Three bus stops outside Huntingdale, Victoria

Monday was Labour Day, and I went for a long morning walk. Well okay, I caught a 703 bus from Bentleigh to Centre Road/Huntingdale Road — despite the PTV app incorrectly claiming it wasn’t running most of the day.

Then I walked to Huntingdale Station, then west along North Road, and gradually back home. Here are some things I saw along the way.

Huntingdale has got a new bus interchange. There’s some confusion about the cost — in 2015 the State Government said it was $7.6 million ($5 million for the bus interchange, a 2014 election promise, and $2.6 million the rest for parking). PTV now says $11.6 million. Hmmm.

Anyway, the upgrade is a good accompaniment to the 601 shuttle bus to Monash University, which was first introduced in 2011, running on semester weekdays every 4 minutes 7am-7pm, then every 8 minutes until 9:30.

Although not finished yet, at first glance the interchange looks rather good – apart from the 601, it’s also used by, the 900 Smartbus (Caulfield, Chadstone, Monash, Rowville) and route 630 (Elwood to Monash, eastbound). They enter and do a short loop around to exit.

It provides a much quicker and closer connection to the railway station, and means passengers don’t have to cross Huntingdale Road to change to a bus to the university.

Huntingdale Bus interchange

Sensibly, the 601 to Monash University has the prime spot, next to the station entrance. The 630 to Monash also stops nearby.

The 900 is over the other side. I’m betting this is to try and prevent people who just want Monash Uni swamping this service, so people going further can get onto it.

Universities Some universities don’t observe public holidays that aren’t national public holidays. Labour Day is one of these, so there were quite a few people headed to campus.

Thankfully the 601, normally a weekday-only route, also runs on such days. Other bus routes were running a Saturday timetable.

On this day, buses were replacing Cranbourne/Pakenham line trains, so passengers were actually changing off other buses. Given the large numbers of people involved, perhaps when there are rail works on university days, should they run some rail replacement buses via campus?

601 at Huntingdale Bus interchange

The 601 buses are prepaid-only (no Myki purchases or top-ups on-board), and board by all doors, to help speed things up. Ironically most people queuing used the back door, so it was almost as slow as boarding by just the front door.

Just as the near-full 601 completed loading and headed off, another one arrived. One of the challenges for this route is keeping buses coming through at an even frequency.

Crowds on some mornings in the past few weeks have resulted in long queues, and apparently this happens every year at the start of semester. This was the scene on 7th March (via Darren):

Queue at Huntingdale bus interchange (via Darren)

The long wait for a bus to campus was cited last week in The Age, with queues contributing to one campus commuter giving up on public transport. (The article reckoned she’d drive the following day. That was the day that a truck breakdown in the Burnley tunnel caused widespread disruption, so it may not have been any less painful!)

While some would like to see a rail link, the obvious short-term upgrade is more buses, even just for a few weeks when demand is highest… or bigger buses — it looks like the new interchange can handle long articulated buses, and hopefully the same can be said for the stop at Monash, and the route between them.

(Double-deck buses would also cater for more people, but have longer dwell/loading times, negating the benefit somewhat.)

Also at Huntingdale, they have installed a new style of bus stop sign. The “B” is a bay indicator, rather than a Sydney-style B for Bus.

Huntingdale Bus interchange

I’m surprised to see it says “Hail bus”. I wouldn’t have thought that was needed at the terminus of a point-to-point shuttle.

Note the absence of any operator or PTV or even Transport For Victoria branding.

It also looks like further (automated?) signage is coming. (Around the interchange there are also some Smartbus signs, not yet activated.)

Anyway, I kept walking and found this on North Road – a rather splendid looking brick bus shelter.

Looks like it’s a few decades old. Being north-facing it may not provide much shade, but at least unlike its newer cousins, it’s not plastered with ads, and it doesn’t block the footpath as it’s set back (onto council land).

Bus stop on North Road

Further along, I found this stop on Warrigal Road near North Road. Someone’s forgotten to take down this old sign from the former operator, Ventura.

Old Ventura Bus sign in Warrigal Road

Also here: the intersection was recently resurfaced. It seems to me they missed an opportunity to provide a jump-start lane for buses. With or without a “B” priority light, it would help the busy route 630 buses get ahead of the other traffic.

Warrigal Road/North Road intersection

Similarly, the bus jump start lane at Wellington Road/Princes Highway westbound should be made 24/7 instead of peak only. Cars clog it up outside peak times, which just seems silly.

Buses play a vital role in filling gaps between the trains and trams. The alignment along North/Wellington Road to Monash University and Rowville is a big gap.

In public transport, “software” — routes and operating hours and frequencies that meet passenger needs, is essential.

But “hardware” (infrastructure) is also important.

It’s good to see the upgrade at Huntingdale, and it’d be even better to see upgrades to the 601 service to keep up with demand.

More bus priority, especially an easy win such as at Warrigal/North Road would also be very welcome.

Is the Smartbus branding dead? Why not make every bus a Smartbus?

Smartbus was devised in the dying days of the Kennett government originally as a mostly hardware-based upgrade: traffic priority, real-time information at stops, distinctive bus stop signs and buses.

Originally it didn’t include service upgrades (which sparked derision from the PTUA at the time), but this was changed early on during the Bracks government, with a trial on routes 703 and 888/889 (now 902).

It was a success, with patronage growing strongly. In 2006 the Bracks government announced more Smartbus routes, including four orbital routes (of which two and three-quarters were eventually built) and four Doncaster area “rapid transit” routes under the sub-brand “DART”.

Most of these replaced existing routes, but they’re now some of the busiest bus services in Melbourne.

This old data (which was the most recent published by PTV, and has now disappeared off their web site) shows that Smartbus (90x and 703) make up 5 of the top 7 routes — in part due to their length, no doubt.

Melbourne annual bus patronage 2011-12

(Monash Uni shuttle route 601 is probably ranked at about 7th, but the figures are so old, it’s not included, as it only started in late 2011.)

Silver and orange

Part of the appeal, apart from a better quality of service, was a distinctive silver livery, to set Smartbus routes apart from others.

Transdev, which operates most of the Smartbus routes, seems to be doing their best to kill it off.

Regular orange buses are turning up regularly on Smartbus routes.

Smartbus-liveried buses are turning up regularly on non-Smartbus routes.

Smartbus livery on non-Smartbus route

Transdev of course have well-publicised problems with their fleet, which has led to a shortage of buses. But you also see these issues on weekends, when there should be plenty of spare vehicles. (The above photo is from a Saturday. That day, at least two Smartbus liveried-buses were observed running on route 223.)

Ventura has also been spotted occasionally running regular orange buses on Smartbus route 900, and they also run route 703, one of the original trial Smartbuses, which has never been upgraded to reach the supposed Smartbus service standard, and always runs orange buses (albeit with internal passenger information displays, which are only seen on Smartbus routes).

Is it time to ditch the special livery?

There might be some benefit to having a distinctive Smartbus livery in terms of attracting new users, but I don’t think it’s ever been quantified.

There is, self-evidently, a cost to bus operators of having a specific fleet of buses that can only be run on certain routes. This is the same reason they are reluctant to run mini-buses at quiet times – as this video from Florida notes, it would involve having an entire separate fleet for particular runs.

Should all buses be Smartbuses?

Smartbus routes are not actually the most frequent on the network, so the current distinction is somewhat arbitrary.

What if we gave all bus routes the benefit of Smartbus technology?

One benefit of Smartbus is real-time information at stops, but data feeds for this are now available for almost every Melbourne bus route (via the PTV app and others).

Maybe where regular and Smartbus routes share stops, they should be displaying all routes on the Smartbus kerbside signs?

Perhaps they’re already trialling this. A couple of weeks ago I spotted this displayed on a Smartbus sign at Caulfield Station – it was alternating between non-Smartbus route 624, and Smartbus route 900. (Yes, refer to printed timetable isn’t very useful. In fact, that default message should probably now be “refer to printed timetable or PTV app”.)

Route 624 on a Smartbus display

Smartbus 703 internal display

Another Smartbus amenity not currently seen on other routes is passenger information displays inside the buses, alongside automated announcements for each stop.

During my UK trip last year I found similar displays in every single London bus that I rode. I found it helped a lot when navigating an unfamiliar route.

London bus internal passenger information

This is also increasingly standard on Melbourne trams.

The obvious question is: why not here on every bus? This would also assist ensuring those with hearing or vision difficulties are informed about their location.

As for the liveries themselves… arguably it is useful to distinguish between bus routes by more than just the number. But equally there’s value in a uniform fleet, to emphasise there’s a network.

Perhaps the answer is to make more route number displays standard on all new buses — not just the front, but also the side and rear too. Make them super prominent.

And perhaps some innovative new way of providing individual route markings/colours (within the standard orange design) could be found, such as a coloured stripe or other design along the side that can be displayed clearly, yet easily changed when the bus gets switched to another route.

All options worth exploring.

Non-liveried Smartbus arrives

Of course, putting more automated information at stops and on buses won’t solve issues of poor scheduling, infrequent services, spaghetti-like route structure, on-road delays (and a lack of traffic priority), cleanliness, and reliability…

But starting a rollout of Smartbus features onto every bus route — including regional town buses — would be a step forward to providing an easier to use bus network.

Peace and quiet on the bus

A mate of mine told me this funny story, which I posted to Twitter yesterday. Here’s a version with fewer emoji, and a bit more detail.

He was on a bus heading out to Doncaster.

Two young men got on, full of attitude.

They sat in the back, and started playing music through a Bluetooth speaker.

Music playing loudly in a confined public space is bad enough, but this music was of a genre perhaps best described as misogynistic profanity.

After a long day, this is not what you want on your evening bus ride.

So my mate decided to try something with his phone: he paired it to the young punks’ Bluetooth speaker, which seemed to have no passcode set.

And then he played some children’s music off his phone through it.๐ŸŽต๐ŸŽถ

Bye bye terrible music, hello clappy joyous singing.

Cue confusion on the back seat, and amusement through the rest of the bus.

What if the speaker owners saw who was connected? My mate’s phone’s name was set to something generic – “Samsung”. All the same, he decided to lay low, put his earphones in and move his head around as if grooving to completely different music.

The two blokes got off the bus shortly afterwards, still puzzled, and my mate disconnected from their speaker.

And the bus rolled on in peace.๐ŸšŒ๐Ÿคซ๐Ÿ‘

Some brief transport stuff from this week

A post in an occasional series wrapping up a few brief transporty things from the last week or two.

The new train design

This might be the least crowded train I’ve ever caught. That’s because it’s a pretend train, a mock-up of a carriage and a half, somewhere in a warehouse in outer-suburban Melbourne. I got to see it last week on behalf of PTUA — we’ve been included in stakeholder consultations this year on the design.

New train mock-up

It looks pretty good, and has more places standees can hold on than the current Siemens and Comeng fleet, but could do with more still.

There’s photos of the mock-up over on the PTUA web site — take a look (and please consider joining if you’re not already a member — the PTUA’s work is only possible thanks to member subscriptions).

Busway knocked back

A few weeks ago The Age reported on Transdev’s plan for a busway from Doncaster to CBD.

  • Dedicated bus lanes along middle of Eastern Freeway (in the median originally designed for rail), with stations at interchanges, including pedestrian access from overpasses
  • Busway would continue along Hoddle Street, Victoria Parade and Lonsdale Street, to a new terminus underneath Southern Cross Station
  • Double-articulated buses with doors on both sides to allow centre platform stops along Hoddle Street in a centre median
  • Every 3 minutes in peak, every 5-6 minutes off-peak
  • $500 million build cost
  • Transdev wanted it to run as a PPP for 30 years, effectively locking them in as the operator for that time
  • Off-board payment with Myki readers on platform stops, to speed up dwell times

It would have been cheaper/more achievable than Doncaster rail, remembering that a lot of benefits of Doncaster rail would be gained by first doing the cheap easy bit: rail to Bulleen, and feeding all the buses into there.

The plan has officially been knocked back.

The question is: can the problems of greater capacity (to cope with crowding) and speed (to encourage more people out of cars) be resolved another way?

Better traffic priority along Hoddle Street, Victoria Parade and Lonsdale Street is the key: both bus lanes where missing, and traffic light priority.

More articulated buses would help with capacity. There seem to have a handful now, but not many.

Skyrail under construction near Murrumbeena station

Can Skyrail carry freight?

I’ve been asked about this twice this week alone, once online, once in the barber shop this morning.

Can the Skyrail (under construction from Caulfield to Dandenong) handle freight and V/Line trains? The rumour that it can’t persists.

It’s not an entirely silly question. Freight trains in particular can be heavier than passenger trains, and the diesel locomotives used for freight and long distance V/Line services to Bairnsdale are heavy beasts.

The answer is an emphatic yes, they will run on the Skyrail — just as they run on the 1970s era viaduct between Flinders Street and Spencer Street stations.

Here’s the official answer from the Level Crossing Removal Authority:

WILL YOU CONTINUE TO RUN DIESEL TRAINS ON THE OLD TRACKS UNDERNEATH THE NEW RAIL LINE?

The new elevated structure will be designed to safely carry both Metro passenger trains and diesel freight trains. Just as passenger and freight trains share tracks currently, they would continue to share tracks in the elevated design. The tracks underneath the elevated structure will be removed to create new community spaces.

It’s fascinating that this rumour continues to do the rounds.

And it’s certainly not helped that this completely discredited Railpage article from five months ago has never been corrected.

By the way, now that construction is in full swing, the photo above, and the one below show just how close the elevated rail will be to some people’s homes/gardens. It’s not hard to see why some residents aren’t too happy about it.

Proposed Tucker Road bus would fill a gap, but…

Bentleigh state MP Nick Staikos has released a map of a proposed new bus route, from Moorabbin via Bentleigh and Hughesdale to Chadstone:

As I see them, the pluses:

  • A route along the southern end of Tucker Road, filling a current north-south gap
  • Ditto a gap filled along part of East Boundary Road, close to a lot of new houses and the Virginia Park re-development
  • If timetabled smartly with route 767, improves overall frequency along Poath Road feeding into Hughesdale station
  • Also improves frequency along South Road from Moorabbin Station to Holmesglen Moorabbin campus and new private hospital, alongside routes 811/812 and 824.
  • …as well as providing a service to the Holmesglen campus from the north, currently difficult to get to for some local residents
  • Makes Chadstone more reachable from parts of Bentleigh that currently don’t have a direct public transport connection
  • Serves Tucker Road Primary School

But it’s not perfect:

  • Runs close to McKinnon Secondary College, but doesn’t greatly enhance connections to the school from within its zone, which is predominantly to the east and west of the campus — and may stretch further east if the new (additional) campus is at Virginia Park
  • In fact it won’t connect the proposed new campus with the existing one; it falls short by a few hundred metres
  • Zig zag route is difficult to memorise and understand (a problem shared by the existing neighbouring routes 701 and 626)
  • Zig zag routes also mean that trips that are very logical and quick by car or bicycle are very slow by bus, for instance from the southern end of Tucker Road to the northern end is only a few minutes in a car, but would involve two buses (and we know how appalling connections between infrequent buses can be)

The problem is that, apart from filling a couple of gaps, this new route hasn’t really been designed within the broader context of the existing routes.

I’m told there will be consultation, which is good, but so far it hasn’t shown up on PTV’s Get Involved web site — which I hope it would.

Here’s what I’d do

For a moment, let’s leave aside the question of whether the 822 should be moved to East Boundary Road (yes it should, alongside other changes as part of a broader plan).

And let’s assume the funding for this new route has it operating at the same sad frequency as most existing local routes: every 30-60 minutes (there are no service frequency or operating hours details yet).

Here’s what I’d do:

Bentleigh bus proposals
(View on Google Maps. I’ve deliberately drawn most of the lines not precisely on the roads, to keep them separate for legibility.)

I’d swap the eastern part of 626 with the northern part of this new route.

  • Both routes would have some of the kinks ironed out, and be more logical and easier to remember.
  • This means the 626 would become an east-west route from Brighton to East Bentleigh, then up to Chadstone.
  • This connects residents in McKinnon with Duncan Mackinnon Reserve and GESAC – not just a theoretical benefit, this was explicitly requested by local residents at a local bus forum last year.
  • It also connects the two campuses of McKinnon Secondary College, and makes the main campus more reachable from more locations within the school zone
  • And it means a quicker/more logical train connection for residents at the eastern end of McKinnon Road; handy if they are going to Southland or other destinations on the Frankston line, or for that matter towards the City
  • The New Route would become a north-south route from Moorabbin, direct up Tucker Road and Koornang Road to Carnegie, then to Chadstone. Again, more direct, easier to remember.
  • From McKinnon and Carnegie, better access to the Holmesglen campus, which is currently very easy by car, but really difficult by public transport
  • Existing 626 users from Carnegie and areas north of McKinnon Road would simply see a route number change, but would gain easy access to Moorabbin Station at the southern end of their bus route.
  • Both routes would still go to Chadstone at the northern end, so no practical change for most users from the western end of 626

Bus 822 navigating a side street in Bentleigh East

Also: the 822

Another positive change would be to divert the 822 off Marlborough Street to East Boundary Road for a quicker, more direct run, and have the 626 run around GESAC to Marlborough Street and provide the service there. The northbound turn from Marlborough Street right into North Road could be problematic however if the intersection isn’t signalised, and there might be other minor changes needed on East Boundary Road.

(As you can see from the map, the 626 is already quite a squiggly route at the Brighton end, thanks to Brighton’s NIMBYs having campaigned to get the buses removed from Union Street and Landcox Street, and Vicroads’ reluctance to alter Nepean Highway to allow westbound buses to use Union Street. The 822 in contrast has the potential to be a good quick direct service. Marlborough Street is the route’s only current very slow section.)

Any thoughts?

Some have made the point that the area may not need a new route; that we do need increased frequencies and operating hours on the existing routes — this is certainly true. The 703 is overcrowded at times, and has a very poor evening service after 7pm, and on weekends. Other routes are mostly the bog standard 30 minutes weekdays/hourly on weekends and evenings — the 822 and 767 in particular are worthy of upgrades to cut waiting times and get more users.

This proposed route? Good, but with some tweaks, could be better.

Thoughts? Post them here, and/or get involved in the public consultation — details to come.

Update: Public meeting at St John’s Church (corner Tucker and Centre Roads), 7pm Wednesday 27th September.