Public Transport Victoria forum hears call for more Maryborough train services
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Premier Daniel Andrews hears efforts to address Central Goldfields disadvantage, push for more Maryborough trains
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North-West Rail Alliance urges more council support amid push for return of Mildura passenger rail
Grampians Rail Trail: Shire calls for community to step up and manage facility
One of the more successful ways a community can get better bus services is to lobby for a train. Just like Doncaster did a decade ago. When the political pressure gets hot the government is compelled to respond. Which they might by running more buses. The Brumby government misfired in 2008 when it introduced the damp squib otherwise known as the Manningham Mover bus. But, two years later, with an election looming, it sharpened its act by introducing multiple SmartBuses (which did prove successful).
Another way bus improvements can occur is when there's new infrastructure. Even a minor bus route reform can take years due to hidebound internal processes. But when there's a risk of the government being embarrassed by, for example, a new station opening with no buses, then they will move heaven and earth to get things moving. Some great things can happen as a result. For example the opening of Williams Landing Station in 2013 coincided with a new more direct and more frequent bus network in Point Cook. On a bigger scale, Regional Rail Link came with improved buses across Geelong and Wyndham. The new Wyndham Vale and Tarneit stations sparked the reform but the benefits spread much wider because buses were taken seriously. More recently, Caroline Springs and Cobblebank stations also got new bus routes when they opened.
Current transport funding favours capital infrastructure over service. This is for varying reasons including treasuries disliking recurrent expenditure, low interest rates and the availability of creative financing that keeps projects off the government balance sheet. Politicians like seeing themselves as builders and major projects as vote winners and job creators (even though boosting services has a higher job per dollar ratio and the jobs are ongoing). The result is that (unlike Sydney) Melbourne's public transport service provision per capita has fallen for most of the last decade. Those advocating increased services have had precious few wins in the last five years. They need to reflect on why this is so. Better buses by leveraging other projectsHow can we fix this? You could ask for a train like the Doncaster people did. That won't work everywhere; some suggestions for trains are truly laughable. But direct requests for improved buses don't have a good record of succeeding, despite low costs and often high benefits. Another possibility is to get buses tacked on to another transport project. Many such projects are long term, expensive and high risk with blow-outs common. Especially mega-projects, according to the Grattan Institute. They might not stack up on conventional cost benefits assessment grounds but governments still do them anyway. In contrast many smaller walking, cycling, bus, tram and some train upgrades do have high benefit / cost ratios but don't get funded. The same likely applies for certain local road and bridge projects, especially those with multimodal benefits. This is a kludge. But one way to make a big project stack up is to add some of the abovementioned cheap, low-risk high benefit works to its scope. While not strictly necessary they increase project benefits out of proportion to their cost. Improvements to improve walking, cycling, bus access or interchange in a project's surrounding area are examples.
They might particularly be pursued if a project's benefit cost ratio is uncomfortably close to 1:1 such that a minor cost escalation would make it unviable. An example is the Metro Tunnel that sits at 1.1 when conventionally measured. Other projects rate below 1. That is they cost more than the likely return. The Department of Transport has cited Baxter rail electrification at 0.47. William McDougall calculates 0.7 for the North East Link. Potential exists for high BCR add-ons to make these numbers look less dismal and, possibly as significant, to divide and weaken any opposition.
Other ways to massage fiddle adjust the numbers could include changing the project's scope, lowering the discount rate (something, interestingly, Grattan support) or altering the financing method. Then there are cases where you might support a project despite a low BCR. Eg rail duplication to improve reliability might not stack up if there were not also large capacity gains likely to be used. But where you have efficient scheduling and operations for much of the network constrained by a small section of single track then you'd want to duplicate, almost regardless of the numbers if the cost is affordable. In other cases so-called 'wider benefits' might make or break a project's perceived value. Suburban Rail Loop SmartBusesWe don't yet know the BCR for the Suburban Rail Loop. However the diagnosis that a growing Melbourne needs much better orbital transport than buses stuck in traffic is sound, with the only debate being on how best to achieve it. It's a massive project and even the first stage is over ten years away.There are transport needs to be met between now and then. Also it would be desirable to influence business and residential location decisions before the SRL opens so that patronage can be high almost from Day One. That can be done with buses, with a conceptual 'SRL SmartBus' network map below (click for better clarity).
The annual cost of 'SRL SmartBus' would be a minuscule proportion of the SRL's cost. Buses won't be as fast as the train but it would start the SRL benefits rolling ten to thirty years earlier than otherwise. This could only strengthen public goodwill towards the project and demonstrate tangible evidence of progress. And its implementation in politically marginal eastern suburbs seats would deliver the biggest upgrade to buses since the SmartBus orbitals started about ten years ago. Even an investment of $20m per year on SRL Stage One SmartBus would be just one percent of the $2 billion that next week's state budget is understood to include for the SRL. And given that the routes involved are already amongst the most productive in Melbourne the returns on costs are likely to be high when compared against both buses and the wider SRL project. Bulleen local network revisionAnother project on the go is the Bulleen Park & Ride. Part of North-East Link and an associated busway, it is being fast-tracked with completion expected in late 2022.
The $69 million facility will have parking for 370 cars. Assuming one person per car, that number of people can fit into about nine standard buses or three train carriages. It is stated that bringing forward its construction will lessen disruption arising from the construction of the North-East Link. The Park & Ride also presents an opportunity to rethink local buses. Not much has happened to the local bus network since the commencement of DART services ten years ago and reforms to some Transdev routes in 2014. Wider changes were proposed but then abandoned in 2015. However the new bus franchise (which will be operational by then) foreshadows them having another crack at bus network reform arising from the North-East Link project. All routes of interest are on the Manningham local area map. Network issues in the surrounding area include: * Lack of north-south routes across a wide area. Those that operate (609, 548, 284, 285) operate a maximum of six days per week with limited frequency and operating hours. And they often stop short of major centres. * Poor access to Box Hill and Heidelberg (both rank amongst Melbourne's biggest suburban employment clusters) and La Trobe University from many areas. * Some routes do not operate 7 days per week (284, 285)* Limited operating hours on local routes (eg 280, 282, 284, 285) and even SmartBus (on Sunday evenings)* Weak terminus (Route 200)* Overlaps in areas that don't need it (eg Reynolds Rd which is mostly low density)A revised network concept, mainly focusing on local routes, is below.
Major reforms include: * Making the DART SmartBus network (905, 906, 907, 908) truly train-like in terms of timetables and operating hours. Key improvements include (a) extending Sunday evening service to midnight to match trains, (b) boosting weekend frequency to 20 minutes on all routes, (c) Doing the small upgrades needed to make Route 305 a SmartBus. Service upgrades beyond include 10 minute 7-day frequencies on key routes (such as being done in parts of Sydney demographically similar to Manningham such as the Northern Beaches). Higher off-peak and weekend frequencies on orbital routes such as 902 and especially 903 are also desirable, with some resources available by rerouting, splitting and downgrading the poorly used 901 in the Templestowe area. * Splitting the confusing and poorly used 280/282 loop into two linear routes between Heidelberg and The Pines. The Heidelberg connection adds an alternative train feeder location and access to jobs. Connections to La Trobe University are also improved, especially if improvements are made between Heidelberg and La Trobe (eg replacing existing infrequent route with an extended SmartBus as raised here).
Off-peak trips on Route 309 could be deleted since a large section overlaps the 280. * Extending Route 305 to the new Park & Ride. This could be in conjunction with shortening the 200 to terminate at the new Park & Ride (its current terminus is weak). * Extending Route 284 to Heidelberg via the new Park & Ride. This would connect two large employment centres (Heidelberg and Box Hill) to areas that currently have poor access to them. Operating hours should be extended to at least 9pm with 7 day service (given its relatively strong Saturday usage). Scope exists to reroute 284 to be nearer the hospitals at Box Hill. A swap could be done with the 612 which could be made more direct.
The map does not show any change to Route 285, despite its weak terminus and complicated, backtracking alignment due to an unfavourable road layout. At the least 285 should get Sunday service though the need for it is reduced if the 284 is extended and upgraded. Metro TunnelCompletion of this is still a way off. However bus links to the new stations of Arden, Parkville and Anzac should be part of the projects's mix. And there will need to be review of the service levels on the 401 shuttle from North Melbourne to Parkville (if it's needed at all) and the potential for other connections such as from Clifton Hill. Airport railLike with SRL we can bring many benefits years sooner by running a bus from Sunshine. That would enable improved access from large parts of western Melbourne and regional Victoria. Discussed in detail here. Other opportunitiesThe approach of riding on the coat-tails of road and rail projects to benefit buses hasn't always been fully exploited. This is to the discredit of Department of Transport bosses who should push hard to deliver cost-effective improvements for all transport modes across projects. That these were not done indicates an inability to see cost-effective service improvement opportunities (often apparent to their own staff a few rungs down) and/or advocate effectively through fragmented governance and authority structures. Southland Station is one example. That got built without 'no-brainer' low-cost local bus network reform including simpler routes and a direct Bay Rd bus to Sandringham. And despite the new Cardinia Rd station we still have a bus (the 925) that stops short of it by several hundred metres.
The level crossing removals present other instances. Some projects have moved new stations to less convenient locations that reduce their pedshed by shifting them away from the main intersection they were intended to serve (eg the completed Mentone and the proposed Edithvale and Bonbeach designs) and also sometimes buses. New stations that get built can sometimes also be poor when it comes to multimodal passenger information. Delays at level crossings have historically been one reason for bus routes to stay on one side of the railway line with another route across the tracks. This can make for more complicated routes or create a need to change even when travelling along the same road. Considering bus reform in tandem with level crossing removals could have delivered revised bus networks that make the grade separations fully beneficial for bus passengers as well as car drivers. The above are a few cases of opportunities not being seized. Hence a big infrastructure project does not always guarantee bus improvements. But the odds of getting at least some bus upgrades as part of a bigger non-bus project seem to be higher than if advocating for them separately.ConclusionWhat do you think of these suggested networks? Only a short time has been devoted to the Bulleen network and there are likely other temporary or longer term changes that would be desirable given the construction works and disruption to travel patterns.
Are there other projects that public transport network and service upgrades could hang off? And are there other approaches to bus advocacy that could be even more successful? These are interesting topics and it would be great to read your comments below. PS: An index to all Useful Networks is here.This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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