The Null Device

The Most Drivable City

A new report shows that Melbourne's public transport system is close to catastrophic collapse, due to underfunding and neglect in favour of cars. With the greatest length of roads per capita in Australia, the third lowest public transport patronage of fourteen cities surveyed, the lowest relative cost of driving to catching public transport, and the Bracks government's record spending on freeway building, Melbourne is changing from the most livable city to the most drivable city, a venerable Houston-under-the-Southern-Cross.
The man behind the new report and one of the world's top transport academics, Professor Peter Newman, warns the Government it will lose next year's election if it does not commit to a wide-ranging series of public transport projects.
I thought the problem was precisely the opposite: that winning a state election depended on marginal outer-suburban electorates, where voters don't use public transport, have already invested in cars (one per household member of driving age, typically) and want good roads to take them where they need to go, rather than seeing their taxes squandered on trains and trams for a tiny elite of latte-sipping inner-city types.

Of course, from my experience, a big part of it is the fact that public transport in Melbourne is run to a beggars-can't-be-choosers philosophy. It is assumed that those who want a comfortable ride, rather than standing all the way nose-to-armpit with other strangers, have invested in cars and parking space, and so public transport is organised as the cheapest possible way of getting the poor wretches who can't afford cars from their housing commission flats to the dole office or call centre. Which is the only way that pulling the seats out of trams to make more standing room could make sense. And why those who can afford to avoid public transport do so, further exacerbating the vicious circle.

The privatisation programmes are also a problem, with a big chunk of public transport money being paid to the new owners of the system to keep them from packing up and leaving. Of course, being publicly-traded corporations, they have a duty to their shareholders to squeeze the most profit from the least investment.

There is more detail here about the present state of affairs; and here is a map of what Melbourne's train network could (and should) look like to meet demand. It includes all the old favourites (lines to Rowville via Monash University and to Doncaster down the Eastern Freeway), as well as two new branches from the Epping line. Mind you, adding all those branches to the various lines would probably necessitate either adding another layer to the City Loop or having trains stop frustratingly short of the loop. The idea floated in a previous report, of having a second line encircling the inner north, going from North Melbourne, via Fitzroy, to the Eastern Freeway and Doncaster, could be better.

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