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 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.
The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has welcomed the announcement that the Victorian government will contribute funding to keep the iconic Overland train running for another three months.
When the South Australian government withdrew its contribution to subsidising this vital passenger link at the end of 2018, the Victorian government stepped up to fund the shortfall until the end of 2019 – this new 11th-hour announcement will grant the Overland an extension till the end of March 2020.
PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener Ben Lever welcomed the announcement, saying that the Overland provided an invaluable public transport link for western Victoria.
“The Overland is the only regular rail services for communities like Stawell, Horsham, Dimboola and Nhill. A rail link between Melbourne and Adelaide is important, but the job the Overland does connecting these towns within Victoria is hugely important to these communities as well.
“Whether people are travelling for leisure or for things like medical appointments, people in western Victoria need a regular rail service to quickly and safely connect them to Melbourne. It’s fantastic that the Victorian government has stepped up yet again to keep this vital service going.”
The government has said that this three-month extension will allow time for conversations to continue with Journey Beyond, the Overland’s private operator, about the long-term future of the train. While the Overland provides a valuable lifeline for many people, it is clear that it is struggling to get the passenger numbers it needs to be commercially viable for a private company.
Mr Lever called for the government to take a holistic view of the public transport needs west of Ararat, and to approach the issue with the same ambition that has worked so well closer to Melbourne.
“The Overland has unfortunately entered into a negative spiral, where the low passenger numbers lead to service cuts, which make the service less attractive to passengers, which lead to more service cuts. When it was first privatised in the 1990s, it used to run every day in both directions – but now it only runs twice a week in each direction. This makes it a real gamble as to whether the train will even be running on the day you want to travel – which is no way to get serious passenger numbers.
“If the Overland service ran to and from Adelaide every day, and this was supplemented with short-run services to Horsham, this would mean western Victorians had a regular train service that would always be available, no matter when they wanted to travel. This would start to attract way more passengers, making continuing to run the service much more viable.”
Mr Lever said that the huge success of other rail services in Victoria showed that bold vision and serious investment would be rewarded with increased passenger numbers. Bringing the privately-operated Overland under the V/Line banner should be one of the options on the table to facilitate these improvements.
“We’ve seen that when governments invest in serious improvements to train services – especially making them run more frequently – more people will choose to use them. If the Overland ran every day, perhaps with a variant of the fast, modern VLocity rolling stock, it would attract passengers in droves.”
In the meantime, Mr Lever called on the government to provide a longer interim funding arrangement, to keep the service running while these larger visions could be implemented.
“It would take time to put these improved services into place, so in the meantime we hope the government can provide a longer-term subsidy to give passengers certainty. Many of the Overland’s passengers are tourists who want to book well in advance, so it’s important that bookings are available on the website when they search for them.”
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.
“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’.
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.
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.” 
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  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:
December 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan : 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. 
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.
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.
“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 .
“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.”
 The 1969 plan was released on 17th December 1969. Age article
The Public Transport Users Association has added its voice in solidarity with planning professionals, local councils, environment groups, Yarra Valley businesses and residents, deploring the decision by Planning Minister Richard Wynne to rubber-stamp the North East Link Environment Effects Statement.
The Minister’s decision overrides the conclusions of the Inquiry and Assessment Committee after half a year of hearings, consultations and submissions by affected parties and subject-matter experts.
“This decision gives a licence for this road to proceed in its most environmentally and socially destructive form,” PTUA President Dr Tony Morton said. “It’s taking dozens of homes and wiping out hundreds of jobs in local businesses, for a $16 billion non-solution that will generate more traffic mayhem than it removes.”
The PTUA previously poured scorn on the assessment process for its rubbery benefit-cost figures and its ‘comical’ consideration of transport alternatives. “Almost overnight the cost went from a $7 billion estimate by Infrastructure Victoria to $16 billion in the State budget estimates,” Dr Morton said. “Estimates of public benefit had to be inflated to meet the cost, but the problem with all such estimates is they assume travel-time savings that never appear in practice. Studies on previous road projects like Citylink found travel was actually slower after construction than forecast in the ‘no build’ case beforehand.”
At a time new taxes are being flagged to fund mental health, the project is accused of ‘robbing’ taxpayers of $16 billion without sound consideration of alternative spending priorities, that would have more lasting benefits for Victorians.
“Spending of this magnitude must be seriously weighed up against other budget priorities in health, education and other government services,” said Dr Morton. “But even if we focus just on transport, consider that just a fraction of this amount, spread over 10 years, would put 10-minute all-day bus services on just about every arterial road in north-east Melbourne. This kind of investment in service could provide a lasting mobility solution that short-circuits the congestion dilemma. Yet alternatives received only perfunctory consideration, taking just 16 out of 325 pages in the North East Link business case.”
As it is, those looking forward to congestion relief on local roads from the North East Link were bound to be disappointed, according to the PTUA. “No new road has ever relieved congestion on existing roads, beyond the odd short-term sugar hit,” he said. “Freight and personal travel alike will keep seeing red in traffic snarls until the Victorian Government seriously shifts its priorities.”
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. 
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.”
Melbourne is a 24 hour city: transport provision should reflect this, but it’s no magic wand
A comprehensive all-night public transport network, introduced by the Andrews Government in 2016, plays a vital role in Melbourne’s night-time economy and in helping people find safe and affordable ways home. But people should resist the temptation to judge it against ‘magical’ expectations, the Public Transport Users Association has declared.
The comments come in response to studies by Deakin University researchers Dr Ashlee Curtis and Prof Peter Miller, summarised in an article in The Conversation on 22 July. The researchers claim that when judged against an objective of reducing alcohol consumption and assaults in the central Melbourne nightlife precinct, the all-night transport services have had no noticeable effect.
“Night-time public transport in Melbourne serves a whole range of purposes, the same way daytime transport does,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton. “It’s used by many nightlife venue patrons, but also hospitality workers, cleaners, shift workers, Sunday morning fun-run participants, and others who for whatever reason are far from home in the wee hours.”
“So it’s unfortunate that the Deakin researchers frame the initiative as having the sole objective of somehow reducing alcohol consumption and assaults in the city after dark,” Dr Morton said. “Its purposes as we saw them were rather less heroic. A transport system is not a tool for moral improvement. In our view it was more about giving the travelling public more flexibility around late-night and early-morning travel, and not abandoning a growing night-time population to unreliable, costly and unsafe ad-hoc transport options.”
“Rolling out the Night Network was in keeping with the whole concept of public transport as a universal service, something a first-world city like Melbourne ought to value. There’s a substantial night-time economy in Melbourne as there is in any large city, for better and for worse. We appreciate there’s a tendency to label Night Network users as ‘drinkers’ but that’s really oversimplifying a diverse mix of activities.”
Dr Morton also called for more research on Melbourne’s nightlife, in particular to test an ‘audacious’ suggestion by the Deakin researchers that introducing all-night public transport had actually led to a small increase in alcohol consumption. “This appears to be based on qualitative observations by the researchers themselves over the period immediately before and after the Night Network commenced,” said Dr Morton. “This calls for further study using verifiable criteria, and ideally looking at several years’ data to see whether there’s an actual trend, as opposed to over-interpreting what may be a chance fluctuation at one point in time.”
A suggestion by the researchers that ride-hailing services such as Uber have ‘solved’ late-night transport provision also drew criticism. “Perish the thought we should be taking lessons on safe, efficient transport from US and other cities with poorer safety records than Melbourne,” Dr Morton said. “People struggled to get taxis because there’s only so many cab drivers prepared to work that risky night shift, and it’s no different if they’re driving for a ride-hailing service instead. Regular public transport is far safer for all concerned.”
Dr Morton concluded with a reminder that the present Night Network is also far from perfect in the PTUA’s view. “We’ve said on a number of occasions since 2016 that the government, having devoted substantial resources to enabling the Night Network, could be using these resources much more effectively. The Night Bus network in particular needs rethinking from scratch, preferably by basing it on the routes that exist during the day and that people already understand. Inefficiency and confusion is the reason the public cost per passenger is higher than it could be.”