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Average house prices are a rough measure of a suburb's desirability. For a given distance from the Melbourne CBD west is cheaper than east and north is (mostly) cheaper than south. If you're after a house on a full sized block the suburbs around Melton (specifically Melton South) is normally the cheapest. Next cheapest is Werribee. Further up the price scale is Sunbury.
All three clusters are on major radial rail and freeway corridors. Melton and Sunbury are about 40km from the Melbourne CBD and were classified as satellite cities in the 1970s. Werribee is closer in at 30km out, about half way to Geelong.
The fallen satellite?
By almost all urban measures Melton is the runt of this trio. You could even describe it as a 'fallen satellite'. About the only area where Melton can be considered successful is population growth and that is due to its low house and land prices. A recent parliamentary representative considered life there so burdensome that he claimed a living away from home allowance for a coastal property. Alan Davies suggested some reasons for Melton's failure as a satellite centre here. More here, here, here and here (from p344).
Let's look at employment. The City of Melton has few local jobs relative to its population. And they're not very diversified. Most of Melton's working population must travel long distances outside it each day. More than any other part of Melbourne. The concept of a satellite city where commutes were shorter due to local jobs whose workers could live nearby hasn't really worked out here.
Then there's education. You'd think that a suburb with a surging youth population would be an attractive place to put a higher education campus. Unfortunately Melton (and Sunbury) got the not-very-rich Victoria University which abandoned its outer campuses some time ago. Public libraries are rare with just two in the entire municipality. Other municipalities with less population have two or three times the number of libraries. Secondary education is also lacking; Berwick and Werribee got government select entry high schools but Melton missed out. In fact missing out to Werribee is a common theme for Melton as you'll see later, especially with regards to transport.
Melton lacks a substantial hospital the size you see in places like Clayton, Sunshine/St Albans or even Werribee. Instead its nearest is at Bacchus Marsh, dating from when it was a country town. Even retail is limited. Unlike main streets in Werribee and Sunbury (which abut rail) Melton's has had its life sucked out of it by the expanding Woodgrove centre. That almost has a monopoly with very few secondary centres nearer peoples homes.
Politically Melton used to be regarded as safe Labor. However complacency can set in with past MPs not seen to be working for their area as hard as (say) marginal seat holders in the south-east. It's also fair to say that government investment has not reflected population growth as much as in other comparable areas, such as Wyndham. While the rest of the state swung towards Labor in the 2018 state election, Melton went the other way, retaining Labor with a slimmer majority. Melton's current member is Steve McGhie MP.
Melton the transport laggard
Werribee got rail electrification in the 1980s. Sunbury got it in 2012, albeit at half frequency. Werribee (or more strictly the City of Wyndham) gained a second line when Geelong V/Line diesel trains were sent via new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit.
However in 2020 Melton is still waiting for its electrification or even, as a precursor, a regular 20 minute seven day service with diesel trains. Not having this makes it harder to justify the 20 minute bus frequencies required for a Useful Network. Instead its local bus routes almost all operate every 30 or 60 minutes, even during peak periods.
In the last five years buses have been added or extended to serve the large urbanising area between Deer Park and Melton. These normally follow the opening of stations at locations such as Caroline Springs and Cobblebank. However Melton township, today's focus, has had no network-wide reviews. Its most recent changes have been the introduction of a new Route 454 to Cobblebank and a Route 459 extension providing increased coverage.
This is a big difference to the City of Wyndham which got a completely redesigned ('greenfields') bus network with improved coverage, directness and frequency. This has occurred in several stages since 2013, spurred on largely by new rail infrastructure, and, later overcrowding on successful new routes.
Melton township has not been without rail service upgrades. However they have not been of the level that triggered bus network revamps in other places. Not that it would be particularly easy; for reasons of geometry and bad previous road planning Melton is a difficult area to provide frequent, direct and efficient bus routes that give good coverage. This is even when compared to suburbs of similar age, density and social characteristics such as in the City of Wyndham.
The maps below compare Melton's accreted-over-time routes with Wyndham's modern bus network. If you follow where the routes go you will see that Melton's routes are almost all indirect even though there are some straight main roads. None operate very frequently.
In contrast Wyndham has a two tier network. The straight routes along main roads run more frequently (some every 20 minutes off-peak) with less direct, less frequent routes (typically every 40 min) in between the main roads. Their function is to provide coverage to areas away from the main roads and/or to connect to locations, such as shopping centres, that the nearest direct route does not serve. Had Melton got a whole revised network, and not just an additional route then it too could have got some more direct routes.
The map below shows how remote Melton is from Melbourne's Useful Network and how poorly it compares to better served areas such as Wyndham.
How productive are Melton's existing bus routes? Partly for network topology reasons mentioned later, they are generally less used on a boardings per hour basis than bus routes in the City of Wyndham. Overall they are about average or slightly below for a Melbourne bus route. Route 458 has the highest at 21 boardings per hour on a weekday. This is closely followed by 456 (mostly outside Melton township) on 20 and 459 on 17. 457, 453 and 455 closely follow. Saturday boardings per hour numbers are about 80% of the weekday total though note that all routes drop to an hourly frequency then rather than the mix of 30 and 60 minute services on weekdays.
Melton is not a place where much happens on a Sunday; bus loadings tend to be about half (or slightly more) than that encountered on Saturdays. Apart from an area around Brookfield 453 has little unique coverage and has particularly low usage on weekends.
A new Useful Network for Melton township
As mentioned before it's harder to plan bus networks for Melton than even other similar areas such as Wyndham. This is for the following reasons.
* Melton's town centre is remote from the station. As is its main shopping centre. The current network is based on all local routes (except the new 454) serving all three destinations (even if indirectly). Werribee and Sunbury are much better off with strong main street shopping near their station. For Melton there may be community resistance to new networks that force transfers, especially if the routes involved are infrequent. Having direct routes that still permit one-seat rides to many destinations is difficult but not impossible as you'll see later.
* Melton's bus routes often lack strong anchors at their ends. This contrasts with Wyndham where two train lines provide logical termini. This is operationally efficient because buses in both directions can feed trains and attract passengers. In contrast bus routes with dead end termini tend to be busy in one direction but quiet in the opposite direction. We can't quickly build a second train line for the Melton area. But we can minimise dead end termini and make trips in the counter-peak direction provide useful access to some destinations that would not otherwise have one-seat rides.
* Melton's street layout is terrible for simple and direct bus routes. Wyndham has pockets like that but Melton is worse, with the railway and indirect streets preventing efficient route alignments or even a viable service in some areas.
* Melton is pedestrian hostile. People can't easily cross main roads. People need to be able to do this to reach bus stops. A revised more direct bus network on main roads also needs improved pedestrian access which will help local walking trips as well.
* Trains really need to have a consistent 20 minute frequency off-peak to provide consistent connections for the main bus routes described.
Is there hope for buses in Melton? Potentially there is. Although there will need to be extra resources to provide better than sparse service on at least some corridors.
Below is a revamped network concept for Melton township. Like the successful Wyndham system it is a two tier network with more direct and more frequent service on main roads. Where the centre of development is away from the main road and a clear path through its centre exists then the route may follow that.
Three of the four more frequent routes serve Melton Station or Woodgrove Shopping Centre. Two serve town centres at High St Melton and the proposed town centre near Cobblebank Station. All are direct and all run to a train station.
Routes 450 and 451 operate as a pair. Arriving Route 450 services form Route 451 services at the northern terminus (see the arrows) and vice versa. The rationale of this is that passengers on the 451 can get a one-seat ride to Woodgrove Shopping Centre. Similarly those on the 450 can travel to the town centre. This provides the directness of a new network's routes with the one-seat rides of the current network. It is similar to what currently happens on the successful 494/495 pair at Point Cook.
454 is an extension and upgrade of this newly introduced route. It provides a more frequent service to Brookfield and a connection to Woodgrove. The It serves new housing areas south of the railway near Cobblebank and west in the Brookfield area. Woodgrove provides an attractive local terminus.
The last Useful Network route, the 455, has several roles. These include a simple direct service between Woodgrove Shopping Centre, Melton Town Centre and the industrial area to the east and a local route for fast-developing Arnolds Creek. The latter gets access to Woodgrove, the Melton town centre and trains at Cobblebank. This connection will become more important as Cobblebank develops as a town centre.
The second tier of service comprises local routes 456, 457, 458 and 459, shown as fine lines. Except for 456 these are nothing like the existing local routes that have these numbers. 457 and 458 operate as an interlined pair, similar to the 450/451 example. Again this permits access to Melton's three main destinations without change. In addition, passengers living near the northern part of the route have the option of catching either route at Melton Station for a ride home. If trains operate every 20 minutes these local routes might operate every 40 minutes interpeak with the potential for increased peak service depending on demand.
This is a potential revised bus network concept for much-neglected Melton town. What do you think? Would it make an improvement? Or could other things be done? Please leave any comments you have 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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