Thursday, June 27, 2024

Who runs transport? A look at DTP's leadership team

Sir Harold Clapp famously described the railways as being 95% men and 5% iron

With a slight change in wording this remains true for transport today. 

Yet I've mostly ignored the people element. 

Thus I've discussed routes more than recruiting, services more than skills, headways more than humans, and networks more than networking.  

Today will be different. I'm doing the opposite.  

Heading the Department of Transport and Planning (DTP) is Secretary Paul Younis. To his side, in his office, on the organisation chart are advisers on legal (Rob Pearce), intergovernmental relations (Lachlan McDonald) and communications and customer experience (Jo Weeks). These have to be absolutely top-notch people. 

Below the Secretary are the six most senior line executives. All but one have the title 'Deputy Secretary'. The one who doesn't is 'head', possibly inherited from Head, Transport for Victoria under a previous structure. 

This layer, plus one or two below, comprise the Department's 'gatekeepers'. They have the power to originate, nurture, expedite, starve or kill ideas. A government that really wants something that it doesn't think the 'transport establishment' would back can go around or over their heads, like it did with the Suburban Rail Loop. The rest of us can't.

Executives have time to only juggle a few balls at once. Leadership is choosing what to run with and what to sideline. The wrong decisions can reduce their and the department's impact. Those who flirted with FlexiRide or merchandised 'mobility as a service' are unlikely to have moved as many effectively as those who championed the timeless basics of good network planning and service delivery, for instance. In short, leadership matters. Thus it's worth knowing more about who these influential figures are. 

Not properly knowing any, I've generally had to rely on what they've said about themselves, which most happily place on LinkedIn. Sometimes that's supplemented with material from other sources. To ease the read I've added a bit of colour here and there, just because I can. 

Let's start with the top and work down. 

DTP Secretary

Paul Younis is an introverted civil engineer whose light is often found under a bushel. Previously worked in local government (Brimbank) reaching the level of CEO in 2014. His CV shows a commitment to continuing education, topping up his Swinburne engineering qualification with graduate diplomas in local government law and then business, public policy and management (both from Monash). 

He joined Transport for Victoria in August 2017 as Deputy Head, Asset & Networks. Less than two years later he was promoted to Secretary of the Department of Transport. His position enlarged further when the Department of Planning was folded in following a restructure after the 2022 state election.  

Office of the Secretary (the most trusted 'inner circle')

Legal Counsel

Rob Pearce has weaved a career intertwining transport and law for nearly a quarter century. He started this with a degree in urban planning followed by law, specialising in environment and planning. 

Career highlights included advising the minister, drafting legislation and top legal advisory roles in Metlink, DoT and successor departments. He designed the framework for the Transport Integration Act that DTP now has carriage of. In between was 7 years in industry advocacy at UITP (ANZ) between 2011 and 2018. Overall a stable career pattern that will have allowed the accumulation of corporate knowledge in a significant specialist area. 

Intergovernmental relations

Having an almost blank LinkedIn profile, Lachlan McDonald is a mystery man for all but those with a need to know. This stumps nosey researchers but is possibly smart for those accomplished or connected enough to not need to strut their stuff to strangers. This applies for Mr McDonald, who premier Steve Bracks described as a very able adviser.   

Mr McDonald is a member of Regional Partnerships Goulburn and presents to top national organisations on transport regulation matters. Further back he was a Sun News-Pictorial journalist turned freelance consultant who in 1999 helped develop Regional Fast Rail before serving as Transport Minister Peter Batchelor's Chief of Staff in the 2000s. Again this would bring a depth of government knowledge and contacts that the Secretary would find indispensable. 

Communications and Customer Experience

Jo Weeks did an RMIT arts degree in public relations and has certainly got her HECS worth back via multiple senior roles over many years. Her first decade featured media and communications experiences in a private PR firm, the City of Bayside and Vicroads, the Southern Cross Station Authority and then a year at CGU Insurance. 

It wasn't long before transport drew her back, with eight years as Communications Director for the successful and influential Linking Melbourne Authority between 2007 and 2015. That was followed by two years at LXRP and nearly seven years as Director Communications and Engagement at the Major Transport Infrastructure Authority (2017 - 2023). The last eight months has been spent as Chief Communications and Experience Officer, a role within the Secretary's office. A Hawthorn supporter. 

Embedding this role in the Secretary's Office must indicate that Communications and Customer Experience was thought to need top visibility, especially with 'Big Build' disruptions across the network. Has this made a difference? One needs convincing. Eg DTP/PTV repeatedly underperforms here with limited sales ability when it does good stuff with service. Website errors recur every public holiday due to unfathomably complex holiday bus timetable patterns beyond PTV's ability to explain correctly. A recent Auditor General report found myki data too untrustworthy to be useful. Bus location tracking is flaky. Also the PTV mobile app gets a user rating of just 2.5 for Android and a disastrous 1.9 for Apple despite this being the thing it tells everyone to rely on. 

Deputy Secretaries 

Strategy and Precincts

Natalie Reiter's thing is marketing and strategy. Claims "a rare ability to be ‘big picture’ and then drill down into the detail as required". Early roles were with building, materials and tool companies, most notably market research and plan development. 

This was followed by 12 years at Active Relationship Marketing consulting for various clients, especially local government. Such work continued under different companies until 2013 when Ms Reiter became Ballarat Council's General Manager, City Strategy until 2016. This was followed by a similar period as Moonee Valley's Direct for Planning and Development. 

She joined DoT as Executive Director Transport Precincts and Interface Planning. That was for 18 months until promotion to the current Dep Sec role.  

Network Design and Integration  (runs PT planning amongst other things)

William Tieppo is a roads engineer from way back, graduating in civil engineering from Victoria University in 1995. He has been with Vicroads since at least 2006, progressing from manager to director based in south-western Victoria. 

2015 saw the start of two years as the General Manager City Services with the City of Geelong. It was soon back to state employ though, commencing as Executive Director Network Transition in 2017. A high-flier, he became Deputy Secretary nine months later. 

Responsibilities of interest to us include 'modal planning' and 'network pipeline and program'. This includes carriage of Victoria's Bus Plan. Major road and rail projects are also in Mr Tieppo's bailiwick, likely including Metro Tunnel and related timetables and new rolling stock construction.   

Planning and Land Services

Andrew McKeegan is a newcomer to Melbourne, having moved here from Adelaide just over three years ago. A 1998 University of Adelaide Commerce graduate, he made it a masters in 2011. 

Private consulting provided his first roles with a move to the SA public sector in 2002 after a year in London. He was deputy CEO of SA's Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure for most of the 2010s. That was followed by a couple of years consulting before landing an Executive Director role in our Department of Transport in April 2021. That was followed by a promotion to deputy secretary in 2023. 

Transport Services  (oversees public transport operations amongst other things) 

Fiona Adamson started in 1997 at Salmat, latterly known in transport for running the PTV call centre. Her longest experience though, starting in 2002, has been her 15 years in management, sales and customer experience positions at Foxtel where, according to her LinkedIn, she exceeded expectations exponentially

This was sufficient background for PTV to hire her to the Executive Director Customer role in 2017. Soon followed by rotation through several more operational positions in 2018-2019 at Transport for Victoria. The Deputy Secretary title was attained in 2022. Train running late? Ms Adamson is your leader, with the role overseeing public transport services and network operations. 

Ms Adamson's deputy is Alan Fedda who as Foxtel's Head of Customer Advocacy between 2006 and 2010, would have worked with her previously. However Mr Fedda has longer transport experience, having joined PTV soon after it was formed in 2012. His roles included Executive Director Franchise and Operator Management between 2016 and 2019, presiding over the Transdev Fleet Maintenance Crisis affecting one of his largest bus franchisees. There were obviously no hard feelings as Mr Fedda switched to Transdev, spending 2019-2020 managing their ferries in his native Sydney. Within the year though he was back occupying various Department of Transport Executive Director roles in pandemic-hit Melbourne. Eventually rejoining his old Foxtel colleague as deputy in 2023. He holds an Arts/Law degree from the University of Technology Sydney.

Investment & Technology (runs purchasing and franchising amongst other things)

Finance and major projects is Dean Tighe's educational background with a masters degree in applied finance and investment completed in 2006 and various leadership and management courses done since. He was an analyst with the Department of Treasury and Finance for two years from 2002 before performing analyst and management roles for the Department of Education and Training for over a decade. 

As Executive Director Mr Tighe was in Network Performance and Investment in DEDJTR for two years before going back to DTF for nearly 3 years. This DTF experience (which included infrastructure investment processes including for High Value/High Risk) was obviously attractive to executive recruiters at the renamed DoT who made him Deputy Secretary in 2019.    

Functions in this role include procurement of the new post-myki ticketing system, contracts for train, tram and bus operations as well as other DTP procurement and advisory tasks. Mr Tighe has a busy agenda right now with trams approaching refranchising, new bus contracts starting next year and ever-present issues with ticketing. 

People & Business Services

Melinda Collinson started with a science degree from Monash University, graduating with honours in 1994. That was immediately followed by a DipEd in 1995. Holding various Vicroads managerial roles in Vicroads from 2001, she was Director of Customer Services between 2007 and 2010, and then Regional Implementation for a year after that. Then a switch to leadership roles in WorkSafe Victoria for 5 years. During this period she did the AICD Company Directors course.  

Ms Collinson returned to the then Transport for Victoria in 2017. 18 months as Executive Director Business & Technology Innovation was rewarded by an elevation to Deputy Secretary in 2018. 

Education and career backgrounds

What are some threads shared by those who occupy the highest levels of DTP? 

Two (Younis and Tieppo) hold civil engineering degrees. Commerce or finance degrees are held by McKeegan and Tighe. Pearce qualified in urban planning while Collinson holds a science degree. Two (Younis and Pearce) obtained law qualifications after their first degree. It was also not uncommon for executives to do further management or director training later in their careers. 

What about work backgrounds? As might be expected both local and state government agencies dominate. Pearce, Weeks, Tighe, Collinson and McKeegan have largely state government agency experience. Of those Weeks, Tieppo and Collinson have Vicroads experience. Pearce and McDonald have advised ministers. Also Younis, Weeks, Tieppo and Reiter can claim significant experiences in local government. 

Adamson is the only Deputy Secretary with predominantly private sector experience though some others have time away from public sector bodies, mainly as consultants or advocates. Pearce is an example of the latter via UITP.  

What really stands out is that no top DTP exec appears to have experience running a public transport operator. Ex-Vicroads engineers both head the department overall and the critical public transport network planning role. Why is this? Maybe this is partly due to franchising services out to (predominantly) internationally-based operators (whose organisation is big and high paying enough to have abundant opportunities within and where mobility to the department is harder) and/or recent restructuring which needed to absorb many Vicroads managers?  

Only one DTP deputy secretary appears to have significant non-Victorian experience, and this was South Australia. This contrasts with operators where foreigners (notably English) are more highly represented amongst the management, particularly in rail. The UK's Brexit and less rail-friendly politics in NZ and potentially Canada are likely to see more rail professionals considering a move to Australia. Rarer are leaders from countries (most notably in Europe and Asia) that may have more to teach us than the British.   

PTV as created in 2012, where there were leaders with direct operational experience, was probably the best recent organisational structure for public transport we've had in Victoria. That got weakened when it was merged into the wider department. Subsequent department heads (Miles, Bolt and Younis) tended to lack that long-term operating experience. Essentially the current structure lacks an Andy Byford or even a Jeroen Weimar to strongly lead services. 

I mentioned the department's outwardly poor sales and growth mindset (at least for public transport services) despite the paper credentials of its leaders. I am not sure if any quite qualify as policy entrepreneurs in the Ken Mathers mould. Although Jo Weeks comes close, having worked for Mathers for eight years at the Linking Melbourne Authority until he retired in 2015. Maybe they're holding everything back until the Metro Tunnel starts and we'll see a burst of energy after then. 

DTP has no public (and as far as I know internal) public transport patronage targets. I have (only half-jokingly) suggested that executives be paid according to public and active transport modal share. These ruminations come even more to life when one sees the limited private sector or operational experience in the department's highest ranks. 

Some dep secs claim an ability to implement change. Nevertheless, again going on outcomes, there appears not to have been a successful challenge to ossified cottage-industry style processes that are demonstrably holding back network reform and development relative to peer agencies elsewhere. And some of the major infrastructure agencies outside DTP can claim achievements that other states and countries marvel at, such as our level crossing removals, notably those involving elevated rail, so the ability is undoubtedly here.    

Gender, race and class backgrounds

Let's cut to the chase. Notwithstanding the department's Inclusion and Diversity Strategy, the demographics of those who lead it could not be more different than the faces you see on the 150 bus at Tarneit or the 804 in Dandenong North. DTP leaders inhabit geographically, economically and socially very different worlds from most they are meant to serve.

Taking just incomes, according to the 2022 annual report, DTP deputy secretaries get about $6 700 per week or $350 000 annually. The Secretary grosses maybe $10 000 weekly or >$500 000 per year. These numbers are 17 to 26 times the $381 weekly single Jobseeker rate and 7 to 10 times Victorians' $54 000  median annual personal income.  

Of the top ten executives, four are women and six are men. The Women in Transport program has sought to increase female representation in operational, technical and management ranks (and can claim success here). DTP is also represented on the VPS Women of Colour Network. According to the 2022-23 DTP annual report, 13% of staff in leadership roles (considered VPS 5 and above) identified as being from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. That's about half the 30% by 2025 target. Both people with disabilities and first peoples representations were also at half target (6 and 1% respectively).

DTP action plans for diversity and inclusion exist for LGBTIQ+, accessibility, women in transport and gender equality. Reconciliation Australia has been promoting Reconciliation Action Plans for wider indigenous participation. Transport agencies in most states now have them. DTP oversees a Transport Portfolio Aboriginal Self-Determination Plan. A key focus of this is increasing indigenous participation in the transport industry, whether through direct DTP employment, engagement in major projects,  purchasing from indigenous-run suppliers or increasing representation on boards. That is a concentration on how DTP runs its business more than an outcome focus with potential wide benefits.

An outcome focus might consider deeper the role of better transport in enabling opportunities and participation (including 'closing the gap'). It might include a funded program to deliver this in areas with the highest indigenous populations along with attention to pockets with particular needs or disadvantage. Such a program could, for example, build active transport connections and boost bus coverage, frequency and span at areas with high ATSI populations including Greater Geelong, Greater Bendigo, Greater Shepparton, Mildura, Wyndham, Casey and Whittlesea. 

Improvements like these stack up for other reasons including outsized benefits for CALD and working class populations. In regional Victoria such upgrades could finally fix the complex, infrequent and unreviewed for years Shepparton and Mildura bus networks and complete the overdue roll-out of 7 day bus service in Bendigo. With no recent news of progress, Mildura bus reform risks being a casualty of the near comatose Victorian Bus Plan. Senior minister after senior minister has solemnly stated the injustices of the past and the need to do better at Yoorrook Justice Commission hearings. 

Getting back to DTP's leadership, we don't know so much about their privilege or class. Class has multiple dimensions so measurement can be difficult. However the formal education dimension is easier to note. Almost all DTP leaders would have degrees, as do public servants now at all levels. This can be attributed to factors like credentialism, rising university participation, automation of manual tasks and outsourcing. One effect of the latter was to purge the public service of its lower levels including those without degrees or who did manual or customer-facing tasks, thus making the public sector that remained less open and less representative. 

Inequality may be replicated through parental networks transmitted to their children via associations formed at elite private schools. It would be interesting to know the schooling backgrounds of deputy secretaries and other elites. This information was not on any LinkedIn profiles surveyed.

DTP annual reports might do well to report more on the backgrounds of their executives including experience and education. Reporting on class biases in the current transport network and how infrastructure and service priorities can enable access by the most efficient means possible might bring a value focus that is missing today.

Last week, for example, the state auditor-general found we recently spent over $100m for no demonstrable benefit trying to relieve congestion on one inner-city road. The opportunity cost of that not going elsewhere (eg active transport) is substantial. Then there are the relative merits of various projects, with the current major project bias potentially crowding out smaller initiatives with higher BCRs that don't get done.      

DTP executive personas and 'who is not in the room'

A favourite of modern design and thinking exercises is to be given a card that names and perhaps pictures a person with particular life circumstances. Your group's job is to evaluate how something affects that person and their likely attitudes. In other cases there might be role playing with you being that character. In both cases the purpose is to 'put people at the centre of your design'. 

As you saw above, I haven't been able to establish the early backgrounds and personal stories of DTP executives. But assisted by AI, I constructed two personas who might bear similarities.  

This should lead one to think about people different to the above (which after all comprise the majority of residents and taxpayers). And reflect on 'who is not in the room' but possibly should be. I gave a few tips before, including those from a wider range of backgrounds and transport operator management experience.


This has been a review of DTP's top leadership. Senior executives are very likely to have been in local or state government for a long time. They may have a roads background. They are less likely to have a record of managing public transport operations or extensive private sector involvement. Demographically they are an elite, enjoying incomes many times the state average (and likely commensurate cultural capital).

Current governing styles keep DTP executives, including (and especially) the Secretary, away from the public eye more than the railway or tramway commissioners of old, or even recent leaders like Betts, Dobbs and Weimar. The old commissioners at least travelled the network; it is uncertain how much of this today's leaders do.  

These officials make decisions involving billions of dollars of public money. Their priorities shape how millions of Victorians get around. They are human and, without super-human efforts, may carry biases based on career and class. Thus it's worth more people knowing more about them. I hope this item has contributed in some small way to this. 

Because people love reading about themselves, it is possible that some of those talked about will be reading this. If you are then I leave you with three thoughts: 

1. Always ask 'Who is not in the room?' (especially given the class bias in how transport infrastructure and service is distributed)

2. It may be difficult because of one's current good circumstances, but try to avoid 'elite projection'

3. Walk to things and ride public transport more. Not just weekday peaks either. And, perish the thought, try buses as well! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

TT #190: Big upgrades for bus routes 505 and 546

Some welcome bus upgrades were announced by PTV last week. Titled Buses return to Grattan Street, Parkville, the headline for both it and the ministers' release misses some even bigger news. That is large service upgrades for bus routes 505 and 546 (and some small upgrades for the 402). 

The return to Grattan Street is part of its reopening to vehicular traffic, a significant milestone of the Metro Tunnel Project which closed it for works in the Parkville Station precinct. I'll leave that for others to talk about. My topic today will be just the service upgrades. 

Route 505

505 is a relatively new inner-suburbs route, serving the dense infill housing area of Parkville Gardens. Running from Moonee Ponds to Parkville, it started with an hourly service (even in peaks). It proved popular and got a peak upgrade with advocacy from local MPs. Average hourly boardings was just over 25 for Monday to Saturday with strong Sunday usage too, putting it above average for buses in Melbourne. 

Route 505's hourly outside peak service was infrequent, even by Melbourne bus standards, especially for an inner suburban route. This change plans to boost that to every 20 minutes on weekdays and 40 minutes on weekends. 

Route 546

Route 505's current terminus is Parkville. However the new timetable, starting next month, will see all Route 505 trips continue as Route 546 to Heidelberg. This is a long-established route that connects Melbourne University to Clifton Hill and then Heidelberg. Its eastern portion has sections of unique coverage, including it being the main public transport to the Alphington Paper Mill apartments (which currently has zero weekend bus service). Some Route 546 trips started at Queen Vic Markets while others started at Melbourne University, confusing passengers. Operating hours were restricted with no weekend service and there were run time issues with buses running late. 

The new timetable should address all these problems. Route 546's service levels will match the upgraded 505 due to the through-running. In other words weekday service will improve from every 30 to every 20 minutes while weekends will go from nothing to every 40 minutes. Services will finish around 9pm, which is typical for local bus routes in Melbourne. Route 546's weekday productivity was around 20 boardings per hour, around average or slightly above for buses in Melbourne. 

Route 402

This is a popular route between Footscray and East Melbourne via Parkville. It will get some small service upgrades early on weeknights and on Sunday morning. Being one of just two 7 day bus routes in Melbourne that run every 10 minutes or better midday on weekdays it will be an important feeder to the Metro Tunnel at Parkville station. 

Routes 401 and 403

These are weekday only university shuttle routes, from North Melbourne and Footscray respectively. These get stop changes only this time. However when Metro Tunnel starts Route 403 will become redundant. And there may not be the need to run Route 401 as frequently as it currently runs. 

One hopes that there is a Stage 2 of bus reforms in this area. For example, should Route 202 and 401 be through-routed? Any money saving could free resources for other initiatives eg operating 402 until Midnight (so it becomes a SmartBus level service) and/or have 202/401 operate weekends. 


Overall these are a welcome set of changes that will bring frequency and operating hours boosts to areas that need it. They are an all too rare case of bus service upgrades being done in concert with large infrastructure projects. They will start on July 14. The weekday frequent network map will be updated accordingly. 

Index to Timetable Tuesday items

Thursday, June 20, 2024

UN 176: What has Victoria's Bus Plan really achieved?

Last week I noted that Victoria's Bus Plan had turned three. I said then that implementation had stalled. This is especially for its most passenger-significant component dealing with networks and services.  

Warning signs that the plan was in trouble included: 

(i) Specifics being held back for a promised 'Bus Reform Implementation Plan' that is yet to appear
(ii) DTP's inability to win funding in the 2023 and 2024 state budgets for anything big
(iii) DTP's apparent inability after 2022 to sell politically acceptable service reforms to optimise the use of existing annual service kilometres (an essential skill if they weren't getting new budget funding)

Prospects for much significant with buses happening much before 2026 are evaporating daily. This is due to the limited funding for new bus services in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 state budgets combined with long lead times for even the smallest timetable tweaks. These range from about 1 year for a timetable upgrade to 2 years (or more) for a new route or local network reform. 

This represents slippage from the promised Bus Plan time-line, which had major network reforms starting in 2023. Little more has also been heard of the northern, north-east and Mildura area bus reviews that were announced before the 2022 state election with public consultation afterwards. 

The main silver lining is the latest GAIC funding round that will add bus coverage in some growth area suburbs. However GAIC funding is (a) temporary (being limited to a 5 year term) and (b) highly conditional (making true network reform both difficult and done well after it was needed). Thus GAIC funding is better than nothing but is inferior to budget funding and savings obtained from network reform, both of which can provide ongoing benefits.    

What got done?

As to what did get done, I have written lots about that here. For example, accounts of 2021, 2022 and 2023. I checked budget measures that got implemented. And did a health check on the Bus Plan when it was 2. The recontracting and electrification aspects have progressed faster but, as the Ivanhoe depot electrification experience where this did not happen shows, service uplift and reform are essential to reap the full passenger benefits.  

My check on all 350 bus routes and timetables confirmed that bus network reform was necessary. Reports from Infrastructure Victoria and Committee for Melbourne agree. 
But there were also many cases where good could be done just by boosting timetables on existing routes. Route 800 being a high-profile recently-funded example. 

Earlier this year I noted that Melbourne was in a per capita service level recession for its busiest public transport modes with buses at best stagnant. An active transit agency could make the best of a fixed service kilometre budget by analysing usage patterns and adjusting timetables. 

But when I compared this to Perth (which has a similar infrastructure-oriented state government to here), I found that Paul Younis' DTP did not have anywhere near the same culture of service optimisation, with the difference diverging over time in Perth's favour. This continues to the current month when you see the timetable tweaks to over 70 Perth bus routes dwarfs what takes a much longer period here to do.    

Need more detail on what the Bus Plan has achieved? Or, more accurately, what has been implemented since the plan came out (as parts were developed and funded before the plan came out)? 

Fortunately it's easy. PTV's list of bus service changes starts about when the Bus Plan came out, making it a handy source. Taking the metropolitan ones only, in chronological order these are set out below. Changes considered to have significant coverage or patronage benefits are dated in bold.



* 13 June: Victoria's Bus Plan launched (my view of it at the time)

* 29 August: Minor routing changes for 511, 525 & Night Coach around Donnybrook station. 

* 20 September: New Route 202 commences. University Shuttle every 10 minutes connects Victoria Park Station with Melbourne University. 

* 20 September: Substantial timetable changes to 19 bus routes. Basically a transfer of service km from low to high ridership routes. Increases the number of routes that are frequent all week with longer operating hours for Doncaster SmartBus services. I described it as an oily rag upgrade but it has shown what you can do at or close to cost neutral as the revised services have been successful.  

* 24 September: Complete reform of Night Network buses. Also very cheap but it really simplified services by shifting much of the network from special routes to regular routes that ran 24 hours on weekends. This greatly improved connectivity early on weekend mornings too. 

* 4 October: FlexiRide replaced Telebus in outer east around Lilydale. Some minor changes to existing network. However operating days/hours remain restricted. Of dubious value; the old Telebus (which had elements of a fixed timetable) was likely a better operating model given the low train frequencies in this area. 

* 4 October: Additional services for St Helena Secondary College students on Route 381. 

* 31 October: Commencement of new Route 390 between Craigieburn and Mernda. Provides a significant link across the outer north. 

* 14 November: Upgraded frequency for Route 788 between Frankston and Portsea. The most important public transport on the Mornington Peninsula, the 788 had been the centrepiece of a local campaign to improve bus services. A significant issue in the 2018 state election, it showed that focused route-based upgrade campaigns work (as confirmed in 2024 with the Fix800Bus campaign). 

* 26 November: Upgraded frequency for Route 525, a relatively new growth area route in Melbourne's north. 

* 28 November: New bus route 816 for Keysborough South in conjunction with a boost to Route 813 and removal of Route 815. It was a step forward but there was (and remains) potential to do much better with buses in this area

* 12 December: Introduction of FlexiRide in Melton South. While it provided needed coverage to new estates, this style of service is at best a stop-gap service due to poor reliability, poor train connectivity and being susceptible to maxing out if too many people try to book at once. The Tarneit and Melton FlexiRides have poor reputations by overstaying their welcomes. Unfortunately they were introduced without an exit strategy to convert to fixed route as soon as needed. Processes to convert take too long and (in Tarneit's case) may depend on GAIC funding which is only temporary.  

2021 total: 8 major initiatives (second half of year only)


* 30 January: Minor timetable adjustments to Lilydale area bus routes and duplicative 673 deleted. 

* 30 January: New Thompsons Rd Route 881 improves coverage in growth area, feeding trains at Merinda Park. 

* 31 January: School deviation added to Route 626. 

* 13 February: Minor timetable changes to routes around Cranbourne to connect better with trains. 

* 20-21 February: Package of Mornington Peninsula bus changes including reforms to existing routes and new FlexiRide. Most notable being 781 extension and express 887 service. Follows 788 upgrade the previous year. The fixed route component of this was good but operating hours remain terrible with very early (eg ~3 or 4 pm) finishes, little weekend service and an unreliable FlexiRide. 

* 11 April: Change to Route 511 due to road changes.

* 24 April: Major change to Craigieburn area bus routes 525, 528, 529, 530, 531, 532, 533, 537 and 544 including new coverage, longer hours and weekday frequency on many doubled to every 20 min. A massive improvement for a high-patronage area that needs it. 

* 24 April: Minor route changes around Chelsea station for new bus interchange. 

* 26 June: Minor route change for Wyndham area bus routes due to Hogans Rd completion (for Route 182) and new bus interchange at Hoppers Crossing.  

* 3 July: Minor route and stop changes to buses at Glenroy station including splitting of 513 into 513 and 514. 

* 7 August: Boosted Route 390 frequency between Craigieburn and Mernda. 

* 28 August: 897 and 898 extended to Clyde North for additional growth area coverage.

* 23 October: Original proposal was for fixed routes (154 & 155) for Tarneit North but a FlexiRide unfortunately got introduced instead. It wasn't long before this proved unsuitable for the area's high population and demand. Will now be replaced by fixed route services following GAIC funding. 

* 31 October: Major upgrades for buses between the city and Fishermans Bend (235 & 237). 

2022 total: 7 major initiatives


* 30 January: Route 624 school deviation added. 

* 12 February: Extra weekday trips on Route 505 between Moonee Ponds and Melbourne Uni. 

* 30 April: Minor changes to bus routes 200, 305, 309 and 905 to coincide with opening of Bulleen Park & Ride. 

* 30 April: Routes 733 and 767 from Box Hill gain significant frequency increases. These are popular but historically underserved routes in the Box Hill/Deakin/Monash/Chadstone area. 733 is also the route nearest to the proposed Suburban Rail Loop. A much-needed middle-suburban bus service uplift. 

* 28 May: bus routes 343, 356, 357, 358, 381, 382, 383, 384, 385, 386, 387, 388, 389, 564, 569, 577, 578, 579, 580 and 582 get new timetables. 

* 26 June: Route 863 extended south and 895 simplified in Hampton Park/Cranbourne area. 

* 15 October: Boosted buses for Box Hill, Burwood and Deakin passengers. Include rerouting 903 orbital via Deakin and boosting 201 shuttle. A significant service uplift on high performing routes.

* 15 October: More major upgrades for Fishermans Bend routes 235 and 237. 

* 19 November: Some Tarneit bus routes moved to south side of station with new bus interchange. 

* 26 November: Yarra Valley bus network reform that greatly boosts and extends Route 685 while deleting 686 and 687. Timetable for 684 also amended. Review greatly simplifies buses around Healesville with improved weekend service. This is the sort of cost-effective local bus network simplification there should be much more of. 

* 3 December: Route 821 deleted and 631 made less direct (but more frequent in peak) due to road changes as part of the SRL project. 

* 17 December: Route 538 run more direct along Camp Rd with Saturday afternoon service added. This change actually increases duplication with the 902. Potential for other network reforms in area to widen access to 7 day service. 

2023 total: 6 major initiatives


* 7 January: More trips on Route 390 between Craigieburn and Mernda including longer hours. 

* 7 January: New Route 501 provides express shuttle between Craigieburn and Donnybrook. Basically a fill-in for the train which drops to a less frequent V/Line service beyond Craigieburn. 

* 29 January: Minor changes to Route 400, 410, 420 and 422 timetables. 

* 24 March: New route 475 between Diggers Rest and Sunbury commences. Its 20 min interpeak frequency is unusually good for a growth area route but PTV initially undersold it. 

* 19 May: Route 606 between Elsternwick and Fishermans Bend gains improved frequency and a minimum standards span upgrade. Continues the thrust of government investment in Fishermans Bend bus services, building on previous major 235 and 237 boosts. Minimum standards span upgrade (eg ~9pm finishes) were the type that were common about 15 years ago but have almost ground to a halt in recent years. 

* 16 June: Route 863 has minor route change to operate via Merinda Park Station. 

* 7 July: Local network reform for Bacchus Marsh with two routes amalgamated and extended. 

2024 total: 4 major initiatives (first half of year only)

Has progress accelerated or not? 

This is going to be a bit arbitrary as some dates have multiple routes under a single item while others separate them out. And initiatives vary in size. However it is difficult to find evidence of increasing reform activity under the Bus Plan. 

Indeed the reverse is more likely to be true. And that is before accounting for the slowdown of the tight 2024 state budget (although there should be a pick-up when the GAIC funding comes through for growth area upgrades).

You can see the general fall in the totals above, with the second half of 2021 (the year the Bus Plan was announced) delivering more than the entirety of any subsequent year. And 2023 had less than 2022. 

Other ways of measuring progress include checking service kilometres per capita (the best approach) or, more qualitatively, looking at what its three years has achieved versus what got  done in the past. For this I will pick three tests, as follows: 

* Last 3 years of the Bracks/Brumby Labor government (2007-2010)

This period coincides with the MOTC-era rapid growth in bus service kilometres including three new SmartBus orbitals around Melbourne, four Doncaster area SmartBuses and local routes in most suburbs upgraded to run 7 days and longer hours. Some growth area routes were added. Area-based bus network reviews were done though implementation was limited. Nevertheless I have no hesitation in concluding that this was a golden era of bus service upgrades with progress at least five if not ten times faster than 2021-2024

* First 3 years of the Andrews Labor government (2014-2017)

This period had some significant bus network reform and selected service expansions. Some, such as the major bus network revamp of Wyndham and Geelong, coincided with the Regional Rail Link commencing service in mid-2015, and, for Caroline Springs, its station opening in 2017. There were others as well, some promised by Labor in its 2014 election platform. For example Cranbourne gained a major bus network overhaul in 2016. Same for Epping North/Wollert. That year also saw new university shuttles and of course Night Network, which significantly reformed the previous NightRider buses. 

Labor had almost entirely honoured its 2014 bus promises by 2017. But by 2015 its emphasis switched to 'big build' infrastructure, with falling interest in further metropolitan train, bus or tram service reform. Nevertheless it's still fair to say that more happened with buses in Andrews Labor's first three years than the most recent three years

* A single date (27/7/2014) under the Napthine Coalition government

It might seem unfair to compare what bus routes got reformed on a single day with the last three years. But the exercise is still worth doing. If only to demonstrate what DTP's predecessors could achieve on a single day with the appropriate focus. 

On that one day the following network reforms commenced: 

* Major overhaul of the Brimbank bus network simplifying routes and bringing them up to run 7 days
Major Transdev network changes in areas like Fishermans Bend, Kew, Doncaster, Northcote and more
* Simplification of bus services to Melbourne Airport with more regular timetables
* 7 day service and longer hours on Wyndham area bus routes 

These included some pretty lean reforms that left some worse off, although most changes were for an overall greater good. Still, that one day achieved more than any one of the last three years. This example, along with the continuous improvement approach taken in Perth gives heart to those wanting faster bus service upgrades (whether it be community advocates, local MPs or even the Minister's office).  


The Bus Plan might have provided some form of philosophical guidance, informing processes like bus recontracting. While these excite bureaucrats, and may in theory add planning flexibility, new contracts are no guarantee of better services. That mostly only happens if supported by the state budget. Thus, as an unfunded plan the Bus Plan has had limited status except for perhaps a honeymoon first few months. 

While mention of the Bus Plan has persisted in official documents like the budget papers, DTP has allowed it to become a zombie by (a) not making a convincing case for funding in the 2023 and 2024 budgets and (b) not significantly continuing the successful 29 September 2021 approach of identifying and implementing 'greater good' trade-offs that redistribute resources between routes and/or reduce network duplication. On the latter, Yarra Valley was good but small scale, while Keysborough was underwhelming given the low frequencies remaining and the area's high social needs.

To summarise, Victoria's Bus Plan had a reasonable first four months. But it then lost altitude, with no fuel in the budget tank. Instead of taking advantage of no-cost tailwinds to regain some altitude it continued its descent as those on board debated an ambitious northern suburbs review for which there was neither funding nor capacity to implement. 

Thus it may be coming to a whimpering demise. 

At best its spirit could be salvaged by continuing network reform involving several small clusters of routes at a time in selected high-needs areas such as Dandenong, unserved parts of the west and some northern suburbs intended for the 2022 review. Even Mildura's existing complex network could be greatly simplified just by renumbering to make every route a bidirectional single number. 

But there will need to be more clarity on what is needed, with ponderous processes that regard three years as acceptable to devise an implementation plan being out.    

PS: Subsequent upgrades after this item was written

* 14 July 2024 Service boosts for routes 402, 505 & 546

Thursday, June 13, 2024

UN 175: 3 steps to revive bus reform in Melbourne's north

Three years ago today Victoria's Bus Plan strongly affirmed the need for bus network reform. 

Pursuant to this bus network reviews for Melbourne's north and north-east were announced just before the 2022 state election. The Department of Transport set up a bus reform team and public consultation happened the following year

Unfortunately implementation stalled. What little funding the 2023-24 or 2024-25 state budgets had for new bus services went elsewhere. DTP may well have produced worthy business cases proposing bus reform but they cut no ice with those who control spending (ie ministerial, expenditure review committee and/or treasury level). 

The recent record shows that DTP has protected us from batty ideas by using its gatekeeping role for good. Examples include Infrastructure Victoria's silly modal fare schemes or sparse grid bus network proposals that would have increased dependence on flexible routes (that are demonstrated failures everyone now rightly wants to scrap). The most recent GAIC round that got significant temporary funding for growth area buses would also have lifted DTP's spirits. 

But winning ongoing budget funding for new and reformed services on any metropolitan PT mode remains an acute challenge for DTP, with too few with power yet convinced (despite continuing embarrassments like 30 minute evening train frequencies or sparse weekend bus services). 

Departmental staffing budgets have tightened with LinkedIn, like an airport, announcing many departures. Significant attention is going towards what passengers would see as second and third order issues like bus electrification, operator recontracting and latterly myki ticketing replacement troubles that have less bearing on the system's capabilities than service and network reform would.   

With such distractions, it would seem that the large-scale bus network reform as envisaged in  2021's Victoria's Bus Plan stopped before it really got started. It is entering its fourth year but the promised Bus Reform Implementation Plan has yet to materialise. Meanwhile the Northern Councils Alliance did their own (very good) Northern Region Transport Study, perhaps partly inspired by VTAG's Networking the North

If anything's going to happen it will likely be baby steps. Occasionally you can get coverage benefits just by adjusting a single route with no operating cost or even scheduling implications. The Morwell Avenue south Dandenong case presented last week is a great example. 

More common though are instances where reforming one route requires changes to others. Otherwise you risk creating other problems like unacceptable coverage gaps or inefficient overlaps propagating across a large multi-route area. 

When faced with that the default action for a low-productivity outfit reliant on cottage-industry processes is to put the idea aside. Before you know it a decade or more has passed before the idea is dusted off again, with the network having become even less fit for purpose.   

To revive bus network reform in the north (after two successive state budgets apparently rebuffed anything much from DTP for this) we might have to consider what is easiest rather than what is best. 

While not ideal, doing this beats doing nothing. And an entrée serving that tidies the straggly undergrowth can clear the fog and simplify the recipe for future main courses, like the Bus Plan's proposed frequent rapid routes or even Airport Rail and Suburban Rail Loop precursor buses. 

Simple and cheap are the two pre-requisites to revive bus reform traction.

Simple means being self-contained, uncontroversial and involving only a handful of routes free of  knock-on effects. Cheap means basically redistributing existing annual service kilometres, although there will be unavoidable one-off set up costs.    

Below are three examples that could meet both requirements. Each reforms one middle level direct 'connector' style route and one or two related neighbourhood routes. Such a phased approach is similar to the steps in the Victorian Transport Action Group's Networking the North and many of my Building Melbourne's Useful Network items. But if several are done in a stepped program then the overall result can be quite substantial.  

Package 1: Epping Plaza & South Morang connectivity 

Problem: Existing Route 556 backtracks in a confusing loop that slows travel to the area's biggest shopping and health hub. Its 22 minute headway does not mesh with trains every 20 minutes. Its alignment hasn't changed for many decades despite the extension of trains past Epping to South Morang and the growth of travel to the Epping Plaza/hospital precinct area.   

Potential solution: Straighten 556 and boost service to every 20 min to match trains (ideally also for Route 555). Add new South Morang - Epping Plaza Route 576 scheduled in conjunction with revised 577 to retain coverage. 576 and 577 would operate at local style frequencies, ideally with times staggered to maximise frequency to areas walkable from both. More here.

Resource implications: Achievable with current bus fleet. Should be possible with current service kilometres, especially if adjustments are made to Route 577's timetable.  

Package 2: Campbellfield 7 days, better Hume Hwy jobs access & Coburg connection 

Problem: Existing routes 531 and 538 do not run 7 days and have weak termini. This gives residential Campbellfield two routes with poor operating hours, frequencies and destination choices. Route 540 currently runs more frequently (every 20 min) but its unique catchment declined when Coolaroo station opened in 2010.  

Potential solution: Merge 540 into extended 531 to form a 7 day local style Broadmeadows - Coburg route operating every 30 min (at least on weekdays) using resources from the duplicative Route 538 which would be retired. If possible boost Route 532's interpeak frequency to every 20 minutes to provide a train harmonising connector between 3 stations, Dallas and to industrial area jobs.

This network's increased Campbellfield - Broadmeadows travel time is offset by longer hours, 7 day service and a direct link to Coburg. Retirement of 538 is of low consequence given longer hours and more frequent 902 overlap. Each operator in the area could get one of the two remaining routes or implementation could coincide with recontracting. More discussion here

Resource implications: Achievable with current bus fleet. A basic version should be possible with current weekly operating hours but an enhanced version with a more frequent weekday interpeak and Sunday 532 service is highly desirable. A very cheap (indeed cost negative) version of this network could be operated if the 531 is made to cross the railway at Gowrie and operated along the Route 527 alignment to Coburg (with the remainder of this route eventually being replaced by the simplified and more frequent 904). This would remove a bus from portions of Sydney Rd but most residents would retain coverage of Route 530 as well as Upfield line trains. 

Package 3: Untangling Route 566 and Epping Plaza extension

Problem: Existing route 566 is indirect with confusing overlap and buses operating both directions from some stops. Northern half is a direct region-significant route yet finishes short of area's biggest destinations including Epping Plaza and Northern Hospital. This leads to weak patronage (see Page 103 of the Northern Region Transport Study). The timetable also runs to an irregular ~24 minute frequency that is unharmonised with trains. 

Solution: Split into two routes at Greensborough, with northern portion operating as Route 565 and with the southern section remaining as Route 566. The most basic simplification would do just that with no other route or timetable changes. 

However option for further gains exist if the northern portion operates to Epping Plaza instead of Lalor to better reflect the route's regional reach. The western part of Childs Rd could have coverage retained by rerouting the 556 which would also set the groundwork for its future northern extension via existing Route 356. 

Resource implications: Should be achievable with current bus fleet at existing frequencies. Boosting the 565 northern half to every 20 minutes is highly desirable given cross-regional nature of route and destinations served (which are stronger than the parallel 570 which is already every 20 min). This would require additional service hours, possibly obtainable through timetable or network changes on low patronage routes in the Eltham/Diamond Creek area.   


All three steps serve high needs / high patronage potential areas including Broadmeadows, Craigieburn, Epping and Thomastown. They would also improve access to major shopping, health, employment and educational precincts. At the same time the proposals are fairly cautious, retaining all existing coverage and involving few if any stop closures. 

Most of the routes involved have not had significant network and in some cases timetable reform for decades. And progress on them would enable the minister and government to demonstrate that bus reform is not dead, despite budget parsimony.  

They could also be the capability-building entrée the department needs before it starts on the big network-shaping reforms like bolder (but still incredibly cheap) initiatives the north needs like SRL North SmartBus / 901 & 902 swap, the Coburg - Heidelberg Murray Rd 904 Megabus and 'missing link' Chandler Hwy and Burke Rd connections joining the north with the east.   

Index to all Useful Network items

Thursday, June 06, 2024

UN 174: How south Dandenong could get 10 times the bus service for $0

When a new road bridge that creates opportunities for better and more frequent bus coverage gets built you'd think that a transport department would leap at the opportunity to exploit its benefits. 

Not so in Melbourne! 

Our Department of Transport and Planning is continually on about about simple connected journeys but their record at doing even the most basic improvements with buses is limited. 

The expectation raised when PTV got folded into the enlarged department was for more integration between roads, public transport and later planning. Thus if a level crossing gets removed or a new bridge gets built there would be thought given to how this could contribute to better bus network coverage, directness or speed. However under Secretary Paul Younis not all such 'low hanging fruit' opportunities appear to have been taken. Old silos appear as tall as they've ever been.     

South Dandenong example

Here's a potential case from south Dandenong in the Public and Active Transport Minister's own seat. When you read it you'll be amazed why this hasn't been fixed. Because there's few places in Melbourne where you could deliver a 10 times uplift in bus service to a neighbourhood for so little money. Especially when you consider this diverse area's high social needs and its distance from other bus routes.

You can see the suburb street layout below. While people associate the southern side of Dandenong with industry, there are many homes just east of Dandenong Creek. These are up to 900 metres from buses on Hammond Rd (which enjoys three routes along it). The residential area is technically still Dandenong but I'll refer to it here as south Dandenong. 

Opinions vary on what's a reasonable walking distance to a bus. But there's general consensus that 900 metres is too far. Especially for a suburb that seems to have a high seniors population. The need for coverage is recognised by Route 857 occasionally deviating via Morwell Av. These two trips per weekday are the only public transport within reasonable walking distance of a large section of south Dandenong. 

Like other 1970s-1990s outer suburbs like Watsonia North and Rowville, south Dandenong was planned in an era when it was not considered important to have an internal road grid suitable for adequate coverage from efficient and direct bus routes. The Dandenong Bypass hasn't helped much either. 

But, as related to me a few days ago, the Allan St bridge could offer a partial fix with some big benefits. A Development Victoria project, it was opened in 2017. It provides a direct connection from Morwell Avenue across Cheltenham Rd to George St and on to Dandenong station. 

The kilometres involved if a bus was to take this path is no higher than run by the existing 857 route without the deviation. And because there are other routes on Hammond Rd, running all 857 trips via Morwell Avenue and the bridge does not result in a loss of bus coverage there. Two stop pairs on Dalgety St would not be served by the redirected route but both are within 200 metres of alternatives that will offer better service. 

Areas with the greatest coverage need, west of Morwell Avenue would be the big winners. Instead of having 2 midday shopper-style trips each way they get 20 trips each way. That's a 10 fold increase in weekday service (map below). And the network is simpler too with all trips going the same way instead of currently confusing occasional deviations. The change would involve a one-off set up cost but it's well worth the coverage gain and annual service kilometres per year would be reduced due to no longer having the indirect deviation.  

Route 857's vastly increased residential catchment has other benefits too. The current timetable finishes at midday Saturday with no Sunday service. Neither is it very good as a feeder for CBD commuters, with the last trip leaving Dandenong at 6:15pm. Serving more homes builds the case for the 857 to get extended operating hours and 7 day service, with benefits spreading as far as Patterson Lakes and Carrum in the south. 

What's your thoughts on this Route 857 suggested reform? Feel free to leave them in the comments below. 

Index to other Useful Network items here