All posts by PTUA

PTUA welcomes Overland reprieve, calls for long-term investment

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the announcement that the Victorian government will contribute funding to keep the iconic Overland train running for another three months.

When the South Australian government withdrew its contribution to subsidising this vital passenger link at the end of 2018, the Victorian government stepped up to fund the shortfall until the end of 2019 – this new 11th-hour announcement will grant the Overland an extension till the end of March 2020.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever welcomed the announcement, saying that the Overland provided an invaluable public transport link for western Victoria.

“The Overland is the only regular rail services for communities like Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola and Nhill. A rail link between Melbourne and Adelaide is important, but the job the Overland does connecting these towns within Victoria is hugely important to these communities as well.

“Whether people are travelling for leisure or for things like medical appointments, people in western Victoria need a regular rail service to quickly and safely connect them to Melbourne. It’s fantastic that the Victorian government has stepped up yet again to keep this vital service going.”

The government has said that this three-month extension will allow time for conversations to continue with Journey Beyond, the Overland’s private operator, about the long-term future of the train. While the Overland provides a valuable lifeline for many people, it is clear that it is struggling to get the passenger numbers it needs to be commercially viable for a private company.

Mr Lever called for the government to take a holistic view of the public transport needs west of Ararat, and to approach the issue with the same ambition that has worked so well closer to Melbourne.

“The Overland has unfortunately entered into a negative spiral, where the low passenger numbers lead to service cuts, which make the service less attractive to passengers, which lead to more service cuts. When it was first privatised in the 1990s, it used to run every day in both directions – but now it only runs twice a week in each direction. This makes it a real gamble as to whether the train will even be running on the day you want to travel – which is no way to get serious passenger numbers.

“If the Overland service ran to and from Adelaide every day, and this was supplemented with short-run services to Horsham, this would mean western Victorians had a regular train service that would always be available, no matter when they wanted to travel. This would start to attract way more passengers, making continuing to run the service much more viable.”

Mr Lever said that the huge success of other rail services in Victoria showed that bold vision and serious investment would be rewarded with increased passenger numbers. Bringing the privately-operated Overland under the V/Line banner should be one of the options on the table to facilitate these improvements.

“We’ve seen that when governments invest in serious improvements to train services – especially making them run more frequently – more people will choose to use them. If the Overland ran every day, perhaps with a variant of the fast, modern VLocity rolling stock, it would attract passengers in droves.”

In the meantime, Mr Lever called on the government to provide a longer interim funding arrangement, to keep the service running while these larger visions could be implemented.

“It would take time to put these improved services into place, so in the meantime we hope the government can provide a longer-term subsidy to give passengers certainty. Many of the Overland’s passengers are tourists who want to book well in advance, so it’s important that bookings are available on the website when they search for them.”

Enough is enough: Time for Tram Cams to stop dangerous motorists

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has called for tram cams, and stronger enforcement of road rules to improve tram passenger safety.

Australian road rules state that motorists are required to stop when trams stop, to allow passengers to board and alight safely.[1]

“This is a rule often broken, with potentially fatal results”, said PTUA spokesperson Daniel Bowen. “There is an urgent need for firm action to protect passengers.

“In the long term, more accessible tram platform stops will help safety, but the progress on these is incredibly slow.”

In November a passenger was struck by a car in Parkville, ‘with witnesses claiming the driver failed to stop when passengers were getting off a tram’.[2]

A recent 3 day police operation saw 14 motorists issued with infringement notices for overtaking stopped trams, but Mr Bowen said it was the tip of the iceberg, with Yarra Trams figures recording hundreds of incidents every year.[3]

A 2016 study noted that tram drivers also have concerns about passenger safety when motorists overtake trams, with one commenting: “At road side stops, motorist(s) don’t stop. … At that moment as a tram driver you feel very useless and try to help people. You gong and they don’t listen.” [4]

Mr Bowen said that road safety cameras have long been used to catch motorists running red lights and speeding, and that they should also be used to protect tram passengers.

A trial in 2013 using external cameras fitted to E-class trams [5] ended without a rollout plan.

“There are now over 80 E-class trams in service with cameras fitted, as well as 35 C-class trams with cameras. It’s time to start using them, as well as getting more cameras fitted to the rest of the tram fleet.

“A combination of cameras fitted to trams, and fixed cameras at known hotspots such as Royal Parade, with fines issued for breaking the law, would send a strong message to motorists, and help improve safety.

“It’s not okay to recklessly try and beat the tram, and it’s not okay to overtake when it’s stopped.

“The consequences of breaking this rule can be fatal, and it’s time that authorities cracked down on this dangerous driving,” concluded Mr Bowen.


Youtube clips of motorists failing to give way to tram passengers:


[1] Road Safety Rules 2017 – Reg 163

[2] The Age 27/11/2019 – Tram passenger in critical condition after passing car ‘failed to stop’  

[3] Mirage News 29/11/2019 – Police call out poor driver behaviour near trams (Victoria Police media release)

[4] Monash University November 2016 – Exploring the key challenges in tram driving and crash risk factors on the Melbourne tram network: tram driver focus groups – Road safety issues at tram stops

[5] Herald Sun 23/11/2013: Drivers warned trams are watching them 


Coverage of this story:

Melbourne transport still shaped by 50 year old plan – time for a rethink

December 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan [1]: a radical exercise that sought to reshape Melbourne at vast expense, from a ‘garden city’ with well-used public transport, to a car-dominated sprawling ‘doughnut city’ based on a Los Angeles-style grid of freeways.

PTUA spokesperson Daniel Bowen said that while other transport plans had been published by successive State Governments in the decades since, the 1969 plan continued to influence transport priorities and spending.

The plan proposed that 86% of funding be spent on roads, and just 14% on public transport, and planned a grid of freeways across the city – many of which have since been built. [2]

Mr Bowen said a rethink was needed to focus on transport modes that scaled up for a city of five million and growing.

“The 1969 plan was predicated on population projections of 3.7 million by 1985, and based on now long discredited thinking from US-based consultants that more motorways could solve traffic.

“This hasn’t worked. Not in Melbourne nor in any other big city in the world.

“Melbourne is now at 5 million and still growing. We are beyond the size when roads and motorways are a viable way to move large numbers of people.”

Since the 1969 plan was published, 320 kilometres of freeway or tollway had been built, with another 25 kilometres currently under construction.[3]

In contrast, the suburban rail network has been expanded by just 72 kilometres, with another 9 kilometres under construction. In addition to this, non-electrified outer urban lines to Healesville, Warburton and Mornington all closed.

Public transport patronage plummeted 28% between 1969 and 1979 as the plan was implemented, despite population growth.[4]

“The rapid growth of the road network is still following a 50 year old plan. Despite many billions spent continually extending and adding lanes to freeways and tollways, this has seen traffic speeds getting progressively slower [5].

“Building roads generates more traffic – and the road network gets less efficient the more people use it.

“While many of the roads proposed in the 1969 plan have eventuated, many of the rail projects have not – and nor have the proposed public transport service upgrades.”

Rail projects in the 1969 plan that were never built include links to Doncaster and Rowville, an underground line through Fitzroy, and the extension of suburban electric services to Deer Park West, Mornington, Hastings, and Coldstream.

While the 1969 plan was heavily skewed towards roads and infrastructure, it also called for frequent public transport services:

  • trains to run at least every 5 minutes on the busiest lines in peak
  • buses and trams to run at least every 10 minutes all day

Most of these service upgrades have not eventuated.

“Cutting waiting times for trains, trams and buses is essential to get people out of their cars and onto public transport,” said Mr Bowen.

“Ultimately, if we want people to be able to switch to public transport, government must provide reliable, high frequency train, tram and bus services.

“If instead we keep spending on roads, people will keep driving, congestion will keep getting worse, and just as the 1969 plan envisaged, Melbourne will become more and more like Los Angeles – dominated by its traffic.”


[1] The 1969 plan was released on 17th December 1969. Age article

[2] Costings, also covered in The Age

[3] Freeways and tollways (excluding those built before 1969):

  • CityLink – Monash Freeway – Princes Freeway – West Gate Freeway 88 km
  • Citylink – Tullamarine Freeway 12
  • Eastern Freeway – EastLink – Frankston Freeway 62
  • Mornington Peninsula Freeway 26
  • Pensinula Link 25
  • Metropolitan Ring Road – Western Ring Road 38
  • South Gippsland Freeway – Western Port Highway 5
  • Western Port Highway 11
  • Hume Freeway (Craigieburn Bypass) 17
  • Western Freeway (Deer Park Bypass) 9
  • Calder Freeway 27

Total built since 1969: 320 km 

Under construction:

  • North East Link 11
  • West Gate Tunnel 5
  • Mordialloc Freeway 9

Heavy rail lines built or electrified since 1969:

  • City Loop 4.7 km
  • Newport to Werribee 19
  • Altona to Laverton 4.1
  • Dandenong to Cranbourne 12.6
  • Broadmeadows to Craigieburn electrification 9.4
  • Epping to South Morang 3.1
  • St Albans to Sunbury electrification 20.5
  • South Morang to Mernda 7.1

Closed: St Kilda line (4.5km) and Port Melbourne line (4km).

Net increase since 1969: 72km

Under construction:

  • Metro tunnel 9
  • (Suburban Rail Loop has not received full funding/started construction yet)

[4] Public transport patronage dropped by 28% in the ten years following the 1969 transport plan, despite population growth

Melbourne trains, trams and buses - millions of passenger trips per year

Source: PTV – Melbourne public transport patronage long run series

[5] Road speeds have steadily dropped in recent years, despite freeway/tollway expansion

Change in average traffic speed

Source: Vicroads Traffic Monitor


Coverage of this story:

The Age 23/12/2019: Half-century-old plan behind major transport projects, advocates warn

7 News 23/12/2019:

PTUA slams North East Link rubber stamp decision

The Public Transport Users Association has added its voice in solidarity with planning professionals, local councils, environment groups, Yarra Valley businesses and residents, deploring the decision by Planning Minister Richard Wynne to rubber-stamp the North East Link Environment Effects Statement.

The Minister’s decision overrides the conclusions of the Inquiry and Assessment Committee after half a year of hearings, consultations and submissions by affected parties and subject-matter experts.

“This decision gives a licence for this road to proceed in its most environmentally and socially destructive form,” PTUA President Dr Tony Morton said. “It’s taking dozens of homes and wiping out hundreds of jobs in local businesses, for a $16 billion non-solution that will generate more traffic mayhem than it removes.”

The PTUA previously poured scorn on the assessment process for its rubbery benefit-cost figures and its ‘comical’ consideration of transport alternatives. “Almost overnight the cost went from a $7 billion estimate by Infrastructure Victoria to $16 billion in the State budget estimates,” Dr Morton said. “Estimates of public benefit had to be inflated to meet the cost, but the problem with all such estimates is they assume travel-time savings that never appear in practice. Studies on previous road projects like Citylink found travel was actually slower after construction than forecast in the ‘no build’ case beforehand.”[1]

At a time new taxes are being flagged to fund mental health, the project is accused of ‘robbing’ taxpayers of $16 billion without sound consideration of alternative spending priorities, that would have more lasting benefits for Victorians.

“Spending of this magnitude must be seriously weighed up against other budget priorities in health, education and other government services,” said Dr Morton. “But even if we focus just on transport, consider that just a fraction of this amount, spread over 10 years, would put 10-minute all-day bus services on just about every arterial road in north-east Melbourne. This kind of investment in service could provide a lasting mobility solution that short-circuits the congestion dilemma. Yet alternatives received only perfunctory consideration, taking just 16 out of 325 pages in the North East Link business case.”

As it is, those looking forward to congestion relief on local roads from the North East Link were bound to be disappointed, according to the PTUA. “No new road has ever relieved congestion on existing roads, beyond the odd short-term sugar hit,” he said. “Freight and personal travel alike will keep seeing red in traffic snarls until the Victorian Government seriously shifts its priorities.”


[1] Odgers, J (2009). Have all the travel time savings on Melbourne’s road network been achieved?

Eastern Freeway rail corridor is what merits protection

Protect Hamer legacy of provision for rail in freeway median: PTUA

According to the Public Transport Users Association there is only one aspect of the Eastern Freeway that merits heritage protection, and that is the unique design features included by the Hamer Government to ensure a train line could be easily installed in the corridor.

The statements come in response to a proposal by the Victorian Department of Transport to seek heritage protection for the section of the freeway between Hoddle Street and Bulleen Road. This part of the road was built in the 1970s and made provision for a planned train line to Doncaster and Templestowe. [1]

Responding to the largely cynical reaction to the proposal, PTUA President Dr Tony Morton noted there was some substance to the Department’s claims. “This section of road certainly has some unique features to its construction. The median reserve is particularly wide by comparison with others, including more recent sections of the Eastern Freeway, and all the overpasses are built as long single spans. But all these features were included so as to protect a reservation for rail.”

The ability to provide for rail was essential to any heritage claim for the road, Dr Morton said.

“That does make the latest proposal rather bizarre in the context of the North East Link. Not because it forecloses anything in the future, but because the Department is seeking to protect exactly what it’s about to destroy.”

As part of plans for the North East Link, the government proposes taking the median reserve for extra car lanes, and providing dedicated bus lanes on the road’s edge at additional cost. “This makes a travesty of a half-century of planning,” said Dr Morton. “The idea of protecting the reserve is that the effort and cost for a public transport corridor has already been invested, to make future rail construction an easier decision. As far as Bulleen at any rate, everything has been done already except physically laying the tracks.”

“In a city of five million people and growing, we’ve got to be protecting all opportunities that exist to boost the most space-efficient and high-capacity mode of transport we have, which is suburban rail. Instead, we’re taking a corridor already provided and handing it over to the least space-efficient form of transport, for reasons that are entirely unclear – the inner city has no more capacity to absorb cars and trucks.”

“If the Andrews Government has any consistency they would rethink now and protect the rail corridor.”

Dr Morton also scoffed at the suggestion the heritage proposal was solely aimed at forestalling a future East West Link road. “The one thing that ought to stand firmly in the way of the East West Link is it doesn’t provide any economic benefit exceeding the huge cost of construction – even when assessed on traditional tools that experts criticise as exaggerating the benefits of new roads. A heritage order by itself would never stop a project that stands up on its merits.”

* * *

[1] The Doncaster rail line is still shown on Public Transport Victoria’s website as part of their Network Development Plan (PDF filename indicates it was updated in 2016)

PTUA responds to Deakin Night Network study

Melbourne is a 24 hour city: transport provision should reflect this, but it’s no magic wand

A comprehensive all-night public transport network, introduced by the Andrews Government in 2016, plays a vital role in Melbourne’s night-time economy and in helping people find safe and affordable ways home. But people should resist the temptation to judge it against ‘magical’ expectations, the Public Transport Users Association has declared.

The comments come in response to studies by Deakin University researchers Dr Ashlee Curtis and Prof Peter Miller, summarised in an article in The Conversation on 22 July. The researchers claim that when judged against an objective of reducing alcohol consumption and assaults in the central Melbourne nightlife precinct, the all-night transport services have had no noticeable effect.

“Night-time public transport in Melbourne serves a whole range of purposes, the same way daytime transport does,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “It’s used by many nightlife venue patrons, but also hospitality workers, cleaners, shift workers, Sunday morning fun-run participants, and others who for whatever reason are far from home in the wee hours.”

“So it’s unfortunate that the Deakin researchers frame the initiative as having the sole objective of somehow reducing alcohol consumption and assaults in the city after dark,” Dr Morton said. “Its purposes as we saw them were rather less heroic. A transport system is not a tool for moral improvement. In our view it was more about giving the travelling public more flexibility around late-night and early-morning travel, and not abandoning a growing night-time population to unreliable, costly and unsafe ad-hoc transport options.”

“Rolling out the Night Network was in keeping with the whole concept of public transport as a universal service, something a first-world city like Melbourne ought to value. There’s a substantial night-time economy in Melbourne as there is in any large city, for better and for worse. We appreciate there’s a tendency to label Night Network users as ‘drinkers’ but that’s really oversimplifying a diverse mix of activities.”

Dr Morton also called for more research on Melbourne’s nightlife, in particular to test an ‘audacious’ suggestion by the Deakin researchers that introducing all-night public transport had actually led to a small increase in alcohol consumption. “This appears to be based on qualitative observations by the researchers themselves over the period immediately before and after the Night Network commenced,” said Dr Morton. “This calls for further study using verifiable criteria, and ideally looking at several years’ data to see whether there’s an actual trend, as opposed to over-interpreting what may be a chance fluctuation at one point in time.”

A suggestion by the researchers that ride-hailing services such as Uber have ‘solved’ late-night transport provision also drew criticism. “Perish the thought we should be taking lessons on safe, efficient transport from US and other cities with poorer safety records than Melbourne,” Dr Morton said. “People struggled to get taxis because there’s only so many cab drivers prepared to work that risky night shift, and it’s no different if they’re driving for a ride-hailing service instead. Regular public transport is far safer for all concerned.”

Dr Morton concluded with a reminder that the present Night Network is also far from perfect in the PTUA’s view. “We’ve said on a number of occasions since 2016 that the government, having devoted substantial resources to enabling the Night Network, could be using these resources much more effectively. The Night Bus network in particular needs rethinking from scratch, preferably by basing it on the routes that exist during the day and that people already understand. Inefficiency and confusion is the reason the public cost per passenger is higher than it could be.”

In defence of buses

From time to time politicians and others push the misleading line that passengers don’t like buses, and that they’re only a last resort form of public transport. It’s true that​ patronage on many bus routes is poor, but this is because the service is poor, and because bus​ routes are poorly understood by potential passengers.​ ​

The solution to this is to roll out more SmartBus style bus routes, and upgrade existing routes​ to SmartBus standards, which provide direct, high frequency “tram like”​ services. SmartBuses run at least every 15 minutes through the day on weekdays, and more frequently​ during the peaks. They also provide quite direct routes with no meandering through the back​ streets. That’s why they’re popular.​ ​

The parts of the SmartBus network which serve major activity centres, and Doncaster Area Rapid Transit ​ (DART) SmartBuses, prove that good bus services can attract high patronage. In recent times DART routes ​ have suffered severe peak period overcrowding. Some orbital SmartBus services in the Box Hill and ​ Chadstone areas also have overcrowding problems. If good services are provided, people will use them.​ ​

Many other bus services run every hour or less, and take roundabout routes. That’s why people ​ don’t use them. It’s not about rubber wheels or diesel engines – it’s about frequency and directness.​ ​

Comparing SmartBus experience on weekends versus weekdays is also instructive. On​ weekdays, when SmartBuses run every 15 minutes, patronage is far better than on weekends when they only​ run every 30 minutes. In the DART case, this frequency issue is exacerbated by the fact that Ringwood ​ line trains run every 10 minutes on weekends. It appears that quite a few people who would catch a ​ SmartBus on weekdays, drive to a train station on weekends. Weekend SmartBuses must be upgraded to at least every 15 minutes. Again, it’s not about rubber wheels or ​diesel engines. It’s about frequency.​

Another important problem is most people’s lack of understanding of bus routes and frequencies. Most​ people have some level of familiarity with Melbourne’s train and tram routes, and once you find​ a train station or tram stop, you can generally expect a train or tram to show up within 20 minutes (during​ the day at least). By comparison, most bus stops are a lottery. Even with a bus tracker app in hand, just​ showing up at a bus stop is brave. Research in advance is mandatory!​ ​

SmartBus routes are again an example of how this can be much better done. SmartBus stops​ typically have maps of the SmartBus routes, and people know these routes have reasonably​ frequent services. Similar maps of direct, higher frequency bus routes across Melbourne more generally​ are needed. Bus routes should be colour coded for frequency, so people can see what combination​ of routes is likely to be “interchange friendly”. These maps should be provided at bus stops as​ well as online.​

SmartBus electronic signage should be enhanced to indicate when there are alternative bus routes between major hubs on SmartBus routes. This will help in some situations where passengers are being left behind because buses are full, but other buses have empty seats which could have been used, e.g. between Chadstone and Oakleigh Station. ​

Interchange is another area where Melbourne’s bus system desperately needs improvement. Even​ where high frequency routes cross, e.g. where DART routes cross orbital SmartBuses, often no​ effort has been made to put bus stops on intersecting routes close together, no signage to​ other bus stops is provided, and no services are provided at interchange points. Even​ a convenience store which sells coffee, newspapers and Myki topups, and has a big map of the ​ SmartBus network on display, would be a big improvement.​

Other road infrastructure enhancements which can significantly speed up buses, are dedicated bus lanes, jump start lanes at traffic lights, and traffic light priority for such lanes. ​

New train and tram lines are great when the political will and funding can be found, but realistically such​ new lines will be built only rarely. For the two thirds of Melbourne which doesn’t have train or tram​ services, high quality bus services are the only option. We can’t afford to let politicians dodge this​ necessity by claiming that people don’t want buses.

PTUA congratulates King on new portfolio, calls for state-federal cooperation on infrastructure

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has congratulated Catherine King on her re-election as the member for Ballarat, and on being appointed Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever said that this portfolio was crucial to the future of Ballarat and western Victoria. “One of the keys to developing both rural towns and regional centres is strong transport links – both to Melbourne and to each other. We need to have all levels of government working together to improve these links, so that regional Victorians can access jobs, education, healthcare and culture, as well as visit friends and family.”

In the medium term, the PTUA is calling for a number of transport infrastructure projects for western Victoria, including:

  • electrification and quadruplication of the Melton line
  • full duplication of the Ballarat line
  • the return of passenger trains to Horsham, Hamilton and Mildura
  • the return of direct passenger trains between Ballarat and Geelong

Mr Lever emphasised the need for the state and federal governments to work together on the key transport infrastructure projects that the western region needs. “It’s been great to see the state government taking the lead on improving the Ballarat line corridor. But there is a long backlog of work that needs to be done, and it will be important for the federal government to contribute funding to these kinds of vital infrastructure projects. We hope that Ms King can be a strong advocate for the Ballarat region to not only get our fair share of tax dollars, but to ensure the right projects get built. Commonwealth funding should not just go to road projects – a much greater portion should go to rail projects than we’ve seen in recent years.”

Mr Lever also welcomed the returned Coalition government’s commitment of $2b towards faster rail in the Melbourne-Geelong corridor, saying that the fortunes of the Ballarat and Geelong lines were linked. “The highest priority for speeding up trains to Geelong – and for addressing the serious problems with overcrowding and reliability – is the city to Wyndham Vale section. Giving Wyndham Vale a proper Metro service, and giving the Geelong line dedicated express tracks through suburban Melbourne, will be crucial to improving these things – and the Ballarat line shares a corridor with the Geelong line from the city to Deer Park. Any project that affects this corridor will affect both lines.”

“Statements from the Coalition before the federal election indicate that they see their $2b contribution going towards untangling this suburban section. [1] While the state government’s Western Rail Plan is designed to determine the best way forward for this corridor, we hope that whichever model they ultimately decide on, the federal funding can go towards building it – and delivering benefits to both the Ballarat and Geelong lines, sooner rather than later.”


[1] Geelong Advertiser 8/5/2019: Coalition calls on State Labor to match $2b commitment for fast train link between Geelong and Melbourne

Transport blitz welcome, but serious value-for-money questions linger

The Public Transport Users Association has commended the Andrews State Government for its renewed commitment to suburban and regional public transport with new projects including the Western Rail Plan, Cranbourne train line duplication, Hurstbridge and Sunbury line improvements, new trams, and a solid start on the Airport Rail Link in cooperation with the re-elected Morrison Federal Government.

“On public transport the government is delivering as they promised and as we expected,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “There’s new funding for some of those more prosaic service initiatives and network improvements, particularly on the rail network, that make a big difference for getting around Melbourne and Victoria.”

At the same time, the PTUA was disappointed the government did not take the opportunity to reassess its major infrastructure strategy before committing to the $16 billion North East Link. “This one road project by itself outweighs all the government’s new commitments on public and active transport put together,” Dr Morton said. “Overall, even if you count level crossing removal as exclusively a public transport project, new road spending in this budget exceeds new public and active transport spending by over 40 per cent. If you acknowledge that level crossings are 50/50 for motorists and public transport users, spending for roads and cars is more than double the rest.”

“Quite apart from the real damage the North East Link will do – and you can’t greenwash that with false claims about congestion relief or what a wonderful busway there’ll be – this deprives the government of opportunities to invest in big infrastructure that’s going to help the millions of people living in Melbourne in the future. Projects like Melbourne Metro 2 from Newport to Clifton Hill appear not to be even on the radar.”

The PTUA was also disappointed at the lack of funds for improved bus services. “In the 5-year forward estimates there’s $8 million in new money for bus services, but $150 million for car parking at railway stations. This is despite the fact that more Melbourne commuters report getting to the station by bus or tram than by car. It’s little wonder we have traffic problems in our district centres: we spend up to $40,000 per parking space to get one extra person onto a train while neglecting the bus services that can bring dozens at a time, all day, without adding to traffic.”

Dr Morton noted that Metro train patronage is on the rise, and welcomed additional funding for services. “Public transport has to keep up with demand. It is critical that additional services are provided – in peak where possible, but also right across the day – to cut waiting times and to help prevent overcrowding spiralling out of control as our population grows.”

“The bottom line is this budget contains welcome news yet is designed to reinforce the status quo, like all the ‘balanced transport’ exercises of the past. It still pushes Melbourne toward greater dependence on cars and promises a more traffic-congested future.”


Expenditure on new initiatives in 2019/20 budget (level crossing funds counted 100% against ‘public transport’)

millions of dollarsCapitalOperatingTotal
Roads/cars16620.0579.817199.8
Public transport11571.0601.512172.5
Active transport42.323.465.7

Expenditure on new initiatives in 2019/20 budget (level crossing funds counted 50/50 against ‘public transport’ and ‘roads/cars’)

millions of dollarsCapitalOperatingTotal
Roads/cars19895.0579.820474.8
Public transport8296.0601.58897.5
Active transport42.323.465.7

Value for money must inform State budget reset, says PTUA

The Andrews Government should be putting gigantic new transport projects on hold while it properly assesses their value and takes stock of the state’s fiscal capacity, according to the Public Transport Users Association.

In the wake of the weekend’s Federal election result there is ample scope for Victoria and Canberra to work together on what all can agree are valuable initiatives, such as Airport and Geelong rail, while continuing to pluck the low-hanging fruit of everyday service improvements, the PTUA says.

But the result is a “reality check” for promises of vast sums on other projects whose merit hasn’t been adequately demonstrated.

“Last week the government could be forgiven for thinking it had its hands on the Holy Grail – a Commonwealth-State unity ticket on massive infrastructure for Victoria,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “But now that sugar rush of cash for huge projects is no longer on the table. So the Premier, Treasurer and Ministers need to refocus on what they can do with their own resources, as well as their substantial points of agreement with the Federal Coalition.”

The Morrison Federal Coalition Government and Andrews State Labor Government have bipartisan agreement on a train line to Melbourne Airport, a project Dr Morton described as “obvious and well overdue”. There is also agreement on improving train service to Geelong, although the Coalition prefers to see this as a ‘high speed rail’ project while Labor prefers to focus on improvements to reliability and capacity. “We’ve called on both parties to focus on what passengers are asking for, and for a long time that’s been not so much how fast the train is but how often it runs and whether you can get a seat. We’re hopeful the parties will find common ground soon enough.”

But Dr Morton said it was clear the state would rely on its own resources for any project beyond that, and those resources are becoming ever more constrained. “Real estate isn’t guaranteeing that stamp duty bonanza for big infrastructure spending any more,” he said. “This is not just about transport but also essential funding for schools and hospitals and police. The government would be well advised to put further big projects on hold for now, and concentrate on building a proper triple-bottom-line case for future capital works.”

Projects the government is advised to ‘go slow’ on include the $16 billion North East Link and the $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop. This would provide a pause to reassess other projects with the potential for greater benefit, such as the Melbourne Metro 2 rail tunnel from Newport to Clifton Hill, and a more thorough rollout of high-capacity signalling and rail freight initiatives.

“If we don’t shift our emphasis from big roads to a bigger better rail network, Melbourne itself will be irreparably damaged and will have to keep spending hand-over-fist to further entrench LA-style three-hour commutes,” Dr Morton said. “And when it comes to rail there’s more work to do yet to build up the west side to match the east. The western suburbs are now one of our biggest growth areas yet still a public transport desert.”

Meanwhile, much more attention was needed on local suburban buses, walking and cycling, Dr Morton said. “Half of all journeys in Melbourne are over short distances across one or two suburbs. In the inner city it’s easy to jump on a tram, but nowhere in Melbourne do buses provide anywhere near that quality of service, the way they do in lots of European and Canadian cities. In fact our buses have deteriorated in recent years, becoming slower and less reliable. Meanwhile, provision for on-road cycling is a joke.”

“We’d welcome a new effort at providing local buses that are fit-for-purpose and giving them more priority amid the single-occupant car traffic. And alongside that, funding for better footpaths and for separated bike lanes. These needs are too often lost amid the talk of big shiny things.”

Dr Morton kept the last word for a small band of Coalition MPs and their ‘desperate spruiking’ for the East West Link tollway. “Honestly, every time the Coalition has tried to sell that destructive boondoggle to the electorate they’ve had a swing against them – most recently on Saturday while the rest of the country had swings toward the Coalition,” he said.

“If the Coalition wants a big transport project they can own, why not promise that $4 billion for Doncaster Rail? After all, that was the headline project the last time the Coalition won an election in Victoria. We can even help them make sure it stacks up with benefits worth a lot more than 45 cents in the dollar. Sometimes you can actually give the people what they want without wasting money.”