Trams – Free at last?

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By: Alec Nejad

Free public transport in Melbourne is one step closer to becoming a reality. Commuters travelling between Docklands and the Queen Victoria Markets need not touch on and Melbourne’s famous fare enforcers will become a less common sight along those routes. With the move introduced by the Napthine Government and endorsed by the Opposition set to commence on January 1, 2015, city workers, international students, and tourists, can start counting their savings now.

Premier Napthine believes the move will further endorse Melbourne’s reputation as an international city, and the plan was further justified by Transport Minister Terry Mulder: “All commuters, including tourists, will be able to travel anywhere within the CBD free of charge”, he said, proudly adding, “This is just one of the many ways our Government is fixing Victoria’s transport system and providing services to move more people, more often.”

In fact any train, tram, and bus passenger will also have much to celebrate as included in the package is a maximum daily cap across travel in both Zones 1 and 2 starting January 1, 2015. This could see savings of upwards of a thousand dollars per year for a regular daily commuter living in the outer suburbs.

Despite what might seem like a win-win across the board, the initiative isn’t without its detractors. Arguments highlighting overcrowding, crime, punctuality, and fewer services overall are being highlighted, and evidence from areas of Europe and North America shows free public transport has had mixed success.

Public transport groups like the PTUA Victoria (Public Transport Users Association) have voiced their concerns on their Facebook page: “Govt plan to cut fares – it sounds good at first… until you realise it’ll give free rides to people who drive into the CBD, and the revenue lost will place upward pressure on all fares (as seen in Adelaide with its flat fares). What about better services instead, or a fare cut for all?”

Possibly the most unusual source of criticism is from the Victorian Farmers Federation, who labelled the move nothing more than a vote-buying exercise and said that funds would be better spent on improving infrastructure. “Cheap transport fares to the city will do nothing to improve productivity of the state,” VFF President Peter Tuohey commented. He went on to say that regional Victoria was being neglected by the move: “Reduced train fares will not help regional Victorians or help deal with the ageing transport infrastructure in regional areas.”

One thing’s for certain, it will be a vote winner – reducing expenditures always is. One could be excused for assuming that is the sole motive. The current administration has actually done very little to increase public transport services in any real meaningful way. Services since 2011 have actually fallen by three per cent. Previous Labor government projects such as new SmartBus routes and the implementation of the Regional Rail Link are only just being completed. Well, at least they weren’t scrapped.

Closer to home, and something I’m sure we’ll all be pleased to see, is a brand new school crossing opposite Marlon Crescent on Wellington Street. The crossing will open later this month to coincide with the start of term two of the school calendar. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place on Tuesday April 22 at 8am.

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