I wrote most of this post late last year, so obviously circumstances have changed a tad, but my assumption is it’s all temporary – eventually things will get back to something approaching “normal”. Maybe not quite what it was last year, but the pattern of increasing travel demand will come back.
Works on the northern sections of William Street in the CBD to install tram platform stops and protected bicycle lanes were done during late-2019 – and it’s a great improvement, though there are some niggles, particularly the failure to widen overcrowded footpaths.
The works period caused traffic headaches in the area, which highlighted issues with some CBD bus routes, particularly those connecting Fishermans Bend with Southern Cross Station: the 235 and 237.
These routes act as an important reverse commute connection: AM peak is busiest outbound as passengers change from trains to reach workplaces at Fishermans Bend, returning inbound in the PM peak to head home.
Once in the CBD, buses travel from Southern Cross Station along Collins Street, then Queen Street, and terminate at the Queen Victoria Market, before returning.
At least that’s the theory. In practice, even during normal traffic conditions, Collins Street is extremely congested through much of the day, and inbound buses often detour via other streets such as Bourke Street. This was a regular occurrence during 2019.
Fortunately this inbound detour only skips one stop (on Queen Street near Bourke Street) and it’s unlikely there are any inbound passengers wanting to catch the bus the last block or two to the terminus.
Bourke Street isn’t free-flowing traffic either of course.
But here’s the thing: these bus routes are very busy between Fishermans Bend and Southern Cross, but almost empty between Southern Cross and the Market.
In PM peak, the 237 bus is scheduled to take 22 minutes from the terminus at Port Melbourne to Southern Cross, then another 17 minutes to the Vic Market. But that 17 can easily blow out in peak hour traffic, and there are no bus lanes they can use. The 235 is similar.
Could buses use the tram lanes? Perhaps for some of their journey, though the number of buses risks clogging up the trams as well.
Delays to buses inbound cascade to delays outbound, as illustrated by this grab from the PTV app at 5:43pm on a Thursday night – note the 5:12pm bus, then expected at 5:55pm – some 43 minutes late.
A possible fix?
What if these bus routes terminated at Southern Cross Station, and didn’t enter the Hoddle Grid? The few passengers wanting to travel further in could connect via tram or train.
This is precisely what happened during the works period.
- Fewer delays entering the congested Hoddle Grid, especially Collins Street, meaning fewer delays, and less crowding on the busier part of the route
- Run more frequent services with the same number of drivers and buses, cutting waiting times and relieving crowding – on the section of the route that most needs it
- Very few passengers affected
- Collins Street is served by trams (including increased capacity just added), and Queen Street is still served by several other bus routes
- Loss of a one seat ride for people wanting to travel to/from Queen Street – but it appears hardly anybody is using this section
- Under normal circumstances, CBD trams are pretty packed, especially during evening peak
- Lack of train service from City Loop stations into Southern Cross makes some PM connections difficult
This last point will become less of a problem once the Caulfield Loop starts running anti-clockwise all day – which will happen when the new trains come into service. This could be an opportunity to change the buses as well.
A way of turning around terminating buses would need to be found. This might be a special traffic light sequence as at Queen Street/Flinders Lane, or some other mechanism. And space for layover/recovery time might also be needed.
To win, you need to play to your strengths. Buses running near-empty in heavy city traffic isn’t it. Connections within the CBD are better done by tram and train, as they are less prone to delays. Curtailing these routes at Southern Cross would bring a lot of benefits.
This is just one example of a possible change to bus routes that would bring positive benefits for passengers, both current and potential. There are plenty of others. For more, check the Melbourne On Transit blog
- A dump of Transdev punctuality stats in 2018 didn’t highlight the 235-237 as worst, though I wonder if delays are getting worse over time.
- But the related route 232 was one of the worst – probably due to Westgate Freeway delays. Potentially the 232 should also terminate at Southern Cross.