I regularly star back in the city until late, so I can attend computer meetings in the city. The end anyway from 8pm to after 9pm.

To get home from these meetings, I would like to catch a train to Upper Ferntree Gully (UFTG) and then a bus up the mountain (688).

Unfortunately, the connections between the train service and the bus service have not been properly thought out.

Here is a table. The columns in order are:

  1. fs: the time the train leaves Flinders Street station.
  2. uftg: the next column is when it is suppose to arrive at UFTG station.
  3. bus: when the bus (if any) is due to depart.
  4. wait: how long the waiting time is between train and bus.
  5. croydon wait: how long you would have to wait for the train back to the city at Croydon (not that I travel this far).
fs uftg bus wait croydon wait
18:24 19:22 19:31 9 11
18:35 19:36   40  
18:58 19:55   21  
19:11 20:09 20:16 7 24
19:20 20:27   45  
19:35 20:41   31  
20:05 21:09 21:12 3 28
20:35 21:41      
21:05 22:09      
21:34 22:41      

The first problem is that the last bus leaves at 21:12. This means I have to leave the city about 20:00 in order to catch it. Some of my meetings don’t finish until an hour later. More time is required depending on the location of the meeting in order to get to the train station.

The next problem is that there is only one hour between bus services, however there are two train services with not connecting bus. This means I have to plan my time carefully to ensure I catch the connecting bus. Often this means I have to sneak out of meetings early in order to ensure I catch the correct train.

The third problem, and the topic for discussion in this article, is that the trains are often running late. Typically there is no reason for the trains to run late, no train in front to slow them down, and few passengers to get off at the majority of stations. No excuses are given. Regardless, it isn’t unsual for the trains to be 5 to 10 minutes late.

This means the connection to the bus service fails because only 7 minutes allowance is given for one bus service, and only 3 minutes allowance is given for the last bus service. This is very strange time tabling, as the last bus could have been scheduled to leave later and still make the train at croydon with plenty of time to spare.

These are connections that are officially documented in the official timetables.

Also I can’t leave on the earlier train, this would mean leaving my meetings even earlier, with a long useless waiti, in the freezing cold, at UFTG station.

I have complained to the various operators about the problem, this is a summary of the communications I have had so far. I have not added any comments except in the conclusion section, just because I haven’t commented on something doesn’t mean to imply that I agree or disagree with what was said.

Furthermore, this isn’t a comphrensive list of issues I have encountered with this bus connection by any means.

Another topic for another day will be the timetable that means the 732 bus from Knox City arrives at Upper Ferntree Gully station just after the 688 bus leaves.

I haven’t even studied the connections between the 693 and the 688 buses (required for example if you live along the 688 route and are a student at Monash University). At quick glance this looks equally as bad.

Before 2011

I told a Connex manager of the issues at a “ask our managers” session, at Melbourne Central station. He responded by saying it is the fault of the bus company for not waiting for the train when it is running late, saying some bus companies are small businesses and implying they don’t care as a result.

2011-06-30

On the 2011-06-30 the connection failed.

2011-07-02: On the following Saturday (2011-07-02) I sent a complaint to Ventura Bus, Metro Trains, and DOT.

CCed: Ventura Bus, Metro Trains, DOT

Hello,

On the 30th of June 2011 the train 9:09pm train missed the connection for the 9:12pm 688 bus at Upper Ferntree Gully up the mountain. This is the last bus up the mountain, so I was not impressed. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason why the train was so late. Some of the factors that lead to this problem:

  • The train was running several minutes late in the city. There is no good reason I can see why an off peak train that isn’t overcrowded should already be running late without a good reason.

  • The signal before Upper Ferntree Gully station was red. This delayed us several more minutes, as we had to stop at the red signal, and then trip through the signal when it didn’t change. There is no reason why the signal was red, the next oncoming train wasn’t due for 9 minutes (according to display) and my train was eventually given a all clear path all the way to Upwey. The train didn’t not pass the oncoming train at Ferntree Gully or Upper Ferntree Gully, so there was no good reason for this delay.

  • The train arrived at Upper Ferntree Gully station at 9:13pm. The same time the bus was due to leave one minute earlier. I ran down to the bus stop just in case, but there was no sign of the bus.

  • Thinking I missed the bus I walked to where I could get a better view of Burwood Highway, as the bus route takes means the bus comes back on the highway very close to the official bus stop. While I was there the bus raced in and out of the official bus stop, at 9:14, without even really slowing down.

  • I tried to yell and shout and grab the bus drivers attention, but the bus kept going without slowing down.

  • I tried calling the telephone number of the Bus depo I have been given previously, however it would have been useless because by the time I explained the situation the bus would have been long gone.

  • Fortunately the bus driver saw me and stopped on Burwood Highway to pick me up. So this worked out fine. Unfortunately, I don’t think I can rely on all bus drivers stopping here. It is not an official bus stop. Also if the train was one minute later, this wouldn’t have been an option.

Related points:

  • I note that the hourly 732 bus arrives at Upper Ferntree Gully station at 8:15 and 9:13pm, which is pretty much the same time or after the hourly 688 bus leaves. I find it really hard to understand how bus connections by the one bus company could be so bad. Travelling to/from Knox City is rather common for me, and this requires that these buses connect.

The above point is also significant if the trains aren’t running for any reason, and I have to get home by bus from Box Hill.

  • When the current 688 time table first came in, the bus drivers use to wait to about 9:19 before leaving, this means the bus almost always meet the train. While I understand that buses have to run on time, I think there needs to be some more tolerance for late trains when it is the last bus of the day.

  • I still have an open unanswered issue with Metro Trains (2011/33885) regarding the peak hour Belgrave train running late and missing the 688 bus connection. Since then I have noticed that this has happened almost every week day since the start of the last school holidays. Unfortunately I can’t catch the early train, often it is extremely overcrowded and late when it arrives at Melbourne Central station. So I have to catch a train that arrives 24 minutes early to save 25 minutes waiting time when the connections fail. I can’t win.

  • It is also happening increasingly often that the bus will (apparently) wait for the connecting train to arrive, and then leave before anybody has a chance to walk (or run) from the train to the bus.

So some open questions:

  1. Why was the train late?
  2. Why was the signal red at Ferntree Gully station for no apparent reason?
  3. If I arrive at the bus stop late, how can I tell if the bus has
  4. Would it help if I alerted the bus depo that I was expecting to catch this bus? If so, how much notice should I give?

Unfortunately, as the above example shows, I can’t always tell the train is going to be running late until after it has departed Ferntree Gully station. If the train wasn’t delayed here, it would have made the bus connection easy.

Thanks

2011-07-04: Ventura Bus responded.

Hello Mr May, I have read your email and will respond only to the bus related questions, the only thing I can suggest in relation to how do you know if the bus has gone is not to move away from the bus stop and ring the number of the depot on 97521444 to find out where the bus is, I know you ran to check down the road to check to see if the bus had gone but as you know that can cause other issues by missing a late running bus by not being at the stop. We understand the inconvenience of missing the last bus so if you suspect you are running late or the moment you know you are running late please call and we hold back the bus for you. We will make every effort to assist you in getting home but please understand that we can not control all the issues that you have outlined in your email.

Regards Alan Floyd Senior Operations Supervisor

2011-07-16: Ventura Bus responded.

Hi Brian,

I have been on holidays, This is why I has taken me so long to reply

Your train issue is a Met Link problem, We are not running the trains. If the Station or yourself ring the Monbulk Depot we can hold the bus for the train. I do this all the time for the 695 service, because Belgrave station ring me. If you are not shore if the bus is running late you can ring the depot on the below number and we can check For you.We run our services on time but , for the passengers to make train connections both ways the stations or the passengers need to let us know or the buses will run on time. Best of luck with your train issue’s

Thanks,

Malcolm Wicks Operations Supervisor (US Bus Lines)

2011-08-03: Metro Trains responded, one month later.

Case Reference: AE/61047

3 August 2011

Mr Brian May

Dear Mr May

Thank you for your email received in this office on 2 July 2011. Please accept our apology for the delay in responding.

You have expressed concern regarding the performance of our 8:05pm Belgrave-bound service from Flinders Street station on 30 June 2011 and queried why the signal was at red before Upper Ferntree Gully for no apparent reason. Also noted are your comments regarding no response received to previous feedback you provided.

Your feedback is important to us and we welcome the opportunity to investigate and respond.

Service History

Upon investigation with our Train Operating Performance System, we confirm our 8:05pm Belgrave-bound service from Flinders Street service operated on time as per our current timetable.

As you may be aware, a service is deemed to be ‘on time’ if it arrives between 59 seconds before and up to four minutes and 59 seconds after the scheduled arrival time.

As we do not deal in minutes and seconds in the timetable, it is inevitable that some small degree of variation will occur in the actual arrival and departure times of trains against the time scheduled.

We do however acknowledge that from a customer’s perspective a service that operates up to four minutes and 59 seconds behind schedule is a delay and we regret any inconvenience experienced as a result.

Signals

In a general sense, signals will revert to red (stop) for one of two reasons:

  1. due to a fault
  2. as a result of another train being in the section Our investigation confirms there was no signal fault on the evening of 30 June 2011. Based on this information, it is reasonable to assume there may have been another train in the section. As we do not document the general operation of signals across the network, we are unable to categorically confirm why this signal remained at stop.

Previous Feedback

A search of our records indicates we received feedback from you via email on the 14 April 2011. However as no specific question or investigation request was raised, this was recorded for feedback purposes only, and forwarded to the appropriate areas for their attention. Following receipt of your feedback on 2 July 2011, please accept our apology for this incorrect assumption, and we now respond accordingly in this regard.

4:49pm Melbourne Central to Belgrave

Upon investigation we confirm: · 13 April 2011 – operated eight minutes behind schedule due to inclement weather which caused an increase in customer entering/exiting timeframes at stations and train congestion · 14 April 2011 – was altered to bypass the City loop due to extended delays experienced on the previous Belgrave-bound service (4:30pm Flinders Street to Belgrave) We regret these incidents impacted our ability to provide you with a reliable service on these occasions.

Compensation

It is of relevance to note Compensation is not offered for service disruptions, delays and cancellations as outlined in the Victorian Fares & Ticketing Manual.

Outside our legislative requirements, we have produced a Customer Compensation Code, ratified by the State Government, which outlines our offer of compensation to eligible customers based on our monthly network-wide performance.

You may be eligible for compensation in this regard following the release of our performance results. Full details of our Customer Compensation Code are available on our website:

http://www.metrotrains.com.au/About-us/Service-Commitments/Compensation-Code.html

Ticket Offer

Notwithstanding the above, in recognition of our response timeframes not meeting your expectations, whilst we do not offer refunds outside the terms of our Customer Compensation Code, on this occasion, we are pleased to offer you one, Daily Zone 1 and 2 Full Fare Metcard Ticket as a once off, gesture of goodwill.

Should you wish to accept this offer, please sign a copy of this letter as an indication that you consider this to represent a satisfactory resolution to your concerns.

You can return this via our postal address:

Metro Customer Service Customer Feedback GPO Box 1880 MELBOURNE VIC 3001

Alternatively, you may wish to return your signed acknowledgment via facsimile, to 9610 2406. Upon receipt, we shall arrange for the ticket to be promptly issued to you.

We appreciate you taking the time to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Elia Customer Relations Coordinator

Encl. Complementary Ticket Acknowledgment Slip

2011-09-14: I received a response from DOT.

Reference: PTD 1459/11

RE: Bus 688 Connection

Thank you for your correspondence received on 02-July-2011 regarding the above matter and I apologise for the delay in responding.

I understand that your query regarding the late running of the Ferntree Gully train has been refereed to Metro Trains to answer.  Regarding the ability to tell whether a bus has arrived at a bus stop, the Department of Transport has been working on a bus tracking system which will send information to Metlink so passengers can check the location and arrival time of their bus using the Metlink website or iphone app or by calling Metlink.

This system is to be implemented after a trial period commencing in early 2012.

Thank you for raising this matter with the Public Transport Division.

Yours sincerely

ANHTUAN NGUYEN

REGIONAL OFFICER

14 September 2011

As of 2012-05-26 there has been no sign of this bus tracking system.

2012-02-06

2012-02-06: I sent the following to Ventura Bus.

Hello,

Tonight my train was ten minutes late, due to excessive 10 minute wait at ringwood station. Meaning I was worried about meeting the 8:16pm 688 bus from uftg. As instructed, I rang the number given in the attached email. I was told I should have called the croydon depo; he said he would “try” to pass the message on; however the message never reached the driver; it was only due to good luck and a good driver that I caught the bus. Can you please confirm the number I should call? A number of people in the company have specifically told me I should call this number, not the croydon depo.

Thanks

2012-02-08: I received the following response.

Brian,

Yes you can ring U S Bus lines for your 688 Buses, Just keep in mind that 688 services run from both Monbulk and Croydon depots. If it is a Croydon shift we may have to Ring them to get the bus to wait. This may take some time, So please give us as much time as possible on it.

Thanks,

Malcolm Wicks Operations Supervisor (US Bus Lines)

2012-02-08: I replied.

Ok, Thanks for the confirmation.

On this occasion I rang as soon as the train left Ringwood station, i.e. 16 minutes before getting to Upper Ferntree Gully station, at about 20:02. Is 16 minutes not enough notice? Unfortunately, I didn’t realize the train was going to be delayed so long at Ringwood station (we arrived at first signal before 19:55); and I didn’t know how long the train would be delayed for.

Considering this train and the train to meet the last bus always seem to be delayed every time I have caught them recently, maybe I should call as I am leaving the city, even though the train appears to be on time?

Thanks

2012-02-09: Ventura Bus replied.

Yes Brian, Or you could bring this up with Met Link and see if they with change the runout time for the last two buses Best of luck,

Thanks,

Malcolm Wicks Operations Supervisor (US Bus Lines)

2012-02-28: I replied.

Hello Malcolm.

Unfortunately it seems that ringing up US Bus lines isn’t an option when trying to meet the last bus of the day. it seems like both of the depos close sometime before 9:12pm when this bus leaves Upper Ferntree Gully station.

You advised in your latest email that I should raise the issue with Met Link to see if they can change the run out time. I thought timetabling was the responsibility of the bus companies; Metlink only published the time tables they have been provided - or am I confused?

Thanks

2012-02-28: Ventura Bus replied.

Brian ,

Met link is the one who tells us the times in and out of stations. We can not change the times, they do and they let us know. As stated before if you ring we can help, But keep in mind this Depot closes at 20.00, you can ring Doncaster, and they can call the bus. Doncaster number is 9856 1415

Malcolm Wicks Operations Supervisor (US Bus Lines)

2012-05-17

The train missed the bus connection again.

2012-05-18: I sent the following email.

To: Public Transport Victoria (PTV) Submitted using PTV website

Hello,

Who do I contact these days about train/bus connection problems?

Last night, the 8:05pm Flinders street to Belgrave train was late, but catching up on time. Then we waited 2 minutes at Mitcham station and 2 minutes at Heatherdale station. For no apparent reason.

I contacted the operator of the 688 bus - Doncaster Depo, as Monbulk Depo and Croydon Depo is closed at that time, and told them I wanted to catch the last 9:12pm bus, but my train wouldn’t arrive until 9:15pm. They said that they would hold the bus for me.

The train arrived at 9:14, so I should have been able to catch the bus. However, the bus left bang on time at 9:12, so I missed it.

Why did the train wait 4 minutes for no good reason at Mitcham and Heatherdale stations?

Why didn’t the bus wait? Sometimes it will wait until 5-10 minutes after designated time even when the train is on time. What was the hurry last night?

Why is there only 3 minutes from the train arriving at 9:09 until the last bus leaves at 9:12? Who is responsible for the timetable? Would it be possible to make the bus leave later so the train doesn’t have to be on time to make the connection?

Who will pay for my Taxi fare after I missed the last bus?

Thanks

2012-05-20: I sent the following to Ventura Bus:

Hello,

Last Thursday, 17th May, the train made an extra long stop at Mitcham and then Heatherdale stations. No explanations given. As a result, the train which had been catching up on time was now 4-5 minutes late when it left Ringwood station.

I attempted to Contact Monbulk depot, however like you said it was closed. So I contacted Doncaster Depot. The person said he would let the driver know that I was expected at 9:15pm.

Unfortunately, however, the bus left bang on time - 9:12pm - as confirmed by driver of 732 route. When I got to the bus stop, 9:14pm (a minute earlier then I estimated at Ringwood station), there was no bus present, As discussed previously, I thought the bus might be running late, so I rang Doncaster Depot again as I have been told to do so. They said they had no idea where the bus was. Nor was he particularly helpful considering this is the last bus. While I was on the phone, the bus drove past on Burwood highway. I tried to race down to meet it, however due to being on the phone to Doncaster, I missed it.

As instructed I have contacted PTV (having replaced Metlink for complaints) to try and get the timetable changed. So I have given them full details what happened too.

However, I would like to know - why didn’t the bus wait even just 1 minute for my train to arrive? With 2 minutes I would have been able to catch the service. Don’t the drivers care? For these last 2 services, some drivers will wait 5-10 minutes after the scheduled time even when the train is obviously on time. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them.

Also can I reconfirm what I should be doing when I arrive late and there isn’t a bus present. Last time I asked I was told I should ring the Depot, but in doing just this, I made sure I missed the last bus service. It is possible I might have been able to catch it from Burwood highway if I was there at the time.

It was very inconvenient getting back home as a result.

Unfortunately, if I can’t count on the train/bus connection meeting, I have to rely on driving to/from the station, which means I can’t use your otherwise good bus service as often as I would like.

Thanks

2012-05-21: I received an automatic response for Metro Case No: 2012/78315 from Metro Trains. Not sure if it is related or not to the complaint I sent to PTV.

2012-05-21: I received this response from Ventura Bus.

Brian , Sounds like you did every thing I asked, Met link need to keep trains running on time. But I have asked Doncaster about this, And given it happened on Thursday night , they can’t remember the call. Nor can the driver.

Thanks,

Malcolm Wicks Operations Supervisor (US Bus Lines)

2012-05-22: I received this response from Ventura Bus.

Good Afternoon Mr. May,

I am responding to the problem you encountered on the 688 bus route on 17/5/12. Doncaster did put out a broadcast for the driver but sometimes in the Upper Ferntree Gully area the two-ways can be a little distorted and was not heard by the driver.. Generally drivers cannot wait past their departure time because it means if they are then running late at the other end of their trip passengers will not make their connection to that train. We spoke to the driver of this trip who had waited until around 9.15 anyway. With this bus being our last service out of Upper Ferntree Gully we do have some leeway for the driver to wait if contacted.

Your other areas of concern regarding the trains would need to be directed to Metro trains and timetable issues would be dealt with by Metlink.

Regards,

Evelyn Nancarrow Supervisor

2012-05-22: I replied to Evelyn.

Hello,

Thanks for your response. I assume either PTV or Malcolm passed my complaint on to you?

Unfortunately, you appear to have been misinformed. Had the bus waited to 9:15, I would have been able to catch (without a doubt), and I wouldn’t be here talking to you. Based on my observations, and after talking to the 732 bus driver who saw the 688 bus leave, I consider it most probably it left at 9:12, or maybe 9:13 at the absolute latest.

I have also complained to PTV, who I believe has replaced Metlink, and are now suppose to be responsible for connections between services. I suspect however, that have forwarded my complaint on to either you and/or Metro trains and are not going to investigate further. I might have to push them more, unfortunately they might continue to respond by forwarding my complaints on to Metro Trains and/or Ventura Bus.

At present time, Metro Trains is not responding to any of my complaints - I have a number of complaints open with them at the time. They aren’t anywhere as good as Ventura Bus is with prompt replies.

The bottom line, however, is that it appears that I can’t rely on the train to meet the bus, and as such I should be using alternative forms of transport. You might want to consider this issue should you realize that the last bus services generally don’t carry many, if any, passengers.

Thanks

2012-05-24: I received this response from Ventura Bus.

Hi Brian,

Driver didn’t hear the call from Doncaster due to bad reception(Dead spot) at upper Ferntree Gully. The driver left 2 minutes late as precaution knowing he was the last bus. As for train time table enquires you need to get in touch with Yarra trains.

If you need to discuss the above further please don’t hesitate to call me.

Regards,

Omar Najmeddine Depot Manager - Croydon & Monbulk Depots

2012-05-24: I replied.

Unfortunately, I think you were misinformed. Had the bus left 2 minutes late, I would have seen it leaving, if not been able to catch it. From what I have been able to work out, the bus left exactly on time.

The message I am receiving loud and clear is that I cannot rely on the connection with the last bus working, and I should drive to/from the station instead.

Conclusion

It is unfortunate that delays to trains often happen after Box Hill, especially at Ringwood station. So it isn’t possible to know that I should ring up the bus company until the train departs Ringwood station. Even then, it is likely that the train will have to wait before Ferntree Gully station because it is late, and the city bound train got priority over the single line track.

PTV was set up to deal with connection issues like this. Unfortunately I cannot see any way of complaining to PTV. If I put a complaint through to PTV, it appears that they will forward it on to the operators without any consideration. This doesn’t help because the operators will blame each other instead of trying to resolve the complaint.

For some reason Ventura Bus has been trying to blame Metlink for the bad time table (I have heard on good authority that Metlink publish the timetables, the operators write the timetables), Metlink is apparently responsible for the trains running on time (No, that is Metro Trains responsibility), as well as Yarra Trains (no such operator).

At the present time, I am not getting any responses, not even automatic responses from PTV.

Metro Trains does not appear to be investigating any of my complaints. The only responses I have been getting are from Ventura Bus, which seem to indicate that they are not interested in resolving the problem.

There are too many operators involved. What I would really like is for PTV, Metro Trains, Ventura Bus, and maybe even Metlink and Yarra Trains to talk to each other and find a solution to this problem.