The Age's transport reporter Adam Carey broke the news that Transdev - the operator of one-third of Melbourne's bus network - has initiated a market-lead proposal to bring a modern Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system to Melbourne's East.
The proposal would see road and freeway medians taken over by dedicated bus lanes - including using the wide median in the Eastern Freeway - as well as raised platform stops scattered along the line, The Age reports.
A dedicated fleet of new vehicles would operate the services and as the bus lanes would be located in road medians, the vehicles would require doors to be located on both sides to allow for boarding/disembarking on the right side.
The Age's report states that Transdev proposes services run every three minutes in peak with a journey time of 30 minutes to a new Southern Cross terminus and the vehicles would have a capacity of 150 passengers. In short, the proposed system would operate much like a rail line, just with large capacity buses.
Busways have been proposed in Melbourne in the past and there are a myriad of international examples to look at for inspiration - Transdev in a media release even pointed out it runs similar systems in Bogotá, Nantes and Rouen - however this would appear to the be first with any teeth.
Transdev has outlined that the proposal will evolve as consultation begins and thankfully they have committed themselves to this. Because, from the initial reports, there is a yawning gap in the scope: The Age reports that the infrastructure (and I'm assuming the premium-level services) would begin at Donvale, opposite Tunstall Square.
The gap is between Tunstall Square and Nunawading, a natural terminus for the BRT if ever there were one. Nunawading is a premium station which sees good weekday and weekend services that can connect passengers from the BRT to Ringwood, Box Hill and beyond. It could also connect passengers from the outer reaches of the Lilydale/Belgrave lines with a fast and frequent service into Doncaster.
New pieces of public transport infrastructure, as a rule, should maximise connectivity, not simply pushing the same barrow of, for the most part, ferrying suburban commuters to the inner-city like all our current rail lines do.
Notwithstanding the governance merits of this proposal being implemented as a PPP with the terms highlighted in The Age report (it appears Transdev would lock themselves into operating the services for 30 years), terminating this infrastructure at Nunawading naturally leads into turning the entire Springvale Road corridor - all the way to the bay - into a BRT at a later stage.
Melbourne's smartbus routes are routinely hailed as a success and at a conceptual level, this Transdev proposal - if the same type of infrastructure and new bus fleet were to be implemented in other parts of the city - would be an upgrade to the smartbus services in the Springvale Road corridor.
Heading south from Nunawading station, Springvale Road serves many of eastern Melbourne's primary job centres: The Tally Ho business park at Burwood Highway, Glen Waverley & station, Brandon Park at Ferntree Gully Road, the entire eastern edge of the Monash NEC with two high profile intersections at Wellington Road and Springvale junction, Springvale & station, Keysborough and Edithvale station.
Many more major arterial roads which have either 4 or 6 lanes and a median would also be an obvious candidate for study on how to bring high-quality, fast and frequent public transport to the suburbs as well.
One wonders what could have been possible had the infrastructure to support BRT operations as part of the recently announced $1.8 billion PPP to upgrade arterial roads in Melbourne's west been included.
In fact, this should be part of VicRoads modus operandi, how to get higher people, not vehicles, throughput on our arterial roads in part by sequestering existing lanes and in another part adding new dedicated bus lanes for high-frequency bus services.
Overall, it's a welcome addition to the debate on how to transport Melburnians around Melbourne and the consultation process will be one to watch.
Lead image credit: Marcus Wong.