Hidden meaning in route numbers

There’s hidden meaning in some of Melbourne’s tram and bus route numbers.

Below 150 is all trams, for a start. Above is buses.

Christmas tram 112I suspect trams will move to 1 or 2-digit numbers in the next few years, to accomodate the new “a” (altered) and “d” (depot) suffixes in the displays (most of which are limited to 3 characters). This is a good move, as it’ll remove some of the uncertainty around mystery route numbers.

It shouldn’t be too hard to move to 2-digits, as there are only two 3-digit route numbers: the 109 (formerly mostly known as the 42) and the 112 (formerly known as the 10).

150 to 199 used to be school bus routes, predominantly in the eastern suburbs. Does anybody know if they still run? I couldn’t find any trace of them when I went looking. (Update October 2013: Yes they exist, now run by Transdev.)

200-399 are mostly ex-Tramways Board bus routes, now run by Ventura (National Bus) following privatisation in the 1990s. Some of the bus routes partially match old tram routes, either electric services since removed (such as the 246 from Elsternwick to Point Ormond, and the 220 and 223 both of which cover parts of the ex-Footscray tram network) or cable trams (such as many of the Lonsdale and Lygon/Rathdowne Street routes).

Bus and tram

300-350 are mostly Eastern freeway routes, though a number of these have been renumbered into 90x Smartbuses.

400s are mostly in the western suburbs.

500s are mostly in the northern suburbs.

600s are mostly in the eastern suburbs.

700s are mostly in the southern suburbs.

800s are mostly in the south-eastern suburbs

…01 is emerging as the numbering for express high-frequency shuttles (401/601), though there are others like 201 and 701 which don’t fit into this model.

900s are the Smartbus routes, apart from the 703 which is only partly implemented.

940s to 980s are Nightrider services. The main routes are even numbered, and extension/shuttle services are odd-numbered, so the main Nightrider to St Albans is 942, and its extension to Melton is 943.

It should be emphasised that all of these rules are informal, and often broken, and thus should not be trusted. For instance, some south-eastern routes seem to have crept into the 92x range, for reasons unknown.

And there are enormously illogical route variations, such as the notorious 600/922/923 route split. It used to be simply the 600 (another ex-tram route), but then it merged with parts of route 822 and 823. The result is one of Melbourne’s most confusing route structures, with a common/frequent section between Beaumaris and Sandringham, but different/infrequent routes through Brighton to St Kilda and parts of Cheltenham. What were they thinking?

Others have probably discerned other patterns in the numbering. Comment away!

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

15 replies on “Hidden meaning in route numbers”

Good article, Daniel. Is there any rhyme or reason as to how the tram route numbers are created? It looks like someone’s just stuck a hand in their hat and picked out a number between 1 and 150.

A slight variation on my comments made on Jarrett’s piece.

Agree – trams could all be under 100. Much signage replacement along 109 and 112, but makes is a good stepping stone for consistency and informing new/visiting pax.

I’ve seen the Kew school services running along sections of the 908, but these no longer appear to be numbered.

920-929 could be renumbered (potentially re-routed, as per BSRs), combined with renumbering 940+ as N## (to indicate a night service), leaving all 900 series as SmartBus services…

Haven’t noticed any solid rules (similar to road numbering) re odd/even indicating a predominantly E-W or N-S route. But as you say, rules are often broken…

(and if I wanted to be REALLY picky, I’d point out that the 350 will be no more as of this week…)

@Chris, there are a lot of tram route numbers currently not allocated (or only used at specific times, and being rolled into “a” or “d” routes), which explains the gaps. See this list of numbers.

@Leigh, yeah that makes a lot of sense. Sign replacement is no biggie… it happens a lot on bus routes as things get changed.

@Daniel, but people expect more consistency on trams routes – and the 109 would, I expect, have much higher patronage than most bus routes so the educational task is much harder.
And for what benefit? Route number consistency is something of an intangible at this point on our network – if there were a goal we were working towards other than “keep all trams under 100” perhaps it would be worth it, but if that’s the only goal, definitely not.

@Dave, the main benefit renumbering of 112 and 109 to two-digit routes is to allow the “a” and “d” suffixes to be used. Less confusion over short runs to Kew depot, for instance (does it go via Victoria Street, or Bridge Road?)

Chris, there was logic to tram numbers, but over time things happened and they now seem illogical but their history can be traced back. I think the whole tram system should be renumbered to something logical now.

Daniel, it might only be B class trams, the pictured one, that can’t show four digits. I am not sure about the Citadis trams though. Anyway, there is no need for three digit route numbers.

There once was a logic with tram route numbers.

In the 1950s and 1960s Swanston St routes were numbered thus:

1 and 2 South Melbourne Beach to East Coburg
3 East Malvern
4d Carnegie
5 Malvern Burke Rd
6 Glen Iris
7 Camberwell
8 Toorak

You can instantly see the logic behind most of that.

9, 10 and 11 and 12 were the Collins St routes to St Kilda via South Melbourne and to Northcote and West Preston via Brunswick St (the East Preston route went that way until 1955 when the Bourke St buses were converted to trams and it was shifted to run via Smith St and High St as the 88).

The 15 was the Swanston St route from Moreland to St Kilda (Acland St) via St Kilda Road. When it was short-turned in the city it was the 16.

The 64 was also Swanston St, to East Brighton as at present.

Kew routes were Mont Albert (42) ex Collins St and North Balwyn 48 ex Flinders St. The Burwood 74 was ex Flinders St.

Two routes left Batman Ave/Swanston St intersecion (now covered by Federation Square) — Wattle Park 70 and Prahran (via Swan St and Church/Chapel) 77.

Elizabeth St routes were as now, North Coburg 19, West Maribyrong 57 and Essendon Airport 59 (extended to Airport West with the same number circa 1992).

Bourke St (after trams replaced buses) were East Preston 88 and East Brunswick 96 (opened 1956). In those days these routes terminated at Bourke and Spencer — the 96 “light rail” did not open until 1987 when trams replaced the former trains to St Kilda and Port Melbourne… a conversion that has resulted in a massive increase in passengers on those lines since train days.

Then of course we had the 55 in William St from Domain Interchange to West Coburg via Royal Park, and cross-suburban routes St Kilda to Kew via Balaclava Rd, Hawthorn Rd and Glenferrie road 69, North Richmond to St Kilda via Church and Chapel 79 and Footscray to Moonee Ponds 82.

There were many shortworkings that were sub-sets of the numbers I have given, eg, Deepdene on the Mont Albert route was 45, Kew Junction was 41 etc. The lines through Balaclava Junction had letter suffixes for their shortworkings.

So there was a certain logic, especially on the Swanston St routes,

About 1971 there was a revision of certain routes that also had a certain logic. Carnegie went from 4a to 67 I presume to note it went somewhere in the general direction of the 64 (which crosses it at Hawthorn and Glenhuntly rds). It also got rid of the letter suffixes. The 7 became the 72 which I presume was to give the three routes that went through Camberwell Junction similar numbers ie, the 70, 72 and 74.

As the years progressed, logic was slowly abandoned. From 1977, the system began expanding again (no new routes had been opened between 1956 and 1977 because of Bolte’s dislike of trams. Immediately he went in 1973, new trams were ordered, the first since 1956). The first extension was of the 74 from Warrigal Rd to Middleborough Rd via Burwood Highway and it became the 75 (which the much extended line to Vermont South remains to this day).

The next extension was from East Preston via Plenty Rd to Boldrewood Pde in 1982 and it remained the 88, but all the further very long extensions of this line, to Latrobe Uni, McKimmies Rd and eventually Bundoora RMIT were all as the 86.

As mentioned, in 1987 the St Kilda and Port Melbourne rail lines were converted to trams. The existing 96 tram was extended to St Kilda as it remains now, but the Port Melbourne in those days ran via Bourke St to Gertrude St and was, IIRC, the 106 111 — the first use of a three-digit number, which was not necessary because there were ample unused two-digit numbers.

Around the time the Mont Albert 42 was extended to Box Hill in 2002, it was through routed at its city end to Port Melbourne and the whole route renumbered as the 109. Had it stayed the 42 it would have at least retained a known, traditional number.

The St Kilda to West Preston via South Melbourne and Collins St had used various elements of 9, 10, 11 and 12 which was turned into the 112.

When the lines into Docklands started opening about a decade ago they retained the same numbers as the routes that were extended there (ie the Wattle Park 70, Bundoora 86). Most recently, in 2010, the 48 North Balwyn was diverted into Collins St and extended into Docklands via the Collins St extension, keeping its number.

The 77 Prahran ex Princes Bridge/Batman Ave was axed about 20 years ago with passengers expected to transfer to the 78/79 at Swan and Chapel.

Several years ago the Moreland to St Kilda 15/16 was separated. Moreland was tacked on to Toorak 8 and the whole line became the 8. At the same time, the section of the 15/16 from University to St Kilda was joined to the famous cross-country 69 from St Kilda to Kew and the whole route renumbered at the 16.

Further changes are pending. It’s proposed to split the 8 again, with the Toorak half joined to the 55 at Domain Interchange to run to West Coburg via Williams St and the whole route becoming the 55, which would eliminate one of the best known tram route numbers. The Moreland half will be through-routed to Carnegie and the whole route will become the 67.

Other planned route changes include stopping Dandenong Rd route 64 at Malvern, with its Hawthorn Rd section joined to the route to Kew via Glenhuntly Rd, as, I understand, the 65. The city end of the 64 will be joined to the present East Coburg 1 route and the entirity will become the 64. The South Melbourne Beach end of the 1 will retain its number but terminate at the University.

The present 16 will be extended across Balaclava Junction (rather than turning north into Hawthorn Rd) to terminate at Caulfield Station. And the other Dandenong Rd route, Malvern 5 is to be turned left into Park St at Domain Interchange and run by new tracks in Park St to join the 1, then turn north into Clarendon St and run to Footscray Rd via Spencer St and Docklands.

The 112 is to be split in two once enough of the order for 50 new trams is available, with the St Kilda end becoming the 12 and running via Clarendon, Spencer, Latrobe and Victoria Pde to Hoddle St. The West Preston end will become the 11 (which it once was) and run into Docklands Victoria Harbour, presumably allowing the 48 to return to Flinders St (the diversion into Collins St has added significant extra time to its running and appears to have lost it substantial patronage),

Anyhow the above is by no means complete, but it does give a potted history of the present tram numbers, how they came to be, and some proposed changes.

@Andrew, I’m really not surprised. “a” and “d” suffixes are so much more logical and user-friendly.

@David, thanks for this extensive note!

My recollection is the Port Melbourne route via Bourke Street was number 111, until around 1993 when it altered to run via Collins St and be through-routed with the 42, becoming the 109.

@David, thanks for that.

Under these arrangements, what would happen to the Glenferrie/ Hawthorn roads N-S portion of route 16? Would it terminate somewhere useful, or just keep heading south the the Nepean Rd / Hawthorn Rd terminus? Or would this duplicate the proposed 65?

Back on topic, it would be great to see some indication of service level and/or location in the numbering.

So Routes 1-10 might be TUAG all day every day; then others grouped by destination area, especially where they shared significant portions of shared running (as Canberra uses for its bus numbering, and Doncaster here).

The proposal (from Yarra Trams) is that the Glenferrie Road/Hawthorn Rd route will carry on due south insteading of turning at Balaclava Junction, and terminate at the Nepean Highway where the 64 ends now. It will be route 65.

The 64 will not go into Hawthorne Rd at all under these proposals, it will turn into Glenferrie Rd and terminate at Malvern Station. Presumably anyone in Dandenong Rd wanting to go south along Hawthorn Rd will have to change trams. Ditto with passengers in Hawthorn Road wanting to go via Dandenong Rd.

@David, I’m only speculating, but I’d expect the 64 might not turn around at Malvern station, but instead up at Malvern depot. It’d be able to layover there out of the way of traffic (both trams and cars). Alternately they could build a terminus in the Dandenong Road median adjacent to Malvern station, but that would mean missing serving Malvern shopping centre.

From what I heard, the City/St Kilda Beach route would go to Caulfield station.

I’ve also been told that not many people do the trip “around the corner” from Dandenong Road to Hawthorn Road and vice-versa, hence a north-south route East Brighton to Kew makes more sense.

@ Daniel – the 150 series school buses still run and there’s a list at

The 920s are also used for local buses in Pakenham, as well as the two Sandringham routes.

922 and 923 came about due to the truncation of 822 and 823. While it was clever at the time to have a number that related to the old one, its was bad long-term. The new routes should have been 601 and 602 if they should have been split at all (breaking up a frequent route was probably unwise).

A big change has been (until recently) a reduction in the use of the 600-series in the southern suburbs. This came about as routes were joined or through-routed. Eg joining Brighton and Footscray routes. Or extending 800 routes from Dandenong to Brighton/Hampton. 701 and 703 were originally shorter 600 routes.

Then there’s the MetLink Quinces routes – also 600 series. MetLink was the name of a premium bus network that The Met planned in 1988, with routes broadly similar to SmartBus. This plan was effectively still-born due to the state’s financial problems.

But after the bus contracts fiasco the government created two super-long routes that largely duplicated others – 631 and 634 – for Quinces to run. I believe these may have been called MetLink. 634 has since been split and renumbered but 631 remains in shortened form. These (or their remnants) were the only routes with Sunday service in a wide area until the upgrades of the 2000s.

Also note that some 200 – 299 routes are run by Melbourne Bus Link.

Hangovers from their tramways legacy include long operating hours and high evening frequences, extensive Sunday evening service (not found on SmartBus for instance), reduced service summer timetables and a distinctive public holiday pattern.

Out of National and MBL, MBL remains by far the most ‘traditional’ on these points as its timetables have been effectively frozen for many years.

I understand the 109 and 112 haven’t yet been renumbered as their proposed new numbers clash with existing or recently retired numbers. It is planned the 109 becomes the 9, but that number has to be unused for 12 months first. Why it didn’t go back to 42 is beyond me.

112 and the splitting for 11 and 12 is discussed previously, just two comments. The 11 exists today already, and the proposed 12 via La Trobe street from St. Kilda would be W class trams and would render the 30 redundant.

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