Bus punctuality stats finally public… well, some of them

The Age’s Timna Jacks got hold of some bus punctuality figures via FOI, and published this story last week, which is worth a read:

Late every second trip: Life on the delayed 232 bus

The data provides a glimpse of something not normally in the public eye. Regular bus users know that some routes suffer greatly from lateness, but the statistics aren’t usually published.

With Timna’s permission I’ve dug around in the data a bit more to see what other insights can be found.

What’s in the data: Punctuality to within 5 minutes for Transdev routes from 2013 to 2018. What it doesn’t show is service delivery, ie cancellations and short run services, which also influence how reliable and usable bus services can be.

There are also operator-wide average figures for Ventura and Dynson from 2015 to 2018.

Towing a bus

Transdev’s best and worst performers

The data had a route-by-route breakdown of Transdev’s punctuality since September 2013, from shortly after they started operations after winning their contract and taking over routes formerly run by Ventura and Melbourne Bus Link.

The five worst Transdev routes (out of 47), based on average punctuality from 2013 to 2018:

  1. 220 Gardenvale – Sunshine (via City) 60.18% punctuality, but “winner” of the worst single punctuality figure, with just 38.7% of buses on time in August 2015
  2. 216 Brighton Beach – Sunshine Station (via City) 64.89%
  3. 219 Gardenvale – Sunshine South (via City) 65.58%
  4. 232 City (Queen Victoria Market) – Altona North 65.75%
  5. 350 La Trobe University – City (Queen St) 68.77%

The worst three are the long cross-suburban routes, running via the CBD, with almost no bus priority measures along the route. Just in the past few months (after the data ends), these have been split into two, theoretically temporarily, to avoid even worse problems while the metro tunnel is being built… so punctuality is likely to be improving now.

Rounding out the worst five are the 232, which improved in 2014 when the Port Melbourne diversion was removed – and route 350. Both these routes also serve the CBD. In fact 8 out of the 10 worst routes serve the CBD – no surprise perhaps, since that’s where traffic is likely to be at its worst.


(Can’t see the graph? Click here)

Some of Transdev’s routes benefited from timetable changes in 2014, and there was a more thorough change in 2016.

These changes mean there has been improvement, but looking at just the worst average punctuality for 2018 (January to June), the same five routes feature, with route 232 is now the worst, with 64.23% of buses on time.

What Transdev wasn’t able to do was introduce its “greenfields” timetable, which would have made wide-ranging changes, including splitting the long orbital Smartbuses (and some of the cross-city routes) up into more manageable, logical routes.

That proposal would have overcome a lot of the punctuality and crowding issues, but it also would have cut services in some areas, because it was basically a reshuffle of existing resources, where ultimately, more are needed. Labor rejected the plan when they came into office in late-2014.

Tram/bus stop, Queensbridge Street, Casino East

And the most punctual Transdev routes? Unsurprisingly they’re all in the middle and outer suburbs, and mostly relatively short routes of under 10 km.

  1. 284 Box Hill – Doncaster Park & Ride 89.55%
  2. 370 Mitcham – Ringwood 88.21%
  3. 295 Doncaster SC – The Pines SC 87.69%
  4. 279 Box Hill – Doncaster SC/Templestowe 86.42%
  5. 380 Ringwood Loop 85.62% – this is the only route of the top 5 to be over 10km long

Perhaps surprisingly, the “DART” City to Doncaster Smartbuses 905, 906, 907 and 908 all rank in the top third of routes for punctuality. They do have bus priority measures along much of their routes in peak hour, though there are problems with motorists invading the bus lanes on Lonsdale and Hoddle Streets, and little or no enforcement. (And remember, the stats don’t measure cancellations.)

Somewhere in the middle of the pack are the long orbital Smartbus routes 901, 902 and 903 – they do better than one might expect because they have plenty of fat in their timetables at various points along the route.

All of the Smartbuses benefit from long operating hours and relatively frequent off-peak services, which can help bring up the average punctuality compared to routes that run most or all of their services in peak hour.

2017-12-26_10-10-29

Comparing bus operators

The data also provided operator-wide figures for Ventura and Dyson. Here’s a comparison for those two plus Transdev*, with Yarra Trams thrown in as well:


(Can’t see the graph? Click here)

As you can see, punctuality generally improves for a month in January, as traffic (and patronage) is lighter than usual, despite frequent construction blitzes.

Ventura consistently has fewer buses running late than Transdev or Dysons, but it’s worth noting that Ventura run routes predominantly in the middle and outer suburbs, with none of the inner-city or CBD services which tend to suffer worst from traffic congestion.

Transdev was the worst of the three during 2015, but lifted its game in mid-2016 with timetable changes across most routes. Since then they have on average seen fewer delays than Dysons most months.

So on this measure at least, Transdev has been improving.

Remember: this is punctuality only. The figures don’t measure cancellations, short running, cleanliness, buses catching fire or taken off the road by the safety regulator, or any of those other things for which Transdev Melbourne is notorious.

What more can be done?

On Saturday the State Government announced that 100 of Transdev’s fleet (which is owned by the government) would be replaced by new buses. This should help reliability (provided the operator actually maintains them properly), but may not help with punctuality and other issues such as crowding.

It was also announced that Transdev’s contract would end in 2021 — only one year of the 3 year option is being exercised.

Upgrading buses is a good idea. Hopefully it’ll bring better reliability. Better passenger information would be welcome. Perhaps they should use the opportunity to start a transition to electric buses, particularly for inner-city routes.

But beyond that, it’s important to take other measures to improve bus services. This could include:

Proper bus priority, with more bus lanes and traffic priority, and enforcement of those measures

More frequent services to cut waiting times and relieve crowding, which is chronic on some routes, and adds to delays

Bus route reform to make more efficient use of fleets and drivers, and make the network easier to understand and cut overall travel times by making routes more direct

Contracts that are structured so appropriate funding is available to properly maintain the fleet, and run the service to a decent standard – this appears to be where the Transdev Melbourne contract has gone wrong

Public performance data, so there’s more transparency. I don’t think it’s a complete coincidence that trams and trains have (some) public performance data, and get the bulk of the attention and investment

And yes, timetable adjustments where warranted – but this should be the last resort, not (as now) the default action when buses are regularly running late. Adjusting the timetable just means making those delays permanent, not actually fixing them.

Buses serve many parts of Melbourne that don’t have trams and trains, and may never get them.

It’s high time the government treated them seriously.

  • Note: The overall figures for Transdev have been calculated by using the average of the route punctuality figures. This is not the same as the average across all Transdev services, as some routes have a lot more services than others.
  • See all the data here. Got further observations? Leave a comment!
  • Marcus Wong also has a post on Transdev today, focusing on recent problems with bus reliability and maintenance

Transdev bus routes are changing – some proposals good, some bad

Transdev are seeking survey responses to their planned bus network changes for 2015, and unlike last time, they are properly doing community consultation. But if you are interested, today is the last day you can submit feedback.

Last week I went along to the Transdev session in Sandringham, and spoke to reps there about various points, mostly related to the changes in that area.

Transdev: Is this Klingon for "St Kilda via Elwood"?

From my point of view most of it looks okay, but there are some issues.

Most route changes make sense; and make the network more legible. The removal of the crazy-confusing 600/922/923 split is particularly welcome.

Splitting the long orbital bus routes makes sense to better match demand, and improve reliability by not having four-hour-long routes, particularly as few people use them end-to-end. (No, really — the 901 and 903 are currently about four hours end-to-end.)

Relief for crowded 903 buses along Warrigal Road on weekends is excellent, with services every ten minutes on Saturdays, and twenty on Sundays.

Most northern suburbs Smartbuses will no longer be every 15 minutes — mostly going to every 20 minutes weekdays (including peak), every 30 minutes Saturdays, and every 40 minutes Sundays. Weekday off-peak and Sundays this could synchronise better with their trains which are generally every 20 minutes, but the peak service won’t, and it’s pretty poor. Note this includes the 912 (currently part of 901) to Melbourne Airport.

Part of the problem is that currently semi-rural areas like Kurrak Road in Yarrambat get a bus every 15 minutes — over-servicing that area while other more populated suburbs miss out on frequent services — a classic example of where a single level of service on one really long route isn’t a good idea. But under this proposal, that service will still be every 20 minutes. Perhaps further splitting of the orbital routes needs to occur so that those resources can be directed to where they’re actually needed.

As part of these changes, the 901 and 902 will swap through the north, between Broadmeadows and Greensborough, making for a more direct route to the airport from Doncaster, Eltham, Greensborough, and Keon Park.

The 600 will be curtailed at Sandringham, no longer serving Elwood, but it will have will have timed connections with the 248 for most of the day at Sandringham, enabling (for example) Brighton to Black Rock trips without too much trouble.

Cutting service route 600 St Kilda Street in Brighton I don’t see as an issue given close proximity to New Street. Parts of Brighton are arguably over-serviced anyway, given the area has a lot of well-to-do people who seem willing to use trains, but largely unwilling to use buses.

But Elwood loses out along Ormond Road due to the loss of the 600. The remaining 606 service runs only every 40 minutes on weekdays, including peak — a far cry from the 80s when I was a kid, when there’d be 6 to 10 route 600 buses per hour in peak to cope with loads feeding to the trains at St Kilda. There was speculation 606 would get a frequency boost, but as this is run by another operator, the Transdev people couldn’t confirm — part of the problem of getting one operator to do network planning. A boost to the 606 should definitely happen if the 600 is being removed. That or the 630 could be extended from its current termination point in the middle of nowhere in Elwood, along the 606 route to St Kilda, with a level of timetable co-ordination to provide a good combined service.

The dotted line on part of route 600 in Cheltenham is a once-a-day schools diversion. This leaves a large area (particularly Weatherall Road) unserved for most of the day – and an old couple at the session noted they currently use that bus (the 922) and will be about a kilometre from a service. Transdev say they get very few passengers in that section (perhaps mostly thanks to so many golf courses in the area, rather than houses). It’s similar to Hope Street, Brunswick, I think — this is probably an area that should be considered for some kind of Neighbourhood Bus along the lines of the services run by City of Port Phillip.

Frequency cut along Hotham Street 248 on weekends goes to 40 mins (a big cut on Saturdays, which currently has 15 minute services), while Orrong Road 249 (the new number for the southern end of current route 220) goes to 20 minutes… seems a bit arbitrary, though of course 248 largely parallels the train through Brighton. The 249 will continue to duplicate trams for much of its length, but at least the 248 route doesn’t join it going all the way into the City. (The plan to run one of those routes further north to Burnley and Victoria Gardens seems to have disappeared — the 248 will instead terminate at the Alfred Hospital.

Keeping the 249 (currently 220) as high frequency maintains good service through Southbank, which is welcome. The disconnection of the 216/219/220 in the City makes sense for the same reason disconnection of the Orbital routes makes sense, to improve reliability given not many people travel through the City.

Altona – not in the local area, but some talk raised of their end of the 903, which is getting cuts. Their peak service is going to every 20 minutes, but it was pointed out that a reliable 20 minute peak service is actually better than their morning peak service now, which due to the length of the route doesn’t actually meet the 15 minute frequency going into Altona until about 10am. It would also better connect with trains (as far as is known, when Regional Rail Link opens in April or so, Altona peak trains will move from the impossible-to-remember 22 minute frequencies to the much more sensible 20 minutes).

Transdev admitted the halving of off-peak Altona 903 services from 15 to 30 minutes is bad (and also won’t synchronise with trains), but said several times that most of their patronage counts were based on Myki data, so if those buses are well-used, they implied large numbers of passengers are not touching-on/paying. One Transdev rep commented this was a quandry: even if they know what’s happening, do they upgrade (or maintain) bus services for areas with users that don’t pay? Indeed… but of course that’s penalising whole neighbourhoods (and hordes of potential users) for the actions of only some.

They said they’ve only done other types of passenger counts were they knew there were specific surges in patronage not indicated by the Myki data, such as school runs where lots of students with Student Passes aren’t touching on (and they’ve talked to some schools to ask them to tell students to do so).

However, as you’d expect, bus drivers have a reporting mechanism to flag overcrowded routes.

Transdev: Proposed southern suburbs bus network

Route 223, a remnant of the Footscray tramway era, is getting cut back to every 20 minutes, every day (including in peak), and no services after 9pm (7pm Sundays). Not sure about this — currently it’s every 15 minutes Monday to Saturday, and the Footscray to Highpoint section seems quite busy, particularly when traffic delays occur. This cut may result in overcrowding, as I’m assuming they can’t magically prevent the delays.

Some City to Doncaster DART buses upgraded to every 20 minutes on weekends — good!

Dead running: Unfortunately I forgot to ask if the current situation where buses “dead run” out of service right across town between Sandringham/Brighton and the Footscray Depot (due to lack of depot space at Sandringham) will be solved. Hopefully.

TransDev Melbourne bus in full PTV colours

The route structure looks good — less so the service frequency

I don’t have intricate knowledge of the whole network, but from what I can see, the proposed route structure looks pretty good. Less confusing, less duplication. It’s the service frequencies on some routes which let it down (as they often do) — particularly the abandoning of the Smartbus promise of a bus every 15 minutes (on weekdays) on the quieter parts of the orbital routes, with resources moved to busier sections.

One Transdev planner said this change would be setting the scene for some years, with future revisions likely to be only minor, but they’d be hoping for service frequency upgrades as more funding comes through.

This seems to stem from the former Coalition government’s aim as part of the 2012 re-tendering process of making Transdev upgrade the network but at no extra cost to the taxpayer — a noble aim, given inefficiencies such as copious dead running — but in our growing city, with strong demand on parts of the network and huge potential on other parts, extra funding is needed to boost services.

I’ve submitted an online survey (the survey questions made this a bit tricky as I live in the south-east, but most often use Transdev services in the west), and they urge as many people as possible to do so.

One gentleman at the information session said he was upset by many of the changes (but didn’t seem quite able to articulate why, at least not while I was close by), and said he’d be writing to the minister. He was encouraged to do the survey as well, but refused. Not sure why, if one objected so strenuously, one wouldn’t use all avenues available to get their opinion across.

So, if you use Transdev bus services, be sure to look at the planned changes, and fill in the survey — remember, it closes today!

Updates — April 2015

Update 13/4/2015: The Age: Hundreds of bus services in Melbourne’s west and north face being cut to service city’s east

Update 14/4/2015: Looks like the plan is on hold for now, pending changes to the proposal. State government: Labor Backs Investment In Better Bus Services And Community Consultation / The Age: Plan to cut buses in Melbourne’s west and north quashed by Andrews government

This is good news. As I’ve noted above, some parts of the plan — particularly cutting north/western suburbs services — didn’t make sense. Other parts do make sense: splitting the orbitals, and extra services to relieve crowding. Here’s a picture from the Warrigal Road 903 on a Sunday afternoon (when buses are only every half-hour).

Crowded 903 bus, Sunday

It seems the eastern routes have hit the virtuous circle of increased patronage -> improved services -> increased patronage (and leading to crowding). Rinse and repeat.

Sadly the western routes have hit the opposite, in part because they haven’t been allowed to reach their potential for patronage growth: precious few frequent services, and those that are there in theory are flawed, missing frequency goals and having poor connections to rail services.

And the real problem here is that the current Transdev contract allows them minimal wiggle room to increase resources overall. So it’s no real surprise that they are moving more services to where there’s crowding.

Apart from finding genuine efficiencies (such as reducing dead running), the real answer is to recognise that all of Melbourne needs more bus services, and to resource the operators appropriately.

Your local bus company may have changed

Before you complain to the bus company that your bus is late/cancelled/crowded, you might want to check that they still run the service.

Bus 220 - now operated by Transdev

In August, a whole bunch of routes (including most Smartbus routes) formerly run by Ventura and Melbourne Bus Link were taken over by Transdev.

Other recent changes include Ventura taking over Grenda (which includes Moorabbin Transit), and Easttrans (CDC) taking over Driver.

Seems it’s all go in the bus industry these days.

Transdev, in a reply to a query on Twitter, have noted that the stickers (as seen above) are a temporary measure. Eventually they’ll get the PTV livery.

While I quite like unified designs for the bus fleet, there is a down side: some passengers tell approaching buses apart by not just the numbers, but their operator colours. It’ll be interesting to see how people handle that.