The high cost of bad design: Glen Waverley Station and buses
A trip last night on the Springvale Road portion of the Route 902 orbital provided some lessons on good and bad transport interchange design.
The good example is Nunawading, in Melbourne’s east. The rail was sunk (to remove a level crossing) and a new station built a couple of years ago.
The bad example is Glen Waverley, which was last redeveloped in the 1960s. This was lauded as a good example of a shopping centre / railway station development in the Victorian Railways staff magazine of the time. However, looking back, it serves as an example of what not to do.
What’s good about Nunawading? The station has exits directly on Sprinvale Road. The bus stop for the station is just another stop. The bus does not leave Springvale Rd. Passengers on it are not delayed. Hence it efficiently serves both passengers transferring from train and those making short local through trips, such as from Forest Hill to Doncaster Rd. Bus operating times are also reduced, making it possible to provide a direct, fast and frequent service for a given number of buses.
The ability to efficiently serve multiple trip types increases patronage and contributes to the success of the SmartBus orbitals. It also makes for a more versatile public transport network, better able to cater for the majority of trips that don’t involve CBD travel.
The old Nunawading
About 30 minutes south of Nunawading is Glen Waverley. Unlike Nunawading, this is a rail terminus (though some would like it extended to Rowville, possibly via a tunnel). Most important for this discussion is the distance of Glen Waverley station from Springvale Road.
The 1960s redevelopment placed a large car park between Springvale Road and the station, with the intention that this be used by commuters and shoppers. However in doing so it severed the station from its main potential north-south catchment for buses, bicycles and pedestrians – Springvale Road.
This short-sighted design meant that buses serving Glen Waverley Station must divert off Springvale Road, pull in to the bus interchange, and then rejoin Springvale Road. The requires passage through several sets of traffic lights, lengthening the journey.
How much is Glen Waverley’s delay compared to Nunawading? Comparing Route 902 travel times between stops immediately before and after each station provides an indication.
Southbound trips between the stop at Tunstall Av (before Nunawading Station) and West St (after Nunwading station) take about 3 minutes. This is about 1km distance and includes crossing the very busy Whitehorse Road.
Southbound trips between Landridge St (before Glen Waverley Station) and Ingram Av (after Glen Waverley Station) take about 8 minutes. Again this is about 1km with a busy road crossing, so is comparable to the Nunawading example.
For a 1km trip, the five minute time difference is quite stark. Having to leave and rejoin Springvale Rd slows the bus almost down to walking pace for the better part of ten minutes around Glen Waverley. This makes it unattractive for local trips not involving the station. Whereas Nunawading’s arrangement imposes no such delay.
As well as wasting passengers’ time, the operational cost imposed by inefficient off-road interchanges such as Glen Waverley’s is considerable.
Back-of-the-envelope calculations indicate substantial increases to bus running costs, which would be better spent on improving service. That’s even with a five minute delay, which would likely be higher during peak times. And the better the bus service, the higher the cost.
Route 902 has about 70 trips each weekday in each direction via Glen Waverley. A five minute penalty for each trip costs 700 bus minutes or over 11 bus hours per weekday. If a bus costs $100 per hour to run, the daily cost of the delay (not counting foregone ticket revenue from lost patronage) would be over $1000 per day, about $7000 per week or over $365 000 per year.
When multipled by the longevity of the project, the overall cost reaches into the millions. This does not include the effect on other bus routes. Nor the amount required to remedy, for instance to construct a redesigned railhead featuring a station fronting Springvale Rd along which buses would remain.
I think the main lesson from Glen Waverley is that some projects can seem a good idea at the time but impose high future costs and hobble future network development for generations.