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(No Timetable Tuesday today as the State Government has been talking infrastructure, and, for a change, so shall I)
The current emphasis
A common criticism of the current state government's transport infrastructure agenda is that there's a heavy reliance on a small number of big projects. Any government MP can rattle them off. Eg the Metro Tunnel, West Gate Tunnel, North-East Link and, the biggest of them all, the Suburban Rail Loop. The narrative has been that population is growing fast and previous governments did little so we need these big projects to fix the backlog, provide for the future and create jobs.
Level crossing removals
Also central to the government's agenda are the various road / rail grade separations. They are part of a multi-billion dollar project which the current government has made its signature policy. The opposition tried to whip up controversy over the elevated rail designs chosen for some stations, particularly on the Dandenong line. However 'Skyrail' has proved a master-stroke for Daniel Andrews with his government being returned with an increased majority in 2018. However even one grade separation is not cheap with a price tag of $100m, maybe $200m per site (especially if new stations are needed).
Another station-related project popular with politicians is extra commuter parking, which almost none of them would want to be charged. That seems cheap at maybe $20k per added spot if the land is there. But the economics of it are lousy. This includes the large opportunity costs in high land value areas where you could instead be building rate-paying homes and businesses on the site. Multi-storey is one option but that multiplies per space cost greatly. 'Free' station parking is also a very generous for a small number of station users, who, even if they pay full fare (less than $2000 pa for unlimited myki Zone 1 and 2 travel) would need 12 years to pay back in fares what they've cost the community by occupying a parking space. Most train passengers are walk-ons. If you want dramatically increased patronage then only a small increase can come from park and ride since it is so space and money hungry. Also, beyond a small scale, the extra car traffic park and ride generates worsens walking and cycling conditions around stations and could delay more space-efficient feeder buses.
Other ideas for stations
What else could you do with stations? Extra station entrances are a massively cost-effective improvement. Where stations have only one entrance at the end of a platform you are forcing people near one end to walk an extra 150 or more metres to the station. That does not seem much but when you consider the increased walking catchment that it would bring to a station it's a massive benefit. You are basically getting the same patronage benefit of building new stations without the extra maintenance costs or having to make trains stop at more places (slowing some peoples trips). I discussed this back in 2010. Since then progress has been made at some stations with extra myki readers and entrances. But much more needs to be done including at busier stations like Frankston.
In the same category are a lot of walking and cycling improvements. We will gladly spend $200m so that cars are not delayed by trains. However we baulk at the $20k (maximum) price of a wombat crossing that will give people who walk a fair go against the ever increasing streams of traffic on the roads they need to cross for access to schools, shops and buses. For the price of one grade separation we could have had a Melbourne-wide program to build 1000 wombat crossings throughout Melbourne in the places that most need them.
Then there's bus network upgrades. Especially where routes overlap or duplicate there's significant scope for cost-effective improvements as frequently discussed here. Better buses could relieve pressure for parking for stations due to their better use of space and ability to move people. However the pace of bus network reform has slowed greatly since 2016, following an active decade starting from about 2006.
The above are just three examples of highly cost-effective project areas that have hardly got a look-in due to the recent emphasis on large infrastructure projects. Big projects can capture imaginations and win votes. However they have weaknesses including historically poor records of cost-control, benefits that only start years after they are needed and cost-effectiveness numbers that need to be adjusted to look good, for instance by talking about so-called 'wider benefits'. As the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop showed, the assumptions of 1969/70 were a long way from the reality of the early 1980s when it opened (including much lower than forecast rail patronage).
The COVID-19 crisis has turned policy on its head. Last year's forecasts in areas like population growth or projections in industries such as higher education are now worthless. Unemployment may double or triple. The State Government, in particular, has been looking for smaller projects that could be ramped up quickly to provide jobs on things that maybe we should have done in the past but didn't get around to. It's not been alone; last Friday I reported on a similar emphasis from umbrella group Transport for Everyone with plans for buses and active transport.
And so yesterday the premier announced a $2.7b Building Works package. $328m will go on transport, creating 600 jobs. More about the transport component is on the Department of Transport's website, although there wasn't a lot of detail.
So I got in touch with the premier's office to ask a little more about the projects. They responded very quickly with this list.
Eltham-Yarra Glen Rd
Phillip Island Road
Goulburn Valley Highway
Murray Valley Highway
Murchison-Violet Town Road
Geelong-Bacchus Marsh Road
station is a larger upgrade which will be delivered in phases to improve the
customer experience following swapping of platforms as part of the Ballarat Line
Rubbish removal and
investment in extra routine maintenance on the metropolitan road network is a
30% increase in the amount budgetted for this year.
This will go toward
removing graffiti and rubbish along roadsides, clearing up overgrown plants,
trees and other vegetation and improving roadside drainage.
This will create
more than 70 jobs alone and result in hundreds of different sites around
Melbourne being cleaned up.
Feedback from the community will be analysed to
determine priority areas for clean-up.
If there’s graffiti or rubbish on
roadsides in your area, please contact the Department of Transport on 13 11 71
or on 133 RRV in regional Victoria.
that are among those that will be cleaned up are:
* Ned Kelly Bridge on the
* Montague Street underpass (West Gate Freeway)
Street and Wurundjeri Way (over the Yarra River)
* Freeway pedestrian bridge
signs over the Eastern Freeway, Abbotsford
* Freeway sound barriers; Monash
Freeway in Endeavour Hills, Greensborough Bypass, Princes Freeway and
Stations to be upgraded
As time is short I'll just discuss the metropolitan station upgrade program. It would be good to get further detail on the station upgrades in due course. The sort of things you might expect from small station upgrades include better seating, lighting, CCTV, improved access (particularly for wheelchairs), passenger information displays, improved shelter and more.
You can get a rough idea as to the significance of each station from the usage data compiled by Philip Mallis. You hardly even need to look to correctly guess that Footscray is by far the busiest with over 5 million passengers per year in 2018-9. Something that's set to continue with the new Metro Tunnel terminating there. It's also the nearest station to Victoria University, Highpoint and what will be the new Footscray Hospital. It needs a new bus interchange, passenger information and simplified local bus network with main routes running every 10 minutes.
Huntingdale is a very unremarkable station but gets huge numbers (nearly 1.6 million boardings) thanks to the 601 bus to Monash University. It is also the last station before the Route 900 bus heads east to Stud Park. Consequently it's an important transfer point and has a newly built bus interchange nearby.
Next down is Moonee Ponds with 858k boardings. It's not much of an interchange point with the trams and most bus routes down the other end of Puckle Street. However it's a densifying area popular with CBD workers. The biggest gift you could give Moonee Ponds is to upgrade the Craigieburn line to every 10 minutes interpeak but maps and wayfinding information so people can easily find what they need in the surrounding area (including buses and trams) is very important.
Jordanville, with 498k boardings is next. It's had consistently solid patronage growth with numbers doubling since 2005. The area has enjoyed gentrification as people knocked down the housing commission homes common in the area. It needs improved physical connectivity with the intersecting 767 bus which also needs a service upgrade as one of the most productive routes in Melbourne's east serving destinations such as Southland, Chadstone, Deakin University and Box Hill.
Occupying number 5 spot is Anstey with 468k boardings in 2018/9. That's also had high growth being in a gentrifying area with CBD workers. Its only bus is the Route 503 between Essendon and East Brunswick. This sadly missed out on the MOTC minimum service upgrade program and has only a limited 6-day timetable unchanged for decades despite its densifying surrounds.
South Kensington is definitely what you might call an 'ugly duckling' station. It's quieter than the others mentioned with over 400k boardings. However this has more than tripled since 2006, making it the fastest growing station. It's the nearest station to much of Kensington Banks, a 1990s urban infill project which likely contains many CBD workers.
Royal Park, with 357k boardings is next. It's most well known for being near the zoo so is potentially used by tourists. However it's perhaps under-promoted and visitors might find the more frequent (but slower) tram more attractive. If the Upfield line ran more frequently it could be a potential tram/train interchange point. The relatively new and quite well used 505 bus passes nearby.
Aircraft is another station that's sometimes passed over. There were even thoughts about closing it when Williams Landing was being planned. However it serves a need, with over 300k boardings. Long term it could become more prominent if the RAAF base is ever developed for housing. The main things holding it back is limited platform shelter and very poor pedestrian access from the south. Large parts of Seabrook would be walkable from Aircraft if it wasn't for a large roundabout with continuously flowing traffic coming off the freeway.
Last is Heathmont with 273k passenger boardings. This is in a quiet treed neighbourhood in Melbourne's outer east. The main thing holding it back is its gap between interpeak trains is 30 minutes, close to the worst on the network. A fix to boost that to 20 minutes would be very cheap while also delivering a 10 minute service from Ringwood in. The nearby 679 bus is a potential feeder.
I would hope that a broad view is taken of station access and amenity when it's decided what should be done. For example Aircraft Station is operating well below potential due to very poor pedestrian access from the south due to roundabouts like this that effectively block safe pedestrian access. Multimodal information is another sore point. At other stations there is huge potential to improve information, for example through network maps, wayfinding and bus departure timetables, to enhance connectivity between modes. This could be followed up with bus network reviews to greatly simplify access from stations to nearby attractions, including, in Footscray's case, Victoria University and Highpoint.
What are your thoughts? Do you use any of the stations mentioned above? Should they receive upgrades and what sort of improvements would be desirable. Please leave your comments below, or better still get onto your MP.
You might enjoy these well-regarded books on transport topics
Steven Higashide The Public City: Essays in honour of Paul Mees
Jarrett WalkerTransport 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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