I don’t think it’s any great secret that Melbourne’s buses aren’t very well co-ordinated to the trains — with two exceptions that is, the Trainlink buses at Epping and Cranbourne, which are timed to meet every train.
This is a major problem because so many trips simply can’t be made on PT without using a combination of services. If the connections are too difficult or time consuming, people just drive instead.
It’s easy in places like the CBD and inner-suburbs where there’s a tram every few minutes, every day of the week. But in many cases in the middle and outer suburbs, it’ll involve a bus — most of which are woefully infrequent.
And there you have the crux of why PT is well-used in the inner-burbs, but cars dominate further out.
But how do you prove the connections are crap? Compare the timetables.
Finally with the help of the government’s release of all the timetable data for the entire state, and a lot of crunching of the data, it’s been done. Well, mostly — it was damn tricky to get it all together, and it wasn’t possible to match all the bus routes to their stations.
If you get off a train from the city, looking for a bus, you’ve got a 37% chance of a connection (that is, a bus departing on the route you want, any time between 3 minutes after the train arriving, and 3 minutes after the next train turns up).
If there is a connection, you’ve got a 42% chance that you’ll have to wait more than 10 minutes for it.
The average connection time is 11.2 minutes.
You won’t be surprised to hear that on weekdays, connections are better than the averages above. On Saturdays they’re a little worse, and Sundays are the worst of all.
In some cases those connection times are so long that they exceed the time you might have spent just driving all the way to your destination.
There’s two ways to fix it. You can scrupulously co-ordinate all the timetables so buses meet trains at stations. But this is quite tricky, and can leave your buses idling waiting for trains, particularly if they connect to a number of stations, and the trains often run late. (Ahem!)
Or you can run all major services (trains, trams, arterial road buses) frequently; say every 10 minutes. Then without even trying, the average connection time will be 5 minutes.
Smartbuses (on weekdays) come close to this. No wonder they’re popular. If only there were more of them, more people would take the option of leaving the car at home more often.
- PTUA: Poor connections leave passengers waiting
- The Age: Push for more train-bus links to limit wait times (note that due to a spreadsheet stuff-up, the headline 37% figure came out as 46% in the report)
- Excel spreadsheet of results (425 Kb)
- Look up the figures for your local bus route or railway station
- How Paul Mees describes it: The network effect