Bentleigh area bus routes: Don’t just tinker; we need a proper plan

As we move towards the election, in the marginal seat of Bentleigh, candidates are rightly pondering public transport issues. Trains are already getting a makeover thanks to recent frequency increases and the Bayside rail project.

So then… what of the buses? These are important — many people use (or could use, if they were better) buses to access their nearest station, as well for local trips.

This applies all across Melbourne of course, but I’m going to look at some specifics in the Bentleigh electorate.

Significant routes in the electorate include the not-quite Smartbus 703 (east-west along Centre Road), 822 (north-south along East Boundary Road), and the 630 (east-west along North Road). There are numerous other routes as well.

Glen Eira/Bentleigh area buses

The candidates’ proposals

Elizabeth Miller (sitting; Liberal) — as far as I’m aware has not expressed a particular view on buses, though in the past when I have asked she has enquired with PTV on the 703, and reported back that they believe an upgrade between Bentleigh and Clayton is warranted due to demand/crowding, but that Bentleigh to Brighton may not be viable (eg on Sundays) as there isn’t sufficient demand. Not sure how you measure demand when the service doesn’t run.

  • 12/9/2014: A commenter below notes a petition being distributed by Elizabeth calling for the 822 bus to stay where it is.

Nick Staikos (Labor) — Nick has a petition (which I have signed) running on moving the 822 out of the side streets onto East Boundary Road, as a way of better serving Glen Eira Swimming and Aquatic Centre (GESAC). He’s also said we should expect bus-specific policies from Labor in the near future, and noted that Labor policy at the last election was to upgrade all of route 703 to full Smartbus status. (Will update when/if anything is announced.)

  • 12/9/2014: It’s unclear if Nick supports other changes in the 2010 bus reviews, but at Wednesday’s MTF forum, he made it clear that he is aware of them.

Sean Mulcahy (Greens) — agrees with moving the 822, but has told me he wants to see it done as part of wider network reform.

  • 12/9/2014: Sean said at Wednesday’s MTF forum that the Greens policy is to implement all the bus review proposals, subject to community consultation.

Chandra Ojha (Independent) — wants to see service upgrades on route 703, and also other routes including 701, 626, 630 and 824.

(I’ll update this section as other policy positions emerge.)

The 2010 bus reviews

The 2009-2010 bus reviews included a great deal of local input, and came up with a variety of proposed changes that would work together as a network.

Broadly, routes categorised as Principal or Main were proposed to be straightened-out and made more direct (which is a good thing if you want more people to consider bus travel against driving their cars). Local routes fill in the gaps for people unable to walk to a Principal or Main route.

Some changes were flagged as requiring road upgrades first, such as traffic lights so that buses can more easily make right hand turns into main roads.

Bentleigh area, proposed bus routes from 2010 reviews

I’m going to go into some detail here, as the proposed changes were not widely publicised. Skip over this bit if you’re not interested in the specifics.

Principal routes

630: proposed to get better timetables to benefit the Huntingdale to Monash end (this happened indirectly with the introduction of the 601 shuttle), and an extension at the western end to St Kilda

703: adjustments to the route in Brighton to make it more consistent with other routes

767: straightened out to continue down Bignell Road (may require traffic signals at South Road), and peak-hour deviations removed

811/812: combine into one route, and remove peak-hour deviations through Moorabbin (replaced by changes to 631), and minor changes in Brighton and around Southland

823: Extend to run from Elsternwick to Mordialloc along Nepean Highway, and more frequently

Main routes

822: Truncate at Southland (instead of running to Sandringham), and move it off the side-streets behind GESAC to run direct down East Boundary Road (Marlborough Road section replaced by 701)

825: Extend existing route Sandringham to Moorabbin up to Caulfield via Jasper Road (arguably this duplicates part of the Frankston line, though it would also better serve some local trips not suited to the wide spacing of railway stations)

Local routes

627 Elsternwick to Chadstone section re-routed to be straighter, avoiding Ormond station — this wasn’t done; it’s a questionable outcome to disconnect it from the Frankston line

627 split into two routes — this was done, it’s now the 625 and 626. This is good; it was incredibly confusing before.

701 re-aligned to replace route 822 in Marlborough Street in Murrumbeena, and extended from Bentleigh along Brewer Road and Marriage Road to Brighton — this hasn’t happened. They also considered changing the 701 from heading to Oakleigh to instead go to Murrumbeena, though this isn’t reflected on the map.

They also made recommendations on service levels — at the time, they expected train frequencies to be standardised to 15 mins, and what’s happened instead is a (good) move towards 10 minutes.

You’d never want to cherry-pick of course, but from the looks of it, a good first stage of changes would be re-routing (but not truncating or extending) routes 822, 701 and 767 in East Bentleigh. That’d be cost-neutral, I would think.

Not hard to see why pedestrians, cars, buses, ambulances get delayed in Clayton. Grade separation needed!

PTV’s 2014 proposal: the 703

Earlier this year PTV released a “stage 2″ report on the Rowville corridor — mostly concerning bus services in the area in the interim ahead of any rail line being built. It proposed the 703, which serves Bentleigh, be split into two routes:

  • Blackburn Road to Monash University and Clayton Station — eg the northern half, running every 10 minutes
  • Clayton Station to Bentleigh and Brighton — eg the southern half, running every 20 minutes

The logic was that the Clayton grade-separation is years away and causes long delays to buses, and also that the northern half of the route is much busier.

This makes some sense, but there are two main issues — firstly passengers from the Brighton and Bentleigh areas would have to change buses at Clayton (and walk across the tracks) to get to Monash and beyond. Wait times might not be too bad heading north if the northern half of the route runs frequently, but you’d risk long waits heading back the other way if you just miss your connection.

Secondly, it represents a big reduction in service from the present 15 minute weekday frequency. The government obviously realised this as they quickly put out a press release which welcomed the overall report but specifically said they didn’t support the frequency change.

The report didn’t specify if the proposed frequency would apply all week including weekends (which would be an upgrade), or just on weekdays during daytime/peak (a downgrade).

Unfortunately we don’t know what PTV has in mind for the rest of the network because only the rail plan has been released; not the plan(s) covering buses and trams. However we do know they intended to sort routes into tiers, and upgrade the most important routes to high-frequency operation.

Buses idle at depot

Now what?

There are other issues of course apart from network structure. The frequency of services needs addressing, particularly on weekends when many people are travelling, some routes are over-crowded, almost all have long waiting times, and hundreds of buses sit idle in depots doing nothing.

But just concentrating on routes (and noting that more direct routes make service upgrades more viable)…

Better connections with stations and other local amenity, and a route structure which ensures buses are more competitive with car travel (while still effectively serving people who have no choice) is vital for all those areas beyond walking distance to the trains. The changes proposed in 2010 are probably a great basis for network reform — for the most part it’s hard to think of reasons why they shouldn’t be implemented.

It’s all very well for (some) candidates in Bentleigh to say they’ll move the 822 onto the main road, but you shouldn’t be fiddling with individual routes in isolation. It should be part of a plan to ensure a cohesive, usable network.

We suggest you don’t hit this bus

This is an old pic, but a classic. I thought I’d lost it, but it showed-up while sorting through some old files on the computer.

I did once ask someone at Ventura about it — he said one of their staff had taken the photo, and from memory also said there had been no serious injuries — which means you don’t have to feel guilty if amused.

Old pic of an accident, car hit a Ventura bus advertising car insurance. From memory there were no serious injuries, so you can laugh guilt-free.

#Myki: touch-on, touch-off, touch-on, touch-off

Here’s an interesting issue with Myki which has always been around to an extent, but which has got worse with the switch to exact two-hour fares.

The problem

"Keep Calm And Catch Public Transport" Myki card holder from Travellers AidThe Myki software uses the two hour expiry of a fare as the time after which it assumes the next touch of your card is also a new fare.

This implementation is in contrast to the fare rules, which say your fare lasts for as long as the trip, as long as you started it (touched-on) before the expiry date.

Here’s an example: Board a 903 bus at Mordialloc (zone 2) at and touch-on at 9am. Ride to Northland (which is in the zone 1/2 overlap) and touch and alight at 11:10am.

What should happen is you get charged a 2-hour zone 2 fare.

But because it’s more than 2-hours since you touched-on, the touch as you alight will be treated as another touch-on.

You’ll end up paying a default fare (zone 1+2 because that bus route eventually terminates in zone 1) for the original touch.

Plus if you don’t notice as you exit the bus that it’s touched you back on again, you’ll pay another zone 1 fare on top of that, because it will have assumed you travelled from Northland (zone 1/2 overlap) to Altona (zone 1), $3.58.

So a total of $9.64 for what should be a $2.48 fare.

The silver lining is it’s not a very common scenario.

But it can happen, on some bus routes (such as the very long Smartbus routes), and on trains as well, where cross-town trips may take over two hours.

Solutions?

For trains, as you exit the station and touch, as long as you notice it’s touched you back on and charged a default two-zone fare, perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to wait 30 seconds, then touch-off again — invoking the “Change of mind” feature. The 30 seconds is so the reader doesn’t think you accidentally touched twice. You’re still charged the initial two zone fare, but that’s okay, because any conceivable trip of more than two hours would be a two zone fare — except perhaps if there was a long delay en route.

This isn’t possible for buses, because they have no “Change of mind feature”, and even if they did you might still be overcharged.

It’s also a bit tricky if an epic train trip ended at fare gates, perhaps at the end of the line at Frankston for example. Staff on the gates should be able to figure it out for you.

The official solution

Squirrelled away in the bible, the Fares And Ticketing Manual, in a revision posted a couple of weeks ago, they suggest a solution to passengers affected by this:

If a customer using myki money does not touch off the myki within 2 hours after it was touched on, a default fare may be charged when the myki is next touched to a myki reader. Such a touch will also be treated as a touch on

To prevent this happening, a customer may touch off the myki prior to the end of a journey, but must then touch the myki on –

(a) in the case of a journey on a tram or a bus, immediately after the myki was touched off; or

(b) in the case of a journey on a train, before resuming the journey.

In other words, you should touch-on as you board the bus. Then along the way, you should touch-off, then touch-on again. And finally at the end of your epic trip, touch-off again.

Presumably this advice is intended for staff to pass onto affected passengers — few Myki users would be aware of this, nor should they be expected to read the manual (but it’s good the manual exists, so that interested people can get this info).

If they’d thought about how the software might be used in the real world, then (at least on buses) they should be able to figure out that as you exit the bus after a long trip, you didn’t really magically travel to the end of the route (before the bus itself got there) and then board it again.

It’s a reminder that the implementation of Myki leaves a lot to be desired.

PS. For longer V/Line trips, the fare extends to 3 hours for 6 or more zones, and to 4 hours for 12 or more zones. See: PTV: Myki on V/Line.

Melbourne buses: many less frequent than 25 years ago

The Public Transport Not Traffic campaign organised a story in this week’s local paper, via campaigners Tony, Danita and Oscar setting up a fake bus stop to call for better bus services.

Leader: Fake bus stop

Among the quotes in the story from locals is this one from me:

“Bentleigh has less frequent buses than it did 25 years ago.”

I’ve been (quite reasonably) asked if this is actually true.

Yep, it is (though not universally). Let me present some examples — some within the Bentleigh electorate, some just beyond.

The quote deliberately says 25 years, not 20. This is because in late-1991 (towards the end of the Kirner state government, before Kennett arrived on the scene in October 1992) there were sweeping bus service cuts to middle and outer-suburban routes right across Melbourne. Some routes were changed, combined, and renumbered, but the overall move was towards reduced frequencies.

Just in case you think I’m relying on my shaky memory, I’ve linked to scans of some of the old timetables that I’ve somehow managed to keep in my collection. (It’s not a huge collection. I’m not a timetable collector per se.)

It’s worth remembering that in those days, most shops, including at centres such as Southland, closed at 1pm on Saturdays and weren’t open on Sundays.

Bus 822 — Chadstone to Southland and Sandringham, and in 1992 some trips also extended to North Brighton to through-route to the 823.

  • In 1992, this ran every 20 minutes in morning and afternoon peak hours, which helped commuters making train connections at Murrumbeena and Sandringham, particularly in evening peak when it’s harder to accurately guess what time you’ll need the bus. Today this is every 30 minutes in peak hours.
  • Going further back to 1987, the route was known as the 655, and extra buses ran between Murrumbeena station and East Bentleigh, meaning a bus about every 15 minutes in peak — double today’s frequency.

Bus 617 — Brighton to Moorabbin and Southland. This has become part of route 811/812 from Brighton all the way to Dandenong (it was also re-routed through the industrial end of Moorabbin, making for a much slower trip from Brighton to Southland):

  • Back in 1991, this ran every 20 minutes on weekdays. It’s now every 30.
  • In peak it was about every 15 minutes. It’s now every 30.
  • On Saturday mornings it was every 30 minutes; in the afternoons about every 50 minutes. It’s now hourly.

(Note also the mention of buses to/from the football at Moorabbin. This sheet also shows the timetable for route 616 from Brighton to South Caulfield, which was scrapped and hasn’t been replaced.)

Bus 618 — from Brighton to Southland, now route 823.

  • Back in 1991, this ran every 40 minutes on weekdays. It’s now every 60.
  • It also ran about every 45 minutes on Saturday mornings. Now there is no weekend service.

Bus 641 — from Hampton to Highett, with most buses also going to Southland. This route became part of route 828 (Hampton to Berwick):

  • The timetable from circa 1990 shows it running about every 12 minutes in afternoon peak between Hampton and Highett stations, with most buses extending to Southland — this is now every 20 minutes.
  • For Friday night shopping buses were every 20 minutes to/from Southland. These are now every 30-40 minutes.
  • On Saturdays, buses were every 20 minutes in the morning, every 40 in the afternoon. They are now about every 30 minutes in the morning, and every 60 in the afternoon.

Bus 623 — from St Kilda to Chadstone and Glen Waverley:

  • Back in 1990, this ran every 30 minutes on Saturday mornings. It’s now hourly.

So as you can see, many buses are less frequent now than they were 25 years ago. In particular, peak hour frequencies dropped markedly — pretty much killing a lot of these routes as effective peak hour feeders to/from the rail system. You can time your walk to the bus stop in the morning, hopefully knowing the train might be frequent enough to avoid a long connection time. But in the evening, with train punctuality not being terribly reliable, it’s risking a long wait if you try and time your connection to a half-hourly bus.

As I said, this is not unique to this area. Cutbacks occurred right across Melbourne, and in most middle and outer suburbs, to this day, bus frequencies are poor.

Not all bad news

It’s not universally true that all buses are less frequent. The Centre Road bus 703 was upgraded from 20 minutes to 15 minutes between the peaks on weekdays as part of the Smartbus program, originated by the Kennett government and largely implemented last decade by Labor.

The 703 also ran only every 40 minutes on Saturdays; it’s now every 30 minutes. It was only hourly on Sundays, compared to about every 45 minutes now. (Hourly is of course easier to memorise). But locals may be intrigued to know that back in 1991, Sunday services did run between Brighton and Bentleigh (but not north of Monash), with some buses extending to Brighton Beach — nowadays there are no buses between Brighton and Bentleigh on Sundays.

Bus route 703 - Sunday timetable towards Brighton, dated 11/11/1991

Mostly better operating hours: Sundays and evenings

Also: On most routes, operating hours are now longer than they were in the 90s, thanks to funding from the 2006 MOTC (“Meeting Our Transport Challenges”) transport plan under Labor. This introduced (or re-introduced) Sunday services on a lot of bus routes, as well extending hours in many cases to 9pm (though mostly with only hourly services).

These extended hours apply to most of the routes above — the 703 being the exception; despite being tagged as a Smartbus, this route fails to meet the government’s Smartbus standard.

MOTC also resulted in some additional Smartbus upgrades, including the Doncaster area “DART” routes.

Bus 822 navigating a side street in Bentleigh East

Changing times

The 80s and 90s were a time of cost-cutting and mostly declining patronage in public transport. Of course cost cutting and declining patronage feed on each other.

It’s only in the last ten years or so that patronage began to climb again, helped along by factors such as in-fill development (and population growth) in established suburbs.

In this time, a lot of attention has been paid to trains, with those running through some parts of middle and outer Melbourne now every 10 minutes, seven days-a-week. This huge (but largely unadvertised) boost could scarcely have been dreamt about 25 years ago, when Sunday trains were only every 40 minutes, and generally with short trains. Since then, improvements have been delivered by both sides of politics.

But most people are beyond walking distance to trains (and the other frequent mode, trams), and many major destinations (such as Monash Clayton, Chadstone, and including, for now, Southland) are also. Apart from the few Smartbus routes, they remain mostly unusably infrequent.

Better buses — more direct, and more frequent — are vital for helping people make those trips via public transport, as well as providing connections to the train network without people having to drive to over-crowded station car parks.

Rebranding number 6 (in 20 years): Can we stick with “PTV” for a while please?

Do I win a prize? Following on from my photos a couple of years ago of a train, tram and bus in one shot, I’ve managed to get another (at the same location) of the three of them in the PTV livery.

PTV-liveried train, tram and bus

Common livery is not the most important thing in a public transport network, but it is important. It’s a reminder that while the system may be run by lots of different companies, it is meant (in theory at least) to be one network.

The tickets and fare system are common, the routes should be designed to connect not compete, the timetables should complement each other and co-ordinate where possible.

The biggest change is in buses, where a myriad of colour schemes are coming together as one, with the operator name/logo reduced in size so it’s no longer significant — reflecting the practice in cities like London, but also closer to home in Adelaide and Perth.

Mind you it can also add to passenger confusion, in areas where passengers are used to differently coloured buses running specific routes.

Edit: This confusion can be reduced if route numbers are clearly displayed, not just on the front of the bus, but also on the side and back. Some buses have this already. It should be standard.

It sounds like only the (multi-company) Smartbus fleet will retain its distinctive bus colours.

I didn’t manage to get one of the few V/Line PTV-branded carriages into this photo. I guess that’s the next challenge (and to show the distinctive side design on a bus more clearly, rather than just the plain white front). You can see it in this snap a few seconds after the above photo… though the exposure was too short to properly show the tram LED number display. (In all honesty, none of the LED display showed in the above photo — I photoshopped it from another snap a moment later.)

Bus, train and tram

Hopefully, having completely branded everything to PTV in the coming months, the powers that be will stick with that for many years to come.

Given some of the trains in particular have gone in the last twenty years through The Met (2 versions), Bayside/Hillside Trains, Connex/M>Train, Connex, Metro, and now PTV, I think everybody’s had enough rebranding for now.