The way of the future

Transport in Greater Geelong needs a seachange. Public transport is poorly planned and doesn’t provide the community with an adequate service. Families need two or three cars just for routine trips. As a result, traffic congestion and pollution gets worse and worse.

Instead of real solutions, the road lobby proposes more of the same. It wants to spend $500 million or more on a ring freeway so tourists can bypass Geelong, when the same amount of money could build dozens of schools and a new hospital. There are even plans for a bridge across Corio Bay, presumably so that Drysdale and Queenscliff can become suburbs of Melbourne.

There are better ways of getting around. Car ownership in Geelong should be an option rather than a necessity. We should be able to avoid traffic congestion if we want to by using public transport, cycling or walking. Those of us concerned about air pollution should have the option to do something positive by reducing our dependence on the motor car.

The City of Greater Geelong has set sensible prorities for environmental management and transport planning. Its Environmental Management Strategy commits it to promoting public transport as a way to reduce reliance on cars. However, when the time came to prepare the Geelong Transport Strategy, the council hired consultants with no experience in sensible public transport planning, and instead got a wish-list of road engineering projects with token gestures toward public transport. Proposed public transport expenditure as part of the strategy is only one per cent of the proposed road expenditure – hardly a way to reduce car dependence!

An excellent example of the problems with the report is the proposal to ‘increase’ off-peak bus services to one every 40 minutes on high-demand routes. Not only do the ‘best’ routes already run more frequently than this – every 30 minutes – but a 40-minute frequency would make connections with off-peak trains, which run hourly, impossible. In any case, such a low frequency is crazy for a trip that takes just 15 minutes by car.

Good transport planning requires a coordinated approach with an overall strategic vision, rather than a hotchpotch of specific projects that work against each other, when they work at all.

Geelong’s public transport is hopeless

Currently, public transport in Geelong is so bad that even those who would prefer to use it are forced to rely on their cars. Bus routes are confusing, indirect and slow, meandering through back streets rather than following direct routes as one would do by car. Some areas don’t have buses at all.

Even on the best routes there is only one bus every half hour, when most equivalent car trips would take less than fifteen minutes. Buses don’t run when people want to travel. Services stop too early in the evening (usually before 7pm, or 5pm on Saturdays), and Sunday services are a joke.

Some buses connect with trains to Melbourne but usually do so only by accident. Commuters mostly have no choice but to drive to railway stations and leave their cars in car parks all day. In off-peak times, motorists can drive all the way to Melbourne in the time that rail passengers spend waiting for the train!

As a result, on average, Geelong residents make only 23 trips by bus per year. That’s less than once every fortnight. It’s even almost 4 times less than Canberra residents!

City Urban population Bus trips per resident per year
Geelong 200,000 23
Canberra 300,000 89
Schaffhausen (Switzerland) 44,000 257

Large subsidies are spent providing these infrequent, substandard services. Public transport is an important public service and should be there for everyone. If we’re going to spend money on public transport we might as well do it properly!

Greater public transport for Greater Geelong

The City of Greater Geelong, in its 1999 Environmental Management Strategy, committed itself to “reduce the reliance on the motor vehicle through promoting greater use of … public transport.” This commitment won’t be fulfilled without a massive overhaul of public transport services, to make them work properly.

We may not get public transport to Swiss levels overnight, but we can easily do a lot better than we’re doing now! Here’s our vision for what Geelong’s public transport should be like.

  • A truly integrated bus network, allowing people to change buses and make more than just radial trips (to and from Geelong city.)
  • More convenient and more directly-routed bus routes to encourage people to catch them and reduce their cost.
  • Higher frequency urban Geelong bus services running at least every 15 minutes, all day, every day, and well into the evening. Later on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Buses at least every 30 minutes to major townships such as Ocean Grove / Barwon Heads, Queenscliff / Point Lonsdale, Drysdale / Clifton Springs and Torquay / Jan Juc.
  • Buses that connect to almost every train: waiting for trains to arrive to pick up passengers, and bringing passengers to stations for departing trains.
  • Cross-city and cross-Bellarine Peninsula bus services.
  • Trains to Melbourne at least every 30 minutes all day, every day. Evening trains should run until midnight, and later on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • The return of rail services between Geelong and Ballarat, to better service towns such as Bannockburn and Meredith.
  • The future re-opening of the Geelong-Queenscliff rail line, as least as far as Drysdale, as an environmentally friendly alternative to a Corio Bay bridge.

Why hasn’t Geelong’s public transport been improved?

Governments often like to think that they can leave improving services completely up to the private sector. However, good coordination between services has never been achieved through the initiative of separate, private transport operators alone.

The only recent significant patronage jump for Geelong’s public transport occurred in 1983 when the State Government brought together the bus operators in the GTS system. Since that time, however, no service improvements were made, and buses have returned to their old cycle of service cuts and patronage decline.

The best results will occur when local and state government work together, under the direction of the community with input from experts in the successful operation of public transport.

The Busport blunder: how NOT to plan public transport

Bureaucrats, without consulting the community, bus operators or any other groups, decided that a Busport would be the perfect solution to Geelong’s transport needs. Instead of choosing the logical place at the Geelong Railway Station, where passengers could change between buses and trains all in one place, they chose an awkward site that was neither at the station nor at a convenient shopping location like the existing Moorabool St interchange.

Thanks to millions of dollars earmarked for public transport, Geelong is now the proud owner of a very good car park.

More freeways and carparks? Los Angeles, here we come!

Taxpayers have just spent $250 million on the widening of the Princes Freeway to Melbourne. Now we’re being told that we need to spend more than $600 million on an entirely new road to bypass Geelong. This is an enormous sum of money to spend, when we don’t even have the fundamentals of a much cheaper public transport system in place.

Let’s be realistic. Governments have spent enough money on Geelong’s major roads and freeways. Every new road just shifts traffic congestion to a new place. Isn’t it about time we found a real solution to traffic congestion through public transport?

We shouldn’t need any more expensive and ugly car parks in Geelong. We should leave our historic buildings and open space alone, and encourage more shoppers, workers and visitors to come to the city by public transport.

Fast train projects: seize the initiative

The Bracks Government is keen to support regional public transport in its bid to retain marginal electorates like Geelong. Geelong should take the opportunity given by the fast rail initative to upgrade its public transport. It’s important to ensure that important railway stations are not shut down to meet the 45-minute target for the trip from Geelong station to Spencer Street. We need to look for other ways to speed up trains through the Melbourne metropolitan area.

It is particularly critical that Geelong uses the patronage boost predicted with the fast train projects, to increase patronage on connecting bus services. Currently, car parks at the major commuter stations are at capacity. Unless we build ugly multi-storey car parks, the only way to get more people to the station will be to provide good bus connections to stations, as is done in other great cities worldwide.

Why ‘Park and Ride’ isn’t a solution

Parking cars and riding public transport for the remainder of journeys has often been promoted. But it’s no real solution, as has been shown with the car parks at railway stations. Particularly for trips within Geelong, most of the environmental benefits and reduced congestion from catching public transport is lost, when passengers have already driven most of the way into the city.

Park and ride becomes a way of making up for lack of car parking spaces in the city, rather than allowing people to leave their cars at home. It means that instead of catching the bus from a local bus stop, park-and-riders drive to a major car park and catch public transport from there. It doesn’t eliminate the need for local buses, because people without cars still need to be served from their local bus stop. It doesn’t solve traffic congestion, as traffic bottlenecks form around the car parks.

In places like South Geelong we have taken Park and Ride as far as it can go without severely degrading the urban landscape. It’s time to add some convenient and inexpensive alternatives.

How do we pay for it?

Public transport is generally considered costly to operate. This is certainly true when the system carries virtually no paying passengers, or carries only ‘last resort’ passengers who pay concession fares. Public transport starts to pay its own way when it carries large numbers of passengers paying full adult fares. But in order to do so it has to be of sufficient standard to attract ‘choice’ passengers away from car travel.

To set up such a system will obviously cost money. But it will cost nowhere near the $600 million mooted for the Geelong ring road, which will have only limited benefits to Geelong residents. With that same $600 million we could have a first-class public transport network and still have plenty left over to fund hospitals and schools, and even repair the local roads.

The alternative to providing first-rate public transport is to spend money building more roads and more car parks. In the long run this will not only cost much more, but also ruin the urban environment of Geelong, and hasten the suburbanisation of the Bellarine Peninsula. Let’s make the change to greater public transport before it’s too late.

What you can do to help

The obstacles to better transport services in Geelong are largely political. To overcome these obstacles requires people to speak up and demand a new approach to transport. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Write to the local papers: Geelong Advertiser, The Echo, The Geelong News, the Geelong Independent.
  • Contact local radio stations K-Rock, Bay FM, The Pulse and Melbourne talkback radio.
  • Write to the Minister for Transport, the Hon Peter Batchelor, Nauru House, Collins St, Melbourne 3000.
  • Contact your local Member of Parliament for a cup of tea and a chat. MPs are paid to listen to their constituents’ concerns. If you’re unable to visit your MP, write a letter instead. The PTUA can assist with drafting letters to politicians: phone our office on 9650 7898.
  • Write to or visit your local council. City of Greater Geelong, Gheringap St Geelong. (PO Box 104, Geelong VIC 3220) Phone 5227 0270.
  • Last but not least, join the PTUA Geelong branch. Fill in the membership form and send to PO Box 4127, Geelong VIC 3220.