Category Archives: Media releases

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.”

Rail cash welcome, but for Melbourne’s sake we need a plan

The $10 billion pledge by Federal Labor toward Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop is a massive vote of confidence in restoring Melbourne’s reputation as a liveable city and responding to the climate emergency, but the size of spending underscores the urgent need for a coherent, community-led transport plan, according to the Public Transport Users Association.

The PTUA was “dumbfounded” at the Coalition’s determination to back the East West Link, a project that had already lost their State colleagues two elections, and that “even transport models originally designed for the express purpose of justifying big new roads” found would only return 50c of economic benefit for every dollar spent. The Coalition could better demonstrate its traditional economic credentials by throwing its weight behind suburban rail and bus projects, the PTUA said.

“Our public transport system needs to be ready to accept millions of additional passengers just in the next decade as the city grows and becomes less car-dependent,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “That demands action at all scales, from big city-shaping infrastructure to reform of local bus networks.”

At the same time it’s vital to ensure a robust economic, social and environmental case for proceeding with major initiatives, Dr Morton said. “Infrastructure investment is both necessary and popular. But because of that, politicians are motivated to assume any amount of spending on capital works is a good thing, and blow vast sums of money on the wrong projects.”

Dr Morton noted the Victorian Government originated the Suburban Rail Loop concept, but also wants to spend $16 billion on the North East Link tollway and a massively expanded Eastern Freeway. “The government’s boosting public transport, yet planning for people not to use it,” he said.

Governments are fatally conflicted, said Dr Morton, because of an over-reliance on ‘modelling’ not only to attempt to quantify benefits, but also to make implicit value-judgements about the kind of transport system a city like Melbourne ought to have.

“Transport models were created in the 1950s for the purpose of justifying freeway projects in US cities,” said Dr Morton. “It’s unlikely a single one ever lived up to what the model claimed, but it’s been rare for anyone to follow up claims versus reality after one is built So while we’ve learned that every big new road project generates new traffic and there are no long-term ‘congestion busting’ benefits, the models still fail to properly account for this.”

“Rather than have infrastructure fed to them by an algorithm, governments should have a plan – one based on an explicit choice. Do we want more people driving or more using public transport? Do we want to be like Los Angeles and Houston, or do we want to be more like Paris and Vienna? Do we accept the permanent and irreversible environmental damage big roads cause, or do we embrace life in a city that takes environmentally friendly alternatives seriously?”

“Currently, our governments still act as though only they, and not us, are entitled to answer that question.”

“Every opinion poll that put the options head-to-head has found a majority of Australians would prefer that public transport improvement have priority over new roads. Our politicians need to listen, stop spending billions on motorways, and start ensuring that every Melburnian has a genuine option of reliable, frequent, fast public transport in their suburb,” concluded Dr Morton.

Public transport users welcome Geelong rail duplication agreement

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the commitment by the federal government to fully fund its share of the planned duplication of the rail line from South Geelong to Waurn Ponds.

PTUA Geelong Branch convener, Paul Westcott, said that the project had been on the agenda ever since the opening of Marshall station in 2004. “It is very gratifying to see that a start can be made on the duplication, with both side of politics now committed to it”, he said.

“Not only will it enable more frequent rail services to be run to the growing southern suburbs of Geelong, it will also pave the way for more trains on the Warrnambool line.”

Mr Westcott singled out the federal member for Corangamite, Sarah Henderson, for credit. “In 2015, after consultation with the PTUA, she became the first politician to advocate for the duplication project, despite the fact that the then Abbott government was opposed to providing federal money to passenger rail.”

“Now here we are, four years later, with an important project which is supported by both sides of politics, federal and state, and is fully funded. It’s a great outcome,” Mr Westcott said.

State concludes its re-centralisation of transport planning: but to what end?

The Public Transport Users Association has responded with caution to Thursday’s announcement that State transport agencies PTV and Vicroads will be merged into a new ‘omnibus’ Department of Transport.

“In some ways this is just the logical conclusion of a process that’s been underway for some time,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “But it’s also highly unusual historically, and while we can see theoretical advantages, it’s a matter for debate whether this is the best model for ensuring the public interest is given top priority.”

Both roads and public transport in Victoria have a long history of being planned and managed by statutory authorities independent of the usual government departmental structure. These have included the Board of Works, the Tramways Board, the Country Roads Board, Vicroads, V/Line, and the Public Transport Corporation (PTC). Only the Victorian Railways, established in the 1850s, existed as a government department for a while before transforming into a statutory commission in 1883 and then being folded into the PTC by the Cain Labor Government in 1983.

With privatisation in the 1990s, the PTC ceased to exist and its residual functions were absorbed into the then Department of Infrastructure. This created an asymmetrical situation in transport planning, since Vicroads continued to exist as a statutory authority separate to the Department.

“The whole structure at the time appeared designed to entrench the road lobby,” Dr Morton said. “On the one hand there was this big powerful authority called Vicroads with its own direct line to the Minister and its own road planning function independent of the rest of the government. On the other, the public transport division was buried deep within the departmental structure and devoted all its effort to managing contracts with private operators rather than doing any real network planning or infrastructure development.

“Both the current and previous governments did a lot of good work to rebalance that structure. PTV was created in 2011 to bring a new focus on public transport network planning and independent expertise, to match what Vicroads once achieved. Meanwhile Vicroads itself has been brought more tightly under the Department’s own strategic planning. With this latest change, we understand there’ll be one strategic planning function with roads and public transport on an equal footing. There’s a lot to be said for that and we support this aspect of the change.

“What we’re more concerned to see is that this move doesn’t lead to a loss of subject-matter expertise in either public transport or road traffic management. Both Vicroads and PTV functioned effectively as incubators of that expertise, and it would be contrary to good governance to see that outsourced to short-term contractors or consultants, or to private operators who could have a conflict of interest.

“Absorbing PTV back into the Department also goes against the idea of the public-facing ‘one stop shop’ through which Victorians can engage with their transport system. This goes to the whole question of how transport management fulfils its responsibility to the public under the Transport Integration Act – we can’t expect the Minister to be the first port of call. Without an independent board or steering group, who speaks for the public interest in this new structure?

“The danger is this move is seen as bringing transport planning under more direct political control, at a time when people are keen to take the politics out of planning decisions.

“Related to that is the question of Infrastructure Victoria and its ongoing role. How does its position sit with the desire to bring everything else under one coordinating banner? Why an ‘independent’ voice for infrastructure but not for service planning?

“We will be eager to see the detail of the new arrangements so these important questions can be answered.”

PTUA welcomes government intervention to save The Overland

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the announcement that the Victorian government will provide additional funding to assist the Overland passenger train to continue running between Melbourne and Adelaide – and has renewed calls for the government to support reinstatement of regular passenger trains to Horsham.

The Overland has been supported by the South Australian and Victorian governments for many years; its future was jeopardised when the South Australian government recently announced it would cut its portion of the funding. Today’s announcement represents an increase in funding from the Victorian government, with the remainder of the shortfall coming from Great Southern Rail, who operate the Overland.

The Overland runs twice weekly in each direction, and stops at North Shore (Geelong), Ararat, Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola and Nhill in western Victoria; it is the only passenger rail service that travels west of Ararat, and is therefore a very important link for those communities. The Overland also serves Bordertown and Murray Bridge in South Australia.

PTUA Ballarat Branch convener Ben Lever praised the Victorian government for working with Great Southern Rail to ensure that the Overland can continue to run in 2019.

“The Overland is the only passenger train that runs west of Ararat, and it serves as a vital link for people who live in places like Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola and Nhill. Not only does it connect these towns to Melbourne and Adelaide, it connects them to each other – and to Bordertown and Murray Bridge in South Australia.”

“Many people in these communities cannot drive, and some struggle to use high-floor coaches – it’s vital to maintain the rail link, and we are delighted to see the Victorian government step up to preserve this service.”

While welcoming the news that the Overland will continue to run, Mr Lever noted that places like Stawell and Horsham needed a higher level of service than the Overland currently provides.

“While it’s great that the Overland will still run, there is still a real need to provide regular rail services to Horsham in the very near future. The Overland provides a lifeline service to these communities, but years and years of cuts mean it only runs twice a week, and has a reputation for slow speeds and poor punctuality – so it’s not an attractive option for most trips.”

“Horsham needs and deserves a serious public transport option – trains that run two or three times a day, 7 days a week, with a modified version of the existing fast VLocity trains.”

Great Southern Rail have committed to a full review of the Overland service, to determine its future beyond 2019. Mr Lever encouraged the Victorian government to take the opportunity to take a holistic view of rail transport in western Victoria, and consider the best options for running V/Line services beyond Ararat.

“Great Southern Rail are primarily a rail tourism operator, running the luxury Indian Pacific and Ghan trains, and they arguably run the Overland on a similar model – running trains infrequently, and providing an enjoyable ride that is more about the journey than the destination. But the people of western Victoria also need to be able to get from A to B efficiently, so they need a regular train service like the rest of the state.”

“Whether that means running a regular passenger service to Horsham while continuing to subsidise the Overland beyond, or replacing the Overland with regular V/Line services to Adelaide, or anything in between – now is the time for the Victorian government to take a serious look at the long-term future of this key rail corridor. Councils in western Victoria have already commissioned a report into returning regular passenger trains to Horsham and Hamilton, and we urge the government to take this work and flesh it out into a proper business case as soon as possible.”

Election 2018: our scorecard

2014-2018 has seen significant public transport investment under Labor, and they have delivered on their major promises. But as Melbourne continues to grow, and demand for regional travel increases, the challenge ahead is to build a public transport network not only copes with patronage growth, but also provides usable services into areas which currently don’t have them.

So how do the parties rank?

1. Greens – in some ways the Greens have the least ambitious transport plan. But it’s full of affordable, commonsense policies. They are the only party to commit to the Metro 2 tunnel, and to frequency upgrades across the train, tram and bus networks – essential for making the public transport network vastly more usable in the short term. Accelerating the rollout of low-floor trams and implementing on-road priority, extending metro services to outer suburbs with high capacity signalling are also important initiatives. Their policy of free public transport for students is misguided, but The Greens rightly oppose the major road projects proposed by the other parties, recognising that they will simply generate more traffic.

2. Labor – some ambitious plans in starting the huge Suburban Rail Loop project, alongside continuing the successful Level Crossing Removal Program, and extensive upgrades planned elsewhere around the metro and regional rail networks. They lose points for construction of three major tollways/freeways, a lack of progress on bus and tram upgrades, and for lagging on the rollout of more frequent all-day metro train services – essential for a big city such as Melbourne.

3. Coalition – they’ve backed away from what is probably their best policy, of metro trains every 10 minutes all day, leaving commitments to build three major tollways plus other freeways, and the messy grade separation of road intersections. More positive is commitments to extend metro trains to Clyde and Baxter. Their regional high speed rail plan is ambitious, but would only speed up trains moderately, and there are doubts over whether it could really be delivered in the timeframes promised.

For more details, including a summary of minor parties, read the full report (PDF)

Keep watching www.ptua.org.au/election2018 for updates

PTUA launches Connecting Ballarat proposal

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has launched an ambitious policy document, “Connecting Ballarat”, which calls for dramatic improvements to Ballarat’s bus network.

Ballarat’s bus network currently has a lot of problems with indirect, inefficient routes through the CBD, which turn back on themselves in order to call at key destinations in a specific order, and terminate at Ballarat station. These paths waste valuable driver time, which is an inefficient use of taxpayer resources compared to more efficient paths. They’re also slow and hard for casual users to understand, which makes them unattractive to potential passengers.

The central idea of the Connecting Ballarat proposal is to link routes on opposite sides of Ballarat together into longer cross-town routes, so that buses can flow smoothly in one side of the CBD and out the other, in a path that is faster, more efficient and more sensible than the current paths. This would mean faster trips for passengers, a more understandable network for first-time users, and more efficient use of resources – resources that can be reinvested into other service improvements.

Three of these routes would become high-frequency SmartBus routes – fast, direct routes that run every ten minutes, designed to act as the spine of a true turn-up-and-go network for Ballarat. The other routes would increase to run every 20 or 40 minutes, to match the increased V/Line train frequencies expected from late 2019.

Buses would also run to a longer span of hours, connecting with commuter trains in the early mornings and late evenings, and allowing people travelling within Ballarat to take the bus home after dinner at a restaurant or a night at the movies.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener, Ben Lever, said this was in many ways an ambitious proposal, but that it also picked a lot of low-hanging fruit.

“We know the existing network has a lot of inefficiencies, both in the twisty paths it takes and the excessively-padded timetables. Not only are these inefficiencies frustrating for users, they take up a lot of resources that would be better spent on improving the service – that’s what we’re proposing here.”

“Beyond those efficiency gains, we’re calling on all political parties to invest some serious money into our bus network. Low-density outer suburbs of Melbourne have high-frequency SmartBuses running through them, connecting key destinations like shopping centres and universities with railway stations – Ballarat deserves the same. Even the standard non-SmartBus routes run till at least 9pm in most suburbs of Melbourne, while Ballarat’s buses currently shut down around 7pm – it’s just not good enough.”

“We’ve seen time and time again that when governments invest in good public transport, people use it. Whether it’s trains, trams or buses – if governments provide a fast, frequent and direct service all through the day, people flock to it. And on the other side of the coin, where services are slow, indirect and infrequent, it’s not surprising that very few people us them. Buses don’t have to be the poor cousin of trains, and we see plenty of examples around the world where they aren’t – even in Australia, cities like Brisbane and Sydney have several fast, direct bus routes with priority measures that make them perform a similar role to Melbourne’s trams.”

“If we want to reduce pressure on parking and help fight climate change, we need to get people out of their cars and onto public transport – and to do that we need to see serious investment in a high-quality service.”

IA assessments questionable

The Geelong Branch of the Public Transport Users Association has queried the logic of Infrastructure Australia’s negative response to the business case for the duplication of the South Geelong-Waurn Ponds rail line.

Branch convener Paul Westcott noted that Infrastructure Australia seems to be saying that the project would stack up if some changes were made.

“If they are saying that certain modifications to the business case would lead to them supporting the project, why couldn’t they assess the project with the changes they themselves suggest?” Mr Westcott said.

Mr Westcott also criticised the State government for not having quantified some obvious benefits of the project in the business case, which has led Infrastructure Australia to require more work to be done on it.

“The State government must urgently revise the business case, taking Infrastructure Australia’s comments into account, ensuring the project can be assessed on its true merits,” Mr Westcott said.

“However, it’s good that both sides of politics continue to back the project that will see more trains running to stations South of Geelong, including to Colac and Warrnambool, and help them run more reliably.”

Mr Westcott also pointed to apparent inconsistencies in Infrastructure Australia’s assessment of projects.

“They are happy to keep the East-West Link toll road in Melbourne on their priority list, despite the fact that is has a cost-benefit ratio of only 50 cents in the dollar.

“Even worse, the duplication of the highway to Colac, also funded by federal money, will only return about eight cents in the dollar.”

Mr Westcott said the way Infrastructure Australia assesses projects seems questionable. “While economically doubtful road schemes are given the green light, sustainable transport projects seem to be viewed with less sympathy.”