As the annual patronage on Melbourne’s trains climbs through 180 million, it may only be a year or two before we reach the record of 201 million set in 1951. And yet our Government seems to be approaching this milestone not so much with delight as with fear and trepidation (The Age, 7/9). How can it be that our train system carried so many people into the city 50 years ago, with red rattlers, no City Loop and only six platforms at Richmond instead of 10, and yet struggles so much now? Sure, there were more people travelling off-peak then, but this can be only part of the answer.
In fact, there are two crucial things our public transport system had in the first half of the 20th century that are missing today. One is the planning and management know-how to sustain reliable operations with high and growing passenger volumes. The other is an overriding concern for passenger service, as opposed to bureaucratic convenience or cost-cutting. These qualities do still exist today, but only in cities beyond Melbourne that have not offloaded their planning responsibilities to private operators. It is time we invited some of these planners to sort out our public transport mess, as it is clear neither Connex nor our defeatist bureaucracy have a clue.
Tony Morton, Secretary, Public Transport Users Association, Melbourne
Published in The Age, 8/9/2007