Category Archives: Letters to the editor

NE Link: Waste of money

When Infrastructure Victoria called the North East Link a “priority road project”, it was because its consultants gave the road a highly favourable initial assessment. The report last year by KPMG, Arup and Jacobs estimated the project (including the Eastern Freeway and M80 widening) would cost between $4.8 and $7.1 billion. The benefits were stated as $10.1 billion, or $15.3 billion including so-called “wider economic benefits”.

Experts familiar with the modelling that supports these estimated benefits have called it into question. Benefits are based largely on time savings, which real world road projects don’t provide because of the new traffic they generate. “Agglomeration benefits” are also largely illusory because on Earth, dense urban centres and private car travel don’t mix well.

But none of that matters now that Premier Andrews has announced the budget cost as $16.5 billion. Even taking the estimated benefits at face value, the conventional benefit-cost ratio is now 0.6. Not even the mooted “wider benefits” get the ratio up to 1, meaning we’re looking at another colossal waste of Victorians’ money.

I’m sure Infrastructure Victoria would readily acknowledge that when assumptions change, so do the conclusions.

Tony Morton, president, Public Transport Users Association

published in The Age, 27/11/2017

Remember Doncaster

The Grattan Institute’s revelation that north-east Melbourne has the worst traffic comes as no surprise (The Age, 3/7). It should also remind planners that the idea for trains to Doncaster Hill springs from a genuine need long recognised by the community.

Of all regions, Melbourne’s north-east suffers from the greatest historical imbalance between provision for private cars and public transport. Elsewhere in Melbourne, from the inner city to the fringe, every municipality has at least one train line traversing it. The City of Manningham is the outlier, despite a population equivalent to Ballarat’s and a history of urban development going back more than half a century.

The lack of fast, efficient mass transit linking Manningham to inner Melbourne is often excused by suggesting this suburban population has no particular need to travel to the city. The daily clog on the freeway should give the lie to this.

— Tony Morton, President, PTUA – in The Age 4/7/2017

Advice not so neutral

Infrastructure Australia began life as a disinterested adviser. Its board comprised independent experts, economists and planners alongside industry representatives and public-sector managers. But it has subtly morphed into a forum for big business interests to lobby governments from “inside the tent”. Lobbyists and privatisation advocates now dominate the board.

Its latest report tries to breathe new life into privatisation (“Bus sale a ticket to $1 billion in savings“, 26/5). Yet Victoria’s train/tram privatisation hasn’t saved taxpayers one cent. A former minister, the late Lynne Kosky, admitted as much 10 years ago. We do save money relative to Sydney by not having train guards, a decision that predates privatisation. And the report concedes improvements in train performance resulted primarily from more taxpayer investment.

Last month The Age reported on Transdev’s performance (“One in five Transdev buses late“, 25/4), the one part of Melbourne’s private bus network that operates on IA’s preferred model. Figures obtained under FoI reveal falling patronage and poor performance. Passengers also come to us citing drops in reliability and cleanliness.

— Tony Morton, president, Public Transport Users Association in The Age 29/5/2017

Deja vu on road plan

The budget appears set to transfer $1.5 billion of public funds from one big road with no political mandate or business case to another (“East West Link replacement likely …”, 11/5).

If the government had any consideration for the Victorian public, this money would revert to its original 2013 purpose, helping fund the project that actually delivers the equivalent of three West Gate Bridge alternatives for the cost of one motorway. That, of course, is the Metro rail tunnel, which voters preferred hands down in every survey that gave that and the East West Link as alternatives.

Public transport expansion helps motorists and trucking operators as much as train and bus passengers. The more we give people an alternative to driving, the more precious space we make for essential car and truck travel.

Tony Morton, Public Transport Users Association — published in The Age 12/5/2015

Road-building feeds the congestion monster

Liveable for how long?

Not only is the federal government to give $1 billion towards building the western half of the East West Link without a shred of a business case (unless we count the Eddington Report’s 45¢ return in the dollar), Victorians are to be slugged with an extra year of tolls so that Transurban can add more lanes to the Tullamarine Freeway.

And it is all designed to funnel more drivers into Melbourne, choke the inner city with traffic and undermine the natural advantage of, and community preference for, public transport.

Have we given up on the whole idea of a liveable city? Road-building merely feeds the congestion monster. Furthermore, expenditure on big roads in Melbourne dwarfs all proposed public transport initiatives by an order of magnitude, and comes at the expense of schools, hospitals and regional development.

Tony Morton, Public Transport Users Association

Published in The Age, 4/5/2014

PM’s nonsensical logic

Traffic from the Eastern Freeway queues to turn into Hoddle Street and head towards the CityDoes Tony Abbott really think Victorians will accept that black is white? That the best way to fund public transport expansion is to not fund it? More specifically, to pull all federal funding out of urban public transport on spurious ideological grounds and pour money into competing road projects instead (“Tony Abbott backs East West Link to make rail ‘easier’“,, 14/3)?

Because the bulk of public revenue goes to the Commonwealth, major road/rail projects have always required a mix of state and federal funding. If the Commonwealth withholds funding, that usually spells death for a desperately needed state project.

The East West Link panel is hearing evidence that the road will not have a sustained improvement on traffic congestion but will add to traffic levels in the suburbs. Victorians fed up with congestion should demand the Premier cancel the project, thus freeing up the money for desperately needed public transport.

Tony Morton, Public Transport Users Association
Published in The Age, 15/3/2014

Follow the lead of world’s liveable cities

Finally, we have confirmation from Infrastructure Australia co-ordinator Michael Deegan of what the community had suspected. The Napthine government has assessed the benefit-cost ratio for its east-west link as just 80¢ in the dollar (The Age, 13/2), in the absence of fanciful “agglomeration benefits”.

The wider benefits claimed are the kind that you get by expanding public transport, walking and cycling. These all promote concentrated economic activity and jobs in liveable cities such as Vienna, Barcelona or Vancouver. Expanding dependence on motor cars, as in Detroit, does not. Is our government suggesting that cutting a motorway through inner-Melbourne will shift car trips to public transport?
Continue reading Follow the lead of world’s liveable cities

This government was elected because it promised more

Why change parties?

The Premier is desperate to redeem his government’s record on public transport. So desperate that he starts by citing the Regional Rail Link, an initiative of his Labor predecessors. It was a sad disappointment that the Coalition’s only original contribution to this project was an ineffectual review, which upped the budget but failed to remedy genuine flaws such as the lack of RRL platforms at North Melbourne station.

Victorians need not have changed their government in 2010 if the gains were going to be limited to incremental improvements such as new rolling stock and a handful of grade separations.
Continue reading This government was elected because it promised more

Premier not listening

CityLink was supposed to have solved congestion a decade ago. Before that, the extension of the Eastern Freeway to Donvale was supposed to reduce congestion in the eastern suburbs. We’ve had long enough to pronounce a verdict on the evidence. That new roads increase congestion, rather than relieving it, is contrary to naive intuition but has been the consensus of evidence-based transport planners for decades. Unfortunately our Premier is not listening.

TONY MORTON, president, Public Transport Users Association

Letter published in The Age, 30/9/2013

Mandate for Doncaster rail – not the EW motorway

Build it means kill it

Train to East Doncaster

When the state Coalition promised in 2010 of Doncaster rail that “we’ll study it, then plan it and build it”, it was not clear to the listener that what the Coalition really meant was “we will kill it off forever”. All the more reason why this $8 billion road plan out of nowhere needs to be put to the people at the next election.

Tony Morton, Public Transport Users Association

published in The Age, 7/9/2013