The patronage clock
The first two hours of services see use by early (mainly blue collar) workers. They may also be used by young late-night revellers who missed the last train the previous evening.
7am - 9am
Peak hour trains and trams are dominated by working age people, with a high student presence as well. The extent of the latter depends on schools and universities en-route, with the major private schools and universities generating the most trips.
Buses remain popular with students travelling locally. At one time they were also heavily used by commuters as rail feeders, but this fell after the 1991 bus service cuts made walking or driving to the station more attractive. In middle and outer suburbs where the rail network is well beyond walking distance (such as Doncaster), buses have a greater role, though public transport modal share is still only around half the metropolitan average.
9am - 3pm
Older people tend to avoid 'crush-hour' trains and trams, even without special off-peak pricing. However after the morning peak, from around 9:30am, the retired form a large component of train and tram patronage and dominate bus patronage. Tertiary students and part-time workers also travel during these hours.
The 10 am to 3pm period is also popular for families with pre-school children to visit city attractions, especially during the warmer months. Highest patronage is during school holidays and/or when there are major events such as the Royal Melbourne Show. A similar pattern exists on weekends, except school-age children are also present.
3pm - 7pm
School children kick off the afternoon peak, around 3pm. Unlike the morning peak (where almost everyone is travelling at the same time) the childrens' afternoon peak subsides just as the workers' peak is building up. Different groups of workers finish at different times, with early-starting blue-collar workers finishing from 4pm, administrators from around 5pm, retail 5:30 - 6pm and others even later. Hence the afternoon peak is longer and flatter than the morning peak and subsides slower, with high outbound patronage continuing throughout the evening. Buses have a very sharp after school peak, but for reasons discussed have a smaller workers peak until most services cease around 7pm.
Though outbound services are consistently busy, there are huge variations in the patronage of in-bound services. For instance weekday trains to the city from Frankston and Sandringham around 6pm tend to be lightly loaded, whereas similar services from Dandenong and Ringwood are heavily used. I put this down to the existence of strong intermediate trip generators at Glenferrie, Box Hill and Clayton/Huntingdale on these lines. Brighton is unlikely to ever become a major trip generator, but possibilities exist for the Frankston line given a station at Southland.
Night services are most popular with young people, students and those returning late from work. Unless there are special events, older people and families tend to be under-represented at these times.
As discussed above, outbound trains are more popular than city-bound trains most nights of the week. The main exception is the 'mini peak' on in-bound services on Friday and Saturday nights. Passengers on these trains are almost all teenagers and young adults.
Weekend patterns are mostly similar to off-peak weekday characteristics. Popular leisure outings are to CBD-based sport, arts and entertainment events, the beach and shopping.
To this should be added a minor peak period of retail workers who need to arrive at work before approx 9am and leave after approx 5pm. Catering workers should also be included but their busier times are different, with lunches and evenings being most significant. This movement is much less than the weekday peak due to (i) the narrower range of occupational groups involved and (ii) the attractiveness of driving due to the limited weekend bus service.