Bus routes which need improvement: the #506

Bus routes which need improvement: the #506
Bus routes which need improvement: the #506

Melbourne has many bus routes that resemble, putting it politely, interesting, logic in the path they take from point A to point B. A route I'm intimately familiar with is the #506, it runs from Moonee Ponds Bus station in the middle of the Moonee Ponds Junction to High St Westgarth generally along the Dean St / Dawson Street / Glenlyon road corridor forming a cross-town route through Brunswick and Fitzroy North. It connects with or runs very near 6 tram and 3 train radial routes.

Like many non-smart bus routes around the city, the #506 is subject to limited operational hours, poor frequencies out of peak, on weekends and no Sunday service. The route itself has a straight-forward enough terminus at Moonee Ponds albeit the bus station has a 500m walk to the Moonee Ponds Station. As soon as the route crosses the Moonee Ponds Creek, it diverts off the main road into quiet suburban streets in Brunswick West, crossing Melville Road (and the #55 tram) at an unsignalled intersection, then makes a right turn into another suburban road (generally clogged with traffic in peaks) and then rejoins the main road it diverted off not 500m away.

Dog's leg routes are common and I had always wondered about this route. I once asked a driver about this peculiarity, the driver proceeded to explain it was a left over from the days when bus and tram routes competed with each other. Think 1950s and 1960s. In an age where we don't have active Public Transport mode competition, the decision to keep this diversion which slows down the route by adding extra streets to the total length and crosses a major road without signals, defies logic. Smith St, the diversionary street running parallel to Dawson Street is 150m to the north - a minimal extra walk should a realignment of the route occur.

Between Grantham St and Nicholson Street the route is as you would expect: straight along Glenlyon Road and connects well with the Sydney Road, Lygon St and Nicholson Street tram routes. The route then follows Nicholson Street for 500m and then diverts off into another back street which has one-way traffic calming measures in place to dissaude drivers from using the route instead of the parallel Holden Street to then connect with St. Georges Road, Merri Parade and then its terminus at the intersection of Westgarth and High Streets.

Frequency matters and this route just doesn't have it. Brunswick West has a population density twice that of your average outer suburb, yet transport planners think residents just want to go in and out of the city - tram frequencies in off-peak and on weekends are excellent, yet this route, the #508 and many east-west routes north of the #506 have shoddy frequencies at best outside of peaks.

Brunswick, like many suburbs 5km from the city, has excellent radial access to the CBD, but still many residents rely on private transport to travel 3-5km cross-town to the next adjacent suburb. This is plainly obvious when you observe the East-West roads throughout the inner north - they're snarled with traffic in peaks and not that much better off peaks and on weekends.

Bus routes which need improvement: the #506
#506 PTV route map from Moonee Ponds to Westgarth

The first thing I'd change would be the dog's leg in Brunswick West. Like the Hope Street route further north which was recently discontinued due to the lack of patronage, the #506 does itself zero favours running adjacent to a larger public transport corridor less than 500m away. Very low rates of interchange between modes can be squarely blamed on the poor integration of the high frequency and very useful #55 tram running north south and the poor frequency #506 bus running east west.

The answer is completely remove the diversion and have it follow Dean Street and Dawson Street the whole way interfacing with 3 tram stops along the short stretch of Dawson Street between Melville Road and Grantham Street. A 15 minute off-peak and weekend bus frequency interfacing with a 12 minute #55 tram frequency will offer an incentive for roughly 15,000 people living between Brunswick Road and Gaffney Street in Brunswick West / Coburg / Pascoe Vale South (within easy walking distance of the #55 tram) a one change solution to travel to either the Moonee Ponds or Sydney Road activities districts without a car.

Secondly, the terminus at both ends stop short of major interchanges. At the Moonee Ponds end, the bus station which has a lot of routes and frequency in and out of the area misses out on capturing transfer passengers from Moonee Ponds Station as there is a large walk in between the two (you can easily argue all the bus routes which terminate at the existing terminus are in the same boat).

As Moonee Ponds is well on the way to becoming a major CAD in its own right, it's high time VicRoads, PTV and the Moonee Valley council got together and started the planning process to move the bus station deeper into the Moonee Ponds CAD - if not for the reason of integrating the many bus routes terminating in the area better with trains, but for the inevitable increase in density and therefore public transport needs of the area.

At the Westgarth end, the bus route stops short of Westgarth station and does not interface well with Merri station on the South Morang line at all. Simply extending the route 150m to the east to interface directly with Westgarth station (forming a loop) would further enhance the network effect when you take the Hurstbridge line into account. Similarly combining frequency on Holden Street between Nicholson Street and St. Georges Road appears to be a curious no no - removing the route from the parallel back-street, like the Brunswick West diversion, would simplify the route and have buses directly service the retail hub around the St. Georges Road/Holden Street intersection.

If we can't even get bus routes right in the inner / middle ring of the city to more efficiently serve areas where buses are best suited, what hope is there for the outer public transport-starved suburbs of the city?

Do you live near a bus route that you would use more often if the service levels were improved or the route was realigned? Urban.com.au knows there are many right across the metro area and we want to enlist the help of locals to point them out. Contact us or leave a comment below so we can start documenting the lunacy of our bus routes and start a discussion on how we can improve them.

Visit Marcus Wong's Bus gallery of routes in the vicinity of the #506.

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor is a co-founder of Urban.com.au. Now a freelance writer, Alastair focuses on the intersection of public transport, public policy and related impacts on medium and high-density development.

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