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It's less than six months since last year's state budget (which got delayed due to COVID-19). As I mentioned at the time it continued the Andrews government trend of feeding infrastructure and starving service. Non-government parties, such as the Liberals and The Greens, considered it necessary to have their own budget proposals released just prior, although their effect would have been minimal. See discussion of them here and here. This year these parties have said less though Liberal leader Michael O'Brien wanted some level crossing removals on the Glen Waverley line . Despite the upcoming redistribution that will likely merge seats, the Liberals will still need to regain support in these traditionally reliable areas to have any chance of forming government in next year's election. For now though we have another budget. We're still shut-off from the rest of the world but the jobless rate is down and house prices are up. The 'COVID budget' of 2020 featured high spending and borrowing, taking advantage of low interest rates to build infrastructure. 2021's budget foreshadows a lower but still large deficit. It will contain some extra revenue measures such as dearer fines and land tax rises, particularly on speculative gains due to rezoning as a partial offset. An electric vehicles tax will put us on the path to road pricing (to offset likely revenue loss as we transition away from highly taxed fossil fuels). Also the government is hoping that increased income from stamp duty, gambling taxes and the GST will narrow the deficit in future years. Major transport capital announcementsThe government's big project agenda is already well-known, with funding for airport rail and the Suburban Rail Loop announced in previous budgets. More immediately, additional funds will need to be found for the Metro Tunnel under construction due to a cost blowout. Government budgets are regarded as secret before it is tabled in parliament. Media and others get to see it slightly earlier under strict lock-up conditions. However governments often foreshadow major budget initiatives a few days before to win community goodwill or lessen the impact of potentially controversial 'tax grab' revenue measures. For example on Tuesday May 18, the state government announced the expenditure of $986m to build 25 new X'Trapolis 2.0 trains to replace some Comengs. The project will save Alstom's Ballarat plant which, two years ago, was reported to be under threat of closure. The trains will run on the Craigieburn, Upfield and Frankston lines. Note mention of Frankston and not Williamstown/Werribee. This is because by the time these trains come on stream Frankston trains will be back running via the City Loop (on their own portal, vacated by Dandenong trains using the Metro Tunnel instead) rather than forming part of the current cross-city service to Williamstown/Werribee. Or will they? A relatively low cost (but not yet formally announced) capacity-enhancing project would be to keep the Frankston line as a cross-city service but route it via Parliament, Melbourne Central and Flagstaff to Upfield and Craigieburn (instead of the current Flinders Street and Southern Cross routing to Newport). This is the City Loop Split reconfiguration option discussed in the Melbourne Metro Business Case from 2016 (Appendix One, page 5).
That appendix contained the rationale for the selection of the Metro Tunnel option. However it does not preclude a future City Loop split as well. Indeed lessening the construction impact of splitting the loop is listed as a benefit of the Metro Tunnel option (Page 44). Hence both options are mutually supportive and are proposed in 2018's Victorian Rail Plan. The grouping of Craigieburn, Upfield and Frankston for the new train order could make special sense in this context. More on how a reconfigured loop could work with the rest of the network is contained in the Rail Futures Institute Melbourne Rail Plan. Also in Tuesday's announcement was advice that Alstom is also working on a battery powered model for potential use on the Western Rail Plan (RRL lines to Wyndham Vale). If this works then this would affect the form that Wyndham Vale rail electrification could take (e.g. sections without overhead wire coverage but charging at Wyndham Vale). May 10 saw the Herald Sun report on possibilities for the Caulfield - Monash - Rowville tram proposal. This was promised in mid-2018 but got overshadowed by the much bigger Suburban Rail Loop that captured many imaginations. The tram has not been talked about much since by government. Anyway 'trackless trams' (a form of battery-powered bus that doesn't sway as much but wears down the road quicker and has higher rolling resistance) are apparently now a front runner. The biggest cost with these sorts of projects is the way, especially if you want it to be fast and isolated from traffic-caused delays. This is largely independent of the propulsion technology used. And earlier in the month was a target for all public transport bus purchases to be zero emissions by 2025 as part of a zero emissions vehicle roadmap. If this is funded this will be a big advance on last year's $20m budget initiative which was for a limited sized trial. Transport services To quote from one of the releases, the headline figure is $74.3 million to reform the state's bus network. There will be both some new bus routes and upgrades to existing ones. But we don't know exactly what yet. Overall I'd describe it as being 'good but not transformative', with an emphasis on growth area coverage. Both the Yarra Valley and Broadmeadows reviews have significant potential to fix many long-standing service shortfalls if done right. Brunswick MP Tim Read has advocated for an improvement to the 505 bus. This work appears to have paid off with the Moonee Ponds to Melbourne University route specifically mentioned for improvement. Fishermans Bend is another winner. These are good performing bus routes that justify improvements. There may also be opportunities for improving operational efficiencies as few passenger ride these buses between Queen Victoria Markets and Southern Cross and a shortening may enable improved services on the busy section of these routes. Also worth looking at is investigating ways to prioritise bus movement as (often) single-occupant cars frequently delay buses with 40 to 60 passengers on board. Elsewhere in the budget is the commencement of work to identify high capacity transport corridor options to the precinct. New routes have recently started running for Clyde North. However they have loose ends and overlaps with other routes. Plus they are not particularly frequent and there remain substantial coverage gaps. Hopefully today's announcement will enable a reappraisal of the network with simpler and more frequent routes. The same applies for Tarneit. This is getting two new routes (starting in 10 days) as budgeted previously but there remains a large coverage gap in Tarneit North around Dohertys Rd. It remains to be seen whether this budget's new route there is purely residential or extends to connect to jobs in Laverton North (possibly on its way to somewhere like Sunshine). A few statisticsBudget documents include other numbers such as actual and projected public transport patronage. In recent times these have changed only marginally. Predictions are also conservative, rising by about the same as population. Hence they have often been of little interest. This time is different. Actual numbers will have been greatly depressed due to COVID-19. Predicting the future recovery will be difficult as it depends on other factors such as whether the swing to working from home is sustained, and if so how many days of the week it will entail. Anyway, for what it's worth, key stats are as follows (expected outcomes from Budget Paper 3 from page 331): Metropolitan bus patronage 2020/21: 64.8 m (down by nearly 50% due to COVID). Metropolitan bus punctuality: 92.5% (well above 86% target due to reduce patronage & traffic)Metropolitan bus operating costs: Up by about $60 million due to contract indexation and some network reform and service improvements. Metropolitan train patronage 2020/21: 92.1 m (down by more than 60% due to COVID)Metropolitan tram patronage 2020/21: 68.4 m (down by more than 65% due to COVID)Patronage predictions for 2021-22 for all modes are the same as the 2020-21 target. This seems ambitious given that international students are major users of public transport and their numbers are down. Also some workplaces may switch to remote working for at least some of their staff for some of the time. Myki touch on/offs per minute. Target increased from 28 to 37 due to the roll-out of faster readers. The poor sensitivity and responsiveness of older type of readers is a common passenger bugbear and can mean people don't touch on or off when they need to. Metropolitan fare compliance across all modes: 96.5% . People who watch passengers behaviour on buses etc may query whether it's quite this high. Although it is possible that for passengers making some types of multimodal trip that a failure to touch on does not always imply fare evasion. Percentage of metropolitan bus services delivered: 100% . Again this looks almost too good to be true! Where everything is
Read it all at: https://budget.vic.gov.au
A short cut to the budget papers is here
On Twitter follow #vicbudget (or #vicbudget2021 )
The budget papers most important for public transport are:
* Paper 2 (Strategy and Outlook)Page 18 refers to $3.2b for public transport services and infrastructure, including $986m for 25 new trains and upgrading the train maintenance facility at Craigieburn. There is $265 million for planning, upgrade and maintenance of roads including a $42m component for freight. An additional $386 million is for a new road safety strategy. Amongst other things this includes infrastructure upgrades and new technologies (potentially important with regard to walking, cycling and access to public transport stops). Furthermore $21 million is earmarked for the state's walking and cycling network.
Page 69 has a graph for capital expenditure. This is dominated by transport projects. A peak is expected in 2021/22 with a gentle levelling off thereafter.
* Paper 3 (Service Delivery) Pages 107 - 121, 327 - 346 and 399. (more from this below)
* Paper 4 (Statement of Finances) Pages 14 - 17, 98 - 108 (more from this below)Salient points from Paper 3 (Service Delivery)
* Bus service improvements and reform
This is encouraging with more funding than the very parsimonious amounts in the 2020/21 budget. Also the words 'and reform' have been added to the output description. Also encouraging. Dollar amounts over the next four years (from 2021/22) are 11.9, 18.8, 14.7, 15.2 (in millions). To quote from the document these are:
• route adjustments and extensions to complement Big Build projects;• school special services in Shepparton and Horsham;• new and extended routes in Clyde, Clyde North and Tarneit North;• network changes in the Yarra Valley and Broadmeadows;• additional services between Moonee Ponds and Melbourne University;• upgrades and improvements to the Sunbury bus interchange;• service uplifts for bus routes between Fishermans Bend and the Melbourne centralbusiness district;• improvements to the bus interchange near the former General Motors Holden site;and• operational improvements at Southern Cross Station to improve the reliability ofexisting bus services.Funding is also provided to continue the Westgate Punt ferry service across the YarraRiver between Fishermans Bend and Spotswood.
(hence the emphasis here is on growth areas plus Fishermans Bend)
* Active transport. Amounts between $1.1 and 1.8m budgeted for. This is to support an asset initiative in the area. That includes a shared trail between Eltham and Greensborough, a bridge at Toorak Rd as part of the Anniversary train and pedestrian access on Highbury Rd in Burwood.
* Ride Space initiative. This was an urgent COVID-19 era project to advise passengers so they could avoid crowded trains and physically distance by providing online information. This has a cost of $7.5m in 2020/21.
* Caulfield Station interchange. This will become a major station feeding into the Metro Tunnel. More passengers will use it as an interchange point as the Dandenong and Frankston lines will go different ways into the CBD. $2 million is allocated for planning. This is to "improve customer
amenity and passenger flows, noting that an increase in platform-to-platform interchange
movements is expected at the station after the opening of the Metro Tunnel." There will also be more secure fending, more power feed-in and signalling improvements.
* Wyndham Vale and Melton corridor improvements to allow higher capacity trains. These areas will also benefit from development work on a new commuter train.
* Planning for Fishermans Bend transport. This includes abovementioned bus upgrades and longer term planning for land acquisition and corridor protection as well as future 'high capacity transport' (mode not specified).
* Efficiency measures. DoT savings are promised by "streamlining administrative and policy functions, including through reducing functional overlaps, program consolidation, the implementation of new technologies and improvements to business processes." Improved business processes here are needed and it's important that measures taken here facilitate rather than hinder service reviews and improvements.
* Some funding for rolling stock disposal, life extensions and maintenance. For both trains and trams. Also storage and maintenance facilities including upgrades at South Dynon (for V/Line), and Southbank (trams) plus a new maintenance facility to support Next Generation Trams in Melbourne's north west.
* Improved tram operations. Non-mountable kerbs to be installed in six CBD locations to reduce disruptions caused by errant car drivers. Also funding for Automatic Vehicle Monitoring.
* Public transport accessibility and amenity improvements. A number of small projects including level access upgrades to seven tram stop pairs to tie in with reconfigured tram services after the Metro Tunnel opening, braille plates and tactiles at over 1000 tram stops, amenity improvements at stations including Aspendale, Burnley, North Richmond and Ruthven, and upgraded bus stops around Greensborough station (to tie in with Hurstbridge line upgrade works).
* There are some big changes to the cost of running services (Page 329). Buses are up but trams and especially trains are well down. A footnote advises that the capital asset charge policy is discontinued from the 2021-22 budget. This old PTUA page explains that including this charge (an accounting fiction) inflated the cost of running public transport services. So it's good that it's gone.
Salient points from Paper 4 (Statement of Finances)
This lists capital expenditure to support various new and existing projects.
Page 98 new projects
* $8.2 million in 2021/22 for bus service improvements and reform. That is followed by another $5.4 m later. I expect this is a mix of new buses and other capital works required.
* Page 98 also has $15m for public transport accessibility and amenity with most spent in 2021-22. Other public transport safety improvements get $2 - 3m.
Page 100 existing projects
* Total investment of $6.5b for level crossing removals.
* Bus service improvements from the 2020-21 budgets $4m, most of which will be spent in 2021-22. Further down another entry appears, just for Metro Bus service improvements ($5m). Mention is made of a delay here due to 'ongoing discussion with local councils'. To take a guess it is from this pot of money that will come buses for previously budgeted services upgrades in areas like Mornington Peninsula and Keysborough South.
* Zero emissions bus fleet. $16 million. From last year's budget.
* Walking and cycling upgrades across state. Total $26 million + $15 million.
SummaryThis budget continues the large projects from previous years. There is however a welcome swing to some smaller capital projects based on accessibility and safety. Also welcome have been boosts to bus services and a statement that network reform is also important. Details on these services appear to be sketchy but will be commented on in future posts here. When can you expect to see bus services first announced in today's budget? The standard lag is 25 or 26 months as explained in detail here. Sometimes it can be longer, for instance with Keysborough South's second route. But if there was a will to improve off-peak services on some existing routes (which would require no extra buses) then it might be possible to hasten delivery given available funding. This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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