Happy new year!
We’re all used to the standard size buses (pictured above).
Bigger buses either go to double deck, requiring higher bridge clearances, or longer articulated buses, needing longer bus bays and larger turning circles.
Spotted recently on the Western Freeway near Melton: a smaller FlexiRide bus.
The aspect ratio on this pic is correct – this bus is a Hino Poncho – it appears the bus is designed to be narrow, presumably to more easily fit along suburban streets between parked cars, where a full size bus might not be able to go.
FlexiRide is designed for routes with low patronage, and which are never going to get high patronage – the on-demand aspect of it would make that impractical.
Similar on-demand services have been around for decades – in the Croydon and Rowville area FlexiRide services have replaced (for a trial period, possibly permanently) the long-running Telebus services, which were booked by phone – you now have the option of using an app.
On-demand routes are unlikely to encourage large numbers of people out of cars. But they can be very useful by filling the gaps between higher frequency main road routes which do get people out of cars – but which may not be easily accessed by those with mobility difficulties.
Small buses like these can work well on low patronage routes. But they also present challenges for operators who also have to run routes (or portions of routes) with higher ridership.
When specific buses need to be used on specific routes, there can be consequences if there are faults or maintenance delays. Overcoming this means bigger fleets with more spares, which means more cost.
This has been a problem on the “Manningham Mover” routes 280/282 in the last few days.
Bus reliability aside, bus driver rosters might involve a bus being used on a busy run then on a quiet local run. It’s not always going to be possible to match the vehicle size to the passenger demand.
For the Melton FlexiRide route, the service is provided by Transit Systems in Footscray, meaning a lot of dead-running between the depot and the route. Local depots could help – but can also mean even bigger challenges for fleet management of the less common bus types.
Additionally, Melbourne is full of routes which try to serve multiple purposes – both low-ridership neighbourhood access and high-ridership routes to railway stations and major shopping centres. Network route reform could help here by better segmenting bus routes.
Challenges aside, it’s good to see this type of investment and innovation in the bus network. The State Government looks set to revamp the bus network in coming years.
It’s no secret that buses are the poor cousin of Melbourne’s public transport, despite huge parts of the suburban area relying on them. It’ll be good to see what the Government comes up with to improve them.