Guest Post: Is the tram a better way to get to UNSW and major events?

Posted: March 3, 2020 in Transport
Tags: , ,

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 in December 2019. Below is part three of his findings.

In my last two posts, I looked at journey times for a typical city commuter. The first post looked at services into the city in the AM peak. The second looked at outbound trips in the PM peak.

We concluded that the L2 service was an inferior option to most regular bus services in the AM peak, but for many journeys in the PM peak it was a faster option, especially from Central station back to Randwick. However, that’s only half the story.

As we already know, many people make journeys in the opposite direction – needing to travel from the city to Randwick for work or study in the morning (to UNSW or Prince of Wales Hospital), and then back to the city in the evening (often connecting with Sydney Trains services at Central).

So how will the tram help?

Outbound Journeys

The Randwick Health and Education Precinct is an area where tens of thousands of people need to travel for work and study every day. It houses two major employers – firstly, the Prince of Wales Hospital (Public and Private), where over 3,000 staff work, and the main campus of the University of New South Wales, where up to 8,000 staff and almost 60,000 students are enrolled. While not all will be on campus at once, it would be fair to say that during session times, tens of thousands of people are on the campus.

We also know that the tram line goes past two major Sydney event spaces – the Moore Park-SCG-Fox Studios Precinct (L2 and L3), and Randwick Racecourse (L2 only).

So – will the tram get you there faster? Well… in order to answer that we need to consider a few variables.

The Bus Capacity Problem in Randwick and UNSW

For a long time, UNSW has struggled with public transport capacity constraints. Every single day, tens of thousands of students and members of staff try to get from Central to UNSW in the morning.

Special express buses to UNSW have struggled to keep up with demand – you only need to look at the extraordinary 891 bus timetable for evidence. Here are some key facts:

  • Between 7AM and Midday – 154 regular express 891 buses leave central and go to UNSW. That’s a bus every 2-3 minutes.
  • If we assume that all of them are regular sized 70-person buses, that’s a carrying capacity of no less than 10,710 people travelling to UNSW by express bus in the morning.
  • Of those buses, 52 of them run in the AM peak – a total of 3,640 passengers.
  • During the AM peak of 8:15AM-9:30AM, an 891 bus leaves just about every minute.

In addition to the 891, the 393, 395 and M10 also go down the Anzac parade corridor. The 372 and 376 also go to Belmore Road Randwick (although not to UNSW – most students would not use these to get there). In total there are 99 of these buses between 7AM-12PM.

The table below gives a summary of the total outbound bus capacity from Central to Randwick/UNSW in the morning between 7AM-12PM.

So – assuming that we only use standard buses (and assuming we count the 372 and 376 as ways to get to UNSW) in the 5 hours between 7AM-12PM, the total minimum bus capacity to Randwick and UNSW – a precinct where up to 70,000 people work and study – is only 16,940… or 3,388 per hour from Central. (NOTE: there will obviously be more Anzac Parade Buses from Elizabeth street.)

For a precinct that needs tens of thousands of passenger seats from Central, especially in peak hour – that’s not good.

Keep in mind that approximately 1/3rd of this 16,940 capacity comes in the 8AM-9AM period – about 5,500 within that peak hour (or slightly more if they were all bendy buses).

Some have suggested that the sheer volume of potential passengers would have justified the construction of a heavy rail or metro line to Randwick and/or the UNSW precinct. This is an entirely justifiable position based on the patronage numbers – indeed the original Eastern Suburbs line was supposed to do just that.

Putting that to one side, let’s look at what the L2 and L3 lines might actually be able to do.

How Will Light Rail fix the capacity problem?

According to a Sydney Light Rail Factsheet (November 2019), the L2 and L3 lines will deliver the following:

“Current planning would see a combined light rail and bus network deliver citybound morning peak capacity increases of more than 10 per cent from Kingsford and 30 per cent from Randwick, and a doubling of morning peak capacity from the CBD to UNSW and the Randwick hospital precinct”.

Both the L2 and L3 lines will have stops at UNSW – the L2 line at High St, and the L3 Line on Anzac Parade. But will they really double AM peak capacity?

The factsheet claims the following:

“Moore Park and every eight minutes to and from Randwick and Kingsford between 7AM and 7PM. Each vehicle will carry up to 450 people, equivalent to nine standard buses with a capacity of up to 13,500 passengers per hour (up to 6,750 in each direction).”

Let’s unpack that claim a little:

  • The L2 line will run a tram every 8 minutes to Randwick via High St.
  • The L3 line will do the same down Anzac Parade.
  • This means there is an outbound Tram to UNSW from central every 4 minutes – one to UNSW High St, and the other to UNSW Anzac Parade.
  • With 15 trams every hour in the peak, at a maximum capacity of 450 passengers – that gets you to the 6,750 figure claimed by the operator.

This compares very favourably with the minimum 5,500 in the peak that current express and regular services can do (assuming we count the 372 and 376). In order for buses to beat that, you’d have to find a way to run bendy buses every minute – a practical impossibility given road capacity constraints at Central.

So – even if every express and regular bus service to UNSW was removed, the combined L2 and L3 lines would alone indeed represent a large improvement to capacity. That’s not bad. However, for a doubling of capacity, clearly some of the buses will need to be kept. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the timetable is rewritten, and whether the 891, 893 and 898 buses stay.

It’s important to note that the benefit in the PM will be much more substantial, because there are fewer express 893 and 898 shuttle buses back to Central (these leave every 2-3 minutes). Going back to Central, the tram will offer way more carrying capacity at certain hours of the day.

Interchange and boarding times

If you go to UNSW each day, ask yourself a simple question:

“How long do I usually spend in a bus queue at central or UNSW?”

If the answer is “longer than ten minutes”, then the light rail may very well be a better solution.

This is because one of the most notorious problems with the 891 bus service is the long queues that can sometimes form at Central (and even at UNSW for the return journey).

As the UNSW student newspaper Tharunka recorded in a thorough article:

“Students report that the bus lines – or, rather crowds that are often eight to ten people deep and stretch back for tens or hundreds of metres – fail to move for up to half an hour, especially during peak times.”

This problem has been long standing – even back in 2008, there were complaints in the same newspaper of overcrowding, even with a student cohort closer to 40,000 (rather than today’s 60,000).

There are two reasons for overcrowding – bus boarding and dwell times, and a lack of capacity.

Light rail has three distinct advantages over buses:

  • Firstly – it can carry more people – 450 of them, compared to 115 on a bendy bus or 70 on a standard bus.
  • Secondly – you tap on at the station, meaning that there are no delays when boarding the vehicle (when people are tapping their opal cards).
  • Thirdly – every doubled up LRV has 8 doors that can be entered.

This compares favourably to a long queue of buses that can get stuck behind each other at the roadside, and can only board people by the front door (who also have to tap their opal card while they do, slowing it down even more). Even if you tried to use bendy buses, you wouldn’t necessarily have enough road space when boarding to make it work – and the other two problems would still exist.

The video below from Adelaide shows what can happen when too many buses try to use the same bus stop – when one bus is boarding (or stops for some other reason), another one behind it gets stuck and either can’t leave or can’t get into the stop. This backs up all the traffic behind it on multiple lanes, causing congestion.

For this reason they should also be at a distinct advantage when shuttling people to major events at the SCG or Randwick Racecourse as well – not only will the 8 minute journey time to Moore Park be reasonably quick, but they’ll carry more people at once.

Okay, I get all that. But is it faster than the bus?

In short: when factoring in interchange times at central – possibly yes.

And remember – do the buses run to timetable? Often no.

Here’s the golden rule – If it takes you 10-15 minutes just to get on an 891 bus, but only 4-8 minutes to get on a tram – then when factoring in the interchange time the tram should actually win the race.

It also won’t get stuck in traffic to nearly the same extent because it runs on its own dedicated corridor for parts of its journey.

We don’t know yet what the L3 timetable will look like, but it won’t belong before we find out – the L3 line will open some time in March.

Comments
  1. Bob Masters says:

    Should have built the 23km Green Circle Metro. Capacity 45,000/hour anti-clockwise and 45,000/hour clockwise. Speed 90km/hour. This line would connect with each existing heavy rail line and with the metro lines that are proposed for Southeast Sydney. Travel the 5.4kms from Circular Quay to Randwick Racecourse, including 3 stops, in 8 minutes or in 27 minutes by taking the anti-clockwise direction.

  2. Andrew Roydhouse - TfNSW CSELR CRG Community Representative - Kensington, Kingsford & Randwick says:

    Lachlan there is one flaw in your figuring.

    You look at the timetables for the buses which only show that someone can get on a bus at that time – not that say 7 buses are scheduled to leave at that time.

    In August 2014, over 5 years ago, just 4 of the 20 bus services to be axed had more capacity, shorter journey times (back when express bus lanes used to exist) and many times more seats than the CSELR can ever provide.

    Before TfNSW realised what I was doing, there was a page on their website which produced an excel file showing EVERY bus (for a route#) leaving from a certain bus stop for the entire day. I downloaded this for every one of the twenty bus routes to be eliminated by the CSELR. Using August 14th, 2014 prodyced the following

    For the 891 it showed 71 heading from Central to UNSW High in one 60 minutes period in the morning. Doing an audit of these buses over several weeks from 6.30am to 9.30am revealed that roughly 1 in 3 were 115 passenger capacity buses. Of the 2 in 3 standard buses there were some that carried over 90 passengers – the entire fleet of these were used in the South East.

    If these 71 buses became all 115 passenger capacity (articulated buses) that would make their hourly one-way capacity 8,165 passengers alone.

    So just one of the 20 bus routes to be eliminated could carry thousands more per hour than the CSELR

    UNSW has repeatedly asked in writing to TfNSW for the pick-up at Central to be split into 2 locations – to speed loading/unloading times. The State Govt has been refusing since 2011.

    Another massive capacity service the 610X School special between Central & Sydney Boys/Girls has 22 buses leave in a 9 minute window in the afternoon with a capacity of around 2,000 students/staff.

    At the same time there is a large exodus from UNSW (1st day-student departure peak).

    Even if there is nobody else on the CSELR (no uni students, no school students from elsewhere, etc) it will take around 20 minutes to clear the students. In reality it will take more like 75 minutes given the existing loading of passengers from Kingsford/Kensington/Randwick & UNSW.

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