Current public transport services in Melbourne are the historic legacy of fragmented and competing train and tram lines (largely built for a CBD-commuter market of declining relevance), and a confusion of bus routes that cater for a largely captive market of pensioners and school students. Timetables and route layouts are complex, confusing and unattractive to users. Basic operating patterns were set during the first half of the 20th century, and they have become increasingly inefficient through decades of tinkering.
The flawed ‘partnership’ between the State Department of Infrastructure and the private operators has greatly reduced the chances of fixing this. Without some careful thinking, the new tendering process could simply perpetuate our problems. We must recognise the differences between the old-fashioned, fragmented reality of the current system and the modern ‘urban network’ model used in more successful cities. The main principle behind the ‘urban network’ model is to use careful planning and high standards of service delivery to achieve maximum flexibility for travellers.
Flexibility and ease of transfers Flexibility for users is created by making it easy for travellers to transfer between services. More destinations are open to the traveller; and network efficiencies allow the public transport operator to deliver good frequencies at an affordable cost. The steps in developing a network are:
- develop a multimodal timetable and route layout to maximise the convenience of passengers. Across Melbourne, this would mean either high-frequency services (requiring no timetable for transfers) or tightly coordinated timetables for train, tram and bus connections.
- the existing train and tram lines would be the backbone of this system with supporting buses operating on a grid as regular as topography will allow;
- identify any additional infrastructure, vehicles and staff needed to efficiently deliver the timetable;
- prioritise budget allocations to deliver the new timetable and route layout.
Calls for modern ‘seamless’ public transport in Melbourne are not new. Why is it not happening?
Current governance a problem
Simply, the current governance structure for public transport in Melbourne is too cumbersome and too unfocused to deliver a modern network. Like all the modern cities that have delivered sustained growth in public transport use, we need a public agency that has the powers and the single-mindedness to drive the reorganisation of Melbourne’s fragmented collection of public transport lines. This agency could then decide what operations of the network are best contracted to private operators.
Beyond governance, a further obstacle
to developing a modern public transport network in Melbourne is the level of expertise among current transport managers. Most have either spent their working lives holding together the old, fragmented collection of train, tram and bus lines, or they were brought in to administer the complex franchise agreements. As Christopher Wren might have said: if you want to see their works, look around you, and then try to get there by public transport!