Category Archives: Melbourne and suburbs

COVID-19 smashes the life from cities, which is why we must smash COVID-19

by Tony Morton

As COVID-19’s second waves wash over our technologically advanced civilisation, so follows the commentary on what this pandemic means for cities and for daily life in the future.

Public transport sits at the heart of the discourse, and for good reason. In normal times, public transport sustains the life of the world’s most celebrated large cities, making possible the organic development of large activity centres drawing on vast metropolitan populations. While country towns and villages function well day-to-day based on foot, bicycle and short car trips, the currency of cities is the ability to gather people in large numbers for all manner of activities, reaching over large distances to cater to mass and niche interests alike, but all within a limited budget of time and space.

This is why COVID-19 poses a direct threat to the city, for as long as it remains at large. Ever since the pandemic threat emerged early this year, public transport has been singled out as a transmission vector. But it’s never been just about public transport. Physical distancing obviously plays havoc with public transport’s ability to gather large numbers, but it also undermines all those activities for which large numbers would gather. Whether it be collaborative work, art or music, sport or entertainment, eating or drinking en masse, COVID-19 debases the very currency of cities.

Even if regular public transport users switch to driving alone to short-cut the threat, as some have recently suggested to Monash University researchers, the real danger may lie elsewhere. The more experience gained with this virus, the clearer it becomes that (for example) avoiding public transport only to spend the day in an indoor workplace, surrounded by possibly infected yet asymptomatic co-workers, is likely misplacing the risk. (For this and other good reasons, calls by unnamed “business leaders” for more CBD car parking so city workers can avoid public transport are best ignored.)

Nor, on the evidence, has public transport proved the stand-out transmission vector it’s feared to be. Although there are a handful of suspected cases of transmission on buses or bus stops in Auckland and Sydney, cities that mandated face coverings have not recorded any such cases. In Paris or Tokyo, for example, detailed studies ruled out the train system as a factor in spreading infections. Though it is always possible for transmission to occur on public transport, it appears that when sensible precautions are taken such as wearing masks and cleaning surfaces regularly, the virus has spread largely by other means.

So are cities themselves the problem? Many jumped to that conclusion during the first wave in the US, when the virus cut a swathe through New York and the heavily urbanised north-east. New York’s relatively high density and transit-oriented urban form was quickly blamed for the spread, despite the fact that east Asian cities with even higher densities – many with popular democratic governments – were successfully controlling the spread. And the US outbreak had much further to go. As of the end of August, seven southern US states including Florida, Arizona and Georgia have more COVID-19 cases per capita than New York.

Cities like Orlando, Phoenix and Atlanta, currently in the throes of COVID-19, are the product of a powerful ‘anti-city’ movement that dates back even earlier than the 1918 flu pandemic. Originally well-intentioned, it idealised a world of orderly self-contained villages where everyone’s needs would be met locally and people would live closer to nature. While superficially attractive, the ideal was in practice far too inward-looking: it had nothing to offer those aspiring to a life beyond that offered by a handful of local employers. Social mobility required physical mobility, and without the mass transit networks that 19th-century cities used to advantage, many 20th-century counterparts succumbed to unending car dependence, congestion and pollution.

COVID-19’s mandate has toppled barriers to working from home, and some believe this does away with the need for people to locate near a fixed place of work. Does this mean we can all live in little villages after all, and communicate electronically with our workplaces? Yet while working from home could take the rough edges off peak-hour commuting, it hasn’t removed the nexus between social and physical mobility. This is obvious to anyone who’s tried to change jobs in the past six months, or works in fields like arts or entertainment that depend on the currency of mass audiences.

If a mass movement to working from home does survive the post-COVID recovery, it will provide a necessary corrective to transport planners’ singular focus on peak-hour commuting. Perhaps there can be a new focus on local bus travel in the suburbs, where service has always been poor (and now, when people have to crowd onto too few services, potentially dangerous). But it also forces a rethink of projects like the North East Link, whose claimed benefits rely on assumed growth in peak-hour commuting for years to come. Our governments can easily turn Melbourne into an Atlanta or a Los Angeles, but this won’t spare us from future pandemic lockdowns.

Perhaps what we gain from all this is a clearer view of what is really valuable about cities. Recall that Melbourne’s centre was never as dead as it was 40 years ago, when it was a destination for 9-to-5 office workers and nothing more. For us to lead our best lives, it’s vital that we smash COVID-19 and emerge on the other side. Though commuting may be less central to our lives then, cities and their mass transit systems will surely remain so.

Tony Morton is President of the Public Transport Users Association.

PTUA concerned on curfew cuts

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) is concerned at the rush to cut public transport services during Melbourne’s stage 4 lockdown and curfew, causing confusion and delays for those who have to travel.

“While we appreciate the need to scale back services at a time when much of the economy is shutting down, there has been a severe impact on those who need to travel for essential work, and a lack of information”, said PTUA spokesperson Daniel Bowen.

“On Monday night details of drastic evening service cuts for trams and trains were only published as they took effect, giving travellers no time to plan ahead.

“A number of bus services also saw cuts after 8pm, but many of these were not published anywhere, leaving passengers in the dark.”

The PTUA believes the cuts should have waited until Thursday when the workplace shutdowns start in earnest, allowing time to better plan and communicate the changes.

Mr Bowen said that the cuts need to be refined, with a better outcome being a paring back of high frequency peak services, and leaving something closer to the usual service in place after 8pm for essential workers. In the case of trams and trains, this might be the equivalent of a Saturday timetable.

The sudden changes on Monday night left trains running mostly hourly, but with some gaps of up to 90 minutes or more [1].

“While the capacity will probably be sufficient to maintain physical distancing given the curfew and the shutdown of most workplaces, the big problem is the wait times. Imagine finishing your shift at 11pm and having to wait 90 minutes for your train home”, said Mr Bowen.

“For those who have to get to and from work in the evening, it makes the service nearly unusable, particularly if making connections between services.

“Meanwhile, with most white-collar workers at home, services running every few minutes in peak hour are near-empty.”

Mr Bowen called on the government to refine the timetable changes to better support essential workers such as those in distribution centres and medical roles.

“Trams and trains on a Saturday timetable every day would be a far better outcome for passengers compared to the situation we have now.”

“We know it’s a fast evolving situation. We urge authorities to look at this again: ensure a minimum 30 minute frequency on metro train lines in the evenings so those who have to work still have a service they can use”, concluded Mr Bowen.


[1] On the Craigieburn line, the second and third last outbound trains were cancelled, leaving a service gap of 98 minutes between 10:52pm and 12:30am.


Coverage of this story:

PTUA welcomes additional services

The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has applauded the additional train and tram services announced on Friday by the Victorian Government.

“These changes are very welcome”, said PTUA spokesperson Daniel Bowen.

“Train service frequencies drop off outside peak hours, resulting in long wait times and – under normal circumstances – crowding.

“We have been concerned about the ability of travellers to maintain safe physical distancing on busy services, particularly outside of peak times. These additions to the timetable are a welcome step towards providing all-day frequent services on Melbourne’s public transport network.”

In addition, the Department of Transport and bus operators have announced the formal adoption of ‘all-door boarding’ for buses. This change will help reduce crowding at bus stops – another important measure to keep people safe – with the additional benefit of faster boarding.

Mr Bowen said speeding up buses would bring widespread benefits for passengers, particularly if timetables were adjusted to take advantage of the shortened dwell times, and further boosted by on-road priority and service upgrades.

“Cities around the world have seen delays at stops reduce thanks to all-door boarding[1]. Faster bus journeys is great news for passengers.

“It also will be important for authorities to properly promote and improve Myki top-up options, including Mobile Myki, to ensure that bus passengers have every opportunity to pay their fare.”

“New Transport Minister Ben Caroll has hit the ground running with these upgrades. We look forward to continued improvements to Victoria’s public transport services”, concluded Mr Bowen.


[1] North American case studies showed dwell reductions of up to 50%. https://nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/NACTO_Better-Buses_Boarding.pdf

Transport for Everyone: Post COVID-19 Recovery – New vision for buses

(Media release from Transport For Everyone)

Key transport professionals have jointly written to the Victorian Premier urging the Government’s Building Victoria’s Recovery Taskforce to focus on upgrading bus services and active transport through a 5-point plan to improve mobility for Melbourne and build jobs as part of recovery from COVID-19.

The 5-point plan seeks a new vision for buses: fast tracking local bus reviews, delivering bus priority and enhanced Smart Bus top-10 corridors planned for future rail upgrade. Also sought, is boosting domestic jobs in bus building including electric buses to replace polluting diesel fleets.

The joint representations including by Monash Professor of Public Transport Graham Currie, University of Sydney Business School Adjunct Professor John Stanley, and transport groups across Melbourne, emphasise that “bus and active transport upgrades are quick to implement for immediate impact at a fraction of the cost of large scale infrastructure projects.”

They join the Eastern Transport Coalition (ETC), Public Transport Users Association, (PTUA), Transport for Everyone (T4e), Transport for Melbourne (T4M), Victorian Transport Action Group (VTAG) and others to urge that “The massive economic impact on budgets of the COVID-19 emergency necessitates more expedient transport outcomes in advance of longer term projects.”

T4e President, Cr Jackie Fristacky points out that “Public transport is an essential service”, yet “70% of Melbourne is beyond the effective reach of trams or trains and rely on buses. Despite this, many metropolitan bus services are underutilised due to infrequent, indirect services and which miss good catchments. This has led to high car dependency and travel cost burdens on households.”

“And it is many of these areas of Melbourne that have been most adversely impacted by COVID-19”, said Cr Fristacky.

The transport groups are united in the view that “The current period of reduced patronage due to COVID-19 provides the opportunity to revise poorly performing bus routes to work the bus fleet harder to make it more useful, more productive and efficient.”

Successes of frequent and regular direct Smart Bus services and University bus shuttles demonstrate the potential to substantially upgrade poorly performing bus routes to improve access and efficiency in services, build patronage and create jobs.

Planning confusion sells Melbourne’s west, air travellers short

Statement by the Public Transport Users Association

The Public Transport Users Association is concerned at recent commentary on new rail developments in Melbourne’s west, specifically the promised rail link to Melbourne Airport, and the implied pressure to rush into major decisions in the absence of a comprehensive plan for public transport development.

At a high level, while we can cheer on the procession of transformative projects such as the Regional Rail Link, Metro 1 rail tunnel, Airport line and Suburban Rail Loop, it comes with a sense of unease: that they are proceeding in the absence of any kind of coherent transport plan that addresses the needs and aspirations of Victorians, and speaks to the kind of places Melbourne and Victoria’s regional cities aim to be in 50 years’ time. In place of this have come a succession of often contradictory half-plans and vision statements, mostly developed without community input.

PTV’s 2012 Rail Network Development Plan provided for new suburban lines to both Melbourne Airport and Melton, alongside the existing line to Sunbury. Yet within five years it had been discarded. Airport rail was absent from successor plans in 2017 even as a long-term prospect, only to be reinstated as government policy in 2018. Virtually all the subsequent confusion about rail options for the airport and western Melbourne more generally can be attributed to this fickle, on-again-off-again approach to planning.

The PTUA recommends a staged approach toward managing peak-hour carrying capacity between the city and Sunshine, with well-considered plans in place to guide future augmentations in response to need. With such a plan in place there should be no need to speculate about the adequacy of existing capacity projects that are still under construction.

The Metro 1 tunnel was envisaged in 2012 as providing capacity for up to 12 trains per hour to Sunbury in peak, in addition to trains every 10 minutes to the Airport and to Melton (with no changes at Sunshine). To put this in context, in the near-decade between 2011 and 2020 the number of trains on the Sunbury line in the busiest hour has risen from just 8 to 10. The line currently does double duty owing to the patchy nature of the current V/Line Melton service, and is set to benefit from new ‘HCMT’ rolling stock with over 20% greater passenger capacity per train available immediately and more than 70% in the longer term. Claims that the Metro 1 tunnel will be ‘full’ and require more than 12 Sunbury trains per hour from the day it opens in 2025 do not appear well-founded.

The parallel Regional Rail Link tracks between the city and Sunshine currently carry up to 17 V/Line trains in the busiest hour, about one-third of these being Melton or Wyndham Vale short services that should ultimately transfer to the suburban network. V/Line and Metro trains have run on fully separated paths inward of Sunshine since 2015, each with practical capacity for 20 to 24 trains per hour before considering potential improvements from high-capacity signalling. While V/Line operational practices require improvement, in particular the allocation of platforms at Southern Cross, there is little impediment to the expansion of peak-hour V/Line services requiring a new tunnel between Sunshine and the city in the near to medium term.

The likely driver for future capacity requirements, beyond tracks already operating or under construction, will be the need to provide electrified suburban train services to Wyndham Vale and Tarneit. Options for expansion are not limited to a new tunnel duplicating existing lines between Sunshine and the city. The Metro 2 tunnel proposal, for example, would route Werribee suburban trains from Newport to the city via Fishermans Bend, and has potential to also carry Geelong trains via Werribee (with provision of dedicated parallel tracks between Werribee and Newport).

In short, the PTUA rejects claims that Airport trains cannot be accommodated in the next decade without a new tunnel between Sunshine and the city, or that Victoria is missing some kind of “now or never” chance to build such a tunnel. The PTUA does call for a comprehensive transport plan that could consider such a tunnel as a future option, alongside other, possibly superior options to build capacity. It would also give careful concern to methods of financing, avoiding in particular the scenario where future governments are obliged to pay rent to a private operator for every train that runs through a future rail tunnel.

It must be kept in mind that virtually every airport rail link in the world exhibits design compromises that cause them to fall well short of ‘ideal’, yet many are well-used and well-regarded nonetheless. Melbourne’s airport link needs to be ‘done right’ but this does not demand a radical departure from existing technology or from incremental approaches to development. Global experience suggests it is more likely to provide an affordable and popular service for passengers if its development is integrated with that of the wider suburban network.

PTUA opposed to expansion of the Free Tram Zone

PTUA does not support the Free Tram Zone, due to the problems it causes, including crowding, and the lack of benefits it provides to paying public transport users. We also do not support the Zone being extended.

Data indicates the Free Tram Zone has increased tram usage at the expense of “active” modes (walking and cycling) rather than driving, and appears to have encouraged more people to drive into the City and Docklands, while also resulting in delays due to overcrowding at tram stops.

The money spent on providing the Free Tram Zone would be better spent extending and upgrading services across Melbourne, particularly in the middle and outer suburbs, to provide more people with viable alternatives to car travel.

More details: PTUA’s submission to the Free Tram Zone Parliamentary Inquiry (PDF)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


[1] Road Safety Rules 2017 – Reg 163

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

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

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

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


Coverage of this story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of these service upgrades have not eventuated.

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

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

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


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

[2] Costings, also covered in The Age

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

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

Total built since 1969: 320 km 

Under construction:

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

Heavy rail lines built or electrified since 1969:

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

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

Net increase since 1969: 72km

Under construction:

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

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

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

Source: PTV – Melbourne public transport patronage long run series

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

Change in average traffic speed

Source: Vicroads Traffic Monitor


Coverage of this story:

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

7 News 23/12/2019:

Eastern Freeway rail corridor is what merits protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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.