melbourne in transit

A blog about public transport network design and operation, covering topics such as route structures, services, passenger information, marketing and more.

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Location: Melbourne, Australia

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Making public transport faster

One performance measure of public transport effectiveness is its travel speed versus alternatives such as driving, cycling and walking.

For a fair comparison, total origin to destination travel times should be used; not just in-vehicle times. Thus minutes spent waiting, transferring and finding a parking spot should all be counted.

The ratio between public transport and car travel time is particularly important. During peak times, where origins and destinations are near the same rail line and services are frequent, public transport can exceed the speed of car travel.

At other times public transport is generally slower. If the PT:driving time difference ratio isn't excessive (say less than 2:1) people may still accept this if public transport offers other advantages (eg cheaper, no parking hassles, able to read when travelling).

The real worry is where the ratio is much higher. This is true for many local trips, where a 15 minute drive translates to a 60 minute public transport trip, ie a ratio of 4:1. With this sort of difference, only those who have no choice will persist in using public transport.

To make public transport faster, we need to seek time savings in each component of the public transport trip. These components are:

a. Walking to and from bus/tram stop or station
b. Waiting for service to arrive
c. Ticket purchase and validation
d. In-vehicle travel time
e. Interchange time (includes walking + waiting)

As a proportion of total journey time, a, b, d and e are the most significant. When expressed as perceived time (which seems longer than actual time when one is not moving), b and e are most critical.

Possible improvements for each of these components are as follows:

a. (i) bus/tram stops located at intersections (ii) fast, direct and safe pedestrian access to stops from the surrounding area (iii) pedestrian and transit-friendly urban design {notably permeable street layouts}

b. (i) more frequent services (ii) clockface/memory timetables (iii) timetables at stops (iv) real-time passenger information {so passenger can consider alternatives}

c. (i) pre-purchased tickets

d. (i) tram and bus priority over cars (ii) more direct routes

e. (i) timetable co-ordination {including harmonised headways} (ii) more frequent services (iii) good transfer point design, including fast, direct and safe pedestrian access between all transfer points and to surrounding streets (iv) timetables at stops (v) real-time passenger information {as passenger can consider alternatives}

Transfer points: more examples

The last posting showed Elsernwick as an example of a good transport interchange where passengers could easily transfer between train, tram and bus. South Yarra is another. Although both locations feature a lowered railway and lack level crossings, grade seperation is not a prerequisite to construct an effective transfer point.

A transport interchange typically comprises several bus stops often located outside railway stations. They are provided at major railway stations, suburban shopping centres and universities. Examples of interchanges include Ringwood, Dandenong, Oakleigh, Chadstone Shopping Centre and Monash University Clayton.

Interchanges may be under cover and include a walkway or escalator linking it to the nearest shopping centre or railway station. Through car traffic is either excluded or calmed, so passengers can easily transfer between services.

Buses must generally deviate from their route to pull in to the interchange. This generally improves pedestrian access from major trip generators, but at the expense of operational efficiency and travel times, especially for through passengers. Where traffic light priority is missing or ineffective (such as outside the Monash Clayton campus), a 100 metre deviation into an interchange can add as much as five minutes to bus running times.

Transfer points encompass interchanges but are used here to mean are any location where two routes intersect. In their simplest form they comprise two pairs of stops with easy pedestrian access between them and any nearby railway station. Examples range from many suburban railway stations, major intersections to CBD railway stations such as Melbourne Central. Buses and trams normally 'pass through' rather than 'enter' a transfer point, so they do not slow through passengers.

Transfer points are essential to designing an accessible transport network, but for too long have been overlooked in favour of large, higher-profile interchanges. Rising traffic combined with poor pedestrian access have eroded the usabilty of many. Passengers who arrive in time for a bus or tram connection may find they cannot board due to poor pedestrian links between stops. Such delays commonly extend journey times by 12 to 30 minutes and mean that many short-distance local trips involving a transfer can take up to an hour to make.

Station redevelopments, urban design and local pedestrian and traffic management all make or break transfer point effectiveness. As demonstrated in the Melbourne Central case (discussed later) issues of management and control are also critical.

The following are brief summaries on various transfer points and interchanges around Melbourne.


Broadmeadows is a busy suburban rail terminus and the site of a major shopping centre.

The bus interchange is located immediately south of the shopping centre, but is some distance from the railway station. Passengers transferring between train and bus must cross the busy Pascoe Vale Road at either pedestrian-actuated lights or via a large footbridge. Passengers should allow between 5 and 10 minutes to make this transfer.

The overall urban environment is extremely pedestrian-hostile and no one with a choice would make a transfer here.


Glenroy comprises a railway station and bus interchange with shops to the west. Metlink signage has recently been added. Access between station, buses and local shops is good.

Box Hill

A major suburban centre, with offices, civic centre, TAFE and hospital close at hand. Box Hill railway station is one of the busiest outside the CBD.

Box Hill's concept of forcing passengers to go through a shopping centre to move between train (basement) and bus (top level) is not conducive to passenger convenience or travel speed. The new tram extension terminates some distance from the centre, rather than turning into the mall to be nearer the station.


Glenhuntly is at the south-eastern edge of the extensive network of reasonably frequent train, tram and bus services across Melbourne's inner-southern suburbs. It contains one of Melbourne's four train/tram level crossings.

The ease of transfer between train and the Glenhuntly Rd tram is mixed.

Alighting train passengers wishing to travel towards Elsternwick can board at the stop east of Royal Ave or west of the railway line. Royal Ave is sufficiently quiet not to present a significant barrier to pedestrians. Because there is no pedestrian underpass, and alighting passengers must cross the tracks through gates, the choice of stops is useful when one side is closed due to a passing train. Overall ease of transfer is good, though passenger information is currently limited.

Transfer to eastbound trams is less straightforward. The stop nearest the station is adjacent to the railway line across Glenhuntly Rd to the station. No official crossing is provided at this point, but access is quite easy during quiet times (eg off-peak weekdays and evenings).

The main exception to this is just after a train has been through, which of course is the exact time that passengers will wish to transfer to the tram. When the boomgates are down traffic is banked up. As soon as the boomgates lift there is an uninterrupted stream of traffic, which often contains the tram one was intending to catch.

There are pedestrian crossing lights west along Glenhuntly Rd towards James Street. This requires a walk away from the tram stop and then towards it again. Also, the crossing is not particularly pedestrian-responsive as it is on an excessively long cycle.

This poor responsiveness combined with the distance between it and the stop (approx 100m) means that total waiting and walking time has caused the tram to be missed. Yet a better located crossing and quicker-acting lights could have allowed a connection to have been made, without time penalty for the tram.

Because this poor design increases average transfer times, it increases the likelihood that passengers find walking quicker than waiting for the next tram, particularly at night.

Melbourne Central

This is the CBD's second-busiest railway station. Prior to 2004 it provided direct and convenient access to trams on Elizabeth and Swanston Streets. Redevelopment in 2004 curtailed this easy access to Swanston Street trams. Signage inside and outside the station is almost non-existent, and local knowledge is required to successfully use it as a transfer point.

Melbourne Central is a cautionary tale of how a previously good transfer point can be destroyed by a botched redevelopment that was approved by an incompetent (and subsequently sacked) planning minister. Although the general principle of integrating retail and transport facilities is good, such redevelopments must not harm passengers' ability to transfer. Crucially, control of railway stations and bus interchanges must not be surrendered to non-transport interests who have motives other than passenger amenity.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Transfer points: a good example

Key to boosting patronage is increasing the number of trips that can be easily made on public transport. Because a single route cannot go everywhere, many passengers need to easily transfer between services to complete their trip.

Designing for ease of transfer requires attention to such matters as route planning, service co-ordination, operating hours/frequency and transfer point design.

These are all important, and may be covered in future posts. However today I will discuss transfer point design only.

Any location where two or more routes (of whatever mode) intersect is regarded as a transfer point. Designated train/bus interchanges are merely the most prominent and have received most attention. However they are dwarfed in number by cross-roads which are also potential transfer points for bus or tram routes.

Criteria for the design of transfer points might include:

* Access between all services is direct, quick and safe (max 50m suggested)
* Access to the surrounding area is direct, quick and safe
* Transfer points are safe, well-lit and provide adequate shelter
* Car traffic does not unduly hinder transferring passengers
* Interchanges do not unduly slow passengers travelling through
* Transfer points comply with DDA access requirements

Elsternwick is an example of a well-designed interchange point. Easy transfer between train, tram and bus is provided. Pedestrian access from surrounding commerical and residential area is good. Though timetable co-ordination between services is limited, most are sufficiently frequent to provide relatively fast transfers during the day.

Most praiseworthy about Elsternwick is the proximity between tram stops, the pedestrian crossing and the station entrance. The pedestrian crossing is ideally positioned and creates a direct and safe link between trains, trams and buses. Train passengers alighting from the entrance can immediately see where the tram stops are and, if access to the eastbound stop is required, where they must cross. The lights pictured were found to be moderately responsive to pedestrians.

The main improvement needed is that the station could be better marked. Blue signs on the large concrete wall, both east and west of the station entrance, would complement the existing raised sign and be visible to both tram passengers and pedestrians.

This is a similar shot to above but shows the path to the buses. Note the new Metlink sign (above the steps) that provides directions to the bus interchange.

This is a view from inside a waiting Route 246 bus towards the tram stop. The zebra-style lines on the tiles provide a soft visual cue leading the passenger towards the train, tram and Glenhuntly Rd. Also important is the visual link provided with Glenhuntly Road.

The main area of improvement would be train and tram direction arrows on the facing wall to reinforce existing visual cues and take the guesswork out of transferring.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Transport magazines & where to find them

Transit Australia Published monthly by the Australian Electric Transit Association. I've seen it at some newsagents, though none recently. Can be purchased at the Railfan Shop in Market St. Or just to read, visit the excellent DOI Library (Level 18, Nauru House, 80 Collins St - near Parliament Station open M-F 9-5).

TransScan Free online mag published quarterly by WA Dept of Planning & Infrastructure with Main Roads WA. Approx 1MB each to download, but worth it.

The Bus Association Victoria Bulletin carries some local transport news. Bulletins come out monthly and are dowloadable from the website.

Major university libraries have departmental annual reports and planning documents. Probably the best collection of these is at the DOI Library. If you're going past the State Library, look for the massive Jane's Transport Guide, which provides information on almost every major public transport system in the world.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Some light reading

Read how transport fares in the 2005-06 Victorian State Budget. Click here and download the 'Department of Infrastructure' paper.

How do you like your PIDs?

Tram stop PIDs display arrival information in route number order, much like this:

An alternative is to display information in arrival time order, like this:

I much prefer the latter.

Particularly when the trip can be made on several routes (eg many within the CBD) the route number matters less than time to the next tram. In streets used by many routes, you also do not have to wait for the display to scroll to identify which tram will come next.

Listings in order of departure time are common at airports, where a single CRT may list details for ten or more services. Such displays are also used at Spencer Street Station for country services but are equally suitable for metropolitan trains.

Though abbreviated airport-style displays do not fully substitute for the existing display banks (with a seperate screen for each line) at major station entrances, they have a role in providing concise information at smaller station entry points without requiring large banks of screens.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Composite timetables the way to go

When viewing a timetable at a bus stop or on the web, do you wish to see at a glance when the next service is to your destination?

Enter the much under-rated composite (or combined) timetable!

A composite timetable is simply a single sheet that carries times for all related routes that pass your stop.

Transperth's composite timetables at bus stops look something like this:

Route 99 10:10 A via B
Route 37 10:15 B
Route 99 10:25 A via B
Route 38 10:30 C via B
Route 99 10:40 A via B
Route 37 10:45 B
Route 99 10:55 A via B
Route 38 11:00 C via B

When you arrive at the bus stop, you usually know where you want to go (let's say it's B). Your watch says 10:33. It requires just a single glance to know that the next bus is at 10:40, but if the 10:30 is running late you might just catch that one too. A look down the times shows services to B run frequently, so you can visit the shop over the road and still reach B on time.

Single route timetables, each in their own timetable case, are more common in Melbourne. You might see something like this:

Route 37 10:15 B
Route 37 10:45 B

Route 38 10:30 C via B
Route 38 11:00 C via B

Route 99 10:10 A via B
Route 99 10:25 A via B
Route 99 10:40 A via B
Route 99 10:55 A via B

Compared to seperate timetables, Perth-style composite timetables are more user-friendly and make trip planning easier.

Composite timetables are also a low-cost marketing tool. Service frequency is critical to service quality and therefore patronage. Single-route timetables undersell service quality over the common sections of routes, whereas combined timetables emphasise it. And this can't be a bad thing in a city where the average bus route runs every 40 minutes or so!

The common sections of routes tend to be links between railway stations and major trip generators such as universities and shopping centres. These same high patronage growth potential routes are the ones that will benefit most from the installation of composite timetables.

Combined timetables are no less relevant on the web than they are at bus stops or on paper.

Adelaide Metro provides a good example of composite timetables on its website. Looking up Route 102 also provides times for the related Route 105. Together these two routes form a 'Go-Zone' of frequent service along their common sections, which is apparent from the timetable.

A Melbourne equivalent of two routes combining to provide a more frequent service is the 888 and 889 Smartbus service down Springvale Rd.

Unlike Adelaide, the online timetables for these routes are seperate, even though composite timetables exist at stops and in paper form. Unless you open the route map, closely related routes are not mentioned. Again this undersells the service; the passenger could not be forgiven for thinking the weekday service is only every 30 minutes, whereas a superior 15-minute frequency is actually provided.

600/922/923 and 802/804/862 also have large overlaps and would benefit from composite timetables. Though these routes have combined timetables at stops and in leaflet form, people may never get to see them if they are discouraged by what they see on the web.

In summary, composite timetables are recommended as a cheap way to properly promote all available services. And as we all know, buses are infrequent enough without making them look worse than they actually are!