Glenhuntly and Truganini road track and overhead upgrade
Construction of new platform stops on St Kilda Rd - 11 June to early August 2015
Tram routes changed, abolished in shake-up to ease congestion
Moonee Ponds tram upgrade project
New accessible tram stop for Route 1 & 8 passengers
Toorak Terminus tram upgrade project
Record tram performance in 2014
May 2015 performance results
Your new Jolimont/MCG tram stop
Parliament's Economy and Infrastructure Committee is seeing submissions on expanding Melbourne's CBD 'Free' Tram Zone. As well as some other topics like student and senior travel.
You can find out more here, view the terms of reference and read submissions that have already been lodged.
And there's still time to put in a submission (the deadline is Friday 20 December).
I reckon that expanding the Free Tram Zone is a bad idea. As was the idea to introduce it in the first place. Below is my hastily written submission.
The Melbourne Free Tram Zone is bad policy. It should not be expanded.
Instead it should be abolished. As used to be the case only the City Circle tourist tram should not attract a fare.
Scrapping the FTZ would give equivalent crowding relief to buying several extra trams and improve conditions for regular paying tram passengers.
There is really no such thing as 'free' trams. Someone has to foot the bill. Proposals to expand the " 'free' tram zone" are all about making the general taxpayer, including regional and suburban Victorians, pay for something they don't use and don't benefit from.
Though sometimes pitched as encouraging public transport, the FTZ is anything but. For a start it does not benefit most existing public
transport passengers. In fact it makes travel conditions worse for them because trams are overloaded. Making paying passengers for locations beyond the CBD
wait for a tram they can board because trams are overloaded with short distance passengers enjoying the FTZ is both bad customer service and bad economics. And even if they can squeeze on, paying passengers' trips are delayed by longer dwell and boarding times at CBD stops.
Those who need mobility aids to get around are particularly hard hit by the FTZ as the crowding it induces means their chance of being able to board is reduced. Trams already get a bad rap for the inaccessibility of
many stops and vehicles. The FTZ just compounds these problems with the crowding
Does the FTZ make transport more sustainable, by encouraging active transport? No it does not. In fact it does the reverse. The FTZ provides an incentive to replace walking trips with tram trips. A great many FTZ trips are just a couple of stops and are easily done by walking. The over all effect
is negative (and encourages driving) to the extent that short distance FTZ users are displacing paying commuters on longer trips beyond walking distance.
If the tram service is degraded or impossible to board due to crowding some from the inner suburbs may switch to driving.
The FTZ can more directly encourage driving (and thus road congestion) in other ways as well. It is well known that some drivers park at
locations near where the FTZ starts. They then ride FTZ trams to reach their destination without paying a fare. Whereas charging a proper fare would mean
that there is no disincentive to use public transport all the way from their home.
Does the FTZ save regular commuters money? No it does not. We are fortunate to have integrated fares in Melbourne. Passengers coming from
the suburbs by bus, train or tram will already have a ticket valid for two hours. This includes tram travel in the CBD. Hence scrapping the FTZ will not
increase costs for passengers.
What about tourism? International tourists are (by definition) well off so can afford to pay a fare. In fact doing so improves their contribution to the Victorian economy. It's true that there are certain usabilty advantages of the FTZ in that tourists do not need to find a myki
outlet. However this comes at a cost. Not only in terms of fare revenue foregone but lost trade for businesses outside the FTZ including famous
precincts like St Kilda, Chapel St, Sydney Rd, Lygon St, Bridge Rd etc. Because the FTZ discourages tourists from buying a myki this discourages movement
outside the CBD and stunts their exploration of what Melbourne has to offer. Abolishing the FTZ and making ticketing more user-friendly (eg myki-free
payment facilities) would remove this restriction and more widely spread tourism's economic benefits.
Even within the CBD the FTZ can hold back business. CBD businesses benefit immensely from spontaneous passing foot traffic. Taking
people off the footpaths to put them in 'free' trams cannot be good for trade.
Another cost of the FTZ is the better things that could be done with the revenue you'd get by scrapping it. Worthy initiatives include (i) more trams, (ii) accessible stops, (iii) more frequent service, (iv) tram priority, (v) Bus upgrades for places trams don't go. Any of these would improve our transit network.
The world's most used public transport networks prioritise 'good transport' over 'cheap transport'. Melbourne should follow. The best
first step it could take is not expand the 'Free' Tram Zone. Secondly wind back the FTZ to only include dedicated tourist trams (eg the City Circle). Thirdly
upgrade our network by improving speed, frequency and accessibility with simpler fare payment options.
Kansas City recently voted to abolish fares on its local buses. Below is a typical Sunday timetable. The service is hourly during the day with no evening service. This service level is what you might call a 'safety net' service, providing minimum service for those without their own transport. Unless they are lucky with the timetable it is not helpful for those who need to be somewhere at a particular time or make a connection to another route. The timetable gives those with a choice many reasons not to use the service, with none to do with fares.
Kansas City effectively voted for 'free transit' over 'good transit'. While it may benefit the minority for whom the limited timetables are adequate, transit will not be a serious transport choice for most. And the lack of fare revenue will make the service fragile to cuts whenever the government runs into a spot of budget bother. Free transport may also fuel a culture of reduced consumer expectations which lead to poor service being accepted. And when you make something 'free' it takes political guts to resume user charges even if they pay for a better and more useful service.
'Free transit' is sometimes considered to be good for low income earners. However low income earners deserve good transit as much as anyone else. In fact more so since their jobs are more likely to be at night or on weekends when most routes either shut down or are infrequent.
If they are to obtain and keep employment they will need to take unreliable taxis or similar to reach their casual jobs. The fares for a single trip can easily exceed an hour's pay, meaning work basically doesn't pay. That excludes people from working and entrenches disengagement and poverty. Genuinely being concerned about enlarging opportunities means providing the best possible public transport service (especially off-peak, weekends and at night) for affordable (but not zero) fares. Because then if people can save just one or two taxi fares a week they'll be ahead compared to if service was inferior but 'free'. Much more detail on all this in my submission to the disadvantaged jobseekers inquiry.
In all ways then, 'free transit' seems a path to failure. Cities with truly successful transit systems don't need to apologise about charging fares since the fare revenue is part of funding the good service they run. And concession tickets can always be made available for those of limited means, such as we currently do in Melbourne with children, students, pensioners and low income earners.
Melbourne, don't be like Kansas City! Don't extend the Free Tram Zone. Preferably wind it back. Concentrate on boosting service instead.
This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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