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Last week I posted about the implications across the transport network if timetables were reduced due to the COVID-19 outbreak. At the time Wellington had gone to a Sunday timetable on weekdays.
More recently Perth announced a Saturday timetable on weekdays. It's widely speculated that Melbourne will follow suit (note speculated - this post is talking about a hypothetical that might not happen).
The early indications seem to be that commuter-heavy routes are being hit the most by the patronage downturn. Especially those that serve areas with a lot of white collar employment where many have the option to work from home. A lot of these people, especially if they work in the CBD, are no longer riding trains and trams. However there's still jobs that haven't been shut down and require attendance. Especially in essential services eg health, cleaning and food.
A big risk of going to a Saturday (or even worse a Sunday) timetable is that because most bus routes have much lower weekend service levels than weekdays a weekend timetable would cut bus services disproportionately with some routes not even running. Even most premium SmartBuses would go from 15 to 30 minute frequencies while off-peak trains would remain largely untouched (some even retaining ten minute frequencies).
It may be that the virus cuts train patronage by a higher percentage than bus usage yet the buses get the biggest service cuts. Not because they should but due to the unwillingness to tackle bus network and service reform pre-virus.
The consequences for buses if we do get a Saturday (or Sunday) timetable are summarised below:
I should repeat that this is hypothetical - an announcement hasn't been made yet.
What should run if we do get a Saturday timetable on weekdays?
Last week I mentioned that it would be fine to not run some weekday-only routes as they were largely commuter-based and people would still have alternatives with other routes. However other areas would be left without service. It is these that are most of concern if we do decide to move to a Saturday timetable.
Here's a list of weekday-only routes. None would operate if we had just a Saturday timetable. I take a first-cut look at whether I think they should or should not run even if the rest of the network goes to a Saturday timetable. The actual decision should probably depend on more detailed catchment area data and patronage noted in the last week or so.
201: No. Uni shuttle overlapped by other routes
237: Yes? Industrial area route in Fishermans Bend with some unique coverage
301: No. Uni shuttle overlapped by other routes
303: No. Peak only route with other services nearby
309: No? Most of area has alternative routes
318: No. Peak only route with other services nearby
343: No. Duplicates train
350: No. Little unique coverage. Alternatives available.
389: Yes? Residential area loop route though service available in opposite direction with 388
401: Yes. Shuttle to hospitals with no parallel routes.
403: No. Poorly used route with 402 providing an alternative.
417: Yes. Industrial area route with unique coverage.
482: Yes. Industrial area route with unique coverage.
511: Yes. Although a peak commuter route it is the only transport to/from the estate.
531: Yes. Serves residential area with low income catchment.
546: Yes. Some residential area catchment although it runs to a university.
551: Yes. Some residential area catchment although it runs to a university.
601: No. Uni shuttle overlapped by other routes
609: No? Likely limited catchment and low patronage
673: No. Duplicated by other routes
675: Yes. Residential area catchment
680: Yes. Residential area catchment
686: Yes. Residential area catchment
687: No. Very low patronage
696: No. Very low patronage
704: Yes. Residential area patronage
705: Yes. Industrial route with unique coverage
706: Yes. Some unique residential area coverage but low usage (shopper type route)
740: Yes? Runs commuter hours but some unique catchment
745: No? Very limited timetable and unlikely to be useful
757: Yes. Unique residential area coverage
758: Yes. Unique residential area coverage
768: No. Uni shuttle overlapped by other routes
774: Yes. Residential area coverage (note interaction with other routes in area)
777: Yes. Some unique residential area coverage but low usage (shopper type route)
778: Yes. Industrial area route
783: Yes. Residential area coverage (note interaction with 782 timetable)
795: Yes? Unique coverage but outlying area.
802: Yes. Serves residential area with high social needs
821: Yes. Mainly industrial area route. Serves hospital.
823: Yes. Residential area coverage.
838: Yes? Semi-rural route.
842: Yes. Off-peak shopper route.
886: No? TAFE route
887: No? University route but serves transport-starved area
Telebus 7: Yes? Retains service in poorly served area.
Telebus 8: Yes? Retains service in poorly served area.
Telebus 9: Yes? Retains service in poorly served area.
Many routes above are marginal in terms of patronage. You can legitimately argue against not running some where patronage potential is limited. Providing adequate operating hours on busier routes, as discussed next, is almost certainly higher priority than running all or even half the routes in the above list.
Which routes need better Saturday operating hours to be useful on weekdays?
As well as some not running there are other bus routes that would have limited operating hours if a Saturday timetable ran on weekdays. This might be because:
1. They lack significant Saturday afternoon service. Mostly in lower income areas eg routes 538, 558, 559, 697, 698, 800, 814, 815, 844, 857. Some are quite well used and even key highway routes. These definitely deserve better span (similar to weekdays) and for routes like 800 the maintenance of morning frequencies into the afternoon (rather than a drop to 2 hourly).
2. They are in or near industrial areas where it was not envisaged that the Saturday timetable would ever operate on non-public holiday weekdays (eg 235 in Fishermans Bend, 400 and 414 in Laverton North, 415 in Altona, 857 in Dandenong South). The problem here is that industrial area type jobs have early starts which a Saturday timetable's 8am start might not cater for. These areas are unlikely to have many jobs where people can work from home and they may be in essential services like food and distribution.
3. They missed out on minimum standards upgrades, so while some have good weekday operating hours they may still finish around 6 pm on Saturdays. That would affect the pm peak and shift workers. A large concentration is in the Whitehorse/Manningham/Maroondah area (eg 270, 271, 273, 281, 284, 285, 293, 304, 370). Also Endeavour Hills (843, 845, 849, 861) and outer east areas like Knox and Lilydale.
4. They received minimum standards, but because these specify an 8am start, have a Saturday timetable that starts too late for most commuters (if unmodified Saturday timetables were in force). Parts of the north and west get off lightly as they kept their ~6 or 7am Saturday starts when they got minimum standards. However some routes in the east (particularly former Moorabbin Transit/Grenda routes) have very late Saturday starts even under minimum standards (eg 824 & 825). These would be unsuitable for many commuters. Even SmartBuses start an hour or so later on Saturdays than weekdays. All up late starts could be a problem on 100 if not 200 bus routes. Two to six extra trips on most routes to extend am span would help to preserve weekday operating hours (though not frequency) on our buses.
An across-the-board introduction of Saturday timetables across all public transport modes is simple, easy to communicate but leaves people, including essential workers, in some areas without service when they need to travel. The above has summarised routes and areas where this is most likely to be an issue. If you wanted to preserve access to jobs and (for some residential areas) access to basic services eg food and medical you'd consider running some routes with a better timetable than the no or limited services that a normal Saturday schedule would entail.
You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics
Better Buses, Better Cities: How to Plan, Run, and Win the Fight for Effective Transit
Gleeson & Beza
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This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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