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
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Alexander Dennis at Euro Bus Expo 2018
Back in June we were promised some bus upgrades as the first instalment of Victoria's Bus Plan. The plan itself is not that detailed when it comes to specific measures. But a few were announced. These included a revised Night Bus network that added 24 hour weekend service to some regular bus routes, some funded but not yet implemented initiatives like the Parkville - Victoria Park shuttle (mentioned on Friday) and timetable changes to 19 (mostly unspecified) bus routes.
The resurgence of COVID and a further lockdown (including a curfew) deferred the Night Network reforms. Then Minister Ben Carroll issued a media release last Tuesday about the other changes. Details were still limited but we learned more about the Victoria Park shuttle, a proposed route in Keysborough South (funded in the 2019 Budget) and extended Sunday evening bus service to Doncaster and Templestowe. All-up nine bus routes would get off-peak service upgrades.
There was the odd hint. For instance Routes 223 and 293 were mentioned in places. But not other details. Hence little could be written until timetables came out on Friday. News of their availability was advised on the PTV website.
How significant are the changes? The PTV website item doesn't give much guidance. Their style is like "here are the timetables, go compare them yourself". Even though a comprehensive comparison takes the best part of half a day that few people will spare. When people bemoan the low profile of buses (and improvements to them) in Melbourne, the Department of Transport must take significant responsibility.
Without much official guidance, the task falls to others to explain the 19 changes. What's in them? Do they make buses more useful and easier to use? And do they signal a real revival in bus service reform? Keep reading and find out!
It's all about Transdev (this time anyway)
All 19 changes affect one just one operator - Transdev Melbourne. They are very low cost overall. Some if not all are paid for by moving service from quiet routes to busy routes. Or from quiet times to busier times on the same route. So if you were expecting big all-day service gains on 19 routes you are likely to be disappointed. Though PTV did give warning with phrases like "better aligned to passenger demand" (which allows cuts as well as gains). Hence it's a 'robbing Peter to pay Paul exercise' but if Paul's routes serve many more people than Peter's then it's still a worthwhile thing to do.
Why Transdev? Of all the bus operators in Melbourne, Transdev (who inherited old government Tramways and Railways routes) is the one whose services have the greatest scope for pruning and redistribution. Some sensible reforms have happened but there was scope for more, as I explained nearly two years ago.
Brief description of changes
The release of Victoria's Bus Plan marked revived official interest in bus service reform. With it being so long since its last big run out of the garage, the engine of bus reform needs a while to reach full speed. So right now they're just doing some low-speed test laps without complex manoeuvres involving route reforms and multiple bus companies.
These changes, to start on September 20, are timetable adjustments only. They don't change routes. Some routes will see fewer trips while others will get more. Overall, it's a boost for some of Transdev's (and Melbourne's) more popular bus routes with the City of Manningham being the biggest winner.
Watch this video for a quick taste.
What do these changes mean for the network? As it turns out quite a lot. Not least because Melbourne has so few full-time 7 day frequent service bus routes. Fewer in fact than smaller cities like Brisbane and Perth.
Within two weeks the number of individual metropolitan bus routes operating every 15 minutes or better during the day / all week will double from two (246 and 732) to four (234, 246, 732 & 907).
Four SmartBuses, all in the Doncaster area (905, 906, 907, 908), will gain 9pm to midnight Sunday service, increasing the number of seven day 'full-time' bus routes in Melbourne from 14 to 17 (as one very minor route loses its full time status).
This is the biggest single increase we have seen for many years. Also significant is that three of these routes (905, 907 & 908) will gain 24 hour weekend service as part of the revamped Night Bus Network (discussed here).
Doncaster Road's Route 907 features in all three upgrades so sees the biggest gains.
Some less frequent Transdev routes also feature. Weekend upgrades are most common. These include wider operating hours and/or increased daytime frequency, especially on Sundays. The aforementioned Garden City 234 and Doncaster 907 go from every 20 to 15 minutes. Highpoint's 223 improves from every 30 to every 20 minutes on Sunday morning. This breaks the decades-long association with old operating patterns that had a lesser pre-midday Sunday service (you still see this on tram and train timetables, and even bus 605). Also the popular 270 and 279 north from Box Hill double from every 60 to every 30 minutes on Sundays.
293 between Greensborough and Box Hill gains with better weekend hours and a halving of Sunday waits from 120 to 60 minutes. Despite its overlap of other routes this is overdue as the 293 both gets good usage and follows a particularly direct alignment that should have become a SmartBus (instead of weaker alignments such as parts of 901 and 902 in the area).
In June I listed 19 Melbourne bus routes that most deserved an upgrade. Three (270, 271 and 279) are operated by Transdev. Of these two (270 and 279) get better hours and weekend frequency similar to the middle option suggested. Furthermore 279 and 907 rank in the top ten most productive weekend bus routes in Melbourne so their upgrades are solidly justified by usage evidence.
Now to the oily rag reference. There was little if any new money for the abovementioned upgrades. Instead funding came from cuts in Transdev's less used routes. Usage of these was low relative to the service frequency provided. Service reduction techniques included:
* AM peak services: Where buses were very frequent and usage was not high, some inbound trips on long routes (eg 305, 309, 905, 906, 907) were started part way along it. This saved significant service kilometres that could be redistributed while retaining a still good 10 minute frequency at the route's origin. This is easier to do on inbound morning trips as you avoid the 'multiple destination problem' that would arise if some trips (particularly afternoon peak) were finished short.
* Frequency reductions: This was most common in the evenings on quieter but well served routes. Instead of every 20 minutes the frequency might be cut to every 30 or 40 minutes. Or every 30 down to every 40 or 60 minutes. There are exceptions but operating hours were generally preserved or even extended (particularly on Sunday mornings where it's known that some unmet travel demand exists). The later it was the more likely frequency would be cut, with some routes having the second last trip removed. Daytime frequency cuts were generally avoided, with the main exception being the 908 on weekends (cut from every 20 to 30 min) so that this retained coordination with the 907 (upgraded from every 20 to every 15 min). Routes 305, 603 and 604 are the most affected though others like 270, 279 and 426 also got small reductions late at night.
* Shorter operating hours: Again appears to be a last resort only done if usage was very low. The very short Sunshine - Sunshine South 429 stands out in this regard, with everything much after about 9pm being deleted.
The full list of routes that will get their timetables changed from September 20 is:
Route 215 Caroline Springs – Highpoint Shopping CentreRoute 223 Yarraville – Footscray – Highpoint Shopping CentreRoute 234 Queen Victoria Market – City – Garden City (Port Melbourne)Route 237 Fishermans Bend – City (Queen Victoria Market)Route 270 Box Hill – Blackburn North – MitchamRoute 271 Box Hill – Ringwood via Park OrchardsRoute 279 Box Hill – Doncaster Shopping Centre via Middleborough RoadRoute 293 Box Hill – Greensborough via Doncaster Route 305 City – Doncaster Shopping Centre – The Pines Shopping CentreRoute 309 Donvale – The Pines Shopping Centre – CityRoute 370 Mitcham – Ringwood via Ringwood NorthRoute 426 Caroline Springs – SunshineRoute 429 Sunshine – Sunshine SouthRoute 603 Alfred Hospital – Brighton BeachRoute 604 Alfred Hospital – GardenvaleRoute 905 City – Templestowe – The Pines Shopping CentreRoute 906 City – The Pines Shopping Centre – WarrandyteRoute 907 City – Doncaster – MitchamRoute 908 Doncaster Park and Ride - The Pines Shopping Centre
Some get increases and some get cuts. Some get a bit of both. Changes to some are major while others get only minor tweaks. Even more detail on each below.
Summary by route - large changes
Route 223 Yarraville – Footscray – Highpoint Shopping Centre
+ Sunday am service increased from 30 to 20 min
- Late weeknight and Saturday evening service reduced from every 20 to every 30 min
Route 234 Queen Victoria Market – City – Garden City (Port Melbourne)
+ Sunday day service upgraded from every 20 to every 15 min
Route 270 Box Hill – Blackburn North – Mitcham
+ Sunday day upgraded from every 60 to every 30 min with large longer span
+/- Monday - Saturday night frequency dropped from 30 to 60 min but better span
(upgrade to minimum standards)
Route 279 Box Hill – Doncaster Shopping Centre via Middleborough Road
+ More consistent inbound am peak timetable
+ Large improvement in weekend spans (earlier starts, later finishes)
+ Saturday am frequency harmonised with trains at Box Hill
+ Sunday day service improved from 60 to 30 min
- Late weeknight frequency reduced from 30 to 60 min
Route 293 Box Hill – Greensborough via Doncaster
+ Saturday am service starts earlier with some short trips added
+ Sunday frequency doubled from 120 to 60 min with better span
Route 305 City – Doncaster Shopping Centre – The Pines Shopping Centre
- AM peak frequency reduced with shorter runs
- Weeknight span reduction on inbound (but weekend unchanged)
- Weeknight and Saturday evening frequency reduced from 30 to 40 min
- Sunday evening frequency reduced from 30 to 60 min
Route 370 Mitcham – Ringwood via Ringwood North
+ Weeknight span extended from 7 to 9pm (hourly service)
Route 429 Sunshine – Sunshine South
- All trips much after 9pm deleted
Route 603 Alfred Hospital – Brighton Beach
+ Earlier Sunday am start
- After 7pm service reduced from every 20 to 40 min
- Saturday am service reduced from every 20 to 40 min
- Sunday evening service reduced from every 30 to 40 min
Route 604 Alfred Hospital – Gardenvale
+ Earlier Sunday am start
- After 7pm service reduced from every 20 to 30 min
- Before 8am Saturday service reduced from every 20 to 30 min
- Sunday night service reduced from every 30 to 60 min
Route 905 City – Templestowe – The Pines Shopping Centre
+ New 9pm - midnight Sunday evening service (every 30 min)
+ 24 hour weekend service (new Night Network)
- Some AM peak trips shortened to start at Templestowe Village
Route 906 City – The Pines Shopping Centre – Warrandyte
+ New 9pm - midnight Sunday evening service (every 30 min)
- Some AM peak trips shortened to start at The Pines
Route 907 City – Doncaster – Mitcham+ Weekend day service upgraded from every 20 to every 15 min
+ New 9pm - midnight Sunday evening service (every 30 min)
+ 24 hour weekend service (new Night Network)
- Some am peak inbound trips converted to short-starters
Route 908 Doncaster Park and Ride - The Pines Shopping Centre
+ New 9pm - midnight Sunday evening service (every 30 min)+ 24 hour weekend service (new Night Network)
- Weekend day frequency reduced from every 20 to every 30 min (to meet 907)
Summary by route - small changes
Route 215 Caroline Springs – Highpoint Shopping Centre
- Minor reduction in weekday span
Route 237 Fishermans Bend – City (Queen Victoria Market)
+ Slightly longer evening span from Port Melbourne
Route 271 Box Hill – Ringwood via Park Orchards
- Small reduction in am span
- Some weeknight reductions
- Some trips terminate at Donvale
Route 309 Donvale – The Pines Shopping Centre – City
- AM peak short trips starting at Donvale
Loose ends and next steps
These are worthwhile but 'small target' timetable reforms. They deliver substantial benefits (particularly in the Doncaster area which wins longer hours and a train-like frequency on its Route 907) but are unlikely to arouse complaints. The (almost entirely evening) service reductions will likely hardly be noticed, and could be defensible on the grounds of low patronage and higher needs elsewhere. COVID-19 makes it hard to compare patronage performance but the revised timetables should win several times more passengers than they lose.
It is arguable that the changes don't go far enough. Further opportunities, even just within the Transdev network, remain. However they cut some services (including during the day) by more than was done here and (in some cases) may be more controversial. Examples include:
223 - The 15 minute Saturday morning frequency starts very early. It may be excessive for the patronage. Reducing this to 20 minutes for the first couple of hours could fund minor trip insertions elsewhere. A larger network reform would consolidate the 223 with CDC-run 406 to provide a simpler Footscray - VU - Highpoint route every 10 minutes.
271 - This timetable only got minor changes. Its catchment demographics aren't favourable for patronage yet it gets a (good by Melbourne standards) 30 minute Saturday frequency despite not running on Sundays. An opportunity exists to run a low-cost 7-day service by halving Saturday service to hourly and introducing a new hourly Sunday service.
279 - Because this was a timetable change only, the opportunity was not taken to remove the occasional (and complex) Blackburn deviation. The 270 and 279 Sunday upgrades could have been a good quid pro quo for this as it serves the same catchment. Hence I see this as an opportunity missed because public resistance to new bus networks lowers if you can show 'swings and roundabouts' improvements while cutting out complexities and straightening routes. Looking further ahead, the 279's high usage makes it a potential low-cost SmartBus route. However it needs to be simplified first, with the infrequent Blackburn and Templestowe variations removed. Once these are done all it then needs are some modest extensions to operating hours given the upgrade of Sunday service to half-hourly.
293 - This got a Sunday upgrade to every 60 minutes (instead of 120 minutes). However further frequency and span upgrades would be desirable. The main thing holding this back is the network - the 293 route is a good alignment but the SmartBuses that overlap much of it are not. Hence further improvement might have to wait until much more ambitious network reform that rethinks the SmartBus orbitals. More here.
309 - Covers an overserviced but generally low density corridor. This change shortened some peak trips. A more radical change could have removed interpeak service to make it peak only. However the area really needs a complete network overhaul which is far more complex than the timetable tweaks discussed here. These would address the future of the poorly performing and duplicative 280, 282 and 901 services on Reynolds Rd, while leaving the door open for new connections such as between Heidelberg and The Pines Shopping Centre.
370 - Gained weekday service until 9pm, ie a significant improvement on the previous 7pm finish. However weekend services still finish early. A low-cost upgrade would be to improve weekend hours too so that the 370 meets 'minimum service standards' for local routes.
429 - This route could have been deleted entirely however to do so might have required a small deviation to the non-Transdev Route 428 to retain coverage. However the 429's reduced operating hours (eg a 9pm finish to match the 428) probably makes such an amalgamation easier in the future. Such an incremental approach, where opportunities are taken over several timetable changes to gradually increase, reduce or reform routes towards a desired network goal, is successfully used in Perth as explained here.
603 & 604 - These changes reduced evening frequency but kept operating hours pretty much unchanged. These are not well used routes and the case could be made for finishing service earlier if more deserving use could be made for the resources saved (which is possible).
A few Transdev routes were left out. Arguably routes like 251, 302 and 304 could have had operating span increases to deliver minimum standards service seven days. 220 is arguably 907's western twin so could also justify 15 minute Sunday service. The popular 216 could be considered also. However reforms are best done in conjunction with amendments to the partly overlapping non-Transdev 410 to create a simple frequent Ballarat Rd route operating every 10 minutes or better.
600/922/923 between St Kilda and Southland also didn't get a look-in. However proper network reform rather than just timetable adjustments is needed for the best results here. Similarly 232 is quite poorly used but has resources that are best used to drive Altona North area bus network reform. The 350, which has little unique coverage but serves a developing area, needs to be rethought. The same can be said for Fishermans Bend routes that send too many buses to Queen Vic Markets. There is also the about to commence 202 Melbourne University Shuttle with some suggesting an extension to Kew Junction.
The fate of the three SmartBus orbitals is however the big design issue facing the Transdev bus network. These gobble up a huge percentage of its bus service hours resources. Some orbital sections are over-serviced while others should have more frequency. Train connectivity is poor, parts inefficiently overlap other routes while the 30 minute weekend frequency, in particular, is not adequate for a top-tier premium bus route in a major city. Addressing this is a matter for substantial orbital SmartBus route reform as discussed here.
ConclusionThese changes are a good start. They get us closer to the 7 day frequent bus service Melbourne needs on its key routes. Due to their very low cost they are the sort of loose-ends 'timetable optimising' reform that should be the daily business of the Department of Transport (but, for too long, hasn't been).
All of the September 20 reforms could have done at any time in the last five or six years. But they weren't.
This was just one bus company's routes. Imagine what you could do with others, especially in the rarely reformed middle-north and south-eastern suburbs. And, even better, more sophisticated area-based reforms with a network-wide multi-operator approach taken.
It is not to the credit of previous ministers and department heads that they let opportunities for even low-cost bus service reforms such as these slip by for so long.
It is good that we now have a minister who has restarted the potentially powerful engine of bus reform.
There is a lot of catching up to do with both smaller timetable tweaking and larger network reforms to make buses more useful to more people.
All effort should now be made to streamline processes and increase the department's capacity by about five-fold to address multi-decade backlogs and deliver more bus service reform.
The minister might do well to encourage the department to think bolder and bigger to sweep away years of inertia on buses that has historically retarded progress.
At the same time it is also essential to develop a 'small improvements' culture (with budget) so that the more potential worthwhile and cost-effective reforms (like these) in other areas could happen sooner. An index to Timetable Tuesday posts appears hereThis item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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