Last refuge of Melbourne’s high floor buses

Low floor wheelchair buses are nothing new – it was over two decades ago that they first appeared in Melbourne. You might expect finding an accessible bus shouldn’t be too hard, but unfortunately for anyone who has trouble making their way up stairs, high floor buses are still common in one part of Melbourne.

Sita bus #73 rego 2373AO departs Yarraville with a route 431 service

The Public Transport Victoria website has this to say about accessible buses.

More than 80 per cent of Melbourne’s bus services are wheelchair-accessible on weekdays. Most bus services are wheelchair-accessible on the weekend and public holidays, except bus routes 453, 455, 457, 458 and 459, which operate in the Melton area and bus routes 431, 432 and 404, which operate in the Footscray / Yarraville area.

However the above raises more questions – why should Melbourne’s west miss out on wheelchair accessible buses on weekends?

When you look at who operates the listed bus routes, a possible reason soon starts to emerge.

Route Operator
453 Sita Buslines
455 Sita Buslines
457 Sita Buslines
458 Sita Buslines
459 Sita Buslines
431 Sita Buslines
432 Sita Buslines
404 Sita Buslines

The common factor is Sita Buslines – which raises the questions as to why they don’t have wheelchair accessible buses.

Sita #28 rego 2328AO picks up route 404 passengers at Footscray station

Digging deeper into the company’s fleet is easy – on the ‘Australian Bus Fleet Lists‘ enthusiast website you can find a list of every virtually every single bus in Australia, broken down by bus operator – the fleetlist for Sita Buslines is here.

After some time spent massaging data in Excel, I came up with this table.

High floor Low floor Total
34 73 107

I then collated the delivery dates of the current Sita Buslines current fleet, broke it down by high and low floor, and then graphed the results.

Buses delivered to Sita Buslines (as of 2015)

So what does that tell us about the Sita Buslines fleet?

  • over thirty percent of their buses are still high floored,
  • as late as 1999 brand new high floor buses were still being purchased,
  • it took until 2001 for Sita to receive their first low floor bus,
  • widespread adoption of low floor buses didn’t start until 2008.

For the purposes of comparison, in 1995 Melbourne’s first low floor bus entered service, and by 1999 virtually every operator in the city had at least one in their fleet. In the years since, high floor buses have been progressively retired as they reach their end of life, being replaced by the low floor buses that are seen in service today.

It makes the Sita Buslines of the late-1990s look a little backwards, doesn’t it?

Accessibility targets

The Victorian Government ‘Accessible Public Transport Action Plan 2013-17‘ included the following table showing current progress against the DSAPT (Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport) targets.

Victorian public transport DSAPT milestones and progress (as of 2013)

From an initial inspection it looks like Sita Buslines had no trouble meeting the 2012 target, despite their apparent early dislike of low floor buses.


Note that Sita Buslines isn’t the only bus company in Melbourne still with high floor buses – Transdev has a handful of buses dating back from the early 1990s still in service, albeit only in peak hour.

Transdev bus #298 rego 1196AO on a route 237 service outside Southern Cross Station

Over on the Australian Transport Discussion Board ‘venturatiger’ posted a section of photos of Melbourne’s early low floor buses – at the time operators treated them as the pride of their fleet, and painted them in special liveries to promote the lack of steps.

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18 Responses to “Last refuge of Melbourne’s high floor buses”

  1. Beren Scott says:

    To be honest, not in my entire life have I ever seen anyone need one of these buses. Low floor buses are great, but the disabled get cheap taxi services and a tonne of public spending on transport, they rarely need buses to have low floors, and I have never seen a disabled person in a wheelchair attempting to get on a bus.

    All of this was done for equal access, but they don’t use buses for the most part. These buses are mostly low floor to cart prams around town. There is a growing pram usage on these buses and it won’t surprise me if half the bus is dedicated one day to prams. I am not joking, I see at least 4 prams all crowding their way onto a bus that can barely fit them.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      From an economic perspective, I wonder how the cost of providing accessible public transport compares against that of providing on-demand transport for people unable to access inaccessible vehicles.

      As it stands, the purpose of accessible transport is allowing everyone to use public transport without being discriminated against – waiting around for an accessible taxi to show up isn’t the same as being able to turn up to your local bus / tram stop and boarding the next timetabled service.

    • Kevin says:

      Physical accessibility is necessary for more people than only those passengers reliant on wheelchairs.

  2. Somebody says:

    The biggest question with Sita is that they clearly don’t need anywhere near 73 buses out on a weekend to provide their route services, so why on earth are the oldest vehicles still used then?

    Slight correction, the Mk2s at Transdev do run all day during the week on local runs in the Doncaster area.

    I think the only other operator that comes to mind running high floors would be CDC in the Sunshine/St Albans and Wyndham areas, albeit just the odd one here and there.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Doncaster is a long way for anywhere I ever visit, but I saw a high floor CDC Werribee bus out at Tarneit station the other morning, but I’m not sure if it was a school run.

      I do wonder if the Sita fleet used on weekends has changed since the delivery of their new Volgren Optimus buses.

  3. James A says:

    As soon as I saw the the title, I knew straight away that Sita would be the operator in question. I catch their buses fairly regularly, and they’ve always seemed to be living in the past, for a number of reasons:
    -As mentioned, lots of their buses are still high-floor and they were very slow to adopt low-floor buses
    -Most of their buses still have the huge “100% low floor, fully air conditioned” text across the top like it’s some sort of rare novelty
    -Their website is designed like it’s straight out of the 80s:
    -They have no social media presence, meaning there is zero disruption info (for example, what’s going on with Route 400 today considering all the road closures near the riot at the Remand Centre?)

    All of this despite them covering a very large area (probably most of Melbourne’s western suburbs) and being one of Melbourne’s largest operators. The situation has noticeably improved over the past year or so, however. I rarely ride a Sita high-floor anymore and have seen a few Volgren Optimuses around the Melton and St Albans areas.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Sita does stand out a big public transport operator that hides in the shadows – the other forgotten bus operators are those with only a handful of routes.

  4. Michael Angelico says:

    It would be interesting to know the average age of their fleet over the years, and the percentage of the fleet that was replaced. Unfortunately that’s a bit more than the information in the fleet list.

    It looks as if they did very little in the way of normal replacements in the late 90s, and there were definitely some ups and downs even in the low floor era. I wonder if they were cash strapped and bought high floor buses because they were cheaper (or because they couldn’t afford to upgrade their workshops to look after low floor buses)?

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Once you have enough data, building a fleet listing for an arbitrary point in time wouldn’t be hard – just filter an Excel spreadsheet based on the in service / disposal dates.

  5. Craig says:

    Even more bizarre is Sita now has several low floors ex Brisbane that they only use on private school runs and rail replacement duties as they are not on the PTV contract, while B10Ms still pop up on regular runs…

  6. Tim Chuma says:

    I have seen someone in a wheelchair using a bus out in the west. Much more common in Sydney where there are not many trams.

  7. Bus fan says:

    The use of high floors on Sita runs on weekends has nothing do with amount of low floors they got. They got plenty to run weekend all low floor but till very recently chose not due to way they roster buses.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I’m guessing this was due to the ‘one bus per driver’ policy Sita used to have, where staff used the same vehicle no matter what shift they were working.

      The outcome of this was whenever a driver who had a high floor vehicle as their ‘bus’ vehicle was working, passengers would be stuck with a high floor bus, even if there were spare low floor buses sitting in the depot.

  8. […] Note the lack of low floor buses – you can blame Sita Buslines for that. […]

  9. […] in the late-1990s some bus operators delayed the introduction of ‘new fangled’ low floor buses to their fleets. Twenty years on, we’re still feeling the impact of this decision, as […]

  10. […] inaccessible high floor buses are becoming a thing of the past – on paper the bulk of buses are now accessible to passengers using wheelchairs or mobility […]

  11. […] the story isn’t any different today – some Melbourne bus operators kept buying high floor buses despite the availability of accessible low floor models, and today we’re still buying old […]

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