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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:

PTUA slams North East Link rubber stamp decision

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.”[1]

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.”


[1] Odgers, J (2009). Have all the travel time savings on Melbourne’s road network been achieved?

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)

PTUA responds to Deakin Night Network study

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.”