Saturday, 15 June 2019

A few thoughts on the recent Moe bus re-timetabling

Photo: LVBL Volvo B5L bus outside the Latrobe City Moe Library and Service Centre. Photo Credit: Volvo
Photo: LVBL Volvo B5L bus outside the Latrobe City Moe Library and Service Centre. Photo Credit: Volvo

Roughly two years ago, PTV completely overhauled the bus network in the Latrobe Valley, operated by Latrobe Valley Bus Lines. Amongst other changes, the new routes and timetables split the Newborough loop out of the Moe to Traralgon trunk route (Route 1), thus creating two local Newborough routes (Route 14 and the new 15), as well as streamlining Route 1 to run more reliably, regularly, and for longer hours. Whilst many Newborough locals were opposed to the changes, I personally found them to be of considerable improvement. The new Route 15 provided service where there previously was none, and the Route 1 streamlining meant you could get to Morwell from Moe/Newborough in roughly 15 minutes, and Traralgon in around 35.

Even though I spend most of my time nowadays in Melbourne, the bus network in the Latrobe Valley still remains of considerable importance to me. It’s how I got around when I lived there, and now it’s how I get around when I’m in the area visiting family or friends. As such I have been able to generate an array of opinions on how the service is run, with most of them not being positive. I’ve communicated before, both to LVBL and PTV, about the various faults I find in the operation of the service; such as the lack of timely connections to trains Moe Station, or Route 1 buses arriving late into Moe Bus Interchange with local town routes departing before the Traralgon bus arrived. Writing to LVBL simply resulted in them asking me to redirect my complaint to PTV, and writing to PTV garnered basically no tangible response to my concerns; they simply stated that they’d keep my concerns in mind rather than opening a dialogue.

So understandably, I was both excited and hesitant when I heard that PTV are due to enact a new set of bus timetables for the Latrobe Valley on the 23rd of June. Would we finally see a more logical set of routes and timetables for Moe, with proper connections with trains and other bus routes, or would we see just a general expansion to service with the same faults still present?

Small adjustments and longer operating hours

Although this timetable update brings changes to routes and timetables all across the Latrobe Valley, for this article I’ll specifically focus on the changes in Moe and Newborough. No changes have been made to the timetables or service on trunk routes like the 1, 2, or 5.

Route 14


Services:BeforeAfter+/-
Weekday 11 14 +3
Friday 0 2 +2
Saturday 11 12 +1
Sunday 9 11 +2
Total Route 14 added services: 8

Route 15


Services:BeforeAfter+/-
Weekday 12 13 +1
Friday 3 3 +1
Saturday 11 12 +1
Sunday 9 11 +2
Total Route 15 added services: 5

In total, 13 extra weekly services have been added, all in the Newborough area. Some points of note;

  • In regards to Route 14;
    • Route 14 now starts two hours earlier and finishes an hour later on weekdays, with the first bus departing at 6.10am and last at 7.10pm.
    • Friday evening services have been introduced, with two new buses departing at 8.10pm and 9.10pm. This brings Route 14 in line with Route 15 in that they now both have a Friday evening service terminating in the hour of 9pm.
    • Weekend service has also been extended, with the last bus each Saturday and Sunday departing at 6.10pm.
  • In regards to Route 15;
    • Route 15 receives an extra weekday service in the evening departing at 6.43pm. This was a service only previously ran on Friday evenings.
    • An extra Friday evening service has been introduced, departing at 9.43pm.
    • As with Route 14, weekend evening service has been extended; one new service on Saturday and two new services on Sunday. Weekend services now terminate at the same time as they do on regular weekdays, with the last bus departing the interchange at 6.43pm.
    • Route 15 also saw a slight adjustment in it’s timing, with buses scheduled to depart the interchange three minutes later than before. This now creates a five minute gap between the Traralgon Route 1 arrival and the Route 15 departure, so a connection between the two services should now be mostly guaranteed (although I wouldn’t put it past LVBL to run a bus more than five minutes late.) On the previous timetable, there was just a two minute gap between the Traralgon bus arriving and the Newborough bus departing. The lack of layover time caused connections to be broken regularly, and a request to your Traralgon bus driver to radio over and ask the Newborough bus to be held back a few minutes often was denied, citing network punctuality reasoning.
Overall, longer operating hours and better connections create a more dependable local public transport experience for Newborough residents. I can see many of these changes having a general positive benefit on the network’s usability, and thus giving many who can reasonably use the service more confidence in the stability of their journeys. Each small improvement in the network has an overall cumulative effect in generating higher patronage, which in turn gives government authorities like PTV more incentive to improve the public transport networks in our area.

Still more work to be done

However, with this it should be stated that not all of the network’s faults have been rectified, and in fact the situation is far from it. I could write another fairly detailed article about what needs to be fixed, but for now I’ll keep it brief. In summary, whilst the new services improve local connections and service levels, rail connectivity still suffers severely. After a short investigation and some calculations, I can reveal that even with these recent timetable adjustments, on average, there exists a 39 minute wait from when one alights a local town bus at the Moe Library to when the next V/Line train departs for Melbourne at the adjacent station. Connection times like this are simply ridiculous, and are almost unheard of in most Melbourne suburbs. The most disadvantaged route for rail connection is Route 11, which services the areas of Moe which lay south of the rail line. Despite this route having a relatively large catchment area, on average, the wait time for a train at the station after alighting this route is 50 minutes, with the bus often making it to the station just five minutes after the previous train departs. This signals nothing but incompetence from whoever penned down this timetable, whether it be PTV or LVBL.

In addition to this, many routes across the Latrobe Valley are currently ran as loop routes, rather than a traditional bi-directional route with two termini. An example of this is the Route 15 mentioned earlier in this article; below I’ve attached a diagram of how this loop currently runs.

Map: Moe Route 15 with arrows annotating the route loop direction.
Map: Moe Route 15 with arrows annotating the route loop direction.

Those who take buses regularly will quickly spot the problem here. Because the bus is only running in one direction, travelling against the flow of the route can be very time-consuming, if not a complete waste of time altogether. Someone residing in the Dinwoodie Dr area wishing to travel to town will be in for a 15-minute bus ride, a journey three times longer than if they were to travel by car. And likewise, if anyone is in the southern end of Newborough, wishing to travel against the route flow to the northern or western ends of Newborough, well, they might as well consider walking.

Running a bus route in half of it’s possible directions will halve the possible use-cases for it. At present, it feels like Route 15 has been designed with one single use-case in mind, and that is to shuttle students between the town centre and the local TAFE campus. If it ran in both directions, I could see it for example, helping churchgoers or Rutherglen Rd shoppers back to their homes should they reside in the northern or western parts of Newborough, amongst other potential uses. Running the route’s directions separately would also make it possible to timetable the schedule of both directions independently. The run towards Newborough could be timed, for example, against the TAFE start in the morning, whilst the run towards Moe could be timed against the next train departure from the station towards Melbourne. In this way, the route can easily serve a much larger group of possible commuters than it currently does.

Concluding

On one hand, I’m glad that PTV is paying attention to the local bus routes in the area and making sensible alterations where they can. It shows that they do, to some extent, care, and are not just leaving the network of the area to rot. The adjustment of the Route 15 departure time is a much-appreciated example of this. However in saying that, they generate quite a lacklustre level of dialogue with the local community, and are still sticking to quite odd route design patterns that lock out a great portion of many potential users. People should not be waiting 39 minutes for a train, just as it should not be required for one travel into town and waste nearly an hour of their time just to return to a previous stop on the route that they are on. Poor design is prevalent on this network, and if we wish to increase public transport patronage at all, we should have a network that encourages it.

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