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
The announcement came out on Sunday that all V/Line train services that day would be cancelled. This is due to COVID-related driver shortages. Instead substitute buses would operate at roughly hourly intervals. This not only affects regional locations but also heavily urbanised parts of outer Melbourne including Wyndham Vale, Tarneit, Melton, Caroline Springs and Deer Park who rely on V/Line for their nearest trains.
Hourly buses arriving at undetermined times are better than nothing but still make travel inconvenient. Provided they know about it people may prefer to catch a regular bus (operating at a known time) over waiting for a substitute bus whose arrival time is not known (and possibly being unable to fit on the first that arrives).
However only rarely do regular route buses operate at the same wide operating hours as trains. This includes all buses in areas like Tarneit, which has lower than average car ownership and a higher than average portion of essential workers and those whose jobs does not enable working from home. Limited operating hours lessens the usefulness of buses to function as a true substitute service.
The V/Line disruptions didn't just happen Sunday. There were some yesterday and they continue today, as I write this. It is not known long how long they will continue for.
COVID isn't the only thing that can disrupt trains. Planned occupations is another. Our network still has too many points and track faults, signal failures, overhead power losses and level crossing incidents that disrupt services. And when it gets hot trains may have 'go slow' orders that lessen their reliability. Climate change will raise average temperatures and cause more extreme weather events that could disrupt train services more. So we really do need to think about how to both ruggedise our train lines so they can run reliably during more extreme conditions network and provide alternative when they don't.
A casual look at PTV network maps indicate that there are a lot of regular bus options to move between train lines at many stations. The diagram below shows how that might work if a portion of the Frankston line couldn't run. One could take a bus to another line and get the bus across. If you're in between two lines the extra time taken might only be 15 minutes more - often better than waiting for a substitute service. At their current frequencies regular routes might not handle peak loadings well but would provide some handy mitigation especially if there are multiple options that disperse people onto multiple routes, such as between the Sandringham line and parts of the Frankston line (below).
A key issue though is frequency and operating hours. Buses must match train operating hours if they are to be a reliable substitute. Frequencies on all the orange lines shown can drop to 40 - 60 minutes at times. And 95% of Melbourne's bus routes do not run 'full time', which I'll define as operating hours similar to trains. Most routes cease at 9pm with no service before about 8 or 9 am on weekends. The map below shows Melbourne's entire 'full-time' bus network as it currently stands (though some improvements are coming next week in the Doncaster area).
Also, where they do run frequencies are low, with 30 to 60 minute frequencies most usual. This can affect connectivity especially for trips that involve multiple changes (which is often the case if the rail line you'd normally take is knocked out).
Bias against reliability & redundancy (until it gets really bad)
If you're deciding how to spend money on transport projects, reliability and resilience projects often miss out. This is because a piece of infrastructure that people use every day (like a new road or rail line) is both politically more visible and stacks up better than a reliability-enhancing project (eg extra sets of points that allow operation around a damaged section) that might only be useful on the 1% of days when the system fails. However when there's lots of failures then they make the front page and political pressure for fixes intensifies, with lax governments sometimes bundled out of office.
Generally though the current fashion is to not design in redundancy and call in the buses when running the railway gets too hard. This is as opposed to the 'show must go on' rail heroism a century ago when rail played a more central part in community life and road substitutes were less developed.
In a similar vein, you might not add full-time bus services if their only role was to provide back-up when trains failed and they would be poorly used at other times.
Fortunately there is no need to. It so happens that the same bus routes that allow access to the nearest operating train line are also those which are useful and popular for feeder services and to serve destinations only accessible by bus. And usage may be above-average for buses. So these routes, as well as joining train lines during disruptions also more than justify themselves at other times. Hence they should be top priority for improvements with gains for network redundancy as well.
Network resilience enhancing bus routes
Where are these routes? Here's my list. I'll give top priority to direct routes in areas with high existing usage in areas with high proportions of essential workers who might be using them during these times. It would also be desirable if the routes are locations where trains are regularly terminated as that would make changing to them easier. Because these improvements are all operating hours and off-peak frequencies they merely work the existing fleet harder and would require no new bus purchases. However some could justify subsequent upgrades that would require extra buses, such as 10 minute frequencies. I'll go through them roughly west to east.
180: A popular and direct route between Tarneit and Werribee. It will gain 24 hour weekend service in the upcoming Night Network change. However it still has late am starts (particularly weekends) and before 10pm finishes on most evenings. Longer operating hours would provide Tarneit Station with a connection to the Werribee line if V/Line trains are knocked out while also supporting the Werribee line if Metro trains are suspended.
150: Similar comments apply to 180 above, though the route runs between Tarneit and Williams Landing. It serves a large and densely populated catchment near no full time services and relatively low car ownership. Hence the extra trips will be useful as feeders when trains on both lines are running.
170: Like the 180 it runs from Tarneit to Werribee but via a different alignment that includes Werribee Plaza Shopping Centre. It needs trips added after 9pm and earlier in the mornings, especially weekends.
All three of these routes have above average patronage. More on improving them here.
420: Sunshine - Watergardens. A popular route that provides connectivity between three major stations (some on different lines) at Sunshine, Deer Park (though with poor interchange facilities) and Watergardens. Even if City - Sunshine trains were not running there are many (though slow) bus options for that portion of travel from either Footscray or the CBD.
901: Roxburgh Park - Epping. A segment of a SmartBus orbital. The main things holding it back for reliable train connectivity are the operating hours (notably the 9pm finish on Sunday evenings) and the weekend frequency (only every 30 minutes). If you were to upgrade service on this route you would likely run the upgrade over a longer segment, eg Melbourne Airport or Broadmeadows to South Morang, even though only the central Roxburgh Park - Epping portion is strictly required for cross-line connectivity.
902: Broadmeadows - Greensborough. Another SmartBus with similar service limitations to the 901. A limitation is the long distance between stations, exacerbated by the lack of a station at Campbellfield which could have enabled a connection to the Upfield line.
903: Coburg - Heidelberg. The last of the orbitals. I've not included Sunshine or Essendon in this segment as directness isn't great (though one could). It connects some major stations including Preston and destinations including Northland Shopping Centre. I have described an economical upgrade that delivers a 10 minute frequency in this item on a Route 904. Like the other 900-series it suffers from an early Sunday finish and limited weekend frequencies.
Other contenders in this area (but further south) include routes like the 513 and 510. However these have weaker termini and trip generators. And in 513's case there's significant complexity and indirectness that make it not worth a large service upgrade without these being addressed.
624: Caulfield - East Kew. A potentially strong north-south route that connects a lot of train and tram lines at right angles. Unfortunately it is a very complex route that performs well below potential due to its half-hourly weekday/hourly weekend service. Operating hours are also limited.
903: Box Hill - Oakleigh. Another section of the 903 that was discussed just above. Arguably the upgraded section should extend to Doncaster or Heidelberg to complete the circle (if keeping as an orbital). Connects similar lines to the 624 and 733 but (often) at different stations. Also extends south to the Frankston line but geometry is less favourable as it approaches at an acute angle rather than 90 degrees.
733: Box Hill - Clayton. This is the busiest section of a very popular route. It connects the Belgrave/Lilydale, Glen Waverley and Pakenham/Cranbourne lines. Existing usage is very high relative to its low service levels. It has similar hours and frequency issues to the 624 mentioned above. The full route runs to Oakleigh but the Clayton - Oakleigh portion largely parallels other services and is less deserving of an upgrade.
824: Clayton - Moorabbin. Part of an existing popular route. A benefit of Moorabbin is it's a place that trains are often terminate in the event of disruptions (planned or otherwise). A future network reform might extend it west to the Brighton area providing better connectivity than the currently infrequent 811/812. Operating frequencies and hours are the normal offering from buses, eg a 9-10 pm finish, late weekend starts and limited weekend frequency.
902: Nunawading - Springvale - Chelsea. Serves busy stations at Nunawading, Glen Waverley and Springvale. It's further out than the 903 so the distances are greater between lines. However it doesn't have the time-using deviation into Chadstone of that route. The geometry is less favourable towards the Frankston line but it is still the most viable substitute when that line is out. Has SmartBus operating patterns including limited weekend frequency and an early finish on Sunday.
901: Ringwood - Dandenong - Frankston. Similar comments to the 902 but more so due to the lines fanning out. However it does serve three major centres and rail junctions.
Service upgrades for above to bring to close to rail standards could include:
* Improved weekday frequency (to 20 min): 150, 624, 733
* Improved weekend frequency (to 20 min 7 day): 150, 624, 733, 824, 901, 902, 903
* Earlier morning starts: All non-SmartBus routes
* Evening frequency upgrades: All routes listed
* 9pm - midnight Sunday span: All routes listed
The above and other routes would benefit from the Double Service Frequency on Everything plan.
There are more routes than those listed above that could also aid network resilience. And there are some cases where alternative connections, not provided by the current network may be merited.
For instance a direct Southland - Sandringham connection along Bay Rd is more direct than the current 822 bus via Cheltenham and better lends itself to becoming a high frequency / all day service.
One might argue the case for a Caulfield - Camberwell Burke Rd connection, with both being major rail junctions and the route serving both Metro Tunnel and Airport Rail. It's the sort of corridor that probably needs a medium capacity option like light rail or busway on its own way. Then it could make a large contribution if disruptions happen during peak times as well as being a popular connector at other times.
The SRL SmartBus concept, especially if associated with limited stops and faster speeds could also strengthen the network at all times and raise the profile of the SRL as something that's really coming.
The point with all these is that a resilient network in many areas provided by circumferential buses is not just an extra cost but something that has many wider network benefits useful in non-disrupted times as well.
Maybe I've missed some? Ideas for others are welcome and can be left below.
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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