More than a third of Melburnians have never caught a bus, Infrastructure Victoria wants the network overhauled

Anita Patel stands waiting in a bus stop, with a large bus behind her.
Anita Patel spends 90 minutes travelling on three buses in one direction to get to work.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

Quick read

  • In short: A report has found that Melbourne’s bus network needs to be redesigned with more priority lanes and cheaper fares
  • About a third of Melburnians have never used a local bus.
  • What’s next? The Public Transport Users Association said more money needs to be invested in the network so that buses are a viable public transport option for more people.

Anita Patel catches three buses to get to work every day.

The 23-year-old Melbourne resident travels from Clayton, in the city’s south-east, to Glen Waverley, just a few suburbs away.

It takes her about an hour and a half each way.

Ms Patel likes catching the bus because of the comfortable seats, the air-conditioning, and the friendly bus drivers.

“The bus is on time every day and the transport is reliable,” she said.

“It’s very good and the bus driver is so nice.”

But not every Melburnian is like Ms Patel.

According to the state’s peak infrastructure body, 82 per cent of the city’s residents live within a five-minute walk of a bus stop, but 34 per cent have never been on a local bus.

Cars pass by a bus stop in outer Melbourne.
Buses need to run more often and get passengers to their destination faster, the report found.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

“That tells us that our buses are not going where we need them to go, they’re not coming fast enough, and they’re not actually getting us to those places efficiently,” Infrastructure Victoria acting chief executive Allison Stewart said.

“Melbourne needs a faster, more frequent and better-connected bus network, and we need it now.”

More priority bus lanes and cheaper fares recommended

A new report from Infrastructure Victoria has found the city’s bus network should be completely redesigned, with more priority lanes, increased frequency and cheaper fares.

The report recommends having fewer bus routes snaking through suburban streets, and suggests Melbourne should instead have a network of priority bus lanes along main roads, like those that exist in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide.

A map of the recommended network of rapid bus transit routes.
The report recommends the delivery of a network of bus rapid transit corridors across Melbourne over five years. (Supplied: Infrastructure Victoria)

“A rapid transport network of separated bus lanes across Melbourne could deliver more than 80,000 extra boardings every day,” Ms Stewart said.

“That’s more than the total number of passengers that take a train from Flinders Street station every day.”

She acknowledged that would mean fewer people would live within a five-minute walk of a bus stop, but said most Melburnians were willing to walk further for a more frequent service, and said the government should strengthen community transport, through local government and community groups.

Booming suburbs waiting years for buses

Infrastructure Victoria found the network performs worst in Melbourne’s booming growth areas, where new communities are waiting, on average, three years for bus lines to be installed.

In some growth areas, developers have started their own local bus service, and Public Transport Victoria (PTV) runs a small, on-demand bus service in some outer suburbs.

The agency found there were no buses that come every 10 minutes in the outer-south-east area of Cardinia, and modelled a new bus network for the area.

Bus timetable visible by the side of the road.
Outer suburbs wait an average of three years for bus lines to be installed.( ABC News: Margaret Paul)

Under the proposed model, the agency found the percentage of residents who have access to a bus that came every 10 minutes would increase from 12 per cent to 72 per cent for Casey, also in the south-east, and from 0 to 37 per cent for Cardinia.

Daniel Bowen from the Public Transport Users Association said the government needed to invest more money into the network so it was a viable public transport option for more users.

“It can work, where the investment is made, people will then use the service,” he said.

“If buses are upgraded, if they get traffic-light priority, if they run more frequently,  people will use them.”  

In Clyde North, about 55 kilometres south-east of the city, mother of two Dhruti Patel said she never caught the bus.

Dhruti Patel wearing a black turtle neck standing in a car park.
Dhruti Patel said the bus service near her housing estate wasn’t convenient for the growing population.(Image: Margaret Paul)

She said she leaves the house several times a day on local trips, to pick up or drop off the kids, or do the shopping, and although there was a bus stop at the entrance to her housing estate, driving was much more convenient.

“It’s a growing estate so I don’t know [how accessible the bus is]” she said.

“Still they are developing the area, and building new things there.”

Reducing fares would improve customer numbers: report

The report also called on the state government to “substantially” reduce bus fares, relative to other modes of transport like trains and trams.

In Melbourne, a full-fare two-hour bus ticket costs $5, the same as for a train or a tram. A daily, full-fare bus ticket for the same area costs $10.

Infrastructure Victoria did not suggest a specific figure for new ticket prices, but found every $1 reduction in bus fares could increase customer numbers by up to 19%.

“We know that cost of living pressures are really biting hard,” Ms Stewart said.

“We need public transport to do its job and get Melburnians to the places they need to get to at a price that is affordable.”

A spokesperson for the Victorian government said it was committed to reforming the bus network and welcomed the Infrastructure Victoria research.

“We know buses play a huge role in our public transport network — particularly across the suburbs, which is why we’re focused on reforming the bus network across the state.”

“Through a range of initiatives including improving existing routes, adding new bus routes and supporting a transition to zero-emissions buses, we are making sure buses play a stronger role in a transport network critical to growing a more liveable and more connected Victoria.”

This article was originally published on ABC News.

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