Category Archives: Election 2014

Side Letter sign of road lobby’s anti-democratic desperation

The unprecedented letter of guarantee on the East West Link is part of an ugly, anti-democratic “end game” by the road lobby in the face of public rejection, the Public Transport Users Association said today.

Former Treasurer Michael O’Brien signed the deed on 29 September last year, eight weeks before losing the November state election, but only released it to the public on 5 February.

Cars turning into Hoddle Street

“It amazes us that Mr O’Brien positively trumpets the fact he personally, as keeper of the public purse and with the blessing of the Victorian Treasury, signed up taxpayers to guarantee a stream of unearned profits to a private consortium on a loss-making project,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “Clearly he only felt pressured to do so because Labor had promised to cancel the project and were in a position to win the election.”

“To stand on the brink of defeat and push this on the Victorian public, with no mandate, no enabling legislation, a shoddy business case and in contempt of the government’s 2010 promises to prioritise public transport, is deviousness of the first order,” Dr Morton said. “For Professor Coghill at Monash University to call it ‘highly irregular and very suspicious’ puts it mildly.”

“This is not 1950s America or 1980s Britain. Governments don’t win elections with big roads any more. The public has seen through the road lobby’s fairy tales – we know you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and suddenly get a different result. But now the road lobby can’t get its way by winning votes, it’s now trying to pressure governments to abandon democracy.”

“Reality check please. It is the will of the Victorian people that this project not proceed,” Dr Morton said. “Victorians have seen the business case, despite the previous government trying to cover up the fact the costs hugely outweigh the benefits. We’ve seen the Comprehensive Impact Statement that found the road wouldn’t reduce traffic in Alexandra Parade but would instead increase traffic on every road feeding the Eastern Freeway. And a decade of polling makes clear that when the choice is put to them, a clear majority of Victorians want funding priority for public transport ahead of motorways.”

“Mr O’Brien and the Napthine Government knew this project was a cruel joke on the travelling public before they signed the contracts. But they wanted to keep the public from knowing this for sure until it was too late. Keeping the business case and contracts secret was all about keeping their Big Lie alive until after the election. They wanted us to believe the East West Link would free up traffic on every single road in Victoria, cost the taxpayer 50 cents to build and give every unemployed Victorian a job for life.”

“In fact – as the business case confirms – the only thing worse for Victoria than paying extortionate so-called compensation would have been to allow the East West Link to proceed,” said Dr Morton. “This would have involved the state paying the consortium hundreds of millions of dollars every year, strangling the transport budget for another quarter century – long after any benefits of the road have evaporated.”

“The Andrews Government is in a tough negotiation, and for the sake of Victoria we hope it’s getting the best advice available,” Dr Morton said. “If the consortium were to insist on the terms of this grubby side letter they’d be guilty of unconscionable behaviour. It shouldn’t have to come to the point where the government has to pass legislation to limit the compensation to a reasonable sum based on costs legitimately incurred. But we should also remember that governments of all stripes have had resort to similar measures in the past.”

Open Letter to Tony Abbott: Your referendum is lost. Please put the $3 billion back

Your Referendum Is Lost. Now Please Put the $3 Billion Back Where It Came From.

An Open Letter to the Hon Tony Abbott MP, Prime Minister of Australia

1st December 2014

Dear Mr Abbott,

On 8 November when you visited Victoria, you declared our State election a referendum on the East West Link.

This was a statement of political reality. The East West Link was the most obvious point of difference between the two major parties contesting this election and, as you rightly stated, Victorians were aware they had a clear choice.

The Victorian public has now rendered its verdict. By a decisive majority they have elected the party that promised to cancel the East West Link contracts and not to proceed with any part of the East West Link project.

The result recognises that the East West Link will in time only add to traffic congestion. It recognises that by draining the State of funds for other transport improvements it will lead to time wasted rather than time saved. It recognises that other more worthwhile projects will create more jobs and prosperity for Victorians.

It is now incumbent on you, Mr Abbott, to honour the referendum result and return the $3 billion of Commonwealth Government funding to its original purpose.

In May 2013 the Commonwealth Government committed these funds for urgent rail capacity projects in Melbourne. Your government withdrew this commitment in order to reallocate the funds to the East West Link project, despite the Link having a conventional benefit-cost ratio of at most 80 cents in the dollar, and despite Infrastructure Australia stating the project required further assessment.

The $3 billion of Commonwealth Government funding must now be returned to support better public transport in Victoria, honouring Infrastructure Australia’s recommendation in 2011 when it said the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel was ‘Ready to Proceed’.

Mr Abbott, that $3 billion does not belong to you. It belongs to the people of Australia, who when asked directly at any time in the past decade, state by a clear majority that they want funding priority for public transport over new roads.

Your defunding of urban public transport, including many well-advanced projects across the country, in favour of a discredited 1960s road-building agenda is harming the health and prosperity of Australia’s cities. It is making Australia a laughing stock in the eyes of the world and damaging your government’s standing domestically.

The result of your ‘East West Link referendum’ provides you with an opportunity for honourable change.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Morton
President, Public Transport Users Association

Congratulations Daniel Andrews on winning the transport referndum

Victorians have spoken on need for public transport over roads

The Public Transport Users Association has congratulated the ALP and Premier-elect Daniel Andrews on their historic election victory, but has reminded the new government that Victorian electors will hold them to their promise to cancel the East West Link project.

“We’re very hopeful that this result in Victoria is where Australian politics starts to redeem itself,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “No more backflips, no more lies, no more wishy-washy spin doctoring by politicians who don’t do what they say.”

“One clear message from this election result is that Victorians want public transport, and they neither want nor care for the East West Link tollroad,” Dr Morton said. “The new Andrews Government has a mandate to ensure the East West Link is dead and buried. There are countless reasons to do so. Not only would it fail to deal with Melbourne’s traffic problems; not only would it unleash a wave of destruction and pollution over inner Melbourne; even worse, it is a fiscal vacuum cleaner that would strangle future initiatives on health, eduction and transport across Victoria for the next quarter century.”

Crowded train

“We are therefore particularly cheered at Mr Andrews’ actions today in restating his commitment to stop the road and seeking advice on the release of East West Link contracts and business case documents.”

“Every government that has gone to an election with any version of this reckless and destructive project has lost that election,” said Dr Morton. “Jeff Kennett floated the project and lost in 1999. John Brumby’s transport plan backed Westlink as the first stage of Rod Eddington’s east-west road, and lost the election in 2010. Now this year, Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself called the election a referendum on the East West Link – and for the third time it has been lost.”

“Victorians have made it clear they would rather change the government than allow this dog of a project to proceed. Even to the extent of dumping a government after a single term, when it promises to prioritise public transport investment but then turns around and wants to build a big road instead. This should make it clear that in the 21st century, no government should count on winning votes on the back of big road projects.”

Dr Morton urged the new government to consolidate its victory with a programme of public transport infrastructure and service investment. “First of all, Mr Andrews must demand that the Commonwealth put its $3 billion of funding back where it was originally, which was to support the Metro Rail Capacity Project,” he said. “The rail tunnel from Footscray to South Yarra via Parkville provides the equivalent of three West Gate Bridges of passenger capacity, and will help free up the West Gate itself for freight transport. Meanwhile, an upgrade to high-capacity signalling can boost the capacity on all our other rail lines by 50 per cent or more.”

“But regardless of the fate of Federal funding, the fact we won’t be flinging the road lobby some $500 million every year for the next 25 years means there’s plenty of room for ongoing investment in ‘first class public transport’ in the suburbs and in country Victoria,” said Dr Morton. “We’ll be able to afford to extend suburban rail, to fill the gaps in our tram network, to create a fast and effective bus network across our suburbs and regional cities, and to run more services every 10 minutes.”

Dr Morton said an Andrews Government needed a vision for 21st century transport and city life to rival the world’s other most liveable cities such as Vancouver, Copenhagen or Vienna. “Grade separation of level crossings is an important step to help people get around, but it’s not nearly enough by itself,” he said. “The world’s great cities didn’t get where they are by building roads, but by supporting sensitive urban development with excellent public transport, walking and cycling networks. These are planned and managed by strong yet nimble public agencies with the right people and the right budget.”

Tony Abbott’s “Open letter” is electoral blackmail based on false claims

Tony Abbott is trying to bully Victorians to vote for a dubious road project and against public transport, making claims the PTUA believes to be false. His open letter does not stand scrutiny.

  • The $3 billion Tony Abbott insists is only for the East West Link was previously allocated to the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel. Both the Eddington Report and Infrastructure Australia found the rail project to be of more benefit to the Victorian economy. It is equivalent to three alternative West Gate Bridges in passenger capacity, and would still be funded but for the Abbott Government’s petulant and ideological decision to scrap it in favour of a road with a net economic loss to Victoria.
  • The claim there will be 7,000 jobs is completely unproven, because the business case remains a secret. In any case, making the same expenditure on almost any other project would likely generate more jobs because road building is more capital-intensive and less labour-intensive than other works including public transport.
  • The claim that 100,000 cars a day will use the road is hotly disputed by traffic experts. Even if traffic numbers of this scale result, the vast majority will be newly generated traffic that will clog up Melbourne’s arterial roads. We need to invest now to ensure new travel can be accommodated on public transport instead of making traffic congestion worse.
  • The proposed tolling arrangements remain secret, like all other details of the contracts, making it impossible to independently examine the traffic figures or financial implications.
  • The Stage 1 project, the only stage for which any contract has been signed and which Labor promises to cancel, does not even service regional centres that are mentioned by Mr Abbott. There will be no time saved from Geelong, Werribee, Altona, Ballarat, Melton or Caroline Springs.
  • The East West Link Stage 1 does not even connect to the city, and neither would Stage 2. The East West Link was never intended to be a city access road. This is why no stage of the project has never been able to generate time-saving benefits to match the cost of construction, because we have known for over a decade that the volume of long-distance east-west travel is negligible by comparison with city-bound and local travel. [1]

Denis Napthine and Tony Abbott signed an agreement [2] at COAG just six weeks ago which provides that when a project is cancelled, the funds can be reallocated within the State to other projects. The next Victorian Government can ensure Victorians will not miss out by reallocating its own portion of the funds. Meanwhile it must demand the Federal Government cease its ideological opposition to public transport and return the funds originally allocated to public transport.

The real truth here is that if the Napthine Government is re-elected, Victorians can kiss goodbye to $17.8 billion worth of public transport, country roads, health and education investment in the next quarter century.

[1] A PTUA analysis of Census data shows that East-West travel is less than 6 per cent of journeys to work.

[2] COAG National Partnership Agreement on Land Transport Infrastructure Projects, 10 October 2014.

PTUA delivers transport verdict

The Public Transport Users Association has delivered its verdict on party policies going into the state election.

While the PTUA recommended the Coalition over Labor in the 2010 election, PTUA President Tony Morton said they could not do so this time, because the unwanted, unmandated East West Link was a spectre hanging over the Coalition’s policies and budget.

“No matter how much the government denies it, the East West Link will be a drag on transport budgets for the next quarter century. Stage one alone will cost well over fifteen billion dollars in up-front costs and availability payments. And it will entrench car dependence in Melbourne, most likely reversing the recent reductions in driving per capita.[1]

“East West Link is a betrayal of the Victorian people, who elected the Coalition in 2010 on the back of fixing public transport, not building more roads.”

Election 2014 scorecard

The PTUA rated the Coalition a D. “They have some good rail policies, but given the near-dumping of Rowville and Doncaster Rail, and years of delay on Southland station, we remain skeptical that those policies will be delivered.

“And the Coalition’s rail tunnel plan is flawed. Apparently designed on the back of an envelope, it makes no sense to connect a line from the south-east to a line from the east, and in the process miss the busy Parkville precinct.”

Labor scored a B, for solid policies around level crossing removal, a trial of 24-hour services on weekends, and its declared position that the East West Link will not go ahead under any circumstances.

“Grade separations will improve travel for motorists, public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

“Of the two major parties, Labor scored better on public transport.

“To address Melbourne’s congestion issues it is vital that public transport is improved through operational reform and increased funding. But they will need to make sure East West Link is scrapped”, said Dr Morton.

The Greens scored an A, for a good range of public transport upgrade policies, including relatively affordable tram extensions that will fill network gaps, and upgraded signalling for more trains, and a firm commitment to stop the East West Link.

Dr Morton said that public transport had swung the 2010 election, and it looked like doing the same this time.

“The people spoke in 2010: they want better public transport, not more big roads. Surveys indicate that’s still what Victorians want[2] – but are the politicians listening?”

* * *

[1] Vehicle kilometres per capita. BITRE report 127, figure 2.13 (page 18)

[2] Recent polls include:

  • Herald Sun 18/8/2014: 62% said Labor’s plan to remove 50 level crossings is more important than Coalition’s East West Link (28%)
  • Herald Sun 3/3/2014: Which project should have priority? 34% said Airport rail, 30% said 50 Level crossing removals, 15% East West Link, 15% Metro rail tunnel.
  • The Age 2/3/2014: Which project should have priority? 42% said Metro rail tunnel, 27% said 50 Level crossing removals, 24% said East West Link
  • The Age 28/11/2013: 74% said improving public transport was more important than East West Link (23%)

* * *

Full scorecard details, and updates as the parties announce their policies:

Melbourne’s Sunday trains now start last

A survey of rail timetables by the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has found that Melbourne trains start later on Sundays than any other city in Australia.

PTUA spokesperson Daniel Bowen said the comparison of timetables from Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne showed we are lagging behind.

“Last time we looked at this[1], Adelaide’s trains started later than ours. Thanks to service upgrades, they now beat us.

“In fact our trains now arrive later than they did in 2011. We’re going backwards.” [2]

The median time of first trains reaching the CBD on Sundays are Sydney 5:21am, followed by Brisbane 6:39, Perth 7:44, Adelaide 7:49 and Melbourne’s 7:57am.

By comparison, Melbourne’s first trains on weekdays and Saturdays arrive in the CBD by 5:30am.

“This causes real problems. Workers with early shifts in the city find they can’t get there by public transport, and have to drive or pay for a taxi.

“Thousands of people racing in fun runs are continually told that they can’t use public transport to get there in time – even when they start in or near the centre of Melbourne.[3]

“Even those trying to make train and plane connections have problems. If you want to catch V/Line’s Sunday morning train to Albury at 7:05am, you can’t actually get to Southern Cross by train – you’d be almost an hour late.”[4]

Labor has pledged all-night trains on weekends, which would mean earlier trains on Sundays, though it’s believed these would only run hourly.

In contrast the Coalition appear to have no plans at all to start Sunday trains earlier in the day.

Mr Bowen said that starting Melbourne’s trains at least 90 minutes earlier on Sundays and running them more frequently would not break the bank, and would make public transport an option for more Sunday morning trips.

“It’s time both sides of politics committed to bringing Melbourne’s trains into the 21st century, with timetables that meet the needs of the world’s most liveable city”, concluded Mr Bowen.

* * *

[1] 2011 comparison: Melbourne’s Sunday trains arrive late

[2] The median time for Melbourne trains’ first CBD arrival in 2011 was 7:56. This has slipped back to 7:57am due to timetable adjustments.

[3] Recent and coming major fun run events have included the Melbourne Marathon (from 7am, Sunday 12/10/2014), the Spring Into Shape series (from 8:10am on Sundays 21/9/2014, 26/10/2014 and 23/11/2014), the City2Sea (from 8am, Sunday 16/11/2014), and the Sussan Women’s Fun Run (from 7:30am, Sunday 7/12/2014).

[4] V/Line timetables

See also: The Age 23/11/2014: Melbourne’s trains start later on Sunday than any other Australian city

East-West travel less than 6% of journeys to work – PTUA study

Fewer than 1 in 17 Melburnians travels between the eastern and western suburbs to go to work.

But 45% work close to home and another 20% in the inner city, according to PTUA analysis of journey to work data from the 2011 Census.

It has been known since at least the 1990s, largely based on work by the late Paul Mees, that around half of all travel in Melbourne is over short distances, and a majority of the rest is to or towards the CBD.

The latest data confirms all the earlier findings about how important local and radial travel are in Melbourne, and how little there is of the kind of long distance cross city travel that the Napthine Government says we need an East West Link for.

Our study, which tallied up journeys to work in Melbourne according to their origins and destinations, found that:

  • 45 % of Melburnians work close to home, crossing at most one or two suburbs to go to work.
  • A further 20% work in the CBD or in adjoining areas like Carlton, Richmond or South Yarra.
  • Where travel to work is over a long distance, well over half is aligned with Melbourne’s radial rail corridors. Less than a quarter (24%) of journeys to work cut across multiple rail corridors.
  • In particular, less than 6% are from the eastern to the western suburbs or vice versa – the kind of travel that the $18 billion East West Link is supposed to cater for.

The study considered journeys to work, because there is loads of reliable, recent data about this kind of travel, and because going to work is still by far the biggest reason people travel long distances within cities. Congestion is at its worst in peak hour, and getting to and from work is the primary cause.

The findings are particularly relevant when one considers journeys to work that use the Eastern Freeway or Alexandra Parade. For every one traveller going east-west, there are nearly 4 going to the city centre. But these are all vastly outnumbered by people on short hops of just a kilometre or two, for whom an East West Link is irrelevant but who still make up most of that arterial road congestion.

Trucks and vans are part of the mix too, but congestion is a car problem, not a truck and van problem. Freight makes up less than 10% of travel on the Eastern Freeway, and 13% on the West Gate Bridge [1]. Most of this moves in off-peak periods.

Our study also looked at different regions of Melbourne to identify where the various kinds of travel are more or less prevalent. The pattern is nothing like that claimed by motorway proponents like the Linking Melbourne Authority.

South and east of the Yarra, for example, eastwest cross-city travel is only 4% of journeys to work, and it shrinks even more the further one goes from the city. In Knox, it’s less than 2 per cent!

Where does the most east-west travel occur? A lot of it occurs between origins and destinations north of Bell Street, where it’s about 12% of trips. A lot more of this kind of travel occurs now because of the Ring Road. But people will not drive from Reservoir all the way down to Collingwood just so they can use the East West Link to go to Broadmeadows.

The other major source of eastwest travel is people who live in Melbourne’s west or south-west and work in the eastern suburbs.

For example, someone may live in Caroline Springs or Point Cook and work in Hawthorn. They would actually be well served by a train into the city and a quick change at Flinders Street – if only we fixed up the trains and feeder buses in the western suburbs.

But this is clearly not a government priority: Premier Napthine would rather use the available money to condemn them to sit in traffic for the rest of their life instead.

Richmond station

The study results sit well with the earlier findings of the 2003 Northern Central City Corridor Study, that only 15% of Eastern Freeway traffic is headed due west.

It is also consistent with Vicroads data showing a slight decline between 2002 and 2012 in traffic on major east-west arterial roads such as Victoria Parade, Alexandra Parade and Bell Street. The latter reveals a definite trend toward less car travel in the inner suburbs as people express a preference for public transport.

Similarly, our study shows that travel patterns in Melbourne are actually very well suited to the infrastructure we have. Our main problem is with dilapidated rail infrastructure and inadequate suburban bus services. A single Richmond train meltdown last April, for example, was equivalent to shutting down the West Gate and Bolte bridges simultaneously for a day without warning.

Critical rail infrastructure is simply not that vulnerable in a well-managed city.

The focus of transport provision needs to be on fixing the trains – just like the Coalition promised to do in 2010 – and building “infrastructure of the 21st century” such as the Doncaster line and eventually the Metro tunnel (in its original Eddington incarnation).

In terms of passenger capacity, the latter provides a West Gate Bridge alternative three times over. Public transport could then take its rightful place as the backbone of our city.

See where people travel from your suburb with our web app:

[1] Josh Gordon, “Trucks test structure of West Gate“. The Age, 18 March 2013.

Rise above doubters on Doncaster rail, says PTUA

Study author re-think on Rowville suggests way ahead on Doncaster

The Public Transport Users Association has backed a renewed push on rail service to Doncaster Hill, and called for signalling upgrade works on the Dandenong rail corridor to be expanded to include the South Morang and Hurstbridge lines.

“We’ve all heard the arguments about there being no room on the network to fit trains to Doncaster, or to Rowville for that matter,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “But these arguments are now simply out of date.”

Perth train in freeway

Previous feasibility studies for both Doncaster and Rowville rail had not anticipated capacity-boosting works such as the Cranbourne-Pakenham Rail Corridor Project, Dr Morton said.

“The high-capacity signalling to be rolled out on the Dandenong line had not been part of the scope for those studies,” he said. “But with this work now proceeding, the author of the Rowville study confirms the key capacity constraint will now be lifted.”

On 3 October, Rowville Rail Study author William McDougall told the Knox Leader that signalling upgrades as part of the project meant the Rowville extension could proceed sooner. “If the signalling added sufficient capacity to enable the Rowville trains to be added to the mix, then you could look at building Rowville before the Metro improvements,” Mr McDougall said.

“Logically, Mr McDougall’s words apply equally to Doncaster as to Rowville,” said Dr Morton. “In fact, the Clifton Hill lines are technically a lot simpler, because there are no V/Line or freight trains to worry about, and trains already have their own dedicated path through the City Loop and back out to Clifton Hill without crossing any others.”

The Clifton Hill lines were a ‘textbook case’ of where high-capacity signalling worked well, Dr Morton said. “There are quite a few options available. Even if you just overlaid new train control on the existing signals, you’d have much the same system that allows trains to run every 120 seconds on the RER line in Paris.”

“That would give you ample room to run 6 trains per hour to Doncaster as well as boosting the peak service to 11 trains each per hour on the South Morang and Hurstbridge lines, from 9 currently. And even that wouldn’t exhaust the available capacity.”

Dr Morton blamed a “timid planning mindset” for lack of progress on Doncaster rail. “Unfortunately, you’ve got a management culture here whose core mission for half a century was finding reasons not to do things. Saying that Doncaster rail depends on the Metro tunnel is a good example. The Metro tunnel doesn’t even touch the Clifton Hill tracks and won’t alter the capacity of these lines one iota, but it’s typical of the bureaucratic excuses used in the past against everything from the South Morang extension to running more trains on the Frankston line.”

“This culture can and will change,” said Dr Morton. “But it also means we shouldn’t be afraid to bring in new ideas from outside that culture, and to question advice that prevents us from building the future.”

Cost remained a key question for the Doncaster line that needed further study, Dr Morton said. “Unfortunately it’s been difficult to get reliable cost estimates for a project like this because there’s still so much confusion about the scope and objectives – even down to whether the aim is to serve a major activity centre or a car park.”

“In this situation, you do exactly what the Eastern Freeway builders did 30 years ago – you take it forward in stages,” said Dr Morton. “The first stage is the obvious one, along the purpose-built freeway median as far as Bulleen with interchange to the existing DART buses. Get that up and running while you figure out the route and funding for the second stage to Doncaster.”

The community would go on seeking commitments to Doncaster rail from all parties in November’s election, said Dr Morton. “Labor and the Greens have both committed to the most important step necessary, which is cancelling the East West Link. If the tollroad were to go ahead it could kill off Doncaster rail for ever.”

“The East West Link aside, we know there’s a feasible pathway for Doncaster rail: first the high-capacity signalling upgrade, followed by the low-cost first stage, then on to Doncaster. The question now is, how far will the politicians go with the community on this journey?”

Related media coverage: