Where does your local bus go? And what would you trade-off for a better bus service?
Infrastructure Victoria has conducted one of the largest ever studies of current community perspectives on Melbourne’s bus network. The community findings will inform our broader research on bus reform options.
We commissioned Quantum Market Research to find out how Melburnians feel about using buses, helping us to understand the challenges and identify opportunities to improve the bus network.
We used a choice model to obtain insights into how people value the various features of a bus service, like frequency and journey times, and what features they would prefer to trade-off for a bus service that better meets their needs.
One in three Melburnians occasionally consider travelling by bus
Buses face tough competition. Our research revealed just over a quarter of Melburnians feel like they are dependent on their cars, with 70% saying they couldn’t survive without one. Cars and motorcycles are the most common way to travel for work, study, shopping, appointments, and social and recreational activities.
Trips for work occurred in the traditional weekday morning peak. Trips to attend appointments and shopping occurred around the middle of the day and were common on both weekdays and weekends. Almost 60% of social and recreational trips fell on the weekends. This gives us an insight into what unmet demand for bus services could look like during times when buses are typically less frequent at present.
One third of respondents at least occasionally considered travelling by bus. Buses were most commonly used among those travelling to and from study (23%), followed by those who travel to and from work (12%).
Those more likely to consider travelling by bus are much less likely to own their own car, are more likely to be from a lower income household, and are more likely to come from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background.
Melburnians prefer other modes of transport but attitudes are more favourable towards buses in areas with high frequency express services
Negative Melburnian perceptions towards buses were common, with over 60% of respondents preferring other modes of transport. Just under a quarter of respondents agreed that buses were for ‘people like me’.
Many bus services in Melbourne’s growth areas are infrequent with limited operating hours. Respondents from Melbourne’s growth areas were most likely to never consider catching a bus (40%) and were least likely to agree that buses were for ‘people like me’ (19% – 22%), potentially reflecting low frequency or availability of services.
Alternatively, respondents from Bulleen, Doncaster, Templestowe, and surrounding areas, which are well-serviced by high frequency express buses, were significantly more likely (40%) to agree with this statement. This highlights that people are more receptive to using buses when frequent, direct services are provided, especially in areas that have limited alternative public transport.
Our research shows how existing challenges with the bus network are impacting people’s usage and perceptions of buses. Together with other evidence including modelling and accessibility analysis, the findings will help inform our recommendations for bus reform. Some of these challenges, such as limited real-time journey information and equitable access, are summarised in our discussion paper – Get on board: making the most of Melbourne’s buses..
People will walk further for better frequency and journey times
Our research captured the views of both car drivers and public transport users. Of those who did own a car, a quarter stated they would like to forgo their car but felt they couldn’t due to a lack of viable alternatives.
Melburnians indicated that frequency and journey times were 2 of the most important factors in using the bus network.
Our research showed that 82% of Melburnians live within a 5-minute walk of their local bus stop, but that they would be willing to walk further if bus journeys were faster and services more frequent. Those walking 5 minutes to their bus stop would be willing to walk 10 minutes to a local bus stop if the bus journey was around 10% faster, or if the bus came every 20 minutes instead of 30.
This gives us an insight into one of the most crucial issues for bus reform: balancing increased patronage versus greater coverage. Patronage services are generally frequent, fast, high patronage and relatively direct routes, while coverage services are generally slower, less frequent, indirect, but closer to more peoples’ homes and therefore support better social and economic inclusion.
Our choice model confirmed an increased challenge for older Melburnians and those with mobility challenges when it came to increasing walking distances – an important factor to consider as part of bus reform.
Overall, the results from the community research bring us one step closer in finding the right balance of these trade-offs for the unique Melbourne context. People are happy to walk further for faster and more frequent services. This allows buses to run more directly and efficiently, increasing the likelihood of people taking the bus.
Nearly half of all respondents will avoid interchanges on public transport on the existing network
Examples of bus reform around the world highlight the importance of bus routes as part of a wider, integrated public transport network, enabling connectivity between a larger number of destinations. This means moving away from a network of infrequent and overlapping routes to instead, more direct services.
Many of Melbourne’s current interchanges have limited connections and poor amenity, making it difficult to transfer from buses to other forms of public transport like a train or tram. Almost half of all respondents to our survey would opt not to use public transport if it required a transfer, likely reflecting this inconvenience.
Safety at night may also be a considerable barrier to use, with half of all respondents indicating that they do not feel safe while waiting or walking to and from public transport stops. A significant number of residents in outer suburbs (more than 60%) and almost 70% of women felt unsafe waiting or walking to and from public transport stops, compared with a third of men surveyed.
Only 22% of Melburnians know where their local bus routes go
Melbourne’s buses are difficult and complex to use. While most residents (89%) know roughly where their closest bus stop is, only 22% definitely know where the bus routes go, and even fewer (15%) definitely know how frequently their local buses run. Simplifying bus networks, providing better network information, and real-time bus tracking could make buses easier and more convenient.
Our research show that most Melburnians would prefer real-time journey information through phone apps, followed by displays on buses and at bus stops. Despite some advancements in making public transport more accessible in Victoria, many buses still do not have audio or visual announcements about location arrival.
Cheaper services would attract more patronage
Our research demonstrated that people would be more likely to take the bus if fares were cheaper and that price is a significant influence. The survey indicates patronage would increase by up to 19% with every $1 reduction in bus fares. Higher patronage would make Melbourne’s bus network more efficient, providing better value for Victorians.
The insights from this community research will play a key role in the development of our recommendations to the Victorian Government on bus reform. Recommendations will also be informed by stakeholder engagement, transport modelling, accessibility analysis, economic analysis, best-practice guidance, and other evidence-based inputs.
School bus services are not within the scope of our research.
A final report will be published in late 2023.
 See Appendix, Get on board – making the most of Melbourne’s buses, and Auckland Transport, New public transport network [website], accessed 17 March 2023.
 Suburban Rail Loop Authority, Environment Effects Statement: Impact assessment summary – traffic and transport, Victorian Government, 2021, Table TT12.1 Existing conditions – Box Hill Study Area and Table TT9.1 Existing conditions – Glen Waverley Study Area.