The Victorian Opposition announced on Sunday that if elected it would introduce a $50m trial of all night public transport for Melbourne on Friday and Saturday nights for one year. Daniel Bowen wrote a good summary of it, and it’s worth reading for more details.
The main selling point of the proposal appears to be all night running of train services. Melbourne, like Sydney, currently shuts down its train network overnight and runs rail replacement nightride buses instead. However, as the previous link points out, shutting down the rail network is quite common around international cities (listing Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Amsterdam as examples). Those that do run all night tend to do so at 15-30 minute frequencies (Chicago, New York, and Berlin are given as examples here, while London will soon join that list). Meanwhile, the proposal is only for hourly services, which Daniel Bowen criticises for being too infrequent for the trial to be successful. The danger, he argues, is that it will fail if the trial is not with 15-30 minute frequencies. In other words, it should be all or nothing.
Decent frequencies are important in case a bus is missed and passengers are left waiting for the next one. This could occur either because a passenger arrives at the bus stop late or because the bus is full. Replacing nightride buses with trains may resolve the second problem, but only higher frequencies will resolve the first.
So how does Sydney compare?
While Sydney shuts down its trains overnight, it retains a strong overnight transport network made up of rail replacement nightride buses as well as regular bus services that run all night. In particular, additional services were recently added so that there would be a bus every 10 minutes between Kings Cross and Central Station between 1AM and 5AM on weekends. These were boosted as one part of a response to the alcohol fueled violence that has been getting mentioned a lot in the media. The NSW Opposition’s response to alcohol fueled violence involved a similar call to run trains all night on weekends between Kings Cross and Central, while committing to investigate doing the same on other lines too.
Much of Sydney enjoys 30 minute frequencies early mornings on weekends, with nightride buses running every half hour out to Blacktown, Macarthur, Hurstville, Bondi Junction, and Gordon. Virtually the rest of the rail network maintains hourly buses all night.
Areas not served by rail generally retain existing bus services overnight, many of them half hourly frequencies again. Buses go out to Bondi Beach at 15 minute frequencies until 2:30AM, then 30 minute frequencies for the rest of the night. Buses to Mona Vale operate at 30 minute frequencies. Past Mona Vale through to Mona Vale, as well as to Coogee Beach, Maroubra Junction, and Castle Hill buses initially run at 30 minute frequencies, reducing to 60 minute frequencies somewhere between 2AM and 4AM. Past Maroubra Junction through to Little Bay bus services run at 60 minute frequencies. And buses to Abbotsford run all night, but with a 2 hour gap between 3AM and 5AM.
Other than the train shutdown, Sydney’s current overnight network appears to be exactly what Daniel Bowen recommends for Melbourne.