Should bus lanes be shared?

Hoddle St bus lane, looking north (off peak)

The Government’s announcement this week that motorcycles will be able to travel in the bus lane on Hoddle St for a six month trial period revealed a surprising diversity of views about who should and shouldn’t be able to travel in bus lanes.

At present, only buses and bicycles can use the bus lane on Hoddle St (it runs on the south side of Hoddle between the Eastern Freeway and Victoria Parade – there’s no bus lane on the northern side).

The reporter for The Age, Jason Dowling, did his homework and canvassed a number of organisations with an interest in the matter. The Government and the Victorian Motorcycle Council evidently favour buses, motorcycles and bicycles, but:

  • The RACV says the lane should be limited to buses and taxis
  • The Bus Association says only buses should be permitted
  • Bicycle Network Victoria is against motorcycles – it says the lane should only be used by bicycles and buses

I can’t see any problem with motorcycles and scooters using the bus lane. They’re fast enough so they won’t hold up buses and they’re small enough that they shouldn’t present queuing problems at intersections.  Although they’re not without problems (noise and pollution from two strokes), they’re a relatively efficient form of transport compared to cars and low occupancy buses. If cyclists can successfully share a lane with buses that barely fit, contending with motorcycles should be a cakewalk. Motorcycles warrant space in the bus lane.

However the logic of the RACV’s argument that taxis and hire cars should be able to use bus lanes is hard to fathom. There’s no environmental or equity benefit to be gained from making a trip by taxi rather than by car. The only real difference is that in one case you’re paying for a chauffeur and in the other you’re doing the driving yourself (although for a traveller from one of the 10% of Melbourne households that don’t own a car the equation would be different).

Taxis provide an important service, but they aren’t “public transport” in the meaningful sense of a vehicle shared by multiple passengers going to multiple destinations (except sometimes at the airport). They are “public transport” only in the narrow sense that they’re available to anyone for a price. That’s also true of rental cars and I can’t see any reason why they should get access to bus lanes either.

If anything, bicycles are probably the least appropriate mode to share with buses. They’re slower and hence can potentially hold buses up, depending on conditions. In order to overtake a cyclist safely, a bus on Hoddle St will need to enter the adjoining lane, thus weakening to some degree the whole point of a dedicated bus lane. Read the rest of this entry »


What can we do with Hoddle St?

Daily traffic across Punt Rd bridge (click)

In Elliot Perlman’s Melbourne-based novel, Three dollars, Eddie thinks the only advice he could offer his daughter is the solution of differential equations and an insight into which trains go via the city loop and why. He imagines that on his deathbed and with his last breath he would say: “Abby, my darling daughter, remember this: no matter where you are or what time of day it is – avoid Punt Road”.

Eddie’s fatherly advice is borne out by the numbers in VicRoad’s Hoddle Street Study: existing conditions summary report. It shows that 10,000 vehicles per hour travel on Hoddle Street in the middle of the day, only a little more than the 9,700 per hour that use it in the morning peak. And as the accompanying graphic of traffic volumes across the Punt Rd bridge shows, traffic on Saturday and Sunday is higher than on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

So if you think the Hoddle St corridor is always busy you’re right. The two-way traffic volume on Hoddle St in the section between the Eastern Freeway and Victoria Pde is 85,000-90,000 vehicles per day. There are also a further 27,000 bus passengers on a weekday, so the number of people travelling along Hoddle St is large. This is a conservative estimate – it doesn’t count passengers in cars.

What to do about Hoddle St is a difficult question and I’d like to hear some suggestions. The Baillieu Government is reported (here and here) to have shelved work on VicRoad’s study of options for the corridor. The remaining money has instead been transferred to the study of the proposed Doncaster rail line. This makes sense politically if the Government feels it is obliged to deliver on the railway line. It could argue that the train will reduce traffic congestion, and thereby make the significant cost of upgrading Hoddle St unnecessary.

While it might fly politically, it’s hard to see that a Doncaster rail line would make much difference to conditions on Hoddle St. The space vacated by any drivers transferring to rail would in due course be filled by others, so it would have no lasting impact on traffic congestion. Not that it’s likely many car commuters would even elect to use the Doncaster train instead of Hoddle St.

As I pointed out here, analysis of journey to work data from the 2006 Census undertaken for the Eddington Report shows the number of workers living in the municipality of Manningham who commuted to the City of Melbourne at the 2006 Census was small – just 8,500 (i.e. 17,000 two-way trips). And the number is declining – this was 700 fewer than in 2001. Nor is this group likely to get much bigger due to growth, as the population of the municipality of Manningham is projected to increase by a paltry 0.7% p.a. out to 2031.

Of these 8,500 commuters, 5,100 drove to work and 3,150 already took public transport. The latter group mostly used buses but a third used the Hurstbridge and Belgrave-Lilydale rail lines in neighbouring municipalities (this was before the new Doncaster Area Rapid Transit services started late last year). If a new Doncaster rail line were to achieve the same mode share as in nearby municipalities like Whitehorse, Banyule and Maroondah that already have rail, around 1,600 Manningham commuters could be expected to stop driving to work and change to public transport. That does not seem a very large number in the context of the likely cost of a Doncaster rail line. Even assuming those 1,600 all currently use Hoddle St to get to the City of Melbourne, that’s only a reduction of 3,200 trips. Read the rest of this entry »