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The $50 billion suburban rail loop burst onto the scene last August, and Melburnians show every sign of loving it. Even if people don’t personally expect to use it, they still hope it will get other people off the roads.
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, federal MP Anthony Albanese, Premier Daniel Andrews and Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan announcing joint funding for the suburban rail loop plan. CREDIT:AAP
But before you get too excited, consider whether this project is worth chewing up a generation’s worth of transport investment. There are plenty of reasons to be sceptical about this grand plan for a massive rail tunnel looping through the middle-ring suburbs.
Consider whether this project is worth chewing up a generation’s worth of transport investment
First and foremost is whether the project is really needed. Melbourne is very car-dominated, with 72 per cent of people driving to work. While that figure is down from 77 per cent a decade ago, it’s still true that driving remains the most convenient option for most people. The new rail loop will encourage more people onto public transport only if it is as convenient as driving.
Will it get people to work more quickly? Contrary to popular belief, commute times in Melbourne have barely changed in the past 15 years, even in the face of record population growth. Half of us spend no more than half an hour getting to work; a quarter spend no more than 15 minutes, and 90 per cent spend no more than an hour. Getting to work was only marginally quicker in 2002 than in 2016. Instead of letting their commute times blow out, people make other changes: they move home, they change where they work; they work more from home; or they change their method of travel.
And it’s not as if the rail loop stations are going to be in suburbs that are job hotspots. The 15 suburbs that will get a new station have only 9 per cent of Melbourne’s jobs between them. Jobs in Melbourne are very spread out, once you go beyond the 15.5 per cent in the CBD, Docklands and Southbank. Only three other suburbs have more than 1.5 per cent of the city’s jobs: Dandenong, with 3.2 per cent, Richmond, 1.8 per cent, and Clayton, 1.7 per cent.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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