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
Last week I mentioned the Transport For Everyone (T4E) plan that would deliver new or upgraded SmartBuses running every ten minutes to major destinations including universities, shopping centres, employment hubs and train stations. Some of the changes could fund themselves by reducing routes that overlap. Unless new funding is forthcoming, others require us to cast our net wider in our search for savings.
Potential candidates include bus routes that are redundant, duplicative, poorly used or over-serviced relative to their patronage or patronage potential. It's a bit like maintaining a garden. You want what you wish to keep to thrive without killing everything.
The latter is close to what happened in 1990/91 where large indiscriminate cuts were applied across the bus network. Major and busy routes were cut as much as quieter routes. There were some network changes but they were not necessarily in the direction that would produce a simple and efficient bus network. The early 1990s cuts reduced patronage and fare revenue, making them somewhat of a false economy. And buses weren't to really recover until the 2006-2010 service upgrades. Timetables of some popular routes such as 536 and 800 still bear the scars of those cuts.
A successful trimming of bus routes should be done with pruning shears instead of an axe. However there are cases where sickly straggly bushes next to strong trees should be pulled out to tidy the network and permit the cost-effective introduction of enhanced SmartBus ten and Useful Network twenty minute services on corridors throughout Melbourne. Some of these are outlined below.
I've discussed what could be pruned several times before. Plus this post on quiet routes. Here's another take. Listed are some bus routes that could be deleted if you wanted to save money. Few provide significant unique coverage to a populated area and it's doubtful that people would notice if they were cut due to their low usage. Here they are:
* 673 An off-peak service operating in the Lilydale area, this route is entirely overlapped by other routes that operate more frequently. Its only unique stop is Lillydale Lake which is not exactly a high patronage generator. It is rare for trips to get any passengers at all, with patronage being 1 boarding per bus service hour (compared to over 20 average for Melbourne buses). More here.
* 694 This route is almost entirely overlapped by routes 688 and 663. Its only unique coverage is in the sparsely populated Sherbrooke forest. It attracts a low 7 passenger boardings per hour.
* 768 This was the original Box Hill - Deakin University shuttle introduced about 10 years ago. Unfortunately it only runs approximately every 40 minutes. More recently another university shuttle (the 201) was laid almost over the top of the 768. Though that too is inadequately frequent and doesn't harmonise with trains. Such was the demand for transport from Deakin Uni that the 768 was a productive route prior to COVID-19 despite its low frequency. However during this quieter time the 768 could easily be scrapped. When demand builds up the 768 should not be restored. Instead capacity should be added to boost the 201 to a 15 or preferably 10 minute frequency.
* 687 This is a route to lightly populated Chum Creek, near Healesville. It is very close to being Melbourne's quietest bus route with just two boardings per bus service hour. It's not hard to see why with almost no population in much of its catchment.
* 953 This is a weekend Night Bus route in the Broadmeadows - Craigieburn area. Night bus routes are known for being much quieter than daytime service but this one takes the cake, possibly because it runs roughly parallel to a train line. It gets just one or two passengers on a typical night.
* 403 This route, which runs from Footscray to Melbourne University, is intended to be a university shuttle. However even pre-COVID-19 it suffered from below-average patronage with 18 passenger boardings per bus service hour. The 403 offers no unique coverage. If it was deleted passengers would have alternatives including the 402 (also between Footscray and Melbourne University) every ten minutes or a change to a Metro train then the frequent 401 bus at North Melbourne. Once university traffic recovers an alternative use for the resources could be other network improvements including operating Route 401 on weekends.
*745 You can go there but not back. There's so few trips that they might as well not run. Usage is low at 8 passengers per service hour. It could be scrapped and replaced with a proper local network as soon as possible. More on the 745 (A, B, C and D) here.
* 696 This is a shopper route across the Dandenongs introduced about ten years ago. It offers little unique coverage. It's been a flop with just one boarding per bus service hour, making it tie with the 673 for Melbourne's least used bus.
* 343 This is a fairly new route, only put in a few years ago. It attracts a below average productivity of 14 passengers per bus service hour. Operating from Greensborough to semi-rural Hurstbridge it largely overlaps the train beyond Diamond Creek. The 343 has little unique coverage. The places that 343 runs through stand out for having a lot of poorly used bus routes. This is because recent governments have generously plied it with often overlapping routes while other areas have missed out (despite higher populations, social needs and propensity to use buses).
* 429 This is a new short route that came about when the 219 and 216 were merged to provide a simpler route from Sunshine to the city via Footscray. It has only a little unique catchment near its end due to overlaps with the 428 and 903. 429 could easily be deleted especially if a kink was added to Route 428 to improve coverage in Sunshine South and some evening trips added to maintain long operating hours. In addition the unserved end of Warmington Rd could gain better access to service via the Cannon St Footbridge.
* 478 This route is a shorter version of the 479 (Sunbury - Melbourne Airport - Airport West) with no stops unique to it. In conjunction with the 479 it provides a combined 30 minute service between Airport West and Melbourne Airport which is likely very poorly used. Removing 478 would leave an hourly service. When substantial airport traffic resumes you might restore service but as short 479 trips for simplicity given how poor PTV can be at communicating multi-route corridors.
* 350 This is a City - La Trobe University route. This is (or was) the busiest route featured here with 23 boardings per bus hour, which is quite respectable. However the decline in university traffic would have since hit patronage. And there have been improvements to other routes (notably an increased Route 250 frequency in 2014 and the 301 La Trobe shuttle in 2016) that may have lessened 350's role. And longer term there's development in Alphington that needs some form of service.
* 777 This is a short shopper-style route to Karingal that we looked at last year. Usage is low at 5 boardings per service hour. However it provides a connection from an area that has no other service. So contrary to the title a few might miss it.
* 706 This is another occasional shopper route, this time between Chelsea and Mordialloc. It parallels the Frankston train line but there is some unique coverage between Mordialloc and Aspendale stations (which are 2.6km apart). The Department of Transport itself wanted to scrap the 706 a couple of years back but the Mordialloc area review this was proposed in went nowhere.
More than 10 routes are listed so you could argue that some could remain. How much money would you save if you stopped running the above? The answer might be less than you'd think. A few million dollars per year is a likely number. This is because many of the mentioned routes are off-peak shopper services whose ending would not reduce the number of buses you need to maintain. Politicians might not regard this small saving as being worth the risk of a backlash. It is not unknown for more people to sign a petition to keep a bus than who ever actually used it. And deleting bus routes could unsettle others who depend on certain government services; theirs could be next.
Better matching frequency with demand
If you want bigger savings you need to do more than just cut (mostly) little routes like those listed above. For example you might look at long distance and expensive to run routes that attract little patronage for the number of buses used. Cutting their frequency could result in significant annual operational savings. And the political impact of revising timetables tends to be much less than deleting routes entirely. Ideally though, given the decline in service per capita, resources saved should be reinvested to build up service on routes that need it so most passengers end up being better off.
Before rattling off the routes whose timetables could be cut, I should insert a note of caution. Non-transport people (especially) can misunderstand the relationship between frequency and demand, especially in areas of suburban density or higher. For example they might assume a roughly fixed demand for buses. Therefore if there are lightly used buses then service could be cut but about the same numbers would be using them. Therefore fare revenue would remain much as before and there would be a substantial overall saving.
On the other hand a high frequency service is a very different product to a low frequency service. Many more types of trips can be made conveniently on the frequent service. Where there's the catchment population and destinations patronage will be much higher with the frequent service. Some areas are so favourable for buses that even if you run a route that largely overlaps others (eg the 742 around Monash University or the 768 at Deakin University) it will still attract reasonable usage. If you run frequent services in areas like this they will almost certainly fill, with usage growing as frequency increases.
Whereas if you were to run high frequencies in areas that are semi-rural or have less favourable catchment demographics then usage will still not be high, especially where routes overlap and cannibalise each other's patronage. It is when these conditions are met that you may be able to reduce frequencies without greatly reducing patronage or fare revenue. And if you were to redeploy resources to routes in areas that respond well to added service you should get overall patronage and fare revenue gains.
With that out of the way, here's some routes that underperform for at least some of the time:
* 280/282 This is the notoriously underused 'Manningham Mover'. It's a very long loop route attracting just 6 passengers per service hour. Off-peak service could be pruned from 30 to 60 minutes to save money. If you wanted to ramp services up later you wouldn't return them to 280/282. Instead you'd reform local networks to reduce overlap and provide new direct connections such as Heidelberg to The Pines via Templestowe.
* 695 Serving semi-rural areas it nevertheless runs every 30 minutes off-peak between Belgrave and Emerald. Patronage is 13 boardings per bus service hour interpeak weekdays, dropping to 8-9 on weekends. Scope exists to reduce off-peak service to hourly given the semi-rural catchment. More here.
* 578/579 Would you believe that semi-rural areas like Research and Kangaroo Ground get a minimum standards-style hourly 7 day service designed for normal residential suburbs? The two routes provide a combined two buses per hour between Eltham and Warrandyte even on Sundays. Almost no one uses them, with 8 boardings per hour on Saturday and half that on Sunday. Meanwhile dense busy corridors like Middleborough Rd or Princes Hwy get half that service or even nothing at all on a Sunday. Cutting 578/579 frequencies to 80 or 120 minutes each would better align service with demand and save money.
* 582 During normal times train passengers in northern and western Melbourne crowd onto Sunday trains every 40 minutes. Popular tram routes are often every 30 minutes. Meanwhile the 582 bus east of Eltham is providing the best am service of the lot with a 20 minute frequency applying from 7am Sundays. Not that it gets much use; the 582 records 7 boardings per bus service hour on Sundays and 12 on Saturdays. Scope may exist to reduce its frequency to meet demand, especially if it could be interlined with nearby routes such as 578 and 579. Even better could be its extension to Greensborough in conjunction with savings measures involving other routes such as the duplicative 293.
* 580 This is another 'fresh air' Eltham area bus route, especially on weekends. The half-hourly weekday interpeak and Saturday headway does not mesh with trains every 20/40 minutes. And its frequency is generous for the catchment. Productivity is 14 boardings per hour on weekdays, 5 on Saturday and 4 on Sunday. Saturday service, in particular appears excessive.
* 603/604 These routes were introduced to replace the 216, 219 and 220 in the Brighton area. I don't have numbers on their boarding productivity but when you're running night services every 20 minutes until late in an affluent area not known for its high bus usage the patronage is likely to be low. Scope exists for operating hours and frequency reductions at quieter times with many areas having alternative services (including trains) nearby. More here.
* 890 Industrial area route between Dandenong and Lynbrook that has 7 day service. Weekday patronage is adequate but Saturday and Sunday attracts 2 and 6 boardings per hour respectively. This is an example of a relatively new route whose timetable was not designed to reflect likely demand patterns. Weekend service could easily be deleted or at least reduced in hours or frequency.
* 232 Route 232 runs over the West Gate Bridge. It provides almost no unique coverage but gives a one-seat ride into Melbourne CBD. Scope may exist to reduce its frequency to better reflect current (even pre-COVID-19) usage. 232 may be overserved on weekdays and Saturdays. On the latter it runs every every 30 minutes yet it has no unique coverage. This contrasts with the more popular 411/412 which has substantial unique coverage but runs only every 40 minutes on Saturdays.
* 235 An industrial area route serving Fishermans Bend. Very productive on weekdays but quiet on Saturdays. One might query whether Saturday service should be dropped from every 40 minutes to hourly, or even deleted entirely.
* 236 Quiet on all days of the week it runs (Monday - Saturday). A few stops get reasonable use but much of its catchment is walkable to trams or other bus routes.
Routes that could be shortened
Some routes are productive on sections but extend to areas that are lower density. You might justify this if they were the only connection between areas but this is not always the case as some of these examples show.
* Route 903 to Mordialloc: The Mentone to Modialloc portion of the 903 is much quieter than other eastern parts of the route. Nevertheless it retains service at SmartBus frequencies. Most of the catchment is within walking distance of the Frankston line stations of Mentone, Parkdale and Mordialloc. A possible saving could be to terminate the 903 at Mentone (or slightly south on certain school trips) and operate the Mordialloc portion as a neighbourhood style route. This could potentially connect with other routes that terminate at either Mentone or Mordialloc to improve local travel. If it was introduced in conjunction with the T4E plans for a 10 minute service on part of the 903 an option could be to start the 10 minute service at Mentone with every second trip starting at Mordialloc (20 min service).
* 381 and 385 to the Hurstbridge line: Both these routes, operating in the Mernda area are poorly used, especially on non-school days and weekends where 5 to 10 boardings per service hour are recorded. Eastern portions of them provide a metropolitan style service through semi-rural areas to Diamond Creek and Greensborough respectively. There are also partial overlaps with the 901 SmartBus. A saving could be to join 381 and 385 at Yarrambat to form a loop route (preferably bidirectional with the two route numbers retained) with potential school time extensions to the east where needed. A less radical approach could, in conjunction with local network revisons, have only one full-time route between Mernda and the Hurstbridge line.
* 733's southern portion: Route 733 is one of the most busiest and productive bus routes in Melbourne. It is also grossly underserviced, particularly weekday interpeak and on Sundays. Patronage though tends to be concentrated in the portion between Clayton and Box Hill where it provides unique coverage and serves key trip generators. This is unlike the southern portion where a large part overlaps the 703 along Centre Rd. A possible saving could be to terminate the 733 at Clayton and operate the Oakleigh portion as a separate neighbourhood route. More on the 733 here. Savings here could go into upgrading 733's frequency on its busiest portion (which is one of the ten routes earmarked for upgrade in the T4E plan).
* Transdev routes in the CBD: Many routes run along Queen St. These include the 235 and 237 to Port Melbourne. These are well used routes but most passengers board at Southern Cross Station. Opportunities may exist to save resources if buses could be shortened to terminate nearer to Southern Cross.
Deleting individual routes and reducing hours and frequencies are the lazy ways to save money with buses. They can leave some areas without coverage and introduce inefficiencies of their own. And they can cause patronage loss, such as happened in the early 1990s.
A more positive approach is to critically examine the network for places where overlapping routes could be simplified and other routes could be extended or boosted in frequency to compensate. These 'swings and roundabouts' revisions are easier to sell as there's gains as well as losses. And by making services simpler you can set them up to win increased patronage, higher fares revenue and potential future service increases.
Numerous examples are presented in the Useful Network series. Areas and groups of routes where there are particular opportunities to cut duplication include:
* 606/600/922/923: Major scope exists to simplify service along a bayside strip from Port Melbourne to Sandringham and inland to Southland while reducing duplication and saving money. Discussed here.
* Footscray - Highpoint corridor: Route 223 reflects an old tram route. Route 406 runs a different route between the two centres. Neither offer a simple 7 day turn-up and go service. Also most of Route 223 south of Footscray is near other routes such as the 472 on Williamstown Rd. Scope exists to merge these routes to provide a simpler and cheaper frequent service every 10 minutes with benefits for Victoria University as per the T4E proposal. More here.
* 903 SmartBus overlaps: Route 903 SmartBus overlaps with numerous routes in Melbourne's north and west including Route 527 near Coburg, 465 near Essendon and 232 and 411 in Altona North. Route 903's frequency does not harmonise with local trains in the area. Scope exists to reform local networks to reduce overlap and improve frequency on the routes that remain to provide a simpler service every 10 minutes that better feeds trains. Reducing overlap also gives scope to extend SmartBuses to new areas including Highpoint and Footscray.
* 901 and 902 SmartBus overlaps: The north-eastern segment of both these SmartBus routes often overlap one another or traverse low density semi-rural areas that hardly justify an infrequent local bus. Despite two SmartBuses in the area neither offer a direct connection between the area's two biggest centres, that is Greensborough and Doncaster Shoppingtown. Scope exists to swap Routes 901 and 902 in the area to provide this connection on the 902. The 901 could then be split with the rural portion being served by a lower frequency route optimised to feed local trains. Other overlaps exist on low patronage Foote St (between 902 and 280/282 and 309) and higher patronage Doncaster Rd (with 907).
* Buses in Templestowe/Greensborough/Eltham/St Helena/Diamond Creek/Hurstbridge area: Much of the north-east area has lower than average suburban population density. It has a middle-class profile with high car ownership. However it has unusually frequent buses with a tendency for recent governments to layer routes on top of one another. This has led to the area being overserviced with duplicative routes that often run at frequencies that don't meet trains. Large scope exists to simplify local buses, connect them better with trains and use savings to build up service on popular connections to major shopping, job, health and educational centres including La Trobe University, Northland, Heidelberg and Doncaster Shoppingtown. More here.
* 531/538 in Campbellfield: Is it possible to be over and under serving the same place? Yes. Look at the residential area of Campbellfield. Two routes ply the same streets. However both operate 5 or 6 days per week only and have short operating hours. A network review could reduce the number of routes without cutting coverage while delivering 7 day service and longer hours. More here.
I've reviewed a few cases where scope may exist for our bus network to be made more cost-effective. No doubt there are many more. Please comment below if you find any or think some of the above are unjustified.
You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics
Steven Higashide The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees
Jarrett WalkerTransport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees
(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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