Derailing the Negative Stigma

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By Chris Sutton

The trains are late, the trams are overcrowded, the Myki system is rubbish, ticket inspectors are rude and the fines are unreasonable; these are the common views held by people in regards to Melbourne’s public transport system that cannot seem to break its negative stigma. With parking and traffic such an issue, especially in the CBD, many cringe at the option of a train, tram or bus due to a wide range of factors that can leave a citizen more drained than spending long hours on congested roads.

Metro replaced Connex in 2009 in the hope that a new train service provider would increase the reliability of the transport. Instead, Metro has been accused of altering timetables to acquire bonuses from the government. Metro has improved punctuality from below 85% in 2009 to near 94% in 2015, but the complaints and negativity surrounding lateness and station-skipping continue even though Metro claims that it’s out of their control.

Citizens don’t accept excuses for delays, overcrowding and rudeness. Not after a long day at work. Instances of Myki machines being faulty have resulted in innocent commuters receiving hefty fines from inspectors that are swelling with apparent power. Myki fines are failing in court. When a person contests the fine due to a failing system, the government department does not have the records to prove them wrong. Attending a court case will likely result in a dismissal of the fine, but going to court for the errors of a system that was meant to strengthen public transport reeks of failure.

Tony Morton, President of Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) spoke to St Kilda News about changes, Myki and the overall issues with public transport in Melbourne. Mr. Morton was supportive of Metro Trains, citing strengthened initiative.

“We do get the impression that Metro Trains is rather more proactive than Connex was when it comes to getting more out of the railway infrastructure. Since 2009 there have been a number of timetable changes that (at last) made proper use of peak hour system capacity in the inner city, the existence of which both Connex and the state government were all but denying as recently as 2006”.

Mr. Morton believes neither Myki nor Metcard were popular with commuters, and while Myki has become passable for many, the shortcomings remain. Almost every other city in the world with smartcard ticketing has a short-term ticket option, but not Melbourne.

“The latest Auditor-General’s report (on Myki) is similar to a number of earlier reports on both systems which highlight poor value for money, bad contract management and performance well short of initial expectations.”

Mr. Morton said the planning and financing of major infrastructure projects has become a political football to the dismay of many. When asked about possible solutions and a comparison to other Australian cities, a wide range of options were presented.

“Double-deck trains are used worldwide mainly on regional services with wider stop spacing and higher speeds than ‘metro’ systems. However, there are a number of technical reasons why double-deck trains would be less useful compared with other capacity-boosting measures such as high-capacity signalling.”

“Sydney’s Opal cards have some advantages over Myki but also some severe drawbacks. They do provide the option of single tickets alongside Opal cards, as does virtually every other city besides Melbourne. Doing this with Myki would be a software rather than hardware problem.”

Mr. Morton argues that more spending is required to boost service provision, and if planned well it will be rewarded with more patrons and greater revenue.

“Many people would switch to public transport instead of sitting in congested traffic each day if the system provided a competitive alternative. The solution is not to attempt to market substandard services to make them appear better, but to actually improve the product,” said Mr. Morton.

Public Transport Not Traffic (PTNT) is a campaign bringing together communities across Melbourne to advocate for modern, expansive, and reliable public transport. PTNT are working towards putting local public transport needs firmly on the political agenda. Berish Bilander, Campaign Manager at Public Transport Not Traffic, discussed the improvements that need to be made for the transport system to be successful.

“We need to make sure public transport is a quick and reliable option for commuters. This means giving priority to buses and trams so they don’t get stuck in traffic. It means upgrading our outdated signalling system so that we can move more trains per hour and ease overcrowding,” said Mr. Bilander.

PTNT will be running a series of events that are designed to show the good and the bad of public transport in local neighbourhoods. In the style of a race, the events see participants attempt to reach a certain location using public transport, with first prize awarded to the participant with the highest average speed. Tracking the trips allows PTNT to advise users on how transport could have been utilised more effectively, while having people start from different locations provides a wide-ranging assessment of the system. Such a measure can also serve to lessen the surrounding negativity.

“Improving our public transport would save families time and money, keep our air and environment clean, and help keep goods and services moving across the region,” said Mr. Bilander.

The government is responsible for targeting change according to PTNT, as the potential to be recognised as Australia’s most well developed city remains.

“Public transport in Melbourne could be truly world class, but decades of underinvestment and poor planning means that we now have a system that is letting people down,” said Mr. Bilander.

“Instead of pushing operators to meet unnecessary performance targets, resulting in dodgy practices like trains skipping stations, our state government needs to focus more on making public transport a high quality user experience.”

Cathy Oke, a Councillor at the City of Melbourne, stated that while the state government operate the transport system, the Council has some control over local roads and streets.

“(We) certainly wish to see a shift to more sustainable, multi modal transport network, which is reflected in our Transport Strategy. We work very closely with the state government on projects that affect the city, like Metro Rail and the Tram network,” said Cr. Oke.

“In such a busy city with a growing population of commuters and residents, we need to ensure that any move to reduce vehicles doesn’t impact on businesses being able to send and receive goods.”

Mayor Amanda Stevens of the City of Port Phillip Council responded to questions from St Kilda News in regards to the local approach. Mayor Stevens cited the creation and support of better options for sustainable transport as one of the Council’s major priorities.

“As we face an ever increasing population and denser living, we have to look at ways to ensure our residents, and the residents of greater Melbourne, can continue to move freely around our city. This means moving away from a reliance on cars and encouraging more people to use the public transport network,” said Mayor Stevens.

The Council has adopted the Sustainable Transport Strategy to ensure this takes place. Goals such as reducing private vehicle travel from 77% to 55% and increasing public transport use from 14% to 27% by 2020 were highlighted. Improvements have already been made, which include the upgrade of Balaclava station to provide Disability Discrimination Act compliance access and work on local tram stops.

“We will continue to advocate for improved public transport infrastructure to make trains and trams more accessible and easier to use for our residents,” said Mayor Stevens.

As reported by St Kilda News, a meeting held by the Acland Street Village Business Association Inc. demonstrated that the proposed tram super stop in Acland street needs an alternative solution, citing the damage caused by the new super stops in Bridge road and Fitzroy street. Public Transport Victoria will commence construction on this site unless another proposal with sound urban planning is put forward by the community and accepted by the powers that be. If the current plan goes ahead, citizens believe there will be a loss of more than 50 car spaces, the removal of on-street dining and job loss in fashion and entertainment outlets. Criticism derived from a lack of engagement with the community to achieve the best result for all concerned parties, as the largest trams Melbourne has ever seen would be introduced onto the system and limit street access in one of the most iconic locations in the city.

In the meantime, Melbourne appears to be falling short of acceptability due to a lack of leadership from parties out of Council and campaign control. But through the management of events, placing pressure on state government and improving local facilities there is enough initiative to suggest that the negative stigma regarding public transport can be removed and thus appreciated by the public.

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