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State transport Minister Ben Carroll has at least twice this year tweeted about the connectivity between trains at Moonee Ponds and the 467 bus.
Was the minister just lucky or is the 467 a connectivity miracle that many other bus routes, especially in Melbourne's north, would do well to emulate?
A relic and survivor
Before we find out it's worth describing what the 467 is.
It's one of Melbourne's shortest and simplest bus routes. It leaves from the west side of Moonee Ponds Station, heads west to Aberfeldie, then, from its back street terminus, returns to Moonee Ponds. It's only about 3km long with a single out-and-back bus required to provide a roughly 30 minute service 7 days per week until 9pm.
Peak frequency approximately doubles to 10-15 minutes in the afternoon with an extra bus put on. It's even higher in the morning with 10 and in one instance 5 minute spacings.
You could describe the 467 as a historical hold-out since it has survived the tendency to be merged into a longer route, often at reduced frequency, as bus companies bought each other out and combined their operations. There are now very few 3km long bus routes in Melbourne, whereas they were common up to about the 1960s or 70s.
Also noteworthy is the 467's peak frequency. Like its longer sibling to the north (Route 465 - also operated by Ryans) it is unusually high by today's standard. Although premier Kennett was most associated with cuts and closures in public transport, when it came to private bus operator services the big blows happened in the last two years of the Cain/Kirner regime. In 1990-91 the 10 - 15 minute peak frequencies on popular established area routes became 20 - 30 minutes and almost all evening and Sunday trips were deleted. These timetable cuts narrowed buses role to be school and daytime shopper services only as their reduced hours and frequency weakened their train feeder function.
The 2006 Meeting our Transport Challenges 'minimum standards' program restored (and in fact substantially improved upon) evening and weekend service on most routes. It rarely brought back past higher peak frequencies which, on many routes, are little better than off-peak.
However, possibly due to grit, doggedness and force of personality that made bureaucrats cower, the late Pat Ryan was able to maintain a better than average peak service on his 465 and 467 routes. This included connectivity with trains even during the bleak pre-PTV years when this was notoriously neglected by government and bureaucracy.
Where 467 got cuts was off-peak. As can be seen on Krustylink, back in 1985 the 467 enjoyed a 15 minute interpeak weekday and Saturday morning service, ie double today's service level with two buses out most times. Saturday afternoon and Sunday frequency was every 20 minutes (about 50% better than today) though operating hours were shorter, with no Sunday morning service and an earlier evening finish. However, unlike the unloved Essendon - Highpoint 468, the 467 got upgrades in 2008 so its operating hours meet minimum standards with a frequency substantially exceeds them.
Current 467 service levels and coordination with trains
Trains at Moonee Ponds run every 20 minutes during the day and 30 minutes at night. The main exception is Sunday morning, where a 40 minute frequency operates. Peak frequency is higher.
Bus 467 generally runs two trips per hour day and night, all week with a 9pm finish.
Its weekday interpeak services are a regular clockface 30 minute frequency. This is a particularly legible and easy to remember timetable. All you need to do is to remember that departures are on the hour and half past the hour at Moonee Ponds. Departures from Aberfeldie are at quarter past and quarter to the hour. And, as mentioned before, weekday peak services are close to turn up and go.
While even :00 and :30 departures are great for legibility, they are not so good for train connectivity because of the incompatible 20 minute frequency. To overcome that either the train needs to be upgraded to every 10 minutes off-peak (highly desirable for a major line like Craigieburn) or the bus needs to be adjusted to a harmonised frequency like every 20 or 40 minutes.
However these frequencies may not be a good fit for the route's length and a 40 minute frequency is both a service reduction and an undoing of the memory clockface headway. If most midday passengers are Puckle St shoppers then one might be inclined to leave things as they are. However if you do you cannot then claim consistent train/bus connectivity.
What about weekends? After all both of the minister's tweets were on a Sunday afternoon.
Unusually and commendably the 467 has similar service levels (two trips per hour) on off-peak weekdays, Saturdays and Sundays. however there is a difference. Whereas the weekday midday timetable is a clockface 30 minute interval, the weekend timetable is an uneven 25-35 minute pattern. That wrecks the memory timetable. However sometimes uneven staggering can aid connectivity with trains if buses that would otherwise depart just before a train arrives are made a bit later. We met such unevenness last year when we looked at 577's timetable.
Below is an extract of the 467 Sunday timetable with trips departing Moonee Ponds. Click for a better view.
Because there are three train arrivals per hour and two bus departures per hour one train arrival per hour (32 minutes past the hour) inevitably misses out with no connecting bus.
Then there are train arrivals in black (12 minutes past the hour). These do have a bus but it's an 18 minute wait. You could set off walking and be almost home before the bus overtakes you.
Finally there are the better connections off train arrivals at 52 minutes past the hour. I should add a qualification here. In some cases the bus departs at 55 minutes past the hour. That only works if the train is right on time or the bus driver holds the bus. Greater leeway is provided later where an 8 minute connection applies (for the 3:52pm and 4:52pm train arrivals, where buses depart at 4:00 and 5:00pm respectively).
In summary, 2 in 3 train arrivals have a bus but in half of these cases there's an unattractive 18 minute wait. In some of the other cases the wait is three minutes. This is less than the five minutes minimum the Department of Transport normally specifies for train > bus connections. Ignoring that, you have about a 1 in 3 chance of an easy connection to a bus if you randomly board any train home.
How does this reconcile with the Minister's Sunday afternoon tweets? The 24 January tweet was 4:02pm. That is just after one of the good connections (3:52pm train arrival - 4:00pm bus departure). The 21 February tweet was at 2:12pm. The train arriving at that time has an 18 minute wait for the bus. My guess is that the tweet was done just after the previous bus trip which again had a good (albeit tight) connection (1:52pm train arrival, 1:55pm bus departure).
The minister experienced good connections on both occasions. Either he rigorously planned trips designed to connect (something, that notwithstanding the 20 minute train frequency and the 30 minute bus frequency, recurs only hourly) or he did not plan and just got lucky.
Either way off-peak train-bus connectivity is not something the 467 does particularly well. Boosting the train to every 10 minutes or adjusting the bus frequency is required to ensure that connection times are made more even so more trains get to be met by a seamless connection to the bus.
However Minister Carroll deserves high credit for giving the bus a go, something that not all his predecessors necessarily made a point of doing beyond the one or two stops occasionally needed for photo opportunities.
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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