It’s really hard to get excited about our bus systems – unless you are a regular user of course – and I am not. It’s not like they have been plagued with publicity, good or bad, and they must rate as one of the dullest political discussion topics ever, so it is hard to raise any interest in them.
The problem with this is that some parts of the bus system are actually working well and we need to publicise this. On the down side, the lack of interest or discussion means we don’t know how they could work better. In an attempt to find something of interest to say, I recently rode on a number of bus routes that transit through Banyule.
I started on the 517 from Rosanna to Greensborough. The service was on time but when I boarded I was unable to work myki and the bus driver was unable to help me. (It later transpired I was using the card incorrectly, holding it in the wrong place.) The bus was clean and sparsely populated so I was able to get myself and my chattels on without much trouble. The timetable is fairly consistent and easy to understand. I arrived in Greensborough in time for morning tea.
From there I intended to get the 902 SmartBus to Doncaster Shoppingtown. The 517 driver was unable to tell me where I could get that bus from. Fortunately the bus set up at Greensborough is well signposted and easy to use. So not much to report so far: bus on time, client service not so good. I was left wondering however where all the patrons were, for the entire trip there were not more than three-five people on the bus, and this is the only public transport service through Viewbank.
So onto the 902 SmartBus, so called because of the extra information and better connections such a route should provide. This bus ran via Greensborough to Epping Station and then south to Doncaster. Well, myki worked this time but the Smart part of the SmartBus did not. The bus did not announce bus stops as we approached them and the SmartBus signage at Greensborough Station, which should give bus arrival and expected waiting times, was not working.
After passing through Greensborough the Smart technology seemed to switch in and the signage and announcements worked as required. This bus had a lot more people on board which may be attributable to the fact that we were heading to Shoppingtown. The timetable is regular and consistent so easy to read and understand as long as you work out if you are heading to or from Chelsea or Airport West, and I must admit, I needed to visualise this a few times before getting on a bus for fear of going in the wrong direction. Arrival at Doncaster and time for another coffee, these trips are a tad tedious and long compared to getting about by car or even train.
Time to leave Doncaster via the 903 to Heidelberg. This is a very popular bus route, packed with people, bags, prams and shopping trolleys which is probably due to the fact that it runs to Box Hill, a major shopping and transport precinct via Shoppingtown, a major cultural drain and eyesore but popular regardless. Anyway, the bus platforms at Shoppingtown were incredibly difficult to negotiate. There is no signage or map as you come out of the shopping centre and it is only once you have walked up and down the platforms that you find what you are looking for.
Sooooooo off to Heidelberg, nothing else to report if you are even still reading at this point, everything worked – myki, SmartBus – and I got to my destination safe and sound. It was not until I went to catch the 513 from Heidelberg to Rosanna that any real irritation developed.
By now most of the day is gone and I just want to get to Rosanna Library to drop off a book before heading home. The 513 must be the worst timetable throughout Banyule for a number of reasons. The buses are so infrequent at certain times as to almost render the service void and there are incredible gaps in the timetabling that blow waiting times out further. The route zoning is not consistent with the train zoning so you are in zone 2 at Rosanna Rd in Heidelberg but zone 1 at Heidelberg Station which has complicated fare implications for those who want to use both the train and bus. This is unfortunate too as many people who currently park and ride at zone 1 train stations might otherwise have an alternative to bus and ride through Heidelberg alleviating some of that peak hour traffic along Rosanna Rd and through the Banyule rat runs. The timetable also appears to be needlessly complex with alternate services heading via Greensborough or Lower Plenty to Epping. Once the bus splits off to do this, the wait times are even more ridiculous, one bus about every thirty minutes. So I give up on my twenty minute wait and walk to Rosanna, beating the bus in any case.
So, what have I learnt from these trips? The SmartBus concept has improved services along those routes and the people I spoke to who caught them regularly were happy. I suspect the majority of the other bus services throughout Banyule are so inadequate that people just do not see them as a viable alternative to driving. How many times have we driven to our local shops, or out to dinner when a perfectly serviceable bus route takes off from just around the corner?
And that’s the problem I suppose. The bus system does not have enough services and the resulting lack of patronage, coupled with the lack of interest, mean that no one is standing up and saying we need better because we don’t really know what better could be.
- Thumbs up for tram, train, bus (theage.com.au)