Category Archives: Media releases

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.”

PTUA welcomes rail pledges

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed state Labor and Coalition pledges to expand Melbourne’s rail network.

Labor today pledged funding for a plan for airport rail via Sunshine if re-elected. In recent weeks the Coalition has pledged suburban rail extensions of the Cranbourne line to Clyde, and the Frankston line to Baxter.

PTUA spokesperson Daniel Bowen said that as Melbourne continues to grow, it was critical that the rail network grows with it.

“All of these proposals are important, and it’s great to see both sides of politics recognising that Melbourne needs more rail.

“With traffic congestion now a daily issue across the city, more people are looking for ways to get around without driving.

Melbourne Airport is one of the world’s busiest without a rail link[1]. The PTUA believes the proposed rail link must be fast, frequent, affordable, and have good connections to the rest of the public transport network.

Cranbourne East/Clyde, and Baxter are likely to see strong residential growth, and extending the suburban rail network to these areas, alongside upgrades to local buses, walking and cycling, will give more people viable transport options.

But Mr Bowen warned that the expansion of public transport would be undermined by the large scale road projects proposed by both sides.

“Contrary to what the politicians will tell you, transport infrastructure is not about meeting current demand – it’s about what we want our city to look like in the future, and how we want people to get around.

“More motorways will generate more traffic. In contrast, more rail lines and train services will generate more trips on public transport – which is a much better outcome.

“Melbourne already has more kilometres of motorway than many cities of its size.

“Well-run public transport, and especially heavy rail, can get vast numbers of people from A to B quickly, more efficiently and at less cost than in single-occupant cars. That’s why we look forward to commitments to further projects such as Melbourne Metro 2.

“To really ensure our city continues to function, to ensure people have good access to employment, education and other opportunities, the key is fast frequent reliable public transport, trains trams and buses, along with good walking and cycling options, for every suburb in Melbourne.”

* * *

[1] World’s busiest airports have rail connections – Melbourne missing out

PTUA welcomes rail investment in Ballarat

The Public Transport Users Association has today welcomed the government’s announcement of the details of a $130m project to untangle freight and passenger services in Ballarat.

The project will largely separate freight and passenger trains west of Ballarat station, and upgrade the signalling system in the Ballarat area, to allow for more efficient movement of trains of all kinds.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever said it was important work that would complement other investments in freight and passenger rail.

“There are two big rail projects going on around Ballarat at the moment – the Ballarat Line Upgrade project for passenger trains, and the Murray Basin Rail Project for freight trains. These two projects intersect within urban Ballarat, so today’s announcement will help make sure there aren’t too many conflicts between freight and passenger movements.”

“It’s really essential that our passenger services can have a clear run so they’re not delayed by freight trains – but it’s also really important that freight doesn’t get overlooked. We need a strong rail freight industry that is competitive with the road freight industry, if we want to reduce the number of trucks on our roads, and get the safety and air quality benefits that come with it. This kind of infrastructure investment is a great step in the right direction.”

Mr Lever said the project will help allow for extra services to Ararat and Maryborough, and potentially for extension of trains to Dunolly.

“For the train to really be useful to people, it needs to run quite frequently. The Maryborough line in particular has always suffered from a lack of services, so we are definitely keen to see trains running more frequently on this line.”

Mr Lever also noted that the project may have benefits for the eventual return of direct passenger trains between Ballarat and Geelong.

“Although this seems to be flying under the radar of both the government and the opposition at the moment, in the medium term we will also need to see the return of direct passenger trains between Ballarat and Geelong, to connect Victoria’s second- and third-biggest cities to each other without the need for a lengthy diversion to Melbourne. This service would travel along the existing freight line that is part of the Murray Basin Rail Project, so any investment that helps sort out the path through urban Ballarat gets us one step closer to making it a reality.”

Magic numbers distort North East Link business case

Cost and benefit figures presented in the North East Link business case by the Victorian Government suggest a “massive shifting of the goalposts” in an effort to make the $16 billion project stack up, according to a preliminary analysis by the Public Transport Users Association.

“Comparing these new figures with those presented just 18 months ago by the government’s Infrastructure Victoria agency, you would hardly guess we’re talking about the same project,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton.

In late 2016, Infrastructure Victoria produced economic analysis for its 30 Year Strategy which assessed the “real capital cost” of the North East Link as $5 billion to $7 billion, including associated works on the Eastern Freeway and M80 Ring Road.

“That figure’s now fantastically out of date,” Dr Morton said. “Using the actual cost estimate of $15.8 billion and the benefit figure from Infrastructure Victoria, the benefit-cost ratio is barely 60 cents in the dollar.”

Yet the latest business case puts the ratio as $1.30 to $1.40 in the dollar, having arrived at this figure through what Dr Morton calls ‘creative’ methods.

“First, they’ve said only about $12.5 billion of the cost is for construction, the rest is for operating cost,” Dr Morton said. “Then they’ve claimed the whole cost can be reduced to around $8 billion through the device of ‘discounting’ future spending at 7% per year. It’s only by using this discounted value that they can get a BCR above 1.”

Discounting is a standard method to account for the fact that spending deferred to the future, or income received in the future, has a lower value in present-day terms. “If I have to spend $1000 but not for 12 months’ time, I can invest a smaller amount now, say $955 with a 5% return, to have the full $1000 when needed,” Dr Morton said.

“But you have to push spending a long way into the future to get this claimed reduction of nearly 50 per cent. It appears to us the government is using some financial magic to avoid booking a big part of the road’s cost until after it’s supposed to be open and operating – and paying no interest in the meantime.”

“The business case includes a cash flow profile for capital and operating expenditure, yet adding up the latter it comes to less than half the reported real operating cost. What accounts for the remainder – is it additional operating cost, or is it construction cost that’s being pushed out to the long term somehow?”

NEL Business case: Redacted information

“Too many details are redacted to be sure, but it looks suspiciously like the equivalent of buying a $600,000 house and pretending it only costs you $400,000 because the mortgage payments come later. This is dangerous logic for homebuyers, and at the very least we’re owed a better explanation when it’s all Victorians on the hook as taxpayers.”

“And as a method for reducing the economic cost of a public infrastructure project for evaluation purposes, it doesn’t pass the sniff test. The Metro Tunnel project has a longer construction timeline than the North East Link, and in its business case the reduction from discounting is a more realistic 24 per cent.”

Phantom benefits

The benefits claimed for the road come mainly from projected travel time savings, and are said to be worth nearly $11 billion in present-value terms. Yet evidence from half a century of road building indicates that any travel time benefits are short-lived and soon give way to worse congestion than before.

“This looks like the same fantasy-land thinking we’ve seen on every other road project,” said Dr Morton. “In that regard the East West Link assessment may have been more honest – at least that conceded the congestion benefits would be gone within a decade. This one seems to be claiming time savings will still be achieved 50 years into the future, something never seen before on planet Earth.”

Past road projects in Victoria have been unable to demonstrate the time-saving and other benefits claimed for them, according to reports by the Victorian Auditor-General and by academic researchers. A 2009 study of the Melbourne CityLink project by RMIT’s John Odgers found that contrary to the time savings forecast, the total time spent in Melbourne traffic in 2005, five years after CityLink opened, was already exceeding by 1.8% the figure projected for 2011 in the ‘do nothing’ scenario. The approach used to forecast the travel time benefits for projects including the North East Link has been criticised by modelling expert William McDougall in evidence to a 2017 Senate inquiry into tollroads.

“And yet, contrary to all we know from the past half century about new roads not reducing congestion, we’ve still got official documents like this one making all sorts of claims about time savings, congestion relief and faster travel, as though it’s forever 1970 and no-one knows any better,” Dr Morton said. “Almost nowhere else is there such a boneheaded insistence on doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Choices for the future

The PTUA is supporting a community campaign for further investment in rail infrastructure and frequent bus networks, to give people choices to avoid traffic congestion. “The government’s trying to greenwash this road with a new busway along the Eastern Freeway, to save all of two minutes between Bulleen and Clifton Hill. The business case calls it a 30% saving, which is misleading because it’s a percentage of the 6 to 7 minute travel time on the freeway, a very small part of the whole. Virtually all the serious delay to buses is between Clifton Hill and the city, and further out on suburban arterial roads,” Dr Morton said.

“We’d actually rather see the freeway median preserved for future rail services, and instead invest some serious money into priority for buses where they run slowest, and put some fair dinkum planning effort into a Doncaster rail line. That’s a recipe for real time savings with more ironclad evidence than any traffic model.”

“Meanwhile, every billion dollars the government spends on big roads just makes Melbourne look more like Los Angeles, and gets us closer to having Los Angeles style traffic. Should we really be spending $16 billion for this?”

Business as usual budget drops the ball on public transport

Victoria is in danger of regressing to a 20th century car-dependent model for transport planning, and needs to renew its ambition on public and active transport, the Public Transport Users Association said today.

“After the bold initiatives of 2015 and 2016, this year’s state budget looks more like something from five or ten years ago,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “For every dollar of new spending on public transport initiatives there is $2.40 on new spending on roads and car travel, which is just going to feed growing congestion. Our overall service provision for public transport will be barely keeping pace with population growth, providing little room to help people who want an alternative to sitting in traffic.”

“The Andrews Government is trumpeting a record $13 billion spend on infrastructure, but with this level of spending, the Victorian public is entitled to know if this is really the right infrastructure, and how it’s going to benefit a decade or two into the future. Are we still devoting the lion’s share of funding to additional road capacity that’s going to fill up in two years, or are we embracing the 21st century model of efficient movement and choices?”

Despite the slant to roads, the PTUA says there are important initiatives in the budget to upgrade signalling and other infrastructure on the Sunbury, Dandenong, Shepparton and Ballarat lines, to continue expanding the train fleet and to provide additional services. This builds on the government’s existing major initiatives such as the Metro tunnel, road-rail grade separation and the Regional Rail Revival package.

But PTUA said the overall impression was of a government suddenly reluctant to build on its record in growing public transport, and instead doubling down on roads. “They want Victorians to get excited about the North East Link, the Mordialloc Freeway and $2 billion worth of road widening in the suburbs,” Dr Morton said. “Barring some encouraging words about high speed regional trains, there’s really nothing new that’s comparable on the public transport side. Is this really all there is, as the Andrews Government goes to Victorians to seek re-election in November?”

With Melbourne’s population set to grow by close to 1 million people per decade, the state cannot afford to drop the ball on public transport, says the PTUA. “We really need to be planning the next big rail capacity boost in the west, given everything that’s said about the Metro tunnel being full almost as soon as it opens. And there’s the ongoing need to boost regular service frequency, including on our long-neglected suburban bus network.”

PTUA welcomes study into high speed rail for Geelong

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the state government’s announcement of a study into faster rail services for Geelong.

A $50 million study will investigate the possibility of trains running at between 250 and 300km/h between Melbourne and Geelong.

PTUA Geelong Branch Convener and Regional Spokesperson, Paul Westcott, said faster trains would provide great benefits to the people of Geelong.

“It would be fantastic to see higher speeds on the Geelong line, which would mean shorter journey times for commuters, allowing them to spend more time with their families. It’s encouraging to see the government planning for the higher speed trains we will need in the future – first on the Geelong line, and then on other regional lines,” he said.

However, Mr Westcott noted that the overwhelming concern for Geelong line passengers right now is overcrowding at the Melbourne end of the line, and the unreliability of services.

“It’s vital to fix those problems now, as well as planning for the future,” Mr Westcott said. “Geelong trains should not be serving suburban passengers from Tarneit, Wyndham Vale and Deer Park.

“The line to Wyndham Vale must be electrified so Metro trains can do that job, and the two planned separate tracks must be built so Geelong trains don’t have to stop at suburban stations.”

The PTUA has also welcomed the state government’s announcement that the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority (MMRA) will be re-established as Rail Projects Victoria.

“Rather than having separate agencies running each new project, it is sensible to have a single agency responsible for all rail projects,” Mr Westcott said. “It will help retain talent and skills in rail projects, and provide a pipeline of works for the people involved.”

Mr Westcott noted that the new authority should be able to coordinate and combine related projects together. For example, the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority (MMRA) is planning to build a new station at Toolern on the Melton line, right next to Ferris Road, but the opportunity to grade separate Ferris Road at the same time is apparently not being taken.

“Based on what the government has said, Rail Projects Victoria will start out with the same remit as the current MMRA, but we hope that more projects will be added to it over time,” Mr Westcott said.

North East Link plans to kill off Doncaster rail forever

The Public Transport Users Association says that detailed design plans for the North East Link and its accompanying busway include taking over the median reserve for additional car lanes. This will ‘kill stone dead’ any long term plan for trains to run to Doncaster, according to the PTUA.

“What’s being proposed is a radical reorganisation of the road corridor between Clifton Hill and Bulleen,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “The wide median which has been set aside for a train line since the 1970s will be deleted and used for car lanes. This provides space for the bus lanes they want to put on the outside of the road – but the outside will never be suitable for rail due to conflict with entrance and exit ramps.”

The plan to remove the median appears in the map book accompanying the North East Link Detail Design. It adds to previously announced plans for a 16-lane road monster between Bulleen and Doncaster, resembling the superhighways seen in some US cities like Los Angeles or Houston.

Dr Morton said the plan to kill Doncaster rail not only ran contrary to the public’s clearly expressed preference – it also promised nightmarish consequences for the Doncaster region in the long term. “Rail is ultimately the only game in town when it comes to moving large numbers of people around a big city effectively,” he said. “Even the proposed buses won’t be future-proof, and will in time become slow and crowded just like the busway services in Brisbane today. Premier Andrews and his Roads Minister are essentially foreclosing the most space-efficient mode of transport for the least space-efficient. That’s not merely short-sighted, it’s bordering on spite for the people of Manningham who spent years campaigning for a train.”

The PTUA hears daily from bus users in the north east who suffer overcrowded, late, cancelled and defective services, Dr Morton said. “The Department of Transport signed a supposedly ‘innovative’ contract with private operator Transdev, which it appears leaves it powerless to enforce basic service standards on behalf of passengers. I can confidently say no-one who uses these buses today has any confidence in government assurances that buses can do the work of trains in 30 years’ time when Melbourne is the size of London or Paris.”

Instead, Dr Morton said, residents of Manningham and other suburbs were being sentenced to a congested Los Angeles future. “So the state spends $16 billion to build this 16 lane monster, and it fills up with 16 lanes of single-occupant car traffic. What do our amazing planners do then? The Americans have freeways 24 lanes wide and they’re still clogged. Freight can’t go anywhere because it’s stuck with all the cars. You don’t solve anyone’s transport problems – passengers or freight – until you give people real choices. And ultimately, in a city the size of Melbourne, that means rail.”

The PTUA has called on the government to publish the multimodal transport plan for Victoria required by its own legislation. “Let’s have it out in the open whether our government is softening us up to turn Melbourne into LA, when the long-expressed community view is we should be more like Vancouver or Vienna, with a strong role for public and active transport, especially rail, even though a lot of people will still drive cars.”

Eastern Freeway now vs planned

See also: The Age: Toll road to kill off future Doncaster rail: public transport group

PTUA welcomes Coalition commitments to regional rail in western Victoria

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has today welcomed the state Coalition’s commitments to improve regional rail in western Victoria if elected in November.

A study commissioned by a group of councils in western Victoria in 2017 called for a swathe of improvements to public transport in their regions, including returning passenger trains to Horsham and Hamilton, and improving a number of coach connections. The Coalition have announced their intention to fund a formal business case for these proposals.

PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener, Ben Lever, welcomed the announcement as the first step towards returning passenger trains beyond Ararat.

“Returning passenger trains to these communities is really vital for connecting them to each other, and to Ballarat and Melbourne. We hope this business case can do the detailed planning necessary to allow construction to start as soon as possible,” he said.

“Passenger trains along these routes would act as the spine of the region. When fast, high-capacity passenger trains are running on these routes, they can be complemented by connecting coaches to places that aren’t on the rail line, and thereby improve public transport across the whole region.”

The Coalition also propose extending the Maryborough line to Donald, reactivating stations at Dunolly and St Arnaud along the way. These extensions are also seen as a first step towards returning passenger services all the way to Mildura in the future.

“Returning passenger trains to these communities would be a real boon. Whether they’re taking shorter trips to Maryborough or Ballarat, or going all the way to Melbourne, a fast and well-timed train could be extremely useful for the people living in these towns.” Mr Lever said.

Mr Lever did note that there were some technical obstacles to returning trains to returning passenger trains beyond Maryborough that would need to be addressed.

“In that part of Victoria there is a mixture of Broad Gauge track, which is primarily used for passenger services, and Standard Gauge track, which is primarily used for freight services. Because a given train can only run on one type of track, passengers travelling all the way from Donald to Melbourne would need to change from a Standard Gauge train to a Broad Gauge train at some point in their journey – the decision will need to be made about where that change should happen. We look forward to the Coalition providing these kinds of finer details about their policy in the coming months.”

While Mr Lever welcomed the proposed reopening of these stations, he warned against a “set and forget” approach.

“Governments need to bear in mind that it’s not just about providing the infrastructure or providing “a train” – it’s about backing that up with services that are frequent enough and timed well enough to really be useful to passengers,” he said.

“When the Maryborough line was reopened in 2010, it initially only had one train running in each direction per weekday, and no trains on weekends. After years of local campaigning, the line finally has two trains per weekday. and one train per weekend day – which still leaves a lot to be desired. It’s still not possible to live along the Maryborough line and commute to Melbourne by 9am, or return from Melbourne after 5pm – or for tourists to take a train to Maryborough on a weekend morning. If services are returned to these other towns, they will need to avoid these kinds of issues by providing a good level of service from day one.”

Under another Coalition proposal, Ararat would also get an extra counter-peak service on weekday mornings, allowing people to get to Ararat by 9.00am. Currently, the earliest train to Ararat arrives at 10.39am, which is too late for most workers.

“In the current term of government, Ararat has gotten a new early-morning peak service that allows people to live in Ararat or Beaufort and commute to Melbourne by 9 am. If implemented, this new service would allow people to do the reverse-commute by train – travel from Ballarat to Ararat every morning, and take the existing coach service home in the evenings.” Mr Lever said.

“There are already many people who live in Ballarat and work in Ararat, but they currently have to drive – so there is a clear market who could take advantage of this service.”

Mr Lever also called on other political parties to match the Coalition’s pledges. “It’s fantastic to see the Coalition recognising how important public transport will be in spreading population and prosperity across Victoria. The current Labor government has made strong investments in regional public transport in this term, but they won’t be able to rest on their laurels – they will need to pledge to continue this investment next term, as will the Greens and other crossbenchers who may hold the balance of power.”

“Ballarat is ideally placed to become a hub for much of western Victoria, offering health services, education, employment, tourism and many other things. For that to happen we need really strong public transport connections – and that means improving the infrastructure and services we already have, as well as reopening old lines and reconnecting with towns that lost their services in past decades.”

Put our buses to work for everyone: PTUA responds to Infrastructure Victoria action plan

Melbourne’s buses need to be overhauled to follow the heavy-lifting example set by Melbourne’s trams, the Public Transport Users Association said on Friday.

The call comes in response to Infrastructure Victoria’s “Five Year Focus” strategy, which outlines short term actions to tackle Melbourne’s traffic congestion. The report calls on the State Government to make better use of existing infrastructure and bus fleets, restructuring bus networks to be more efficient and managing road space to improve priority for high-occupancy public and active transport.

“It’s fascinating to look back at the ‘five year plan’ the PTUA produced way back in 2005, and how many of the things we were asking for then are coming up in this 2018 strategy,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “Things like better bus and tram priority, network planning reform, SmartBus links to connect rail corridors and so on – these are perennial problems that really won’t cost that much to fix but have languished for want of political attention.”

But the PTUA has long identified other ‘low hanging fruit’ likely to have similar ‘bang for buck’ performance in the short term, Dr Morton said. “For example, Infrastructure Victoria talks in their report about network connectivity, but only mention new road links to encourage more car travel. We’ve repeatedly raised examples of tram lines that stop barely a kilometre short of railway stations, and where a valuable network connection could be made for want of a short extension, costing the same as a couple of kilometres of new road.”

Other inexpensive initiatives included extra stations on suburban lines where spare capacity exists, the PTUA says. The 2005 plan envisaged a station at Campbellfield on the Upfield line (connecting with the 902 SmartBus) and at Newport West on the Altona line. “The government wasted the opportunity to build a Campbellfield station as part of the recent grade separation completed at Camp Road,” Dr Morton said. “One thing missing from the report is how the government might learn from such examples to plan and maximise the benefits from such relatively small projects in future.”

But the most promising short-term initiatives came from opportunities to reform bus services, especially those Infrastructure Victoria identifies as ‘underperforming’, says the PTUA. “Unfortunately, we see the potential here for trendy knee-jerk ‘solutions’ that make things worse,” Dr Morton says. “For example, the report hints strongly at the idea of removing underperforming bus routes and replacing them with taxis. However much you ginger this up with buzzwords like ‘customer responsive service’ and ‘ride sharing’, all you’re doing is adding cars to the road. In cities around the world that have experimented with using Uber and similar services to replace public transport in their suburbs, congestion has got noticeably worse.”

A better model for improving the performance of suburban buses is hiding in plain sight, according to the PTUA. “Our tram system provides frequent all-day service to a range of often quite low-density suburbs, and does so with a very low operating subsidy per passenger,” Dr Morton said. “If you compare Balwyn or Preston with Tarneit, and ignore that the houses in Balwyn or Preston are older, there’s actually about equal potential to attract passengers who might not want to sit behind a steering wheel in traffic for two hours each day.”

A PTUA presentation last week to the Victorian Transport Infrastructure Conference highlighted that the cities with the best public transport in the world provide a range of options for local travel, led by excellent feeder bus networks.

“Infrastructure Victoria notes that we spend some $600 million a year running buses that are often empty of passengers – and that’s because we’re not actively trying to recruit them,” said Dr Morton. “Governments just need to get smarter about how they spend this money. Each $1 million of annual expenditure could, on industry figures, provide a bus service every 10 minutes, 7 days a week, for a population of around 8,000 people in most Melbourne suburbs. And every extra passenger you get is paying a fare to help meet the cost of the service.

“How much does it cost to provide parking for 8,000 cars? On current figures we’re hearing, anywhere between $100 and $350 million. Even for just a fifth of that population, it would cost more to finance a project like that than to just run a bus that can take people where they want to go all day long.

“Melbourne and Victoria are crying out for strategic, sustainable transport planning that works for everyone,” said Dr Morton. “Infrastructure Victoria is right to say we can’t just take a scatter-gun approach and throw money at every politically expedient project – but we also shouldn’t have such low expectations of our public transport services, when it’s decades of bad policy that has made us so dependent on cars. We need calm, careful consideration of our actual needs, for people and freight, for infrastructure and for decent services.”

Show us a plan, and don’t neglect local services, says PTUA

The Victorian Government needs to show the public an integrated plan for moving people and freight. But the government also needs to match its busy infrastructure programme with a commitment to frequent local public transport service, the Victorian Transport Infrastructure Conference heard on Thursday.

According to a presentation by Dr Tony Morton, President of the Public Transport Users Association, the government has put forward numerous multi-billion dollar transport projects, but has not explained what part they play in any strategic transport plan for the next half century.

“On the one hand, the government is building the Metro rail tunnel, which is equivalent to about three West Gate Bridges in carrying capacity and has massive potential to divert single occupant car travel from the existing West Gate Bridge,” Dr Morton said. “Yet at the same time it’s sinking billions of dollars into the West Gate Tunnel, which has barely one-sixth the capacity but is likely to induce more car travel into the city, swamping any benefit the Metro tunnel provides.”

Winning the West

“Melbourne’s West faces enormous challenges in the near term dealing with urban growth and the state’s worst pollution from cars and trucks, not to mention the historical neglect of public transport infrastructure and services. We really cannot afford to be adding to the horrendous traffic problems that already exist. In fact we ought to be doubling down on rail infrastructure to bring the West closer to what the Eastern suburbs already enjoy. It’s time to start planning Melbourne Metro Two.”

‘Metro Two’ is the name given to a rail tunnel connecting Newport station underneath the Yarra with Fishermans Bend and the City. It then extends north via Parkville to connect with the South Morang line, providing added capacity to the Mernda growth area and simplifying planning for a Doncaster rail line. Versions of the line appeared in the 2012 Rail Network Development Plan and in plans considered by Infrastructure Victoria. it was also raised favourably in evidence by Victorian rail planner Ed Dotson to a 2010 Parliamentary inquiry into rail services.

Freight needs should have special consideration as part of an integrated plan, Dr Morton said. “At present, freight is in a zero-sum game with single-occupant car traffic, and the cars are winning. This will happen as long as we build so-called ‘freight roads’ that are just going to fill up with cars. We need to be getting more freight back on the rails, taking advantage of the latest international experience with multimodal logistics. Meanwhile, road freight solutions must be well-targeted, designed and sized so as not to induce more car travel.”

Dr Morton also welcomed Wednesday’s announcement by the Federal Government of $5 billion toward a Melbourne airport rail link. “Ultimately the State government will be responsible for planning this,” he said. “If it’s not going to suffer the problems of other projects, it’s critical that it’s properly integrated with the suburban rail network, with complementary bus networks and with the Myki fare system, so it can cater for the widest possible spectrum of airport travel.”

Service Planning is Vital

Dr Morton explained that even the best big infrastructure would be of little benefit without a proper plan for frequent public transport down to the local level. “Having the rail network required to meet major transport needs also means looking at how people get to the stations,” Dr Morton said. “We seem far too focussed at present on making public transport something you drive a car to, which means every additional passenger costs between $15,000 and $50,000 for a car parking space even before you pay for the train.”

The cities with the best public transport in the world provide a range of options for local travel, led by excellent feeder bus networks, said Dr Morton.

“Governments unfortunately get spooked by the cost of running buses, yet we already spend some $600 million a year running buses that are often empty of passengers because we’re not actively trying to recruit them. Each $1 million of annual expenditure could, on official figures, provide a bus service every 10 minutes, 7 days a week, for a population of around 8,000 people in most Melbourne suburbs. And every extra passenger you get is paying a fare to help meet the cost of the service.”

“How much does it cost to provide parking for 8,000 cars? On current figures we’re hearing, anywhere between $200 and $350 million. Even for just a fifth of that population, it would cost more to finance a project like that than to just run a bus that can take people where they want to go all day long.”

“Melbourne and Victoria are crying out for strategic, sustainable transport planning that works for everyone,” said Dr Morton. “We can’t just take a scatter-gun approach and throw money at every politically expedient project. We need calm, careful consideration of our actual needs, for people and freight, for infrastructure and for decent services.”