Public Transport Victoria forum hears call for more Maryborough train services
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Opposition Leader Matthew Guy backs Melbourne Airport rail link
Jail time for train threats to Vline Staff
Premier Daniel Andrews hears efforts to address Central Goldfields disadvantage, push for more Maryborough trains
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North-West Rail Alliance urges more council support amid push for return of Mildura passenger rail
Grampians Rail Trail: Shire calls for community to step up and manage facility
Public transport in Australia is mainly planned and funded at the state and territory level. That's for the better. National governments are too remote from local needs while local governments are too small to oversee a useful city-wide network. And because the capital city is so dominant in four of our six states, the state government is close to being a city government anyway. It wouldn't be any better if our local governments were amalgamated into larger regional groupings. The network would still be highly fragmented. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Brisbane where the state runs trains, and the large city council runs buses. Service on both modes is substandard with attempts to reform buses to feed rather than duplicate trains considered too hard. In contrast public transport on the Gold Coast, where the state presides over the lot, has been more successful with many recent improvements. Why then am I writing about local government? First of all, although it rarely plans and runs services, local government has an influence over public transport's operating environment. Both now and how that might change in the future. Secondly now is local government election time in Victoria. Unless your council has recently been sacked you have the chance to elect candidates that favour development styles and policies that support public transport. Or the opposite.
What local government does that affects public transportWhat projects and activities done by local government can support public transport? As it turns out, there's quite a few. Like below: * Specify, build and modify roads and bridges. Our main roads are built by Vicroads but local government has responsibility for smaller streets. Including many that buses run along. New or redeveloped neighbourhoods need connected streets to enable direct and efficient bus coverage. If these are not provided early on residents may be waiting for years if not decades for service. In established areas roundabout removals, signalisation, traffic calming and wombat crossings can greatly improve walkabilty and access to buses.* Develop local plans and strategies. Councils can be active in planning local shopping areas. These almost all have buses and sometimes trams. Ensuring their efficient movement has a large bearing on how well local services work. Supportive plans also favour higher density near frequent public transport and discourage development away from it. * Location decisions of council facilities. A council may choose to build a community or recreation centre near a station or where frequent bus routes intersect. Or they may locate it where driving is the only access choice. Obviously one decision would support public transport while the other discourages it. * Parking policies. Providing uncharged parking encourages more driving. Beyond a certain point that slows public transport and makes walking access to it harder. While a politically hot topic, challenging the entitlement to parking is key to making suburban centres prosper by bringing in more people than cars and resetting the parking mix near stations to favour shoppers more than commuters. Changing minimum to maximum parking requirements also allows higher business densities and lowers housing costs. * Walking and cycling infrastructure. Cost-effective footpath, cycle and crossing infrastructure can greatly improve connectivity within and between communities including access to public transport. Local budgets are often tiny but only small amounts can build 'missing link' paths or enable walking connections across busy roads including to bus stops and stations. * Encourage use of public transport. There's little point in promoting an infrequent service that is rarely useful. But where there are frequent services councils should promote their use. Why? It reduces pollution, encourages use of local facilities and relieves pressure on parking at retail strips. Councils can help by only holding meetings, festivals and events near public transport and encouraging its use. And internally they should encourage use amongst employees for both commuting and during work trips. That could include policies like freely available myki tickets and removing any requirement for council workers whose job does not require driving to have a licence. * Advocate for better infrastructure and services. Councils can develop transport strategies that list what is needed in their area. And they can advocate individually or via groupings (such as the Metropolitan Transport Forum and Eastern Transport Coalition) for improvements like extended rail lines or improved bus services. These need state and sometimes federal funding to make happen. Politicians tell me that local engagement and advocacy, including by councils, is important for projects to win government support.
The issuesMuch of the above is fairly uncontroversial stuff done by council officers. However plans that originate internally often need to be endorsed by council. Their acceptance is not a foregone conclusion. In addition enterprising councillors may be able to win support for a certain project, plan or line of advocacy that could benefit (or disbenefit) public transport. This why who gets onto council is important and why you need to vote wisely. These seem to three common issues around council elections. You could call them the 3 Ds. * Density. Partly because a lot of higher density looks awful, there is widspread resident opposition to increased housing density in many areas. Candidates often talk about preserving 'neighbourhood character'. Basically 'No Development After Mine' (NODAM). From a public transport point of view increased density along frequent transport routes is desirable in that it support ridership and supports investment in higher frequency service. On the other hand higher density where there is not frequent transport, and especially where road geometry precludes this, should be opposed. * Development. Related to density above but also includes green wedge and fringe greenfields residential development. Or it might include 'big box' shopping outside established suburban centres. Both can undermine public transport, especially if the road geometry is not right to permit efficient routes. And the latter can undermine existing transit-served centres by encouraging more people to drive further for longer. * D'car. Or more precisely, parking issues. Tempers get hot over this. It seems that almost everyone wants the unattainable, eg abundant, unrestricted time, free parking. But you can only have two. And even if you could have all three the result would be a traffic-choked and unwalkable Dallas or Phoenix - ie nothing like what people say they want in their community.
The candidates and how they all seem the sameLearn about your local government area, your ward and the candidates standing on the Victorian Electoral Commission website here. Then read their 50 word summaries. Notice how a lot of them say the same things? That's because most like to make their ties to political parties less obvious. Liberal and Labor, at least, do not appear to formally endorse candidates, even though many are members or sympathisers. Candidates of all stripes will talk about neighbourhood character, making the area a great place to live, its diversity, value of open space, better parking, space for dogs and more. Never mind 'political correctness' or 'cancel culture', the range of views candidates are free to express if standing in local government is quite narrow. Aspirant councillors dare not mention the merits of parking restrictions, higher densities or the rights of non-dog owners to walk unharassed, for example. In the real world lofty aims, even those adopted by council, become specific policies that affect people. Unless carefully explained support can fall when translated into practice. Principles are often severely tested when issues arising get voted on at meetings. I've been told that implementing parking reform in some local government areas here is almost as hard as gun control in the US; such is the claim some have for certain rights even where they impinge on those of others or the public realm. There are cases of even modest development proposals where councillors have taken decisions away from officers, often due to concerns over parking. The effect of such a takeover, especially at this time, is that reasonable development proposals risk being rejected by councillors wishing to win support from the NIMBY/more parking crowd. If this happens the developer is within their rights to challenge the decision at the Victorian Civil and Adminstrative Tribunal (VCAT). If they over-ride council then a lot of time and money will have been wasted for nothing. But the optics of being seen to oppose something (even if to no avail) might win local kudos for the councillors concerned.
Questions to askAs well as looking at candidate qualifications you may wish to ask them questions personally. Most candidates have phone numbers and email addresses in material provided to the Electoral Commission. You want to get answers that go beyond the platitudes in their material. Ideally you want them to shed their veneer to state what might be a mildly controversial view. If it's what you want then you might vote for them. If it's not then you might not. Or you might give them points for honesty. Those who don't reply should be right at the bottom since they are unlikely to be any better when on council. Be wary of those who state lofty principles without a willingness to back them with substantive policies or voting records. This can be a problem even in nominally 'green' inner areas where public and active transport usage is high. In fact councillors in such areas may be more likely to wash themselves in green symbolism only for their true colours to come out under pressure. Public and especially active transport uses less energy than if everyone drove their own car. Hence if your council considered itself pro-environment it would encourage more efficient modes and discourage driving, wouldn't it? Especially if it was the sort of council like green-tinged Darebin that voted to declared a 'climate emergency' and demanded action from all tiers of government? One might expect a councillor who says the right things on climate to be green on transport, wouldn't you? The answer is 'not necessarily'. Talk is cheap. Voting on grand principles and moving motions that other people do or pay for something is easy. What's harder is making tough but fair decisions. Especially when you might be challenging entrenched entitlements like 'free' parking that clog neighbourhoods, discourage walking and increase emissions. Darebin showed that its 'climate emergency' stance was disposable symbolism when councillors unanimously abandoned its draft parking strategy that would have slightly challenged 'free' parking entitlements near stations. This came after pressure from high-income Northcote residents many of whom would see themselves as caring, progressive and green. Acknowledge country and stop Adani by all means, but we will defend unrestricted free storage for our Volvos on public land in front of our house to our death.
The lesson is that councillors might say the right things but not carry through when they vote on substantive policies. Especially when entitled interests whisper into their ear. Don't elect councillors who fold under pressure like Darebin's have. Unfortunately that can be hard to tell, especially if you're considering candidates without a council record.
Contact details for candidates are on the Electoral Commission page. These are normally a mobile phone number, email address or both. Many candidates have their own Facebook pages. You could ask them questions there. Or, for wider exposure, community Facebook groups. This exposure can be a curse though; a candidate may be less open where there is a risk of their comments being misconstrued or twisted such as on an online forum than in a one-on-one personal discussion or phone call. When you do make contact spend time in crafting your questions. You don't want to ask too many but you do want the ones you ask to count. You also want an asking manner that does not raise their guard. You don't want them to pigeon-hole you too early and thus clam up. One possibility is to get them beyond the simplicity of slogans and comfortable with you being the sort of person they can discuss nuanced issues with. A possible technique could be to acknowledge that they can't please everyone and there may be trade-offs. You might then ask them to choose between two options (one of which is close to your view). ConclusionMake your candidate work for your vote. Ask them questions and tell them it will shape who they vote for. While councils don't directly run public transport they can affect how well it runs. And it's important that we choose councillors who make decisions that strengthen rather than weaken its role.If there's a technique that you've found works please share them in the comments below. Oh and don't forget to vote and return your ballot by the deadline later this month! Melbourne on Transit bookshopFavourably reviewed books about transport and cities. Purchases via these links support this blog and its independent reporting (at 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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