Getting Melbourne moving

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Sunday Age: Getting Melbourne moving (7th December, 2008)

The government’s response to Sir Rod Eddington’s transport report is imminent. Here are the most pressing problems and some possible solutions.

1. Suburban rail overcrowding
SIR ROD SAYS Build a 17-kilometre rail tunnel from Footscray to Caulfield to allow at least 40,000 more people onto the network each hour. The $7 billion project will reduce record overcrowding and lay the foundation for further extensions.

START DATE The tunnel looks set to be built. Sir Rod says construction should begin in 2011 and take eight years, but this may be delayed by a lack of Federal Government funding.

EXPERTS This initiative has wide support. Monash University public transport chair Graham Currie says alternative solutions such as longer trains and platforms will not be effective over time. “The tunnel is our only choice if we want to substantially change the situation.” But RMIT public transport advocate Paul Mees says if the central city network was run the way it was designed to be it would bring more improvements for less money.

2. Train punctuality
SIR ROD SAYS Increased capacity from the rail tunnel will help, along with a $1.5 billion rail link between Werribee and Sunshine. Combined with the tunnel it will improve reliability for some V/Line services and along the Werribee line, which will have knock-on benefits across the network.

START DATE Reports suggest this has been approved, with Sir Rod recommending a start date of 2015.

EXPERTS Again, this has wide support. Professor Currie says punctuality issues are linked to overcrowding because more trains and passengers lead to longer delays. Work on the Tarneit link should begin as soon as possible, he says. But Dr Mees says the project will only increase travel time for people travelling from Geelong.

3. West Gate Bridge congestion
SIR ROD SAYS A $9 billion second cross-river connection is needed because travel time on the West Gate Freeway has almost doubled in parts over the past decade and traffic volume is predicted to soar 41 per cent by 2031.

START DATE Doubt surrounds this project but Sir Rod wants work to begin in 2012.

EXPERTS RACV spokesperson Brian Negus says the M1 upgrade, to be completed next year, will provide a short- to medium-term fix. But, he says, scoping for the road connection must begin immediately to secure a viable east-west road link, a position supported by Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder. Public transport advocates condemn the connection, saying solutions can be found in reducing car use.

4. Lack of cross-city bike connections
SIR ROD SAYS A few small-scale projects would greatly improve east-west cycling links for $60 million and encourage more people to ride. His recommendations include linking existing bike paths with others to provide more routes into the city.

START DATE Government to announce a $100 million bike package.

EXPERTS This proposal also has wide support, with experts saying work should begin immediately. Bicycle Victoria spokesman Harry Barber says the only recommendation that should not proceed is a new river bridge in Hawthorn because it will be underused. “The community will be surprised and disappointed if they don’t make a strong commitment to bikes. You can’t have a balanced transport diet without bikes.”

5. CBD congestion
SIR ROD SAYS Infrastructure upgrades will help alleviate city traffic but solutions will inevitably be underpinned by a congestion charge. This will reflect the true cost of congestion and environmental harm but can only be introduced when more areas have better public transport.

START DATE Despite State Government opposition, Sir Rod says a charge could be imposed within a decade.

EXPERTS The RACV is opposed to any charging until the Federal Government reviews how motorists are taxed through the petrol pump and car registration. Brian Negus says immediate solutions could be found by better assessing traffic flows on city bypass routes. Professor Currie believes congestion charges should be introduced immediately to all freeways and CBD streets to restrict use to those who really need it. Funds raised could then be used for public transport.

6. Public transport in the Doncaster corridor
SIR ROD SAYS Public transport in Doncaster is poor compared with other areas. But a planned boost in bus services, along with other recommendations, make buses more cost effective than a rail line.

START DATE Bus services will be ramped up next year but if a road tunnel is not built some of Sir Rod’s recommendations will fall over, including dedicated bus lanes along Johnston Street or Alexandra Parade.

EXPERTS Dr Mees says the figures Sir Rod uses to conclude no rail line is needed are flawed. But most others agree with him. Bus Association spokesman Chris Loader says Sir Rod’s recommendations will go a long way to improving public transport in the corridor, at least in the short to medium term.

7. Truck congestion in the inner west
SIR ROD SAYS By implementing truck bans and road upgrades, including a road linking the West Gate Freeway to the port via Hyde Street in Yarraville and the longer east-west road link, amenities in the area could be on the way to significant improvements by 2012.

START DATE Early reports suggest a new road will be built to ease congestion in the area but it is unclear if it is what Sir Rod has recommended.

EXPERTS Brian Negus says the M1 upgrade will go some way to solving this but the road tunnel presents the best solution. However, he says, the West Gate/Hyde Street link is not good value for money.

8. Lack of public transport in urban growth areas in the outer west
This has become more pressing since the State Government redrew Melbourne’s urban boundaries last week.

SIR ROD SAYS The Tarneit link will provide a high-quality train service for people in that corridor. And electrifying the rail line to Sunbury for $216 million will give residents a train service comparable to the rest of Melbourne.

START DATE Sir Rod recommends 2011, with reports indicating the project will proceed.

EXPERTS Professor Currie says this date should be brought forward and the number of buses to each new growth corridor increased immediately. “Buses are cheap and easy. You can do them in the short term because they can be rolled out quickly.”

9. Productivity of freight movement through the Port of Melbourne
SIR ROD SAYS By 2035 the port will be handling four times more containers than it does now. The added congestion and costs can be offset by developing a network of hubs where goods can be transferred between trucks and trains, and by having more high productivity trucks that use new technology to increase productivity.

START DATE The Government is set to release a new freight network strategy next week as part of the transport plan that will include “groundbreaking” new measures.

EXPERTS The Opposition says the new strategy must be underpinned by new legislation and planning to guide private investment into new hubs. The RACV says more must be done by government to establish the hubs and bring high-productivity vehicles onto the roads.

10. Pollution caused by transport
SIR ROD SAYS Car travel will remain the preferred transport option in the foreseeable future, meaning vehicle technology improvements are the best way to cut carbon emissions. But the Government must improve the environmental credentials of cars on Victorian roads and encourage more Melburnians to change their travel behaviour.

START DATE Government to announce targets to reduce emissions from fleet cars.

EXPERTS Public transport advocates agree that behaviour change, not technology, holds the key. The Bus Association’s Chris Loader says public transport as a percentage of all trips has increased from 9 per cent to 13 per cent. This, he says, is proof Sir Rod has underestimated the willingness of people to switch to public transport. But Professor Currie says if rail and tram patronage remains at capacity it cannot help reduce emissions.

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