SmartBus stops short

Most of the Victorian government’s flagship SmartBus routes fail to meet the defined SmartBus service standard, which itself is well below the level of service provided by Melbourne’s trams, a study by the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has found.

Smartbuses idle on the weekend“SmartBuses are gaining in popularity, because they run more frequently and for longer hours than most other bus services”, said Mr Bowen. “But they pale in comparison to Melbourne’s tram services, and in four out of five cases don’t even meet the Department of Transport’s own SmartBus service standard.”

The Department of Transport’s definition of a SmartBus says[1]:

On weekdays services run:

  • every 15 minutes between 6.30am and 9.00pm
  • on average every 30 minutes between 5.00am and 6.30am
  • on average every 30 minutes between 9.00pm and midnight.

On weekends and public holidays:

  • on average every 30 minutes between 6.00am and midnight on Saturdays and public holidays
  • on average every 30 minutes between 7.00am and 9.00pm on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day.

The PTUA has found that two of the existing SmartBus routes, 703 and 888/889, fail to meet most of these criteria, and that another two, 900 and 903, come close but miss on a few key points.

“The original SmartBus routes, 703 and 888/889, start too late, finish too early, and don’t run as frequently as they should on weekends, with gaps of up to 45 minutes between services when they should be half-hourly”, said Mr Bowen.

“The 900 comes close, but last buses from Caulfield to Rowville are before midnight.

“And the 903 orbital Smartbus, which has been a huge success since its launch in April[2], nonetheless fails to run every 15 minutes on weekdays from Essendon to Altona before 11am, with gaps of up to 38 minutes between buses.”

Mr Bowen said the government should immediately commit to upgrading the existing SmartBus routes to meet the standard. “There should be no excuses – the government set the standard themselves, and should meet it.

“The second step is to boost SmartBuses further: provide services that are better matched to connecting train frequencies, particularly on weekends[3], to further cut waiting times and bring these services up to the standard of Melbourne’s trams, running at least every 15 minutes every day.”

Mr Bowen said the longer-term goal should be to have all of Melbourne served by a network of trains, trams or SmartBus services, running frequently along main roads, 7-days-a-week until midnight.

“SmartBus is a success, particularly on weekdays when buses are frequent for most of the day. It’s shown that where good quality public transport is provided, people will use it. With more frequent services provided, it could be even better”, concluded Mr Bowen.


See full spreadsheet: Comparison of the SmartBus standard with SmartBus services, and with cross-suburban tram 78/79 (Excel format, 22 Kb)

[1] Department of Transport: What is SmartBus?

[2] State govt: Patronage on new SmartBus route highest on record, 1/7/2009

[3] At present train services run every 20 minutes for most of the weekend. SmartBus services run mostly every 30 minutes, making reliable connections impossible.