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.)
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.
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.
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.
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:
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) December 26, 2017
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.
@Transdev_Melb Your 903 bus have bypassed Chadstone for an hour. There are huge long lines waiting for you guys. I am very disappointed now running late for anonther shopping trip at DFO Moorabbin. Who else can trust you if you fail to come? pic.twitter.com/O6zgg2rwSh
— Vu Pham Minh Tuan (@vutuan202) December 26, 2017
And here's the ultimate twist of the knife, for all those waiting in the heat: some buses are actually BYPASSING the shopping centres. Whose bright idea was this?! And is anything being done to tell those passengers? (HT: @MelbourneWay) pic.twitter.com/nh4d6sFIwD
— Daniel Bowen (@danielbowen) December 26, 2017
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.
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 – 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.
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.