Caroline Springs Station opened in January, and is already being used by a fair number of people.
But the station has a weakness: it’s in the middle of nowhere, a not-very-pleasant one kilometre walk from the nearest houses.
Which means you pretty much have to use transport to get there: bike, bus, or car.
Of course you shouldn’t have to own a car to be able to use public transport, and relying on getting passengers to the station by car is not only extraordinarily expensive, it doesn’t scale up as the station gets bigger.
Bus to train; train to bus
So given the trains are fairly infrequent most of the time, and the connecting 460 bus is fairly frequent (3 per hour on weekdays; better than most of Melbourne’s appalling middle/outer suburban buses), and the connections are critical to the usability of the station, how good did they make the connections?
It’s easy enough to compare the train and bus connection times. I looked at “up” (bus to Caroline Springs, then the train to the City) and “down” (train from the City, then the bus from Caroline Springs) connection times. Of course some people might travel between the suburb and destinations further out, but I’d assume most would be travelling towards the City.
All the connection times are in a spreadsheet here. (Did I mess anything up? Leave a comment.)
|Day||Direction||Trains with bus connection||Total trains||Average wait time||% 10 mins or less|
Overall the connections are pretty good at peak times. Most connection times are under 10 minutes, meaning a minimum wait for changing between the trains and bus.
But outside peak times it’s a real mixed bag. At lunchtime weekdays you might face a 28 minute wait for the bus. And if you arrive on the 3pm train from the City during school terms, it’s a 12 minute connection, but outside school terms (eg this week) there’s no bus until after 4pm!
On weekends they’ve clearly prioritised trips to the City in the morning, and trips back in the afternoon. If you live elsewhere but want to visit friends or relatives in Caroline Springs for the day, you may end up facing a 25+ minute wait in both directions. It’s probably quicker to take the bus instead to/from Watergardens, where the trains are far more frequent and the connection times will be shorter.
On Sundays, most connections to the City are terrible. In 8 out of 11 cases, you’ll be waiting more than 20 minutes for the train.
Where the bus connections really fall down is in the late evening.
- Monday to Thursday, the last two trains (arriving Caroline Springs at the not exceptionally late times of 9:58pm and 10:47pm) have no bus connection.
- On Fridays, those two do, but the later arrival (11:58pm) doesn’t.
- On Saturdays, the last train (arriving 12:17am) has no bus connection.
- On Sundays, the last two trains (arriving 9:17pm and 10:37pm) have no bus connection.
Oh, and if you’re up early on a weekday and hoping to catch the first train to Melbourne at 5:17am, you’ll have to find another way to get to the station; the first bus arrives an hour later.
Should connections be guaranteed?
Timed connections have improved since PTV started overhauling them when South Morang station opened in 2012. Before then, there appeared to be little or no thought given to suburban bus/train connections.
Of course, even good connections are only good if services are on time. If they’re not, it’s not clear what the protocol is. Trains can’t really wait, but a departing bus should be able to wait if the train is delayed — and let’s face it, with ongoing punctuality problems on V/Line, this is not unheard of.
Maintaining that connection depends on the bus drivers having information about when the train is expected, and when I looked I saw no evidence that this was the case.
Do V/Line’s operational people notify the bus company if that happens?
There’s nothing in the literature I saw that indicates any kind of guarantee of connection. This is especially important late at night. You don’t want to be missing the bus home because the train was 6 minutes late and the bus driver took off before it arrived. And if you can’t rely on the connections, will you use them?
Connections are important
You wouldn’t build a road without connections to other roads, and nor should you run public transport that way.
Connections are essential for ensuring individual routes form a network, making each route useful for far more people.
Connections of course are a lot easier when one or both services are frequent. One of the benefits of the 10 minute suburban trains where they exist is that even if the bus is late, you’ll never wait very long to continue your journey. And if you’re coming off a train onto one of the tram or Smartbus services (at least when they’re running frequently) then likewise, a high level of coordination isn’t necessary — it just works regardless.
But this isn’t possible everywhere, so authorities need to get better at how they plan and manage good connections around the public transport network.
- Back in 2010, the PTUA did a comprehensive study of train to bus connections