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It's time to admit that what we now do, especially between Christmas and New Years Day, isn't working. Travel patterns and service provision, already mismatched at other times (eg evenings and weekends) is severely out of whack over this period.
Fewer people go to work during this period, including on weekdays between Christmas and New Years Day. Yet train commuters get a full weekday timetable and may almost enjoy carriages to themselves.
On the other hand, more people shop. Either in the CBD or major suburban centres. Weekday trams reduce to weekend frequencies in this period. Shopping centre buses run as infrequently as hourly, including on Boxing Day when it's busiest. And, due to traffic congestion, bus companies simply throw up their hands and refuse to serve where the people wish to go.
This is even though congested times are precisely when public transport is most beneficial; not only for those on it but also those in cars. Buses should be embraced rather than shunned during these times. It's not as if Boxing Day creeps up unannounced each year.
Despite the number of people they attract and their regularity each year the Boxing Day sales are not considered to be major events that require transport plans and service resourcing. Hence you get results like this when service doesn't meet demand:
There's also major sporting events, eg the cricket from Boxing Day that needs to be catered for. These have somewhat more effort put into transport arrangements. Also there's the beach traffic that places so much stress on coastal routes like the 788 down the Mornington Peninsula (which does have an upgraded, though still limited, January weekend timetable).
What happens now?
I wasn't able to find combined network information on the PTV website (though it might have been there before I wrote this). What follows is what was published by various operators.
Metro Trains has the simplest arrangements. A full weekday timetable (including express trains) runs throughout the festive period except on public holidays. About ten or fifteen years ago there were reduced summer timetables running until mid-January but these proved inadequate since many people were back at work. So they were completely scrapped. This was great for simplicity but not cost-effectiveness as there are a few days between Christmas and New Year when commuter usage genuinely is low.
A Saturday timetable applies on Boxing Day and New Years Day while a Sunday timetable runs on Christmas Day. After approx 11am there is no difference between the two. However the Sunday timetable has a late start (which Melbourne trains used to be notorious for) and infrequent morning service (which they still are).
The late Sunday start issue was largely fixed when Night Network introduced 24 hour weekend service. However unless Christmas Day is on a Saturday or Sunday (when Night Network runs regardless of public holidays) the late start remains (as it does every Good Friday which is the only other public holiday with a Sunday timetable).
Other states have simpler arrangements where instead of public holidays being either a Saturday or Sunday timetable they are just a Sunday timetable. However, as compensation, their earlier Sunday start times (and sometimes later finishes) make this more practical. Trains in Brisbane and Sydney, for example, have early Sunday starts with a full frequency normally applying. And even Perth, known for its restricted trading hours and lack of city life, has much better Sunday morning train frequencies than Melbourne.
V/Line has roughly similar arrangements to Metro on weekdays. However the term 'altered timetable' on the public holidays is less legible and requires one to look it up. A material difference is that V/Line services (particularly to Geelong) are more commuter oriented, and unlike most Metro lines, have a much lower frequency on weekends than they do weekday interpeak. This means that even metropolitan area V/Line stations like Deer Park, Caroline Springs, Wyndham Vale and Tarneit receive half or less service on weekends (and therefore public holidays) than do Metro stations like Watergardens or Werribee. Their late Sunday am starts is an issue all year as Night Network trains don't operate (unlike Metro).
Buses are a mix. The 2006 - 2010 Meeting our Transport Challenges upgrades and the 2013 Transdev franchising went a long way to harmonising bus with Metro train arrangements on public holidays. Hence Boxing Day and New Years Day get a Saturday timetable and Christmas Day a Sunday timetable. However this standardisation is not universal; there are over 20 bus routes that run Saturdays but not public holidays and even some that run Sundays but not public holidays. This makes network-wide summer and public holiday arrangements difficult to communicate, with the hapless PTV either failing to do so or getting it wrong.
A few residential area bus routes still have weekday cutbacks over summer (as posted recently). Not because their usage is particularly low, but because that's how it's always been in the past. History, rather than a route's patronage, has a large part in determining which cut service over summer, with one of the routes with a larger summer cut (the 733) being one of the network's busiest.
Yarra Trams has other rules. Instead of operating a regular timetable weekday services from before Christmas to at least New Year are cut so that a Saturday frequency applies. That means daytime frequencies down to 15 minutes on some routes, a headway too long to regard as 'turn up and go', especially for shorter trips.
Below is a rough summary of timetable arrangements over the Christmas / New Year period compiled from the above information.
What should we do?
It would be easy if we were a small city state with everything running (say) every 5 or 6 minutes. You'd hardly have timetables. You might increase service to 3 or 4 minutes during peak times and drop back to 7 or 8 minutes at quieter times. And lower traffic volumes on days like Christmas morning would allow a good frequency to be run with fewer buses or trams since you're running a headway-based service. You'd hardly even need to tell people about this since they would regard the service as 'turn up and go' at all times.
The nearest Melbourne had to this was probably in the cable tram days (the motto being "always a (tram)car in sight"). With some decades of service cuts from the 1950s, not much of a recovery in all-day frequencies since, and a tendency to buy bigger trams, we're far from this today on most corridors. Hence, for the foreseeable future, we still need to think in terms of timetables.
The biggest mismatch where service falls short of demand is Boxing Day where there's sales and cricket. A Saturday timetable applies with very limited bus services exacerbated by (and sometimes cancelled due to) traffic congestion.
The biggest mismatch where service exceeds demand appears to be weekday peaks between Christmas and New Year. A regular peak service operates on trains and most buses.
Christmas Day can also be quiet. Ringwood, Dandenong and Frankston are lucky enough to have a 10 minute frequency (in contrast to London which has no public transport at all). From what I've seen services are lightly used. However Christmas (most years) and Good Friday (all years) have an issue where trains start too late in the morning, especially for trips from Melbourne. Night Network fixed this where the preceding day is a Friday or Saturday.
Short term measures (ie from 2020/1)
Where we could cut
METRO: Christmas Day cut Frankston line 10 to 20 min (optionally Good Friday also)
METRO: Weekday peak Dec 26 - Dec 31 Sat TT but with 10 min in peaks and 20 min to 9pm
BUS: Weekday peak Dec 26 - Dec 31 cut peak to 8 - 10 min if service better than that (eg 906, 907)
Where we could add
METRO: Early am trips Xmas Day and Good Friday as per Sunday timetable with preceding Night Network trips (every 60 min as per Night Network times back to approx 5 am)
METRO: Boxing Day extra trips for shopping & cricket
TRAM: Abolish summer timetable - weekday frequencies continue through December/January
BUS: More buses on selected bus routes on Boxing Day to provide increased frequency and compensate for longer run times. Doubled frequencies on selected bus routes on busy weekends before Christmas.
BUS: Remove summer timetables on residential area routes where peak frequency is worse than 10 min
V/Line: Boxing Day 20 min service on Geelong line.
The above would address most of the above problems. Basically taking away from quiet peak weekday times between Christmas and New Year and giving to Boxing Day. The issue with early Christmas and Good Friday service not running is also addressed.
For a few quiet days it reintroduces summer timetabes on Metro train lines during peak periods only. On most lines these are effectively a Saturday timetable but with peak trips added to provide a 10 minute approx am and pm peak all stations service on trains from Werribee, Watergardens, Craigieburn, Mernda, Greensborough, Ringwood, Glen Waverley, Dandenong, Frankston and Sandringham. Altona, Williamstown, Upfield, Alamein and the outer portions of some lines would have a 20 minute service. Savings here could go at least part way to offsetting the extra costs of running weekday frequencies on the tram network.
While the Frankston line cut introduces a degree of complexity (on its two quietest days) the service kilometres foregone could go towards earlier starts on it and other lines on all Good Fridays and most Christmas Days.
Very frequent bus routes could be cut back to a 10 minute peak on the quiet weekdays between Christmas and New Years Day. Savings could be put towards scrapping summer timetables on less frequent routes and extra Boxing Day service on shopping centre routes.
No detailed costing has been done but the inclusion of cuts as well as gains should greatly reduce it while making service provision better match demand. Discussing this could be the first item of business for the Department of Transport this year so that operators get sufficient notice for staff rostering etc at the end of the year.
The above are some low cost service upgrades for this time next year. However they don't fix the complexities around public holiday timetables (eg is it Saturday or Sunday, and what about buses which might be neither?).
A suggested way around this is to operate Sunday timetables on all public holidays. That simplifies timetables and messaging because you can include the statement that "A Sunday timetable operates on all public holidays". Other Australian states typically do this.
While this might seem a downgrade compared to now (where Saturday timetables operate on most public holidays), this can be addressed by boosting Sunday timetables to make their operating hours and frequency more like Saturday's. And simplification would also mean that bus routes with weekend but not public holiday service would gain public holiday service. Example measures are below:
METRO: Increased Sunday morning frequency. All public holidays operate Sunday timetable.
TRAM: Increased Sunday morning frequency. All public holidays operate Sunday timetable.
BUS: Standardise public holiday arrangements for buses where all routes with weekend service also operate on public holidays (over 20 routes involved).
BUS: Increased weekend (especially Sunday) frequency on selected popular routes, especially those to major shopping centres.
BUS: Extend Sunday pm span on SmartBus routes to match Saturday.
BUS: Extend Sunday am span on local routes by 60 - 120 min earlier.
BUS: Local routes with Saturday but not Sunday service to gain Sunday service. All public holidays operate Sunday timetable.
V/LINE: Weekend frequency upgrade on Geelong line (from 40 to 20 min)
V/LINE: 60 to 90 min earlier start on Sunday mornings. All public holidays to operate Sunday timetable.
Such a boost is needed anyway and would bring about improved services all year.
All Metro train, tram, V/Line and most bus timetables have the same stopping pattern and operating frequency on weekday off-peaks, Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Where run time permits times would be the same as well. Exceptions would be limited to routes with a very high weekday relative to weekend usage (eg industrial and university routes) where weekend frequency would continue to be less.
Trams and trains are already fairly close to this. The main upgrade is needed for buses, where key routes like SmartBus currently halve frequency on weekends while others operate only one-third as frequently on Sundays as they do Monday to Saturday.
This is an ambitious upgrade that should be accompanied by comprehensive bus network reform. However it would make service much simpler than now at some compromise for efficiency.
Summer and holiday timetables is a recurring problem that causes underused services on one hand and overcrowding on the other. Their existence makes public transport more complex and less well used than it should be, even during times of demonstrated demand.
A course of action that addresses immediate issues such as Boxing Day while pursuing longer term service simplification has been suggested. What do you think about it? Please leave your comments below!
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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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