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
If you built 500 more 'free' parking spaces at a popular place like Tarneit or Doncaster (at a cost of $10s of thousands each) they would almost certainly fill up. Do the same at Altona North Park & Ride and none will. How do we know this? The first two places fill each day while Altona North is never more than 2% occupied. Adding more spots to the latter will make no difference. Add evening or Sunday bus services on routes without them in areas like Springvale or Dandenong, or boost existing meager services through busy places like Northland, Box Hill and Chadstone and you'll get a similar rapid take-up. Do the same through Yarrambat or Brighton Beach (which already have frequent buses that carry fresh air until midnight) and you won't. Transport use, whether it's public or private, is supply led provided there's a willing catchment of users and alternatives are enough of a hassle. Widen a road or boost public transport frequency and demand will rise. Ditto for building a freeway or extending a railway. Some of that will come from generated trips previously not made while another part will come from people switching modes. The short-term component of mode shift is people changing their travel as the mode that's had the spending becomes more convenient relative to alternatives. There's also a long-term component caused by location decisions and land use changes the improved transport locks in. Retail businesses (like the K-mart our transport minister Ben Carroll used to work at or the Dick Smith I spent years with) love increased sales. However in transport higher demand is not necessarily a good thing, especially when it's more driving that's induced, like new freeways tend to do. And a switch from walking to public transport, like encouraged by silly policies like the 'free' tram zone, isn't always smart either. You won't get take-up if usability is poor or the service is not useful to many people. No matter how cheap the fare is. One reason why 'flexible route' buses usually fail is the need to phone or book ahead, giving notice that make their use anything but flexible for the user. That's a high barrier to use. Then there are cases where a route overlaps other services or serves unpopulated catchments. Both of the latter apply to at least sections of the poorly used Route 385, which is today's topic.
Route descriptionWhat is the 385? It basically has two segments. Whittlesea - Mernda provides a feeder to Mernda Station from the long-established country town but now peri-urban Whittlesea. It's very direct, being one of two routes operating parallel to the railway which closed in 1959. Then there is the Mernda to Greensborough part. This runs via Doreen and Yarrambat. The latter (especially) has a long history of having a bus to Greensborough, well before trains crept nearer with South Morang and Mernda extensions. All this looks straightforward on the map below. However the story gets more complicated when you look at the timetables as you'll see later.
The area map tells more about the 385, especially in relation to other routes. The Whittlesea - Mernda portion entirely overlaps Route 382 for over 7 kilometres. Given that Whittlesea township has a population under 6000 such an overlap appears extraordinary. Regard should be paid for the populations living in surrounding peri-urban areas like Kinglake. However their high incomes and car ownership may depress demand for bus services. We'll see if it does later.
385's southern half is below. It serves the southern part of Doreen. Then it overlaps Route 381 (also from Mernda) near Yarrambat Park. There's another substantial overlap through Plenty with the 901 SmartBus. Apart from Doreen the other area where the 385 has unique coverage is in the difficult to serve Apollo Parkways pocket north of Greensborough.
A section of Apollo Parkways is shown below. Likely named after the spacecraft used in the moon missions, (and nearby Watsonia North) represents the zenith of auto-oriented subdivision in Melbourne where public transport was planned out of having a useful role. Some walking was catered for school trips but none for other purposes. Hence bypasses and roundabouts sever the area from the main town centre at Greensborough while local street layouts prevented direct buses that could efficiently serve destinations like the Civic Centre while retaining sufficient residential coverage nearby.
The effect of these short-sighted decisions remain today with the Nillumbik Civic Centre and Melbourne Polytechnic (reopened a few years ago) being located there, to the chagrin of anyone who attempts to reach them by public transport.
Route 385 is in two state seats. These include Yan Yean (Danielle Green MP) and Eltham (Vicki Ward MP). Both are considered safe or fairly safe for the Labor Party. Both members hold parliamentary secretary positions in the Andrews government, with Ms Ward having transport. TimetableLike how I described the route, 385's timetable is in two parts. Whittlesea to Mernda operates Monday to Friday only. Services are roughly every 40 minutes in peak and 80 minutes in the middle of the day. Additional service is provided by Route 382 trips, which operate every 40 minutes 7 days per week on this section. Mernda to Greensborough service is more intensive, with a 20 minute peak and 40 minute off-peak service. This harmonises with trains every 20 minutes at Mernda and Greensborough. Operating hours meet minimum service standards on all 7 days with weekend starts slightly earlier than average. Overall 385's service levels can only be regarded as generous, especially given its numerous overlaps with other routes. This is particularly in the Whittlesea section overlapping with the 382 and the Plenty area overlapping with the 901 SmartBus.UsageIf you thought the above description of the 385 bus bodes poorly for its patronage you'd be right. It has about half the passenger boardings per kilometre as average for a Melbourne bus. For example on school days it has 12 boardings per bus hour. This falls to 10 on school holidays, 9 on Saturday and a paltry 6 on Sunday. These are similar numbers to Route 381 (Mernda - Diamond Creek) which has a similar mixed rural/urban catchment in the area. Other routes that parts of 385 overlap, such as 343 near Greensborough and 382 at Whittlesea, are also below average patronage performers, recording 14 and 17 boardings per bus hour on weekdays respectively. Infrastructure Victoria sets 20 passenger boardings per bus service hour as the point below which bus services cease to become economically viable. Almost no bus route in this part of Melbourne would be considered viable by this standard. Likely causes of this include substantial duplications of routes, low population density catchments and local demographics not conducive to high bus usage. If you wanted to carry the most number of people with the existing bus fleet and operating budget then a reappraisal of the network in north-east Melbourne is needed to better balance coverage and patronage aims. More on how you might reform the poorly used buses in the north-east in Useful Network Pt 23
HistoryMernda is a new area with most suburban-density housing going up in the last ten years. Doreen is more established. Whittlesea and Yarrambat go back much further. Hence they have had buses for a long time, and, in Whittlesea's case, a train until 1959. Before the 385 bus there was Route 520. You can see traces of it if you try some zoomings of http://www.street-directory.com.au in the Mernda and Greensborough areas. Zoom in for old network and zoom out for the current network, including the 385. The 520 ran from Greensborough to Doreen. Then it formed the 572 that ran to South Morang Station (where trains terminated before the Mernda extension). The 520 existed even earlier when trains terminated at Epping and there was nothing much at Doreen. It was then effectively a school service from Yarrambat to Macleod Technical School. See 520 timetables going back to 1986 at Krustylink . Service in the Plenty area can be traced back to at least 1972, with routes 581 and then 580 appearing on these network maps. Whittlesea township would have had service going back at least 1959 when the trains stopped. The 1971 map (link via above) shows the 562 bus down Plenty Rd to Northland. There's been some changes over the years but today's 382 is very similar despite major suburban growth and network extensions including the tram to Bundoora and the train restoration to Mernda. Because the geometry makes it difficult to serve, various bus network options have been tried for Apollo Parkways over the years. Its demographics and layout are unfavourable but its population is too big to ignore. 1971's map had nothing but 1972's had an extension of Route 566 beyond Greensborough. That vanished in the 1978 map. Even though Apollo Parkways was clearly established then, with the primary school opening the following year. Later much more of the estate was covered with the 565 from Greensborough. This served the area from the 1980s to 2003, with timetables at Krustylink. Its 1980s service was typical for local bus routes with evening and Saturday afternoon trips added later that decade but withdrawn in the 1990s. It appeared to be basically a shopper route to Greensborough with the 30 minute frequency not harmonising with trains. 2003 saw the 565 incorporated into the extended 563. This was a very long loop route from Greensborough to Northland via South Morang (which was then not a station). The 563 was eventually scrapped in the 2000s as other routes changed to take its place. ConclusionWhat should be done about Route 385 given its low patronage? Does it need to run to Whittesea given the existence of the more frequent 7-day 382? Does it need to overlap routes like the 901? Or should it be joined with the similar, equally poorly used 381 to provide a loop serving built-up areas in Doreen with another solution found for Apollo Parkways? Your thoughts are invited and can be left below. PS: An index to all Timetable Tuesday items is here.
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This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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