7.2.07

Public transport, a shamble and a missed opportunity in the State post-election budget

Public transport, a shamble and a missed opportunity in the State post-election budget

In the Minister's message for the launch of Melbourne 2030, Peter Batchelor stated: "Not surprisingly, in the consultation process for Melbourne 2030, transport emerged as a dominant theme. It also proved to be the feature Melburnians liked most and least about their city."[1]
A few years later, Treasurer John Brumby's post-election budget (representing the same political party), has allocated a dismal amount for the improvement of our public transport system—and it is not beginning this year, but sometime in 2009. A newspaper article published in May this year claims that, "In a tacit acknowledgement that the extent of overcrowding on Melbourne's trains has taken the Government by surprise, Mr Brumby has also brought forward the purchase of 10 trains and the training of 22 drivers."[2]

Melbourne's suburbs and its periphery continue to be dormitories connected by car to large shopping malls—this is not a city in any urban sense. Walking in much of the outer suburbs is hindered by the excessive traffic and unappealing car oriented roads. The train system has imposed a legacy of level crossings that are not only dangerous and outdated but add to traffic delays. It is a vicious circle: the more our public transport fails, the more we rely on the car. Thus, there is less incentive for people to walk on the streets, less opportunities for socialising, less opportunities for milk bars and small convenience stores to thrive—all in all, this means less health for the individual and the environment. This situation also hinders the economic and business opportunities for those large sections of the city.

Links between social exclusion and access to public transport have been well established. The Brotherhood of St Laurence has produced valuable research on this topic, the following paragraph reflects this concern: "Throughout the focus group discussions, transport was constantly identified as essential in terms of accessing many of the things identified as key elements of a decent standard of living, as some of the comments already cited illustrate. Lack of adequate transport was also seen as a constant problem that caused many to miss out on a decent life".[3]

Compared to other developed cities in the world Melbourne’s public transport is substandard in its connectivity at all levels: to the city centre, within and across other neighbourhoods, to culture and services.[4]

In cities such as Santiago, Lisbon, Barcelona, Stockholm and others, the underground (Metro) is not viewed only as a backdrop for commercial billboards. The authorities have had the vision to turn the public space they generate into an opportunity for artistic and cultural expressions. Painted and ceramic murals adorn the stations of these cities. In Stockholm, stations located in areas with high levels of migrant populations, display artworks incorporating various languages and meaningful designs, while in Santiago, the stations also provide space for transient and permanent exhibitions.[5]

It is true that Melbourne has a low-density population, and this situation adds to our environmental problem. However, as demonstrated in the following comparison by the PTUA (Public Transport Users Association), Melbourne has a higher population density as compared to Vancouver and similar to that of Toronto—both cities with much better public transport systems that are cheaper than ours. Conversely, density is another issue that we must address and public transport should assist in this regard. Cities (in that order):

Melbourne (Keysborough), Toronto (New York), and Vancouver (Surrey).[6]

  • - Distance from the city: 25k, 25k, 30k
  • - Population density per hectare: 32, 34, 11
  • - Bus service frequency (peak, in minutes): 60min, 2.5min, 15min
  • - Bus service frequency (off-peak, in minutes): 60min, 6min, 15min
  • - Evening: no service, 7.5 min, 15 min.
  • - Fare (bus+ train): $9.2, $3, $6.


In these cities, public transport services exist to respond to commuter demands in terms of transport options and waiting times. More importantly, these services are not necessarily tied to population size or community affluence. The claim—often used by our politicians and bureaucrats—that Melbourne’s population is too small for a “high response” public transport is not correct. Neither is the view that we cannot afford the costs of major transport infrastructure—Australia, with an annual budget surplus can certainly afford this.

In a recent article, Royce Miller discusses the possibility of "people-friendly transport tunnels" for Melbourne. These tunnels aim to solve congestion, and opens up more holistic considerations regarding the upgrading of the rail system, connectivity, and the notion of a pedestrian friendly city.[7]

Efficient public transport needs investment. It does not rely on 'coercing' or 'educating' people into using it—people opt for public transport when it is a real option. Underground tunnels, assuming these included good public transport service, could assist cities in becoming pedestrian friendly, as the traffic above is reduced. Public transport, in my view, should be deemed as a right, an integral part of what Lefebvre defined as "the right to the city".

Our governments, State and Federal, have not yet understood the importance of public transport in relation to environmental issues, health and the liveability of our city. Public transport should act as a network of interconnections to link the Melbourne CBD and the majority of Melbournians who live in suburbs and the periphery.

In sum, we have the required population and density to justify a real public transport system. If poorer countries can have efficient, reliable, clean and modern public transport systems, we, with a constant budget surplus can afford all that and more. If cities with 2,000 years of urban heritage can build metros (underground), our 200 year-old cities can also retrofit a metro and other forms of collective transportation.

While I am not an expert on transport, as an architect and urban designer my interest focuses on the quality of the city and I am interested to know why our public transport is of such a low standard. We need educated bureaucrats, professionals and politicians, with a judicious sense of priorities, a real commitment to environmental sustainability and social justice. It is for this reason that our 2007 Forum, Transported, will discuss transport options for a connected city. You are all invited to participate.

Beatriz C. Maturana
Architects for Peace Editorial, July 2007
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References:

1: Refer to: Melbourne 2030, Minister's messages: Sustainable transport.
http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/melbourne2030online/content/introduction/01c_transport.html
2: Austin, Paul. Brumby's big spending spree. The Age, May 2, 2007. Available from http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/brumbys-big-spending-spree/2007/05/01/1177788141341.html?s_cid=rss_age
3: For a community perspective on the current state of our transport system, my colleague Kally Vakras pointed me to a recent article on The Age, April 27, 2007. "Commuters tired of playing squash". http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2007/04/26/1177459880045.html
4. See section on Transport in P. Saunders, K. Sutherland, P. Davidson, A. Hampshire, S. King and J. Taylor. Experiencing Poverty: The Voices of Low-Income Australians. Social Policy Research Centre, Brotherhood of St Laurence, March 2006 [cited 30 April 2007]. Available from: http://www.bsl.org.au/pdfs/SPRC_experiencing_poverty__new_indicators_of_disadvantage_focus_group_outcomes_report.pdf 5. For more information see:
Metro de Santiago (Metro Cultura-Art):
http://www.metrosantiago.cl/metro_arte.php
Metropolitano de Lisboa:
http://www.metrolisboa.pt
Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona:
http://www.tmb.net/en_US/home.jsp
Stockholm Transport:
http://www.sl.se/Templates/SubStart.aspx?id=1906
6. See PTUA: http://www.ptua.org.au/melbourne/better-service
7. Miller, Royce. Council backs people-friendly transport tunnels. The Age, June 15, 2007 [cited June 16 2007]. Available from http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/council-backs-peoplefriendly-transport-tunnels/2007/06/14/1181414466876.html

Images:

  • First image: Exhibition space in the underground displaying artefacts found during excavation works in a Metro station, Santiago, Chile.
  • Second image: Artwork mural in a Metro station, Stockholm, Sweden

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