Transport Plan must commit to real change

The government’s new transport plan will need to contain more than sweeteners, un-broken promises and business-as-usual road projects if it is to energise the community, the Public Transport Users Association said today.

“This government has made quite a name for itself by releasing a lame transport plan every two years,” said PTUA President Daniel Bowen. “This time round, the people of Victoria will be looking for evidence that there’s been a genuine change of direction.”

Such evidence, he said, might include a commitment to new suburban rail lines in Melbourne, upgrades to outer-suburban buses to run on schedules similar to inner-suburban trams, a new public authority to coordinate all routes and timetables, and the recruitment of international experts to head up transport planning.

Mr Bowen said if the government proceeds with its plans to relax the Urban Growth Boundary, it was also critical that new subdivisions be provided with good public transport. But he said that there were no signs that this would happen, even with proposals such as the Tarneit rail line, the benefits of which are unclear.

“It’s no use establishing these new suburbs with only hourly buses and a distant train service. That’s a recipe for yet more multi-car households causing traffic chaos and falling victim to the next big rise in petrol prices when it comes.

“Unfortunately all the signs we’re getting is that this new plan will be a warmed-over version of the 2006 Meeting Our Transport Challenges plan, just with different projects. At its centre, apparently, will be more new freeways around Melbourne, in an apparent attempt to prop up the private operator of Eastlink by creating additional long-distance car trips that don’t currently exist.

“If this is what we’re getting, then the message from this government is that we should make climate change worse, and we should be more dependent on cars,” Mr Bowen said.

Mr Bowen cautioned against judging transport policy by the amount of money given to public transport. “It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at public transport if it’s all in service of the same old agenda: that public transport is for peak-hour commuter travel to the CBD and cars are for everything else,” he said.

“The problems with public transport in Victoria actually have more to do with management than infrastructure. We have people crowded into not enough trains because the private operator didn’t want surplus rolling stock on its balance sheet. And after years of spin, we still can’t even get buses to meet trains at stations.

“So people will need to look at what the new plan does for public transport management, not just at how much money it throws at private operators to run things badly. And they’ll need to look at how much of Melbourne benefits from fast, frequent, high quality public transport that provides a genuine alternative to car travel, not just how many billions of dollars are spent on new tunnels.”