Buses in Melbourne

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Buses in Melbourne, Australia, are a major form of public transport in Melbourne, with an extensive bus network. There are 346 routes in operation with a varying range of service frequencies, (including NightRider, excluding Kew School Services) operated by 32 privately owned bus companies under franchise from the State Government. The NightRider bus system consists of 13 routes and operates on Friday and Saturday nights, and a SmartBus orbital bus network is being set up, currently consisting of 9 routes, which is intended to facilitate cross city travel, while the current network is predominantly a radial network.[1] Most of the bus network is a covered by the myki ticketing system.

The Skybus Super Shuttle is a non-myki ticketing airport bus service. There are nine other bus companies serving Melbourne airport, with services to Ballarat,[2] Bendigo,[3] Dandenong,[4] Frankston, Mornington Peninsula,[5] Geelong, Melbourne suburbs, Shepparton and the Riverina.[6] A daily return service from the states north—starting in Shepparton, passing through Nagambie, Seymour and Broadford—is operated by Airport Direct.[7]

In addition, several local government councils operate free local community bus services within their local areas. In addition, there are tourist bus services in the CBD and nearby tourist attractions.

While the city relies predominantly on an inner-city tram network and radial train network, the outer suburbs of Melbourne are primarily serviced by bus. Melbourne's buses also provide a local feeder to Melbourne's train and tram network. Unlike Melbourne's train and tram networks, up until the 1950s, buses in Melbourne were operated in a largely deregulated free market by private companies.[8]

Post World War Two, bus use in Melbourne peaked in 1952-1953 at 157 million passenger trips, but fell in subsequent years to a low of 71.5 million passenger trips in 1980-1981.[8] In the 2013-2014 financial year, a total of 127.6 million passenger trips were recorded on Melbourne's buses, an increase of 10.2 percent on the previous year[1] continuing the trend of recent years, where patronage has now recovered to 1960s levels.[8]


Early history[edit]

Many of Melbourne's private bus operators began by running jitney style 7 seat-buses. The use of these small buses may have been an attempt to circumvent State government regulations. While some of these early operators ran fixed routes or regular timetables, there was no State Government agency to regulate, or officially recognise these routes. Many attempted to compete with trams, running along tram routes but charging lower fares. The Motor Omnibuses Acts of 1924 and 1925 removed competition from buses on tramway routes.

The TRAK motor bus company was founded in 1923 by the pioneer and distinguished naval officer Fred Knight and three other partners. All four men were former officers in the British Navy. Fred Knight soon established the KINTRAK bus company in January 1924 with the first route from the City to Caulfield commencing in March 1924. The KINTRAK company had the distinction of originating the employment of female bus conductors.

The Ventura Bus Lines was founded in 1924 by Harry Cornwall, who began operating a bus route between Box Hill and the city, and later running buses along dirt tracks between Box Hill and Mentone, which roughly equates to the 700 bus route which was integrated into the orbital 903 bus route. Its first depot was the petrol station on the corner of Station Street and Canterbury Road, in Box Hill South.

In 1925, Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board introduced the first tramways buses. Their first bus routes ran down Swanston Street from La Trobe Street, and along Glen Huntly Road to Elsternwick Station.

After World War II, unlike other Australian cities which began to replace their trams with buses, Melbourne was by the 1960s the only Australian city with a major tram network (there is one tramline in Adelaide, and there are also trams in Bendigo). Melbourne resisted the trend because Melbourne's wide streets and geometric street pattern made trams more practicable than in many other cities. There was also resistance from the unions, and the Chairman of the MMTB, Sir Robert Risson, successfully argued that the cost of ripping up the concrete-embedded tram tracks would be prohibitive.

Grenda Corporation was founded in 1945 by George Grenda. After selling his milk truck, he purchased six small buses, four bus routes and the primary foundations of a bus depot in Dandenong that collaboratively would become Grenda's Bus Services.

1950s – 1960s[edit]

From the 1950s onwards, Melbourne's bus operators began replacing jitneys with full-size buses.

Between 1952 and 1969, Ventura purchased Clarinda Transport, High Street Road Bus Service and Knibbs Bus Service. It also added a service between Blackburn and Clayton (roughly equivalent to the current 703 service), added Waverley and East Burwood services, and (in 1957) opened its Oakleigh South depot at the corner of Centre and Warrigal Roads. Also during this time-frame, Ventura closed its Box Hill South depot and replaced it with a new depot at Mahoney's Road, East Burwood.

During the 1960s, the MMTB took over services in the north-eastern suburbs, after the bankruptcy of the private operator. The services would eventually be onsold to the National Bus Company. The Tramways Board took the unprecedented step of running its buses to the same level of service as its trams – every 10 to 20 minutes until midnight seven days a week.

In 1969 Ventura purchased several bus routes around Mitcham from C Young.


In 1970, Ventura acquired Boronia Bus Lines; the two purchases added 12 route services to the company.

Kefford Corporation entered the Victorian bus market in January 1976, when it acquired Point Cook - Werribee Passenger Service Pty. Ltd.

In 1973 Grenda purchased Peninsula Bus Lines and started Volgren in 1978 also based in Dandenong which has now become Australia's largest bus builder.


The collapse of many bus companies led to State Government intervention in Melbourne's bus network in the 1970s. Buses would eventually fall under the responsibility of the Public Transport Corporation. The Public Transport Corporation would take over running ticketing for Melbourne's bus network, and would contract out the operation of routes to various private operators.


1980s built MAN SL202 ex-Met Bus National bus at Westfield Doncaster

In December 1981, Kefford Corporation expanded its bus business beyond Melbourne, when it acquired H. A. Davis Motor Service Pty. Ltd. in Ballarat.

In 1983 Grenda also expanded with the purchase of Portsea Passenger Service consolidating their presence on the Mornington Peninsula.

In July 1983, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, was formed under the Transport Act 1983 to integrate Melbourne's tram, train, and bus services. The Metropolitan Transit Authority, commonly known as "The Met", would manage Melbourne's bus network through its Bus and Tram Division, as well as operating the tramways bus services.

The reforms included the integration of bus, train, and tram tickets. From 1983 onwards, the State Government began collecting all revenue from the multi-modal tickets, with private bus operators receiving money for costs one month in advance. Unfortunately, the State Government had trouble increasing the fixed-ticket subsidies in line with inflation. The State Government would introduce a moratorium on new bus purchases, as well as make attempts at forcing the consolidation of the numbers of private bus operators, in attempt to overcome the subsidy problem.

Go or Grow[edit]

In an attempt to cut costs, the Cain Government wanted to reduce the number of private operators, while increasing the number of cross-city bus routes. At this stage Melbourne's bus network (aside from the MET buses) was run by a large number of small, family operators which ran no more than a handful of routes each. The Cain Government reasoned that it would be more efficient, and cost effective, to have bus services provided by no more than about half a dozen large companies than dozens of small ones: larger operators would bring in economies of scale on bus purchases, repair costs, staffing, and would require fewer depots. The State Government also believed that it would be easier to negotiate contracts with a smaller number of large bus companies than with a large number of small bus companies. Thus the government put pressure on many of the small operators, in 1986, to either "Go or Grow."

In response to the State Government's "Go or Grow" policy, particularly between 1986 and 1988, there was consolidation in the bus industry. 1986 saw Driver Bus Lines amalgamate with Shave Bus Service to form Waverley Transit. The consolidation of small family operators continued into 1987, when Ventura acquired Bentleigh Bus Lines, Rennies Bus Services, Willis Bus Services and Hawthorn Bus Services. As a result of these purchases, Ventura sold its East Burwood depot and replaced it with its larger Knoxfield depot. In August 1987, Kefford Corporation acquired the Bono Bus Services which served Footscray, Highpoint City, and East Keilor. Also in 1987, Cunningham Bus Lines (who operated route 503, Essendon to East Brunswick) was taken over by Moonee Valley Bus Lines.

The consolidations continued when, in January 1988, Kefford Corporation acquired Sitch Bus Services (which served Sunshine, North Sunshine, St Albans, Footscray, Yarraville, Altona, Laverton, and Williamstown), as well as Sinclair Bus Services (which served Monash University, Elwood, and Gardenvale). August 1988 saw Southland Bus Service (which operated the 645 Southland – Mentone – Sandringham, 652 Southland – Beaumaris, 654 Moorabbin – Southland - Clayton - Westall, 655 Chadstone – Murrumbeena – Southland, 656 Moorabbin – Clayton, and shared the 636 Chadstone – Hughesdale – Southland with Ventura) was taken over by the Grenda Corporation. Southland bus lines, along with other Grenda Group acquisitions including Blue & Silver Bus Lines, Hampton Red, Hampton Green, and Camden Bus Lines were amalgamated into Moorabbin Transit.

New bus moratorium[edit]

The bus operators now funded their operations via a State Government subsidy, partially funded by the sale of multi-modal Met Tickets (rather than each bus company issuing their own tickets). In another attempt to reduce costs beyond the 'go or grow' policy, the State Government refused to subsidise new capital investment into the private bus companies (for instance, spending on new depots) and put a moratorium on the subsidies on bus replacement. Any new additions to the fleets of bus companies would have to be covered out-of-pocket by the bus companies themselves. This policy led to the dilapidation of the bus fleet through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, though would later be lifted.


In 1988, the then Metropolitan Transit Authority called for tenders on all of Melbourne's bus routes. Prior to the completion of tenders, Met employees reportedly told Waverley Transit 'not to bother' entering tenders for some of their existing routes. At the completion of the tender process, seven bus routes previously operated by Ventura, and three previously operated by Waverley Transit were tendered out to a company called Quince's Scenicruisers, which had 60 buses used mostly for charter and school services.

In the case Waverley Transit V Metropolitan Transit Authority, Waverley Transit launched a Supreme Court challenge to the results of the tendering process. The verdict deemed that the State Government had acted inappropriately during the tendering process and restored the bus routes to Ventura and Waverley Transit. In the wake of this verdict, the Met launched an appeal, with Waverley Transit launching a counter-appeal; the cases lasted into the early 1990s, with Waverley Transit ultimately successful.

In spite of this, Quince received the rights to operate a number of new cross-suburban bus routes cutting across a number of bus operator territories, including a route from Brighton to Lilydale.


The route 401 prepaid shuttle from North Melbourne railway station to the University of Melbourne
Sita Buslines route service bus

By the 1990s Melbourne's public transport network was making huge losses and costing the Victorian state government many millions of dollars. In 1990 the Labor government of Premier John Cain tried to introduce economies in the running of the system, which provoked a long and crippling strike by the powerful transport unions in January 1990. When Cain resigned suddenly in August 1990, Joan Kirner was elected Labor leader and thus became Victoria's first female Premier. In October 1992 the Liberals came to power under Premier Jeff Kennett in a landslide, as a result of the public's complete disillusionment with the Labor government, which was held responsible for the state's economic and budgetary crisis. The Kennett Government pledged corporatisation of Melbourne's public transport network, however policy shifted to supporting the privatisation of the tram system in the wake of a series of public transport union strikes.

Deregulation and Privatisation[edit]

Ventura Bus Lines bus parked at the Chadstone Shopping Centre bus terminus

Under the government of Jeff Kennett, the state government-run bus routes were privatised. Using the NationalBus brand, British operator National Express purchased the Public Transport Corporation's bus services in the Northern and Northeastern suburbs of Melbourne, centred around Doncaster.

National Bus Company commenced operations on 27 December 1993 with a fleet made up of former Government owned buses including MAN SL200s and Volvo B59s. The company acquired two depots located at Doncaster and Fitzroy North.

In 1994, National introduced the first of 56 Mercedes-Benz LO812 mini buses. These buses were introduced under National's plan to introduce bus services in local areas previously not serviced by bus routes.

In addition, between 1997 and 2005, National has undergone extensive fleet modernisation programs to phase out Volvo B59s and early model MAN SL200s. This has involved the purchase of 68 Mercedes-Benz O405 series buses along with 53 low floor MAN buses.

In 1996 Grenda purchased Berwick Bus Lines and amalgamated the business with its Pakenham depot to form Cardinia Transit.

A 1997 press release from then Transport Minister Robin Cooper announced that a consortium of Reservoir Bus Company and Dyson's Bus Services were the preferred bidders for the remainder of the Public Transport Corporation's bus routes (particularly in the inner city). In 1998, the routes were sold to the consortium, which operated under the name Melbourne Bus Link.

In 1998, Quince's lost their bus routes. Ironically, Quince's long cross-suburban bus routes were broken up, with sections divided between Ventura, Moorabbin Transit and Driver (for instance, the Monash University – Brighton leg of one Quince's route became part of Ventura route 703, the Glen Waverley – Mitcham section became part of Ventura route 736).

Contracting for bus services in Melbourne and throughout Victoria had occurred from 1 July 1989 until 1999 through the Public Transport Corporation[9] engaging bus operators under subsidised contracting arrangements. In late 1999, the Director of Public Transport was established[10] as the Government agency which procured bus services and entered into bus contracts with operators for Melbourne and large parts of Victoria.[11]


In 2000, Ventura purchased Mount Dandy Bus, while in June of that same year, Kefford Corporation acquired Geelong's Benders Buslines. In September 2003, Dyson's Bus Services acquired the Nixon Group, which was the parent company of Bell Transit, Cobb & Co., and Rambler Tours.

2002 saw the sale of Sandringham Charter Coaches to the Dineen Group, it now operates under the Sandringham & Brighton Coaches brand.

Grenda purchased Frankston Passenger Service in 2002 and merged it with its Peninsula Bus Lines.

In 2004, Ventura purchased the National Bus Company from National Express for A$45 million, becoming the largest private bus operator in Melbourne. While the company has announced that it will continue to use the National Bus Company brand until bus contracts come under re-tender in July 2008, new National Buses are painted in the Ventura livery. Through National Express, Ventura purchased what remains of the old government fleet, which is often of particular interest to railfans, though this section of the fleet will be phased out over the coming years. Also in 2004, in September, Chris' Coaches (which also traded under the 'Melbourne on the Move' brand, and formerly operated Hope Street Bus Line) changed its name to Olympic Coaches.

2006 saw the acquisition of McKenzie's Tourist Services by the Dineen Group. In 2007, Moreland Buslines purchased a 50% stake in the Broadmeadows Bus Service.

In 2007 Grenda purchased Blue Ridge Coaches and followed up in 2008 with the purchase of Hastings Coaches, both were integrated into Peninsula Bus Lines and depot in Hastings was established.

In 2008, Dysons acquired Northern Bus Lines and ComfortDelGro Cabcharge acquired the bus operations of the Kefford Corporation. 2009 saw the acquisition of Invicta Bus Services by Grenda Corporation, and US Bus Lines by Ventura. Ventura also acquired the Ivanhoe Bus Company in 2010.

In 2012, Ventura Bus Lines purchased Grenda Corporation making it the largest privately owned bus company in Australia. Ventura has 15 depots located in Doncaster, Oakleigh, Fitzroy, Ivanhoe, Dandenong, Lilydale, Knoxfield, Moorabbin, Croydon, Monbulk, Rosebud, Cardinia, Seaford, Hastings and Keysborough. In the same year Dysons acquired neighbouring company's Reservoir Bus Company and Midland Tours.

Recent developments[edit]

Bus boardings in Melbourne (1999-2013) based on official state government figures.

Since the Kennett Government left office in 1999, a number of new policy initiatives have been undertaken in regards to Melbourne's bus network, as spelled out in the Melbourne 2030 and Melbourne Transport Plan documents.

These include:

  • Improvements to passenger information through Metlink signage
  • The introduction of higher-frequency cross-suburban SmartBus routes
  • Proposals for a series of orbital bus routes, based on existing and proposed SmartBus routes.
  • Progressively upgrading 250 local routes to specified minimum service levels by the state government's Department of Transport. These upgrades will mean that most local routes will run until at least 9 pm seven days a week.[12]
  • Coordinating bus service reviews based on discussions between local councils, public transport operators and community groups to address issues for service improvements.[13]

Bus usage dropped sharply in 2006, in contrast to rail use which rose sharply, however it has since recovered.

A series of television advertisements for Metlink since 2008 have promoting public transport in Melbourne, in particular buses featured prominent comedian Frank Woodley.[14]


Main article: SmartBus
A bus heading towards Mordialloc in silver and orange livery.

The first SmartBus service begun on 5 August 2002 and will eventually establish a series of key suburban bus routes, and orbital bus routes, around Melbourne.

Key aspects of this program include longer operating hours, higher service frequency, improved information at bus stops including PIDs at major interchanges, wheelchair accessible services, peak hour priority bus lanes and priority at traffic lights.[citation needed]

SmartBus services typically run every 15 minutes on weekday, 30 minutes during evenings.

SmartBus 900, is the first truly dedicated SmartBus service. This service only stops at dedicated stops along the route from Caulfield railway station to Stud Park Shopping Centre in Rowville. SmartBus 900 was introduced to alleviate some of the pressure on the State Government to introduce a rail service to Rowville.

Patronage levels of SmartBus routes are among the highest in Victoria.[citation needed]


Sign displaying the free Melbourne tourist shuttle bus
Main article: NightRider

Melbourne also has a series of 13 dedicated routes which operate after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights, a time when the suburban rail network does not run. The buses fall under the standard Metcard ticketing system, until March 2007 they were covered by their own premium fares.[15] All NightRider buses are fitted with CCTV Surveillance equipment, and mobile phone for arranging pick ups and taxis. These routes are operated under the NightRider brand by private companies under contract to the Department of Transport. Over half of all NightRider routes are operated by Dysons, but Grenda's also run three, Ventura run two, and McKenzie's operates one.[citation needed]

NightRider routes are typically radial in nature, which more services commencing from City Square in Swanston Street, and running to the outer suburbs. A number of loop services were introduced in November 2008 to connect with these routes in the outer suburbs to provide a night service to those who lacked them previously. A new service to Doncaster was also introduced at the same time.[citation needed]

Legislation and governance[edit]

Transport Integration Act[edit]

The prime statute regulating bus services in Victoria is the Transport Integration Act. The Act established the Department of Transport as the integration agency for Victoria's transport system. The Act also established and set the charters of the state agencies charged with providing public transport services, including buses. The now-defunct Director of Public Transport was empowered by the Act to enter into contracts with operators for the provision of bus and other public transport services.[16] That function was taken over by Public Transport Victoria in 2012. Specific provisions relating to the contracting regime for buses in Victoria are set out in the Bus Services Act 1995.

Bus Services Act[edit]

The Bus Services Act 1995[17] (previously called the Public Transport Competition Act 1995) sets out a scheme which regulates the bus services contract arrangements between the Director of Public Transport and bus operators.


Main article: Bus Safety Act

The safety of bus operations in Victoria is regulated by the Bus Safety Act 2009[18] which applies to all commercial and non-commercial operations. The Act creates a framework containing safety duties for all bus industry participants and requires major commercial operators to obtain accreditation prior to commencing operations. Accredited bus operators are also required to have a safety management system to guide their operations.

Sanctions applying to the safety scheme established under the Bus Safety Act are contained in the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983.[19]

Safety regulator and investigator[edit]

The safety regulator for buses in Victoria is the Director, Transport Safety (trading as Transport Safety Victoria) whose office is established under the Transport Integration Act 2010. The Director is also the safety regulator for trains, commercial shipping and recreational boating in Victoria.[20]

Bus operators in Victoria can also be the subject of no blame investigations conducted by the Chief Investigator, Transport Safety. The Chief Investigator is charged by the Transport Integration Act[20] with conducting investigations into bus safety matters including incidents and trends.

Ticketing and conduct[edit]

Ticketing requirements for buses in Victoria are mainly contained in the Transport (Ticketing) Regulations 2006[21] and the Victorian Fares and Ticketing Manual.[22] Rules about safe and fair conduct on buses in Victoria are generally contained in the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983[23] and the Transport (Passenger Vehicles) Regulations 2005.[24]

Recent safety Issues[edit]

Recent activity by the independent transport safety regulator, Transport Safety Victoria, has raised serious concerns about the safety of the Victorian bus fleet. Changes made by the Bus Safety Act 2009 and the Bus Safety Regulations 2010 have required mandatory reporting of the results of annual bus safety inspections since February 2011. The current figures show that over a quarter of the State's buses are unsafe. Over the five-month period to July 2011, 28 percent of 13 plus seat buses failed their annual bus safety inspection.[25] The head of Transport Safety Victoria, Alan Osborne, described the results as "unsettling" and called for everyone involved to shoulder their fair share of responsibility.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Facts & figures". Public Transport Victoria. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Ballaret Airport Shuttle website
  3. ^ Bendigo Airport Service website
  4. ^ Airport Bus Dandenong website
  5. ^ Frankston and Peninsula Bus Service website
  6. ^ "Melbourne Airport – Bus Services". Melbourne Airport. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  7. ^ "Airport Direct – Timetable". Airport Direct. Retrieved 2008-07-29. 
  8. ^ a b c "Melbourne Public Transport Patronage Long Run Series 1945-46 to 2010-11" (PDF). Public Transport Victoria. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  9. ^ Established under the then Transport Act 1983 as of 1 July 1989.
  10. ^ By amendments to the Transport Act 1983 made by the Transport Corporations (Further Amendment) Act 1998.
  11. ^ The office of the Director of Public Transport has since been re-established under the Transport Integration Act 2010.
  12. ^ "Metropolitan bus service improvements". Retrieved 27 October 2009. 
  13. ^ "Metropolitan Bus Service Reviews". Retrieved 27 October 2009. 
  14. ^ Drill, Stephen (31 August 2008). "Ghost buses haunt Melbourne's outer suburbs". Herald Sun. Retrieved 2008-08-31. 
  15. ^ "Media Release: NIGHTRIDER NOW INCLUDED IN METCARD FARE". www.dpc.vic.gov.au. 2 March 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-26. 
  16. ^ Transport Integration Act 2010, section 68.
  17. ^ An online copy of the Bus Services Act is available at the official Victorian Government legislation site at www.legislation.vic.gov.au.
  18. ^ An online copy of the Bus Safety Act is available at the official Victorian Government legislation site at www.legislation.vic.gov.au.
  19. ^ See Part 7 of the Act. Official copy of the Transport (Compliance and Miscellaneous) Act 1983 from the official Victorian Government legislation site – http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/Domino/Web_Notes/LDMS/LTObject_Store/LTObjSt5.nsf/DDE300B846EED9C7CA257616000A3571/7BB774D3E0245B77CA2577CE00030B90/$FILE/83-9921a153.pdf
  20. ^ a b Transport Integration Act 2010, Part 7.
  21. ^ Transport (Ticketing) Regulations 2006
  22. ^ Victorian Fares and Ticketing Manual – Metlink – Your guide to public transport in Melbourne and Victoria
  23. ^ Victorian Law Today Act
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ "Disappointing annual bus safety inspection result", Bus Safety News, Issue 21, Summer 2011, Transport Safety Victoria. http://www.transportsafety.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/49668/Bus-Safety-News-Issue-21.pdf Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  26. ^ "Quarter of buses unsafe", Herald Sun, 12 January 2012, page 7.

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