A suburban tram:
This picture clearly wasn't taken in Rowville...
New Customer Charters Highlight Transport Neglect
The Public Transport Users Association says the new train and tram customer charters highlight that performance of the public transport network is getting worse, not better.
The new charters include additional triggers for passenger compensation, and extra tickets where performance is particularly poor.
"Through its continued neglect of investment and maintenance, the government has been forced to put compensation measures in place for even lower levels of system performance. These are situations that should never occur yet the government has allowed the system to run down", PTUA vice-president Chris Loader said.
"Under the new charters, there will be no compensation if you are late for work because your train is cancelled three days every week - that's not acceptable for Melbourne commuters", Mr Loader said.
The compensation codes allow for passenger compensation only when the metro-wide average level of cancellations or punctuality reaches certain thresholds for trains or trams. Because of the averaging process, people on worst effected lines miss out on compensation. In addition, most compensation is only payable to holders of monthly, six-monthly and yearly tickets.
"Because of the way performance is calculated, very few people will actually receive compensation. The bulk of penalties paid by the operators will continue to go to the government, whose continued neglect of the infrastructure helped create these problems", Mr Loader said.
In other components of the charters:
* The Yarra Trams Customer Charter states an aim to reduce the number unpunctual services by 20%, but offers no changes to existing punctuality targets.
* The PTUA welcomes raising of the cancellation threshold for Connex from 96% to 98%, but believes the old threshold of 96% was too generous.
* Connex are not penalised for running trains up to five minutes early. When trains run early passengers arriving at their station on time could be forced to wait up to 40 minutes for the next train.
The charters reference the need for better inter-modal connections, yet Yarra Trams is in the process of removing tram stops from important bus-tram interchanges in Collins Street, Victoria Parade and Kew Junction.
There has, over the past few decades, been a clear under-investment in public transport infrastructure across large parts of suburban Melbourne. And the unreliable nature of most of Melbourne's public transport is only half the problem.
One of the big 'divides' often cited between the inner-city left and those of us in the suburbs is the issue of public transport. The issue of public transport has been presented as being something that merely concerns those living in inner suburbs, who are served well by public transport, while suburbanites as supposedly 'car lovers'. But for the residents of many Melbourne suburbs, public transport is simply not an option. Take for example the residents of suburbs like Rowville and Scoresby - the only means of public transport through large parts of these suburbs is the 665 InvictaBus line between Ringwood and Dandenong, which (even through peak-hour) runs along the congested Stud Road. Train or tram in these suburbs is not an option as the nearest train stops are in either Ringwood or Dandenong. Getting to the city via public transport can take over 2 hours for some of these residents. No wonder they 'love their cars'!
This situation has arisen from the failure of several governments, both Labor and Liberal, to extend a train-line to these suburbs. Successive governments have been negliagent in setting aside land and making plans to connect these suburbs to Melbourne's train and tram networks as they developed. The problem for us today is that setting aside parts of paddocks in growth corridors is significantly cheaper than buying back subdivided blocks with established houses, and thus the cost of extending train or light-rail services to these growth areas is significantly higher today than it would have been had various state governments undertaken adequate planning. The result is a thoroughly unacceptable public transport situation in such suburbs.
I was once asked by a self confessed car lover how investment in public transport benefits them. Well, investment in public transport infrastructure is critical to the further growth, both of our cities, and our economy. After all, it is difficult to grow an economy where all the workers are stuck in a traffic jams. Such investment clearly benefits not just those who use public transport, but motorists as well, as while many motorists will stick to their cars, other motorists will chose to switch to public transport, and thus less traffic on many major suburban roads in peak-hour. Similarly, strengthening the public transport network across suburban Melbourne benefits inner city public transport users by making more parts of Melbourne available to them via public transport.
What we need is long-term planning for the development and extension of public transport across Melbourne. We need to plan for future tram and train lines in currently undeveloped areas in Melbourne's growth corridors. Planning for public transport must be included in any growth stratergy or planning for Melbourne. I mentioned the dire situation in suburbs like Scoresby or Rowville, but an 'Outer Suburban Loop' line following the path of the Metropolitan Ring Road would greatly help the transport situation in these suburbs. Elimninating level-crossings and replacing them with over- or under-passes will allow for both significantly better traffic flow (particularly along, for example, Springvale Road near its ever-congested intersection with Whitehorse Road) as well as for more regular train services along established lines.
Suburban Melbourne's public transport situation is dire, but salvagable. We need leaders with a vision of transport in Melbourne that stretches 20 or 30 years, rather than just to the next election. There has been talk of branch-lines and tunnels to major suburban centres like Knox, Chadstone, or Doncaster for decades, but talk is cheap. What we need is plans and timelines for action, as well as the fiscal responsibility to put the plans into action.