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A month ago we looked over the Greensborough local bus network and suggested some improvements. A distinguishing thing was the large number of quiet bus routes in the area.
Unlike new growth areas which have lots of people with few buses, some established outer non-growth areas have few people with many buses. Examples include areas around Belgrave, Warrandyte and Eltham. Such areas are identified by having having many routes with low passenger boardings per bus hour, and thus poor productivity.
One of those quieter routes in the Eltham area is the 580. On school days it has 14 passenger boardings per service hour. This is below the 20 boardings per hour that Infrastructure Victoria regards as being a cost-effective service. One might tolerate this low number given the area's lower than average population density.
However on non-school days the number drops to 9 boardings per hour. Hence a significant proportion of Route 580's passengers are school students. Weekends are lower again with 5 boardings per service hour on Saturday and just 4 on Sunday. In fact Route 580's sparse weekend usage put it in the bottom 12 performers on both days.
With such low patronage for the services run it's worth a closer look.
What factors make the 580 so unloved?
Here's the route.
Route 580 basically does two things.
It's a connection from Eltham to Diamond Creek. These are stations on the same train line but the bus covers areas the train doesn't. Eltham is a larger centre and has more trains than Diamond Creek. Secondly it provides local coverage around Diamond Creek with some unidirectional loops which, unfortunately, are not understandable at first sight.
You can see where it fits in with other routes below. 580's main unique coverage is along Wattletree Rd. Other parts are overlapped by other routes such as the 343 (itself a quiet route) and 381 (even quieter).
Its current length is a far cry from the 580 of 1992 where it was just a tiny run going from Diamond Creek to about about a kilometre east. In fact the while area had far fewer routes then than now. Those that ran might have been indirect (eg the 517) but overlaps were rare. Subsequent routes got layered over existing routes with boardings per kilometre on each one being close to Melbourne's lowest.
The experience showed that there are certain places where no matter how many bus routes you layer on, people won't use them. Eltham/Diamond Creek appears to be one of them. In contrast other places can have a complex and infrequent network (eg around Monash Clayton, Springvale and Dandenong) but people will use buses at above average levels.
With one odd exception, Route 580 meets minimum service standards for local buses in Melbourne. That is it runs every hour or better until 9pm Monday to Sunday.
However other aspects of its timetable are unusual.
Weekday and Saturday operating hours, frequencies and timetables are almost identical. Both feature half-hourly service from first to last trip.
Like on weekdays the 580's Saturday service starts before 6am. This is more generous than most other bus routes which start around 7 or 8 am on Saturdays. Route 580's Saturday service is so good that despite being one of our quietest routes it offers the same start time and frequency as most of our busy SmartBus routes up until its 9pm finish.
Route 580 offers poor connections to trains. This is because its 30 minute Monday to Saturday frequency does not evenly mesh with either the 20 minute frequency at Eltham or the 40 minute service at Diamond Creek.
Timetables below (click for clearer view)
What about Sundays? Here the 580 runs hourly. Unlike the Saturday start time, which is grossly earlier than minimum standards, the Sunday start time of 8:30 - 9am is the same as minimum standards.
Another 580 quirk happens on public holidays. One part of minimum standards is that a Saturday timetable runs on all public holidays except for Christmas and Good Friday. The latter two days get a Sunday timetable. PTV website timetables that comply with this pattern have notes to this effect.
However PTV (who sometimes obfuscates instead of informs) deems bus routes with non-standard holiday patterns too hard to explain on its website. Hence it leaves readers with the cryptic note below.
It is possible (but not certain) that the 580 does not follow the standard. Instead it may be the last remaining Melbourne bus route that runs a Sunday service on all public holidays.
Route 582, run by the same bus company, also from Eltham, is the opposite to the 580. It conforms to the standard public holiday pattern, even though, with its ~7:30pm finishes it doesn't conform to the operating hours aspects of minimum standards.
I've already said what should be done with the underperforming 580; I reckon it should be scrapped as part of network reforms that could make local buses more efficient and better used.
But what do you think? Is there still a place for it? Would simply harmonising it with train frequencies help? Or are there other routes (eg 343 and/or 381) that should be removed instead of 580?
Please leave your comments below if you have any thoughts.
PS: Back in 2011 I favourably reviewed Human Transit by Jarrett Walker. It talks a lot about public transport network design topics like we cover here. You can buy it via the link below. The small commission I receive from purchases helps support Melbourne on Transit.
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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