Grid bus network will deliver shorter commute times

Modelling by RMIT researchers shows reconfiguring Melbourne’s bus routes to a grid network could save outer suburban commuters up to 15 minutes of travel time.

The new grid network has fewer routes overall, but more interconnection and more focus on direct main road services.

When compared to travel times and patterns under the current meandering bus network, it showed Melbournians commuting 2km or more could save up to eight minutes of travel time, with residents in the outer ring in Casey and Wyndham the biggest winners, saving up to 15 minutes.

The results suggest we should follow the examples of cities like Houston and Barcelona who have adopted this new model.

Study lead author, Steve Pemberton from the RMIT Centre for Urban Research, says the modelling illustrates that by diverting some resources from inner to outer areas, faster and more efficient transport options can be achieved for all Melburnians.

“Our current bus network design is meandering and lacks efficiency as the routes detour through residential areas, perhaps providing people with bus stops near their homes, but at the cost of infrequent and slow services to limited destinations,” says Pemberton.

“Using GIS spatial analysis, we modelled a new ‘anywhere-to-anywhere’ bus network featuring 96 intersecting routes across the city in place of the existing network of hundreds of routes, with bus stops requiring walks of up to 800m rather than the current 400m requirement.

“We found that a simpler pattern of a grid bus network using main roads with more direct routes would save Melbourne commuters travelling 2km or more and average of nearly eight minutes and reduce the current inefficiencies across every local government area.

“By changing the focus from providing coverage within a 400m walking distance to providing faster and more direct connections to a greater variety of destinations we can achieve better results – particularly for those in the outer suburbs who are most reliant on buses,” he says.

The study published in Case Studies on Transport Policy this month, looked at cities including Houston, Barcelona and Dublin who have implemented these exact changes, converting a ‘tailor-made’ into an ‘anywhere-to-anywhere’ model to provide consistent routes for all passengers.

As well as decreased travel times, Pemberton says a route restructure for the city would enhance the attractiveness of public transport by offering a simpler transport map.

As it remains to be seen how travel patterns will change in a post-COVID world, Pemberton says it is likely passenger demands may change.

“There may be less need to travel to the CBD, and a higher demand to reach a range of destinations within reasonable travel time, in more than a single direction from our point of departure,” he says.

“It would be worth considering a sparser network of more direct and frequent services as part of any reform, as this study shows that a ‘grid’ model would decrease travel time.

“It would also increase accessibility to outer suburban areas and decrease congestion in our city.”

‘Optimising Melbourne’s bus routes for real-life travel patterns’ is published in Case Studies on Transport Policy (DOI: 10.1016/j.cstp.2020.04.002).

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