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Last year I listed ten things the public transport network needed to deliver a more useful service to more people. Here's what they were and progress against them: 1. 20 min maximum waits on our trains, trams and busesNot a lot in 2020 but 2021 is already looking better (see later). There was welcome simplification of buses in Endeavour Hills with fewer but more frequent routes. Route 460 to Caroline Springs had its timetable tidied up with a more even timetable. Its service has returned to a more even 20 minutes at most times although there are still some large afternoon gaps that prevent it from quite qualifying as a Useful Network service (as discussed in Useful Network Part 1). Some opportunities were lost during the year. We could have got more gain for our dollars, including longer hours and better frequencies on popular routes, if we were smarter as to where we poured bus resources. Back in May I highlighted how the poorly used 704 bus got a big service upgrade. Off-peak and Sunday upgrades for parts of the 733 or hours and weekend upgrades for the 800 could have benefited 10 times the number of passengers had these been done instead. Another missed opportunity was on our tram network where we didn't retain a temporary (but good) change regarding Route 12 that would have greatly improved northern CBD connectivity to Southern Cross Station. The big news though is just ahead. Next month's train timetable will introduce 20 minute maximum waits for (at least) the Frankston and Werribee lines. This is a substantial win that starts to undo the network-wide 1978 evening service cuts. That timetable's City Loop reform, 7 day consistency and 10 minute extended shoulder peak services on some lines are very welcome too. All we need is for the concept to be expand to more lines, starting with those with high patronage and/or with marginal seats (eg Sunbury/Watergardens, Craigieburn, Mernda, Hurstbridge/Greensborough, Belgrave/Lilydale).2.Lots of new trams2020's state budget includes an order for 100, costing $1.5b over several years. That will aid the move towards a more accessible system.
It is important that when we order new trams that the replacement of old trams is at least one for one, even if the new trams have a higher capacity than those they replace. This is so that frequency can be maintained. Although trams are more frequent (on average) than our trains, peak frequencies are lower than desirable and we still have 12 (rather than 10) minute off-peak frequencies on many routes. That does not ensure even connectivity with trains that are slowly moving towards a 10/20 minute pattern. 3. Sunday service on the 13 bus routes that most need itZero progress on these. However the new Endeavour Hills network really helped in that area with local buses upgraded from every 120 to 40 minutes on Sundays. 4. Better passenger information at major stations and bus interchangesThis is an area about which you can say there has been activity on but not progress. The Department of Transport dabbles with technology like information screens at stations and no doubt considers their installation an achievement. However results show a questionable record new stations like the rebuilt Frankston having major failings with information becoming less useful over time. Overall I'll chalk this up as a loss.
5. Airport and western suburbs service upgradesAirport rail construction was announced, with completion due in 2029. Moving some Geelong trains to their old via Newport route should free up space for much needed train capacity and frequency upgrades for Tarneit and Wyndham Vale. Happening sooner are some bus improvements in the Wyndham area (new bus routes 152 & 182). 6. Unwrapping our fleet (so people can see out)No real progress. But I think there's greater awareness that wrapped tram and bus windows are bad news for passenger wayfinding, safety, accessibility and amenity. 7. Better tram priority No real progress. This is a real challenge since if they can't move swiftly through traffic it lessens the benefits from the new trams we're buying. 8. More entrances at stationsNo real progress. Our new stations are a mixed bag with some like Mentone still having just one entrance. A worrying trend is that some of our new stations (again including Mentone) are a longer walk from buses than the old stations they replace. 9. Local bus service reviews to build a job-ready networkLimited progress.The 2020 state budget was disappointing on the service side except for the very welcome Mornington Peninsula bus upgrades (implementation either 2021 or 2022). 2020's main achievements included mini-reviews in Endeavour Hills, around Keilor East/Airport West and Caroline Springs with the station gaining a second bus route. Given the lack of progress in previous years, we need about five times the bus network planning and reform activity to make serious inroads into a 30 year planning backlog. The Legislative Assembly Economy and Infrastructure Committee reported on sustainable employment for disadvantaged jobseekers during the year. I wrote a major submission on transport issues for disadvantaged jobseekers and am pleased the committee picked up on this. This was pre-COVID 19 but is even more topical now given the increase in unemployment. 10. Local pedestrian upgradesSome. However we don't have a concerted high profile program like we do with level crossing removals (though some of these have pedestrian access benefits).
Things not asked for (but we got)
There were things we didn't ask for but got anyway. I already mentioned infrastructure announcements in 2020's state budget. Also in the budget was a trial of zero emission buses. On this NSW and ACT seem to be ahead of us with the former announcing a full fleet roll-out.
We also got a new minister in Ben Carroll MP who took over from Melissa Horne MP. Mr Carroll has so far displayed a good understanding of the portfolio and what's needed. And he has more seniority that I hope can translate into increased cabinet support and funding for better transport services. On this it's notable that if substantial vote-winning service upgrades are to be implemented in 2022 then funding will be needed in the 2021 budget due to lead times.
To summarise, we got some things done, with next month's train timetable the stand-out on the service aspect. Not only for Frankston, Werribee, Williamstown, Altona but also Ballarat and Melton. There was an announcement on airport rail with a committed alignment and date along with a Geelong rail upgrade. Let's hope 2021 brings further announcements and action, especially on the service side, which had been lagging in recent times. This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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