The Null Device

In Melbourne, the car is king

A parcel of redirected mail from Australia just arrived, among it the December PTUA newsletter. I see that public transport in Melbourne is still being neglected, with the state government abandoning plans to upgrade bus timetables in the suburbs (i.e., to run buses after 7pm on weekdays or at all on weekends). Meanwhile, the usual new-year's fare increase includes making periodical tickets relatively more expensive (i.e., a weekly now costs as much as five dailies), thus encouraging people to avoid using public transport when not necessary. After all, why shell out $2.50 or so for a 2-hour Metcard to go down to the supermarket when you can hop in the Land Rover instead?

Living in London, I've come to appreciate just how good Londoners have it with relation to public transport. Yes, grumbling about the Tube is a local pastime in London (much in the way that complaining about the decline of Britain has been a British national pastime for the past two centuries at least), but at least the system works. You can rock up to a Tube station and expect a train in the direction you want to go in within 10 minutes at worst. Meanwhile, buses run in every possible direction, with a good number of routes running 24 hours a day (usually at 15-minute frequencies). In London, you can just about get anywhere from anywhere by public transport; there's even a pretty impressive website which, for any two points, will give you a list of options. In Melbourne, your options are limited; the railway network has a star topology, buses (other than the ones formerly run by the tramway authority) run limited hours, and after midnight, the whole system stops. (Except for Night Rider buses, which run only on Friday and Saturday nights, require special, premium-rate tickets, and run hourly on half a dozen routes.)

At the turn of the year, London's public transport fares (which, already, aren't the world's cheapest) increased by about 10%; however, that money is going into expanding and improving the system. And there's a vast number of projects going on or being planned. In the next few years, at least one Tube line (the East London line) is being extended in both directions, a mainline rail link (Crossrail) running east-west under London will be built, and a new Docklands Light Railway branch line is being built; not to mention several tramways in various parts of the metropolis. Melbourne's rises, however, get swallowed up by the costs of bailing out private investors panicked by fare evasion and putting out fires, leaving nothing left for anything resembling vision. The government officially has a goal of having 20% of journeys made by public transport by 2020 (or such), but actually achieving that is going to take supernatural intervention. When patronage increased, capacity could not keep up, so the operators' solution was to remove seats from trams, creating standing-room-only vehicles with a few seats reserved for the elderly and infirm.

There are 3 comments on "In Melbourne, the car is king":

Posted by: dj Mon Jan 17 07:03:02 2005

Does London have stricter planning requirements than most Australian cities. I don't know enough of the history of public transport there to understand why public transport is given a much greater priority.

I don't often catch the bus, but where I live now is well serviced by Australian standards (bus route almost at the front door, train a 5 minute walk away, tram to the beach or city 15 minute walk, or short bus trip away), although you still get the ridiculous cut offs at around 11 or 12 at night.

Posted by: acb Mon Jan 17 11:58:08 2005

London is much busier and denser, and was also built mostly before cars, and thus needs public transport. Without a public transport system, the city would grind to a halt.

The Tube and such are pretty impressive compared to anything in Australia that I've seen, but by London standards, the system is already said to be at its limits.

Of course, London's density of public transport makes it feasible to implement congestion charging, where all vehicles going into the central part of the city are tolled. There is no way that something like that could be done in Melbourne, mostly because most drivers have no alternative to driving.

Posted by: Michael http:// Mon Jan 17 23:42:07 2005

Australian Governments need to learn that when companies under bid to win a tender and then end up in financial difficulty, they need to be firm and say "You are private industry, you claim to be more efficient than pubilc services, you said you could do this so doit." and force them into bankruptcy if that what it takes to make them fairly bid.

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