The solution to 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

Better Service Means More Patrons

People will think about using public transport when something is done about its problems. We can see what the solution looks like by considering Felicity, who lives in a suburb of Toronto.

Felicity’s bus route runs frequently all the time, so she never has to wait more than a few minutes. It pulls right into the station, so Felicity walks out of the bus and straight onto the platform. Trains run every few minutes all through the day, until 1:45 am, so again there is virtually no waiting. All stations are staffed the whole time trains operate and all trains have guards: there is no dirt or graffiti on vehicles or stations.

Nobody feels unsafe using trains in Toronto, and women can be seen travelling alone at all hours of the day and night. At the other end of her trip, Felicity transfers to a tram without leaving the station. The return trip costs $3 Canadian ($ 3.02 Australian).

It is not hard to see why nearly two-thirds of central city workers in Toronto use public transport, compared with less than half as many in Melbourne. In Vancouver, even semi-rural areas receive better public transport than most Melbourne suburbs (see table).

The Ingredients of First Class Public Transport

High quality public transport provides the sort of ‘go anywhere anytime’ convenience that attracts people to cars. It requires a fully-integrated, ‘seamless’ network with short waiting times and easy transfers. Because this has never been seen in Melbourne, many people have difficulty imagining it, or believing that it is possible, but in overseas cities with well-run public transport, it is regarded as perfectly normal.

As in the best systems overseas, the ‘backbone’ would be a fast, clean, reliable train service with maximum waiting times of ten minutes day and night. This would be ‘fed’ by a fully integrated system of trams (frequent, reliable services given priority over other traffic) and buses (direct, easy-to-understand routes with frequent services running day and night, weekday and weekend) that also provides local and cross-suburban links.

Passenger concerns about safety and cleanliness (especially on the rail system) would be addressed through full (but not excessive) station staffing and train ‘conductors’, with police (in smaller numbers than at present) used as emergency back-up, rather than on fruitless ‘hide-and-seek’ patrols. Fares would be set to compete with the car, rather than drive passengers away.

What about new rail lines

Most of the infrastructure required to carry people who are currently using freeways in Melbourne already exists. The South-Eastern Freeway corridor is well-covered by the Sandringham, Frankston, Cranbourne, Pakenham and Glen Waverley lines: apart from a rail line serving Monash University and Rowville, improved service is what is required here, on trains, trams and connecting buses. The same is true in the West, with the Sydenham (being extended to Sunbury), Williamstown and Werribee lines.

In the north, the Epping service needs to be extended north not just to South Morang, but also to Mernda, to serve the growing housing estates in this area. Tullamarine Airport requires a rail link (Sydney and Brisbane airports both have them), provided by branching off the Broadmeadows line, a distance of just six kilometres to the airport terminal. This would serve not only city to airport travellers, but also airport workers, including those who live in the northern suburbs and are unable to use Skybus.

Finally, the Eastern corridor, while partly covered by the Belgrave and Lilydale lines, contains the Doncaster ‘gap’. What’s needed is a rail link to East Doncaster, together with associated improvements to connecting bus routes, trams and the Lilydale line.

Again, these changes would need to be backed up by vastly improved service, on existing and new routes, running every 10 minutes at most times, seven days a week.

Suburban travellers will also benefit from high-quality, interconnecting services, allowing people to get from anywhere to anywhere in Melbourne, without waiting long for connections as they do now.

Where will the money come from

All this can be achieved without massive expenditure. The total capital costs pale into insignificance against some of the grandiose multi-billion dollar projects in the Victorian Transport Plan. Nor need the operating deficit increase, since rail systems show what economists call ‘returns to scale’. They cost a lot just to keep open, even if few passengers are carried, because most costs are fixed. As patronage increases, the cost per passenger falls, so public transport can make money by increasing patronage.

For more information about these issues, see our Publications.