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Melbourne on Transit and others have said little about the state opposition's suburban public transport policies. Mainly because there's been little to go on.
Their bus service upgrade policy, released election eve 2018, was a classic example. It had a dollar figure. But there were no maps. Nor even concrete proposals. Hence candidates couldn't sell it and no one knew who would benefit. So what could have been a worthwhile measure that needled Labor in marginal seats got zero airtime because it came out too late and had no specifics. Hence the first Andrews government, with its mediocre record on suburban bus reform and service improvements (as opposed to big infrastructure) got off lightly in an area that it should have been hammered on if the opposition was more alert.
We are now almost exactly half way between the Coalition's 2018 electoral routing and the 2022 poll. Spring Street watchers know about Tim Smith's bats or Bernie Finn's cross-eyed meme. They also know that building the East-West Link road tunnel is an article of faith within the Liberal party. But the rest, especially with regard to public transport policy, is pretty much a blank sheet. No one knows what they stand for. Sure, there's the tweets about train delays, project cost blow-outs and the odd corruption scandal.
Any opposition would do that. But to be credible they also need to be seen as an acceptable alternative that can be trusted to govern. This requires community engagement and policy development. Suggestions for Labor's 2020 budget The first hints of policy with regard to public transport came out on Thursday from transport shadow minister David Davis MP. These came in the form of three releases, as below:
1. Duplicating single metropolitan train tracksDuplication is stated to be the best way to increase capacity and reliability on our trains. Sections the Coalition is calling on Labor to duplicate include: * Belgrave line between Ferntree Gully and Upper Ferntree Gully* Lilydale line between Mooroolbark and Lilydale* Alamein line between Ashburton and Alamein* Hurstbridge line from Greensborough to Eltham * Upfield line between Gowrie and Roxburgh Park, including a connection to the Craigieburn line.These cost-effective projects are compared favourably with the Suburban Rail Loop that is considered a pie-in-the-sky mega project. I'll leave it to the rail wonks to consider their relative merits.
2. 'Missing link' tram extensionsThe Coalition is also asking for the 2020 budget to include tram extensions. Due to historical competition between railways and tramways, trams, particularly in the inner south-east suburbs, finish about a kilometre short of stations. This limits the ability to serve local multimodal trips. I listed examples here.
Drawing on proposals from the Rail Futures Institute, the following extensions are suggested: Route 3: extended from East Malvern (Darling Road) terminus 0.8 km to EAST MALVERN STATIONRoute 5: extended from Malvern (Burke Road) terminus 1.4 km to DARLING STATION.Route 19: extended from North Coburg (Bakers Road) terminus 0.7 km to MERLYNSTON STATIONRoute 67: extended from Carnegie (Koornang Road) terminus 0.9 km to CARNEGIE STATIONRoute 48: extended from North Balwyn terminus 0.9 km to GREYTHORN (Shopping Centre)Route 86 (existing Route 109): Station Pier, Port Melbourne – 200m of new track crossing Waterfront Place to a new twin-track interchange/terminus at the Station Pier gate.Route 57: extended from West Maribyrnong 3.4 km to AVONDALE HEIGHTS (Buckley Street)Also recommended is a new tram interchange at Clifton Hill Station.
The least important extension of the above is the 109 since (a) it is just 200 metres and (b) since it was suggested by Rail Futures, Station Pier has lost the Spirit of Tasmania ferry to Geelong. The reference to Route 86 arises from other tram network reform Rail Futures propose. I don't even know why you'd bother; the existing 200m walk is likely quicker than what is considered acceptable for transfers between metropolitan and regional trains within a station like Southern Cross, or what is routinely added to the walks of those getting to busy stations (like Frankston) that lack multiple entrances. I'm also not sure about the Route 19 extension as the tram and train are closely parallel and mostly do not serve unique catchments. Other extensions have more merit. By weaving together 'loose ends' they make the network much more useful for non-CBD trips by reducing walking and backtracking. Again these 'missing link' projects are suggested as alternatives to the Suburban Rail Loop. 3. Regional and outer suburban train upgrades
What is referred to as 'Labor's major project budget blowouts' and the Suburban Rail Loop is blamed for delays on other projects that could have been started. These include: * Extension of the Frankston line to Baxter (more here)* Extension of the Cranbourne line to Clyde * Commencement of the Rowville Rail plan including linkage through Chadstone and Monash University* Extension of rail system to Wallan * Electrification and expansion of rail in Melton and Wyndham* Implementation of Western rail planNote that the above came out before the premier's announcement yesterday about the airport rail alignment and altered arrangements for Geelong. EvaluationIt is good that the Coalition is moving towards having policies for public transport. The reason why I don't think these lists yet quite constitute policies is that they are suggestions for Labor in next week's budget.
They don't actually promise that a 2022 O'Brien government would implement them. That gives some flexibility in case they want some different policies in two years and freedom from having a commitment recorded (which could prove troublesome if broken). Maybe the Liberals were chastened by their last time in office where rail projects the public thought of as being promises were not started? Maybe two years prior is too long to expect since things can change, so it's better not to promise anything at this stage? If we go back to the last term, even proposals made the year before the election (such as David Hodgett's very good plan to boost trains on most lines to every 10 minutes) didn't make it in to the 2018 campaign for reasons unknown. If you like the above policies released by Mr Davis and have a local coalition member (especially in a marginal seat) it wouldn't hurt to ask for a firmer commitment. What about their content? It would appear that the Coalition has been listening to people like the Rail Futures Institute.
And possibly the Grattan Institute who recently warned about the perils of mega-projects. This is also good as a concentration on mega-projects, possibly to the exclusion of more cost-effective smaller projects, is arguably an Andrews government failing. Although the East-West road link, the Coalition's own mega-project, remains a protected species despite the broader population being indifferent for two elections running.There are two main areas where the Coalition releases are like those put out by The Greens under the 'Green New Deal' banner. First of all the timing. Having held government less than six years ago they would know that budgets take longer than a few days to knock up. Like the Greens proposals there is no way the government would modify its budget to include any at this late stage. Secondly buses and walking are invisible. There's nothing for them in either the abovementioned Liberal or the Green New Deal policies. Despite improvements for these modes often being quick, local, highly cost-effective and job creating. The coalition also neglects cycling. Greens could argue (on self-interest grounds) that buses are of limited relevance to their inner-suburban train and tram rich constituencies.
And since losing all but one of its Legislative Council seats in 2018 the party is increasingly geographically concentrated. Its constituents are thus more and more removed from what John Howard used to call 'mainstream Australia'. The Liberals are in a different boat. With even traditional inner suburban seats under threat (sometimes from The Greens) its constituency is based increasingly in outer areas.
And voters do not necessarily have mega-high incomes. These are the same areas that have no trams and sparse train services. Buses then are relatively more important for constituents but the Liberal policy-setting elite (though a different type of elite to Greens elite) are equally blind to buses. This is despite advocacy groups like BusVic (who could offer help with policy) being seen to be closer to the Coalition than Labor in recent years. And a seat-by-seat list of bus issues and cost-effective upgrades, concentrating on politically marginal areas, can be found here. So there would be no shortage of information and advice available when developing plans. As well as similarities with The Greens, there are unfortunate parallels with Labor.
I say 'unfortunate' because an opposition should be different where the government is wrong. Take off-peak train services. Both the Kennett and Baillieu/Napthine coalition governments greatly improved off-peak train service frequency in the east and south-east suburbs. Ditto for NSW Liberals in Sydney. Andrews Labor, being infrastructure focused, has done little of this, shelving the big service upgrades proposed in the 2012 Rail Network Development Plan. Oddly, Davis appears reluctant to draw inspiration from his predecessors and pick up the ball where Labor dropped it. Hence even badly needed low-cost off-peak train frequency upgrades, like Belgrave and Lilydale, serving seats that the Liberals must win to form government, don't rate mentions in the releases. By neglecting service (like Labor) the coalition's budget suggestions are still infrastructure based but with smaller projects on the public transport side (the big roads projects remain). The most cost-effective mix for public transport is likely to be a mix of smaller infrastructure projects combined with service upgrades. The Coalition hasn't shown signs of understanding this yet. And if you want even bigger patronage gains, mode shift for public transport and a better budget bottom line then you'd also lay off the big road projects. ConclusionSome of the Coalition's proposals have merit and would strengthen and better connect the network. It wouldn't be a bad idea if Labor stole some. Will Labor copy and paste them into Tuesday's budget? With an already full agenda it's unlikely but time will tell. This item was written by Peter Parker http://www.melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
This article first appeared on melbourneontransit.blogspot.com
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