Small wins: 703 bus to be improved

Apologies for this very much locally focused (and possibly over-long) blog post:

The main bus route through Bentleigh (both the suburb and the highly marginal state seat), the east-west 703 along Centre Road, is getting a slight upgrade.

It doesn’t seem to have been announced yet, but eagle-eyed timetable watcher Craig Halsall spotted it: on Sundays it will finally run the entire route to Brighton.

Route 703: Melbourne’s fourth busiest bus route

The 703 runs from Brighton to Blackburn, and was one of the first two routes upgraded to run as a Smartbus — every 15 minutes on weekdays, with realtime information at major stops. Patronage on all the Smartbus routes grew strongly following the upgrades. (703 passenger numbers growth was the slowest of all the Smartbuses, but patronage still rose by 49% from 2002 to 2010).

PTV data says the 703 was the 4th busiest bus route in Melbourne in 2014-15, with 2.2 million journeys.

Counting weekdays only, it’s also ranked 4th, though on weekends it’s lower: 6th on Saturdays, 8th on Sundays. This perhaps reflects that its major destination is Monash University, which sees most of its traffic on weekdays. But that’s still pretty good for a route that doesn’t serve any very large shopping centres.

Recently the 703 has benefited from the removal of the Bentleigh level crossing. Anecdotally it seems this has helped punctuality, though the real boost will come when the notorious Clayton crossing is grade separated in 2018.

What’s being fixed?

One of the problems with the 703 is that since the 1990s, the Bentleigh to Brighton section hasn’t run on Sundays.

It’s finally being fixed. From December, buses will run the full length of the route every day.

This is good news — it helps improve the network by providing 7-day connectivity between the Frankston and Sandringham lines, and also makes the service easier to understand.

Access for residents of Clayton and Bentleigh to the beach and shops at Brighton will become easier, as well as Sunday trips from Brighton and the western end of Bentleigh to the Bentleigh shops, Glen Eira Swimming and Aquatic Centre (GESAC) and Clayton and Monash Uni.

What’s not being fixed?

Alas, other than Sunday running the full route, only tweaks seem to have been made to the new timetable.

They don’t seem to have taken the opportunity to fix some of the other problems along the route. The main issue is that it’s the only Smartbus route that doesn’t meet Smartbus standards, nor even the service span of most local routes:

  • Services terminate earlier than any other Smartbus routes, with last buses as early as 8:04pm on weekdays (compared to midnight for other Smartbuses, and 9pm for most local routes)
  • Evening frequencies are also poor, with gaps of over an hour in some cases — particularly annoying is the gap eastbound from Brighton (between the 7:34pm and 8:38pm buses), given there’s an out of service depot run that could fix this.
  • In fact, the 15 minute frequency drops off after about 6:45pm on weekdays. In contrast, many Smartbus routes run every 15 minutes until about 9pm.
  • Sunday services will still be every 40-45 minutes, not half-hourly as on the other Smartbuses

No doubt this reflects that the only funding supplied by the government was to run the full route on Sundays.

The other issue worth noting is weekday peak hour crowding, though this is exacerbated by delays caused at the Clayton station level crossing. Fixing this, unlike evening and weekend services, would require fleet expansion, not just extra driver shifts. Hopefully the problem will largely go away when the crossing is removed.

Crowding also occurs on weekends in the Clayton area. (The photo below is from a university open day, but similar crowding happens every weekend.)

There’s also a wide range of bus infrastructure, particularly in relation to on-road priority, which could improve the route.

Monash Open Day 2012: A long wait (40 mins) then a packed 703 bus

The 703 is a political issue

The 703 was the subject of a 2010 election pledge, and was raised multiple times in parliament just last week.

Bentleigh MP Nick Staikos on 11th October:

The action I seek is that the minister implements a change to the 703 timetable that will see it run all the way to Middle Brighton on Sundays. The 703 is the most popular bus route in my electorate. Millions of trips are taken on the 703 each year — it is indeed a SmartBus. It is a bus route that connects our community with various railway stations and also Monash University. Currently on Sundays the service terminates at Bentleigh station. It does not go all the way to Middle Brighton. It is something that the Brumby government sought to address at the 2010 state election. It was not implemented in the subsequent term, but it is nonetheless a change that is needed and wanted by the community.

Note that the Brumby 2010 election pledge was to completely upgrade the route to Smartbus standards — not just the Sunday change now being implemented. Brumby of course lost that election.

Turns out Mr Staikos was not the only MP to specifically mention this route last week — so did the Opposition’s Michael Gidley, representing users at the northern end of the route:

The action I seek is for the minister to stop stalling on implementing the work done by the previous Liberal-Nationals state government and turn Labor’s shoddy, short-changed, shortcut SmartBus route 703 into an actual SmartBus route and to stop dudding the good residents of my district.

If you have a look at the SmartBus project on the Public Transport Victoria website and also the former Department of Transport site, it is very clear what that bus service should be. It should run as a high-frequency bus service every 15 minutes between 6.30 a.m. and 9.00 p.m. Its frequency should average every 30 minutes between 5.00 a.m. and 6.30 a.m., and it should run on average every 30 minutes between 9.00 p.m. and midnight on weekdays. It should also run between 6.00 a.m. and midnight on Saturdays and public holidays at 30-minute intervals, and run on average at a 30-minute frequency between 7.00 a.m. and 9.00 p.m. on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day.

He raises some good points (see the full speech for more), though it’s a little cheeky to demand Labor fix the route in 2016, when his side had government from 2010 to 2014 and did absolutely nothing about it.

Towards the end of his speech he specifically mentions the Sunday/Middle Brighton problem. Little did he know a fix was in the works.

703 bus stop, Bentleigh

What next? When will we see more widespread bus upgrades?

There is huge potential for a bus route like this. It already helps relieve car parks by feeding thousands of people each day into the railway stations and strip shopping centres it serves, as well as Monash University. Improving evening frequencies in particular could help cement this by ensuring people don’t have a long wait on the way home, and would use the existing bus fleet, so should not be expensive.

Bringing the 703 up to full Smartbus standards would provide a lot of benefits to local bus and train users in the area. And of course many other areas around Melbourne also need similar frequent bus routes.

In coming years there are a couple of good opportunities to reform buses in the southeastern suburbs:

Level crossing removals along the Dandenong line will provide a big boost to bus service reliability for many of the bus routes in the area. Connections at stations are likely to improve, and it may be a chance to straighten-out some routes.

And during the project, given construction traffic delays and station car park closures, more should be done to encourage people to catch buses to the station instead of driving.

The Southland station opening in 2017 is also a chance to review local buses, given some bus users heading to Southland Shopping Centre are likely to switch to trains. This applies equally to people in areas like East Brighton and South Oakleigh who want to go to Southland — the most convenient way might be by bus to Bentleigh then by train — provided the connecting bus is good enough.

Let’s hope the government makes the most of these opportunities to fund more bus upgrades that will provide more options to leave the car at home.

Bentleigh Uniting Church takes a stand

Many around Australia would know of the Gosford Anglican Church, thanks to Father Rod Bower and his famous signs.

A couple of weeks ago this sign appeared at the Bentleigh Uniting Church. It now seems to have disappeared in favour their more usual list of events.

It pleases me to see messages like this.

Immigration, and the mandatory detention of refugees, is a difficult issue. I’m not going to pretend that I know of a simple answer that both treats people humanely and deters and prevents drownings at sea, but the current position of taking desperate people, locking them up off-shore at arms length from Australian law and responsibility, often ignoring concerns, and particularly the secrecy involved, is something that troubles me greatly.

Right now we as a nation are trying to put past crimes, such as church sexual abuse, in the spotlight. I wonder if in decades to come we’ll be regretting and investigating our current treatment of asylum seekers in a similar way.

I hope the sign got a few people thinking more about this issue, and possible solutions.

The chains of Bentleigh

My local suburb is increasing in density, and (not entirely disconnected from that) it’s also interesting to see how the retail strip is doing.

The shopping centre has grown around the railway station, which is still the epicentre, though the east side of the tracks is where most of the busiest shops are located.

The chain stores (often referred to as “anchor tenants”) have maintained their presence here, and in fact new ones are moving in.

  • The banks may have pulled out of many suburbs (leaving only an ATM of you’re lucky) but the big four (Commonwealth, ANZ, and Westpac, as well as Westpac subsidiary Bank Of Melbourne) are staying. NAB strangely doesn’t list their branch on their own web site, but I’d swear there is one near the station (see above).
  • The three big supermarkets Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have branches. No IGA though – there is one in nearby East Bentleigh.
  • Target is on the site of an old Coles variety store
  • Medicare was here until last year; it’s now closed. But there is a post office and dealers for Telstra and Vodafone.
  • Real estate agent offices abound: chains include Woodards, Buxton, Hocking Stuart, Hodges, Century 21.
  • Flight Centre and some smaller chains such as Glick’s bagels, Cartridge World, Discount Lollie Shop and Paint Spot. Brumbys and Baker’s Delight also have branches
  • And food giant of the moment Domino’s pizza, as well as Crust Pizza and Nandos chicken and Subway are all here, though other fast food outlets such as Maccas, KFC and Hungry Jack’s seem to prefer to be on the highways or major arterial roads.

All these chains sit alongside hundreds of individual retailers, who while they might compete, are probably glad that the chains are there to bring in the shoppers.

Chemist Warehouse, Bentleigh

The newest chain store arrivals are Mexican restaurant Taco Bill’s and Chemist Warehouse, the latter taking up residence just a couple of doors from Priceline… they must be delighted.

I suspect restaurants benefit from more local competition, growing the local market of diners. I’m not sure the same can be said for chemists. 

Despite the utilitarian warehouse design of Chemist Warehouse (well, it is in the name), I don’t mind them — though I’m always amused by their advertising. “Australia’s Cheapest Chemist” it proclaims, but if you look closely it actually says “Is this?” in front of that. So technically they’re not making the claim, they’re asking the question. Hmmmmmmm.

Moved to Chemist Warehouse, Bentleigh

It turns out Chemist Warehouse is not a new pharmacy — it’s a moved and rebranded one. Perhaps not a surprise – the Pharmacy Guild has strict location rules preventing too many chemists in one area.

These rules were recently extended by the government until at least 2020:

Rules that restrict new pharmacies from opening near existing pharmacies will be extended for another five years despite numerous government-commissioned reviews recommending they be abolished. — SMH 18/5/2015

That aside, rebranding is a clever move. I rarely saw anybody go into the old chemist. The new one has brand recognition and more promotion — and already, from what I’ve seen, is getting a lot more customers.

I guess that’s the advantages of being part of a chain.

Other rail-based suburbs I’ve lived in, such as Murrumbeena and Glen Huntly, may not have the benefits of lots of chains, but it’s pleasing to see them still getting customers in, thanks to things like quality local cafes.

Hopefully all these local centres will continue to thrive. They’re so much more interesting than the malls.

Bentleigh getting denser – and that’s fine by me

With Ormond likely to get its tower (whatever the height might be), what of other nearby suburbs?

The transition is already underway in Bentleigh and many other areas. Around the station, numerous developments are going up.

And in principle, I have no problem with this.

  • Melbourne’s population continues to grow. People have to live somewhere, and placing them close to jobs and services and infrastructure is better than having our city continue to sprawl.
  • Close to the shopping centre and the station and bus routes is the best place for this, to increase the chances of people being able to walk to what they need.

Buildings along the main street (Centre Road) in particular make sense. Car parks behind the shops provide a buffer that can help prevent shadowing onto single storey homes.

The residential zones introduced a couple of years ago mean this is spreading to nearby streets. But heights are staggered as you move away from the station, so it seems workable to me. Here’s how it looks in Bentleigh.

Planning scheme: Bentleigh
(Source: Planning Schemes Online. Downloaded 26/7/2016. May have changed since.)

  • C1Z – no specific height limit (but still subject to planning approval of course)
  • PUZ2 – school*
  • PUZ4 – railway lines – as I understand it, if developed there is no specific height limit
  • PUZ6 – Public Use Zone – these all seem to be car parks
  • RGZ1 – Residential Growth – 13.5m / 4 storey limit
  • GRZ1/2 – General Residential – 10.5m / 3 storey limit
  • NRZ1 – Neighbourhood Residential – 8m / 2 storey limit
  • MUZ1 – Mixed Use – no specific height limit*

*not in Bentleigh, but in Carnegie – see below

“Inner” Bentleigh today

Bentleigh has had densification of various types over the years.

In the 70s and 80s, some blocks of flats went up, mostly 2 storeys, many of which are still around today — though nowhere near the numbers you see in inner suburbs like St Kilda.

Campbell St, Bentleigh

Since the 90s there has been a lot of subdividing. Back yards have shrunk, with either new houses being built behind old ones (this is the case behind my old house) or houses being removed and replaced with 2-3 homes, typically semi-detached townhouses.

Meanwhile a lot of homes have had extensions, increasing capacity but not necessarily occupancy.
Campbell St, Bentleigh

Buildings are bigger closer to the station. Below you can see the main street, Centre Road, a retail and residential building about five years old. It’s big, but you barely notice it at street level if you’re walking around looking at the shops. If it built were today, I’d be surprised if they didn’t aim higher.
Aldi, Centre Road

The zones above, introduced a couple of years have triggered a lot more apartment developments off Centre Road. Below is Mavho Street (3 storey limit on the west side), looking towards the Aldi building pictured above.
Mavho St, Bentleigh

Lorrane Street: This one has just been completed. It’s not really a surprise that all the recent and current developments go right up to their zone’s height limit.
Loranne St, Bentleigh

Bent Street: It’s not hard to anticipate that many of the homes in the RGZ1 4 storey zone will be re-developed in this way in coming years.
Bent St, Bentleigh

Clearly some home owners have seen the writing (and the dollar signs?) on the wall.
Bent St, Bentleigh

At the southern end of Bentleigh (near Patterson Station), and also in Mckinnon, there’s been development around the shopping centre. Despite the garage doors facing onto the street (not ideal for pedestrians), I find the scale and look of these homes quite appealing.
Philip Street, Bentleigh (near Patterson Road)

With my local resident hat on, I would like the benefits of my suburb to be available to more people, so I see nothing wrong with this, provided designs are good, nobody is forced out, and anybody who does sell up to developers is doing well out of the transaction.

If anything, I think the 3-4 storey limits should be allowed a little further from the station.

Of course there are many lovely older homes that should be preserved. Height limits across most of the area (away from the station) can help with this, but inevitably won’t save them all.

The commercial zone along the main street should be developed to ensure it includes destinations, not just residences, to increase local employment and activity — rather than the area being just a dormitory suburb. (It’s good to see the chain stores/anchor tenants are staying put in the shopping centre.)

As I said above, it makes sense to increase urban density in areas with good access to services and infrastructure. It’s good to see it happening.

Planning schemes elsewhere

Also worth looking at: the area around Carnegie and Murrumbeena.

Planning scheme: Carnegie and Murrumbeena
(Source: Planning Schemes Online. Downloaded 26/7/2016. May have changed since.)

This is particularly interesting in the context of the skyrail debate; most of the areas alongside the rail line have 3-4 storeys permitted (higher immediately around the stations), though when and if this occurs of course, nobody knows.

How is it in your neighbourhood? It’s worth finding out, especially if you’re planning on buying, and/or living there for a while.

Frankston line: the big dig

So this is what it looks like when hundreds of millions of dollars worth of infrastructure gets built rapidly in your neighbourhood.

Here are some photos and video of the first week of major works on the Bentleigh/Mckinnon/Ormond level crossings.

(Click any photo to view it larger at Flickr — or click here to view the entire album of photos as a slideshow.)

The end result will be three stations below road level, but first all the dirt has to be dug out.

150 (double) dump trucks are doing an hourly circuit between the work sites and a quarry in Dingley, taking away the dirt. Here a queue of trucks on the north side of Ormond station.
Ormond station, 28/6/2016

The view on the south side of North Road, digging out the rail line between Ormond and Mckinnon.
Ormond station, 28/6/2016

Loading up trucks between Ormond and Mckinnon.
South of Ormond station, 28/6/2016

Some people want a crossing at Murray Road, midway between Ormond and Mckinnon. For now, there is one, for loading up more trucks. This is smack bang in the middle of a residential area. Accommodation has been offered to those most affected by the works.
Murray Road, 28/6/2016

Temporary traffic lights are up at the end of Murray Road, to stop traffic so trucks can turn onto Jasper Road. Gotta keep the trucks moving.
Temporary traffic lights at Murray Road/Jasper Road, 28/6/2016

The hole in the ground formerly known as Mckinnon station, on the north side of the road.
Mckinnon station works, 28/6/2016

No shortage of interest from the locals, and from what I hear, many visitors from elsewhere around Melbourne are coming to have a look.
Onlookers watch the Mckinnon station works, 28/6/2016

Some shops have been affected so badly by the works that they’ve virtually given up.
Mckinnon shop, 28/6/2016

The view from near Mckinnon, looking south down Nicholson Street towards Bentleigh.
Nicholson Street, Mckinnon, looking south 28/6/2016

Nicholson Street, parallel to the railway line, is currently One Way so trucks can enter from the north, be loaded up with dirt, then head south and then east down Centre Road. I wonder how the garbage is being collected? Wouldn’t the garbage trucks only have claws on the left hand side?
Bin day on Nicholson Street, 28/6/2016

At Bentleigh station.
Bentleigh station, 28/6/2016

Part of the deck at Bentleigh station was built after the third track closed and the old station was demolished.
Bentleigh station looking north, 28/6/2016

Bentleigh station, 28/6/2016

Traffic controllers stop westbound cars on Centre Road to allow the trucks (with their large turning circle) to turn out of Nicholson Street (north side) and Burgess Street (south side) to turn in and head towards the quarry.
Centre Road, Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

The trucks come through every few minutes on the truck routes. Here a convoy comes through Bentleigh shopping centre, where parking “adjustments” (eg restrictions) have been in place for about a week, as have traffic light modifications to help keep the trucks moving.
Trucks rolling through Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

Despite the noise and road closures, the workers are getting on well with the locals. This bloke was asking the lady about her garden.
Burgess Street, Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

Queuing dump trucks in Burgess Street, south of Bentleigh station. I think if I lived here, I’d have taken the accommodation offer.
Burgess Street, Bentleigh, 28/6/2016

Nice to see a Hitachi on the rails again. The view from Brewer Road, south of the three stations, looking north.
View from Brewer Road, looking north towards Bentleigh 28/6/2016

On Wednesday night there were plenty of onlookers at Bentleigh. Some parents bring their kids out for an evening walk in their pyjamas to have a look. Buses aren’t currently diverted, but some overnight road closures have occurred.
Bentleigh station, south side, 29/6/2016

Looking south from Bentleigh towards Patterson.
Bentleigh looking south, 29/6/2016

Looking north from Bentleigh, as yet another truck passes by.
Bentleigh station looking north, 29/6/2016

North side at Bentleigh, where the station will be.
Bentleigh station looking north, 29/6/2016

The trucks are having a noise impact along the routes to Dingley:

We cannot sleep with the constant noise of trucks during the night. They need to stop these trucks during the night or reroute to alternate roads on every second night so that we can at least get a decent nights sleep occasionally. One day I was sitting at the East Boundary Rd. / South Rd corner traffic lights and counted 28 trucks going in all directions during a minute duration. It is unbearable!K Hills

And inevitably, dirt and dust is getting everywhere. The project team has promised they’ll clean up the roads… I wonder if that extends to cleaning cars as well?
A dump truck passes parked cars in Bentleigh, 29/6/2016

But the good news is that progress has been significant. If all goes to schedule, most of the digging should be finished early next week.

Finally, for all the construction geeks and their kids who love watching this stuff on Youtube, here’s 90 seconds of digging… view it full screen at Youtube to see it in all its glory.

See also: