McGill's & Alexander Dennis
South East Transport Changes from 2 December
Featured Bus Route – October 2018
DATE FOR THE DIARY - 25th November - Finchley Bus Running Day
Alexander Dennis & Lothian
Buses on Parade
The non-Inner West bus routes to be privatised
Leeds Considering Hydrogen Powered Buses
New CEO for First Group & Results for Six Months to September 2018
Alexander Dennis at Euro Bus Expo 2018
Not widely known is that you can take a public bus over the West Gate Bridge. It’s the 232 from Altona North Park and Ride. It is about the most inauspicious place you could start a bus route in Melbourne, despite being dignified by a label on the map. Not that it’s used much now; on a good day it might get four or five cars. The terminus comprises a substantial car park (a remnant of when the route had higher hopes and was indeed busier) and a vandalised shelter which doubles as a toilet block for bus drivers. This, and the territory to the east, is in the seat of Melissa Horne MP, the Minister for Public Transport.
This description of Altona North Park and Ride applies equally to the suburb itself. And not just its transport history. It's the sort of place that people from more populous growth areas to the west glimpse at only fleetingly from the freeway. It's been left to wither after gentrifiers claimed the areas east and the outer west's population growth diverted attention there. Sort of like Melbourne's version of the Americans' 'flyover country'. Other backwater-like places that have seen better days include Laverton, Fawkner, Doveton, Dallas, Melton South, Deer Park, Sunshine West and the like.
Altona North is in Melbourne’s west, somewhere often associated with booming subdivisions with surging populations housed on increasingly small blocks of land. Such subdivisions (further west) have houses, schools, shopping centres and even (occasionally) trains in areas that were just empty fields a few years previously. Their function is providing affordable housing to migrants and their children (chiefly from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and the Middle East) that is (just) commutable from jobs in Melbourne CBD or closer (but not necessarily more accessible) locations such as the warehousing, distribution and industrial estates of Laverton North. The same functions that places like Frankston, Hallam, Croydon and Bayswater did for British migrants in the '60s and '70s.
To the east, hugging the Williamstown railway are the sometimes still shabby but gentrifying neighbourhoods like Yarraville, Spotswood and Newport. These contained weatherboard cottages that housed Footscray industrial workers and Newport railway workshop workers. They were considered small and poky. There were typically one or two ‘good’ rooms at the front of the house with a kitchen and laundry further back. Toilets were even further away down the narrow garden. A far cry from the more spacious brick dwellings going up across the bay in Malvern or even up north around Moonee Ponds.
Housing postwar workers
Rising incomes and car ownership decoupled housing from the railways from the 1950s. A 3km distance from the station was slightly beyond convenient walking distance but a private bus line running out and back to the suburban limits could provide a connection housewives needed. Short routes and quiet roads meant that one man and his bus could go about that far before turning back to provide (say) a basic 15 minute frequency (Local buses, like trains on established lines like Essendon and Williamstown, were more frequent then than now). Further suburbanisation encouraged extensions but buses were not necessarily added, leading to generally reduced frequencies.
Neighbourhoods like the western part of Newport and the more distant Altona North sprung up. They were particularly convenient for workers at the new Altona refinery. Distance from a train station was still considered a measure of remoteness. However parts were near Paisley station on the Werribee/Geelong line. A small group of shops (now largely inactive) sprung up beside the station to cater for local needs.
What the location lacked was more than made up by the housing. Blocks were wider and houses were bigger. They were brick! And had modern indoor kitchens, bathrooms and toilets. They lacked the Camberwell postcode, were architecturally plain and had fewer shady trees in the early years. But they had nearly everything else and better garaging. A home at Altona North was considered a large upgrade from the narrow Newport or Yarraville cottage with fussy Victorian lacework and no carpet. Moving to one would have been a mark of success, especially for the postwar migrant family who started their life here at a reception centre or lodging in a countrymans' sleepout.
Gentrification and degentrification
Fast forward 40 or 50 years and everything’s changed. Now it’s the cottages of Spotswood and Newport that are sought after. Mainly by higher income, smaller familied gentrifiers who want somewhere only a short commute from their city jobs. The west was cheaper than the east yet it still had café strips and theatres. And one could consider oneself a pioneer a step ahead of less adventurous friends who were still renting in the east and worrying whether they’d ever be able to buy somewhere that wasn’t Croydon or Carrum Downs.
Meanwhile the established west had deindustrialised. Altona North had aged. Its people had become more dependent on precarious jobs or social welfare rather than the stable factory job that could fund a home, car and family. In 1985 Paisley station closed when Werribee trains got electrified and routed via the slow way to give the threatened Altona line a purpose. The shops opposite became almost a ghost town, though things still happen behind their curtains. It’s the sort of place that you can look at on Google Streetview, visit a year later and see the same cars parked there.
People often talk about gentrification such as what’s happened at Yarraville and Newport. Degentrification is less talked about. But that’s what’s happened at Altona North, with a loss of not only working people on good incomes but also services and infrastructure including transport as well.
The 232 bus rerouting to start at Altona Park and Ride came as belated compensation for Paisley station's closure. It runs direct to Melbourne CBD. The aforementioned Park and Ride origin is a short walk under Millers Rd from Paisley Station. It then runs via Millers Rd (paralleling numerous other routes including the 903 SmartBus). From there it’s via the freeway and West Gate Bridge to Southern Cross Station and the CBD. The map is below.
You will notice a dashed line. This is an occasional trip past the Toyota factory. It’s not known how many this carries due to the car maker’s closure of manufacturing. And it seems improbable that even when they were manufacturing many Toyota workers would live in the CBD where the trip originates from.
However the 232 has a long history going in that general direction. Although the 1970s was generally a decade of plunging public transport patronage and massive service cuts (some which have yet to be reversed) they were on the ball in some ways. For instance the West Gate Bridge opened in November 1978. The 1978 network map shows that it immediately got a bus - the 232 from Grieve Pde (then Hwy) which is not far from the Toyota plant. Millers Rd then had no 232 - that was to come later.
Despite the occasional Toyota trip persisting in 2020, Route 232 is simpler than it used to be. This is because for a while up to 2014 some trips went via Port Melbourne (a major employment area) while others went direct to the CBD. The Port Melbourne trips added journey time so were taken out. But it does mean that those who live in Altona North and work in Port Melbourne must now backtrack rather than have a direct service.
The map below has the network surrounding Route 232. There is almost no unique coverage, either due to the freeway running (almost no stops) or the Millers Rd overlap. This amounts to more than 8 buses per hour off-peak (903 4 trips per hour, 232 3 trips per hour and 411 1.5 trips per hour). This is an impressive level of service but waiting times are uneven due to the multiple routes. A single route operating every 10 minutes via Millers Rd, probably from Footscray, might provide a simpler and better service overall with a potential release of funds for other local service upgrades.
Route 232 had its heyday in the 1990s and (perhaps) early 2000s. It is generally poorly used now. Like 293 featured last week its has almost no unique coverage. However unlike 293 it doesn’t serve closely spaced major centres like Doncaster and Box Hill. It is possibly for this reason that 293 is quite well used while 232 isn’t.
232 is unusual in that it is less used on weekdays than on any other day of the week. Not in terms of absolute patronage but in terms of boardings per service hour. If you run a lot of buses over a long route and they don’t get many passengers then your boardings per hour number will be low. As it is with 232. On weekdays it attracts 13 passengers per bus service hour, barely half the average for a Melbourne bus. Saturdays is slightly higher at 14 and Sunday higher still at 18. The relatively high weekday frequency and relatively low Sunday frequency would likely cause this difference.
These numbers make Route 232 a poorly performing bus route. Reasons could be the overlap with other routes along with it not serving vary many attractions that win passengers. For example the 232 does not connect to suburban stations nor serve jobs in areas it passes through such as Fishermans Bend. Weekday train services between Newport and Melbourne CBD have increased greatly in frequency over the last 10 or 15 years, providing an alternative for some.
Reliability is another issue with the 232 with it battling traffic in the CBD and on the West Gate Bridge. Passengers may instead use other means to reach the CBD such as trains. Another possibility is that areas like Altona North have relatively fewer CBD workers than gentrifying suburbs like Yarraville and Newport which have many city workers and frequent trains to serve them.
Route 232 is an ex-Met route that was run by Melbourne Bus Link before being included in the parcel of routes that went to Transdev. Like most routes with similar histories it never got minimum service standards that over 100 other routes received between 2006 and 2010.
You can see this in the timetable. Operating hours are close to minimum standards on weekdays but finish early on weekends. The difference is fairly small on Saturdays (7:50pm finish vs the 9pm minimum standard) but is substantial on Sundays with a finish three hours earlier.
Weekday frequencies are every 10 minutes peak, 20 minutes interpeak and 40 minutes evening. The peak and interpeak frequencies, in particular are high for a route that is poorly used and has no unique coverage. Saturday frequency is mostly every 30 minutes with an hourly headway on Sunday.
The 232 timetable has an interesting history with it receiving service boosts in the 1990s during a time when other routes had their timetables cut back. At one time Route 232 was very well used. You can see historic 232 timetables on Krustylink.
You saw the 1978 map before where the 232 terminated at Grieve Hwy (Brooklyn) and did not operate via Millers Rd. Without much residential development nearby, it looked incomplete. Almost like a Stage 1 of a future Doncaster-style freeway express bus system for the western suburbs.
That seemed plausible and even likely. One could have foreseen a future where Grieve Hwy was extended to Altona and its railway closed as the Lonie Report recommended. A freeway express bus could then serve Altona via the West Gate Bridge and a joined up Grieve Hwy to replace the train (which by 1982 had already been cut to run only peak trips). Other freeway express bus routes could have run to Altona Meadows, Laverton and even Sunshine West, possibly enabling the closure of Ardeer Station.
In the end none of that happened. The Altona line was not only preserved but extended to provide a new (but slower) path for recently electrified Werribee trains. And Grieve Pde never got extended. This is the reverse of what is more common in that road projects happen and rail projects do not. But it did leave fast-growing Werribee with a substandard train service including an underused express line, extended journey times and unreliable single track running for decades.
Rarely is the rationale for individual bus routes explained. But it was in this 1988 Route 232 timetable where it's described as 'essentially an express service for the western suburbs'. There were also stopping restrictions - conditions that were not lifted until much later (2000s). 1988 service levels were basically every 10 minutes during peaks and every 30 minutes off-peak and Saturdays with no Sunday service. Note that although the 1988 terminus was described as 'North Altona' buses departed from the place we know today as Brooklyn.
232's big change happened in 1991. The concept of 232 being a long-distance commuter freeway express pushing ever further west (mirroring what ran in the eastern suburbs) was ditched. Instead its freeway running was curtailed back to Millers Rd with the bus starting from a new Park & Ride near the old Paisley station. Stops on Millers Rd allowed people to join the bus near Mason and Blackshaws, giving it more residential catchment. The map in the February 1991 timetable shows the area around Park and Ride including access to it.
By then Victoria was in a severe recession and many things were being cut back, including bus services. The 232 bus was a rare example of a route that maintained its 1988 service levels. As rare were the big service increases it enjoyed in the 1990s. For example the 1996 timetable shows weekday off-peak service increased from every 30 to every 20 minutes, new weeknight trips and new Sunday service. One speculates whether 232's rerouting and service upgrade were preparation for the closure of the Altona train line, which was again under threat.
The pace of change to the 232 has slowed significantly since. There was a period where buses alternated between freeway express running and stopping at Fishermans Bend. This allowed access to jobs there from the western suburbs. However the service was increasingly unreliable and all trips were routed via the freeway in 2014. Further West Gate Freeway traffic build-up, the slow routing of the bus in the CBD area and changing demographics have contributed to subsequent patronage loss. Some peak frequencies have been reduced but the basic structure of the route has not despite its usage of numerous buses (at least 7) that may be more efficiently deployed elsewhere.
A previous Useful Network feature gave some thoughts as to what could be done. Read about a Millers Rd SmartBus here. Today though it’s over to you. What should happen with the 232? Does the route deserve to survive at all given its low usage? Can other things be done with buses freed? Is a train feeder network via Blackshaws Rd and Mason St to Newport the answer? Or should 232 continue to go over the West Gate? And what about Fishermans Bend? Would a Newport to Fishermans Bend bus, possibly involving a modified Route 232, to connect trains to jobs work?
Finally what about the very unsuccessful Park and Ride? Should this have a role in a new network? Or would you use it as parking for a potentially reopened Paisley Station with access from Millers Rd buses to permit (now difficult) Werribee to Altona Gate trips? Please leave your comments below if you’ve got thoughts. And remember this area is in or near the seat held by Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne.
You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics
Breaking Point: The Future of Australian Cities
The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees
Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees
(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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