Policies: Improving service quality

Public transport – mode of choice

For the sake of the liveability of our cities and our economic welfare, public transport must be a superior alternative to car travel for most people and a viable option for everyone. The Public Transport Users Association rejects the proposition that public transport is only for central city commuters and a last-resort transport option for school children and old-age pensioners.

This means that service quality must compete with the car on fundamental measures like speed and convenience. It is only by doing this that public transport will to attract “choice” passengers – that is, those with an alternative. These choice passengers bring the revenue and the impetus for the service improvements that benefit everybody. Persuading passengers with a choice of transport mode to choose public transport, and realising its social, economic and environmental benefits, is the challenge our decision makers must meet today.

Time is of the essence

People will not use public transport unless it offers door-to-door travel times that are competitive with other modes, and especially the car. Total journey time on public transport has two major components: waiting time and travelling time. Both can, and must, be reduced on much of the Melbourne public transport network if public transport is to succeed.

Shorter waiting times

The reduction of waiting time requires higher service frequencies. Tram, train and principal bus services in Melbourne should run at least every ten minutes, seven days a week until at least midnight – with more frequent services where necessary at peak times.

Second tier bus services should run at least half-hourly until midnight, 7 days-a-week, and be co-ordinated with train connections.

High frequencies must be supported by high reliability, so the waiting times shown on the timetables are actually delivered for patrons.

Service coordination must be significantly upgraded. Every train should be met by connecting buses at interchange stations, with passengers able to quickly change vehicles under cover, protected from the weather.

Some sections of the Melbourne suburban train network still have single track, which acts as a bottleneck preventing more frequent services, and plays havoc with reliability. These sections should be duplicated to permit higher frequency services. In other cases, signalling improvements and timetable reviews would allow more trains to operate on existing track.

Shorter travelling times

The average speed of public transport vehicles must be increased. Melbourne’s rail services are some of the slowest in Australia, with many speeds unchanged since the days of the “red rattler”. Upgrades to power supply and better use current technology could raise speeds by 20%. A revision of express services could also lead to reduced travel times to outer suburbs, though this must not be at the expense of high frequency services to the intermediate stations.

Trams and buses, because they are occupied by many more people, must receive real priority over other road traffic, through an effective and enforced “fairway” system, more dedicated lanes, and absolute preference at traffic signals. Running times can be reduced 20% or more by these means.

Improved customer service

Public transport must offer a safe, clean and friendly travelling environment. This requires roving staff whose first priorities are passengers’ welfare, along with staff at every station from first to last train. This would improve customer service, reduce fare evasion, decrease vandalism and improve passenger safety. Public transport employees must be selected and trained to treat passengers like valued customers, instead of targets for suspicion.

All stations, tram and bus stops must be made clean, safe and comfortable, with up to date timetable, route and wayfinding information available. Accurate real time information should be available at major interchanges, as well as off-system via internet and/or mobile phone apps for all public transport services.

Fair fares

Fares must be set at an economic level competitive with the car, so that prospective passengers are not chased away by the cost of public transport. We must also be mindful of the many disadvantaged people in our society who rely on affordable public transport. Our detailed policy on fares can be found in our Fares Policy.

Tickets must be widely available, including on trams, and including single use tickets, to ensure passengers have every opportunity to pay their fare. See Ticketing.

Where do we start?

As it is not possible to do everything that needs to be done at once priorities must be set. We propose starting with some “demonstration projects” for service improvements carried out with the cooperation of the PTUA, operators, Vicroads, local councils and community groups.

New rail extensions are a prime opportunity to undertake multimodal network planning, with improved routes and frequencies on supporting bus services to ensure maximum benefit from the new infrastructure.

Boosting service frequencies on existing routes is also a good place to start as they generate major patronage growth.

As public support for improved services grows, and the benefits become clear, the remainder of the system can be brought up to the same standards.

PTUA policies

Reviewed: September 2015