Government’s transport plan flops

20% by 2020 target dumped

The government’s long-awaited transport plan “Meeting Our Transport Challenges” was released on 17th of May.

But far from being the all-encompassing solution for Melbourne (and Victoria’s) problems with transport that they had promoted it as being, the government has missed the mark.

While there will be a number of improvements for people lucky enough to live on a train, tram or Smartbus route, many of these changes will be a long time coming, and for everyone else services will continue to be inadequate.

There will be no rail or tram extensions for at least ten years. SmartBus routes will be extended, but only on four orbital routes around Melbourne.

Two-thirds of Melbourne will continue to be car-dependent, with only hourly or half-hourly bus services serving them. This means the government’s goal of 20% of motorised trips on public transport by 2020 is effectively dead (indeed, it’s not mentioned in the document at all), and they are providing no solutions to the problems of traffic congestion and spiralling petrol prices.

To make things worse, the government will spend billions on expanding the Westgate and Monash freeways, in a futile attempt to build their way out of congestion. They appear oblivious to the fact that this will only result in more induced traffic using those roads, with a negative effect on public transport modal share.

The operation of the privatised public transport network is set to continue into the future. There will be virtually no change to how transport is managed in the state – 300 bureaucrats will continue to administer Byzantine franchise contracts. A Co-ordinator-General of Infrastructure will provide guidance over future infrastructure projects, but this role is yet to be fully defined, and may have no real power over agencies such as VicRoads.

On the announcement of the plan, the PTUA reacted swiftly and publicly called for the resignation of transport minister Peter Batchelor, for poor targeting of the massive expenditure and spectacularly failing to improve upon previous efforts over the last 7 years. (Premier Steve Bracks was later to claim that we had not read the plan when we commented. This is incorrect.)

Other groups joining the call include the Better Rail Action Group (Bendigo) and the South Morang Rail Alliance, who are outraged that their rail extension, promised in 1999, has been delayed until at least 2016.

Some welcome upgrades

It’s not all bad news. For the first time, local bus route upgrades mean that almost all Melbourne households will have 7-day-a-week services (albeit hourly in many cases) within 400 metres. This significantly reduces the problems of social exclusion due to lack of public transport.

Duplication of the Hurstbridge line between Clifton Hill and Westgarth should help more trains run on the line during peak hours. Replacement of Metrol and selected signalling should facilitate higher train frequencies across the network, and the (eventual) addition of a few stations will be welcomed by residents of those suburbs.

The tram network will gain more DDA-compliant (wheelchair accessible) stops and trams, which is to be welcomed (subject to specifics, such as tram stop design and rationalisation). And more funds will be provided for tram and bus priority.

Why the PTUA slammed the plan

There is no doubt that the PTUA’s strong reaction against the plan, and calling for the minister’s resignation, raised eyebrows in government circles. It serves as a reminder why it is vitally important to have a fully independent voice in the transport debate.

The bottom line that the “Meeting Our Transport Challenges” document, which maps out the government’s transport plans for the next 25 years, had to answer the basic questions about Melbourne’s transport problems: would it get people out of their cars? Would it reduce traffic congestion? Does the plan support Melbourne 2030?

It also had to address the systemic management problems that have clouded almost all of the government’s previous public transport plans and projects, and will cause this one to fail likewise if nothing is done.

More than anything else, it had to provide the kind of public transport that would result in modal shift – getting people out of their cars. On this point, it fails miserably.

Residents and visitors to those two-thirds of suburbs that currently have inadequate services will continue to have inadequate services. For most, this means no choice but to drive. The ongoing consequences to Melbourne’s liveability and dependence on oil are obvious.

The PTUA will be issuing a detailed analysis of the government plan. Keep an eye on our web site in the next few weeks.

From the PTUA’s May 2006 newsletter. To receive regular newsletter updates, please join the PTUA.