As West Melbourne expands, poor bus services are forcing residents to rely on cars

There is a bus stop right next to Iqbal Hossain’s house at Hoppers Crossing in South West Melbourne.

But he rarely uses it.

“Most of the time if someone needs the bus, they have to wait 40 to 50 minutes,” he said.

If he takes the bus four kilometers from the station, it takes four times longer than if he had to drive – the journey takes five minutes by car or 20 minutes by bus.

“It turns over and over through all the little streets before it gets to the station, and then I often miss the connecting train,” he said.

He said that’s why most people in the Outer West avoid the bus system if they need to arrive on time.

Bus journeys in the west are, on average, almost twice as long as journeys in the city centre. (ABC News: Margaret Paul)

That’s why the train station commuter car park is full by 7 a.m. most mornings, and only 1.3% of business trips in the west include bus trips.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne found that it doesn’t have to be.

How serious is the problem?

John Stone, lecturer in transport planning at the University of Melbourne, said a population the size of Canberra is expected to add to western Melbourne over the next 15 years.

The traffic implications of this are obvious to anyone who has sat in a car on the West Gate Freeway, or heard the phrase “heavy on the Point Cook bend” on the traffic report.

A man wearing glasses sits next to a computer screen.
John Stone of the University of Melbourne is part of a team looking at public transport in the city’s west.(ABC News: Chris LePage)

“People in the West really need alternatives to driving,” Dr. Stone said.

“At the moment most people’s bus service doesn’t run in the evening, it doesn’t run on Sundays, and even at peak times it can run on 30-40 minute frequencies,” he said. -he declares.

The researchers found that the average transit time in Wyndham was 71.4 minutes, nearly double the average 37-minute journey in central Melbourne.

It should perhaps come as no surprise then that more than double the proportion of households in Wyndham own three cars compared to Melbourne’s city center – 18.3% of households compared to 8.8%.

This is something common in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.

“For a lot of people, the cost of having the third, fourth car in the household is prohibitive, so we really need better public transport,” Dr Stone said.

What can be done?

Dr. Stone’s team wanted to see what would happen if they threw away the current bus system and started over – and they were surprised at the results.

A map showing the existing bus network in West Melbourne.
The existing bus network in West Melbourne.(Provided: University of Melbourne)

Using computer modelling, they removed the 80 bus networks, which aim to stop within 400 meters of each house, meandering through suburban streets.

Instead, the researchers designed a grid-like system, with just 25 routes, running along major roads, with stops within 800m of most homes.

A depiction of a proposed new bus network for West Melbourne.
The researchers’ alternative proposal for the bus network in the west of the city.(Provided: University of Melbourne)

“For the same resources, we could give people huge accessibility improvements – they could have 10-minute services all day, seven days a week,” he said.

The trade-off is that people – like Iqbal Hossain – might have to walk a bit further to get to a bus stop.

At the moment, Public Transport Victoria aims to have a bus stop within 400m of each house.

“But a bus stop without a bus isn’t very useful to you,” Dr Stone said.

He said people were happy to walk up to 800m to catch trains, so the extra distance should not deter them.

“But what they’ll be walking is a 10-minute service going straight to the local activity center or the local train station, and they’ll be able to connect to their communities, connect to jobs much more efficiently,” said he declared.

He said the plan includes a demand-driven community bus, for people with walking difficulties.

“We think of a system that leaves no one behind,” he said.

Computer modeling results show a large increase in the number of people who can take the bus to get where they need to be in 30 minutes.

For Hoppers Crossing, the number of people who can get to the station in less than 30 minutes has increased by 1,155%.

On Sundays, the number of people able to go to the Highpoint shopping center increased by 200%, and for Werribee Plaza it was 400%.

He said the plan would be cost-neutral over time, but would involve additional investment to start, around $30 million to $40 million.

“That cost is really modest, it would involve bringing the west to the level of service available through Melbourne, depending on population growth,” he said.

A sign for Hoppers Crossing Station.
It takes 5 minutes from Iqbal Hossain to Hoppers Crossing station or 20 minutes by bus.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

Back at Hoppers Crossing, Mr. Hossain would like to see the plan put in place.

He is a teacher at a local secondary school and said pupils were often late because they relied on the bus to get to school.

“I think in a few years we will need better buses, including electric buses,” he said.

The state government has introduced electric buses on roads in western Melbourne, at the rate of around one per month over the next three years.

Earlier this year, Seymour became the first town in the Victoria region to boast an all-electric fleet.

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