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It's easy to spot a politician who does not keep their word. All you need to do is find one who promised rail to Rowville.
Rowville is one of those areas where expectations about public transport are raised but precious little gets done. A railway to Rowville was first mooted in the 1969 Melbourne Transport Plan. John Cain promised a Rowville/Ferntree Gully line in 1982. Despite it running through Steve Crabb, the transport minister's seat, it was never built. They dropped the promise in 1985 and 1988's 14-year Met Plan doesn't mention it.
1999 was similar to 1982, with a long-serving on-the-nose Coalition government and a fresh young Labor leader. Labor's Steve Bracks raised and then dashed expectations about Rowville heavy rail. They didn't even get to the feasability study stage.
Talk of light rail got nowhere. The area got the Scoresby Freeway instead. Along with bus improvements. These were the 900 SmartBus in 2006 and the 901 orbital SmartBus on Stud Rd (whose bus lanes got removed in 2011). Both improved public transport in the Stud Rd area but did not benefit the large population to its east whose bus services were worse than ever with routes like 681/682.
Labor's 2008 Victorian Transport Plan didn't mention Rowville. But the opposition Liberals, led by Ted Baillieu, in 2010 did.
That's a pattern. Whenever there's been a change of government (1982, 1999 and 2010) the victorious opposition has made a promise relating to Rowville rail. Which they proceeded to break while in government.
While not in Labor's 2008 Victorian Transport Plan, Rowville rail was proposed in the PTV's Network Development plan, released in 2012 (more here and here). Upbeat words like those quoted above led people to think that the Liberal/National coalition government had promised to build a railway to Rowville. However not a sod was turned.
In the court of public opinion this was regarded as a broken promise. Especially when added to a lack of progress on smaller projects like Southland Station near several marginal seats. Judgement was delivered on election day 2014, where the Coalition lost office after just a single term. Victorious was Daniel Andrews' Labor which presented a large and popular infrastructure program.
The level crossing removals were the Andrews government's signature short term project. Their sheer number meant that most people saw the government building things each day. And the construction speed allowed people to experience the benefits quickly.
For the longer term was the multi-tens of billion dollar/multi-decade Suburban Rail Loop, announced just before the 2018 election. Despite professional transport planners saying that there were better uses for the money, the people liked it with Daniel Andrews returned with an increased majority.
The SRL passes too far west to directly serve Rowville. That would instead be served by a light rail, pretty much replicating the Route 900 bus from Caulfield. Announced in April 2018, Stage 1 would operate from Caulfield to Monash Clayton with a stage 2 to Rowville. Some commentary at the time on this is here and here. May 2018's federal budget included $475 million for rail to Monash University with the federal government apparently preferring a heavy rail option.
Almost nothing further has been heard about the Rowville tram despite the announcement being two years ago last Friday. With Labor spruiking the bigger SRL instead, it didn't even get much of a run before the election. Though Rod Barton MLC has been asking questions. Last year The Age reported on fears that it may be stalled.
Such fears are credible. Rowville light rail doesn't make the Victoria's Big Build website or its time-line which extends to 2026. A Glen Eira Council release refers to a not yet released Rowville Light Rail Project Report. A follow-up query from Rob Barton MLC said that the placement of the Monash University stop depends on the Suburban Rail Link's station to enable a tram/train connection. That could be a long way off.
David Davis MLC, the shadow minister supposed to hold the government to account on transport matters, has not made as much as he could have from the government's stalling. To be fair he is somewhat hobbled by being in a different house to the two responsible ministers. However an obsession with opposing 'Skyrail' would have sapped his energy. The 2018 election result showed it up as a political dead end unsupported by mainstream sentiment.
The federal government, which isn't yet sure whether it's going to be heavy or light rail, says that the project has not started. A start would require an agreement with the state government and a business case. Along with a substantial commitment of funds from the state as the federal money by itself won't be enough for much.
There's so many ifs and buts that if not extinct Rowville light rail is possibly dormant. Which can in some cases be worse. Because when a government kills off a rail improvement there is usually a bus improvement to save a little face. Examples include substitute buses added when the government reneged on promises to extend trains to South Morang and Cranbourne East and trams to Knox City.
Even the 900 SmartBus could be considered a replacement for not building Rowville rail in the 2000s. It got a welcome peak frequency upgrade a few years ago (from 15 to 10 minutes) but its half-hourly weekend frequency and operating hours (particularly Sundays) remain a long way from being train or tram-like.
When built 20 to 40 years ago Rowville never got a full residential area bus network. Even of the 'minimum standard' type that most outer suburbs have, ie indirect routes every 40 to 60 minutes providing reasonable residential coverage. This is possibly because the area grew during some very lean times for buses (most notably the 1990s) and no subsequent government has addressed the service backlog.
Instead Rowville/Lysterfield got two largely overlapping half networks that would not necessarily be cheap to run. This comprises (i) some very indirect, very infrequent fixed route buses and (ii) some on-demand limited hours flexible route 'demand responsive' buses, called, in Melbourne's east, Telebuses. Neither provide sufficient coverage, directness, frequency and operating hours to give a useful service.
Below is a typical timetable for Rowville/Lysterfield. There are up to 110 minute gaps between buses (even on weekdays) and limited operating hours. More on the 681 here.
You can see how this fits in with the broader network below.
This network comprises the following services:
1. SmartBus routes 900 (Caulfield - Stud Park) and 901 orbital via Stud Rd. While distant from most homes in the area they are the only part of the local network that can be considered really successful.
2. East-west Route 691 from Waverley Gardens to Boronia via Ferntree Gully. Only 'minimum standards' route in much of area. Indirect portion. Weak western terminus is Waverley Gardens which has lost relevance as a destination since local centres such as Stud Park and Knox City opened. Also overlaps part of 900 SmartBus.
3. Clockwise and anti-clockwise loop routes 681/682. Connect Rowville and Lysterfield to Stud Park Shopping Centre. Limited hours and frequency. No public holiday service. Confusing extensions to Waverley Gardens. Only some trips extend to Knox City (overlapping the 901).
4. Various Telebus routes to Stud Park Shopping Centre including areas 7, 8 and 9. Parts overlap 681/682 coverage. Telebus 7 and 8 has a few peak trips to Ferntree Gully Station with roughly hourly frequencies. Hours are roughly 7am to 7pm with no weekend service.
5. 754 from Glen Waverley. Connects Stud Park to Glen Waverley. Complex route with peak and off-peak variations providing no unique coverage in area although the Glen Waverley connection is potentially useful.
The bus review from about 10 years ago recommended a wholesale network redesign to simplify local bus services. None has occurred. Rowville is a safe Liberal seat held by Kim Wells MP.
The most enduring service in the Rowville area has been a service up Stud Rd from Dandenong. In the early 1970s this ran to Upper Ferntree Gully and Belgrave, turning right at Ferntree Gully Rd. By 1978 the Stud Rd bus has become the 665 operating between Dandenong and Ringwood via a similar alignment as today's 901 which replaced it in 2008 (then Frankston to Ringwood only - the orbital was to follow in 2010). See these on maps here and old timetables here.
The 757 and 758 (not in Rowville but discussed later) started as shopper routes from Knox City just before the 1982 state election. These remain weekday only routes with no service at convenient commuting times.
The 692 started in 1984. Very similar to today's 691 it ran from Rowville to Boronia via Rowville. See its timetable on Krustylink. Notable features included a basic hourly weekday frequency and a Saturday morning only service. Off-peak weekday extensions to Waverley Gardens (then the area's main shopping centre) started in 1987. The opening of Stud Park Shopping Centre in 1989 made Rowville more self-contained. If people wanted to visit a big centre they would go to the ever-growing Knox City to the north instead of Waverley Gardens. However the bus network in 2020 stubbornly reflects Waverley Gardens' previous status with the bus there operating more frequently and over longer hours than services to Knox City.
1988 saw the 692 get incorporated into the extended 634. This was a very long 'Metlink' route established under MetPlan around the time of the bus contracts dispute. It started at Middle Brighton and ran to Belgrave via Waverley Gardens, Rowville and Ferntree Gully. 634's service level was relatively high with a 20 minute weekday off-peak frequency and Friday and Saturday night service operating until midnight.
By 1992 the 634 had been cut back to start at Monash University Clayton according to the timetable though a map from that year had it starting at Monash Medical Centre. Possibly as it was fairly recent it was a 'protected species' as far as the service cuts then occurring goes with it being one of the few routes that kept its evening and Sunday service as it vanished from numerous others. This reprieve proved only temporary; the 634 had been dismantled and replaced by shorter routes by the late 1990s. Its replacement in the Rowville area was the 691, which unusually for the time, retained Sunday service. It even had a Sunday-only extension to Croydon. Today 691 remains the only route away from Stud Rd to gain minimum service standards in the 2000s.
There were a lot of 'quick and dirty' outer suburban bus service upgrades in 2002. For instance some new routes and Sunday service additions. However money was still very scarce. The tap for buses was only properly turned on in 2006. It largely got spent on the (commendable) minimum service upgrades and SmartBus orbitals and had again slowed to a trickle by the time the metropolitan bus reviews (some of whose recommendations were inefficient and expensive) came out. Besides the trains had become a mess and this is where government shifted its emphasis to from about 2010. For these reasons most of Melbourne never got the bus network reform it needed about 10 years ago after the long stagnation of the 1990s.
Rowville's main gain in 2002 was the creation of the 681 and 682 loops. These ran from Stud Park (and sometimes Knox City) to provide new fixed routes in Rowville and Lysterfield. Before then the only transport was provided by flexible route Telebuses. Unlike newer maps the 1992 network map did not show the area Telebus covered. However if you look carefully you can see the labels at Stud Park and Ferntree Gully. While well-meaning at the time, the 681/682's introduction over the top of Telebus has left an inefficient, infrequent and confusing network that remains to this day.
Existing Useful Network
A look at the existing Useful Network (that is services every 20 minutes or better) gives us this. Basically there's nothing away from Stud Rd. Even train frequencies are poor with only half-hourly service beyond Ringwood. For a built up area this level of service is low.
Revised Rowville network
Below is a revised network concept that seeks to simplify bus services in the Rowville/Lysterfield area. It does this by consolidating the duplicative Telebuses into fixed route operating to minimum service standards or better. This means 7 day service, no 2 hour gaps, longer operating hours and routes that do the same thing throughout the day.
Key points include:
* All areas to gain buses to Ferntree Gully Station via regular fixed routes. Not only during peak times (as provided by Telebuses 7 and 8) but also off-peak and weekends as well. This is achieved by splitting the 681 and 682 loop into two bidirectional routes, both operating between Knox City and Ferntree Gully via Stud Park.
* Overlap reduced on Stud Rd however most of the 681/682 catchment retains one-seat rides from Knox City with improved frequency and operating span. This is achieved by incorporating the 757 and 758 into rerouted 681 and 682 services. This provides new southern connections to Scoresby/Knoxfield and introduces longer operating hours and 7 day service to weekday-only routes. While this change makes some trips longer passengers have the option of changing to the 901 for a more direct trip. While only an hourly off-peak frequency is suggested this is significantly better than what currently runs.
A small fringe benefit of this simplification is that the 757 and 758 route numbers are freed up for use in the Frankston/Mornington Peninsula area which has a shortage of contiguous numbers for the review needed there (756, 759, 761, 762, 763 and 764 are also free and there is already a route 760 nearby).
* Extension of Route 900 SmartBus to Ferntree Gully. This provides a high quality, long hours service to the Kelletts Rd area. As well as a strong feeder to Ferntree Gully Station.
* Shortening and straightening of 691. The Waverley Gardens portion is considered less relevant with local shopping centres growing since that route was put in. The network above has it providing a relatively direct route in the Wellington Rd area (though most doesn't actually run along it). The complex Route 754 is left to the Glen Waverley/Mulgrave area to examine. However potential exists for this to be extended to Ferntree Gully via the 691 to provide a through route.
Paying for it
Due to its frequency the 900 SmartBus extension will require additional resources. A cheaper option could be to extend only every second trip beyond Stud Park to Ferntree Gully. However this reduces legibility. Even if resources were not available to extend Route 900, the merging and amalgamation of the 681, 682, 757, 758, TB7, TB8 and TB9 into just two linear routes should allow substantial improvement within current resources.
The hourly frequencies suggested for 681 and 682 reflect the unfavourable demographics for buses (eg high car ownership). However if peak frequencies on these neighbourhood routes could be economically increased to 30 minutes that would be desirable, especially on the portions east of Stud Park.
This is a first-cut network simplification that removes the grossest of the problems that afflict buses in the Rowville/Lysterfield area. Further reforms are possible if Ferntree Gully gets trains every 20 minutes off-peak. Then one might consider a Route 900 which is every 10 minutes between Caulfield and Stud Park. One section could operate every 20 min via Kelletts Rd while another section could operate via the 691 mapped above also at that frequency.
A more direct connection to Knox City from eastern Rowille/Lysterfield is desirable. It may be possible to run something via Bunjil Way. However network changes in the Knoxfield area would be needed to avoid excessive duplication. There may also be interaction with desired Bayswater area changes discussed here.
Finally the 754 was not discussed. This needs to go the same way during peak and off-peak periods. Potential exists to do something with that east of Stud Park in a future network change. 691 was shortened in this suggested network as Waverley Gardens was considered a weak terminus. The possibility of extending it south from Waverley Gardens to Noble Park Station was considered however it is considered that the Jacksons Rd corridor would be better served by a north south route from Glen Waverley or Monash University instead.
What do you think of this network? Are there other approaches that might be better? Please leave your comments below.
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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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