In a previous job, I used to work for a mail house in Laverton North. For those who don't know where that is, it's an industrial area in the west, wedged between Laverton, Derrimut and Altona North. Traditionally a heavy industrial area for the petrochemical industry, in recent years it has grown in size significantly to include not only factories but light industrial/warehouses/showrooms as well. Linked to this growth has been the somewhat burgeoning cafe and (takeaway) restaurant scene, which has helped make this area one of the major employers in the western region.
Given this is not a residential area, it goes without saying apart from a few dedicated souls that spend the night at the office, 100% of the workforce need to commute to work. Despite 3 buses servicing this area, cars, by far and away, still make up the vast majority of mode share. Why is this the case? Because not for the first time, PTV have got this region's bus routes sewn up in a tangled mess.
The 3 routes serving Laverton North are: the 400, the 414 and the 417.
1 - The 400 mainly serves the correctional facilities in the area. Starting at Laverton Station, it stops at Port Phillip Prison, The Metropolitan Remand Centre and the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (Women's Prison), before terminating at Sunshine Railway Station via Deer Park. An obviously important service, it however circumnavigates the majority of the 'business park' precinct.
2 - The 414 also starts at Laverton Station, before running along Cherry Lane, Geelong Rd through Brooklyn, West Footscray before terminating at Footscray Station. A good trunk route in the inner west, however it merely scrapes the sides of Laverton North.
3 - And that leaves us with the 417. Also starting at Laverton Station, it travels north before following a loop course around the precinct before returning to Laverton Station. And herein lies the problem.
An example - according to PTV's journey planner, if I catch the bus from Laverton Station at 8am and get off at the corner or Fitzgerald Rd and William Angliss Drive, it takes less than 15 minutes. However to catch the bus back after work, I can't just cross the road and catch the bus going in the opposite direction. I have to continue in the same direction, doing a massive loop and blowing out my return journey to 1/2 an hour - double my morning journey! This differential can blow out even more, depending on where I get on/off the route.
To add even less incentive to getting the bus, there is a distinct lack of bus shelters on the route. Laverton North is a very open and sparse area, making exposure to the elements a real concern. There are not many trees or any tall buildings around, so standing at a bus stop in the pouring rain or 35 degrees without a shelter hardly sugar-coats the route with incentives for people to use it in all weather conditions.
How do PTV fix this? There are 3 basic options:
1 - Run the route in reverse in the afternoon. This would ensure everyone's AM trip is the same as their PM trip. However this would increase the PM trip for the commuters on Pipe Rd and Cherry Lane. And given the amount of factories in the area, who presumably operate on different shifts, this may not make any difference for commuters working hours outside of the traditional 9-5.
2 - Run buses in both directions! This may require more buses, but if buses are running in both directions, frequency could probably be reduced. Currently they run every 15 minutes (in peak), if you reduced this to 30 minutes (each bus) and staggered the two directional services by 15 minutes, you'd still get a bus every 15 minutes, alternating between a clockwise and anti-clockwise option.
3 - Chop Cherry Lane from the route. The Cherry Lane section is already covered by the 414 bus, and so would reduce the travel time of the 417 loop considerably.
One of these options, plus some extra bus shelters, would surely increase incentives for more workers in this area to use the route. Traffic in the surrounding Laverton area, especially on the Princes Freeway and Sayers Rd, is a nightmare in peak periods. The recent addition of Williams Landing Train station, coupled with an improved 417 bus route, could go a long way to alleviating it.