501 shuttle to Donnybrook

Sorry, it’s quiet on the blog due to being so busy. I’ve got a bunch of half-written drafts, but will try and finish some of them soon.

Another x01 shuttle service has joined the fold. So far we have:

  • 201 Box Hill to Deakin Uni
  • 301 Reservoir to La Trobe Uni
  • 401 North Melbourne to Melboure Uni
  • 601 Huntingdale to Monash Uni
  • There’s also the 202 from Victoria Park to Melbourne Uni

Bus routes 701 (Bentleigh to Oakleigh) and 901 (Frankston to Airport) aren’t shuttles. There is currently no 101 or 801.

What about 501? That’s the new one – not a Uni shuttle; it runs from Donnybrook station to Craigieburn station – non-stop. Every 15 minutes in peak, 20 weekday off-peak, 40 weekends.

Presumably this is a response to growing population in the northern suburbs around Donnybrook, and a way to try and get people to Craigieburn easily.

Donnybrook is served by V/Line Seymour line services to Broadmeadows and Melbourne, but only some of those trains stop at Craigieburn.

Those trains have been under significant crowding pressure for some time, in part due to them often running short two-car trains. Crowding was a problem even before the March 2023 fare cut.


While the connections to V/Line at Donnybrook might be useful, I’d assume the main point is to connect Metro trains at Craigieburn. So how did they do?

  • Peak inbound and outbound – buses every 15 minutes. Trains are at uneven frequencies, so this is fair enough. (Last bus back from Craigieburn at 19:30)
  • Off-peak inbound – buses arrive at 05, 25, 45 past the hour. Trains depart at 15, 35, 45. That seems okay to allow for the bus potentially getting caught in minor congestion.
  • Off-peak outbound – trains arrive 00, 20, 40. Buses depart 05, 25, 45. Seems good, and hopefully if the train has a short delay, the bus will wait. (They’ve got a 7 minute layover at the other end, so it should be possible without causing cascading delays.)
  • Saturday inbound – bus arrives every 40 minutes from 07:10.
    Examples: 07:50, 08:30, 09:10.
    This connects to every second train, departing 07:55, 08:35, 09:15. That should work okay.
  • Saturday outbound – trains arrive every 20 minutes, for example: 14:00, 14:20, 14:40, 15:00, 15:20, 15:40.
    Every second train has a bus ten minutes later: 14:30, 15:10, 15:50. (Last bus 18:30). That’s not bad given the limitations of the bus frequency.
  • Sunday morning – bus arrives every 40 minutes, for example: 07:50, 08:30, 09:10.
    The trains are also only every 40 minutes in the morning, but they don’t match up: 07:35, 08:15, 08:55, 09:35. So inbound passengers have a 25 minute wait.
  • It’s a similar story outbound on Sunday morning, with a 31 minute wait.
  • After that on Sundays the trains and the buses match the Saturday times.

I can see the benefit of the bus timetable being identical on Saturdays and Sundays, but why not move them back or forward by 20 minutes to improve the Sunday morning connections?

Maybe they are anticipating that the – frankly awful – 40 minute Sunday morning train frequencies will be fixed soon. Hopefully that will happen when the Metro tunnel opens, but in the meantime it’s substandard for passengers.

(It’s not the only example like this. Some Smartbus routes run more frequently on Sunday mornings than their connecting trains.)

What about connections to V/Line at Donnybrook? These trains are mostly hourly, but with some variation, making it pretty difficult for an even frequency bus to connect.

At the southern end, I do wonder if the bus should extend (non-stop) from Craigieburn station to Craigieburn Central shopping centre, which for some reason was built 3km from the station, too far to walk. Another Melbourne urban planning failure.

Still, let’s hope that given the bus has higher frequencies than the V/Line trains, plenty of Donnybrook people find this new route more convenient, and it helps resolve the crowding.

And given it’s an almost-shadow extension of the Metro service, it might help build momentum for the extension of electric trains to include Melbourne’s fast-growing northern suburbs.

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.

9 replies on “501 shuttle to Donnybrook”

101 would be a tram route as it’s lower than 150. Even as a tram route however, AFAIK route number 101 still hasn’t existed. There was a route 102 however, it was basically the 96 sans light rail e.g. Bourke St to East Brunswick only.

@Lachlan: Route 501 Strathmore to Moonee Ponds was killed off several years ago, these days the 469 takes its place.

@Lachlan, the 501 that you were thinking of (Moonee Ponds Junction to Niddrie via Strathmore) was discontinued in 2020, so this is a new 501. It should be noted that route numbers are sometimes recycled when a new route starts. One example close to me was Route 420, which in the 1980s ran from St Albans to St Albans East, but was discontinued in the mid-1980s before being recycled in 2014 for Sunshine to Watergardens via Deer Park.

Going to Craigieburn Central is served by the (many) other routes. Getting to/from Donnybrook and associated developments was the issue, previously the only route was 541 which at one point went through 3 shopping centres and 3 secondary schools. Heavily crowded so the shuttle skipping the shopping centre is probably for the best.

Changing the Gisborne bus routes to be two digit numbers makes them the same as almost every other Victorian town bus route outside of Melbourne, which are predominantly just two digits.

@Marcus, it reminds me of the Department’s proposal perhaps ten years ago to come up with a statewide bus route numbering system. There was consultation and discussion, but I think in the end they couldn’t find a solution that worked well enough – nor were the problems it hoped to fix that compelling.

Glad to see they’ve finally got a decent bus shuttle. I remember trying to catch the 525 from Donnybrook to Craigieburn once, which coincidentally was it’s first day of service on a Sunday in 2019. There was just about zero signage around, and I ended up having to go into the pub and ask them where on earth the bus was meant to depart from. Made it to the stop 10 minutes early and the bus just never came… A drunk dude came out of the pub a couple minutes before the bus was due to arrive and then 10 minutes later he called PTV and started abusing the living daylights out of the lady on the phone.

Eventually the train was about 5 minutes away and I decided to go wait for that instead. Then just as the train was leaving the bus finally rocked up (although by that point the next service was almost due so it probably wasn’t even the service that never rocked up).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *