Guest Post: Is the bus faster than the tram from the City to Randwick in the afternoon?

Posted: December 19, 2019 in Transport
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Lachlan Drummond is a past guest contributor to this blog (you can read some of his other posts here and here). He has investigated the current bus network and timetables, comparing them to the new L2 light rail line that opened this past weekend. Below is part two of his findings.

In an earlier post, I compared the L2 line journey times in the AM peak inbound. I found that the L2 line compared unfavourably with most AM peak hour buses, including to Central – although for some journeys (including Chinatown and Town Hall), the L2 was superior.

But that’s only half the story. To complete the picture of whether the L2 will be useful as a commuter service, lets have a look at the journey home to Randwick.

Get ready for a surprise.

The comparison

Like last time, we are comparing the journey time to the same spot. The closest bus stop outbound to the L2 Randwick station is called “Belmore Rd at Avoca St” – look it up on Google Maps. All of these comparisons will compare the L2 light rail travelling to Randwick with buses travelling to this stop.

Firstly, let’s get the obvious one out of the way:

373 vs L2 from Circular Quay
Mode Circular Quay to Randwick – PM Peak
373/377 29mins
L2 45-51mins

As has been well documented – the full journey from Circular Quay to Randwick is much faster on paper than the 373 bus in the morning – and it remains so for the evening.

This is because the 373 (and its express service, the X73) does a fundamentally different job – its role is to get people in and out of the Elizabeth St corridor north of Hyde Park as quickly as possible.

Realistically, nobody near Circular Quay, Macquarie St, St James, or Museum is ever going to prefer the L2 as a transport mode to the 373 all the way back to Randwick. They’d have to walk back into the city to George St (5-10 minutes) to get a slower journey (by 15 minutes).

This is not going to happen.

This reinforces my strongly held view that the 373 should not become a casualty of the L2 in any subsequent changes to the bus network.

Verdict: If you currently get the 373, you should probably stick with it.

L2 vs M50 from Town Hall

Secondly, lets look at the Town Hall journey.

Remember – in the morning peak, the L2 was about 4 minutes quicker than the M50 – but by getting a 373 to Elizabeth St and walking the remainder, the journey was a tad faster. We nonetheless concluded that the L2 to Town Hall was superior, especially for destinations west of George St, because it dropped you closer to your final destination.

So, does the same thing hold for the PM peak?

Mode Town Hall to Randwick – PM Peak
M50 35mins
L2 32-34mins

 

In my view, yes. The T2 is still faster from Town hall.

Keep in mind two things:

  • The M50 leaves the city via Central and Cleveland St, a notorious spot for traffic jams in the evening – something I’ll talk about in a moment.
  • A tram will come every 8 minutes. The 373 and 377 are a tad more regular, but remember – if you walk 6 minutes back to Elizabeth St and then stand around waiting for 5 minutes at a bus stop, your 11 minutes might have been better spent on the tram if it had turned up straight away.

The “373 Town Hall hack” might work going into the city, but the outbound journey less so.

Verdict: The L2 is likely a superior way to get home from Town Hall, or origins west of George St.

L2 vs 372/376/M50 from Central  

And now, for the big one – the trip from Central back to Randwick.

What’s the result?

Drumroll please….

Mode Central to Randwick – PM Peak
372 28mins (leaving Central at 17:15)
376 25mins (leaving Central at 17:25)
M50 22mins (leaving Central 17:20)
L2 22-24mins (leaving Central Chalmers)

Verdict: The L2 is superior from Central to Randwick.

Why is light rail faster than Central buses in the evening, but not the morning?

Well… here’s the thing. It isn’t faster. It runs the same – 22 minutes or so to Randwick from Chalmers St.

But in the evening peak, the buses take much longer to “get out of the city”. This is due to something I call “The Moore Park problem”.

To illustrate this, here is the AM peak journey into Central from Moore Park, showing how some of the buses beat the L2:

Inbound – AM Peak Moore Park to Central Tram Station/Bus Stop
372via Anzac Pde & Cleveland St 11mins Anzac Pde before Cleveland St
374/376 via Moore Park busway & Foveaux St 6mins Moore Park busway at Lang Rd
M50 via Anzac Pde & Cleveland St 9mins Anzac Pde before Cleveland St, Moore Park
L2 via Tunnel/Devonshire St 8mins Moore Park Station

You can see in the morning how the bus that uses the busway and goes down Foveaux St wins… at least according to the timetable.

But by contrast, here is the timetabled outbound journey in PM peak:

Outbound – PM Peak Central to Moore Park Tram Station/Bus Stop
372Cleveland St 17mins Anzac Pde, after Lang Rd
374/376Albion St 14 Mins Moore Park busway, after Lang Rd
M50Cleveland St 13mins Anzac Pde, after Lang Rd
L2Devonshire St/Tunnel 8mins Moore Park Station

As you can see- the L2 zooms down the tunnel, while the buses get stuck in traffic. The light rail ends up getting to Lang Rd 5-8 minutes faster… assuming the buses run to timetable. And anyone who gets these buses knows that this can be a heroic assumption.

Why the “Moore Park Problem” slows down the buses

In the afternoon, traffic from three “feeder” roads – Oxford St, Albion St, and Cleveland St – are all trying to make a right turn to get onto the same road – Anzac Pde (or its extension, Flinders St).

It causes a big congestion problem, and as a result – timetabled journey times can double, and on-time reliability goes down.

The 374 and 376 have to go up Albion St (because Foveaux St is one way inbound), and then turn right onto Flinders St for a short section, before reaching the Moore Park busway. This takes 14 mins on the timetable to Lang Rd. Services coming from Oxford St, like the 373, also run into this traffic and get slowed down.

The 372 and M50 fare little better. They get clogged at two notoriously bad intersections –

  • Cleveland St and South Dowling St, where there are only two traffic lanes (one of which turns right and backs up the traffic)
  • The terrible right turn intersection on Cleveland St at Anzac Pde, where Southbound traffic on Anzac Pde gets the majority of the traffic light priority.

As a result, their journey times blow out too, by over 50% on the timetable. And as anyone who ever catches them knows – their service reliability goes to trash.

The L2 suffers from none of these problems for one simple reason – it never has to make that right turn at Anzac Pde. It runs under Anzac Parade in a tunnel and ends up on the other side. When I rode it on Sunday, it was given traffic light priority all the way, and it took only 8 minutes to “leave the city”. Even if the light rail was delayed by two minutes, it would still beat every other bus (except for the M50 if it ran exactly to time).

To put this in perspective, by the time the L2 makes it to Wansey Rd Station, the 372 has only just turned the corner at Anzac Pde… if the 372 runs to its timetable. And that’s a big if.

While the buses do eventually crawl some of that time back, the tram is so far ahead that only the M50 has a chance of beating the L2 to its terminus… if it doesn’t get stuck on Cleveland St, that is.

The Verdict – In the evening, L2 is faster than the bus from Central and Town Hall

So the verdict is in – if you’re going back to Randwick from Central or Town Hall in the PM Peak – get on the tram.

On the timetable it’s already faster, and when considering the on-time running challenges faced by existing bus services, it could cut your regular journey time significantly.

Or, to use an expression commonly heard at Randwick Racecourse – The L2 wins by a length, followed by the M50, with the 376 and 372 bringing up the rear.

In my third and final post – we’ll look at how the L2 might fix journeys to UNSW and major events at the SCG. Stay tuned.

Comments
  1. Lachlan says:

    As an aside – I wasn’t able to find out why the M50 is timetabled to be 4 minutes faster than the 372 to Moore Park on an identical route . If someone could shed light on this, I’d love to know.

  2. Lachlan says:

    One other thing I neglected to mention – if your house is closer to Wansey St station, a good rule of thumb is this – “do I live less than 5mins from the tram stop?”

    If the answer is yes, the tram (plus a >5min walk) should be quicker.

  3. Stephen BC says:

    It would be interesting to see the time a train would have taken if the Eastern Suburbs line was extended underground to Randwick via Charring Cross. I estimate less than 20 minutes from Martin Place station (even better if the Randwick trains skipped Edgecliff and possibly even Kings Cross – assuming some trains would still terminate at Bondi Junction).

  4. O Gunoz says:

    Interesting follow-up post. Thanks Lachlan.
    At pm peak, the typical actual travel time for 37x from CQ-Randwick is ~35-40mins., which is still slower than the LR currently, but if LR speed is improved to the original 34-36 mins. it can be a valid alternative.

    Separately, I think for commuters from Museum or St. James into Randwick at peak hour, X73/X77 would likely be far superior than 373, provided it has not already filled up by Martin Place!

    Thanks again for the post!

  5. Hisashi says:

    So in that kind of sense, the CESLR already achieved one of its objectives – essentially superseding some of the buses between Randwick and the City. The next question would be where should some of the “surplus buses” go? And which should stay?

    @Stephen BC: Another question would be, what would be a possible route for an extension of the Eastern Suburbs Line from Bondi Junction that can work with the CESLR? (That train line really should at least go further east to the Beach!)

  6. Stephen BC says:

    @Hisashi I suppose it is too late for the railway to head towards Randwick, but the beach and beyond to Watsons Bay would be good. [There’s no reason why it couldn’t branch off in two directions after Bondi Junction though].

    The 380 bus service is very slow and gets stuck in beach traffic. There are a lot of new multistory developments to the east and there are only a couple of roads in and out of the area and they are pretty congested, even outside the peak.

  7. transportnsw says:

    There are a number of problems with this analysis that I would say appear to come from a misunderstanding of how people actually use the current bus network between the City and Randwick.

    First of all, next to no one is actually commuting to/from the terminus point in Randwick. There isn’t even a bus stop within 200m of the location, making it poor as an interchange point as well as highlighting a long term lack of immediate demand from commuters in that spot.

    You would be hard pressed to find someone form Town Hall actually catching an M50 all the way to Randwick. The M50 strikes me as being the slowest way out of the city for anyone heading towards Randwick, and the tram will obviously be quicker than it. Most people from Town Hall and surrounds would probably walk to an X73/77 from St James/Museum. Once you consider the higher frequency of the combined X73/X77, their quicker journey time (20 minutes between St James and Randwick) and a combined 5 minute or better frequency for most of the peak, the tram becomes a slower option. Add in the fact that most passengers will need to connect to another bus at Randwick to complete their journey (so negating the argument about having to wait) then I would expect the express buses to come out well on top of the tram.

    The other interesting thing is that you seem to presume that the buses will run late in your post. Due to the way that the traffic light phasing works up Albion Street, and presuming no one stops the bus (which happens very rarely), it is possibly to go from Eddy Avenue Stand C to Flinders Street without stopping on a 374/6. It is very common to see a 374 running 5 to more minutes early along the busway in the evening peak, and much less common for them to be late. The Foveaux/Albion routes are very quick and once you factor in a transfer at Randwick, if the 376 is coming soon, it is bound to be quicker than the tram overall, or at least more convenient for the one seat trip.

    Also, the tram doesn’t run to its timetable and the buses do, or at least the buses have real time data so you can get and idea if one is coming. The tram is very hit or miss, and the trip times are variable at best.

    The only real route I can see the tram beating are the 372/M50 and the only route that really has been made redundant by the Randwick line is the M50, but thats largely because its been redcoat since it got rerouted to operate express along Alison Road instead of via UNSW.

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