Category Archives: Campaigns

COVID-19: Public transport timetable boost needed to help stagger trips

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has called on the State Government to boost public transport services across the day as a response to the COVID-19 crisis.

A PTUA analysis of train timetables found that on some lines, services and capacity dropped by two-thirds outside peak hour.

PTUA spokesperson Daniel Bowen said that as people returned to work and students returned to schools and universities, social distancing was going to be critical, and that spreading peak demand was a key part of achieving this.

“It’s clear that we can’t return to the usual peak loads, with rampant overcrowding on trains, trams and buses”, Mr Bowen said.

“We don’t want a situation like Adelaide, where passengers are unable to maintain social distancing.[1]

“It makes sense to encourage staggered working hours, with people travelling at different times – but this won’t help if public transport frequency and capacity is not boosted to enable it.”

Analysis of Melbourne train timetables shows that capacity is cut by up to two-thirds outside peak hour.[2]

“This means that on some lines, off-peak trains can be as crowded as peak hour”, said Mr Bowen.[3]

Mr Bowen said that while public transport infrastructure and fleets were stretched during peak hour, for most of the day there is spare capacity sitting idle.

In recent years, Perth and Sydney have boosted rail timetables to at least every 15 minutes all day [4].

In contrast most of Melbourne’s stations have trains only every 20 minutes – unchanged for decades – despite normally strong overall travel demand throughout the day.[5]

Melbourne buses and outer-urban V/Line services are even less frequent, with 30-40 minute waits between services being common, making connections difficult.

“The public transport network is key to Melbourne’s economic recovery from this crisis. But it must be run in a way that ensures passengers and staff are as safe as possible.”

Mr Bowen said that some passengers were wary about returning to public transport.

“The increased cleaning on the system is very welcome, and should continue. The government should seek health advice on options such as deploying hand sanitiser dispensers at stations, and the effective use of masks.

“But fundamentally, capacity must be managed, and the key to this is encouraging staggered travel, which is only possible by providing sufficient services throughout the day”, concluded Mr Bowen.

[1] ABC: Coronavirus concerns raised by Adelaide rail passengers after social distancing breaches revealed

[2] Comparisons of train timetables showed that the Sunbury, Craigieburn, Mernda and Hurstbridge lines service frequency and capacity drop by two-thirds (66.7%) outside peak hours.

The graph below shows trains per hour 8:00am-8:59am vs 10:00-10:59am at the “city cordon” (Richmond, Jolimont or North Melbourne). Percentage is the reduction to capacity outside peak.

Peak vs off-peak train services


  • Lilydale/Belgrave/Alamein measured as 10:30-11:29am to reflect the 8 trains per hour pattern that runs from 10:30am to 1pm. Frequency then drops further to 4 tph after 1pm.
  • Upfield and Williamstown see no capacity reduction outside peak because the peak and off-peak service is near-identical, with only 3 trains per hour
  • Network-wide, overall capacity (train services per hour) drops by 55.6% outside peak hour. Evening service capacity (8pm-8:59pm) is 70.9% lower than peak hour.

[3] PTUA: Midday trains crowded

[4] Sydney Trains since 2017 have had services every 15 minutes or better, all day until 11pm to 71% of stations. Sydney Morning Herald report.

[5] PTUA: Call for Govt to fund official PTV “every 10 minutes” train plan

See also:

Herald Sun: Public transport group urges for more off-peak services to help social distancing on trains

In defence of buses

From time to time politicians and others push the misleading line that passengers don’t like buses, and that they’re only a last resort form of public transport. It’s true that​ patronage on many bus routes is poor, but this is because the service is poor, and because bus​ routes are poorly understood by potential passengers.​ ​

The solution to this is to roll out more SmartBus style bus routes, and upgrade existing routes​ to SmartBus standards, which provide direct, high frequency “tram like”​ services. SmartBuses run at least every 15 minutes through the day on weekdays, and more frequently​ during the peaks. They also provide quite direct routes with no meandering through the back​ streets. That’s why they’re popular.​ ​

The parts of the SmartBus network which serve major activity centres, and Doncaster Area Rapid Transit ​ (DART) SmartBuses, prove that good bus services can attract high patronage. In recent times DART routes ​ have suffered severe peak period overcrowding. Some orbital SmartBus services in the Box Hill and ​ Chadstone areas also have overcrowding problems. If good services are provided, people will use them.​ ​

Many other bus services run every hour or less, and take roundabout routes. That’s why people ​ don’t use them. It’s not about rubber wheels or diesel engines – it’s about frequency and directness.​ ​

Comparing SmartBus experience on weekends versus weekdays is also instructive. On​ weekdays, when SmartBuses run every 15 minutes, patronage is far better than on weekends when they only​ run every 30 minutes. In the DART case, this frequency issue is exacerbated by the fact that Ringwood ​ line trains run every 10 minutes on weekends. It appears that quite a few people who would catch a ​ SmartBus on weekdays, drive to a train station on weekends. Weekend SmartBuses must be upgraded to at least every 15 minutes. Again, it’s not about rubber wheels or ​diesel engines. It’s about frequency.​

Another important problem is most people’s lack of understanding of bus routes and frequencies. Most​ people have some level of familiarity with Melbourne’s train and tram routes, and once you find​ a train station or tram stop, you can generally expect a train or tram to show up within 20 minutes (during​ the day at least). By comparison, most bus stops are a lottery. Even with a bus tracker app in hand, just​ showing up at a bus stop is brave. Research in advance is mandatory!​ ​

SmartBus routes are again an example of how this can be much better done. SmartBus stops​ typically have maps of the SmartBus routes, and people know these routes have reasonably​ frequent services. Similar maps of direct, higher frequency bus routes across Melbourne more generally​ are needed. Bus routes should be colour coded for frequency, so people can see what combination​ of routes is likely to be “interchange friendly”. These maps should be provided at bus stops as​ well as online.​

SmartBus electronic signage should be enhanced to indicate when there are alternative bus routes between major hubs on SmartBus routes. This will help in some situations where passengers are being left behind because buses are full, but other buses have empty seats which could have been used, e.g. between Chadstone and Oakleigh Station. ​

Interchange is another area where Melbourne’s bus system desperately needs improvement. Even​ where high frequency routes cross, e.g. where DART routes cross orbital SmartBuses, often no​ effort has been made to put bus stops on intersecting routes close together, no signage to​ other bus stops is provided, and no services are provided at interchange points. Even​ a convenience store which sells coffee, newspapers and Myki topups, and has a big map of the ​ SmartBus network on display, would be a big improvement.​

Other road infrastructure enhancements which can significantly speed up buses, are dedicated bus lanes, jump start lanes at traffic lights, and traffic light priority for such lanes. ​

New train and tram lines are great when the political will and funding can be found, but realistically such​ new lines will be built only rarely. For the two thirds of Melbourne which doesn’t have train or tram​ services, high quality bus services are the only option. We can’t afford to let politicians dodge this​ necessity by claiming that people don’t want buses.

Public transport: frequency must improve across the network #MoreServicesPlease

If you look at a map of Melbourne’s public transport network, you’d be right in thinking it’s a substantial service covering most of the city.

But it will only attract people out of their cars if service quality is better.

Frequency has to improve. With most suburban buses running only every 30-60 minutes, and even waits for trains and trams being as much as 20 to 40 minutes outside peak times, people can spend more time waiting for a service than travelling on it.

Running all trains, trams and main road buses at least “every ten minutes to everywhere” all day, every day, would ensure that all of Melbourne has a “turn up and go” network that people can use without having to check a timetable first, and that connections are easy.

Sunday trains packed #MoreServicesPlease

Melbourne’s trains: you might not expect a seat in peak hour, but on Sunday mornings? Most lines are very infrequent – and they’re packed.

Services on the Werribee, Williamstown, Sunbury, Craigieburn, Upfield, Mernda, Hurstbridge and Sandringham lines on Sundays run only every 40 minutes until about 10am, resulting in crowding, while spare trains sit idle in stabling yards.

It hasn’t changed in decades. Sunday 10am to 7pm frequencies were increased in 1999 to 20 minutes, but the morning 40 minute gaps have existed since the 1970s.

This is not good enough for a growing city of 5 million people. To get Melbourne moving, it’s time for frequent train services every 10 minutes on all Metro lines, every day of the week.

Call for govt to fund official PTV “every 10 minutes” train plan

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has called on the State Government to fund the official PTV rail network service plan, which included trains every 10 minutes on most Metro lines by 2016 [1].

PTUA spokesman Daniel Bowen said the upgrade would revolutionise train travel around Melbourne, by cutting waiting times and crowding outside peak hours, and making more trips viable by public transport, including those requiring a change of service.

“Studies show that waiting time for public transport is often perceived negatively [2], with passengers believing waiting time is longer than it actually is”, said Mr Bowen. “This actively discourages people from using using infrequent public transport, especially for journeys requiring connections between services.

“Running trains every 10 minutes every day, just as we see already on a few lines, and just as we see in other cities of Melbourne’s size around the world, will get people off the roads.”

The PTV plan, written in 2012, proposed that by 2016 there would be the following service levels off-peak and on weekends:

  • 6 trains per hour to Sunshine, Craigieburn, South Morang, Macleod, Ringwood, Glen Waverley, Sandringham, Newport (in addition to existing services to Frankston and Dandenong)
  • 3 trains per hour off-peak to outer-suburban stations at Sunbury, Belgrave, Lilydale

Number of stations outside inner area[3] served by 10-minute frequencies


Total stations

Current weekday off-peak

Current weekends

Proposed PTV plan 2016, 7-days

via North Melbourne





via Clifton Hill





via Burnley





via South Yarra










The number of stations on the network with all-week frequent services would rise from about a quarter to about two-thirds.

At many stations, this would mean the time between trains was halved.

Mr Bowen said that while some off-peak services were crowded and would be relieved by extra trains, the primary aim was to cut waiting times to get more people out of their cars.

“Weekend traffic is now as bad as weekdays. We know from Vicroads figures that there is almost as much travel demand in the middle of the day, and on weekends as there is at traditional peak commuting times”, said Mr Bowen. [4]

“PTV’s train plan isn’t perfect, but implementing the 2012 recommendations would be a great step towards a frequent metro service around Melbourne.

“The current half-baked metro service we have now just don’t cut it. Our city is growing fast, and we can’t have is inaction until 2026 when the metro tunnel opens.”

The PTUA also called for trams to be upgraded to run at least every 10 minutes until midnight, 7-days-a-week, for Smartbus services to run every 10-15 minutes on weekends, matching weekday frequencies (and in line PTV plans) and to expand the Smartbus system.

“Melbourne has a vast fleet of trains, trams and buses, much of which sits idle on weekends”, said Mr Bowen. “We know that people want to travel. It’s time the government funded extra services to cut waiting times, and make public transport a more viable option – not just in peak hour, but right through the week.”

* * *

[1] PTV Network Development Plan, Metropolitan Rail. Full document, pages 32-33.

This PTV chart from page 33 of the document shows 6 trains-per-hour (eg every 10 minutes) by 2016 to most of the network.

PTV Network Development Plan 2012: Planned train services

[2] Research paper: Perception of Waiting Time at Transit Stops and Stations

[3] Stations outside the CBD, Richmond, North Melbourne, South Yarra, which already have frequent services (6 or more trains per hour). Assumes weekday Werribee operating pattern would run 7-days

[4] Vicroads Online Traffic Monitor – shows that weekday inter-peak traffic and weekend traffic are almost as heavy as on weekdays during peak times.

Vicroads: Traffic volumes by time of day
Vicroads traffic figures by day of week

Media coverage of this story:

Problem of the Week

Seen a Public Transport problem that you want to call out? Something that bugs you – big or small – that could and should be fixed?

Let us know via Email, Tweet @PTUA or Facebook. Include #PTUA #POTW hashtags. Send pics.

We will investigate the most popular problems, look into the history, find the relevant authority, track down any planned or expected fixes, and we will post a PTUA viewpoint on the problem.

Help us expose the problems that exasperate you every day, and guide PTUA campaigning for better public transport.

Waiting for a bus on a weekend/public holiday? Thanks to infrequent services, it may be quicker to walk.

PTUA’s Daniel Bowen wanted to get from East Bentleigh to Southland Shopping Centre on a Sunday afternoon. It’s about 5 kilometres, but the bus only runs once an hour. Might it be quicker to walk?

This is a problem with many trips in suburban Melbourne and our big regional cities. Most people who have a choice won’t wait for an infrequent bus, and they won’t walk — they’ll drive their cars, adding to traffic congestion and car park pressure.

We look forward to hearing from politicians in this month’s state election on how they’ll upgrade bus services.