McGill's & Alexander Dennis
South East Transport Changes from 2 December
Featured Bus Route – October 2018
DATE FOR THE DIARY - 25th November - Finchley Bus Running Day
Alexander Dennis & Lothian
Buses on Parade
The non-Inner West bus routes to be privatised
Leeds Considering Hydrogen Powered Buses
New CEO for First Group & Results for Six Months to September 2018
Alexander Dennis at Euro Bus Expo 2018
Cross-suburban public transport connections across the Yarra are normally fairly limited. Unlike in most other places though service increases the further from the CBD you get. For example Chandler Hwy has just a few trips on the 609, Burke Rd has the 6 day per week half-hourly 548 and Manningham Rd across to Heidelberg has the 903 SmartBus.
What really takes the cake though is the service along Fitzsimons Lane from Doncaster to Greensborough. That has two SmartBuses (901 and 902) plus Route 293. All up ten buses per hour during the day on a weekday but at irregular spacing. To the north-west Main Rd, Lower Plenty is similar with three overlapping routes including the 293, 513 and 901. Useful Network 23 discusses this in more detail.
Today though I want to concentrate on the 293. While less frequent than the SmartBus routes it has some use. As shown below it takes close to the most direct route possible between Greensborough and Doncaster Shoppingtown. Then it continues to Box Hill past the hospitals. The latter should not be underestimated since the hospitals are slightly beyond walking distance of the station for some people and the route (along with 281) provides their nearest connection to Doncaster.
map below has the network surrounding Route 293. Only a small part around
Montmorency is uncovered by anything else. The rest of it overlaps either the 901 or 902
SmartBus. Ten years ago, before the SmartBus orbitals started, it was the only
route in these parts. Its survival is unlike what happened in other areas,
where the local routes 291 and 700 got incorporated into the 903 orbital
SmartBus. It's no accident then that of the orbital smartbuses the 903 carries the most passengers per hour, partly due to the effort to avoid duplication with other routes (at least east of Northland; west of there 903's overlaps with other routes are substantial).
Normally the SmartBus is the most direct route in an area, also serving the biggest destinations. That’s not so here with the 293 taking that crown. For example the 901 SmartBus serves the medium sized destination of Greensborough then goes directly to The Pines and Blackburn (all medium sized destinations). The 902 SmartBus connects Greensborough with the large destination of Doncaster but indirectly via Eltham. Whereas the 293 directly connects Greensborough with Doncaster and the even larger destination of Box Hill.
Successful bus networks run their best routes the most direct way between the biggest destinations. However this is not what happens here with service levels out of kilter with directness and destination importance.
Route 293 gets average to above average patronage relative to the service run.
On weekdays it attracts 23 boardings per bus service hour which is very close to average for a metropolitan bus. 23 is also notable for it being about the speed (in km/h) of an average Melbourne suburban bus route. Expressed another way that’s roughly 1 boarding per bus service kilometre though as the 293 mainly sticks to main roads it might run a little faster.
Patronage productivity peaks on Saturday with 28 passengers per bus hour. Sunday is a little lower at 25 boardings per hour. The shopping centres at Box Hill and Doncaster no doubt contribute to this. 293’s stronger alignment (versus the weak SmartBus alignments) possibly explains its relatively good patronage.
Why does 293 perform well despite all the overlaps, mostly with routes more frequent than it? There must be something good about its alignment. Any future bus network reform should respect and if possible build on this.
Route 293 is an ex-Met route that was run by the National Bus Company before being included in the parcel of routes that went to Transdev. Like most routes with similar histories it never got minimum service standards that over 100 other routes received between 2006 and 2010.
You can see this in the timetable. Operation hours are relatively long on weekdays except for the late first arrival at Box Hill (7:24 am) but are short on weekends. For example Saturday services finish around 6 or 7pm and Sunday around 6pm.
Weekday peak period frequency is 20 to 30 minutes with a more constant 20 minute service to and from Greensborough. Interpeak service is 30 minutes. Weeknight and Saturday service is hourly. Because it missed minimum standards upgrades Route 293 is one of the few remaining Melbourne bus routes that only comes every 120 minutes on Sundays.
Relationship with other routes
Many ex-Met routes had a partly overlapping companion route that provided doubled frequency over a busier section. Long-standing examples include 250 and 251. A more recently created example was 302 and 304 (simplified from 201, 202 and 302). The 216 / 219 pair in Footscray was only recently consolidated into one.
Where possible related routes should have consecutive route numbers for good legibility and easy finding of timetables on websites. This didn’t happen with Route 293 whose partner is Route 281 between Doncaster and Box Hill (including the hospitals). Combined frequencies in this section are 15 minutes weekdays and 30 minutes Saturdays. Route 281 has no evening and Sunday service, leaving just the 293 operating during these times. This makes the 281/293 corridor the only pair that drops so dramatically in frequency during the week – from every 15 minutes on weekdays to 30 minutes on Sunday and 120 minutes on Sunday. The lack of minimum standards operating hours is also rare for a corridor with a 15 min interpeak frequency (though 302/304 also share this problem).
History (and the orbitals' opportunity costs)
The route number 293 was associated with a service in the Box Hill/Doncaster area in the 1960s through to the early 1990s. It then fell out of use for a couple of years. However the 1994 National Bus network revived the 293 in its current form. You can see 1990s timetables and route maps on Krustylink. Its frequency was higher then than now, particularly on weekends. For example in 1994 the 293 ran every 40 min on Saturdays and 80 min on Sundays. However by 1997 Sunday service had been cut to 120 minutes where it remains today. Some time later the Saturday service went down to 60 minutes.
The 1994 timetable contained a map showing a particularly legible network between Box Hill, Doncaster and stations on the Hurstbridge line. You can see it below.
The 291 got replaced by the 903 SmartBus orbital. This ran more frequently (15 minutes on weekdays). The trade-off was that it no longer harmonised with trains at Heidelberg but it did harmonise with numerous services at Box Hill and Doncaster. And operating hours were better.
In contrast the 293 remained with the 901 and 902 orbitals running over the top. In this instance the orbitals made the network more complex, with more frequent service going the less direct way between the biggest trip generators. If we were more economical with the orbitals in the area we could have had a network simple like 1994's but with two or three times the service.
For example, as an alternative history, if we only had the orbitals from the Ringwood line south and reallocated the buses otherwise used on the orbitals north of the Ringwood line we might have had 291 and 293 SmartBuses each running every 10 minutes on weekdays and 20 minutes on weekends.
Elgar Rd/Box Hill Hospital and Tram Rd/Station St would have each got this service level, which would be 150% today's level on weekdays and 300 to 600% on weekends. A combined weekday frequency of 5 min weekdays (10 min weekends) would also run between Shoppingtown and Box Hill. Upgrading interpeak trains to every 10 minutes at Box Hill, Heidelberg and Greensborough would then have given the area a first-class turn-up-and-go network on its main roads with good train connections.
The moral is that while less glamorous than adding new orbitals, upgrading existing routes (if they're direct like the 293) might have delivered a better overall service for the same cost, especially if the routes chosen for the orbitals are duplicative, indirect and have poor catchments (as is true for the north-eastern quadrants for the 901 and to a lesser extent the 902).
If you weren't going to scrap the orbitals a less radical approach is to reroute them and modify local routes to lessen inefficient duplication. You couldn't fund the 10 minute frequencies mentioned above but there would still be some improvements including a simpler network, weekend upgrades and extended operating hours on more corridors.
Transdev wanted to do this in their 2015 greenfields network. You can read why it didn't happen here and see what they proposed below.
Transdev sought to incorporate the 281 and 293 into a more frequent Route 911 which would also replace the 901 orbital across the north. That would fix many duplication issues mentioned before. And it would boost trips to areas that are poorly served eg the hospitals at Box Hill and the High St corridor on the limited hours 281. It's not a bad concept. It is regrettable that rejection of Transdev's plan slowed and then halted large-scale bus network reform in Melbourne due to a department unable to convince the minister of the community benefits it can deliver.
Transdev's plan wasn't perfect. Eg the High St dogleg means it would be less direct between Greensborough and Doncaster than the current 293. And it would have cut some services in the west of Melbourne while retaining orbital coverage to some quiet areas (eg in the north east around Yarrambat) that barely justify a local route let alone a SmartBus. Had we considered network reform by area rather than on a single operator basis we could have delivered 'swings and roundabouts' reforms that better compensated neighbourhoods affected by change while rolling out improvements like 10 minute bus frequencies to more places.
I’ve had my say with what you might do with Route 293 and surrounding routes; you can read it here. Basically 293 has an excellent route alignment but poor service. The SmartBuses have good service but poor route alignment with lots of duplication and frequencies that miss trains. It's a mess!
A network review could simplify the network, connect the orbitals more directly to stronger destinations and allow new 15 minute services on corridors like High St Templestowe with an upgraded 281 (more here). But what do you think? Please leave your comments below.
You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics
Breaking Point: The Future of Australian Cities
The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees
Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees
(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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