Yet Another Public Transport Plan
Russell Degnan

Barely a week goes by these days without someone suggesting some improvement to the public transport infrastructure. New tracks, new systems, new trains, new governance, new owners, new buildings, or merely new anything. It doesn't seem to matter that there is a plan already, albeit an inadequate one. Nor does it seem to matter that the proposals are generally an unhealthy mix of financial, technical or political irresponsibility. They propose them, the papers print them.

A hundred years ago, The Age developed its reputation bringing to light the corrupt and incompetent practices of the railway commissioners, then in the process of building several hundred kilometres of needless and overly expensive lines. Not anymore. Now The Age prints any old rubbish if it proposes some grand piece of infrastructure madness.

Few however, match the madness of John Legge.

With a proposed $2 billion on the table for substantial (and to be honest, probably equally wasteful infrastructure), he rubbishes the existing proposals with an article so laden with errors of fact, statistics and common sense you can hardly fathom he believes it.

In short, he wants to build an outer loop. That loops were commonly unsuccessful in Melbourne's railway past is of no moment. What matters is the optimism that underlies a twisting, ridiculous argument.

On time, he argues for reducing the trip from Box Hill to Monash to 15 minutes, and Box Hill to Latrobe, to 20. Down, he claims, from (mostly more than) 55 and 90 respectively. Which is funny, because the Metlink Journey Planner puts the times between 35-45 minutes for Box Hill-Monash and 55-65 minutes for Box Hill-Latrobe. Nor are these isolated, rare occurances. Rather they are regular, 10 minute frequencies, for those trips.

Of course, a time saving is a time saving, and 20-30 minutes is not to be scoffed at. Or wouldn't be, if he hadn't made the route unworkable. The 115km/h maximum speed and 80 km/h average speed claimed is theoretically possible. But how often does a train like that stop? It takes roughly a kilometre for a train to accelerate and decelerate from those speeds, meaning the formula for time is given by:

d/a = (d - 2n)/m + 2n/(m/2)


d/a = (d + 2n)/m

d = total distance
a = average speed
n = number stops
m = maximum speed

Plugging in the values for the Box Hill-Monash trip of 19km gives just four stops, each 5km apart (Monash->Glen Waverly->Burwood Highway->Nunawading->Box Hill). No wonder it is twice the speed of existing rail in Melbourne! But what use are stops five kilometres apart. A traveller from Knox City is no better off. Their public transport trip (previously 40 minutes) might now be 30 minutes, but it is still slower and less convenient than the car. People who live at the existing stations save substantial amounts of time with this scheme, but the vast majority of people do not, and will not, because the connection to the train line will be vastly slower than driving the whole distance.

Yet somehow, despite being designed for just 1/6 (16%) of all journeys, this will take 1/3 (33%) of cross town journeys (5% of all journeys), and increase public transport use to 17 percent of motorised trips. Some 8 percent above what it is now!

No single project will do anything of the sort. Even if the costing was remotely accurate (and it isn't) a dozen dedicated tram lines, or a substantially improved bus service would be a far better waste of $2 billion dollars. Paul Mees has his critics, but he is fairly close to right on this matter. Melbourne's public transport needs better connections, not heavy infrastructure. But the old school engineeering mindset where one must create A SOLUTION seems to impare any rational evaluation on the part of commentators (and stasis on the part of government).

But there is another aspect to this that matters. And that is the lack of connecting thought between different planners. Somewhere in the morass of planning policies for Melbourne, there is a plan for transit cities, that will provide connecting hubs for transport. But try and see them in the transport plan. Transport planning in Melbourne, which should be evaluating projects over decades, if not longer, is obsessed with the now, and the short term. Induced demand - long the prime objection of those opposed to freeways - is never discussed in relation to public transport projects, despite being arguably much more important.

Partly this is because, as the recent inquiry into congestion noted we don't really know what it is. But that is a post for another day.

Sterner Matters 19th March, 2007 02:25:37   [#] 


Yet Another Public Transport Plan
Oh don't get me started.

the zillion dollar 'Fast' train to ballarat was only faster than the previous one when all the dignitaries were on the inaugural trip.

The timetable has now be reprinted to reflect the long time the train waits outside stations for the points to change.
while it sits, supposedly 'connecting buses' (eg: at bacchus marsh) depart the station leaving commuters to walk a kilometre into town
GoAwayPlease  30th March, 2007 01:07:03