Before you complain to the bus company that your bus is late/cancelled/crowded, you might want to check that they still run the service.
In August, a whole bunch of routes (including most Smartbus routes) formerly run by Ventura and Melbourne Bus Link were taken over by Transdev.
Seems it’s all go in the bus industry these days.
Transdev, in a reply to a query on Twitter, have noted that the stickers (as seen above) are a temporary measure. Eventually they’ll get the PTV livery.
— Transdev Melbourne (@Transdev_Melb) October 21, 2013
While I quite like unified designs for the bus fleet, there is a down side: some passengers tell approaching buses apart by not just the numbers, but their operator colours. It’ll be interesting to see how people handle that.
I found myself at a party recently chatting about public transport. Not just late trains and packed trams, but specifically buses.
Who said buses aren’t interesting to anybody?
It was in the broader context of sustainable transport in the inner-north, but one of the anecdotal snippets was this: one of the people I was chatting to lives in Brunswick and has a friend in the Edgewater estate at Maribyrnong. While she is an avid cyclist (rides every day to work in the university district), when she goes visiting this friend, she inevitably drives (about 15 minutes), because the cycling routes are limited (and not very flat), and it’s not really viable to do the trip by public transport either.
For trips like this by public transport, buses are the only option. Inner-city orbital routes like this aren’t going to have trains any time soon, and while there are three orbital tram routes, more are unlikely.
Buses – the poor cousin
The problem is that, as we all know, buses of are the poor cousin in Melbourne. They are often infrequent, and have shorter operating hours than the other modes. While weekend trains typically run every 10-20 minutes, and trams every 8-15, most buses get nowhere near that.
For Brunswick to Edgewater you’d be looking at the 508 bus, then the 472. The 508 runs half-hourly on Saturdays and every 40 minutes on Sundays. The 472 runs every 20 minutes on Saturdays and every 50 minutes on Sundays. The time spent actually travelling might be okay, but the mismatch in frequencies means the chances of a good connection between the two are almost zilch.
And we wonder why crosstown road routes like Alexandra Parade get congested. Even for short trips (most Alexandra Parade trips aren’t a full east-west journey that would be helped by the proposed tunnel), the parallel PT routes — all buses — are hopeless:
|Route — major road||Frequency peak hour||Off-peak||Saturday||Sunday||Evenings|
|504 — Brunswick Road||30||30||40||40||30-40|
|506 — Glenlyon Road/Dawson Street||12||20||20-25||None||40 (weekdays only)|
|508 — Victoria Street||15||20||30||40||30-60|
|503 — Albion Street||20||25||25||None||None|
|510 — Moreland Road||20||20||30-35||40||40-50|
The 57 tram and 402 bus are also in that area, and aren’t too bad most of the time, but aren’t really crosstown routes; they both originate in or on the edge of the CBD.
While people will gravitate towards the most usable services (just as motorists often gravitate towards arterial roads and freeways), unfortunately it’s not as simple as merging all those infrequent routes from a vast geographical area into one single frequent service and expecting people to use it. Some consolidation can help, but you still need a usable grid of frequent services, within say 400-800 metres of trip sources and destinations.
Better buses work
The patronage growth on more frequent orbital Smartbus services shows there is huge potential for more people to make this kind of trip by public transport if decent services are provided.
In fact, one of the orbital Smartbus routes – the Blue orbital – would have just about served the very trip from Brunswick to Maribyrnong we were discussing. The Blue orbital was proposed by Labor, but they never implemented it. The plan — as with the other Smartbus routes — was it would have combined several existing routes, adding in service upgrades, to provide an option for cross-suburban travel in the inner-suburbs, avoiding having to go into the city and out again.
View Proposed Orbital Smartbus routes in a larger map
My reading of the old maps is that the Blue Orbital would have run from Brighton to Elsternwick (the existing 216/219), then along Punt Road to Clifton Hill (the 246), then west through Brunswick to Moonee Ponds (the 508), then heading to Highpoint and then replacing part of the 223 to Footscray (including just about passing within walking distance of Edgewater) and then replacing the 472 through Yarraville and Newport to Williamstown.
I actually think the Brighton end would not have been that useful — just as the plentiful 216/219/600/922/923 buses are now, it would have been unused. But the section from Elsternwick to Footscray would, I think, have been a great investment in assisting with more cross-suburban trips. (Though I expect it would be a longer-than-necessary trip from Brunswick to Maribyrnong.)
If long orbital routes won’t be provided, then at least the existing shorter routes need to be made more frequent and direct. There’s no real reason, for instance, they couldn’t be as frequent on weekends as they are on weekdays. The buses are available.
Route reform needed
Reform of routes, rationalising and straightening them out to run direct instead of all over the place, would also help run faster more frequent buses — you know, the sorts of services people will actually use.
PTV are actually working on such a plan. While they haven’t yet release a plan for bus routes, word is a bus and tram plan is in preparation. As their demand forecast report flags, bus routes will be re-organised into four categories: Smartbus (up to every 10 minutes), Direct (up to every 15 minutes, running along arterial roads), Coverage (hourly, serving local neighbourhoods, and targeted at people who don’t want to walk a distance to high-frequency services) and Inter-town (hourly, connecting rural-fringe areas to outer-suburban Melbourne).
This is good. The current bus network is a mess — some areas have frequent service simply because they used to have trams, but terminate short of logical traffic generators; some routes that should be primary connections into major centres take ages to get anywhere because they go through backstreets.
They also need traffic priority measures so they don’t get stuck in heavy traffic, as shown in the Punt Road photo above, where one 246 has caught up to another.
Restructuring the network into a grid of more frequent services will help a lot to provide a more usable public transport network overall.
And it’s not necessarily terribly expensive. Buses now crawling through suburban backstreets can run more efficiently if they stick to main roads.
But some extra funds will be needed. Will they get the money they need? The government’s big push on the East-West link has once again highlighted cross-city transport, but if it gets up, swallowing a decade of transport funding, and the only practical option for many of these trips remains driving, then roads will continue to be clogged.
While the East-West tunnel has got a lot of attention, another questionable transport project is lurking in the background.
Every so often someone will take a look at cities with ferries and conclude that Melbourne needs them too, despite the radically different geography to somewhere like, for instance, Sydney or Brisbane.
And they forget that for transport options to be useful, they need to provide not only speed and comfort, but also frequency. Frequency is critical.
The problem with both is that they purport to appeal to commuters, but neither stacks up with existing public transport from the area.
|Ferry proposal 1||Ferry proposal 2||Current train|
|From||Wyndham Harbour||Wyndham Harbour||Werribee station|
|To||Docklands||Station Pier||Southern Cross/Flinders St|
|Also stops (peak)||Point Cook, Williamstown||None||All stations to Laverton, then Newport, Footscray, North Melbourne|
|Travel time (peak)||“under an hour”||40 minutes||35 minutes|
|Full trip to city||Travel to wharf plus above; about an hour?||Travel to wharf plus 40 minutes plus 15+ minutes on tram = about an hour?||Travel to station plus 35 minutes = about 50 minutes?|
|Frequency of service||Unknown, perhaps once an hour if using two boats?||Two boats; every 40 minutes||Every 10-12 minutes|
Plus $7 tram fare = $29
|Capacity of vehicles||“hundreds”||226||800-1000, easily|
Some might think: Ah! All public transport is good public transport, right?
Wrong. The cost and benefits need to be weighed up, just as with any project.
The key points, as far as I can see from available information:
The travel time is broadly comparable, presuming provided the bay isn’t too choppy (but hey, trains have delays too).
Wharf: How do you get to Wyndham Harbour? Some might be lucky enough to walk, but for many they’d have to get in the car to reach it. Is car parking included? It’s not clear. (Werribee station has 582 spaces, and numerous connecting bus services, though these really need to be improved.)
The cost (of the proposal that’s revealed it) if you include the requisite tram/bus fare to get anywhere useful at the city end, is almost three times that of the train (plus bus and tram) fare.
But what really kills it for commuters is the frequency. Every 40-60 minutes is not at all useful to people, particularly if coming from a connecting service.
When leaving home in the morning you might be able to time the trip, but it wouldn’t work in the evening. Can you imagine the stress of trying to time your tram trip out of the CBD to catch the ferry, knowing a 40 minute wait to the next one if you miss it?
This would be an utter failure for commuters.
It might possibly work for tourists, who are less fussy about departure times and waiting around, but it’d need a lot of promotion to get people down to Docklands or Station Pier — apart from cruise ship arrivals at the pier, there wouldn’t normally be many tourists down there.
And it’d need a bus connection to Werribee Park Zoo, as I’m assuming Wyndham Harbour itself isn’t much of a tourist attraction.
The real concern with these ferry proposals, if they get up, is the cost to get them running. The second one is said to be without government subsidy (which probably explains the $22 fare), but it’s not clear if the first one might go ahead with some sort of subsidy. The cost of ferries, even a small fleet, could be huge.
For both proposals, how much government money will go into Wyndham Harbour and other wharves to make them suitable for public ferries?
In total, how much money is likely to be spent, and will it provide a service people will actually use? What is the cost per person likely to be? With infrequent departures, I can’t see many people using it for work travel.
If millions gets spent upgrading wharf facilities, how many trains and buses (which could move another 800-1000 people) would that money have paid for?
If we are serious about mass movement of people from the Werribee South and Point Cook areas into the city, without them being in their cars, shouldn’t we be giving them less flashy but more useful fast, frequent public transport?
How about buses every few minutes to the station, along dedicated bus lanes (with traffic light priority) so they don’t get caught in traffic (which will build as the population grows), timed to properly meet the trains.
And the trains of course should run more frequently (when RRL opens, capacity will be freed up for this) so the wait is never long and the journey’s not over-crowded.
It’s really not that hard, but it does mean government should avoid getting distracted by expensive but flashy gimmicks we don’t need, such as cross-bay ferries.
#Myki topups coming soon to buses (but will they avoid the issues of slow transactions and security?)
Leader Newspapers is reporting that Myki topups will be allowed on buses from next month. A maximum of $20 will apply.
Well, that’s about time. This is good news for passengers.
Firstly, it means the Myki consoles will be activated, with Metcard equipment removed. The coexistence of the two systems has caused a lot of glitches, particularly crashed readers unable to be easily restarted, and incorrect zone detection.
Secondly, it resolves issues for middle and outer-suburban users with topups. Bus drivers do carry preloaded Myki cards for sale, but with no short-term tickets, and many suburbs having few retail outlets, and online topups being quite slow at times (because transaction has to be loaded onto bus readers for collection with the card), this is an important option for many, particularly those who don’t use trains, and those who don’t want to use Auto Topup (which does avoid these issues).
There are two issues that have been highlighted with topups on buses.
First: that it’ll slow down buses. That one is easy to solve: don’t give change. This will cut the time taken for each transaction, but it’ll also encourage users to load up more than a trip and/or day’s worth of Myki Money in each transaction.
After all, we’re stuck with no single tickets for now — we might as well make the most of it to speed up bus services, which unlike the other modes have suffered greatly in the past from delays caused by on-board sales.
What should be permitted though is to split the topup across multiple cards, so that for instance a family boarding can give the driver a $20 note and have $10 of that loaded onto the parent’s card, and $5 onto each of the two kids’ cards.
Secondly, some bus drivers have grumbled about possible security issues from carrying large amounts of cash.
I would think it wouldn’t be a larger amount of cash than previously under Metcard, but it is likely to be higher denominations — people will topup less often than they bought tickets, but are likely to chuck $20 at a time onto their card.
The security risk is easily solved by using the method that has been used by many North American bus systems for decades: give no change; all cash goes into a locked box which can only be opened at the depot.
So, I think both issues are easily solved — but it’s not yet clear if they have been addressed by PTV for the April rollout.
It’s not clear when trams will have their Metcard equipment removed and headless mode will be fixed… I don’t think I’ve seen a single tram which doesn’t still have a Metcard machine fitted.
When it eventually happens, it won’t mean topups are available, but at least other issues should be resolved.
For the second time in a week, I’ve watched as tonight’s 6:31pm route 703 bus pulls out just as the train
(due at 6:30pm) departs Bentleigh station and a crowd of people off the train approaches the stop.
Now, I accept that buses should run to time. And the operator contract probably penalises late-running (bearing in mind only around 5% of bus services actually get monitored).
But I think most people would take the view that the bus could wait another — perhaps — 30-45 seconds to allow the approaching (and very visible, even in a mirror) crowd of people to board.
Given most (if not all) those people already having a valid ticket, I’d be surprised if the schedule couldn’t be made up on the way to the next timepoint.
Not that it matters a great deal, given this specific bus service is timetabled to terminate at South Oakleigh depot at 6:44pm and go out of service.
Me? I didn’t want that bus. I am lucky enough that I can walk home from the station. But it’s common to see a dozen or more boarding each bus from the station in peak hour, and each person on the bus means one less car clogging up the station carpark and local streets.
Yes, it’s true the next bus was only 15 minutes away. But that’s 15 minutes needless waiting for those people, and just the type of bad customer service that leaves people wondering if perhaps they should abandon PT and head back to their cars instead.
Ventura, you can do better.
- For bonus “grade-separation is needed” points, check the ambulance — again — delayed by the boom gates.
- Correction: the train wasn’t the 6:30pm; it was an earlier one running late. This isn’t significant — the bus driver should still not leave when he’s not late, and a big crowd of people is approaching the stop.
Update Thursday: Feedback from Ventura Buslines (via Twitter):
“Daniel the company policy is to look around for any passengers that are wanting to board the bus.”
“The driver has been spoken to & the time for waiting has been changed to 1835 to ensure passengers can get to the bus.”
It’s long been a bugbear of mine that a vehicle that has correctly stopped in a legal parking/stopping position should not use its hazard lights.
Some buses do this, despite being stopped in proper bus zones. Melbourne Bus Link appears to be one company whose buses mostly do this. Most buses from other operators seem to just use their left indicator.
I reckon use of hazard lights at bus stops is not only pointless, it actually causes problems when the bus driver wants to pull out.
Motorists are obliged by law to give way as a bus pulls out from the kerb, but the change from “hazard lights on” to “indicating right” is pretty much indistinguishable, because the motorist would have to be checking the bus’s left indicator and notice it stop flashing.
It also can cause problems if the bus driver forgets to turn off the hazard lights, and the bus continues down the road with them flashing.
Yes, the bus in the video above isn’t entirely within its lane — it looks like the lane simply isn’t wide enough. But the use of hazards happens everywhere with some bus companies. I don’t think it makes much sense in most cases.
Many years ago the German city of Munster set up a photo comparing the road space taken by people in a bus, on bikes, and in cars.
Earlier this month the Cycling Promotion Fund recreated that picture in Canberra, and yesterday they released it.
On Sunday 9th September 69 volunteers, 69 bicycles, 60 cars and one bus gathered in Canberra to recreate a world-renowned photograph taken more than 20 years ago to demonstrate the advantages of bus and bicycle travel in congested cities.
The captured image shows the typical space occupied in a city street by three common modes of transport—cars, bicycles and a bus —- and is being made available free of charge to organisations, group and individuals to help promote the efficiency of public transport and cycling in congested cities.
The project used 69 people, as this is the capacity of a standard Canberra bus, and 60 cars, as this is the number occupied on average by 69 people.
Like the old photo from Munster, it very clearly shows how moving large numbers of people by car around cities is not efficient — something people sometimes seem to forget when praising such developments as electric cars.
But unlike that old photo (and a similar photo I recall being done on Melbourne’s Swanston Street which seems to have never been seen since), CPF have made the photo freely available at high resolution.
They also did a short video showing the photo shoot:
Good work CPF.
The 903 is only half-hourly on Sundays, but clearly the demand is there.
It’s the same with many bus services across Melbourne — there are plenty of buses to spare, but no funding to run extra services to cut waiting times and overcrowding.
How can they encourage more people out of the traffic and onto buses if they have to wait up to half-an-hour and they still can’t get a seat when the bus arrives?
We’ve seen some great improvements in weekend trains (on the longest lines) — the major bus routes have to get more services too.
(I’m not singling-out Ventura for this — it’s up to the government to fund the services.)