The MTF argues that a more public transport-oriented Melbourne requires additional investment in infrastructure and services, and calls on decision makers to invest the necessary funds to ensure that Melbourne’s transport system continues to support the city’s attractiveness – rather than deteriorating into a liability for our liveability.
A state-of-the art transport system?
A comparison of public transport provision and performance in Melbourne and 13 other high-liveability cities paints a sobering picture:
- Public transport in Melbourne carries a lower percentage of all trips than in Sydney, Toronto, Montreal and the European cities.
- All European cities in the sample have lower levels of car ownership but are wealthier than every Australian city. There is also a trend for richer cities to also be richer in public transport service.
- Melbourne invests comparatively little of its wealth in transport infrastructure, and an even smaller share of that on public transport.
- The more public transport-oriented European cities have been more successful in minimising the cost of transport to the community, making more of their wealth available for productive economic activities.
- Most of the other cities, including Toronto and Sydney, have considerably less parking in their central business districts than Melbourne.
- Melbourne’s on-road public transport is less than half as fast as road traffic, and Melbourne’s trains, the fourth-slowest in the sample, do not keep up with the speed of cars either.
- Melbourne’s public transport system does not make it easy to transfer from one service to another. Trains, trams and buses are not well connected and there are not enough well-serviced cross-suburban routes.
- Melbourne has a greater length of roads per person than any of the other cities, while its provision of reserved-track or reserved-lane public transport infrastructure is average – even in comparison to its Australian neighbours.
The economic benefits of public transport
How will Melbourne benefit economically from spending more on public transport and less on roads?
The State Government’s Metropolitan Transport Plan has a very narrow interpretation of the role transport policy plays in supporting economic growth.
It only considers improving the movement of goods and business-related traffic through the city. There is no recognition of the importance of attractive, pedestrian-oriented centres to enable the clustering of creative and knowledge industries. In a post-industrial city, most employment, innovation and economic growth is generated in these sectors.
Melbourne 2030 sets targets on activity centre consolidation and plans to curb Melbourne’s outward growth. To support these goals, the expansion of fixed and reliable rail systems becomes critical. They offer a real transport solution both in the inner and outer suburbs, and a real land investment opportunity by increasing the value and viability of properties near the stations.
Reconfiguring Melbourne’s urban growth around public transport access in strong activity centres will future-proof the city’s economy, and its social equilibrium. Petrol price increases and growing daily travel distances currently put Melbourne’s businesses and private households under sustained pressure, and increase the city’s economic vulnerability to possible future fuel scarcity.
In households without adequate public transport, the growing costs of multiple car ownership and excessive travel create socio-economic distress, resulting in unemployment and social isolation. Residents can no longer afford to regularly and reliably access jobs and community networks. In contrast, where mobility alternatives are attractive, even wealthy urbanites do not opt for tying a higher than necessary share of their income to motor vehicles. Car ownership and use in gentrifying inner suburbs are stable or declining, and public transport use has become a way of life independently of personal income.
First-class public transport for all of Melbourne
Public transport in Melbourne needs to become more competitive with the car – with greater speeds, better connectivity between routes, higher frequencies and longer operating hours. Simultaneously, public transport access must constantly improve to increase the attraction of high-amenity activity centres as places to do business. The MTF outlines the following six priorities:
- Increase rail capacity on congested routes through operational, timetabling and signalling improvements, and duplication of single track lines.
- Extend train lines and construct additional stations to service urban fringe growth areas – Mernda, Aurora, Wyndham Vale, Cranbourne East and Melton – and the Doncaster and Rowville corridors.
- Connect all principal, major and specialised activity centres by train, tram or SmartBus with a minimum 10-minute frequency and with better traffic priority for trams and buses.
- Upgrade suburban bus services and frequency (at least every 15 minutes), as direct services seven days a week to at least 10 pm.
- Accelerate delivery of measures to achieve disability compliance across the system.
- Reform franchising agreements and re-establish an accountable and integrated public transport planning agency in State Government.
Not a priority: Major new road projects, other than in designated growth areas at the urban fringe.