Those of you who follow me on Twitter might recall I spent a lot of July last year posting about the 5 weeks of bus replacements on the Frankston line.
One of the things they got right was to run the buses along the main roads, rather than diverting them into the railway stations, three of which were major construction zones at the time.
Most buses ran along Grange and Jasper Roads, where rail replacement bus stops were installed. Their precise placement wasn’t ideal from a passenger point of view — they were sometimes a couple of hundred metres from the cross street that linked the road to the station — but overall it wasn’t too bad, and there was some logic to (where possible) re-using existing bus stops and shelters.
Overall it wasn’t perfect, there was crowding at times and long waits at others. But replacing a busy train line with buses isn’t an easy task, and we survived (though many sought out alternatives).
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) March 8, 2017
With those three level crossing removals more-or-less completed (2 of 3 bike cages still aren’t operating), earlier this year they decided to put the replacement bus stops back at the stations, restoring the old zig zag route from Caulfield to Moorabbin. Not that it’s regularly used; it comes into play if the line is suspended or there is planned maintenance (since the crossing projects were completed, none that I can recall).
But this zig zag route has problems. I saw it in action a few weeks ago, when an incident at the pedestrian crossing between Glenhuntly and Ormond caused train services to be suspended from about 8pm until the last service.
The buses diverted onto side streets to serve Glenhuntly, went past the accident site (!), then to Ormond, back to the main road, then off again to McKinnon and Bentleigh, then oddly back to the main road for a stop there in lieu of Patterson.
It’s odd that they didn’t detour to Patterson. There is still old signage around that indicates rail buses used to make a detour. Maybe they want to make absolutely sure the buses stay away from the low bridge?
With all that zig zagging, the end result is the bus took 27 minutes to travel 9.4 kilometres, or an average speed of 21 kilometres per hour. And this was at 10pm at night, with virtually no other road traffic along most of the route. No congestion, and little or no wait to turn from side streets into main roads.
In contrast, the train normally takes 12 minutes. The parallel 822 bus, with far more stops than the train replacement bus, takes 18 minutes — and that’s with a detour through some of East Bentleigh’s back streets!
Why Direct is better
Usually overall faster for passengers, even those going to/from the stations without train service. A 5 minute walk from a direct route is quicker than buses winding in and out of side streets to get to the stations.
Always faster for through passengers not using those stations
Bus drivers unfamiliar with area are more likely to be able to find their way
Easier for buses to navigate main roads. Smaller side streets may be physically difficult to turn in and out of, and may cause delays due to waiting for other traffic to turn
Reduces the need to run separate express and stopping buses
Because it’s quicker, the buses can run more often with the same fleet. This is particularly important in the time when buses are being organised, when resources may be thin on the ground.
Why Zig zag is better
Stops are close to stations, fairer for most passengers. Main road bus stops may be a long distance from stations
Easier to find the temporary bus stop from station, as it’s nearby and familiar
Supporting services like staff, toilets, maps, ticket machines, PSOs (after 6pm) are at the station
So which is better?
What other factors have I missed?
During level crossing works, taxis were also available for those who couldn’t walk to the replacement bus stops or easily use the buses.
And in some scenarios, some buses (for through passengers) can connect from other lines rather than running parallel to the railway line.
Between Caulfield and Moorabbin, the logical main road route is close to the stations, about five minutes walk for most people. On this line, I’d probably say it makes more sense to use it for replacement buses than the zig zag route.
On other sections of this and other lines, that may not be the case. But I don’t think rigidly zig zagging along a route to stop outside each station in every case (except Patterson?!) is necessarily the best outcome for passengers.
- This ABC story from November is worth a read: Where do train replacement buses come from?