Transdev bus routes are changing – some proposals good, some bad

Transdev are seeking survey responses to their planned bus network changes for 2015, and unlike last time, they are properly doing community consultation. But if you are interested, today is the last day you can submit feedback.

Last week I went along to the Transdev session in Sandringham, and spoke to reps there about various points, mostly related to the changes in that area.

Transdev: Is this Klingon for "St Kilda via Elwood"?

From my point of view most of it looks okay, but there are some issues.

Most route changes make sense; and make the network more legible. The removal of the crazy-confusing 600/922/923 split is particularly welcome.

Splitting the long orbital bus routes makes sense to better match demand, and improve reliability by not having four-hour-long routes, particularly as few people use them end-to-end. (No, really — the 901 and 903 are currently about four hours end-to-end.)

Relief for crowded 903 buses along Warrigal Road on weekends is excellent, with services every ten minutes on Saturdays, and twenty on Sundays.

Most northern suburbs Smartbuses will no longer be every 15 minutes — mostly going to every 20 minutes weekdays (including peak), every 30 minutes Saturdays, and every 40 minutes Sundays. Weekday off-peak and Sundays this could synchronise better with their trains which are generally every 20 minutes, but the peak service won’t, and it’s pretty poor. Note this includes the 912 (currently part of 901) to Melbourne Airport.

Part of the problem is that currently semi-rural areas like Kurrak Road in Yarrambat get a bus every 15 minutes — over-servicing that area while other more populated suburbs miss out on frequent services — a classic example of where a single level of service on one really long route isn’t a good idea. But under this proposal, that service will still be every 20 minutes. Perhaps further splitting of the orbital routes needs to occur so that those resources can be directed to where they’re actually needed.

As part of these changes, the 901 and 902 will swap through the north, between Broadmeadows and Greensborough, making for a more direct route to the airport from Doncaster, Eltham, Greensborough, and Keon Park.

The 600 will be curtailed at Sandringham, no longer serving Elwood, but it will have will have timed connections with the 248 for most of the day at Sandringham, enabling (for example) Brighton to Black Rock trips without too much trouble.

Cutting service route 600 St Kilda Street in Brighton I don’t see as an issue given close proximity to New Street. Parts of Brighton are arguably over-serviced anyway, given the area has a lot of well-to-do people who seem willing to use trains, but largely unwilling to use buses.

But Elwood loses out along Ormond Road due to the loss of the 600. The remaining 606 service runs only every 40 minutes on weekdays, including peak — a far cry from the 80s when I was a kid, when there’d be 6 to 10 route 600 buses per hour in peak to cope with loads feeding to the trains at St Kilda. There was speculation 606 would get a frequency boost, but as this is run by another operator, the Transdev people couldn’t confirm — part of the problem of getting one operator to do network planning. A boost to the 606 should definitely happen if the 600 is being removed. That or the 630 could be extended from its current termination point in the middle of nowhere in Elwood, along the 606 route to St Kilda, with a level of timetable co-ordination to provide a good combined service.

The dotted line on part of route 600 in Cheltenham is a once-a-day schools diversion. This leaves a large area (particularly Weatherall Road) unserved for most of the day – and an old couple at the session noted they currently use that bus (the 922) and will be about a kilometre from a service. Transdev say they get very few passengers in that section (perhaps mostly thanks to so many golf courses in the area, rather than houses). It’s similar to Hope Street, Brunswick, I think — this is probably an area that should be considered for some kind of Neighbourhood Bus along the lines of the services run by City of Port Phillip.

Frequency cut along Hotham Street 248 on weekends goes to 40 mins (a big cut on Saturdays, which currently has 15 minute services), while Orrong Road 249 (the new number for the southern end of current route 220) goes to 20 minutes… seems a bit arbitrary, though of course 248 largely parallels the train through Brighton. The 249 will continue to duplicate trams for much of its length, but at least the 248 route doesn’t join it going all the way into the City. (The plan to run one of those routes further north to Burnley and Victoria Gardens seems to have disappeared — the 248 will instead terminate at the Alfred Hospital.

Keeping the 249 (currently 220) as high frequency maintains good service through Southbank, which is welcome. The disconnection of the 216/219/220 in the City makes sense for the same reason disconnection of the Orbital routes makes sense, to improve reliability given not many people travel through the City.

Altona – not in the local area, but some talk raised of their end of the 903, which is getting cuts. Their peak service is going to every 20 minutes, but it was pointed out that a reliable 20 minute peak service is actually better than their morning peak service now, which due to the length of the route doesn’t actually meet the 15 minute frequency going into Altona until about 10am. It would also better connect with trains (as far as is known, when Regional Rail Link opens in April or so, Altona peak trains will move from the impossible-to-remember 22 minute frequencies to the much more sensible 20 minutes).

Transdev admitted the halving of off-peak Altona 903 services from 15 to 30 minutes is bad (and also won’t synchronise with trains), but said several times that most of their patronage counts were based on Myki data, so if those buses are well-used, they implied large numbers of passengers are not touching-on/paying. One Transdev rep commented this was a quandry: even if they know what’s happening, do they upgrade (or maintain) bus services for areas with users that don’t pay? Indeed… but of course that’s penalising whole neighbourhoods (and hordes of potential users) for the actions of only some.

They said they’ve only done other types of passenger counts were they knew there were specific surges in patronage not indicated by the Myki data, such as school runs where lots of students with Student Passes aren’t touching on (and they’ve talked to some schools to ask them to tell students to do so).

However, as you’d expect, bus drivers have a reporting mechanism to flag overcrowded routes.

Transdev: Proposed southern suburbs bus network

Route 223, a remnant of the Footscray tramway era, is getting cut back to every 20 minutes, every day (including in peak), and no services after 9pm (7pm Sundays). Not sure about this — currently it’s every 15 minutes Monday to Saturday, and the Footscray to Highpoint section seems quite busy, particularly when traffic delays occur. This cut may result in overcrowding, as I’m assuming they can’t magically prevent the delays.

Some City to Doncaster DART buses upgraded to every 20 minutes on weekends — good!

Dead running: Unfortunately I forgot to ask if the current situation where buses “dead run” out of service right across town between Sandringham/Brighton and the Footscray Depot (due to lack of depot space at Sandringham) will be solved. Hopefully.

TransDev Melbourne bus in full PTV colours

The route structure looks good — less so the service frequency

I don’t have intricate knowledge of the whole network, but from what I can see, the proposed route structure looks pretty good. Less confusing, less duplication. It’s the service frequencies on some routes which let it down (as they often do) — particularly the abandoning of the Smartbus promise of a bus every 15 minutes (on weekdays) on the quieter parts of the orbital routes, with resources moved to busier sections.

One Transdev planner said this change would be setting the scene for some years, with future revisions likely to be only minor, but they’d be hoping for service frequency upgrades as more funding comes through.

This seems to stem from the former Coalition government’s aim as part of the 2012 re-tendering process of making Transdev upgrade the network but at no extra cost to the taxpayer — a noble aim, given inefficiencies such as copious dead running — but in our growing city, with strong demand on parts of the network and huge potential on other parts, extra funding is needed to boost services.

I’ve submitted an online survey (the survey questions made this a bit tricky as I live in the south-east, but most often use Transdev services in the west), and they urge as many people as possible to do so.

One gentleman at the information session said he was upset by many of the changes (but didn’t seem quite able to articulate why, at least not while I was close by), and said he’d be writing to the minister. He was encouraged to do the survey as well, but refused. Not sure why, if one objected so strenuously, one wouldn’t use all avenues available to get their opinion across.

So, if you use Transdev bus services, be sure to look at the planned changes, and fill in the survey — remember, it closes today!


Updates — April 2015

Update 13/4/2015: The Age: Hundreds of bus services in Melbourne’s west and north face being cut to service city’s east

Update 14/4/2015: Looks like the plan is on hold for now, pending changes to the proposal. State government: Labor Backs Investment In Better Bus Services And Community Consultation / The Age: Plan to cut buses in Melbourne’s west and north quashed by Andrews government

This is good news. As I’ve noted above, some parts of the plan — particularly cutting north/western suburbs services — didn’t make sense. Other parts do make sense: splitting the orbitals, and extra services to relieve crowding. Here’s a picture from the Warrigal Road 903 on a Sunday afternoon (when buses are only every half-hour).

Crowded 903 bus, Sunday

It seems the eastern routes have hit the virtuous circle of increased patronage -> improved services -> increased patronage (and leading to crowding). Rinse and repeat.

Sadly the western routes have hit the opposite, in part because they haven’t been allowed to reach their potential for patronage growth: precious few frequent services, and those that are there in theory are flawed, missing frequency goals and having poor connections to rail services.

And the real problem here is that the current Transdev contract allows them minimal wiggle room to increase resources overall. So it’s no real surprise that they are moving more services to where there’s crowding.

Apart from finding genuine efficiencies (such as reducing dead running), the real answer is to recognise that all of Melbourne needs more bus services, and to resource the operators appropriately.

Our new Premier on the need for frequent public transport #FrequencyIsFreedom

One should never read too much into politicians’ rhetoric, but it was rather good to see comments from Premier-elect Daniel Andrews on Monday in free commuter newspaper MX:

“Yes, we need better local roads and yes, we do need to invest in that infrastructure, but the transformational infrastructure is a better public transport system. One where you don’t need a timetable, one where you can comfortably and optimistically leave the car at home knowing that you’re getting on to a first rate public transport system.”

— Daniel Andrews, MX 1st December 2014

(My emphasis added)

Daniel Andrews at Bentleigh station during the 2014 Victorian election campaign

…as well as these comments on election-eve:

“I want to make sure we build the best possible public transport system. I simply won’t ask Victorians to get out of their car and into a second-class public transport system. They won’t do it, and I won’t ask them to.”

— Daniel Andrews, Channel 10 news, 28th November 2014

Public transport that’s frequent enough that you don’t need a timetable is critical to willingly get people out of their cars and out of the traffic.

Frequency is particularly important to cater for a network of services to make anywhere-to-anywhere trips are possible with the minimum of waiting.

To draw an analogy, you don’t need a timetable (or face a 20-30 minute wait) when driving your car through a major intersection or freeway interchange.

Some services already run frequently — in peak hour particularly. Thanks to governments of both persuasion now recognising its importance (and/or being forced to add services thanks to overcrowding), as well as the transport bureaucracy getting behind it, more parts of the network are getting to that magic “every 10 minutes” standard, though promotion to actually tell people it exists is lacking.

In fact while there are some issues with proposed Transdev bus service changes in 2015, one change that’s welcome is route 903 between Box Hill and Mordialloc (including Chadstone) will be upgraded to every 10 minutes on Saturdays. Unfortunately the western end of that Smartbus route, at Altona, will suffer from service cuts of up to 50% — the current 15 minute off-peak service will go to 30 minutes. Apparently this is due to the former government’s wish to squeeze more efficiencies out of the bus operators — not necessarily a bad thing, but it may have gone too far. A case of one step forward, one step back?

There is a plan for frequent services

PTV have a plan to make more buses and trains run more frequently, all day every day. Trams are almost there, but could also do with a boost. (The PTV tram plan hasn’t been revealed.)

And the beauty of it is, many service upgrades are possible now, particularly at off-peak times, without huge investment in infrastructure, so there’s a huge opportunity to make a lot of progress in the next four years.

We’ll find out who the new Public Transport Minister is today — let’s hope they and the Premier will be keen to push ahead with implementing Melbourne’s frequent network.

Update: Lynne Kosky: Very sad to hear of former transport minister Lynne Kosky’s passing at just 56. It was under her that serious PT investment (especially train fleet expansion) started. This interactive graphic shows the projects underway in 2009, during her time as minister. (And no, she didn’t start Myki… that was a Peter Batchelor creation). RIP.

Update: New minister: Jacinta Allan is the new Public Transport minister. In related portfolios, Luke Donnelan got roads, and Richard Wynne got planning.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt on the 822

Incumbent Elizabeth Miller has gone strong on “saving the 822“, promoting via Facebook and an ad the front page of the local Leader newspaper last week, apparently trying to imply that Labor is proposing to scrap the route completely.

822 bus ad

822 promotion (Elizabeth Miller Facebook page)

Having put the claim out there on Facebook, the Liberals have done nothing to quell people’s fears that the route might be scrapped. Comments on the Facebook post have included:

  • Its the only way i can get to work and school :///
  • You cannot remove the 822.. its the only bus route running along east boundary road.. its central for anyone that lives around bentleigh area as its our way to Chadstone & Southland… You have gotta be joking.
  • Our children use the 822 a lot. It is needed for children for school outings as well. … I also see many elderly using that bus as I believe it travels to southland and Chadstone which allows for them to shop and also catch up with friends. This is only a small part of how useful that bus route is. Think before you remove. Elizabeth Miller keep up the good work.
  • For me and all the other passengers of the 822 bus rely on this bus because it gets us to our everyday destinations and without it would be a dissapointment! If you fet rid of this route you will make peoples lives much more difficult.
  • please save the 822 bus.

This is classic FUD — Fear Uncertainty and Doubt. There is NO plan to scrap the route.

I asked the Labor candidate Nick Staikos about it, and he said their intent is the logical move of the route off the backstreets and onto East Boundary Road (as proposed in the 2010 bus reviews), for a speedier trip and to better space out the north-south bus routes — there’s a huge gap between the Frankston line and the 822, with no services on Jasper or Tucker Roads.

But they’d do any change with community consultation to make sure as many people as possible are happy.

Part of that change might be moving the 701 from Mackie Road onto Marlborough Street to cover the section removed from the 822. As I wrote a few months ago, that’d be a good solution as it would remove duplication on Mackie Road (which also has the 767).

It would be difficult to have the 701 turn right from Marlborough Street onto North Road could be troublesome with no lights at that intersection, but the 2010 plan had it following the current 822 route as far as Duncan Mackinnon Reserve, then heading back towards Oakleigh.

Labor aren’t talking about proposed bus frequency upgrades. The 822, like most suburban buses, is appallingly infrequent, particularly on weekends. Public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy mentioned there was some kind of bus strategy coming, but so far we don’t know what’s in it. See below.

There’s obviously some detail to nut out, but nevertheless the Liberals’ posturing is nonsense. It seems to be trying to imply that everything is fine with the local buses… clearly not the case. One way of reading it would be that “only the Liberals” will fail to do anything whatsoever to improve them.

Fact is, local buses in Bentleigh do need improvement. Making the 822 a main road bus is a good start. Making it and other routes more frequent is also vital.

  • PTV stats show the 822 has about 450,000 boardings per year — around 1600 each weekday, 575 Saturdays and 388 on Sundays — the latter not being too bad, given it’s only an hourly service, but given it serves two of Melbourne’s busiest shopping centres, there’s a huge potential to carry more people if it ran more frequently.
  • Labor has said several times they would make an announcement around buses… This is important, as many areas only have buses. The policy has just been released today, and in summary is a $100 million package of upgrades. I haven’t digested the detail yet, but it’s got specifics on a number of routes, particularly the growth areas most dependent on buses. I can’t see anything in the Bentleigh area — not the 822, and also not the 703, which was promised an upgrade to full SmartBus status in the 2010 election by Labor.

Update: Labor’s Public transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy has spelt it out on Twitter:

Update 25/11/2014: Partly for anybody clicking through from Jarrett Walker’s blog post, here’s the map of the current route, highlighting the diversion through Crosbie Road, Marlborough Street, Stockdale Avenue and Gardeners Road (including one-way sections) proposed to be changed to run direct along East Boundary Road (which is not shown in full on the map, but is a continuation of Murrumbeena Road) instead.

Bus 922 map

It’s also worth noting that it was not just Labor and the 2010 bus reviews that proposed this change.

Elizabeth Miller herself also called for the change shortly after she won the seat of Bentleigh:

Since taking office as the member for Bentleigh I have been shocked to discover that the former government made no provision for public transport to and from GESAC’s front door.

I call on the minister to investigate with his department the appropriate alteration of existing bus routes, including the 822, to provide a bus stop outside GESAC on East Boundary Road, Bentleigh East, to ensure that as many residents as possible of Bentleigh and neighbouring communities are able to access this wonderful new facility.Hansard, 24/3/2011

By earlier this year, she had changed her mind:

The 822 bus currently services this facility [Glen Eira Sports and Aquatic Centre) on Gardeners Road at its rear. The bus service to the facility is well patronised. I note that the opposition is currently conducting a petition to state otherwise.Hansard 25/3/2014

Sydney trip day 2: Friday

Posted 12/11/2014. Backdated to 7/11/2014.

On the morning of day two in Sydney, after a sleep-in, we breakfasted. I’d looked at UrbanSpoon and concluded that every venue reviewed has its share of whingers — it’s a matter of identifying who is complaining about Real Stuff and who is complaining about trivia or a freak bad experience. The Royal in Darlinghurst seemed to have fewer whingers than praisers, so we headed there. They served up some very nice eggs on toast, and a (I’m told) superlatively tasty mushroom dish.

Paddington, Sydney

Escape attempt? The old Darlinghurst Gaol

We then strolled the short distance through Darlinghurst (past the old gaol) to Paddington to have a look along Oxford Street. Although it’s something of a traffic sewer, it’s also got a lot of shopping. A specific shop was M’s aim, and it did not disappoint — though we were highly amused when a delivery bloke asked if she was Judith Lucy. Despite only a passing resemblance, this is in fact a semi-regular occurence.

Next we walked to the Art Gallery of NSW, which on the map isn’t very far from Kings Cross, but in practice involves cutting through numerous backstreets. Thank goodness for Google Maps and GPS on my phone.

Brougham Street, Woolloomooloo

Match sticks (Almost Once, by Brett Whitely), near Gallery of NSW, Sydney

Art Gallery of NSW

The Gallery is in a spectacular building set in the gardens. We’d aimed to do this on a weekday as we wanted to look at the new “blockbuster” exhibition: Pop to Populism — I figured it’d be packed out on weekends.

It had all the greats of the pop art world… Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and many others including Australians like Brett Whiteley and the not-as-well-known-as-he-should-be Mike Brown. I found myself admiring Brown’s work “Hallelujah”, which scandalised the art world in the late 60s, and then I remembered that he is Age reporter Clay Lucas’s dad, so I couldn’t resist letting Clay know they had four of his works on display.

In a neat coincidence the exhibit shop had Robert Milliken’s book on rock music journalist Lilian Roxon on display, which has a section on the influence my dad played in her story.

Art Gallery of NSW: Roy Lichtenstein: In the car

Art Gallery of NSW: works by Mike Brown

We had lunch in the gallery cafe — delicious but a tad overpriced, as gallery lunches often are, but you can’t help but hope the profits go back into the institution.

From there, a quick walk around the eastern side of the CBD, then back to the hotel. (Have I mentioned how handy it is staying in a hotel that, if it’s not in the city centre, is at least close to a frequent fast train?)

Sydney Hospital

The plan (on local friend KW’s recommendation) was to see Sculpture By The Sea, an event on its final days, at Bondi Beach.

Given we were close to the station, the logical route seemed to be the train to the terminus at Bondi Junction, then the bus.

Bondi Junction wasn’t planned to be the train terminus — various plans had it contining on to North Bondi and Rose Bay, or Randwick, University of New South Wales and Kingsford. Later proposals have suggested extending closer to Bondi Beach, but it hasn’t happened.

While the terminus is well set up as a bus/train interchange (up the escalator from the platforms and you’ll find yourself in a bus interchange, making transfers theoretically easy, unlike say Melbourne’s Box Hill), there were so many people heading to Bondi Beach that the well-advertised route 333 bus connection had a queue of perhaps 150 people.

We joined the back of the queue, slowly shuffling along each time a bus turned up, which according to the timetable was every 10 minutes — on paper that’s frequent for an Australian bus route, but in practice completely inadequate for the passenger numbers.

After perhaps 15 minutes (im)patiently queuing, it was our turn. I watched a bloke come up and queue-jump, and growled at him: “mate, the queue starts over there“. He mumbled something back. He didn’t back off, but he certainly didn’t get aboard ahead of me.

The bus was one of the extended, articulated variety, and was packed to the gills. But at least I could overhear travel advice from that most reputable of sources — English tourists who knew their way around Bondi — so I knew which stop to get off at.

Bondi Junction: Queue for buses to the beach

Bus 333 to Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach: Queue for bus back to Bondi Junction and Sydney city

Bondi Beach: Queue for bus back to Bondi Junction and Sydney city

The queues for the bus back were just as crowded, as you can see from these pics. It seems to be a classic case of where the buses are inadequate for the loads — there’s obviously scope to increase bus services, but in the long term if the popularity of Bondi Beach continues to increase, extending rail might make more sense.

It might also be possible to re-organise bus routes so that they duplicate the trains less. Many Bondi routes go all the way into Sydney’s CBD. But the fare structure penalises bus/train transfers, so this is difficult. (I’ll have more on that in my post about Opal and Sydney public transport.)

Bondi Beach

At Sculpture By The Sea there where some terrific artists display sculptures, as the event name would suggest, by the sea. It was busy, but not as busy as was expected on the closing weekend. (For that, authorities actually recommended people walk three kilometres from Bondi Junction instead of wait for a bus.)

Unfortunately one work had been removed due to vandalism, but there were still dozens on display.

As in any great gallery, there were some terrific works to admire and reflect upon, and it was a very scenic walk from Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach.

Sculpture by the sea, Bondi, Sydney

Sculpture by the sea, Bondi, Sydney

Sculpture by the sea, Bondi, Sydney

Rather than walk back and catch the packed 333 again, we caught a local bus from Tamarama back to Bondi Junction station. It too was packed, but the bus driver managed to squeeze everybody on, rather than turn people away. From there a train back to the hotel.

For dinner we stomped around Victoria Street in Darlinghurst looking for something to inspire us, and eventually settled on Sel & Poivre, a French restaurent. All the wait staff seemed to have authentic accents, and the food was utterly delicious.

From there we had a walk around Paddington, and a long exploratory detour via Rushcutters Bay to get “home”.

Quicker to wait for the hourly bus, or walk?

Last weekend I tried an experiment, for a PTUA video

In the highly marginal electorate of Bentleigh, having just missed the bus, is it quicker to wait for the next service, or walk to Southland?

Given walking speeds and a five kilometre distance, perhaps the answer (at least for reasonably fit, able-bodied people) is obvious…

More frequent weekend buses is easy. Most of the bus fleet sits around in depots all weekend. As with more frequent off-peak and weekend trains and trams, the only costs would be fuel, maintenance and drivers.

Labor has pledged to re-route this bus — the 822 — onto the main roads, which would help with travel times. But it’s not clear if that would include other network changes in the area, or more frequent services — this is one of many bus routes which is still less frequent in peak hour and on Saturday mornings than it was 25 years ago.

Thanks to Jeremy for help with the camera.