Thursday, July 11, 2024

UN 178: Better public transport for Victoria's Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander communities

On Tuesday I mentioned that Melbourne wasn't good at providing frequent public transport service to its less advantaged suburbs, with us rating down there with Brisbane according to the Climate Council's Next Stop Suburbia report. This is despite, even ignoring the warm fuzzy social equity stuff, doing so makes patronage and financial sense.

2021's Victoria's Bus Plan recognises that we have relatively frequent bus routes that are poorly used and high-productivity lines that are under-serviced. These tend to be in the same areas that the Climate Council identified as being underserved. Concentrations exist in the south-east around Dandenong and a large strip of Melbourne's west and north from Werribee through to Sunshine, Broadmeadows and Epping.

Maps like the above will be familiar to those who have studied social disadvantage in Melbourne, even if it's other matters like income inequalities and health outcomes. This highlights the intersectionality of disadvantage, which is described here by Victoria's Gender Equality Commission.

Intersectionality is all about multiple factors reinforcing for an even bigger effect. For example income, education, postcode, transport access, language literacy, gender, race and class backgrounds can limit or at least shape a person's choices and set up a tyranny of low expectations in certain social groups, sometimes reinforced by 'soft bigotry' from outside. That can retard social mobility and perpetuate existing inequalities across generations. 

The Victorian government recognises Aboriginality as one of these intersectional elements. In my look at DTP's most senior executives (that lots of them apparently read) I noted that the Department had an Aboriginal Self-determination Plan. However this was more about widening indigenous participation in DTP's management rather than good transport service outcomes for the broader ATSI community in Victoria. 

Evidence of progress on better transport services is limited, especially in Victorian municipalities with high ATSI populations. This is important given that (nationally speaking) ATSI people are less likely to have access to a motor vehicle than other Australians (75 vs 85%) with a higher proportion reporting not being able to get to places they needed to. Hence the question of whether ATSI Victorians are getting good transport service from their tax dollars is a fair one to ask today.  

Where do Victoria's ATSI people live? 

The ABS has a population summary derived from its 2021 census. A summary chart is below: 

Victorians with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage are highly dispersed and about three-quarters live outside the seven top municipalities listed above. But having already extensively written about almost all other Melbourne suburban areas, I will just concentrate on the top seven or eight, including regional cities. 

Do areas with high ATSI populations have inferior PT?

I mentioned intersectionality before. The Climate Council mentioned inferior public transport services in working class areas. Whose effect is to inflate living costs (due to forced car ownership) and compound disadvantage further.

Is there a similar effect for ATSI populations? 

I think there is. 

Most Victorian regional cities generally have better bus networks than equivalents in other states.  Most have had network reviews in the last decade or so, with the rate of network reform faster than many established Melbourne suburbs. 

However three large regional cities stand out for having basically no bus network redesigns for service upgrades for many years. These are Shepparton, Mildura and Wodonga. All have extremely indirect or confusing routes. Mildura's was sufficiently recognised as a problem with a network review to be the Victorian Bus Plan's only regional component. However little has been heard since.

Mildura has a rudimentary Sunday bus service. Shepparton and Wodonga lack it completely. Even though smaller cities like Warrnambool and Traralgon have 7 day networks. As does Albury, across the border from Wodonga, which gained major NSW government-funded bus improvements last year

As for train services, Mildura has no rail service, Shepparton has two-thirds Bendigo's population but gets a fraction of the frequency (though improvements are planned) while Wodonga had its CBD station closed and a new inaccessible station built out of town. Due to the removal of its CBD station and the lack of upgrades to bus services, Wodonga may be the only Victorian regional city that has public transport no better (and arguably worse) than 15-20 years ago. 

Surely it can't be coincidental, but it just happens that the three largest regional cities with more than 3% ATSI population have inferior public transport services for their size. These being Mildura, Shepparton and Wodonga.

Geelong and Bendigo have many more trains to Melbourne and better urban bus networks. 7 day bus service is almost universal across Geelong buses with one or two exceptions. However limited operating hours, especially on weekends, lessen the usefulness of buses as feeders for longer distance day trips (including to Melbourne), as may be needed for family, mob and health visits.

Despite it being the premier's home city, Bendigo's buses are less developed than Geelong's (or Ballarat's) with a significant portion lacking 7 day service. This includes Route 51, the nearest bus to the Bendigo and District Aboriginal Cooperative. The approximately 6pm evening finish of many bus routes also limits their usefulness on weekends, especially as part of longer distance trips.  

Most large regional cities have Aboriginal cultural, community or resource centres. Public transport accessibility to them varies. Those in at least Geelong, Bendigo and Shepparton have buses within about 500 metres. However 'last few metres' access to them can vary with limited or no paths and pedestrian crossings. 

What about Melbourne LGAs with high ATSI populations? These are Wyndham, Casey and Whittlesea.  All are dominated by the usual infrequent bus routes with service every 40 to 60 minutes at most times. This is despite Wyndham's bus routes being much more productive than the metropolitan average. Parts of Casey and Whittlesea, especially, have bus networks that haven't been reformed for many years. Wyndham and Casey have no premium service SmartBus routes while inner parts of Whittlesea have the 901 and 902 orbitals.  

All three metropolitan LGAs lack frequent off-peak trains, with their 20 minute off-peak frequency comparing unfavourably with 10-15 minutes as more common in the south and east. And the fastest growing parts of Wyndham (as well as Geelong) still only get trains every 40 minutes on weekend versus 10 - 20 minute weekend frequencies on Metro lines.  

Upgrade priorities for LGAs with high ATSI populations

Here are some opportunity-expanding public transport service priorities for Victoria's local government areas with the highest ATSI populations: 

Greater Geelong  - Wadawurrung country

* Upgrade weekend trains from every 40 to every 20 min
* Upgrade remaining 5 and 6 day bus routes to run 7 days (nearly all currently do - just needs upgrades to a handful eg Route 40 to deliver this) 
* Widen operating hours on suburban bus routes to match local route standard in Melbourne and to enable full day trips away via V/Line
* Upgrade the busier routes to finish at midnight with maximum 20 min waits (starting with Route 1), potentially with premium network branding (similar to SmartBus). Route 1 is quite close to the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative. 
* Boost coach services for better regional connectivity to Geelong's surrounding towns, preferably 7 days
* New DDA compliant paths and improved walking connectivity on busy Torquay Rd to facilitate access to Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre from Route 53 bus stop opposite. Similar improvements may be desirable at Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative, North Geelong, which offers various health services. 

Greater Bendigo - Dja Dja Wurrung and Taungurung country

* Upgrade weekend train frequencies including earlier weekend am starts
* Introduce 7 day service as standard on suburban bus routes (ie upgrades on routes like 51, 54, 60 and 64 that lack it) 
* Widen operating hours on suburban bus routes to match local route standard in Melbourne and to enable full day trips away via V/Line
* Boost coach services for better regional connectivity, preferably 7 days
* Noting the non transit-oriented location of the Bendigo & District Aboriginal Cooperative, investigate whether improvements can be made for walking connectivity from the nearest bus stop and surrounding streets such as better paths and crossings.

Greater Shepparton - Yorta Yorta country

* Increased train frequency from Melbourne
* Introduce 7 day service and longer operating hours on city bus routes
* Boost bus and coach services for better connectivity to surrounding towns
* Improved DDA compliant walking connections between bus stop (Route 2) and Bangerang Cultural Centre
* Explore potential for otherwise idle or underused school buses to provide town transport as looked into by a recent parliamentary inquiry and backed by industry bodies such as BusVic

Mildura - Millewa - Mallee country

* Review and simplify current complex city bus network with improved operating hours 7 days
* Boost bus and coach services for better connectivity to surrounding towns
* Explore potential for otherwise idle or underused school buses to provide town transport as looked into by a recent parliamentary inquiry and backed by industry bodies such as BusVic

Wyndham - Bunurong and Wadawurrung country

* Upgrade weekend Geelong line train frequencies to every 20 min maximum waits at night and weekends
* Upgrade Werribee line to run every 10 minutes interpeak and weekends
* Improve connections to local jobs, including a Tarneit to Laverton North route
* Better 7 day bus connections to major health destinations (eg Mercy Hospital) 
* Boost busier local routes from every 40 to every 20 min 7 days (eg 150, 152, 160, 182, 192, 494, 495, 497) and increase operating hours of these until at least 11pm every night of the week noting their very high patronage productivity compared to the Melbourne average for buses

Casey - Bunurong and Wurundjeri country

* Upgrade train services so that maximum waits are 20 min (notably Sunday am & weekend evenings)
* Review and simplify bus routes in Hampton Park/Narre Warren/Berwick area with all to operate to minimum standards, 7 days a week and a special focus on connecting to major employment areas
* Improve 7 day bus connections to local health services eg hospitals at Berwick and Dandenong
* Upgrade all routes in Doveton and Endeavour Hills to operate minimum standard operating hours (including 842, 843, 844, 845 & 861)
* Boost weekend frequency and hours on key routes including 828, 841 and 926, with Route 893 operating until midnight. 

Whittlesea -  Wurundjeri country

* Upgrade Mernda line train frequency to every 10 minutes daytime and 20 minutes evenings and Sunday mornings. 
* Upgrade bus routes to run 7 days to minimum service standards
* Review and simplify bus routes in municipality, notably around Thomastown/Epping, with frequencies harmonised to mesh with trains and longer operating hours on key routes
* A focus on better 7 day connections to major employment areas, including industrial areas
* Improved 7 day bus access to major health destinations including Northern Hospital Epping. Also Victorian Aboriginal Health services at Epping and South Morang.  
* Add new routes to new housing growth areas
* Review adequacy of transport services to more rural parts of municipality. 

Wodonga - Dhudhuroa and Waywurru country

* Review and simplify current complex city bus network with improved operating hours, the same network weekdays and weekends and added Sunday service
* Boost bus and coach services for better connectivity to surrounding towns
* Restore public transport connectivity between every train and Wodonga CBD 
* Explore potential for otherwise idle or underused school buses to provide town transport as looked into by a recent parliamentary inquiry and backed by industry bodies such as BusVic 

The above is the result of a quick 'desktop analysis' as well as known needs. Rightly or wrongly they have a 'mainstream' focus with many highly beneficial to non-aboriginal populations. They would need refining in consultation with local communities as not all needs will necessarily have been captured. 

Getting them done

Almost all the above 'closing the gap measures' are cheap and cost-effective to do. Most have wider benefits, extending well beyond Victorian ATSI populations. So, to ask a question all too familiar to many who follow aboriginal affairs, why haven't they been done? 

Everything above requires political will to implement. 
Politics is about choices. Leadership is about setting priorities. Governments can't do everything that is asked of them.

Especially with compulsory voting parties need the middle ground to win. That can involve parties pitching for 'softer' voters from the other side rather than servicing their traditional base, whose support or at least preferences can be taken for granted.

When Labor governments have been in (such as Victoria for all but 4 years this century) this has meant a risk of neglecting basic services in their most loyal working class seats in favour of winning marginal support. The 'numbers people' at party HQ know that they cannot govern on west, north and outer south-east suburban votes alone. Rather the party needs regional city and southern/eastern suburb seats to win and keep office. 

In transport you hear this playing out in discussions about the relative merits of the east's Suburban Rail Loop versus (say) the Western Rail Plan or more dispersed bus and rail frequency upgrades (like those mentioned here). 

So far this approach has worked well for the current government, with its opponents' weakness a key asset. Labor has been able to win and then retain the east while holding the west and north, despite falling primary vote support in the latter. Thanks to the preferential system, some erosion makes no difference to the main game - ie winning enough seats in parliament to form government.

This was the case in the 2022 Victorian state election where a 40-something per cent primary vote in traditional safe seats like Broadmeadows is enough to see off challengers, especially given the low Liberal support. Combined with retentions and even gains since 2018 in the east, this has meant a commanding Legislative Assembly majority. 

However there are potential emerging weaknesses. The more primary vote falls the nearer one gets to an avalanche point, like seen with the teals in the 2022 federal election. Then things become a lot more volatile, including in seats once considered safe. 

Perceived neglect of basic services, weak local representation and favouritism towards other areas can all be exploited by opposition or independent candidates. While the latter may not win their preference flows are increasingly important in seats with eroding major party support. 

Investment in basic and community beneficial services, like these, might be just the thing a long-term government needs to stem such vote erosion. Including in seats with substantial ATSI populations. 


Described, this NAIDOC week, is a program to upgrade public transport in cities and suburbs that are home to the highest number of Victorians of ATSI background. 

Most are bus frequency upgrades that merely work the existing fleet harder. Thus the main resource needed would be drivers, which would provide local employment opportunities. 

As well as an improved life for local ATSI populations, the benefits of improved public transport connectivity would be far wider, extending to much of the general population as well. 

Further reading on transport for ATSI communities

* Determinants of health - transport (includes some statistics quoted above)
* Research: Experiences of Older Aboriginal People in Navigating Transport Systems in an Urban Setting
* Research: Indigenous communities: Transport disadvantage and Aboriginal communities (paper apparently unavailable online but try contacting Graham Currie)

Also see Yoorrook Justice Commission hearings (which one hopes will cover transport topics). 

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

TT 191: Climate Council advocates a frequent network

Public Transport running every 15 minutes or better is the centrepiece of a Climate Council report released yesterday. 

Next Stop Suburbia: Making shared transport work for everyone in Aussie cities compares public transport service provision in Australia's five biggest cities. 

It finds that about half of such residents are further than 800 metres from weekday service operating every 15 minutes or better, with results varying between cities. 

Sydney was the clear leader, with 67% of its population near frequent service. Melbourne was next, at 52%. Adelaide and Perth were 48 and 40% respectively, while Brisbane, as confirmed here, lags the others with barely a third near frequent service. 

In all cities access to frequent service fell with distance from the CBD. Most Sydneysiders within 25km of the CBD had access to frequent transport. Whereas for Melbourne the equivalent distance was only 15km. Melbourne's difference reflects its frequent inner area trams along with a general reluctance to run frequent trains and buses in middle and outer suburbs. Both Adelaide and Brisbane had limited access to frequent service beyond 8km from the CBD while Perth's cut-off was 12km. 

The Climate Council also found a big difference in how cities catered for their low income suburbs. Brisbane and Melbourne scored lowest here, with both serving their lower income suburbs 27% less than average. This is even though bus routes in socio-economically disadvantaged areas are often productive patronage performers. Sydney was relatively better at serving its disadvantaged areas with less than 1% difference. Part of this may be because some of its high income northern beaches and Shire suburbs have quite poor service. 

Underserved high-needs clusters in Melbourne include Springvale - Dandenong, Werribee - Tarneit, Sunshine - St Albans and a strip across the north around Broadmeadows - Epping. All are are diverse areas that are politically taken for granted by the 3 or 4 largest parties. 

The report has summaries for each of the five cities surveyed. Below is Melbourne's. (Click below for better resolution, or go to the report itself). 

Here's a few points I want to make about the above map: 

Some of the statistical areas used are large. That can skew results at first glance. For instance Dandenong South looks very favourable when very little of it has frequent transport. Fortunately the authors recognise this by bordering the much smaller areas with frequent service with a black line. That gives a fairer view of what areas get frequent service. 

A further improvement could have been to exclude non-urbanised areas from shading, as the SNAMUTS maps do. Doing that would better direct the mind towards which areas were most in need of frequent service.   

Most significantly is that this map depicts all day frequent service but not all week frequent service. It is based on weekday timetables only. Given the paper's recommendation for a 7 day frequent network I think they should have used Sunday rather than weekday timetables.

This would have changed the maps dramatically, including relativities between cities. For example Sydney would surge even more ahead as they have a culture of frequent 7 day service on multiple modes, not just one, as with most other capitals. Perth would likely better than its current position because its trains and main bus routes run frequently during the day, seven days. This isn't so for Adelaide and Melbourne, whose network frequencies fall off a cliff on weekends (especially for buses). The Melbourne public transport frequent network map for Sunday shows the big difference a redefining would make, with green areas confined to strips centred on the corridors below. 

Frequent network recommended

Next Stop Suburbia recommends enlarged frequent public transport networks in Australia's five biggest cities. It suggests a frequency of 15 minutes or better between 7 am and 7pm every day of the week.

While this still leaves evening service less frequent than desirable, its widespread roll-out would still be transformative. Current networks that generally match or exceed this standard include trains in Sydney and Perth, trams in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, and higher order bus routes in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Auckland. 

Notable modes that fall short on weekend service include most train lines in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide along with SmartBus in Melbourne and Go-Zone buses in Adelaide. As well all cities need a much bigger reach of top tier 7 day frequent bus routes, particularly in their middle and outer suburbs and implemented 7 day minimum service standards for neighbourhood bus routes. 

In my view the report's authors have excessive faith in on-demand transport, like flexible route buses. This has been tried and mostly failed. Either it gets such low usage that it is very expensive per passenger carried, or it gets overloaded in which case it should be replaced with fixed routes. They also have a curious disdain for the term 'public transport', favouring 'shared transport' instead. 


Notwithstanding the small quibbles above, the Climate Council has done an excellent job in shining a light on the need for more frequent public transport across our large cities. Such advocacy is welcome as it is increasingly recognised that electrified private automobility is insufficient to address the problems of the planet and our cities. 

To give you an idea of the importance of this, a widely available multimodal frequent network has bigger benefits for overall network patronage than much more discussed projects like airport rail and even the Suburban Rail Loop due to creating vastly more interchange points between frequent service. Hopefully Climate Council's work to emphasise the power of frequency influences others in the political realm, some of who have spruiked ecars above all else. This is essential to make change happen. 

As governments run out of money for multi-billion dollar infrastructure builds a move towards more intensively using what we have already is the next logical step to making our public transport work better for us. 

Index to Timetable Tuesday items

Thursday, July 04, 2024

UN 177: Transport for our housing targets

Last month the state government released draft housing construction targets for between now and 2051 to accommodate Melbourne's large projected population increase. 

A doubling by 2051

These targets were by local government area. Meeting them would mean about a doubling of dwellings in most inner, middle and even outer municipalities. 

The main outliers are Melton and Mitchell (a tripling or quadrupling) and Nillumbik, Yarra Ranges and Mornington Peninsula (about a 50% increase). But apart from those it's pretty close to being 'one size fits all' with accelerated densification for many historically low-growth but well-serviced established middle suburbs.   

Such growth has many implications for transport networks and services. 

Everything else being equal, more homes = more people = more cars in an area. 

How many more? 

Take, as examples, the cities of Darebin and Glen Eira in Melbourne's north and south-east respectively. Both have similar populations (around 150 000), number of existing homes (around 70 000) and housing targets (around 70 000 more by 2051). Darebin has about 1.5 cars per household while Glen Eira has about 1.6. This is a little lower than the national average of 1.8 cars per household in 2021.

Glen Eira is slightly smaller (39 square km) so is a little denser than Darebin (53 square km). They're both irregularly shaped. But half close your eyes and/or twist your head to see roughly 10km x 5km oblongs. 

How many more trips?

Australian household sizes average 2.5 people per dwelling. In densifying established areas it is likely that the composition of new homes will be different to those already there. That is townhouses and apartments replacing detached houses (which currently dominate Australian suburbs). 

Given Australian families' preference for detached houses it is likely that average people per unit will be lower than that for houses. So let's call it 2 people. If that holds and the housing targets are met then you'll see about 140 000 more residents in areas like Darebin and Glen Eira. 

It varies by age but people generally make about three trips per day across all transport modes. Thus a municipality with 140 000 more residents will need to cater for about 400 000 new daily trips. The majority of trips made are currently by private car (either as driver or passenger). That would also hold for the 400 000 being added unless something changes. Eg improved accessibility and/or attractiveness of public and active transport or a lower demand for travel.   

How many more cars?

Assuming similar car ownership rates per home to now, Darebin and Glen Eira would be accommodating 100 000 more cars each than now. Maybe that's a little high if the new homes (more likely to be townhouses and apartments) have more singles than existing detached homes. Or maybe not if detached homes are more likely to have children who (if not adults) won't have their own car. 

Anyway let's go with the 100 000, understanding that it remains a big number even if halved. Motorists expect parking in at least three places; on their property, in the street in front of their house and at their destination. The first is privately paid for so is not our concern (though surveys show that many residents use garages for non-car purposes and park on the street). The last two are predominantly at public expense so are of public concern. Especially because their space usage worsens active transport access and crowds out alternative uses for the land (including more housing). 

Most motorists probably don't particularly like driving and regret its expense, especially in these inflationary times. They'd also likely scoff at the usefulness of existing driving alternatives for their life. Which is reasonable given typically disconnected cycling paths and weekend buses only every 30 to 60 minutes in most suburbs.  

The graph below gives a snapshot of a few of the challenges that face established local government areas (like Darebin and Glen Eira) if the government's housing targets are implemented but existing patterns continue for transport (ie everything approximately doubling). 

Where will all the cars fit?

Cars are 5 metres long on average. 100 000 of them bumper to bumper forms a 500km long line. That is almost Melbourne to Mildura. Allow for backing-out space (if parked) or stopping distance (if moving) and the space requirement multiplies. That increases distances between higher value land uses, reducing active transport accessibility. Road tunnels and multi-storey parking may assist but are expensive per person served. And we're just talking about local cars; we haven't factored in those driving through from surrounding municipalities with similar housing uplifts.  

Regardless of individual attitudes towards car ownership and use, it's a physical fact that the movement and storage of private cars is the least space efficient transport mode there is. 

That's a problem because they're not making any more land. The more housing density the more intelligent land needs to be used. People value space, whether it be public parks or their own private yards or courtyards. 

Such space is the first to go when policy settings and standards 'crowd out' active and public transport by making its use unattractive and traffic engineers decree we need more space for roads and parking. 

However much of this is a consequence of planning and policy choices. For example minimum parking requirements (recently removed in Auckland), compulsorily bundling parking with property titles (desirability of unbundling discussed in this recent RMIT study), severance from over-wide roads, poor active transport links and limited public transport services all discourage space-efficient transport. Salary packaging (encouraged by federal tax rules), 'free parking' and traffic-inducing freeways also represent a substantial financial encouragement to drive, despite the social costs of people doing so.  

Taking the housing increase as given, it's effectively a trade-off between more space for people or more space for cars. A choice exists but only if policy settings encourage rather than discourage more space-efficient transport.  

What if there isn't? Accommodating more cars pushes destinations further apart, reducing the usefulness of active transport. The result is suburbs that have all the problems of housing density but few of its benefits. 

Existing link between housing and public transport service

People, including housing density advocates, sometimes assume that better public transport will somehow automatically follow anything done in housing. For example YIMBY's 'Missing Middle' plan glosses over the need for a frequent multidirectional transport network in areas where intensification is proposed. However the evidence is otherwise; dense but poorly served housing areas are a growing problem in Melbourne. 

Densifying areas like Moonee Ponds are one example, with off-peak train frequencies basically unchanged for decades. Neither have the tram nor SmartBus networks been significantly extended in the last 13 years. 

The pace of 7 day upgrades on local bus routes is dramatically slower now than 15 years ago. Victoria's Bus Plan, now in its 4th year, has made little headway redressing bus service inequities. At best there may be a belated response after about 10-15 years and even then weekend frequencies might not be particularly high. For example the Route 505 and 546 upgrades starting later this month.   

More broadly, recent RMIT research found that public transport service was lagging apartment builds. Our busiest public transport modes have seen a per capita service decline. This includes trams, which although generally still more frequent than trains and buses have not recovered from a 70 year decline and then stagnation in their frequency. 

This slow progress on service has limited the practicality of public transport for many trips where it has potential to be useful. 

Six directions for Melbourne public transport to accommodate housing growth

The housing construction targets need an accompanying transport infrastructure and service agenda to get the transport mode shift needed to make denser areas more rather than less liveable. Otherwise some of the criticisms of Melbourne 2030 (a land use plan unbacked by transport initiatives) may hold for these targets. Advocating density in established areas is fraught with political risk, especially if there are no gains for existing residents, such as better transport connections and broader public realm improvements such as parks, libraries and community centres.  

Double Service Frequency on Everything, a five word public transport plan, would transform public transport across Melbourne. A 2 minute video summary is below:   

Double Service Frequency on Everything would be a rough network average. In practice some routes would retain their current frequency while others might run 3 or 4 times more frequently at certain times. Priority, at least in its early phases, would go to off-peak service to minimise new rolling stock and infrastructure requirements. It would massively transform the existing network from a peak-oriented radial suitable for a minority of trips to a much more versatile all-week frequent grid suitable for many more.    

There is a great deal of flexibility in the implementation of such a frequent network. The multimodal Future Frequent Network is a coherent example, drawn from updated Principal Public Transport Network concepts. If you wanted to tie it to housing provision I've previously outlined priorities for social housing growth areas (2020) and housing priority areas (2023).    

Would this in itself be enough given the ambitious housing and thus population targets in across all of Melbourne? Probably not. Something even bigger is needed. And not just for frequency either. 

1. A fast and frequent network

A network vision that truly complements the housing agenda would likely include not just the frequent network mentioned above but also a fast and frequent network. This would comprise not just the radial rail system going into the CBD but routes in other directions such as popular rail feeders, circumferential routes and direct frequent corridors though suburban centres.

A fast and frequent network would multiply the number of suburban connection points across Melbourne. You could argue about modes, with light metro, trams or premium buses being possibilities. 

But if you want to get the most done soonest it's hard to go past Toronto-style two tier express/stopping buses running every 5-10 minutes until 1am (as I suggested as an SRL precursor). Think of it as a Future Frequent Network but with fast express buses overlaid over key circumferential routes (such as  existing SmartBus orbitals and the SRL precursor) and some new radial and L-shaped corridors to growth areas without local rail like Wollert and along Taylors Rd west of Caroline Springs. Bus wormholes should exist at pinch points to deliver a busway like travel experience. 

2. Five minute frequencies on the network's core 

Because so much of Melbourne's public transport runs only every 30 to 60 minutes for much of the week, the main emphasis of Double Service Frequency on Everything has been to get to a 10 minute service on the more frequent routes with most of the rest running every 20 minutes. 

While a large improvement on current service levels, even 10 minute service isn't great for complex trips involving two or more transfers (as more of them will need to be if public transport is to have a higher mode share). Even assuming all services run, such trips could have up to 27 minutes total waiting, which adds excessive variability for all but long distance trips. 

The cure to this is even higher frequency on the core parts of the network. A 5 minute all-day frequency on the busier lines would bring our service levels near to those which currently run on Vancouver's Skytrain or Toronto's subway. Melbourne is not a stranger to high frequencies in the past. For example our cable trams ran frequently. Today's frequent 401 and 601 university shuttle bus routes are highly productive. And 5 minute frequencies represent mainstream thinking, as exemplified by 2012's Network Development Plan - Metropolitan Rail which had a multimodal service frequency hierarchy starting at 5 minutes for its core routes. 

Examples of routes for which a 5 minute service could be suitable all day (and even at night) include Metro lines to destinations like Newport, Sunshine, Clifton Hill, Ringwood and Dandenong. This could be considered in conjunction with all-day express services where line capacity permits. The benefits of separating trains from intersecting traffic through level crossing removals will be found indispensable at frequencies like every 5 minutes. Similar high frequenies could apply for key tram lines serving densifying areas, such as Route 19, 59, 86 and 96 to name a few with maximum waits never exceeding 10 minutes late at night. 

10 minute frequency lines and routes that might have had this finish in the early evening might have this service extended to midnight or later, such as is general practice in Toronto and Vancouver.  A 10 minute frequency operating over about 18 or 19 hours of the day would be a particular gain for Melbourne, which even on its existing frequent lines like Frankston, only runs its 10 minute service for about 9 hours on weekends. Both Sydney's metro and regular train lines far lead Melbourne's with 10-15 minute maximum waits, even from outer suburban stations, at nearly all the time services run. 

7 day 24 hour public transport is something that big cities have. So should Melbourne. While much was made of Night Network operating across all modes, its hourly train and bus frequency makes it a dealbreaker for much travel. And it only runs weekends. The next stage could entail boosting all night service to all week with much higher frequencies similar to Toronto's network. Of all the modes trains are by far the dearest to run all night so you'd start it with buses. 

With an 'always there for you' philosophy, an approach to service design like the above would encourage the sort of low car living that is essential for the proposed housing densities to effectively work. 
3. More capacity (but only after frequency)

When a service is already frequent then adding capacity is another way to cater for higher ridership. We're talking about bigger trains, bigger trams and articulated buses. Or, if you've got a capacity crisis on your hands, just ripping out seats on existing rolling stock to allow more standing room. Higher capacity vehicles are good for handling high peak loadings and improving passengers carried per driver productivity metrics. 

Melbourne has generally been better at adding capacity than adding frequency, especially on its tram network, where small non-accessible trams are steadily being replaced by larger accessible trams. Ditto for the HCMTs that will be running through the Metro Tunnel. 

Adding capacity is good for catering for existing growth on crowded routes and improves comfort for existing passengers. Which may induce some further patronage growth. However, unless frequency is already very high, you should always insist on a 1 for 1 replacement or better to ensure frequencies can be maintained and if possible increased.   

4. A war on delays to maximise throughput

A common objection to public transport is that it is several times slower than private car travel. The most extreme differences, especially for trips involving a change, can be reduced by providing a frequent network. Timed transfer networks can also help but are more suited to low density fringe and regional areas like we are not discussing here. 

Once frequency is good other steps are desirable to increase speed and reduce travel time variability.  Depending on mode these may include extra tracks for passing, signalling upgrades, simpler stopping patterns, tram priority, bus lanes and priority treatment at signals.

Delay must be attacked at all sources with slicker operating practices and targeted infrastructure upgrades. Some things that cause delay are not immediately obvious. For example providing shelter along a rail platform at a popular station can help spread passengers more evenly and thus reduce boarding delays on wet or hot days. Do this at multiple stations on a busy line and you might have saved a couple of minutes. A similar story (along with accessibility gains) can be told for enabling level boarding without excessive gaps. Adding extra entrances at busy stations could probably induce as much extra patronage as some existing stations already have, all without delaying existing passengers. Short, wide, sheltered and direct walkways must also exist at major interchange points to speed intermodal interchange. 

All these can create a virtuous spiral of improvement. For example bus and tram priority speeds travel, creating a speed benefit for passengers. The reduced run time can enable higher frequencies with the existing fleet and drivers, which further improves capacity and reduces waiting. This encourages further patronage uplifts, with an improved farebox recovery ratio. 

Rail speeds are mostly controlled by on rather than off-line factors, most notably our closely spaced suburban stations. Average 35 to 40 km/h speeds can be excruciatingly slow on longer lines like Frankston, even if its frequency is good. Some lines have third tracks to enable peak expressing but consideration should be given to fourth tracks (and/or passing loops) to enable frequent all-day two tier service that includes expressing. Alternatively it may be more cost-effective to build an entirely new rail alignment (with new stations and interchange points) to cater for high demand or to enable 'knock-on' benefits for the existing train or tram network. It is hard today to see how the Werribee line would cope without the Regional Rail Link, for example. 

5. Network reform across all modes

Higher population density and a desire for mode shift requires a new emphasis on efficiency and making the network more useful for more trips. 

For buses this needs network reform, including making existing routes more frequent and direct, as has been discussed amply here. There also needs to be a large bus component for the 'fast and frequent' network, weekend frequency boosts and a completion of MOTC minimum standards 7 day service to all but the quietest local routes (upgrades to about 60 routes needed all up). Responsiveness should be much faster, with bus routes rolled out far earlier in a new estate's development and less restrictions for GAIC-funded bus networks. 

For trams this means a faster, more accessible and more connective network. You don't need to go far from the CBD for the tram network to cease being a grid and for it to be radial. The tram network has basically stagnated with the very slow pace of accessible stop roll-outs, few upgrades to timetables, little network reform or extensions past dead-end termini that date from when trams competed with rather than fed trains. Also a concern is its declining efficiency due to vehicle traffic. Something more than the 2023 'plan for a plan' tram plan is needed to make the tram network fit for purpose with many more multimodal suburban connection points

For trains we need to review network complexities including an excessive number of peak stopping patterns on some lines, unfathomable City Loop operations and poor frequencies, especially early mornings and nights. The stalled greenfields timetable roll-out needs to be restarted, and not just on the  lines directly served by the Metro Tunnel. 

The pandemic, working from home and the uplift from the Metro Tunnel next year should relieve CBD capacity issues for a while. But if Melbourne grows sufficiently it may recur as a problem. Suggested solutions could include the disruptive, controversial but cost-effective City Loop split (as supported by Infrastructure Victoria) and/or additional cross-city Metro lines (eg MM2 via Fishermans Bend with capacity gains for the west). Both of these would convert more of the network to a simpler, more through-routed system which is far better than provincial-style stub termini or confusing CBD-centric loops.  

6. Tram-like local networks for suburban centres

Suburban centres will likely be too large and busy for a single interchange point at a station to be useful for all but a few destinations. That has been the assumption to date, with centres like Box Hill, Dandenong, Frankston, Broadmeadows and Sunshine having many routes terminating there but a handful of (if any) through routes. 

This network model has outlived its usefulness and needs to be replaced with something more akin to frequent CBD trams operating frequently on defined corridors. Termini can be on the far side of the centre but are never in the middle. That just forces time-wasting transfers and bus turnbacks in space-starved core areas. As well as permitting easier movement within a centre this also has benefits including better central interchange space efficiency due to shorter dwell and loading times. A concept for Frankston is shown below.  

Each line could be two or three less frequent routes that are co-scheduled to provide a frequent combined service where they come together. Location-specific passenger information is required to make such multi-route corridors legible. This is something that PTV hasn't historically been very good with but is cheap to improve. 

Similar opportunities should be taken for Suburban Rail Loop centres like Southland, Clayton, Monash, Glen Waverley, Burwood and Box Hill to have similar through-routing. Again the aim would be to provide a tram-like service within its heightened density 1.6km radius centre including to major destinations like Box Hill Hospital. In many cases this will be most economically done by reforming and upgrading existing feeder buses rather than putting in dedicated shuttles (which are prone to having only short operating hours and adding network complexity). 


Denser housing in our suburbs needs commensurate investment in transport services and infrastructure to get people to where they wish to go. The need for a strong public and active transport component means a need to plan for far higher per capita usage than currently exists. Six directions to help enable this have been presented. Failure to keep public transport service development up with housing risks resulting in suburbs that are less prosperous, less liveable and less green.