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Weekends are the busiest times for major regional shopping centres. They are when their core working affluent customer base is most likely to be free to shop. Especially in the lead-up to Christmas parking is at a premium and surrounding roads are clogged.
So people may jump at the opportunity for alternative travel options if they're reasonably available. Especially at bigger centres where the focus is more on experiences (eg cinemas), services (eg whatever women get done to their nails) or small/light items (eg clothing and jewellery) rather than groceries or bulky goods.
Public transport mode share to large centres is higher than to smaller centres but still quite low. Many shopping centres are remote from stations. Key shopping centre bus routes, such as 468 to Highpoint and 800 to Chadstone, do not run 7 days. Other routes are infrequent. Nevertheless parking pressures and the retail sector's dependence on young casual employees (not all of whom drive) present opportunities for public transport if a job-ready service is provided.
Where the 7 day frequent service is
The Melbourne Public Transport Frequent Network Map extract below shows where the 7 day frequent service is. It's largely confined to trams and a few lucky train and bus corridors. Most are near the CBD. Only a handful pass regional shopping centres or connect them to key catchments.
What frequent service do the big shopping centres have
Centres like Highpoint, Box Hill and Southland have 7 day frequent service in two main directions. Eastland, Dandenong, Knox City, Frankston and Chadstone have it in one. The vast majority of centres including Watergardens, Werribee Plaza, Doncaster, The Glen, Forest Hill Chase, Craigieburn, Epping Plaza, Fountain Gate, Cranbourne have it in none. Only a small fraction of people within even 5 km of their nearest large centre have 7-day frequent service to it.
Major centres need frequent service in at least eight directions
To reasonably connect major inland centres to their immediate surrounds you need frequent service in at least eight directions. Even more directions would be nice. And this would be appropriate for somewhere with a large catchment (eg the CBD). But beyond a certain point the overlaps become so great for increasing distances that it becomes more efficient to add frequent cross routes with stops at intersections to easily feed radial routes.
Getting to 8 directions is cheaper than you might think. Some centres, like Doncaster and Box Hill, are at or close to this on weekdays. Weekend frequency boosts may be the main things required.
A simpler bus network with fewer but more frequent routes could help other centres. For example Chadstone currently has a 15 minute service in four directions (north, south, east and west) on its two SmartBus routes as shown below.
There are large 'holes' on popular corridors where there is no frequent service to Chadstone. Some can be plugged by reforming the existing network to reach our desired eight directions. For example (easiest first):
* Princes Hwy to Monash University: Evenly space 802/804/862 trips for a combined 15 min service. In longer term simplify to two 7-day routes every 30 min each, evenly spaced.
* Ferntree Gully Rd: Extend Route 693 to Chadstone. Stagger to evenly space with 742 trips for combined 15 min service. (Longer term network reform discussed at Useful Network Part 16).
* Neerim Rd: Remove Route 623 from Dandenong Rd (other routes eg 900 have since been added). Route it and all 624 trips via Murrumbeena and Neerim Rd with the half-hourly services staggered by 15 minutes to provide a frequent service. Longer term merge routes for simpler service.
* Murrumbeena Rd/East Boundary Rd: Network reform based on consolidating 822 with the new 627 to provide a simple 15 minute service with other local changes.
Other corridors with merit involve 767 north along Huntingdale Rd (double frequency of Chadstone - Box Hill portion), 800 via Dandenong Rd (increase frequency from 20 to 15 minutes and 623 east along Waverley Rd (boost frequency). This would deliver eleven frequent corridors with benefits for numerous other smaller shopping centres and the network generally in the south-east. A map is below.
These simplified corridors would also be more amenable to weekend frequency upgrades. Priority routes, based on existing high usage, could include Wellington Rd (900), Princes Hwy (800, 802/804/862) and Neerim Rd (623/624).
Existing popularity of buses
So much for what could be a model future network. What about now?
We saw above the limited frequency of buses to our big shopping centres, particularly on weekends. Timetables can also be unreliable, largely due to a lack of bus priority. This means that cars of one or two people get to delay buses with 40 or 50 riders near centre entrances.
Despite all this weekend buses to suburban shopping centres are still popular. Some routes record their highest passenger boardings per bus hour results on weekends rather than during the week. The mismatch between service and demand has led to severe weekend crowding. For example Route 900 via Chadstone Shopping Centre has over 80 boardings per bus service hour on both Saturday and Sunday where it runs every 30 minutes. This makes it our most productive weekend bus route and well above the average of around 20. Nearby route 903 also has high usage in the Chadstone section.
Boost existing routes or introduce another?
There are several ways you could fix this problem.
The most obvious is to increase weekend frequencies on key routes serving major shopping centres. Candidate corridors for Chadstone were mentioned above. If you were to only upgrade one route it would be likely be the 900 due to its very high boardings per bus hour, especially on weekends. Secondly one might add short trips to augment existing 903 services where they are most stressed. Thirdly you would give 800, 802 and 804 seven day service and boost weekend frequencies on popular routes like the 623 (currently hourly).
Another approach, similar to that done for the universities, is to leave existing route timetables as they are and introduce a weekend shuttle service from a nearby station. That would improve connections from the nearby Dandenong line to Chadstone. It could relieve crowding on existing through routes like 900. However its benefits are confined to those who can walk to a Dandenong line station. Plus you're adding another layer of complexity to an already complex network with a part-time route.
The new Route 700
Despite above reservations, a dedicated shuttle is the option favoured by the powers that be. A trial Oakleigh Station - Chadstone weekend shuttle bus recently commenced service. It's route number 700, a reused number from the pre-orbital days when Ventura's Mordialloc to Box Hill route was the main service between Oakleigh and Chadstone.
Route 700's map (below) appears on the new PTV website but not the old one. A written route description appears on the old PTV website.
Route 700 has some unusual features. The first is that its Melbourne's only weekend-only bus route. The only route that comes close to this pattern is the 695F to Fountain Gate which runs Friday afternoons, Saturdays and Sundays. If you wish to travel from Oakleigh to Chadstone on a weekday you'll still have to negotiate numerous regular routes (which together provide a very frequent though complex combined service).
Apart from the 695F dedicated weekend routes were phased out about 10 years ago. They date from when regular routes ran Monday to Saturday. In some areas (eg around Frankston) a less direct Sunday route would operate to provide bare-bones coverage at times the regular route didn't. Or the Sunday service may be in the form of a 7-day route being extended beyond its regular terminus to serve an area that had only 6-day routes. Examples include Sunshine West and Melton.
Secondly 700 is a seasonal route. It started last week. It will run through the pre-Christmas period then through to the January sales. It finishes late January.
Thirdly it introduces (another) unique public holiday pattern. With two exceptions (681 and 682) all routes that run on Sundays also run on Christmas Day. 700 will increase that number to three. This is because Christmas is not a trading day at Chadstone.
Next Tuesday (Cup Day) Route 700 will operate to a special timetable with service from 9am to 7pm. This is another variation since it's not a straight Saturday or Sunday timetable that most other bus routes run on public holidays.
What about operating hours? 700 start at 8am on Saturday and an hour later on Sunday. Last buses from Chadstone leave just before 10pm on Saturday and 8pm on Sunday. These are an hour earlier and later than centre opening hours. I'm guessing that the special holiday patterns reflect Chadstone's core trading hours (some shops eg supermarkets may open outside these).
700's frequency most of the day is 8 minutes. However it doesn't reach this until an hour or two after first bus. Earlier trips are every 16 minutes. This shows that the route is intended for shoppers rather than workers some of whom would need to travel at these earlier times. However the 8 minute frequency is generously sustained until last bus.
Run times. They're critical to the success of a timetable. 700's are flat from morning to night. 7 minutes from Oakleigh to Chadstone and 9 minutes from Chadstone to Oakleigh is allowed. The arrival time on one timetable matches with the departure time on the other. Without dwell times the emphasis seems to be on keeping buses moving.
The constant (and possibly optimistic) run times appear not to take into account likely traffic congestion or longer passenger boarding times when the service is busy. There will need to be buses in reserve to ensure that the advertised regular 8 minute frequency is maintained even if travel times are not. The service could fail if there aren't.
Seeing how all this works in practice will be very interesting, especially as we approach Christmas. Active service management is essential. Cities that take buses seriously do this. We're less experienced at this; buses here mostly serve low frequency/low capacity local transit and feeder functions with less need to treat them as high frequency/high capacity rapid transit.
Given the volume of irregular/seasonal passengers, both Chadstone and Oakleigh probably need staffing to manage traffic, funnel passengers onto the shuttle (or other routes) and provide next service advice.
Improved passenger information is also desirable, given that (i) Oakleigh Station is currently a construction site and (ii) it's something missing from major interchanges, eg with individual bus stands lacking maps or directions to other routes. We could learn from experience gained from rail substitute bus services with their heavy flow of people making unfamiliar trips.
This has been our look at the new Route 700. While the university shuttles have been undeniable successes, is the same approach right for Chadstone? Or would it have been better simply to upgrade regular routes like 900 rather than adding (yet another) part-time route and making the network more complex?
And what about those run times? Are they reasonable or not? Please leave your comments below if you have thoughts on these or other topics related to the 700 and Chadstone buses.
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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