Rail replacement buses that don’t serve stations #bustitution

One of the funniest pieces of rail-related humour I’ve seen was this — the Rail Replacement Bus Set, devised by Tim Dunn.

Rail Replacement Bus Set (by Tim Dunn)

Rail replacement buses can either be bearable or miserable, depending on how well they’re organised.

This weekend is the first major shutdown on the Frankston line for the North-Mckinnon-Centre Road grade separations, though there are also Bayside Rail Project works — the line is closed between Caulfield and Mordialloc.

There’s a key difference compared to most previous shutdowns: in many cases the replacement buses aren’t directly serving the stations. They’re instead going down the nearest main road, for instance between Caulfield and Moorabbin, along Grange/Jasper Road, which is about 400 metres to the east.

This route is often used for express buses, but this time it’s being used for the “stopping all stations” buses as well.

There are several factors at play here:

  • the layout of the road network in the middle suburbs
  • at several locations the works are on the crossings themselves. This means road closures, disrupting traffic (this time mostly short but regular closures; long term closures are expected in coming months
  • most of the stations are in the middle of busy shopping centres.

So bringing the buses all the way to each station would most likely make them intolerably slow.

Bentleigh level crossing removal works 24/10/2015

Bentleigh level crossing removal works 24/10/2015

Today there seemed to be plenty of signage, and staff out at the stations and on the way to the bus stops, pointing people in the right direction — all good to see.

But of course the down side of this is it’s a fair walk from the station to the bus stops, and for people coming from the west side of the rail line who might have already walked a fair distance, it will add a lot to the journey time.

Making it worse is that some of the stops are not at the nearest main intersection, but up to another 240 metres down the road. Presumably this was a matter of finding a suitable location where the buses can stop, but in some cases they seem to have insisted on using the closest regular bus stop. This means the total distance from the station entrance is quite long in some cases — 640 metres for Ormond station outbound buses.

Replacement bus for Bentleigh level crossing removal works 24/10/2015

In some cases the written directions are also illogical, as if someone’s copied it out of Google Maps or similar, rather than looking at a map and just working out the best path.

  • Glenhuntly — it instructs you to go down two side streets, then (for outbound) cross busy Grange Road about 100 metres from the traffic lights, rather than following the main road and crossing at the lights.
  • Moorabbin — it tells you to go the long, exposed (to the highway and the weather) way around to the bus interchange, instead of the shorter path direct from the station’s eastern exit

Rail replacement bus stops

Bentleigh level crossing removal works 24/10/2015

Is it working for passengers?

I hope they’ll be taking note of feedback from passengers on this weekend’s bus replacements, and whether it works for people.

I can understand the principle of running the buses along the main roads, but my thinking is that some of the bus stops need to move closer to intersections. And some of the directions need work.

One would also hope that they’ve considered running a few (inevitably slower) buses either closer to the stations, for the benefit of those who may not have an easy time walking the extra distance.

There are going to be a lot more closures on this line (and others) in coming months and years as this level crossing removal project and others ramp up, so they need to get it right.

Update Sunday: Trying it out

I didn’t get a chance to try it all out until Sunday afternoon. A few observations:

Bustitution can be a chore to use, but with dispatchers at each end, lots of buses in service and on standby, staff pointing the way to each stop, a mix of express and stopping buses, good signage… Operations like these are way better resourced than any regular bus route.

At Caulfield, they were running replacements for the Frankston and Glen Waverley lines. There was pretty clear signage pointing the way to each.

Signage at other locations was pretty good, but some signs stuck to poles ended up rotating (perhaps due to wind) to point in the wrong direction, for instance one I saw pointed east instead of south — potentially misleading. (I pushed that one back into position, but when I came back later, it had reverted back.)

Special trains were serving Caulfield to City, all stations (important given the Dandenong line is often crowded, and doesn’t normally stop between Caulfield and South Yarra.)

It takes a lot of buses to replace a ten minute train service!

The route itself seemed pretty good. Traffic wasn’t heavy, and the buses moved pretty quickly. On the stretch I used, the express buses barely saved any time compared to the stopping buses, though that could vary. The intersection at North and Grange Road may need tweaking for future operations; southbound doesn’t get very much green time, at least on weekends.

Despite being a relatively quiet time, there were quite a few people travelling in both directions. I probably missed the weekend peak.

Sensibly the Myki readers were switched off (to be precise, in “Ticket validation disabled” mode), though some people went looking through the bus hunting in vain for a working one to touch-on. It wasn’t helped by one bus I used having a piece of paper stuck over the front reader, making it look like just that one wasn’t working. It makes sense to make it free — most people would be paying for the train at either end, and given the big crowds at times, you need to keep the buses moving as quickly as possible.

Seems to me running down main roads works well, but they really need to move the bus stops to be closer to the main roads/stations. I saw many alighting passengers unsure which stop they needed or showing signs of anxiety that their station was being missed, because buses had to stop hundreds of metres down the road from the most logical spot. As I expected, this was particularly a problem at Ormond and Glenhuntly, and apart from sharing a southbound stop at Ormond, there was no obvious reason for the others.

But overall, not too bad.

Update 29/10/2015

The government has announced the works are being brought forward: the major shut down will now be in mid-2016. Obviously this has impacts on bus replacement services, as two weeks will cover school holidays, but three-ish weeks will cover “normal” term/working weeks.

Vic Govt Statement: Work Starts On Accelerated Frankston Line Crossings

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13 Replies to “Rail replacement buses that don’t serve stations #bustitution”

  1. The main road running makes sense, but I was pretty disappointed at the service substitutions that have been taking place on the Glen Waverly line for the Burke Rd crossing.

    In one example, all the replacement bus signage was – on the platforms!! or, facing as if you were walking from them.
    So anyone entering the station couldn’t see anything until reaching the platforms; once there, you turn around and hey! there’s a whole lot of signs nicely directing you back 450m to where you started from (in this case, #6 tram terminus, near Glen Iris station). The replacement bus service was on a different corner of the tram terminus (no obvious signs).
    Also unclear why there were signs on the platform when no trains were going to be arriving there.

    Lesson: Face signs outward at station entrance, and have some at the nearest likely interchanges (tram or bus). It’s a NETWORK, people aren’t just being teleported onto the platform or station entrance.

    Second example; no tram announcements that the station was closed. In this case, #16 at Kooyong. The replacement bus stop is at Toorak Rd, 600m up a quite steep hill (or vice versa). No tram drivers were mentioning the closure, which resulted in many groups of people interchanging from the tram (per normal) then having to trudge up the hill to the bus, or even worse, staying on the tram PAST the replacement bus, getting into the station, then walking back up the road they’d just traveled down to get back to the replacement bus stop.

    Lesson: Make sure PTV ensures coordination so that connecting service drivers advise of closures & replacement locations; and put a few (large) signs at the relevant stops that the station is closed (“stay on 2 stops”, or “get off here for bus service”. You could reuse many of these signs over the course of the 50 level crossings project, I’d guess, but it’s not like corflute signage is expensive.

    Finally – run the buses regardless of loading, or at least don’t run a ‘wait until full’ policy. I got stuck on some of that at Burnley and it was horrendous – if I’d known I would have planned alternatives (eg nearby trams + walk, or different train line and walk/tram). Have a maximum wait time for interchanging passengers and stick to it.

  2. I also liked the assumption that the passengers were eight year olds and had to be told to cross roads ‘with caution’.

  3. Whatever is decided, consistency and good communication is the key. If a particular route is used for Moorabbin to Caulfield, this should be the same every time a rail closure is required, for the sake of both passengers and bus drivers.

    I’ve been on many bus replacements on the Frankston line where the driver didn’t seem to know where they were going. They hadn’t been provided the route and/or weren’t familiar with the area, and had to ask passengers where to go (not the best for a passenger’s confidence that they’ll get where they’re going any time soon).

    When a circuitous route is used, I’ve found that the driver will often announce Patterson station, and when nobody answers, chooses to avoid that section entirely. Too bad for anybody trying to get on from Patterson…

    Standardised maps with highlighted streets should be made for each section (i.e. in Frankston’s case, Frankston – Carrum – Mordialloc – Moorabbin – Caulfield) and made prominent rather than just having questionable written directions.

    As for the 400m between Patterson – Ormond and Grange Rd, this shouldn’t be too far for most people, and I’m sure most would appreciate the more direct / quicker bus route even if it means having to walk an extra few hundred metres at the end (and some people of course would have a shorter walk). A maxi taxi or two could be used to assist those who need it (as used for East Richmond customers during Glen Waverley bus replacements).

    And of course, if there’s a published timetable, stick to it.

  4. One could probably write a whole thesis on bus replacement services.

    For instance the express buses tend to be important for those making train to train connections, and should be timed to meet those trains. For other buses (for instance stopping all stations, particularly in the citybound direction) it may be better to run them at high frequency of say every 3-5 minutes rather than a big bunch every 10-20 minutes in line with the timetable. Given the unpredictable walking time (some people walk faster than others) to get to the stop, this can help minimise waiting time, with the trade off being possibly a longer wait where changing onto the train – but waiting facilities (shade, seats) will be better there.

    One thing I realised this morning: Caulfield is host to bus connections from the Frankston line and the Glen Waverley line this weekend. Hope it’s not too confusing for people headed outbound, with various buses operating.

    They do seem to have improved bus signage, such as programming destination signs. And even the temporary bus stops have good signage and bus zones signed.

    @Dave, good examples. In the case this weekend, there’s plenty of signage at local bus stops as well as at the station, though it’d be interesting to know if bus drivers on connecting regular routes are advising passengers to hop off where they can change to the train replacements.

    @Nick, I suspect the 400 metres is reasonable, but the additional 240 metres at Ormond is a bit silly I think. Having some maxi taxis around (perhaps staff at stations could call them on demand for people) would make some sense.

    The other issue that always comes up is that people can’t bring bicycles onto replacement buses. A couple of weeks ago during the Around The Bay In A Day event they actually ran special buses with bicycle trailers, but most of the time there are no specific arrangements for cyclists. (This weekend the length of closure on the Frankston line is about 16 km).

  5. I hate bus replacement services like the plague. A 20 minute journey can take almost an hour. When it happens on my line (Sandringham) I cycle up to Moorabbin and catch the train from there. I realise that this isn’t an option of many people.
    Good post Daniel!

  6. I take a train to the city regularly on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from Oakleigh Station, so I’m not really aware (except peripherally) of what works are planned for when on the Frankston line. Earlier in the week, I happened to notice a sign at Caulfield station stating that the Frankston line would have rail replacement busses on Sunday and I recall thinking that it would mean that my planned trip to Tyabb should probably happen on Saturday (ie yesterday) instead.

    I looked up on the PTV app AND on Offi to get the times before I left home on Saturday morning and saw that I’d be taking a train from Bentleigh to Frankston, then changing to another train on the Stony Point line to Tyabb station.
    However, when I got to Bentleigh there was a sign visible as I approached from the carpark saying there were rail replacement busses, but no further information. There was a gentleman standing at the crossing looking somewhat … shall we say… frustrated at having to give the same information over and over. I asked him how to get to Frankston, and was told I needed to go to the corner of Jasper and Centre Roads for the replacement bus.
    Having moved my car closer to there (behind the ex-video shop/now bottle shop) I discovered where the bus stop actually was (the corner was well sign posted with “to city” and “from city” signs) down past the Woolworths on the corner. The first bus went past with the driver indicating there would be another one shortly, and there was. BUT the bus only went as far as Moorabbin, where we had to change to another bus (with no useful airconditioning :-( ) as far as Mordialloc, then by train to Frankston, where I discovered that the next train to Tyabb didn’t leave for more than another hour. Luckily there was a bus that went from Frankston about 10 minutes later. Phew. Talk about your adventure!

    (PS just out of interest when I looked it up today, I put my home as the starting point and was told that I could have taken the 903 bus down Warrigal Road to Mordialloc, then a train from there to Frankston and the other train from there to Tyabb. I obviously should have put in home as the starting point yesterday!) Interesting that neither the PTV app nor Offi showed the closure of the train lines yesterday.

  7. Sometimes the disruption is worth the cost as these are only temporary while we have very poor day to day services for our bus services which are convoluted, infrequent and very costly to run.
    As Roger mentioned about train services being disrupted it is much worse that short cross town bus journeys can take 1 hour that takes twenty minutes by car and is a normal occurrence on many of our normal scheduled bus services including smart bus, this is why bus patronage is very low.
    It is amazing that bus services in general have been completely neglected by our government while all the focus in on private transport.

  8. @Jen, it appears that the replacement buses ARE in the PTV Journey Planner, but are categorised as buses. I tried getting it to plan me a journey from Caulfield to Tyabb (earlier today) and it told me I’d need to change “trains” at Mordialloc, and that the “train” from Caulfield to Mordialloc would take 46 minutes – which is the time taken by the express replacement bus.

    @Llib, I was thinking about this too. The replacement buses aren’t perfect, but they’ve got staff pointing you to every stop (on duty until the last bus), dispatchers at each end, express and stopping buses, and lots of them… they’re far better resourced than any regular bus route.

  9. About the most isolated replacement bus stop in Melbourne is the one for Officer – it’s 800m away from the station on the Princes Highway. Makes enough sense given the nature of the area but I do wonder about the technicality that you’re meant to touch on/off as usual on the platform!

    I think it’s a good idea running the replacement buses along a direct path though. The most painful bus replacements are always those for country trains, as V/Line never actually provides a timetable or details of the routes provided, just to turn up at the normal train times and expect to be be delayed up to an hour. And a coach diverting via the back roads to every little small town, having to go down no through roads to do a u-turn in every station carpark takes an absolute age!

  10. @L2: “V/Line never actually provides a timetable or details of the routes provided, just to turn up at the normal train times and expect to be delayed up to an hour”.

    Absolutely right, but to rub salt into the wound, V/Line does actually prepare detailed timetables for the bus drivers (at least for planned disruptions) – they just don’t publicise them. I was on a V/Line replacement coach once, stopping all stations, and when we got to North Shore station, the bus driver noticed that he was early, so he decided to wait a few minutes to get back on schedule! This was, of course, completely pointless when passengers don’t have a copy of the timetable – and in this case, just plain frustrating, since we were already 40 minutes or so behind the train’s scheduled time at North Shore.

  11. Ok, someone beat me to it to mention the Camberwell to Parliament bustitution. But I’ll elaborate …

    The trip from Camberwell to Parliament, about 10:50 was a bit bruising – not enough express buses for the crowds coming off the train at Camberwell. And the buses tended to stop at random spots along the kerb (in Cookson St, Camberwell). Other issues were heavy traffic along Burke Road and Burwood Road and the circuitous routes at both Parliament and Camberwell to get the buses in position. This included a tricky left turn from Albert St to Nicholson St (near Parliament).

    The trip from Parliament to Camberwell, about 15:30 was better – less people. But we were still hobbled by heavy traffic in the Cambewell area.

    I have previously heard a complaint that a passenger was refused a Myki card at Camberwell under a different closure from Box Hill to city. Really, that should not happen: people should still be able to buy their Myki at any staffed station, as per normal, and also be able to resolve simple Myki replacement/issues at the station.

    My list of suggestions follow:
    -> Use blue paint to paint a line on the ground between the bus stops and train station entrance. You might get a few questions afterwards, but there’s no legal significance for blue lines, and word will eventually get around as to their purpose (in the weeks afterwards). They did the same for the marathon route in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
    -> Some of the middle stations have difficult road access. This can be handled by servicing them exclusively with maxi taxis, or servicing the diversion with maxi-taxis (as suggested above).
    -> Some buses were express Camberwell to Parliament, some were “limited express” (adding Hawthorn, Glenferrie, skipping Burnley/Richmond/East Richmond which have difficult road access), and all stops (including Richmond/East Richmond, with buses going down obscure streets). But the express buses drove right past the Hawthorn, Glenferrie, etc stops. To reduce traffic issues, I think the expresses should try Barkers Road -> Victoria Pde -> Nicholson St instead.
    -> The various stopping patterns need to have very widely separated bus stops at the ends, so that the crowd waiting for express is completely separated from the crowd waiting for all stops. It got a bit confusing in Cookson St, because the two crowds merged together.
    -> Special Event Clearways should be considered. Now, this is a sensitive issue, because this impacts on traders, but this can be handled to some degree by finding out which traders don’t operate during the weekend, and arranging for their parking to be opened up and used for the weekend traders.
    -> For the Camberwell to Parliament case, passengers should be allowed to board and alight at Jolimont. This will reduce frustration for someone who has to travel Clifton Hill to Camberwell [remembering their normal trip will turn into Clifton Hill -> Flinders St -> Parliament -> (bus, driving right past Jolimont) -> Camberwell].
    -> We need software that monitors Myki validations further up the line and alerts to say “There’s 5000 passengers arriving in 20 minutes” to somebody that can quickly order more buses. That would help in the earlier part of the day, when people herd into the city.
    -> and for one totally outside the box … consider motorcycle taxis (as used in Bangkok). I realise they’re not for everyone, but they’re nimble and fast, and suitable for the quiet times.

    And one last thing … there’s a forum on Friday about a certain piece of “bustitution” which ought to be disposed of as soon as possible. I refer of course to the bus to the airport being used to replace a railway line nobody wants to build!

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