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Not that it's open at the moment but London has a fantastic transport museum. So does tiny Hobart. But Melbourne, despite trams being a large part of its urban identity, does not. Or at least one that has buses trains and trams in the one convenient near-CBD place.
Hopes were raised when 'self-confessed train buff' and Liberal leader Matthew Guy backed a land transport museum at Newport. However his party lost the election and the concept lost traction.
However, like 1 am Chapel Street pizza in a drunk's stomach, you can't keep a good idea down.
The museum has just got a powerful new champion. In the most unlikely of places. The premier's office. Like everything else lately, from unemployment, shut schools to empty trains, you can attribute this to the Corona Virus. First some background. It's important. But you can scroll one-third down if you don't wish to waste a single minute learning about Melbourne's newest and most exciting museum plan.
Right now feels a bit like depression plus war. We have the internet now but unlike today's 'social distancing' entertainment and sport kept going to maintain morale at home and on the frontline. And there was a concerted national effort to lift spirits. This was to keep the population committed to victory and lessen the effect of enemy propaganda. No one wanted to relive the privations of the Great Depression. Hence expectations of better times ahead were raised by overtly planning for the postwar era. Not just for prosperity but also reconstruction.
The word, from Sir Robert Menzies down, was that prewar conservatism would not do. That was Labor's line too but the new Liberal Party made it bipartisan. Governments promised and gave benefits to returned servicemen. For example small farms under soldier settlement schemes (with mixed success),
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UM20uTCisvM. These schemes were conceived during the war, probably to give soldiers something personal to fight for in the quest for an Allied victory. This set the scene for the modern welfare state that extended benefits to groups beyond the old, the widowed and the returned. Largely funded by the transfer of income tax from the states to the federal government.
Factories got converted from making consumer goods to armaments. We're seeing similar re-purposing now. Hotels, devoid of regular guests, are now isolating the flown-in. Jeff's Shed is becoming an emergency hospital. Work has also changed. With so many industries shut down yet increased demand for welfare services, health care and support for those in isolation, the labour market is undergoing an upheaval something like a wartime mobilisation funded by government.
When the threat passes there will be similar disruption and demobilisation as we rebuild civilian business and social life. Tourism might rebound but given existing worrying trends for retail it is possible that it will not return to pre-virus employment levels. Depression and mass unemployment threaten with the federal government seeking to avert this through a $130 billion wage subsidy program announced on Monday.
The premier's office knows this. It's not widely known that it is establishing an elite planning unit to deal with post-pandemic reconstruction. The changes involved will rank with postwar demobilisation and absorption of refugees, the entry of women into paid work and deindustrialisation in their speed and magnitude.
Whatever is done needs to work. Except for those in essential industries, today's true patriots grow their hair long, buy only what they need and bum around the house. New (or revived) social expectations as regards employment and the role of government cannot be quickly unlearned. Instead they need to be deftly managed to maintain civil order and even the legitimacy of private property and capitalist production. 2019's political fracas over franking credits now looks puny compared to the tax hikes that will be required to balance the books when the good times return.
Premier's Post-Pandemic Reconstruction Unit
Unlike John Curtin's Department of Post-War Reconstruction this is not a conventional office. Rather, in the spirit of the times, the premier's Post Pandemic Reconstruction Unit (PPRU) is a network of creative people and influencers working from home in their pyjamas. Which is to the good because those hired, though individually brilliant, wouldn't necessarily make a harmonious team.
We've got to accept that as these times call for the best minds and we'd be hobbled without them. A bit like the 'brains trusts' pieced together before and during WWII. Such was the war's success that it led to a thirty year long expansion of and faith in central planning and government.
That broke down around the Me generation era. Oil prices went sky high, exceeded only by unemployment. Governments, though bigger, seemed less effective. Then we got forty years of market liberalism, freer people movement and casualised work. The size of government didn't go down much but those near the top got more tax breaks.
Things hummed along and reported unemployment was less than at any time since the 1970s. It was a long time between recessions with many too young to remember the last. The GFC saw government interventions like corporate bail-outs, guaranteeing bank savings and handouts to get people to spend. But the latter were one-offs and normal business resumed with markets reaching new highs post GFC.
Politicians with left-wing redistributive economic agendas bombed at the 2019 polls in both the UK and Australia. Socialist Bernie Sanders is lagging in the US Democratic Party primaries after initial excitement. Crises though can trump ideologies. For instance right now where 2019's nominally conservative pro-market victors are looking more like last century's socialists. Michael Bachelard from The Age gets all this. Prepare for Dan Andrews or even Scott Morrison to poach him as a senior strategist.
The PPRU has a tough job ahead to restore confidence and get Victoria working and partying again.
During the virus Melbourne's Saturday nightlife diminished to be less than Perth's on a weeknight. Which, as anyone whose been west knows, is negligible. Even less than Adelaide's.
Pubs closed, shops retreated to 1960s trading hours, most entertainments were cancelled and organised sport was suspended. Just like a country town without even footy on Saturday arvo or church on Sunday morning. Dole queues, due to social distancing, are longer than during the 1930s Great Depression.
As during the war interstate travel was restricted and non-essential movement discouraged. Activities such as much retail, entertainment, arts and some personal services basically vanished along with thousands of jobs that depend on them. Some things still happened but we became a shut-in society, with only the reckless and the homeless (some of whom had work until recently) on the streets.
We may get months of indoor living. More than double what even a Melbourne winter normally gives. Home-based hobbies are booming. Online gambling and selling generally might do well. However many will have neither the money nor confidence to spend up big.
Much of the largely middle-class 'work' from home crowd has given themselves holidays or light duties, possibly reflecting how trivial many of their jobs really are. They've become ascetic hippies for whom careers and consuming have ceased to matter. Construction is still working though with the CFMMEU's John Setka even wanting more hours. Ditto for the take-away and delivery-based precariat, possibly breaching social distancing, with only the quieter roads providing relief, especially for those on piece rates.
It is possible that the 'WFH crowd' may look back on life during the virus era with affection, with it changing their outlook and behaviour for a few years afterwards. If this continues the business cases for expensive CBD-based road and rail infrastructure projects may look shakier, with not even fudges like 'wider economic benefits' enough to make them stack up.
The long-term record seems to show that (at least in traditional male dominated industries like construction) people prefer more work and more pay preferably with slabs of double-time overtime dollars. In other areas (eg the public sector) workers may favour merely decent pay but with an increasing array of reasons (some fair, some self-indulgent) for leave to be taken. These seem to have replaced earlier union campaigns for 35 hour weeks waged over many decades. Both tendencies amongst sections of the middle-paid widened their inequality relative to much of the self-employed and 'coolie-class' who get few if any of these benefits.
Unless we want a low-work economy something like proposed by 1970s 'death of work' automation futurists or European-style post-materialist Greens, we'll have to return to our previous consumption and gregariousness after this plague passes for the good of peoples livelihoods. Just like war it's a battle for honour, in this case Melbourne remaining Australia's events capital post-pandemic. It is on ideas to restore this that the PPRU is working hard through a new agency called Post-Pandemic Reconstruction Victoria.
PPRV tasks will include getting people out and together. This will give chefs diners to feed, tutors students to teach, performers an audience to amuse and tram drivers passengers to carry.
A federally-funded Pensioners Auxiliary Corps will pay retired folk to welcome tourists, tell visitors about places to go, keep the streets clean, advise uneven pavements and report car intrusions on Swanston St. They will also sell myki cards as the pandemic made the Free Tram Zone untenable due to the crowding it induced on trams. The $100 per day pay (tax-free and on top of any pension) that Pensioners Auxilary members get will stimulate spending and fill the RSLs again.
Enforced winter 'stay home' rules for artists, poets and playwrights will make this summer the most creative in years, with new work exhibitions, readings and performances each night of the week. The post-pandemic reconstruction unit will subsidise ticket prices and venue charges to make shows happen and rebuild lost audiences.
Transport is well and good but people need places to see and reasons to travel. New attractions are needed to overcome the 'staying in' habit, which will be particularly entrenched this winter on doctors orders. The PPRV is already up to its neck in proposals to get people out in late spring and summer.
The most advanced proposal is a transport museum for Melbourne. Fast-tracked planning means it can open as soon as the pandemic has eased. PPRV has advised me that, unlike most museums, getting a collection is the least of their worries. In fact it's already been assembled. Items are stacked in an unmarked warehouse at Campbellfield not far from where there was once a station.
This will be a museum like no other. You won't find any dusty rusty buses here. Instead its displays are laced with hipster-inspired irony up to and including its name: Metropolitan Museum of Failed Transport Initiatives (MMFTI or, colloquially, The Met Museum). The concept is modelled on Sweden's Museum of Failure. Transport projects that failed, only briefly existed, or were proposed but never happened will occupy the main display.
MMFTI is proud to be on a restored Central Pier, Docklands. Its condemnation last year was simply 'fake news' to quickly clear the site of existing tenants to make way for The Met. It's a fitting location given the unkind remarks sometimes made about Docklands' success or otherwise. Previous commercial usage hasn't exactly thrived. However it is hoped that the museum will be the magnet Docklands so desperately needs.
'Close to transport' isn't just a real estate cliche. D-class trams (picked for their spacious seating and amazing window ledges) will stop at the door and there'll be ample parking for O-bikes. A far cry from Docklands' inaccessible Waterfront City, which was only ever good as a set for films about pandemics and nuclear wars. MMFTI's also wins with its entry ticketing, using the time-tested 'scratch card' system.
Last month I visited Campbellfield to get a preview of what to expect. Normally I wouldn't be able to write about this. However this condition has been waived for today only. PPRV is grateful for any publicity the project gets; it's all about getting people to look forward to going out again. Anyway these photos will give a flavour of what you'll see when you visit.
1. Bikes in trees (Dockless in Docklands)
The exhibits will start before you enter. The first will be an O-bike up a tree. If a suitable tree could be persuaded to take to Dockland's barren soils this is what the display will look like. O-bikes were dockless share bikes dumped on the streets of Melbourne a few years back. Unfortunately many ended up in trees, the Yarra or blocking footpaths instead. With it and similar schemes going bust it's hard to think of a more appropriate inclusion.
At least two more trees will be planted. One of these will be for the blue bikes, an earlier dock-based scheme that had a small catchment and even lower use. A smaller sapling is being reserved for the new red bikes in case these join the museum. Another O-bike inside will form a rideable display so visitors can see how hard these gearless clunkers are to pedal with various simulated road conditions and gradients.
2. Regional Victorian bus shelter
It will take some effort to get it into the museum building but this piece of public transport infrastructure justifies inclusion on two grounds. The first is that, according to the local paper, this South Gippsland shelter does not. Apparently it offers little protection against Wonthaggi's wind and rain. The museum version will be under a shower rose near a big fan so visitors can judge for themselves.
Secondly it symbolises shelters erected by now-convicted shonks who defrauded the Victorian taxpayer from the inside by awarding contracts to their own company. They were Barry Wells and Albert Ooi who are now in clink. Read about Operation Fitzroy that detected their fraud here and here. MMFTI will team up with business schools to offer role-playing games based on the case to teach fraud prevention and detection.
3. The 4D double decker train
Sydney has double decker suburban trains. Melbourne, and most other cities, do not.
It's debatable whether double decker trains increase network capacity or not. Intuitively they should. However if they only have a couple of doors per carriage then they need to sit at platforms for longer to disgorge all their passengers. Such extended dwell times reduce a line's ability to run closely spaced trains. That offsets the higher passengers moved per hour capacity we thought we were getting with the bigger trains. Improving signalling might be a better investment.
Double deck trains work best for inner-regional commuter type services where you want passengers to have a seat but don't need the very high frequencies that an urban metro might have. They'd share tracks with regional freight trains but not with frequently stopping metro services that need to be closely and regularly spaced.
Based on Sydney's Tangaras, the 4D (Double Deck Development and Demonstration) was a one-off trial train built for the Public Transport Corporation. It was likely conceived during the brief period of optimism in the late 1980s (around when the Met Plan came out) after train patronage had recovered from its 1981 nadir.
Unfortunately by the time 4D was commissioned in 1992 patronage had again slumped due to the state's major recession and poor service reliability. Big patronage rises were not to return until more than 10 years later by which time the 4D had been scrapped.
Apart from the cost of the train itself, another major expense were works done on the Belgrave and Lilydale lines to accommodate its unusual dimensions. These were to prove redundant.
The Met Museum can't bring you the original 4D since it was (literally) scrapped. However it will house a replica built by students attending one of the premier's free TAFE courses. Higher train capacity was again thought a necessity a few years ago with new HCMT trains being built. However this time they'll be longer (7 carriages) and not higher.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtsHLm-AgCA on public display a few years back. The HCMT project is running behind schedule but the current virus-induced patronage slump should buy some time as to when they'll be really needed.
4. Maps showing half the network
No transport museum is complete without some old station signs or maps. Especially, if for this museum, they are useless duds. An example is these maps from Hillside Trains from the early days of rail franchising c2000 when the network was split into two privately-run fiefdoms.
Not even all stations that Hillside trains serve at were shown on all maps, such as this example which omitted Parliament, Melbourne Central and Flagstaff (that 'rival' Bayside Trains managed).
The geniuses at the time thought that corporate vanity was more important than passenger convenience so they opted to show only half the network. 'Their' half. Even though passengers travel network-wide, and with only a few exceptions cannot practically choose their train operator.
With folly like that it's not surprising that this incarnation of rail franchising failed soon after. Read why here. Examples of signs and merchandise from The Met, PTC, Hillside, Bayside, Connex, Swanston, M>Train, M>Tram, National Bus, MBL, Metlink and Transport for Victoria eras will be displayed throughout the museum to illustrate the frequent expensive rebrandings (for no return) the system underwent, particularly during the early 2000s.
Although Hillside's map makes it into the museum, its website does not. Despite the name being long-gone, Hillside's website is still part of the present since someone is keeping it online, more than 15 years after they became Connex (and now Metro). Click here for 2000-era web design at its finest (and it was actually pretty good, having toned down the late 1990s text effects and cheesy fonts).
5. Disposable Myki
Technology will be a major part of the Metropolitan Museum of Failed Transport Initiatives. Not least because IT (or more precisely Victoria's chronic mismanagement of IT) has been a major source of failures in transport. MMFTI will have a whole wing devoted to failed ticketing schemes. It needs to as there's been so many over decades.
Unknown or forgotten by most were the short-lived short-term disposable Myki tickets. These briefly littered the streets of Geelong and possibly other regional cities during Myki's trial period.
Made of stiff card they were a full smartcard that cost a bomb to produce. So much so that their per ticket production cost wasn't much less than some fares it was issued for. They should have stuck with cheap paper tickets for short term travel, at least on buses. But they didn't, leading to the disposable myki debacle.
Disposable Myki never made it to Melbourne. Instead it was jettisoned to stop the listing Myki ship from sinking before it could make a final dash to port. Other cast-offs include Myki's extension to outer area V/Line services and ticket vending machines on trams.
A planned school holiday activity will be a game with special foil tickets that you need to scratch before the inspector comes (or do you?). Whoever gets away with the most free trips wins. 'Scratchies' seem incomprehensible to the mobile myki generation but it's part of the historical educational role museums like this play.
Also coming to the ticketing wing will be the actual machine that refused to accept the minister's money with the news footage playing on high rotation. An old Metcard ticket vending machine, good at taking money but giving nothing in return, in the foyer will let visitors donate to the museum's preservation projects.
6. Murray Basin Rail Project
What's that pile of century-old track and rotting sleepers in the corner? It's a fragment taken from near Ararat. The Murray Basin Rail Project ran way over budget and over time because (amongst other things) they didn't realise how degraded the infrastructure was. Read this recent Auditor General report for the details. To further remind visitors MMFTI will have a toy library and replica washaway sandpit. Children will play in this with Tonka trucks while parents have railway coffee and stale fruitcake in the decommissioned Colonial Tramcar Restaurant.
7. Mernda busway
Governments can oscillate on whether they want to build railways or not. For example there was a political promise to extend Epping trains to South Morang after a community campaign. That got canned with a rail connector bus instituted instead. After the mid-2000s rail patronage surge the extension was back on the agenda with the extended line opening in 2012.
Community campaigners advocated a further extension to Mernda given the substantial housing development taking place. The Brumby Labor government, which was facing an election, promised a busway not a railway. It lost.
The Baillieu Coalition government scrapped the busway proposal which the locals never warmed to anyway. However it had no other immediate plans for the area. For example 2012's PTV Rail Network Development Plan gave 2032 as the year for Mernda rail, after numerous other projects had been done first.
With Labor now in opposition, they, under leader Daniel Andrews, promised rail to Mernda. He won in 2014 and commenced construction. Mernda's train service opened in 2018, leapfrogging over other proposed but as yet unbuilt projects. A chronology of most of the above is here.
There doesn't seem to be much remaining online about the short-lived busway proposal but a little is here. However it was not a failure; it was merely a 'never was'. And, perhaps unusually, it got replaced not by nothing but what locals wanted all along.
Using bus seats and head-wrapped video screens MMFTI will feature an interactive virtual ride to let people experience the busway they never had.
8. The backs of bus timetables at stops
It's pretty obscure but it affects passengers at tens of thousands of stops. When Metlink started putting timetables at stops most (space permitting) had a local area network map on the back. Then several years ago they stopped doing it. Removing maps has made the bus network a complete mystery, rather than merely a partial mystery. The museum has a display of old and new stop timetable styles. A museum bus catching activity for children will challenge them to navigate with and without maps.
9. Altona North Park and Ride
Spending a penny at The Met Museum will be a unique experience. This is because the museum's toilets are a replica of the driver ablution block and shelter at Altona North Park and Ride in Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne's Williamstown electorate. While railway station car parks (and the bus one at Doncaster) overflow with commuters' cars, the same cannot be said for the Altona North Park & Ride. This gets three or four cars on a good day.
Hemmed in by fences, roads and a stationless railway it's an unattractive wasteland with no passive surveillance. One wouldn't wish to leave a car there for 9 or 10 hours. And it's near few homes.
The one bus that serves it runs to Melbourne CBD via an unreliable traffic-delayed route involving the West Gate Bridge. That was well used in the '90s but traffic congestion and local degentrification cost it patronage. Nearby shops have closed and the only reason Park & Ride remains is likely compensation for the now closed Paisley Station on the other side of Millers Rd.
As to what should happen, I don't think too many would miss it if the facility closed tomorrow. However ideally this should happen with a revised bus network without dead-end termini. And with most Werribee trains now on the direct main line (instead of via Altona), rebuilding and reopening Paisley Station wouldn't be a bad idea, especially if the weekday pattern also operated on weekends to provide a full service.
10. Contract supervision failures and empty buses
Yes, there will be a bus at this museum after all. Its plastic front (with registration) will be sitting in the luggage area behind the driver. This 'front fell off' installation artistically represents an actual incident caused by the combination of a corner-cutting bus operator and indifferent contract supervision from a few years back (it might have improved now).
In what's expected to generate queues of families, kids will be able to board the bus but only in very limited numbers. Just six will be permitted per museum operating hour. This reflects the low usage of routes such as the 280/282 Manningham Mover that does big loops without carrying many while partly duplicating other routes. The vehicle will be a pensioned-off Optare, a vehicle known to be quite particular as regards to maintenance.
That's a wrap up of things to look forward to when the Metropolitan Museum of Failed Transport Initiatives opens. Are you excited? I know I am! I might even apply to work there. It's great that it will have some high-profile backing with Bryan Dawe, of
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3m5qxZm_JqM fame, booked to officially open it.
The Met Museum is sure to be a major contributor to pandemic reconstruction efforts to get people out and about. It will rank with Fed Square, NGV, Southbank and Cooks Cottage as a stop on every visitor's itinerary. And it will more than repay its modest running cost. This is because it will prevent future errors by retelling otherwise forgotten fables of failure. Imagine if in forty years a proposal to split and franchise the rail network was before state cabinet. Chances are it would be rejected, and billions saved, if most of 2060's cabinet can recall a childhood visit to MMFTI.
I know people in the premier's office, including the Post Pandemic Reconstruction Unit, read this blog. If there's anything you'd like in the museum now's the time to comment below and it might be possible to acquire them at firesale prices. Just get your ideas in by noon today April 1, 2020 as they're working under tight deadlines to make it all happen.
You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics
Breaking Point: The Future of Australian Cities
The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees
Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age Paul Mees
(Sales links: I get a small commission if you buy via the above - no extra cost to you)
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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