Questions from students

Here are some previous questions from students, and brief answers provided by the PTUA.

April 2009 – Reducing emissions

The improvement of public transport in Victoria appears to be focused primarily on the need for more frequent and reliable services. Why are environmental issues ‘taking a back seat to this?

On the contrary, frequent and reliable services are vital to improving the environmental impact of transport. Half the average household’s emissions are caused by transport, primarily from cars. By providing frequent public transport services, even when these are powered by diesel or brown coal-fired electricity, emissions are slashed.

Is the Government doing enough to support environmentally friendly public transport in Victoria? If not, what more needs to be done?

No, they are not. There’s a lot more to be done to give more people around Melbourne and elsewhere in Victoria a viable choice of transport modes for more of their trips, including walking, cycling and public transport.

Specifically referring to Ventura’s ethanol initiative, would the Government be justified in not providing more financial support to this company so it could expand its ethanol fleet? Why/why not?

We are yet to hear conclusive results from Ventura’s trial, but obviously trials of cleaner fuels are to be encouraged.

Will it matter if the Government doesn’t take immediate action to make public transport in Victoria more environmentally friendly? With climate change and global warming becoming more serious, can we really afford to wait?

As above. 50 passengers on a bus, tram or in a train carriage generate much fewer emissions than if they were driving the cleanest cars.

Please see:

What is the PTUA’s view on the importance of environmentally friendly public transport in Victoria?

Reducing the emissions of public transport is important, but it’s not as important as just getting more services so that more people can get out of their cars.

April 2009 – Privatisation

Three companies, KeolisDowner EDI, MetroTrains Melbourne (MTM), and Veolia Transport have bid to operate Melbourne’s train system starting at the end of this year. Do you know exactly when the winner will be announced?

We believe it will be mid-year.

What is the process after a winner is decided?

The winning company would arrange to take control of rolling stock, infrastructure, operations and staff.

Is it true that the new company will be in operation by December 2009 and will operate Melbourne’s metro train system for up to 15 years?

Yes. If you have further questions about the details of re-franchising, you might want to ask the Department of Transport, or check their web site.

Department of Transport: Metropolitan train and tram franchising project

How quickly will we see changes?

No doubt whichever company wins will launch a publicity campaign to announce their arrival. Bigger changes will probably not be seen until later, but we’d hope to quickly hear how the winning company hopes to improve services.

What is actually involved in placing a bid? Did the companies get nominated or could anyone apply?

See the Department of Transport web site above. Companies put in initial expressions of interest and were then short-listed.

What is the PTUA’s opinion on which company would be best to operate Melbourne’s trains?

The bids themselves are secret. We are not aware of the specific proposals by each company, and thus have no view on which of the three would be best.

What does the PTUA actually think the result will be? Why?

Given the public outcry, it would seem unlikely than Connex/Veolia would keep the franchise, but it’s entirely up to the government. We can only hope that the best operator will be chosen.

Even if MTM or Keolis/Downer win, most of the current connex staff will remain in their positions. Does this mean not much change to operational procedures?

We would expect a new management team to look carefully at operations, and reform them where necessary.

What real changes can we reasonably expect?

We are hoping for additional services, more staff on stations and trains, better reliability through better maintenance practices, and improved customer service and cleanliness.

Are current problems (eg. late and cancelled trains, not enough services, high fare prices, etc.) more issues of the government rather than Connex?

Many of them are, yes. Whichever operator runs the system, the government needs to do a lot more to improve things. But the operator must also make the most of the resources they are given.

What really needs to be done to improve Melbourne’s train system?

Please refer to our document “Getting Melbourne’s Rail System Back On Track

Out of the three companies that have bid, Veolia appears to be the biggest and most experienced with metro trains. Would choosing a different company be more risky than keeping Connex/Veolia? How great are the chances that commuter’s problems will actually get worse if we switch to MTM or KeolisDowner EDI?

MTR and Keolis also have experience around the world. We would hope that the contract structure will ensure that performance can get no worse.

The global financial crisis is surely affecting the government’s budget. Is there a real chance that the government will favour the company that will save them the most money rather than one that is in the best interests for Melbourne?

Yes, there’s a chance. It’s important that the government gives the system to the best operator, not the cheapest.

Even if Veolia wins, trains will all be rebranded. Do you think this will improve public perceptions about Connex or is the rebranding just a cover-up?

Branding is almost inconsequential to passengers. What passengers really want is an efficient and reliable service, no matter who is running it.

There is a lot of public hate for Connex out there. Why are Veolia changing their name?

Veolia is the parent company of Connex. They have had that name for some time.

If Veolia is the name of the parent company, why did they become Connex in the first place?

At the time that they started in Melbourne, Connex was the brand name they used for public transport operations in many cities around the world.

Veolia runs buses in metropolitan areas all around Australia, as well as the metro train network in Auckland, NZ. How successful are they, and what problems do they have there? Do they have a good public reputation?

They all have their problems, but ultimately many of the issues in Melbourne are due to shortcomings in the fleet and infrastructure, which are owned by the government.

Veolia recently lost contracts to Keolis for Bordeaux, France, and to MTR for Stockholm, Sweden. Do these events tell us anything about the threats Veolia is facing in regards to winning in Melbourne?

One would hope that those cities chose the best operator for the job. With stiff competition, hopefully it means Melbourne’s operator (whoever wins) will do a better job.

MTM runs the train system in Hong Kong, which is said to be one of the most successful in the world. They have a reputation for having a successful smartcard system. If MTM win Melbourne’s trains, will we see a good smartcard system put in place soon?

No. The operator has no control over the ticketing system.

In this retendering process, is the question of privatization still coming up as an issue?

Some people still believe that public transport should not be privatised. But bringing it back under government control does not seem to be on the government’s agenda at the moment.

More information on this: Public transport governance

In regard to environmental factors, why is it important that we promote the use of train and other forms of public transport?

Public transport is a much more efficient way of moving people and goods, from both a space and energy point of view. Moving more trips out of cars and onto public transport is essential if we are to cut our greenhouse gas emissions.

What factors can you think of that deter people from using public transport?

The number one issue is the waiting time between services. For many trips, particularly in the middle and outer suburbs, this can exceed the total travel time. Services must be frequent if people are going to willingly get out of their cars.

Other factors include personal safety, confusing services and lack of information, crowding, comfort, cleanliness and easy-to-use ticketing systems.

What can the government do to reduce the factors that deter people from catching public transport?

The government can invest in ensuring that the problems of public transport are fixed, so it is easy, clean, safe, fast and frequent.

More information, particularly on frequency:

With the vast increase in users catching trains, what responsibility do governments have in ensuring that facilities (such as parking & ticket outlets) at train stations are able to keep up with the required demand?

Obviously it’s essential that the train system, which is the backbone of the public transport network, has sufficient capacity to cope with demand. Train fleet capacity is obviously the most critical point at the moment. Demand on station carparking has shown that more needs to be done to help people get to railway stations easier; more parking can help, but more also needs to be done to upgrade connecting bus services, pedestrian and bicycle access, so that people can catch a train without first having to drive their car.

April 2009 — Taxi superstops (RMIT)

Due to a large number of enquiries from RMIT students, we are not in a position to give individual replies. A response on this issue is below:

  • The PTUA is aware of the proposal, and the Mayor’s office did contact us, but the PTUA does not normally cover taxi issues, so we have no particular view on the concept.
  • However, we would note that if demand for taxis is so high that there are long queues for them, it would seem a boost in overnight public transport would be more appropriate in helping people get home more quickly.
  • At the moment tram and train services shut down around midnight Sunday to Thursday, and 1am on Friday and Saturday nights, with Nightrider buses running all night on weekends. We are supportive of later services running, 7-days-a-week. An initial first step could be to run Nightrider every night of the week. This would help not only late-night visitors to the CBD, but also shift-workers who currently have no public transport at night.
  • Public transport, particularly the train system, can be quite intimidating at night. Getting more staff out onto the system, on trams, trains and on stations, would help people feel safer when using the system at night.
  • Cr Doyle has proposed a number of ideas in relation to public transport. We are looking at the council’s proposals for Swanston Street, and do plan to make a submission into it. It is important that any changes around the CBD recognise that public transport is not just the dominant mode, it is also the most space-efficient and environmentally friendly way of getting people into the CBD, and it should be made safer and quicker.

March 2009

Q. Briefly describe the function of the Department of Transport and what is your role within the organisation?

A. We are not within the Department of Transport. The PTUA is an independent advocacy body.

More information:

Q. In your opinion, what are the positives and negatives about public transport?

A. Public transport is a clean, efficient way of moving people around a city.

But Melbourne’s public transport suffers from overcrowding on some services, particularly those routes serving the CBD, and long waiting times on others, especially in the outer suburbs.

Q. What would you say is the biggest issue that you are trying to fix?

A. Many of Melbourne’s middle and outer suburbs have no effective public transport, and people are forced to drive their cars. In many suburbs the only public transport is a bus every hour, and no services in the evenings or weekends, and if public transport is to provide a real alternative to car travel, it must be improved.

Q. What new features are you aiming for, in future trains, buses and trams?

A. Enough seats so that people travelling for more than a few minutes can sit down. Enough handholds so that people who stand have something in easy reach to hold onto. Better information (including maps on vehicles, readable destination signs, and reliable automated announcements).

But the most important thing is more frequent services.

Q. Are you in any way attempting to make public transport look more appealing to the public?

A. We are lobbying for more frequent services right across Melbourne. A number of things are needed to make public transport attractive, but the most important of these is cutting the waiting times.

Q. Why does public transport sometimes get delayed and how do you go about reducing the chance that it will?

A. Buses and trams often get stuck in traffic, and we would like to see more priority for them on the roads, including dedicated lanes and traffic light priority.

Trains need to improve their reliability, with better maintenance practices, and the duplication of single track sections, which cause any delay to have big flow-on effects.

Q. Would you like to tell us the 3 main achievements your organisation has accomplished in the previous year?

A. Please refer to:

Q. Do you think that the pricing of Melbourne’s public transport is fair?

A. Melbourne’s public transport is the highest-priced in Australia for most trips. The government should cut prices to make the cost of public transport more cost-competitive with car travel.

The zones should also be adjusted so the price doesn’t increase as much when crossing a zone boundary.

See this page for comparisons with other Australian cities:

Q. Do you believe that public transport provides enough services to cater for Melburnians needs and why?

A. No. While most services into the CBD and the inner-suburbs are fairly frequent (though overcrowded), in the outer suburbs, most routes run very infrequently. Many suburbs have buses that only run every hour on weekends (or not at all on weekends in some cases).

Q. When there are major events on, does the public transport system cater for the amount of extra people travelling on public transport and why?

A. For the most part, public transport copes well with major events, though there is scope for further boosting extra services to deal better with crowds.

Q. In what ways are the government and Connex working to improve public transport?

A. We know that the government has ordered 38 more trains, but they should be doing more to boost off-peak and evening train services, as well as tram and bus services.

Q. Do you think there should be more or less stops in the tram system?

A. The number of stops is about right. Trams do run slowly, but they could be sped up by providing traffic light priority, so that traffic lights detect an approaching tram and give it a green light.

Q. What’s your opinion on public transport, and what do you think the government can do to make a better transport system?

A. Public transport is a clean, efficient way of moving people around a city. There is scope for the government to provide all of Melbourne with a truly world-class public transport network, but the plans they currently have will not do that.

Q. Finally, would you use public transport to travel to your work?

A. Yes. Most if not all the PTUA’s committee members use public transport every day to get to work.

February 2009

Q. Why do you think there so many cancellations of train services?

A. Over the summer, the main reasons have been heat causing air-conditioning failures and buckled tracks. The government has not invested enough to make sure the train system can cope with the heat.

Q. Why do you believe trains are overcrowded?

A. More people have been using trains in the past couple of years, and the government and Connex have not planned for this properly, so there are not enough trains in service to cope with the crowds.

Q. Can the amount of people using public transport be reduced during rush hour? If so, can you please explain your answer?

A. More can be done to encourage some people to make their trips outside rush hour, such as providing more frequent services and express trains during off-peak hours, including in the evenings.

Q. What is your organisation doing to improve public transport and what do you hope to achieve by running it.

A. We are continuing to campaign for better public transport, both through the media and by directly lobbying the government and operators.

Q. Are public transport services declining in quality? What do you think?

A. Overall there have been additional services added, but these are not keeping up with patronage growth. Much of Melbourne still has deficient public transport, for instance in most suburbs which don’t have trams or trains, the buses are very infrequent, so most people with the choice of driving won’t use public transport, clogging up the roads.

Q. During hot days train tracks expand causing the tracks to warp and bend thus making some tracks impossible to pass over but originally they left small gaps in the tracks to prevent this issue.

A. Leaving gaps (“expansion joints”) can help prevent it. So too can replacing timber sleepers with concrete sleepers. The government claims they are doing this, but that it won’t be completed for about 15 years, so we expect more disruptions each summer until then.

Q. How would you rate Melbourne’s public transport against other Australian cities?

A. In some ways it’s better, in some ways it’s worse. Sydney’s public transport has its faults, but more people use it. Perth’s system is a good example of a rail network which is expanding fast, and is better at handling the growth in patronage.

Q. Do you believe it is not too late to fix the transport issue, as Melbourne is still small compared to cities like London, LA and New York?

A. A lot more can be done. We have a very big network, but the key is to provide frequent services to the areas that don’t currently have them, and to make the services faster and more reliable.

Q. Do you believe Melbourne’s tram system works efficiently?

A. It has problems, such as a lack of traffic priority which can make trips slow, and there is crowding on some routes. But it is very popular, and more suburbs would benefit from either trams, or buses that run like trams (frequent, 7-days-a-week, along main roads).


Q. What is the PTUA response to the government extending clearway times in and around the city?

We are wary about extensions of clearways. It has not been established that clearways bring lasting benefits to the speed of trams and buses. Like other forms of road expansion, they may simply lead to increased traffic, negating any benefits.

Additionally, shopkeepers have raised legitimate concern about the effects on their business, not just because of lost parking, but also because shopping and al fresco dining on a street with no buffer from free-flowing traffic is not pleasant for customers.

Q. Does the PTUA feel that this is the most practical solution in reducing traffic congestion?

Better public transport services, including street public transport such as trams and buses, should have a bigger effect at relieving traffic congestion, by providing more people with a viable alternative to driving.

Q. How would the PTUA like to see traffic congestion reduced?

Boosting public transport, including traffic light priority for trams and buses, will get cars off the road, reducing traffic congestion.

Q. Do the PTUA currently feel that there are enough resources and money being put into public transport to deal with issues like traffic congestion?

Some money is being put into tram and bus priority, but so far this has only been on a small scale, and has not included active traffic light priority (that is, where the traffic light detects an approaching tram/bus and changes to green so it can go straight through). More effective priority for public transport on our roads will have a much bigger effect.