Saturday, 27 February 2016

PTV's new university shuttles

via Public Transport Victoria
With the University semester starting, PTV have announced a raft of improvements to Melbourne's bus network to better serve University staff and students. Before we look at the specific routes, it's worth touching on why they are necessary.

Most of the campuses in question were placed where they are because the land was cheap at the time, and because good road access was all that seemed necessary in the car-dependent 1950s-70s (although RMIT Bundoora never existed until 1992). Unfortunately, we are now paying the price for this poor planning, because we need to provide the extremely high-quality public transport that a large University demands, and they are often a long way from a railhead.

Melbourne's tram network (Source
This is a problem that has plagued us for years. The network has slowly grown to cope with some of them - for example, the 86 tram route was extended to La Trobe in 1985, then RMIT in 1995; and the 75 tram was extended to serve Deakin's Burwood campus in 1978 (although to be fair Deakin didn't build a new campus, they acquired an existing Teachers' College and expanded it). Some are still in the pipeline, and will cost in the order of billions to build - Monash University in Clayton is a primary driver of the mooted railway line to Rowville.

So, suffice to say that many of the newer University campuses in Victoria are poorly served by public transport - so it's good to see some attention being paid to the issue. As great as it would be if these campuses could be served by high-capacity public transport like trains or trams, buses are a great start - even if it is only an interim measure for some of them.

The first is Route 201 from Box Hill Station to Deakin's Burwood campus. As I've said, Deakin Burwood is already served by the 75 tram, but that makes for a very long and slow journey if you're coming all the way from the city - it works best for people who live relatively close by. Also, the tram doesn't do much for those who live along the train lines to the northeast of the campus. This bus, combined with the other buses that already exist along this route, will make it much quicker and easier to get to Deakin by train, so that's a big plus.

The second is Route 301 from Reservoir Station to La Trobe Bundoora. This follows the same principle as the Deakin bus - there is already a tram servicing the campus, and if you live on that route it'll probably still make sense to use the tram, but if you're travelling all the way from the city (and particularly if you're originally coming from further afield, like the eastern suburbs or a regional city) then the train + bus combo will be much quicker and easier. You're spoiled for choice, too, with 10-minute frequencies from 6:51am to 6:49pm.

The third one, Route 403 from Footscray Station to the University of Melbourne, is a bit of a mixed bag. For one thing, UniMelb does not have the same issues that the other campuses do - it was established in 1855 and is very centrally located, and is well-served by trams in particular. The only reason that Route 403 bus is even necessary is because Regional Rail Link broke the connection with Route 401, which goes from North Melbourne Station to the hospital/university precinct in Parkville. As I mentioned in my post on the Coalition's Melbourne Metro alternative, before Regional Rail Link bypassed it, Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong trains stopped at North Melbourne, and it was a major interchange for both suburban train lines (including the Loop) and the 401 bus to the hospital/university precinct. Now, that connection is broken, so people headed for most of these destinations need to get off at Footscray, and many need to change again at North Melbourne. However, Melbourne Metro should solve this for most people, because passengers can just change at Footscray and get the one train to Parkville (or Melbourne Central/Flinders Street).

Melbourne Metro (via PTV)

So the new 403 bus is, in effect, acting like a mini interim Melbourne Metro, in this sense. Which is great in theory. The problem is, it runs at a much lower frequency than the 401 (approximately every 20 minutes, as opposed to every 6) and, more importantly, it doesn't start until after 9am, and finishes before 3pm. The first one leaves Footscray at 0909, which renders it totally useless to anyone who has to be in Parkville by 0830 or 0900; and the last one leaves UniMelb at 1453, which makes it useless to anyone studying or working till around 1700 - which you would have to assume is a lot of people.

The 403 goes basically straight past North Melbourne station and follows the same route as the 401 from there, so one option would be to simply extend the 401 to Footscray, and kill two birds with one stone. I can understand that it might not have the patronage to justify that sort of frequency, though. To be honest, the average frequency is okay, it just needs to be more consistent - it runs approximately every 20 minutes on average, but there is a 35-minute gap between 1146 and 1221, then a five-minute gap to 1226.

So if we can't justify the resources for a frequency like the 401's, they at least need to extend the hours of operation. You would only need to add three more buses in the morning to make it workable (the first leaving Footscray around 0805, then roughly every 20 minutes till the existing 0909 service), although admittedly you would need to add quite a bit to make the afternoon workable - it'd be 8 or 9 more services to get it to finish at a reasonable "after close of business" time. Still - these are the kind of investments that are necessary if you want people to actually use the service. If you're only going to run it outside peak times, when no one will use it, it's just a waste of money.

There are a couple of other routes that were announced with these ones, but I'm not really familiar enough with them to comment too much, so I'll leave that to others.

I will say this, though. As great as it is to see these improvements to Uni buses, it is a little galling given the issues with Ballarat's Route 10 service to Buninyong, which serves Federation University's Mt Helen campus. Its timetable used to be fantastic, but it was ruined by RRL timetable changes last June, and despite pretty much universal condemnation from everyone who rides it, the issues still haven't been fixed. So let's hope PTV is on a roll and will fix the connection to this university next.

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