The true cost of Metro skipping stations

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The Age: The true cost of Metro skipping stations. September 16, 2014, Adam Carey, Transport Reporter for The Age

Comment

I wanted to write today about the Napthine government’s terrific move to turn a rundown railway station in Brunswick into a place the community will be proud of.

But the train skipped my station as I was headed there this morning and I missed the Public Transport Minister’s announcement.

It was 7.50am – the middle of the morning rush – when I and about 80 other people on the platform were told the next train had just been rescheduled to become an express service and would not be stopping for us.

Trains run every 20 minutes on the poorly serviced Upfield line so there was a stampede for the gates as scores of commuters sought other means to get to work.

I noticed little discernible anger in the crowd, just resignation that this is what catching the train to work means in 2014 – taking the risk that you’ll be left stranded on a platform as Metro pursues its greater goal of pushing up its punctuality performance stats.

Those stats make impressive reading and Transport Minister Terry Mulder takes every opportunity to remind the public how much more reliable the trains are today than they were when Labor was in charge.

Metro has not missed its monthly on-time target of 88 per cent in more than two years now. The Frankston line used to be about as reliable as hitch-hiking but more than nine in 10 services ran on time last month. Four years ago it was less than seven in 10, the government trumpeted in a release earlier this month.

But the story didn’t get much traction, not because people don’t care about whether the trains run on time but because Metro’s practice of skipping stations – which is now an embedded method for sticking to the timetable – has created widespread cynicism about how its performance got so good.

Metro can do this with impunity because Mr Mulder has said said it is permissible in the interests of better overall punctuality.

It’s an extraordinary capitulation by the Transport Minister, no matter how infrequently Metro is guilty of station skipping.

Someone alongside me on the platform this morning might have missed a job interview or a crucial business appointment. Another might choose to drive tomorrow, adding to the congestion that we’re often told threatens to bring Melbourne to a halt.

New analysis by the OECD’s International Transport Forum suggests inconsistent travel times are just as economically costly as congestion.

“Research shows that the cost of unreliable travel may rival that of congestion, a topic on which transport policy has traditionally focused,” the forum’s senior economist Jari Kauppila said this week.

In other words, give commuters certainty about how long their journey will take and they will be much more likely to pay to use the service.

It’s a lesson the next transport minister should heed, even if the current one won’t.

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