Melbourne’s slow confusing infrequent buses (no wonder most people drive)

A few years ago they fixed what was probably Melbourne’s most confusing bus route, but plenty of others are still running confusing, spaghetti-like routes around the suburbs. Often your trip from A to B travels via the rest of the alphabet.

Bus 825 mapA PTUA report out today tries to measure how much buses meander, by comparing the route distance to the quickest possible road route from start to end.

On average, bus routes were 70% longer than the direct alternative …

Some 20% of Melbourne bus routes were so indirect that the route length was more than double the shortest distance by road.

This results in routes which are not only confusing, they are slow to use, and generally infrequent (because more buses are needed to run the route if it is longer than it needs to be). The result is many bus routes are unattractive to those with an option of driving — resulting in under-used buses and increased traffic on the roads.

There is some hope: Smartbus. These have shown that more direct, frequent services are very popular, including in outer-suburban areas often thought to be the exclusive domain of the car.

In the Age story today on the report (and covering some other bus issues), PTV (which has expressed interest in the past about improving bus route efficiency) defends the current position:

…Public Transport Victoria said bus routes had to provide a balancing act between delivering speedy cross-town travel and serving locals on shorter trips.

Ah yes, but the current services aren’t very efficient at serving locals on shorter trips either.

For example, to get from Moorabbin (the area around the shops/station) to Southland, a distance of 3km (or about 5 minutes in a car), your choices are:

  • Bus 823, a bus direct down the highway taking 8 minutes, but it only runs once an hour on weekdays, and not at all on weekends
  • Bus 811/812, which goes via the industrial areas of Moorabbin, taking between 15 and 22 minutes (at least it runs every day, though only every 30 minutes on weekdays, and only hourly on weekends)
  • Bus 825, via Sandringham, Black Rock and Mentone, and taking 40 minutes (also runs every day; every 20 minutes on weekdays, but only hourly on weekends)
  • Or catch the train to Cheltenham (since as yet there is no Southland station), then walk for 15 minutes, or choose from one of half-a-dozen buses, departing from numerous different stops, and none of them timed to meet the train

No wonder most people drive.

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16 thoughts on “Melbourne’s slow confusing infrequent buses (no wonder most people drive)

  1. The report in The Age implied that this tendering was going to “fix” Melbourne’s buses, but it seems to me that all it’s going to do is deliver wads of cash to one operator, probably Ventura.

  2. Even bus routes that seem direct have mysterious diversions.

    In my area, route 506 falls into this category. It runs mostly straight along Glenlyon Rd / Dawson St towards Moonee Ponds, but when it gets to Pearson St, it inexplicably turns right, diverts along along Smith St for a few hundred metres, and then goes back onto Dawson St. I have always wondered just what the point of this is.

    Map here:

    Also, it’s the most frequent bus service in this area (12 min in peak, 20 off peak) – and yet it’s the only one that doesn’t run on Sundays.

  3. Should we have two types of bus routes then. One that does take the meandering route so that it can pick up/drop off passengers much closer to their origin/destination and then ones like the Smart Buses that go from A to B as quickly and direct as possible.
    This would seem to take advantage of the fact that a bus can go almost anywhere because it doesn’t have tracks to follow.
    This is a sort of case of the perceived slowness being caused by the very flexibility of the service and as PTV says, its a balancing act.

  4. Another annoyance is odd frequencies. The South Morang and Hurstbridge lines run at 20 minute frequencies, but connecting buses such as the 517, 555, 556 and 567 run at 22 or 24 minute frequencies. Weird frequencies like that make it hard to both connect with trains and remember or work out the timetable.

  5. Yeah I reckon they should have smaller buses going all over the place and dropping people at major bus stops on main roads, then bigger buses going direct along those roads and stopping at the major stops, which might be 1.5 km apart instead of the current 200-400 m spacings. That would speed things up for the long distances and keep the convenience of bus stops close to houses. Could that work?

  6. Daniel, your mention of SmartBus reminded me of the DART service which has been operating for a while now. I have heard some (unofficial) reports that patronage numbers haven’t been all that great – have you got any information on this? From my experience catching the service it appears that a lot of the non-peak buses run very low numbers, which is disappointing.

  7. Passengers per vehicle km seems like a very odd measure, should it not be passenger-km per vehicle-km ?

  8. How about nightrider services also! I haven’t used it for such a long time but I think it wasn’t running during the early hours of the morning on weekdays or on Sunday evening – early Monday morning. Not every event in the city is on Friday or Saturday nights! So I gave up on Nightrider. Not catching a taxi because its too expensive and I have had to direct the taxi driver to where I live – even though they have GPS!
    So now I drive and park in the city for $10 and don’t drink.

  9. @enno – No, passenger km vs. bus km doesn’t tell you much. It doesn’t tell you how much in fares you’ve collected, how many passengers you’ve carried, all it tells you is how far they’ve travelled, which in itself isn’t useful. Especially if your buses take crazy paths that go around in spaghetti shapes.

  10. Your ad is trying to get me to buy a car Daniel… isn’t that similar to car ads at train stations?

    Buses should just run in pretty much straight lines, down arterial roads, often. Most people live within 400m of an arterial road. If you can walk there, you can catch a bus to virtually anywhere else within 400m of an arterial road by making one change. Obviously if there are rivers or other land marks cutting up your grid you may need to make more than one change, but that should be the basic structure.

  11. That bus route would be a lot more useful if they closed the loop. Local loop buses could be a good idea as there would be one bus to connect locals to everywhere they might need to go, with connecting trains or buses covering longer trips.

  12. @Paul, was there once some destination in that diversion on route 506, such as a school or community centre? It’s not uncommon for the buses to divert for some spot that has long since closed.

    @PaulK, there is some merit to having a two-tier bus system; the main road buses, offering “tram-like” routes and frequency, and a secondary less-frequent feeder system for those unable or unwilling to walk a few hundred metres to their nearest main road.

    @Philip, small buses don’t work very well. The main cost of running buses is the driver. Smaller buses in the fleet have to be more carefully juggled as they are severely restricted in the services they can run; most of the bus companies don’t consider the additional cost of having them to be worth it.

    @Mark, I don’t know if there are DART figures available. There is concern over off-peak services because unlike other Smartbus routes (and trams and trains) there is a lack of travel destinations along the routes. There was also a lack of promotion when DART started.

    @Markk, I’m not convinced on loops; nobody wants to go around in circles! In any case, the 825 is through-routed to the 824, which heads out east along South Road, and provides a useful link from Sandringham to the TAFE and destinations further east. But yes, a more frequent, direct link along the highway would help a lot, at least until Southland station is built, when the train could take most of those trips.

  13. Having looked at that some more, it seems they want to count the number of people boarding the bus per km travelled. Its a measure of how many people the bus is likely to pick up at the stops along its route.

    Thats not necessarily a good measure.

    If you fill a bus with 40 people at Healesville and drive non-stop express to the CBD, you have performed 1600 person-km of transportation, and you have an average statistic by your measure of 1 passenger boarding per km the bus travels.

    If only 6 people get on the bus at Healesville, and then the bus stops every 1 km along the road and two people get off and two different people get on, then by the time the bus gets to the CBD it has only performed 240 person-km of transportation, and has used up twice as much of the bus and driver’s valuable time, yet its statistic by your measure is a more meritorious 2 boardings per bus-km.

    The first bus has serviced 40 people and carried them an average of 40 km each. The second bus has serviced about 82 people but only carried them an average of 3 km each.

    Both of those buses provide a useful service, but comparing them is somewhat like comparing apples and oranges. The first bus has delivered substantially more economic value than the second. I remain unconvinced that the boardings-per-bus-km statistic has any particular merit.

  14. @Phillip. Smaller Buses are currently run in a suburb outside Toronto while they do help on turning radius they actually don’t save much in costs since labour costs are a major part in running PT and as Daniel said its a nightmare dispatching them as buses can run on different routes or hit a point in the route such as a High School bell meet or a train meet (Don’t know if that exists in Melbourne) which requires a larger capacity bus.

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