Chadstone’s Boxing Day bus debacle

Chadstone’s new bus interchange opened in late-2015. Today I got to sample how well Chadstone’s buses run on what is perhaps the busiest shopping day of the year: Boxing Day.

(I wasn’t there to shop. I was there to watch Doctor Who — Hoyts at Chadstone had $12 tickets, and more of them available, than Village at Southland which was $20 and sold out.)

Chadstone is the biggest shopping centre in Australia, and was expecting 170,000 visitors on Boxing Day.

The first signs of trouble: the bus to Chadstone was running late. And more people than you’d normally see were waiting at the bus stop.

The last seats filled as we boarded, and from there, it quickly got packed. Like most suburban bus routes, this service runs only once an hour on Boxing Day, and all public holidays as well as weekends — half the weekday frequency.

626 bus to Chadstone, Boxing Day

Our bus driver, at the stop before Chadstone, wisely suggested we get out and walk to avoid a long delay in the traffic… which was chaotic.

There were long queues of cars waiting to get into the centre, delaying buses as well, and numerous private vehicles parked in bus stops.

You can see from these aerial shots that the car parks were packed full. Note how much space (about 40%) is used simply for moving the cars into and out of car spaces — this underscores just how inefficient this mode is for moving large numbers of people. Multi-storey parking like this is also incredibly expensive to build.

Chadstone car park, Boxing Day (Channel 7)
Chadstone car park, Boxing Day (Channel 7)

Exiting the centre a couple of hours later, the bus interchange was a sight to behold. Many people queuing at the various bays.

There seemed to be long delays on most routes.

623 bus boarding at Chadstone, Boxing Day

Rather than wait for a specific bus, we caught the first one going broadly in our direction; a 623 to St Kilda. The queue to board looked hopelessly long; then a 624 to Kew also showed up, sharing some of the load — they both go to Carnegie. (The 623 departed at 2:25pm; 20 minutes late. The 624 would have been a minute or two behind that, so appears to have been about 40 minutes late.)

Here’s a quick video showing the scene as we departed:

Just to twist the knife, for much of the afternoon, buses on one of the busiest routes through Chadstone, route 903, actually bypassed the Chadstone and Essendon DFO shopping centres completely! Ridiculous.

The text of the PTV travel alert, and the fact that Essendon DFO also had issues, appears to point to problems for bus routes right across Melbourne, at all the major shopping centres dominated by car parks and car access.

Chadstone official centre map. Where's the bus interchange?

So where to from here?

Some things for authorities to think about:

First an easy one: get the bus interchange put onto the official centre maps. I mean for heaven’s sake, who designed this?

More significantly: a centralised bus interchange is a good idea, but if it doesn’t include bus priority lanes to ensure buses don’t get caught in centre traffic, it’s a failure. Today the access roads filled with cars queuing for non-existent parking spaces.

Even if they couldn’t get bus lanes in place temporarily for these peak times, they should have deployed more buses. If trains or trams suffer major disruptions, they call in buses. Why couldn’t they have called in more buses to support the regular services?

Equally, why not extra services? When special events are on, extra trams and trains run. Why isn’t it done for Boxing Day shopping? The government could easily organise with the bus companies to run the higher weekday frequencies on all weekends and public holidays during December, on routes to Chadstone and other major shopping centres, to cope with demand from shoppers.

In fact, Chadstone and other centres put a lot of event planning into Christmas and Boxing Day sales. Are these considered special events under the state legislation related to events? Given the impacts, they should be.

If you are organising an event which is likely to have an impact on public transport services, then you are required under Victorian legislation to notify Public Transport Victoria (PTV). — PTV

In fact, for commercial events (and they don’t get more commercial than the Boxing Day sales) it appears the cost of additional services would be borne by the event organiser: the shopping centre. Perhaps if this was enacted, it would help them focus on the need to get buses through the traffic more quickly.

… the focus of the legislation is only on those events that are likely to have an impact on regular public transport services.

Commercial events โ€“ run primarily for profit. These events are generally feepaying activities organised by business or commercial entities. In these cases cost recovery may be made a condition of approval of the Public Transport Plan. — PTV Information Kit for Event Organisers

Longer term, better bus services, tram (routes 3 or 67?) connections, or even heavy rail (one idea is extending the Alamein line under Chadstone to Oakleigh) need to be looked at. Continued car domination of huge centres like this isn’t scalable, and isn’t sustainable.

767 bus boarding at Chadstone, Boxing Day

Fundamentally, Boxing Day also underscores that the current hourly services (on most routes) or half-hourly (on the Smartbus routes) simply isn’t good enough for a huge centre like Chadstone on weekends and public holidays. It defies belief that compared to weekdays, services are halved on the busiest shopping days.

While billions is to be spent on tollways that will inevitably cause more traffic, the few people that dared to use buses instead of adding to traffic were treated like second-class citizens.

Boxing Day sales happen every year. It’s been traffic chaos every year for well over a decade, and it’s getting worse as the centre continues to grow.

This is both a challenge: managing delays, and an opportunity: encourage more people to use public transport. Do it well, and you win new customers.

The rest of the week most likely won’t be quite so bad. Shopper demand will reduce a bit, and weekday services will kick-in on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Just watch though. Bet you the same mess happens again next Boxing Day.

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23 Replies to “Chadstone’s Boxing Day bus debacle”

  1. It would be delicious if the reason Southland was expensive and sold out, while Chadstone was cheap and available, was because *you can now easily get to Southland by public transport that’s not going to get caught in traffic*.

    The car parks would be the limitation on customer numbers at Chadstone on weekends, let alone days of peak demand. Southland has just had a step jump in the number of customers that it can support. That has very real commercial implications for the two shopping centres.

  2. Great article! Yes it boggles the mind that shopping centres seem to largely be catering for car drivers, even though many drivers end up stuck outside the shopping centre, queueing, not actually shopping.

    I think you need to add another layer to your critique: namely, the environmental impact of all that traffic. People are just idling their cars in a queue that goes nowhere, meanwhile spewing CO2 into the air to keep their engines and air conditioning running. Considering that Australia needs to cut its CO2 emissions fast, this is a very selfish and thoughtless way for everyone involved to act. And we canโ€™t wait for next year to prove that nothing will be fixed. Time is against us: the longer we wait, the more CO2 will be released and that will mean climate change will be more damaging. We need to start acting now to reduce car traffic at events like these, in order to do our bit to reduce the worldโ€™s CO2 emissions.

    Less traffic will be a nice side bonus to saving the world ๐Ÿ™‚.

  3. Traffic was banked back in the left lane to Stephensons Road, about four kilometres, on the Monash Freeway at midday, most presumably heading to Chadstone. Why would you put yourself through that? Whether people acted for altruistic reasons or to avoid the traffic and parking, it is more than just sad that bus passengers were treated like that. Chadstone’s loss is Southland’s gain. I’ve vowed to never visit Chadstone again, but I will visit Southland, by train.

  4. Re tram extensions-

    * Route 3 extended to Chadstone via Waverley Rd – Chadstone Rd is impossible, because of the hairpin turn between the two (and the former Outer Circle alignment probably can’t be reclaimed). However, Route 3 could be extended to Holmesglen TAFE and Warrigal Road, significantly improving access in that area. (East Malvern doesn’t help as many people, since it’s just a park-and-ride; Holmesglen is an actual destination, and also an interchange with a perpendicular route.)

    * Route 67 extended to Carnegie and Chadstone via Koornang Rd – Dandenong Rd requires abandoning the last two stops. Options are either Graceburn Ave, demolishing 187 Koornang Rd for access then up Koornang Rd and Dandenong Road; or Truganina-Neerim-Koornang-Dandenong pending a far more detailed curve alignment analysis (the curves would likely end up similar to Hopkins St, Footscray, which may not be E class compatible?), or abandon the route as far back as Grange Rd, divert via Grange-Neerim.

    The best option for tram access to Chadstone is really light rail rather than streetcar, along Dandenong Road from Malvern Junction. Link routes 16N+64S to make a new permanent north-south connection Route 68; make Route 3 permanently run via Luna Park to replace 16; and extend the remnant of Route 64 on Dandenong Road to Malvern station (stage 1, 0.2km), Caulfield (stage 2, 1.8km), Chadstone (stage 3, 3.8km), Monash (stage 4, 5.5km) and perhaps further.

  5. A major reason these shopping malls are designed around cars is that people can carry more shopping away in car boots than they can by public transport. Nevertheless more effort should be made with public transport as a lot of people still want to use it, as can be seen here. This is hardly the only mall in Australia that doesn’t clarify the transit interchange in its map, nor make good arrangements for the transit to get in and out of the site. Good design is the rare exception rather than the rule, but by the same token, consent agencies (councils etc) are failing in their duty by passing these poor designs.

    Going by your description, it’s poor marks also to PTV/operators for inadequate service provision on a known busy day. Obviously infrequent buses, compounded by using only 12 metre buses with 2 doors (and only one used for boarding as usual, presumably). Pacific Fair on Gold Coast, by contrast, has trams with priority and they must have made a difference, but not enough apparently: http://www.news.com.au/finance/money/budgeting/thousands-of-gold-coast-bargain-hunters-hit-shops-for-boxing-day-sales/news-story/c4e4a58b95b9f4e880053b753eb00f8e

    How many of these malls have tram or train services in Melbourne and what difference does it make on these occasions?

  6. HighPoint has car and bus access, obviously, but there is also a tram service close by, doesn’t stop right at an entrance but it is basically just across the road. People also attempt to use the massive Bunnings carpark (diagonally across from HP) if they can’t get into the centre car parks. Bunnings carparks are horrendous at the best of times but impossible on the days leading up to Christmas and Boxing Day.

    However, I agree with Tony Prescott. People drive to these places because the amount of shopping they usually do at them cannot be carried on a tram/bus – without difficulty. I also agree that PTV should have organised for the bus companies to put on extra buses – I’m shocked that they don’t. But, the solution to this is quite simple – stay at home.

  7. @Andrew (the second), to be fair, I saw a report of a car broken down on the Monash Fwy inbound near Chadstone, which would have made traffic a lot worse in that direction.

    @Tony, good question on other centres with rail. Melbourne Central, Box Hill, and Eastland are fairly easily accessed by train, as well as Southland of course. As Deb noted, Highpoint has trams, as does Box Hill and Melbourne Central. Numerous suburban street centres have good rail and/or tram access, though they don’t seem to capitalise as fully on Boxing Day sales as the malls do.

    The key is that heavy rail doesn’t get caught in the traffic, and mostly offers frequent services (or at least, frequent by Melbourne bus standards). Both of these aspects are possible with buses… but not in Melbourne, apparently.

    As for carrying lots of shopping: I think this as a reason for driving is over-rated. How many people buy so much that they return to their car multiple times to put stuff in the boot? Some do, but many (and the photos show this) managed to carry what they bought to the bus interchange. And it’s well-documented that some people are happy enough to carry even large packages home by public transport.

  8. As for heavy rail access to Chadstone – Alamein line is an option but it’s difficult, because the old alignment doesn’t go anywhere near Chadstone and wouldn’t be available even if it did. An alternative might be to build two new express tracks along Dandenong Road (Caulfield to either Westall or Yarraman?), providing access to Chadstone and Monash while compensating for the lack of forethought that now makes four tracks Caulfield to Oakleigh impossible on the existing alignment.

  9. I believe David presented a range of options to extend the public transport network closer to Chadstone worthy of investigation by government. If the no 3 tram could be extended to Holmesglen – the junction near Batesford and Waverley roads it would link to Holmesglen railway station on the Glen Waverley line. Chadstone is about a 15 minute walk. I read recently that a Sofitel hotel will commence construction this year at Chadstone shopping centre, perhaps the hotel and shopping centre will offer special deals over the Christmas and New Year shopping frenzy! We live near Chadstone and just avoid going there between late November to early January, likewise we need to take lengthy detours to avoid the traffic jam within about a 4 km radius of Chadstone from the week before Christmas to NY eve. The government needs to seriously look at a public transport solution. Yes, Southland has been given a huge advantage with the train station. I love Chadstone but not at this time of the year.

  10. I assume the closure of Hughesdale station had an impact on people’s choices. It’s about 1.5 kms – further than most would prefer to walk, but still close enough to be an option if the wait for a bus is too long. Few would choose the train/replacement bus/walking.

    The last time I went to Chadstone on Boxing Day was by bike – a simple detour between Hughesdale station and the Gardiners Creek path. Hopefully, next year with the new Skyrail bike/pedestrian path open, more people will consider cycling to Chadstone and adequate provision will be made for them.

  11. I agree that Hughesdale station being closed probably contributed to bus crush to/from Chadstone. From the nearest Chadstone entrances to Hughesdale is less than 1km and in previous years has had lots of people walking to/from Chadstone along Poath Rd.

    The numbers 3 and 5 should be extended to Chadstone via East Malvern station and Chadstone Rd. This may well require a small number of property acquisitions on the Waverley Rd/Chadstone Rd corner. Chadstone is a much bigger destination than Holmesglen in passenger numbers, providing a much higher terminus patronage demand, and many more of them would be full fare passengers. The Holmesglen shopping precinct is also served by Holmesglen Station, which is served by the same trains as East Malvern and Darling, providing Holmesglen passengers with a decent alternative.

    Extra tracks along Dandenong Rd are likely to be express tracks, while the vast majority of Chadstone patronage is likely to be local, meaning that an Alamein-East-Malvern-Chadstone-Oakleigh route would serve the greatest proportion of passengers.

  12. Speaking of buses bypassing Chadstone, sometimes I wish this was done by design. For anyone not travelling to/from Chadstone, it adds a long time to a trip, taking 15+ minutes to travel what would be 1.5km directly along Warrigal Rd. A quick walker could walk this distance in the same time the bus would take.

  13. Interestingly, on Boxing Day I dropped my daughter off at Chadstone at 10:30am and picked her up at 4:30pm. I had no problem with traffic or queues. The car trip from home (Hampton) took 20 minutes. To use public transport would have taken between 1.5 and 2 hours one way – so not an option.

  14. Tony has a point. It’s true that shoppers can absolutely carry a lot of stuff, even heavy stuff, on buses and trains. However it’s also true that many retailers and shopping centre owners still have the American mindset of “public transport is for poor people”. It’s not about how much you can carry, it’s the idea that if you don’t have a car, or have to spend money on PT, you must be poor and don’t spend as much. Retailers care the most about the richest customers and they are far more likely to be in a car. Hence why the majority of shopping centres don’t even mention bus interchanges on maps. In fact two notable ones, the Glen and Eastland, deliberately want buses a good walking distance from the actual centre. Not the taxi ranks though. Those are right in front.

  15. The buses almost certainly gain significantly more passengers than they loose in lost time through Chadstone and other shopping centres because they are such large patronage generators. However more could be done to speed up the passage of buses through shopping centres, such as bus lanes, make the shopping centre interchanges pre-paid boarding only (with signs, more Myki machines, driver instructions and potentially interchange staff (many of the shopping centre bus interchanges would have premium station type patronage)), all door boarding, etc.

    Retailers are likely to have a better view of trains and trams because they have a wider range of income demographics in significant numbers and they are more likely to use them themselves. The “buses are only for poor people” mindset is much stronger and significantly closer to being accurate than “public transport is for poor people”.

  16. 10 minute trains on the Frankston line to Southland and Bayside (Frankston) even during Boxing day, quite the relaxing way to shop. For all those thinking its challenging to get shopping home on public transport you’ve not seen those people who do it regularly and have their own trolleys or load up a gigantic kids pram.

  17. I visited Bendigo on Boxing Day and then met family for a movie at Southland. The movie started at 6. My train arrived at 6.16. I don’t mind missing the trailers and shorts. But I WISH the train station was nearer to the actual shops. As that isn’t possible (until the shops grow out towards the station), it would be great if there was a free shuttle or one of those golf carts they have at airports to get from one side of Southland to the other.
    What I think I’ll try next time is to walk under the car park and cross Nepean Hwy at the lights instead of back-and-forthing inside the centre to get to the cinemas. (I think I missed the first 5 or 10 minutes of the movie.)

  18. @Anonymous you can also cut through the car park on level 2 between Michael Hill and Pandora to get to Village, bypassing the centre stage area.

    I remember it used to bother me (far more than it should have), that the only non-lift access from level 1 to 2 on the new side is a long travelator that is oriented the wrong way for optimum walking efficiency…

  19. It’s definitely about snobbery. I encounter people all the time who look down their noses at public transport users, especially those who use buses. I even work with people, in a supposedly transport-focused research organisation, who will ask why I get the bus to work. They just assume that if one has the means to drive, one should do so.
    Shopping centres are certainly not trying to get more people to travel there by bus. Eastland’s recent consumption of a public road, bus interchange and all, is further evidence of this. A number of bus stops were removed, so the shopping centre now has none. In their place is a car park and more shopping space. Buses that (inexplicably) don’t stop at the railway station are now stopping on a busy arterial road, without dedicated bus bays or passenger shelters, and with hidden and circuitous pedestrian access to the shopping centre, itself now protected by a ring of multi-storey carparks.

  20. Catching up on a few of the end of year blog posts – Happy New Year, Daniel.

    We drove past both Highpoint and DFO Essendon on Boxing Day on our way out of town on holiday. It didn’t look like there were really long delays from the south on Bulla Rd, but the usual insane queues coming off the Tulla from the north were there! We went past Highpoint on the Gordon St side – queues almost back to the tram turn (so no delays for the tram!), so don’t know what Rosamond Rd and the buses were like.

    The shopping centres are a bit like universities – destinations not well serviced by the rail system (maybe a theme for a blog post?). But all of our large universities now have express shuttle bus services from a close by train station. Something like that on peak shopping days (e.g. Oakleigh to Chadstone express), with a dedicated bus lane to get the buses in and out of the shopping centre.

    On circuitous routes, the 811/812 route through Southland is pretty annoying, as it basically has to do a lap of the shopping centre perimeter to get back on route towards Moorabbin – how about a bus only right turn out of the bus bay onto Karen St so it can directly turn left onto Chesterville Rd?

  21. In the past I’d have said catch the train to Hughesdale and walk to Chadstone, it takes about 10-15m for the walk. Unfortunately Hughesdale station has been bulldozed during the Skyrail construction and won’t be rebuilt for a year or so. It’s also about a 20 minute walk to Oakleigh station or a 25 minute walk from East Malvern station. Avoid any form of road transport heading into Chadstone, the congestion and level of anger exhibited is just not worth it.

  22. How you would extend the no. 3 tram: to East Malvern station via Waverley Rd and Sylvester Crescent. Directly beside the railway (some minor property resumption might be needed) to a point opposite the end of Chadstone Rd. Resume and demolish one house to link to Chadstone Rd. Possible further extension via the Princes Highway and Warrigal Rd to Oakleigh station.

    A route via the former outer circle railway easement would obviously be preferable, and personally I would argue that taking a 7-metre slice off the edge of 50-metre wide linear park wouldnโ€™t damage its environmental values much. But Iโ€™m assuming that would be politically impossible.

    An alternative continuing beside the railway/freeway then down Quentin Rd would avoid Chadstone Rd traffic, but I wouldnโ€™t extpect the residents of Quentin Rd to be too happy about that.

    A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests to me that with conservative assumptions (say, a 5 per hour service each carrying a dozen passengers) such an extension could easily be profitable on a incremental operating costs basis (that is, it would reduce the operating subsidy to Melbourneโ€™s trams; not talking about capital costs). I suggest it would be the highest priority among the various proposals to extend tram routes at their suburban ends to improve network connectivity.

    Possible extension project: convert the Alamein railway to light rail and extend it to East Malvern.

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