Cr Stretch Kontelj notes (GA 20/8) that the time saved on the new Geelong by-pass is being squandered by delays resulting from overcrowded roads in Melbourne, and calls for an additional motorway link to be built.
We can all sympathise with Cr Kontelj’s frustration at being stuck in traffic jams, but his proposed solution is a sad example of hope triumphing over experience. As a matter of fact, there are already four major road bridges over the Maribyrnong River between the Westgate and Flemington Racecourse.
Trying to “fix” traffic congestion by building more motorways is a hopeless task in a large city like Melbourne. Any extra road capacity provided (at great expense) is quickly filled by more motorists, because people respond to the new road by driving more often and driving further.
Not only is this counter-productive, it is also the worst option for local air and noise pollution, and increases our vulnerability to petrol price rises. We also have to face the fact that half of all household greenhouse gas production is caused by car use.
So instead of promoting further unsustainable road construction, we must provide sustainable solutions to transport problems. In this case, the obvious alternative is to increase services on the Geelong to Melbourne rail line, speed up public transport links within Melbourne, and provide usable public transport, cycling and walking connections to stations in Geelong.
Let’s see some forward-thinking councillors and parliamentarians take the lead on those projects.
In his letter in the August 7th Independent, Department of Transport (DoT) spokesperson Matt Phelan attacks the Public Transport Users Association for raising the uncertainties which surround the so-called Regional Rail Link (RRL) to Melbourne.
While Mr Phelan seems to think that the PTUA should only act as a cheer squad for the DoT, we continue to field inquiries from Geelong rail users concerned about the lack of reliable or detailed information on the ramifications of RRL project.
In that light we mentioned the opinion of an experienced rail engineer, who examined what information there is about the RRL and concluded that it could add from 10 to 15 minutes to journey times on the Geelong – Melbourne run.
Given the lack of detailed plans that would be expected to accompany a $4.3 billion project, it is disappointing that Mr Phelan can only say that the DoT “does not expect any significant change to times for Geelong commuters”. Such vagueness does little to allay the justifiable misgivings of Geelong rail users.
The news (GA 10/7) that traffic in La Trobe Terrace has decreased by 15% since the opening of the third stage of the Geelong By-Pass isn’t surprising, and is in line with VicRoads’ projections.
However VicRoads has also predicted that traffic volumes on La Trobe Terrace will to return to pre-Bypass levels in a relatively short period of time, because of the natural growth of traffic, as well as a redistribution of traffic from other north/south routes.
With every motorway opening comes the promise of “fixing” traffic congestion, but experience world-wide clearly shows that expensive new road-building projects are self-defeating. What makes it worse is that they are not an environmentally sustainable option either. People respond to the extra road capacity by driving further and more often, which is the opposite of an environmentally sustainable outcome.
Half of all household greenhouse gas production is generated by car use, so it is simply not good enough to continue to promote road schemes which reinforce our dependence on the motor car.
In particular, Geelong and the Bellarine Peninsula need a public transport authority that can plan an integrated network of buses and trains for our region, thereby allowing families to give up their second, third or fourth car.
Geelong rail travellers are told by V/Line spokesperson Daniel Moloney (GA 5/5) that “in theory” the proposed Tarneit rail line will enable Geelong trains will get to Melbourne quicker, despite the roundabout route, because only V/Line trains will run along it.
He is right to say “in theory”, because no-one seems to know in fact. The plan of the Tarneit line in the Eddington Report shows five stations along the track, designed to serve new suburbs in the area. If only Geelong trains run on the line, they will have to provide a service for these stations. In that case, how can existing travel times be shortened?
And if the Tarneit line eventually becomes an electrified suburban track, wont that adversely affect the speed of Geelong trains?
We have been waiting over a year for the state government to clarify how the line will operate. It is amazing that Mr Brumby is asking Canberra to provide substantial funding to build the $4.4 billion project when these fundamental questions remain unanswered.
Public transport users welcome the introduction of direct buses from Torquay to Marshall station which are timed to meet trains. We agree with the Geelong Advertiser (11/4) that many people are looking for ways to decrease their car use and this service clearly has the potential to do that.
The new service has some important features which the PTUA has long argued should be introduced across Geelong’s bus system. Compared to many of our current bus services, the route used by the Torquay – Marshall service will be reasonably direct, meaning the journey time will be much more competitive with car travel. Being timed to meet trains, the buses also support another public transport service by allowing passengers to make a convenient transfer to it.
However the proposed Torquay – Marshall bus only provides five peak hour services on weekdays, with none in the off-peak or on the weekend. This means rail users who want to travel outside the peaks still have to put up with slow journeys and poor connections.
There’s no reason why the present Torquay bus services, running throughout the week, shouldn’t follow the same principles as the new service. Bus services to Geelong should be designed so that they take people directly to both the train and the city centre. A local bus service within Torquay could connect passengers with this trunk route. This arrangement would improve the service for everyone, and make better use of resources than going to the expense of adding a separate bus service that runs only occasionally.
Andrew Hackett sensibly suggests (News 16/3) that double-decker trains could be considered as a way of dealing with overcrowding on V/Line services. Although the experimental double-decker train, which ran in Melbourne a few years ago, was restricted to one line because it was incompatible with most of the network, there’s no reason why such a train couldn’t be designed to fit in with existing infrastructure.
Yet more frequent rail services are also important to better meet people’s travelling needs. The Public Transport Users Association agrees that this is difficult within the limitations of the present rail infrastructure. That’s why we also call for the enhancement of track capacity in order to make more frequent services possible. Already the single line between South Geelong and Marshall stations is limiting the number of services that can be run in that section.
The disadvantages of more frequent rail services that Mr Hackett alleges, such as an increase in warning-signal noise at level crossings, are tiny compared with the damage to the environment and the liveability of our cities resulting from an unsustainable dependence on the motor car.
Hayden Spurling’s plan to put buses underground in the city centre is absurd. He stigmatises public transport users and wants to push them into some underground ghetto. Quite apart from being pie-in-the-sky, the massive expense of such a project would mean that no money would be left over for the urgently-needed improvements to our public transport as a whole.
Retailers in Geelong’s city streets would be better off calling for more frequent bus services, a measure that would actually improve access to their shops. By obstructing the new bus stops and the upgrades to bus services that are tied to them, they are running headlong in the other direction.
There are bus and tram stops on central city streets all around Australia and the world. Frequent services deliver shoppers and city workers close to where they want to go, reducing traffic congestion and the need for more car parking. If other cities manage to make it work, so can Geelong.