Getting around Melbourne’s inner-suburbs without a car is pretty easy, thanks to a reasonable network of frequent trams. In some areas, such as around Prahran, the trams, trains and buses form a grid, making almost any local trip within that area very easy.
Getting around Melbourne’s middle and outer-suburbs without a car is generally a nightmare. There are some rail lines, but for most trips it’s buses, and they are hopelessly infrequent — generally only hourly on weekends, and only half-hourly on weekdays.
It’s no secret then that areas of good public transport tend to have lower rates of car ownership — the excellent Charting Transport blog explored this in detail a while back.
Of course, there are other factors such as urban planning — are the things you want/need easy to get to without a car, including by walking?
But most of Melbourne currently misses out on frequent services of the type that you can use without looking at a timetable, and without a long wait (particularly if connecting off another service).
PTV has a plan to fix this problem. As The Age reported on Tuesday:
A network of more than 30 bus routes running every 10 minutes would criss-cross much of Melbourne within less than a decade under ambitious plans produced by Public Transport Victoria.
This kind of upgrade is really important: along with train and tram upgrades proposed, it gives way more suburban areas a much more useable network.
The information has come out in a document which is part of East West Link travel forecasts. It’s a bit vague because the details are in tram and bus plans prepared by PTV but not released — only the train plan has been made public.
But what we do know is this:
- Most trains running every 10 minutes, 7 days-a-week
- Most trams running every 10 minutes, 7 days-a-week
- Some tram route changes to better organise the network (though little in the way of expansion, alas)
The most interesting bit is around buses. Remember that many areas of Melbourne will never have trains and trams, not even under the most ambitious expansion plan imaginable.
A LOT of suburbs will remain beyond walking distance to stations and tram stops, and need frequent bus services.
The plan sorts buses into several categories, and attaches minimum standards to each.
- Smartbus – at least every 10 minutes – 43 routes by 2021, 49 routes by 2031
- Direct – at least every 20 minutes on about 70 routes by 2021, at least every 15 minutes on about 75 routes by 2031
- Coverage – at least hourly – about 180 routes by 2021, about 190 routes by 2031
- Commuter – a dozen routes by 2021
- Special – every 4 minutes on two routes – eg the existing 401 and 601 university shuttles
- InterTown – about 20 routes on the urban fringe
- Telebus – a handful of routes, but with many variations, on request routes
- Hybrid – routes which fall into multiple categories, presumably with differing service standards
Yes, by 2031, the proposal is to have over 120 Melbourne bus routes running every 15 minutes.
This is critical for the overall public transport network.
The mass introduction of Smartbus and Direct routes every 10 and every 15 minutes would vastly expand the “turn up and go” anywhere-to-anywhere network across Melbourne, making it possible to use public transport for a lot more trips than at present.
Here’s how my neck of the woods looks at present: 7-day 15 minute services (all modes) — the current situation on the left, and if the PTV plan were implemented on the right.
(Because the detail is vague, I’ve assumed only 822 would change in its upgrade to Smartbus. I’ve also assumed South Road buses 811/812/824 would run frequently on those sections — they’re actually slated as “hybrid”. And it’s quite possible I’ve missed some other proposed routes. Would need to get the full report to get all this cleared-up.)
At present, if your trip isn’t entirely along a tram or train line, you’ve probably got a long wait ahead of you. Going to most areas, it’s hopeless — so most people drive, and will often pack their driveway with one car per adult, putting a big strain on household budgets.
With the PTV plan implemented, a lot more journeys are possible without long waits, because a lot more areas are within walking distance to a frequent service.
This includes being able to easily get to your nearest shopping centre and/or railway station without having to drive.
As Jarrett Walker is fond of saying: “Frequency is freedom.”
A frequent network is the type of thing needed to let households really reduce their car ownership and usage.
It would bring Melbourne more into line with other big cities around the world, particularly in Europe, where the fast frequent backbone (principally heavy rail) is supported by connections to a network of frequent buses and trams across urban areas.
And a lot of it is achievable in the short term by making better use of fleet and infrastructure, in particular by getting the large number of vehicles currently in depots outside peak hours and getting them out into service more of the time.
The only question is when will the politicians take note and fund this?
- Source document: PDF: VKC — Travel modelling for East West Link, Base Case Development (G1 Scenario)
- …or from the DPCD web site: Scanned PDFs — look for document 38
- Note that parts of the document are obviously outdated. It still lists the confusing 627 as one route — this has now been split into two. And (more embarrassingly) it still shows the Hope Street 509 route, cut amid a blaze of publicity in 2012