Branding in Melbourne

The presentation of a public transport system to the public is of great importance. Branding of a system, when done well, comes to not only symbolise the the system, but the city as a whole (as we’ve seen with London and the tube). Although the branding of any given system will only be as good as the system itself, I think it’s wrong to see it as merely a side issue or gunzel fantasy. It’s important to look at recent Melbourne experience with branding and system image, the costs and benefits of change, and how it could be achieved…

This post is published in full at Transport Textbook.

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Doncaster Bus Reform

As has been quite rightly noted, I haven’t written all that many posts on buses. So I thought I might have a look at buses for a change – more specifically Doncaster buses. As I’ve blogged on numerous times before, I favour the provision of heavy rail to Doncaster Hill (running at near metro frequencies) combined with the extension of the 48 tram and a complete reorganisation of bus services.

Unfortunately, these capital works projects seem unrealistic in the current political climate – Doncaster will receive only buses for the foreseeable future. So the question then becomes as follows: how can we make buses work better using current resources and what sort of investment is required to make them competitive against cars? This question fits in nicely with a hypothesis I’ve been looking to test – namely that bus frequencies could be substantially increased by axing unnecessary and circuitous routes and replacing them with fewer higher frequency routes running along main roads.

Testing the hypothesis for Doncaster

To see whether I’ve been on the right track with my suspicion about buses in Melbourne, we need to work out total route kilometres currently run in our sample area (in this case Doncaster and surrounds) and compare that against total route kilometres run on the hypothetical high frequency-fewer routes system. My methodology was thus: determine the length of the route and services run each way per weekday, then multiply these together to find out total route kilometres travelled per direction per weekday. This was a real bastard of a job and explains in part the long time between this post and the previous one – but I got it done and the results are presented below.

Route

Length (km)

Services each direction per weekday

Total km travelled per direction per weekday

200

19.5

35

682.5

201

20.5(35.5)

31(1)

671

203

20

20

400

205

18.5

4

74

207

22

31

682

273

10

27

270

279

10.5(11)(13)

46(18)(2)

707

281

11

27

297

283

15 *one way /2

11

82.5

284

7.5

25

187.5

285

16(18.5)

16(1)

274.5

286

11(14.5)(12)

44(1)(2)

522.5

289

14.5(4.5)

18(1)

262

291

11

68

748

293

15.5

34

527

295

12

21

252

301

24.5

32

784

303

27.5

2

55

304

44(34.5)(28 )

19(7)(12)

1413.5

305

32.5(27)(25)

11(8)(13)

898.5

306

31.5(25)

4(2)

176

307

26(22)(16.5)

32(1)(3)

903.5

308

24.5

8

196

309

29.5(24.5)

5(7)

171.5

313

22.5

2

45

316

27

3

81

319

25

7

175

364

22(16)

19(9)

562

365

21(12)(10)

17(12)(1)

511

578

N/A

579

N/A

TOTAL

12611.5

Non M’ham routes

202

8(2)

15(1)

122

302

20

25

500

548

6.5

41

266.5

609

6.5(3)(3.5)

2(3)(1)

25.5

TOTAL

13525.5

As you can see, each weekday sees buses in Manningham (excluding) travelling 12611km each way. Including non-Manningham routes affected by my study, that figure increases to 13525.5km.

The Alternative

To test my theory, I came up with an alternative bus arrangement for Doncaster and surrounds, which is shown below.

This new system of routes probably has various errors, omissions and irregularities, and may not be the best way to run buses in Doncaster, it merely sets out the broader idea I’m trying to advocate, and I’m not going to die in a ditch over specific route locations. It’s certainly more simple than the status quo – have a look at the Manningham local area map on Metlink – it’s madness! The service standard I’m advocating is something I’m far more certain about – 100 services a day for most routes (with more on the main trunks). That works out to a bus every 15 minutes from 6 to 7am, every 10 minutes 7am to 10pm and every 15 minutes 10pm to midnight. That pretty much has to be the minimum to compete with cars. The total route kilometres from these routes and service standard is set out below.

Route

Length (km)

Services each direction per weekday

Total km travelled per direction per weekday

200A

25.5

100

2550

200B

24

100

2400

202

12

100

1200

281

10

100

1000

282

12.5

100

1250

283

5.5

100

550

284

8

100

800

285

7.5

100

750

286

10.5

50

525

291

11

100

1100

293

14

100

1400

300A

18

100

1800

300B

26

100

2600

301A

23

100

2300

301B

30

68

2040

548

6.5

100

650

TOTAL

22915

Conclusion

Well the data didn’t really support my hypothesis – my new routes would see 22915km travelled per weekday, compared to 13525.5 under the status quo. The proposed extension of the green, yellow and red SmartBus into Doncaster, combined with Eddington’s $250-300m investment in DART (if it ever goes ahead) would tip the scales back in my favour somewhat, but I suspect not enough – especially given that I haven’t even looked at the even more woeful weekend services. I still stand by higher frequencies and fewer routes – but looking through this makes it clear that new investment is indeed needed on top of route reform. On the plus side, many of the service improvements I’m advocating are in off-peak, which means employing more drivers without the need for many more buses, so the new investment shouldn’t break the bank.

Tipping Points in Public Transport Modal Share?

I was reading through an old post on Peter Parker’s excellent blog about service frequency and its capacity to change travel behaviour; and it got me thinking about the marginal modal share return to increases in service provision. Here, quality is fairly broadly defined – I’m basically looking at a combination of frequency, ease of use, comfort, etc. Working out how patronage and modal share respond to investment in better quality public transport is an important factor in determining the optimal level (and nature) of the investment and the consequent service standard provided.

Current government policy is to make small, incremental improvements to public transport and hope that more people use it, both in actual trips made and as a proportion of total trips (modal share). This was a big part of Melbourne 2030 – government policy was for 20% of motorised trips to be taken by public transport by 2020, basically a doubling of its modal share. Now given that total trips are increasing – largely because the population is growing and employment is increasing – we will expect to see public transport patronage to increase even when it’s treading water in modal share.

So why did the government set such an ambitious target backed up by only moderate levels of investment. There are two explanations that immediately come to mind: firstly, that they were never serious about 20% by 2020 (probably the truth); secondly, that their expectations of marginal returns to investment with respect to modal share were that it was more or less constant. This would see every extra dollar spent on improving the quality of public transport improving modal share by the same amount every time. This is represented graphically below:

So has this happened? Whilst patronage on Melbourne’s public transport – and especially the trains – has been increasing substantially, the modal share for public transport has been going nowhere. Basically, the investment hasn’t done much to improve modal share.

An alternative Explanation?

Clearly, the state government’s story doesn’t explain what’s driving transport habits in Melbourne (pun intended). I’d propose an alternative explanation – modal share isn’t going anywhere because public transport ultimately has to compete with the car. Even though there’s been investment in public transport, and an argument could be made that the quality has improved slightly over the past decade, modal share isn’t going anywhere because public transport simply isn’t as convenient as the car for many trips. For modal share to increase substantially, public transport has reach the point where it is a better quality service than a car. This is the tipping point I alluded to in the title. This is expressed graphically below:

So, what are the implications if we accept this idea? Well, basically it means that public transport investment needs to be targeted to meet the needs of drivers rather than looking at public transport in a vacuum. An empirical example would be the Metropolitan Bus Upgrade Program, where lots of money has been put into upgrading bus frequency and operating hours. But if a bus route has been upgraded from an hourly frequency to a half hourly frequency (making it twice as good), there’s still no reason why choice passengers will use it – it’s still not as good as a car. Until they reach the tipping point where they are as efficient (from a user perspective) as cars, buses are unlikely to be a roaring success.

It’s not all doom and gloom and you don’t necessarily need vast sums of money to get anywhere – small improvements can make a difference and big improvements needn’t be that expensive (improving off peak rail frequency for instance). I suppose my point is that policymakers need to be mindful of what the investment is targeting and how it affects quality relative to its competitors. Spending $1billion on Myki won’t get us much closer to that modal share tipping point, but spending $1billion on frequency upgrades probably would.

For a most interesting in depth look at providing quality public transport, have a look at this document from Canada, kindly sent to be by Jason.

Bus route 401 – the way of the future?

Melbourne’s newest bus – route 401 – started operation today, and it seems to be quite a departure from existing Melbourne bus practice. Running from North Melbourne station to Melbourne University, it eschews basically everything we expect from a Melbourne bus. It is high frequency (every 3 minutes peak, every 6 minutes off peak), has very few stops, doesn’t allow the driver to sell tickets and runs as a spur from a trip generator to an interchange station.

Some of these developments – such as the high frequency and direct link between a railway station and trip generator – are very positive indeed. The limited stops idea is interesting, but the bus should really also stop at Abbotsford St. to connect with the 57 Tram. Furthermore, it’s disappointing that it won’t be running after 7:30pm or on weekends. It’s a start though and it’s nice to see a departure from the entrenched mindset. I didn’t see anyone aboard today, but given time it should start getting some decent patronage.