland - Heidelberg along Bell St and Murray Rd (527 and 903 simplification) 
Chadstone - Monash - Dandenong (802/804/862 simplification)

Because of substantial network overlaps big 7 day frequency upgrades are possible by consolidating and simplifying routes without significant coverage loss. This type of thinking would allow many bus corridors to run (say) every 10 minutes weekdays and 15 minutes weekends without substantial additional cost.

The resultant network gains and usage uplifts mean there's no excuse even for an apparently cash-strapped state government to check its 'hollow logs', with only a pittance required for setup costs like a few moved bus stops and signage changes plus likely some small extra operating costs for (highly desirable) operating hours improvements. 

Extended operating hours for buses are vastly cheaper than the same for trains. That makes getting bus operating hours to match trains and trams a no-brainer, particularly on the main routes. And, looking further ahead, if Melbourne was to get 24 hour 7 day transport you would at least start with buses in the wee hours (like Sydney already does on some bus routes). 

Regional Rail + Coach ($31/km)

A mix of V/Line trains and coaches. Costs have risen by a slower rate than metropolitan trains, as can be seen here:

Regional Bus ($6/km)

Your regional city buses, such as run in cities like Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and many towns down to around 10 000 or even less population. Slightly cheaper than metropolitan buses per kilometre to run. 


This has been our look at annual running costs for public transport in Melbourne and Victoria.

The key takeaway messages is the scope for much improved cost-effective all-day better service to make the network vastly more useful for more people and for more diverse trips. 

In arranging this the need to understand the difference between average and marginal costs, and to exploit the latter where low is also essential. And, particularly for buses, network simplification can be a powerful tool in maximising the extent of the frequent network and thus peoples' travel freedom. 

Index to other Useful Network items here

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

TT 189: What's next for 7 day buses in Greater Dandenong?

Funding to boost the Route 800 bus in the recent 
2024 Victorian State Budget means that Dandenong will have one less bus that doesn't operate 7 days. This is great news for a community that needs it, especially those areas where the 800 is the only reasonably walkable public transport. But there's more to do. 

Why Brimbank has all 7 day buses but Dandenong does not

While I worked hard for the #Fix800Bus campaign, the case almost wrote itself, with bus services in Greater Dandenong lagging the demographically matching City of Brimbank (which includes suburbs like Sunshine and St Albans). 

See how similar the two municipalities are here: 

Brimbank has Melbourne's second lowest median household income. Dandenong Melbourne's lowest
Brimbank has 6.7% households without cars. Greater Dandenong 8.1%.
Brimbank has 48% of its people born overseas. Greater Dandenong 64%.
Brimbank has 195 000 people. Greater Dandenong 175 000 people

Let's keep the comparisons going but with bus services. 

Brimbank has 24 bus routes. Greater Dandenong has 27 bus routes
Brimbank has 5 bus routes operating every 20 min or better Saturdays. Dandenong just 1 bus route
Brimbank got all its bus routes upgraded to run 7 days in 2014. Greater Dandenong is still waiting, with 7 bus routes lacking 7 day service (800 for now, 802, 804, 814, 844, 857, 885).  

To summarise, Brimbank has slightly fewer bus routes than Greater Dandenong but all run 7 days. The former also has higher frequencies, notably on Saturdays. 

Both Brimbank and Dandenong unfairly missed out on the 2006-2010 MOTC 7 day upgrades, But Brimbank largely got this resolved via its reformed bus network in 2014 (under the previous Coalition government). This change reduced the number of bus routes in some parts of Brimbank but retained coverage and made sure all of them ran 7 days. The trade-off was worth it with the simplified Brimbank network being a patronage success.  

The 800 upgrade is a great start for Greater Dandenong but more is needed to get the remaining routes upgraded since its suburbs feature prominently on the list of those most service short-changed and stand out when you compare by major interchange. We can particularly draw inspiration from Brimbank, safe in the knowledge that what worked there will work in Greater Dandenong due to matching demographics and social  needs. 

Next 7 day priorities for Greater Dandenong buses

With the 800 funded we can now think about what could come next for 7 day buses in Greater Dandenong. Criteria could include the difference it would make and whether it could, like the Brimbank bus simplification, be done cheaply. 

The map below shows the unique portions of road with buses that do not run 7 days. Beside the 800 Princes Hwy corridor others like the 802/804 and 814 are prominent in residential areas. 857 also shows but much of its Dandenong area catchment is industrial.  

Patronage numbers of Greater Dandenong's bus routes without 7 day service are below. 

The hourly boardings numbers factor in route length and service frequency so are most useful. Of note is that the Saturday productivity numbers are higher than the weekday numbers on the 800, 804 and 885. This indicates strong demand and low service. Route 802 of course doesn't show as it lacks Saturday as well as Sunday service. 

After the 800 the 802/804 and 814 are well above the rest on both unique coverage and productivity metrics. Route 885 also does well on productivity but has less unique coverage. 885 would get some of its productivity from Springvale Rd where it overlaps the 902. This is an extremely high productivity corridor whose paltry half-hourly weekend service does not reflect this. 

In a nutshell the answer remains 802/804 closely followed by 814. 

An 802/804 boost (two routes but they're part of a bundled trio along with the already 7 day 862) would benefit a large catchment in Dandenong North. Plus gains would stretch west along the Wellington Rd corridor to Monash University and even further to Chadstone and south to Dandenong Hospital and Chisholm TAFE. All those would massively benefit students and workers, especially if 7 day upgrades were accompanied by evening hours extensions as well. 802's inclusion would also upgrade the only Dandenong Route that lacks any form of Saturday service.  

Potential for network simplification

One could just keep all the routes as they are and add extra Saturday and Sunday trips. This was largely the approach taken in the successful 2006 'Meeting Our Transport Challenges' 7 day upgrades. It gave quick results, with the rate of annual bus service kilometre growth vastly more than in the last decade.  

Beneficial as it is, just adding service doesn't simplify the existing complex network and is more expensive than accompanying the 7 day upgrade with Brimbank-style network simplification. Because Greater Dandenong has more bus routes than Brimbank despite its smaller population, there is scope for some to be reviewed with longer hours and 7 day service a major benefit. 

Both the 802/804/862 and the 814 corridors have been unchanged for decades. Their timetables reflect this with zero or minimal weekend and evening service. Their alignments have significant overlaps, indicating opportunities for simplification while retaining coverage. Most overlaps are off the maps above with the most notable being between Chadstone and Mulgrave for 802/804/862 and Police Rd for the 814. 

Of these the 802/804/862 corridor (currently three routes with only one operating 7 days) appears easiest to simplify. Essentially it should be possible to go from 3 to 2 routes (both running 7 days) with minimal loss of coverage. That would have huge gains, slashing maximum waits and delivering 7 day service between Dandenong, Dandenong Hospital, Dandenong North and Chadstone. More detail on fixing Dandenong North's complex 802 / 804 / 862 here

Simplifying Route 814 is a bit harder. However it could be done in conjunction with reviewing routes between Springvale South, Springvale and Mulgrave. Again the base frequency of many routes is only every 40 - 60 min and there should be scope to do better, particularly on weekends. Particular opportunities also exist due to level crossing removals that give more (but so far unrealised) options for new fast direct routes, such as between Clayton Station and Waverley Gardens via Centre Rd


Greater Dandenong's high social needs, low level of service and high weekend productivity on the few bus services that do run makes it the perfect location for 'light touch' bus network simplification. Brimbank's new network, introduced nearly 10 years ago provides a sound template for Dandenong, especially for routes like 802/804/862 and, less obviously, 814. 

Other Timetable Tuesday articles are here

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

2024-25 state budget special - What PT got

Before the last state election we were told we could have both the Suburban Rail Loop and spending on health. The people bought that message and the Labor government was returned with a strong majority.

Since then project blow-outs and rising interest rates has made balancing the books tougher. Expectations have been hosed down and we were told to expect cuts. Such expectations were fuelled by LinkedIn chatter full of stories of public servants leaving, with departments being told to make do with fewer. Overall it's a pretty similar message to last year's budget, with very little new likely to be started, so I won't repeat myself here.

The messaging softened in the last week with an assurance from Treasurer Pallas of no cuts to services. Which is basically what was delivered yesterday. Although there were also few gains. This means a per capita drop, given our growing population. Thus we might have to squeeze in a bit tighter on an (increasingly likely to be off-peak) train or bus. Or new homebuyers may wait longer for buses to their estate. 

This pattern is not new, with more detail of per capita public transport service trends here. When it wants to spend or stimulate the economy, this government has tended to pump everything into new transport infrastructure projects. When it doesn't want to spend it pulls back on infrastructure and says it's too broke to substantially invest in services. Thus service has never got a fair go at any point of the political and budgetary cycle over the last ten years. 

The outcome is a stack of new infrastructure with extremely poor asset utilisation outside a few peak hours per weekday, with trains in non-marginal seats running on archaic timetables. And outstanding bus network issues years back, as common in Reservoir, Dandenong or Rowville, are very likely to require fixing today. 

Sydney, meanwhile, powers ahead at adding public transport service at several times the rate we do despite Melbourne's population growth being higher.     

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)

* Department Performance Statement

* 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.

The four major transport projects are described as follows:  

Transformational road and public transport investments are well under way with Metro Tunnel and West Gate Tunnel in advanced construction, and the North East Link and the Suburban Rail Loop ramping up construction activity. 

Other infrastructure projects in public transport were described as: regional and metropolitan trains, Next Generation Trams, Metro Tunnel infrastructure works and stabling and maintenance facilities for rolling stock. 

Salient points from Paper 3 (Service Delivery)

(see p75-83 & p169-178)

Output initiatives

Output initiatives are probably of most interest. This part of the budget is the recurring spending portion that is so important in keeping our trains, trams, buses and ferries running. 

Victoria's Bus Plan doesn't get a mention in this year's Budget Paper 3. Whereas it did get mention in last year's. For example the 2023-24 Budget Paper 3 had a line item called 'Delivering Victoria's Bus Plan' with small but rising amounts allocated (including $6.7m in 2024-25). That same $6.7m appears in the 2024-25 Budget Paper 3 but is reclassified as 'Improving Bus and Ferry Services', with a reference to the plan gone.

We're unlikely to see much from 2022's northern area bus reviews any time soon. However the middle northern suburbs do have many overlapping and duplicative routes so the area is ripe for some very cost-effective gains.   

What do Victorians get for buses? It's very slim pickings indeed with just five bus initiatives across the whole state. Of these five: 

* One (Melton FlexiRide) is an established service that gets continued funding
* One (service re-routing in Croydon, Pakenham and Greensborough stations) is to fund extra bus kilometres that new off-road bus interchanges inefficiently added to existing routes 
* One builds new stop infrastructure for bus routes across Hastings and the Mornington Peninsula (but does not commence service on the cross-peninsula route that got planning funding in 2023) 

That leaves just two new bus or coach service initiatives. These comprise: 

* coach service uplifts connecting Yarram and Leongatha to Pakenham train station, and
* weekend bus services improvement for route 800 to and around Chadstone shopping centre (in which I declare an interest in having founded and led this campaign

Also, listed under bus are two ferry initiatives. Both continue existing services (Portarlington ferry and West Gate Punt).

These measures are welcome but small. They effectively shelve the bus plan, abandon reform and leave new estates that missed out on GAIC funding unserved. Buses are the most cost-effective way of providing public transport coverage but this budget ignores, with the sole exception of Route 800, upgrades in metropolitan Melbourne. Thus the service per capita recession we've seen for metropolitan tram and train services will apply to buses too. 

Trams get nothing new in the way of service. The Tram Plan is more recent than the Bus Plan but appears to have had an even shorter shelf-life, at least with regards to service and network reform. 

Metropolitan Train services fare a bit better, if only due to the Metro Tunnel opening next year. 'Switching on the Big Build' (a term used a couple of budgets ago) gets to around $200m by 2025-26, presumably largely associated with Metro Tunnel services but there is also a tram component. There's a one-off $80m for Metro Tunnel Readiness - mostly in the next year. 

'More Trains More Often' gets about $10m per year. This will add weekday V/Line services to Warrnambool and Echuca. There is also money for timetable modelling. Also notable is a (again largely one-off) $70m for 'regional rail network enhancements'. 

Asset initiatives

Asset initiatives feature the stuff needed for things to happen. Bus and ferry services get $4.9m in the next year, with nothing budgeted thereafter. Funding is provided for regional rail network enhancements and train radios. 

The notorious train-platform gaps at Essendon station will get attention. As will some 'missing link' shared paths, mostly in growth areas. The Metro Tunnel readiness description (p85) confirms the Metro Tunnel will open in 2025. 


Page 172 contains a summary of spending on services. Tram services are almost completely flat, declining in real terms. Buses barely cover CPI. Train services are up by about $250m per year, presumably largely due to Metro Tunnel services. 

Much information of interest, eg outputs like service kilometres per year, used to be contained in Budget Paper 3. However in 2024-25 this has been moved to the Department Performance Statement. More on those later. 

Salient points from Paper 4 (State Capital Program)

(see p78ff and 183ff)

You'll probably be most interested in the page of new projects (p78) for transport. Those for public and active transport include money reprioritised from the Suburban Rail Loop East. Most notable are 'critical public and active transport upgrades' (about $19m) and improved bus and ferry services (about $5m). It is anticipated that the latter will be completed by the third quarter of this financial year. Overall not a lot.

Pages 79-84 has a long list of existing projects. This is where you'll find the billions, eg for level crossing removals. Bus service improvements and reform has about $3 million remaining in 2024-25. Delivering Victoria's Bus Plan makes a reappearance, with $1.5m in 2024-25. There's also $19m for the Keeping Trams Moving program and $9m for public transport accessibility. The existing project list is by far the biggest component in expenditure, reflecting the fall off in new projects in last year's and this year's budget. 

Completed projects are in Page 85. They included about $5m worth of bus improvements. I've written about them extensively here.

A number of rail projects are reported under Victrack. These are on page 183. Main inclusions are Metro Tunnel readiness, train radios, freight and regional train enhancements. $3 million has been spent on upgrades to Albion station with the rest not known due to commercial considerations. Similar applies for the Boronia station upgrade. A previous station upgrade program will continue with $24m funded. Caulfield Rationalisation will be winding down, presumably complete by the time the Metro Tunnel commences service. Tarneit will get a new station by the end of 2025-26. 

Like the Bus Plan, the Tram Plan appears in the State Capital Program but not Service Delivery. Expenditure here will peak around $46m in 2024-25. Kananook train stabling and maintenance, rail infrastructure renewal, new metropolitan trains, new trams, ticketing and commuter car parks are other big ticket items. 

You'll all be interested in airport rail (branded 'Suburban Rail Loop - Airport'). Over $1b has been spent on this, with $132m more projected for 2024-25. However we won't see the benefits for some time, with a note saying it's delayed by at least 4 years (ie 2033 completion at the earliest). 

As previously known, there is one discontinued project. This is Geelong Fast Rail which failed to get federal funding (p188). 

Salient points from Department Performance Statement

(see p123ff and 179ff)

Key pages to look at: 

* Page 125 - output summary with costs of delivering service

* Page 127 - bus services note the patronage and service km numbers (very small increase)

* Page 128 - has a number of bus routes upgraded metric. Leaving aside simple route counting being a poor way to assess service reform (as upgrades vary hugely in magnitude which this doesn't capture), DTP failed to meet target, with 28 the expected result for 2023-24 as against a target of 39. A lower target has been adopted (32) for 2024-25. Note that this is expected with no extra funding for services (apart from the Route 800 upgrade). 

* Page 131 - Metro train services. Continued recovery from the pandemic dips is expected. 190m is the expected 2023-24 outcome. Basically no increase in service kilometres is expected (hovering around 25 million per year). This puts trains in a per-capita service recession as population continues to grow. The total output cost is however rising, with a dramatically higher 2024-25 target ($1.651b) compared to $1.442 (in 2022-23). Value for money given this lack of increase in service needs to be worth considering as DTP approaches rail refranchising. 

* Page 132 - Regional train services. Noteworthy has been the patronage growth, assisted by the V/Line fare reductions. Scheduled service kilometres are however static. 

* Page 133 - Metropolitan tram services. A similar story to metropolitan train regarding patronage. Service kilometres is static, so again this continues the long per capita service recession trams have been in for decades. 

Appendix A has performance measures for review by the Parliament Accounts and Estimates Committee. DTP's are on page 179. Despite the solemnity associated with parliamentary scrutiny, I'm not sure if some of these measures are taken that seriously or are even useful. 

DTP fell well short of achieving targets for minor rail network improvement projects in 2023-24. They propose to replace this measure with another. Even greater shortfalls were noted in the roads portfolio (eg safety barriers and line marking) while others have such tiny numbers (eg can be counted on one or two hands like walking and cycling projects) to be almost meaningless.  


The 2024-25 Victorian state budget could be described as 'very little new' in transport. It's a bit of a 'hangover budget' with the legacy of past borrowing apparently limiting what we can do now. Service continue to be starved on most modes with it declining relative to population. 

Metropolitan bus service reform has effectively stalled, with the Route 800 upgrade being the only budget bright spot. Areas that most miss out include (i) those growth area estates that missed out on GAIC upgrades and (ii) established areas (eg Dandenong North) 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.  

It is now clear that while individual capital projects may have merit, borrowing heavily for infrastructure risks leaving us with an unwillingness to back it up with service, leading to poor asset utilisation including timetables substantially unchanged for decades. Other cities like Sydney have also had large PT infrastructure programs but have been better than us at balancing this with expanding service frequency, especially off-peak. 

What's your thoughts about the 2024-25 state budget? These are appreciated and can be left below. 

Background: Service measures in past recent Victorian state budgets here 

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

TT 188: Gains and cuts in the 19, 57, 59 & 82 tram timetable changes

Improvements to tram services in Melbourne happen at about the same speed as they go in mixed traffic. There have been no substantial network extensions or timetable upgrades for years. And the progress towards universal accessibility and priority has been painfully slow. I quantified this when I said that we are in a per capita long-term tram service recession, with tram service per capita down 24% in 20 years

It was thus a pleasant surprise when news of some modest tram timetable upgrades came out. They started on Sunday. With benefits for Routes 19, 57, 59 and 82, they seek to provide more even service levels and relieve evening crowding. The latter is notable because with typical 20 to 30 min headways, Melbourne trams are less frequent at night than the systems of Sydney, Canberra and the Gold Coast. 

What benefits will we get? Some are in this PTV item

Route 57 and 59 will have 14 and 16 extra Saturday trips respectively. The main effect of these is an improvement from every 20 to every 15 minutes for most of Saturday evening (until approx 11pm leaving the CBD, earlier towards the CBD). These and Route 19 get a similar uplift on Friday nights, also until approximately 11pm. 

Like almost anything to do with service frequency in Melbourne, these are oily rag upgrades, involving small uplifts partly funded by trade-offs elsewhere.  This is different to Sydney which knows that frequency is good and will upgrade it boldly, including adding hundreds of trips to a single route.

For example Route 19's Friday and Saturday evening boosts were partly bought by having its weekday evening 10 minute frequency reduced from about 7:30pm instead of 8pm. And from Flinders St the early evening ~15 minute service drops to 20 min at 9:05pm instead of 9:25pm. Few will notice these but still a drop.  

Route 57 presents an interesting case of a very old service pattern being sensibly rethought. Timetables once had a frequent Saturday morning service that reflected old trading hours (including shops being closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays) and Saturday mornings being very busy. 

Up until these changes the 57 operated every 8 minutes on a part of Saturday morning and 12 minutes on a popular part of Saturday afternoon. Hence in 1999 when tram and train timetables got their big 10am - 7pm Sunday upgrade, the directive was apparently just to cut and paste then Saturday timetables over an otherwise unreformed timetable earlier and later than those times. This gave the 57 a Sunday pattern of 20, 8, 12, 20 then 30 min from morning to night, with the frequent Saturday morning peak applying late Sunday mornings too. 

This timetable smooths out the pattern so there's a flatter 8-10 minute frequency (with fewer 12 minute gaps) during most daylight periods on weekends. Not that Melbourne seriously markets its frequent network, but if we were to then this timetable makes it easier, with the 57 operating every 10 minutes or better for more of the week. The new timetable does however retain the 57's quite late Sunday start time and its 30 minute Sunday evening frequency. 

Route 59 has similar features and got similar amendments to the 57's timetable. However it also got a worthwhile unsung win on Sunday mornings. Instead of the 30 minute service continuing until 8:46am, it cut out an hour earlier for trips towards the city.  Northbound trips got a similar gain, with their 20 minute or shorter waits starting at 8:36am instead of 10am. Because DTP is dominated by late rising Sunday brunch types, such improvements do not get the communications prominence they deserve. 

What about the 82? For years this has been Melbourne's Cinderella route despite all the dense housing going in around Maribyrnong and Moonee Ponds. Whereas other trams operated every 12 minutes or better interpeak weekdays, the 82 had 20 minute gaps until these were recently shortened to 15 minutes. The evening frequency remained unchanged at 30 minutes all week. 

Most of the extra 60 trips per week has gone in to boost 82's evening service. Now it runs every 20 minutes on Monday to Saturday evenings, matching most other tram routes and my recommendations here. Sunday morning also got a lift, with over 20 minute waits ceasing a little after 8am (instead of around 9:30am) from the Moonee Ponds direction. 

82's upgrade means that it has finally shed most of its low service Cinderella status relative to other tram routes, with the slightly longer weekday interpeak waits and late Sunday morning commencement being its two remaining differences. Fixing lower service routes first lowers maximum waits and thus means a more attractive service can be more simply communicated with fewer exceptions. Route 82 will also benefit from the new G-class trams and corridor improvements.  


There's no mistake that the tram timetable changes described above are good. However many come from redistributing service from one time period to another. It's an approach we should be learning from to do with our buses (like Perth does). However one can only do so much with existing service kilometres and more of them are needed to truly transform tram services across Melbourne all week. 

In the same week in which Melbourne's changes started, Sydney announced another round of service upgrades on their L1. Just this one route has had 450 new trips added per week in the last twelve months, extending operating hours and delivering maximum 15 minute waits for 140 hours per week (ie 5am - 1am daily). 

Sydney found no need to trim frequencies at other times of the week to deliver these.