The problem with Melbourne’s transport

“We cannot reduce congestion by building more roads since immediately we get more traffic to fill them up to the same speed as before. The only way to reduce congestion is to introduce better public transport facilities which reduce the number of people who travel by car on the roads.”

— Professor Martin Mogridge, University College London

After decades of decline, public transport patronage in Melbourne is finally rising. But the government has been caught on the hop. Poor planning resulted in dozens of servicable Hitachi trains being scrapped just as passengers started returning to the train network in droves. Crowding on trains (as well as on trams and some bus routes) has resulted, and mean the impact of just one cancelled service is severe.

Beyond the trains, trams and a few Smartbus routes, services are poor: infrequent, particularly at weekends, and no competition for the motor car, despite increasing traffic congestion, impact from petrol prices and concern about emissions.

The Victorian government is finally putting money into rail infrastructure to relieve peak-hour crowding, but ignoring the need for more services outside peak hour, and to areas of Melbourne not served by the train network. And meanwhile it’s also continuing to pour billions into road building, entrenching car-dependence in the middle and outer suburbs.

In many cities in Europe and Canada, planners and the community have actively worked over the past decades for better public transport, to give everyone the option of getting around without a car.

Other cities, such as Detroit and Los Angeles followed the freeway route to its ultimate conclusion – a polluted city with a ‘dead heart’.

In Melbourne, we’ve followed a middle path. Here roads have grown, resulting in pollution, congestion and unacceptable road trauma, but we also have substantial public transport infrastructure, although it is poorly utilised.

It is this infrastructure that puts Melbourne in a position now to have world class public transport that is affordable for both tax payers and passengers, or a system which will continue to serve only a fraction of the population.

The wait

The Wait

The most frustrating part of public transport journeys is the wait between services. This is especially a problem during off-peak times. Many of the world’s big cities have train services with frequent services all day (every 10 minutes or better), making public transport attractive at all times of day, and helping to spread the peak load. Well-run systems also have buses which collect people from surrounding areas and then meet the train at the station (fancy that!). By comparison, waits of 30 minutes to 1 hour for buses are common in Melbourne, and station car parks fill up by morning peak hour.

The Cost

Melbourne has the most expensive fares for any Australian capital cities’ public transport system.


If public transport services were improved, more people would use the system and it would be safer as a result. It is also necessary to provide adequate staffing of stations and vehicles if passengers are to feel safe. Well run rail systems provide a staff presence at each station for the whole time trains are running. There is no reason why Melbourne can’t do this. However, in Melbourne we have destaffed our stations and removed conductors from trams.

The Solution?