Friday, August 27, 2010

Smartbus 902 (Smart bus) - The adventure

Ever since the Smartbus 902 service started running via Templestowe I've wanted to test out the service and share the experience with others, who like me, may not take public transport very often, if at all.

Roughly speaking, during the week the Smartbus runs every 15 minutes and on weekends every 30 minutes. I remember when I first moved to Templestowe I waited for an hour on the weekend for a bus on Williamsons Road and nothing came in either direction. Things have certainly changed for the better.

I decided to take the Smartbus from the corner of Foote Street and Williamsons Road to Eltham station and then catch the train to Southern Cross station. From there I was meeting a business colleague.

Before taking the Smartbus I called the Metlink info line to make sure I could purchase a ticket on the bus and confirm the daily travel card was $10.60. It was confirmed I could buy a ticket on the bus. I checked the timetable and felt I could make the 10:54am so I was off on the adventure. But first a check of the weather on the internet. It was currently 9 degrees with a maximum of 13 degrees and cloudy, so a thick jumper was in order. I also threw a pocket raincoat into my bag in case of rain. It is Melbourne after all. Much easier to carrying than an umbrella. I was now ready for the adventure.

A brisk walk to the bus stop and the Smartbus was there waiting. I was lucky as I'd left home at 10:49am and arrived at 10:58am, but when I checked the ticket it was 10:53am. The clock on the bus was slow which meant I caught the 10:54am by luck.

There was one other person on the bus and arrived at Eltham station at 11:08am. Next was a 13 minute wait at Eltham station for the 11:21am semi express from Clifton Hill to Jolimont. I was actually quite surprised the train trip was 46 minutes. I thought it would have been less. From there I had about a ten minute walk. The total time was about an hour and a half, which is about twice the time it would have taken for me to drive. The good thing is I had no problems with parking and had a good reason for a bit of walking.

The return trip consisted of the ten minute return walk to Southern Cross station. I arrived at 4:39 and the next train was at 4:52pm which arrived on time. I arrived at Eltham station at 5:36pm with the Smartbus scheduled for 5:48pm. The Smartbus arrived on time and reached my bus stop at 6pm, another brisk walk and I was home at 6:08pm. Total return trip was again around an hour and a half.

I found the buses and trains comfortable. There was a disgruntled patron at Eltham station which was a concern, but other than that no real problems.

One thing I did notice was there was only one other person travelling on the bus to Eltham. From Eltham there was also one other person with another person getting on for a short section.

I wanted to test the Smartbus service so I could compare the experience with driving. Given I was driving off-peak, the time to drive would have been somewhere around 30-45 minutes, or about half the time on public transport. With just two passengers the bus probably wasn't any more energy efficient than using the car. For a single fare when compared with driving a car, if you take into account petrol, wear and tear on the vehicle and parking, public transport is reasonable value. However, if there were two of us, it would be much harder to justify public transport.

I've also been fortunate to recently travel overseas. For example in London I found buses and trains more frequent. From the Heathrow area if I travelled into the city of London the cost was about $13, but if I avoided the central area (staying within zones 6-2) I could travel for around $9.40. Had I stayed one zone in (zone 5) it would have cost $7.60 a day. Our ticket costs are thus dearer and the frequency of public transport less often. Other European countries I found were just as good and cheaper again. Melbourne transport has a bit of catching up to do if they are to match other countries.

In the end however we have what we have and overall the experience, cost and time to travel for a single traveller was a good experience.

Kelvin Eldridge

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