In central Melbourne, if you want to travel a reasonable distance east-west, it’s easy to do so on most of the streets by hopping on a tram. Flinders Street, Collins Street, Bourke Street and Latrobe Street all have multiple routes serving them, making for reasonably frequent services most of the day.
Not so Lonsdale Street.
Once upon a time, Lonsdale Street had trams. Cable trams ran from Collingwood and Carlton via Elgin, Lygon and Russell Streets, and also from West Melbourne, to Lonsdale Street, from the 1880s to the 1930s — though some sections of track were built as late as the 1920s.
It’s all buses these days, but until recently they were a mass of different routes, turning off at different places, and many of them running infrequently outside peak hours.
However, late last year (just in time for the election) a batch of four bus routes that go down Lonsdale Street from the Doncaster area got upgraded to Smartbus status, under the name Doncaster Area Rapid Transit. (As one wit observed, lucky it doesn’t serve Frankston.)
There’s some doubt over whether they’re the best solution for Doncaster to CBD travel (many would like to see a train line), but within the CBD the result is that four frequent (well, for Melbourne) routes combine to make a very frequent service virtually all the way along Lonsdale Street — from about half-a-block from Spencer Street to Spring Street (and beyond to Victoria Parade).
With their totems, the bus stops are easier to find than the average Melbourne bus stop, though are not as prominent as tram stops, and are not quite as consistently spaced (though there is a stop roughly every block).
The buses are distinguished by their 900-series route number (905, 906, 907, 908) and the grey and orange Smartbus livery, making them easy to spot amongst the others that use the stops (but don’t go all the way down Lonsdale Street).
The combined frequency is a bus each way about every 3-4 minutes on weekdays from about 7am to 9pm, with more during peak times. That puts it roughly on a par with other east-west CBD streets during off-peak hours, and more frequent than Latrobe Street.
On weekends and in the evenings it’s a bus about every 7-8 minutes.
Not bad, and while many may prefer trams to buses, this completes the set of frequent routes along Melbourne’s CBD’s main east-west streets.
They’re not perfect. They have a lowish frequency at times, lack of bus lanes outside peak hours, and the buses are likely to be a tad slow due to heavy loading eastbound in the evening peak hour. And the fancy automated signage at most of the eastbound stops doesn’t work yet.
But already I’ve spotted people other than myself using the buses for hops along Lonsdale Street, and it’ll be interesting to see if this catches on. Perhaps if they were clever, they’d promote it.