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

We suggest you don’t hit this bus

This is an old pic, but a classic. I thought I’d lost it, but it showed-up while sorting through some old files on the computer.

I did once ask someone at Ventura about it — he said one of their staff had taken the photo, and from memory also said there had been no serious injuries — which means you don’t have to feel guilty if amused.

Old pic of an accident, car hit a Ventura bus advertising car insurance. From memory there were no serious injuries, so you can laugh guilt-free.

Having the bus pull out just as the crowd off the train approaches is not good customer service

For the second time in a week, I’ve watched as tonight’s 6:31pm route 703 bus pulls out just as the train (due at 6:30pm) departs Bentleigh station and a crowd of people off the train approaches the stop.

Now, I accept that buses should run to time. And the operator contract probably penalises late-running (bearing in mind only around 5% of bus services actually get monitored).

But I think most people would take the view that the bus could wait another — perhaps — 30-45 seconds to allow the approaching (and very visible, even in a mirror) crowd of people to board.

Given most (if not all) those people already having a valid ticket, I’d be surprised if the schedule couldn’t be made up on the way to the next timepoint.

Not that it matters a great deal, given this specific bus service is timetabled to terminate at South Oakleigh depot at 6:44pm and go out of service.

Me? I didn’t want that bus. I am lucky enough that I can walk home from the station. But it’s common to see a dozen or more boarding each bus from the station in peak hour, and each person on the bus means one less car clogging up the station carpark and local streets.

Yes, it’s true the next bus was only 15 minutes away. But that’s 15 minutes needless waiting for those people, and just the type of bad customer service that leaves people wondering if perhaps they should abandon PT and head back to their cars instead.

Ventura, you can do better.

  • For bonus “grade-separation is needed” points, check the ambulance — again — delayed by the boom gates.
  • Correction: the train wasn’t the 6:30pm; it was an earlier one running late. This isn’t significant — the bus driver should still not leave when he’s not late, and a big crowd of people is approaching the stop.

Update Thursday: Feedback from Ventura Buslines (via Twitter):

“Daniel the company policy is to look around for any passengers that are wanting to board the bus.”
“The driver has been spoken to & the time for waiting has been changed to 1835 to ensure passengers can get to the bus.”