Sunday, June 21, 2009

Public transport for Melbourne rather than more freeways

Below is a map of the 1969 freeway plan for Melbourne. This is part of the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan commissioned by then Victorian Premier Henry Bolte, which was heavily biased in favour of freeways over public transport options such as rail.

It looks like a nightmare - Melbourne converted into Los Angeles. It is also interesting to note which freeways have been built - such as the Metropolitan Ring Road, the Monash, the Eastern, and most recently Eastlink.

Map of 1969 freeway plan for Melbourne

Here is a map from the same transport plan which shows details of proposed rail projects - including the new Rowville and Doncaster rail lines and the City Loop, which was the only one of these that was constructed.

A map of the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan map of rail projects

And here is a photograph of the new integrated freeway and train line linking the Perth CBC to Mandurah along the coast to the south.

Perth to Mandurah road and rail

So what has gone so horribly wrong in Melbourne? Why has no new suburban train line been built since the Glen Waverley line in 1930?.

The short answer to this is the triumph of short term politics and the road lobby over sensible transport planning.

The Brumby Victorian government announced another Victorian Transport Plan in 2008.
This plan provided no further suburban rail lines to Melbourne's east, but it did at least include some rail project in Melbourne's west and north. It also included a very expensive $8b rail tunnel linking Footscray with Caulfield to be built in stages. Given that the Eddington Report that the plan was based upon was tasked with investing "east west link needs", I have little confidence that a comprehensive study of Melbourne's transport needs and the best solutions was in fact conducted.

For example, new rail lines to new suburbs would surely carry more people than a tunnel linking two sections of Melbourne that not many people actually want to travel between.

Melbourne "metro train tunnel" and Tarneit link. Source: Eddington Report

Proponents of the train tunnel claim that "it is needed to free up capacity in the central rail network to allow more suburban lines to be built" but they don't provide any evidence to support this. The Eddington study was simply not tasked to investigate this so it is spurious to claim that it did. More politics with no planning. In any case, there are no plans or commitments to build any of the promised but never delivered rail lines such as Doncaster and Rowville.

Climate Change considerations

The proliferation of roads and freeways as primary transport infrastructure in Melbourne has proceeded with the assumption that fossil fuel supplies will continue forever, and that the associated carbon emissions don't really matter. The most recent Eddington Report and Melbourne Transport Plan did not even quantify emissions associated with transport modes. Both suggest that "hybrid cars" will provide the solution, when quite clearly they wont.

Here are some relevant facts from the Eddington Report:
  • Car travel is the biggest transport source with more than 10 million trips across the city every day.
  • About two million trips are in the morning peak and 78 per cent of Melburnians use their cars to get to work.
  • 11.3 per cent of Melbournes used public transport during the morning peak.
  • The demand for car travel is forecast to grow 30 per cent by 2031.
Taking the approximate figure of four million commute trips to and from work by car every day in Melbourne yields this information:
  • Number of trips: 4,000,000
  • CO2 per km (kg): .025 (average figure - for a Holden Commodore)
  • Average length of commute trip: 9km
  • Total tonnes of CO2 emitted: 900
A trip on a train has 1/8th the carbon emission of a trip by car, so if all these car journeys were shifted to trains, the total CO2 emissions would drop to 113 tonnes, resulting in a saving of 788 tonnes of CO2 per day.

It is therefore quite clear that rail transport should be the first priority for transport in Melbourne, after decades of neglect.

Our trains and trams are now full to capacity on existing lines and now significant new suburban lines are planned for the next decade. This is not acceptable.

Bass Straight oil is already greatly depleted and Australia now imports over 50% of its oil at considerable cost. If a proportion of the money spent on oil was redirected to climate friendly tranport modes such as rail and cycling, we would see some real benefits and long term financial payback.

Privatisation fails to deliver benefits

Melbourne's public transport system, including trains, trams and buses, was privatised by the Kennett government in 1999. This was done to supposedly create competition between private operaters and thereby provide better services. However, over the next decade several of the initial companies participating have exited. Three train operators became one - Connex, owned by Veolia. Two tram companies became one - which may soon also be taken over by Connex.

The proposed public bike scheme for Melbourne may also be operated by Connex if they win the contract to do so.

So there really is no "competition" except when tenders are renewed.

However, the worst impacts of privatisation are lack of accountability and lack of investment. The Brumby and preceding Bracks Labor government have chosen to retain privatised public transport. The government has blamed recent problems with cancelled services, faulty trains, whole system shut downs during heat waves on Connex. Connex in turn has responded that they operate the service but are not responsible for investing in sorely needed infrastructure improvements.

So it is stalemate, with nobody apparently accountable for delivering an effective and appropriate public transport network.

An unhealthy focus on revenue

Another undesirable by product of the privatisation of public transport is the unproductive focus on raising revenue from public transport users. This of course benefits the companies trying to make profits from the system. However, the large contingents of ticket inspectors, euphemistically called "Customer Service Officers" regularly stake out CBD stations and "bust" people for travelling without valid tickets.

Unfortunately, they often bust peoplewho make honest mistakes, such as those that carry a valid ticket but forget to validate it.

They are dishonest too. When they take your name and address they often suggest that you may not be fined - when the majority of people who they report actually do get fined.

Occasionally they are heavy handed and thuggish. Some people have been manhandled and even injured when they descend on someone en masse and attempt the "subdue" them. Such tactics are wholly inappropriate and should be left to the Police when they are warranted.

The Victorian government is also spending $1.35b - a huge amount of money - on the new Myki ticketing system - the benefits of which lie fairly obviously with Connex as the private operator. This money would be better spent on service improvements such as additional new trains or a new railway line. The current Metcard ticketing system was fully commissioned as late as 1998.


While the facts and figures associated with tranport can be daunting and difficult to find and assess, the directions we need to go in are quite clear.

We need more climate friendly rail and light rail transport to service new suburbs and growth corridors.

A metro service for Melbourne would provide better linkage between inner centres such as Carlton, Melbourne University, the Melbourne Zoo, South Yarra, South Melbourne and Footscray. A light rail metro similar to the Paris metro would be cheaper and more effective than the proposed heavy rail tunnel.

Some existing railway lines could be put underground (e.g. the Glen Waverley line through Toorak and the Box Hill line through Hawthorn to Camberwell and beyond) which would free up land above for residential, commercial, park and cycle path usage options.

More freeway projects such as the Frankston bypass should not proceed.

Cycle paths should be integrated with existing railway easements, where unused land within the easments is available.

We need a safe cycle path network that will allow commuters and recreational riders to use bicycles as the most climate friendly transport option.

We need our public transport system to be owned by and operated for the people, rather than for profits.

A safe climate future and a liveable city needs climate friendly transport options, and they are needed immediately.



Ben Courtice said...

That's a good article. Just to add a minor point. One of the interesting (scandalous?) things is how quickly the government abandons its own plans and promises. Not just on desalination. The Melbourne 2030 plan was supposed to guide planning until.... um, 2030. It was full of motherhood statements and little else, but did talk about de-centralising the spokes-in-a-wheel style of Melbourne's transport by building up suburban activity centres. I'm all for making the city loop into a metro, but the current proposal doesn't reduce the ridiculous proportion of commuter traffic that inevitably goes to or through the city.

And we could look at other plans and promises abandoned - not just the hypothetical Doncaster and Rowville rail, also the encroachment on the Green Belt with new freeways (see Friends of Banyule), the expansion of the urban growth boundary and of course the aforementioned desalination plant...

Peter Campbell said...

Thanks Ben. You raise an excellent point about the failure of Melbourne 2030 to deliver. It was a good strategy, but no plans were created to implement it. The apparent endless growth of Melbourne is not sustainable, and won't increase liveability. It will only increase dependence on the motor car - and more freeways and roads. I will add some content relating to this. Interestingly, some of the rail links proposed in 1969 such as the Rowville line actually provided a circuit link with the existing Belgrave line. And the southern most line seems to go where they put the Eastlink freeway.

Marc said...

The Footscary (typo intentional!) and Caufield rail tunnel will be one dangerous line to travel on at night. Think about it.

Stuart James said...

Public transport exists to provide a service to the community. By definition, it is not a commercial profit-making entity. Even as it stands, the Government has to pay subsidies to the companies to run the network. What's the point? Public Services are just that, services - they do not exist to make money. Take back ownership of the network, if it costs taxpayers $100 million a year to run - so be it - that's why the Government exists - to provide services, not to act as a negotiator in boardroom contracts.

Ben Courtice said...

Note to Marc: the Footscary/Caulfield metro link will indeed be scary - it is set to pass under Parkville, where all the college students from Melbourne Uni will be able to board on their way off to ingest drugs and party the night away in South Yarra. If I catch that train in from my home in Footscary I will no doubt get off at North Melbourne, to avoid these scary (and painfully fashionable) youths.

Vic said...

You've got a good point here. Also, i think there are too many cars on our roads now. There should be more provision of trains and trams especially in the inner suburbs.