Yarra Trams proposed new routes (unchanged routes not shown)

The Age reported on Yarra Tram’s new plans for Melbourne’s trams during the week. My perpetual beef with The Age is they don’t provide links to background material and in this case they didn’t even provide a diagram. Not good enough in the digital age! So, here’s a presentation by Yarra Tram’s Clement Michel, as well as the accompanying map of the company’s planned new routes.

The presentation highlights the problems with current tram operations that prompted the proposed changes. For example, the No. 96 took 20 minutes to journey from East Brunswick to Spencer St in the morning peak in 1950 but now takes 28 minutes. It spends 50% of the time moving and 17% boarding — but 33% stationary. That compares poorly with tram and light rail systems elsewhere.

The new routes are intended to complement other initiatives, such as greater priority at traffic lights and segregation from traffic. A key purpose is to relieve pressure on Swanston St-St Kilda Rd, which is clogged with a tram every minute and has the friction of 31 traffic lights between Melbourne University and the Domain. Part of the proposal is to route some services via the western end of the CBD.  Some Swanston St passengers would have to change trams e.g at Domain Interchange.

It is also proposed to effectively “halve” some long routes and introduce cross town or feeder services (similar to the existing Footscray to Moonee Ponds service) so that loads can be better balanced. Long routes can be inefficient because the number of trams is constant along the route but the loads vary. The changes would mean higher frequencies can be targeted better to busy areas.

An example of the proposed changes is the existing West Preston to St Kilda service. The proposal is to split it into two services — a St Kilda to East Melbourne route operating via Spencer and La Trobe Sts, and a West Preston to Docklands service.

Another example is the No. 72 from Camberwell which currently takes circa 90 minutes to travel to Melbourne University in peak hour. The new plan proposes to terminate the No. 72 at Gardiner train station and run a relatively short cross-town shuttle service in the downstream leg between the station and Camberwell. In a similar vein, the existing No. 64 which currently runs from Melbourne University to East Brighton is proposed to terminate instead at Malvern rail station. A new cross-town shuttle service would operate north-south between East Brighton and Kew, along Hawthorn and Glenferrie Rds. It would give passengers the option of transferring to the No. 64 at Malvern station or taking any one of five other city centre bound tram services that the route crosses.

I like the implicit suggestion in this plan that trams can be coordinated with rail — it’s not always necessary to have duplicate tram and train services (although I expect there would be considerable difficulty in removing either!). The idea of cross-town services makes sense — these services already exist, but they don’t have to suffer the inefficiencies of travelling all the way to the CBD (much less to points on the other side of town). I also think the logic behind more transfers is inexorable and we’ll need to get used to more of them as public transport patronage increases. The key task for Yarra Trams and the Government is to sell the advantages.

I don’t know if Yarra Trams has got the detail right on individual routes and it’s a fair bet the plan doesn’t go far enough, but I think the proposals move us further toward the concept of a multi-modal network built around frequent services and transfers. It’s a pity this thinking isn’t in the brief for the proposed Rowville rail line — a light rail service connecting Huntingdale rail station with Monash University, Clayton employment areas and Rowville could make a lot more sense than heavy rail (I don’t mention bus because politically something on tracks is now the starting point).