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Route 559 is a little route that those other than Thomastown/Lalor locals (and bus buffs) would not encounter. It's an anticlockwise unidirectional loop that needs just a single bus. Its map is below:
Thomastown and Lalor are dominated by 1960s - 1970s homes settled by postwar southern European migrants who wanted more space than available in then-crowded inner suburbs. It has an older population skew and lower than average workforce participation and incomes. All of Route 559 is in the state seat of Thomstown, held by Bronwyn Halfpenny MP. Thomastown is one of Labor's safest seats. Her long-term predecessor was Peter Batchelor, a former transport minister. The route has been going since 1969 and probably assumed its current loop form in the 1980s.
As you can see from the network map below the 559 has little unique coverage. But it does connect people to local shops. The busiest of these are half way between Thomastown and Lalor stations. There are also shops in Lalor East at Lalor Plaza on McKimmies Rd. The 559 is strictly local in character, unlike the nearby 556, which connect to the larger centres of Northland, Reservoir and (embarrassingly indirectly) Epping Plaza.
Route 559's unidirectional nature means that the trip for some people not near the middle may be about 5 minutes in one direction and 15 minutes in the other.
The network map above shows a deviation via Vasey Av. The map on the new PTV website shows no deviation. Notes on the website says that 'some trips' that used operate that way now run the regular route. It now appears that no trips now deviate if the absence of notes beside trips on the timetable is any guide.
Route 559 has average productivity on weekdays with 24 boardings per bus hour. Saturday usage is above average with 27 boardings per hour. This is unusual for a route that actually runs slightly more frequently on Saturdays than it does during the week.
Part of the route's strength on Saturday can be attributed by the continuing strong culture of Saturday morning shopping in working class areas with older populations (eg Melbourne's middle-north). Inner, bayside or leafy 'treechange' areas with higher labour force participation, big shopping centres or trendy cafe strips have tended to spread their weekend activity more evenly over both days, lessening the previously intense Saturday morning rush. Another part may be matters to do with timetabling. More on that later.
Route 559 is one of the 50 or so Melbourne bus routes that missed out on the minimum service standard upgrades implemented from 2006 to 2010. Hence it runs Monday to Saturday morning only. The timetable is below.
Weekday services run until almost 9pm making their span close to the minimum standard. Like on many other northern suburbs bus routes, services are every 23 minutes give or take one or two. This choice of frequency means buses are unable to consistently meet trains every 20 minutes. This makes them unsuitable for reliable travel on anything but local shopping trips. The odd frequency is a consequence of the route length which gives a slightly longer run time than would be needed to run an efficient 20 minute frequency with one bus.
It's different on Saturday. Run time is 20 minutes with no dwell time at Thomastown. Consequently the service is a clockface 20 minute headway, meshing neatly with trains. 20 minutes is a good frequency for a Saturday; even most premium service SmartBuses are only half-hourly. The snag is the 1pm shutdown. A remnant of pre-1980s shopping hours the midday finish still afflicts some bus routes, particularly in northern suburbs like Reservoir, Lalor and Campbellfield. Route 559 hasn't had a significant Saturday timetable change since at least 1991 (whose timetable can be viewed here).
Route 559 doesn't operate on Sundays. Although you might initially think it does if you were to look up its timetable on a Sunday where PTV claims 'Good Service'. Public holiday service is even harder to ascertain. This is because PTV revels in writing cryptic notes about 'dates of operation and times' on timetables instead of a straightforward statement that there is no public holiday service.
The primary problem is that bus services in Melbourne are complex, liable to be misunderstood and difficult to explain. The secondary problem is that PTV is sometimes not very good at what should be one of its core roles - clear passenger communication. More details about the intricacies of Melbourne bus timetables on public holidays are here.
What do you think about Route 559? Should it get Saturday afternoon and Sunday service? Is its single direction limiting or should it be replaced with bidirectional routes? And should it remain as a shopper route or is harmonisation with trains important? Please leave your comments below.
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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