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