How does the new local bus route fit into the network?

Good news: New bus route 627 starts in June, running from Moorabbin to Chadstone via East Bentleigh and Murrumbeena.

Excuse the micro-transport-blogging about this specific route in my local area, but (as usual) there are considerations that are relevant across the network.

This new route fills some gaps in the local network, including East Boundary Road (which is meant to be part of the Principal Public Transport Network, but currently has sections with no public transport), and sections of Tucker Road and Jasper Road. New bus stops are under construction.

Route 627 bus stop under construction

The route will make trips to the huge Chadstone Shopping Centre easier for people in Moorabbin and parts of Bentleigh and East Bentleigh who currently don’t have direct services – remembering that changing along the way is not a good experience given low bus frequencies, especially on weekends, which are the busiest shopping days.

The 627 will add another connection to the Frankston line from the Dandenong line, which can be useful when major delays (planned or otherwise) hit one line or the other, and it’ll serve the new McKinnon Secondary campus, though it won’t connect to the existing campus.

It adds to frequency on about 3.5km of route 822. (It also shares parts of routes 701 and 703, though not really in a way that adds very useful frequency.)

It runs more frequently on weekends than many other suburban bus routes: every 40 minutes instead of the typical hourly frequency. It’ll mostly run half-hourly on weekdays.

The bad news: The route structure is a zig-zag. Not particularly intuitive. This is partly due to challenges with the T-junction at the southern end of Tucker Road.

This route has been laid over the existing local bus network, without any other changes. Ideally this would have been an opportunity to straighten out route 822 to run along East Boundary Road, with this new route filling the gap, and/or straighten out route 626 along McKinnon Road (so that route could connect the two McKinnon SC campuses).

Combined timetable

I wanted to talk in detail about the timetable.

The new 627 adds useful frequency to the section of route 822 between Chadstone and Leila Road (and as far as south as Centre Road if people can walk for a few hundred metres).

But the timetabling doesn’t make the most of this.

If I were planning it, I’d be particularly careful to aim for even frequencies southbound, departing from the most likely trip sources on the shared section: Murrumbeena station (particularly on weekday afternoons) and Chadstone (particularly on weekend afternoons).

Ideally northbound frequencies would be as even as possible too of course, but this is a secondary priority, since people can more easily time their departure from home. Timing your connection from a train arriving at Murrumbeena, or the arrival of another bus or the end of your movie at Chadstone, is a bit harder.

Unfortunately the planners haven’t quite hit the target here. Here’s how the combined service looks at Murrumbeena southbound on weekdays after 3pm:

  • 3:13 (822)
  • 3:23 (627)
  • 3:43 (822)
  • 3:54 (627)
  • 4:14 (822)
  • 4:24 (627)
  • 4:43 (822)
  • 4:55 (627)
  • 5:18 (822)
  • 5:25 (627)
  • 5:48 (822)
  • 5:56 (627)
  • 6:19 (822)
  • 6:26 (627)
  • 6:45 (822)
  • 6:55 (627)
  • 7:14 (822)
  • 7:28 (627)
  • 7:48 (822)
  • 7:58 (627)
  • 8:28 (627)
  • 8:44 (822)
  • 9:04 (627)
  • 9:28 (627)
  • 9:37 (822)
  • 10:04 (627)
  • 10:47 (822) (last bus)

Trains are every 10 minutes or better until 10pm, so the aim isn’t for buses to meet specific trains, but instead to provide a good frequency so that nobody has to wait too long for a connection.

Instead the combined bus departures are irregular. At the commuter peak, gaps vary as widely as 7 to 23 minutes. Not so good.

Given a total of 4 buses per hour, a consistent 15 minute combined service would have been better. (Back in the 1980s, the predecessor to the 822 was the 655, which ran every 15 minutes in peak as far as Stockdale Avenue, East Bentleigh – a bit further than the combined 627/822 route will run.)

These shortcomings aside, there’s a clear opportunity to grow commuter patronage to and from the station, which is great.

The last two bus departures for the night are scheduled 5 minutes after (then not so frequent) train arrivals – which is good – even better if bus drivers can wait a little while if the train is late.

Bus 822 at the old Murrumbeena station

There’s a quirk with travel time.

On the new route 627, Chadstone to Murrumbeena is timed at 7 minutes.

On the older route 822, it’s 9 minutes… despite the two routes being identical on that section. And there’s a similar discrepancy in the other direction.

It appears route 822 hasn’t been re-timed since the level crossing was removed and the route was straightened out to avoid the side street detour so it could stop outside the old station. That’s an issue which affects many routes serving stations rebuilt through the Level Crossing Removal Project.

Weekends

How does the Saturday afternoon shopping rush look from Chadstone? Much better: each bus leaves every 40 minutes, and they’re pretty evenly spaced until 5:31 when the 822 drops back to hourly – then it’s a bit messier, for instance both routes are timed to depart at 6:11pm.

And weirdly, the 627 gets more frequent after 7:30pm.

  • 2:11 (627)
  • 2:29 (822)
  • 2:52 (627)
  • 3:09 (822)
  • 3:31 (627)
  • 3:51 (822)
  • 4:11 (627)
  • 4:31 (822)
  • 4:51 (627)
  • 5:11 (822)
  • 5:31 (627)
  • 6:11 (822)
  • 6:11 (627)
  • 6:51 (627)
  • 7:11 (822)
  • 7:31 (627)
  • 8:04 (822)
  • 8:06 (627)
  • 8:36 (627)
  • 9:00 (822)
  • 9:06 (627)
  • 9:36 (627)
  • 10:00 (822)

What about Sunday afternoon from Chadstone? Not so good – route 627 is every 40 minutes, but route 822 is only hourly, so it’s messy.

  • 2:08 (822)
  • 2:11 (627)
  • 2:51 (627)
  • 3:08 (822)
  • 3:31 (627)
  • 4:08 (822)
  • 4:11 (627)
  • 4:51 (627)
  • 5:08 (822)
  • 5:31 (627)
  • 6:08 (822)
  • 6:11 (627)
  • 6:51 (627)
  • 7:08 (822)
  • 7:31 (627)
  • 8:00 (822)
  • 8:06 (627)
  • 9:00 (822)
  • 9:01 (627)
  • 10:00 (822)

The obvious solution would to upgrade the 822 to match the 40 minute frequency on Sundays, and to also tweak the weekday timetables to match better.

Bus 822 navigating a side street in Bentleigh East

Shared stops?

No doubt along the common part of the route, the two routes will share stops, including at Murrumbeena station.

At the Chadstone bus interchange? Unclear. Hopefully either a shared bus bay or adjacent bays.

Route number

Another point: Why was the new route given the number 627?

627 used to be the number used for what is now the 625 and 626 when they were one, long, confusing route.

Would it be better as, say, 820, to help sell the shared section with 822? (The route numbers 821, 823, 824 and 825 are already taken.)

Or are there future planned network changes that are coming into play here?

Queues for buses at Chadstone, Boxing Day 2018

The big picture

I’ve focussed on a local route, but the same principles apply across the public transport network.

The addition of extra services (and extra service kilometres) is very welcome. But as I noted in a 2014 blog post, these upgrades should not be planned in isolation.

The real aim is to help each new upgrade improve the overall network.

While the bus system needs more resources, there are lots of gains to be made from reviewing and revising the network: moving towards direct routes, where possible along main roads, and using the efficiencies gained to increase frequency.

The patronage growth in Smartbus routes shows this works, but it’s also been shown in other areas such as Brimbank.

The windy indirect routes are not useful to most people – and as this Twitter thread shows, it’s something of a myth that buses that stop everywhere suit people with limited mobility.

Monday’s State Budget provided not a lot of new funding for buses, so it makes sense to ensure the network is as efficient as possible at meeting suburban travel demand.

Hopefully this new route will help, and other upgrades will follow.

PT service kilometres vs population

In the world of public transport, services are what counts.

Infrastructure is important, but ultimately, infrastructure is only built to enable services.

If the train only runs every 40 minutes, it’s a long wait whether the station is 100 years old, or shiny brand new.

Today is State Budget day, and it’s a good chance to look at the overall level of service around the network. The Budget Papers (the Service Delivery book) includes figures for total service kilometres for each mode.

To put these figures in context to see how the network is expanding against population growth, we can calculate service kilometres per person.

So how’s that tracking? These graphs are based on the 2018 Budget Papers:

(Edit: 7/6/2019: I messed up and used the wrong numbers on this graph. Corrected and updated below.)

Service kms per capita

On the face of it, that looks okay. It’s going up. Bus kilometres in particular show some growth.

However one should always be cautious about the most recent years. 2017 was the expected outcome, and 2018 was the target. We’ll see what those say in the 2019 budget papers.

(My assumptions: I’ve used metro train, metro bus and tram, and a portion of V/Line service kilometres, because V/Line serves parts of Melbourne’s west. And I’ve used Census figures for greater Melbourne’s population.)

Focusing on just Metro Trains, which is the backbone of the public transport network:

Again, an uptick. But the underlying figure for 2018 was a target of 23.8 million kilometres, a rise from 23.1 – or a bit over 3%.

Has that actually happened? Probably – the 7km Mernda rail extension opened, and there were some worthwhile service increases for the Dandenong line and a couple of others.

But is the overall network keeping up with population growth, both on Melbourne’s outskirts and the inner and middle suburbs? Is every line seeing more services to combat crowding across the day?

I’ll aim to update these figures later today – to see if reality has matched the forecasts, and what the plan is from here.

Update 8pm: Today’s budget includes some investment in additional train services (Metro and V/Line), expected from 2020 onwards – though the 2019-2020 expected service kilometres is the same as this year. It’s just as well something’s happening, as Metro patronage is continuing to grow – it’s looking like almost 5 million trips above the target for 2018-19.

There’s no increase in the target for tram service kilometres, and a minor increase in buses.

As a result of all this, for 2019-2020, the target service kilometres per person for Metro trains, and overall across the network, will drop slightly.

Temporary track to minimise disruptions

I think this is quite clever.

When trains or trams are partially closed for planned works, generally the less of the route is disrupted, the better.

But this is always limited by the placement of turnaround facilities. Witness the current Sandringham line closure: the major works are at South Yarra, but because (despite what was said beforehand) the infrastructure issue at Elsternwick hasn’t been fixed, the whole line is closed.

Over on the trams, they have an ingenious solution: a portable, temporary crossover. It was in use in Swan Street in Richmond (route 70) for a few days this week while tram platform stops are built:

This enabled them to terminate trams at Richmond station, with disrupted passengers able to either change to a train, or walk 400 metres to where trams could resume.

Apart from placement of the temporary track, they also needed to install some overhead wire. Of course it’s made easier to manage in this case by the road closure.

But it’s smart thinking, allowing trams to run as far as possible, reducing disruption for passengers, and avoiding the mess and cost of replacement buses.

Temporary track is nothing new. Back last century it was a common occurrence around the tram (and train) networks. But that was in a bygone era, when I suspect labour was cheap.

For long term projects, it still sometimes happens. Over Easter, the Dandenong and Frankston lines near South Yarra were ripped up and rebuilt as part of Metro tunnel works, and will be ripped up again as the junction to the new tunnel portal is built. There have also been tram tracks relocated on St Kilda Road which may need to be relocated again as the tunnel works continue.

But overall, temporary track is less common in modern times, at least on short term projects.

If only it were this easy on the railways.

Illogical obsession

Saturday’s Federal Election result might have been unexpected by many, but it underscores the Coalition’s illogical obsession with East West Link.

Well, illogical from a transport planning perspective that is. Remember, it’s got a business case that says it will lose money – unless you include Wider Economic Benefits with which the Victorian Auditor General had, and I quote: significant issues (of) plausibility.

(This was also a reminder that you can’t always believe everything in business cases.)

It’s not really free money of course. It’s money from taxpayers. It should be spent wisely.

'Lies' #EWLink

Being a money-losing project didn’t stop the Federal Coalition making a pledge of $4 billion for East West Link during the election campaign. Despite their claims, that doesn’t appear to be enough money to pay for it.

The $4b is only the government contribution – as per the 2014 business case. But the amount required is questionable given five years have passed, and there’s been some scope creep thanks to overlap with the WestGate Tunnel, and (perhaps) a proposal last year from the State Coalition to build the eastern tunnel portal further east.

Anti-freeway protest, from "Mouth To Mouth" (1978)

There’s also the question of whether there’s construction industry capacity to build a third major motorway project (at the same time as WestGate Tunnel and North East Link), alongside numerous level crossing removal projects and the Metro tunnel. Heavy demand tends to drive up prices.

Obviously the Federal Coalition backed EWL yet again because of politics, but it’s not really clear why they remain so obsessed with it, since it didn’t translate into swings to them around Melbourne – apart from in Aston.

Everywhere else in Melbourne, there were swings away from the Coalition – maybe not enough to lose seats, but enough to move a good many electorates into marginal territory.

To be fair on the Feds, they also made a pledge for the Kooyong railway crossing removal – which amazingly isn’t on the State’s list. (The Coalition pledge also included studies for two others: Tooronga Road and Madden Grove). This is good – except that they insist it has to be rail under, because they’ve taken the State Lib line on skyrail… as if an elevated rail line will somehow spoil the view of the nearby elevated tollway.

If the Feds can get over their obsession with EWL – which of course they won’t – there are plenty of other projects they could be contributing to, including other level crossing removals and rail network duplication, which would provide huge benefits.

If they were feeling particularly mischievous, they could take on public transport projects that the State isn’t interested in, such as suburban tram extensions. Some, such as the 75 to Knox and Ferntree Gully, would even reach into the eastern suburbs electorates the Coalition is courting.

Equally there’s an argument that a spirit of genuine cooperation would see the Feds funding projects on Infrastructure Victoria’s short term priority list.

Punt Road traffic during evening peak

It’s not as if Melbourne doesn’t have already enough major road projects underway. Two new tollways is two too many.

Yes, these motorways all have short term travel time benefits, but history shows those won’t last. And there are ways of boosting access and economic activity that aren’t restricted to people who drive and can afford tolls, and don’t so easily get clogged if they are “successful” and people actually use them.

It’s worth noting that every time the EWL has been taken to an election, it’s lost: Kennett in 1999, Brumby in 2010, Napthine in 2014 (despite the side letter, which is what triggered the huge bill for cancelling it), and Guy in 2018.

And now 2019. It seems the Coalition hasn’t yet learnt their lesson.

Climate, money and politics

I don’t often write about climate change, but here are a few thoughts as we go into the Federal election on Saturday.

But first I need to get these points out of the way:

  • Climate change is real.
  • If you think climate change is a hoax because you think you know more than the 97% of climate scientists who say it’s real, that’s up to you – but I’m not interested in your theories. Don’t bother leaving a comment.
  • Australia’s share of emissions isn’t that big, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have influence, that we shouldn’t set a good example, or that we shouldn’t make an effort with everybody else.

Okay then.

So often it seems the politics of climate change in Australia comes down to cold hard cash: the cost, the impact on jobs.

The Coalition’s rhetoric going into the election, and for literally 20 years now, has been to demand to know how the cost of reducing emissions.

They never seem to consider the cost of not acting.

No matter how much I might dislike the rhetoric, for some people it resonates, and it seems in Australia, real action on emissions reductions may continue to be resisted for this reason.

But what I think might (hopefully) get things happening is if it can be shown that actually, cutting emissions can save money.

Technology is getting cheaper over time, and this is changing the equation.

Some examples:

Power

Everyone knows the importance of affordable reliable power.

Coal subsidies are huge, particularly the costs of keeping the existing coal power stations going.

It’s even getting cheaper to build new renewables than to maintain existing coal power stations – let alone build new coal power.

Recent power reliability problems such as on January 25th were caused by coal failures. Coal is becoming expensive and unreliable.

No wonder coal is on the way out, with 13 coal power stations shut down in Australia since 2012.

Meanwhile effective large-scale battery systems have emerged that are
overcoming store and dispatch issues with renewables, contributing to stabilisation of the grid, which in turn demonstrably cuts power costs.

This means I’m not convinced anymore that clean means unaffordable and unreliable.

(People like to talk about baseload power, but what’s really important is dispatchable power – in other words, available when and where it’s needed.)

Britain recently went a week without coal power. Okay, so it included 46% gas and 21% nuclear, but they still think they can regularly get by without coal and gas by 2025.

The cost of PV panels is dropping, making both large-scale solar farms and household solar a good investment.

Given labour is becoming the biggest cost in many industries, it makes sense that over time, the once-off installation and maintenance of renewable energy generation will end up being cheaper that paying people to continually dig stuff out of the ground and burn it.

In fact the economics of it means that even people who don’t believe in climate change are jumping on this bandwagon.

Tony Pecora, the now disendorsed Clive Palmer/UAP candidate for Melbourne, who believes that the IMF and the World Bank “are pushing the idea of climate change so strongly … because having a global-based carbon taxation system is one of the most effective ways of centralising financial power” (his actual words) and yet his day job is installing solar panels!

Solar panels on a roof in Bentleigh

Cars

Meanwhile the cost of electric vehicles is dropping, with some models set to drop to the same price as their petrol counterparts by next year. That’s high-end vehicles initially, but even for models such as Toyota Camry it’s likely to be between 2022 and 2024.

The Coalition’s bleating against electric vehicles is utterly ridiculous. They’ve gone in hard against them just because Labor has decided to support them – a reminder that politicians will say almost anything to get themselves elected.

The key claim that electric vehicles are under-powered is just simply wrong. Here’s a video of a Tesla pulling a Boeing 787.

With other countries moving on this, vehicle manufacturers are also moving off petrol. Mercedes just announced half of their new vehicles will be electric by 2030, with all switched by 2039.

Electric vehicles won’t fix traffic problems, but do reduce pollution in cities, and if combined with renewable energy, will help cut overall pollution and emissions.

Transport choice

Transport investment has outcomes in emissions.

Because transport is supply-led, funding more road infrastructure results in higher emissions (especially while the bulk of the car fleet is petrol) whereas providing better public transport (particularly when powered by renewables) gives people options to leave the car at home more often, helping to cut emissions.

Victorians who consider transport infrastructure important have a stark choice in Saturday’s election. The Coalition says they’ll fund the East West Link. Labor says it’ll fund the Suburban Rail Loop.

SRL isn’t perfect. Most would agree it isn’t as important as Metro 2. And the whole concept still needs fleshing out. But I’d rather have it than EWL any day.

Follow the money

Lots of people want action on climate change, but the way the economics are going, even those who don’t particularly care will soon be choosing to buy electric vehicles and rooftop solar – because it’ll be cheaper.

And power industry investors will be building renewables, not coal, because it’ll be cheaper. The dinosaurs will be left behind.

Climate Summit cartoon
by Joel Pett, December 2009

So I suspect climate change action will come, with of course plenty of other benefits from cutting pollution.

But this is not an excuse for our political leaders to do nothing. On the contrary – they should be pushing harder for change, to help us ride the wave, not swim against it.

It’s not just good for humanity, it can also ensure that Australia doesn’t miss out on opportunities to be at the forefront of a huge technological shift as the world decarbonises.

More action needed

So the good news is that money will force progress.

The bad news it it won’t be enough.

The science says CO2 needs to get down to a level of 350 parts per million to stabilise the climate. It’s just gone above 415, the highest in human history.

Something has to happen, and quickly.

It’s all very well for us to just follow the money to cleaner energy and reduced emissions, but stopping dangerous climate change should be a higher priority for our political leaders and policymakers.

Vote well, Australia.