Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Fixing trains

At Kensington Station talking to commuters

This morning I was at Kensington Station speaking to commuters and watching them trying to climb on to overcrowded trains. They'd often have to wait for the next one. Is this the best we can do?

1929 timetable for the Essendon line

It's a little hard to read in the copy posted above, but the 1929 Victorian Railways timetable for the Essendon line makes interesting reading.

No less than 81 years ago, there were 17 trains stopping at Kensington on the way to the city between 7.00 am and 9.00 am on weekdays. That's an average of a train every 7 minutes or so.

Today, between 7.00 am and 9.00 am there are just 12 trains - an average of a train every 10 minutes.

The population of Melbourne in 1929 was less than 1 million. Today it is more than 4 million.

Our public transport system is infrequent, overcrowded and unreliable.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Zurich administers its entire public transport system (which moves more people than Melbourne’s) with just 36 staff (I'm not counting actual drivers). In our “Transport Ticketing Authority” alone – whose only job is to hire someone else to run a ticketing system – we have 104 staff.

A single train moves more people than an entire lane of cars driving past in an hour. Public transport can be efficient – to say nothing of the environmental benefits.

In a recent parliamentary inquiry, Greens MP, Greg Barber, found that Melbourne’s rail managers are guilty of “self-congratulation, complacency and strategic misrepresentation”.

The evidence showed that many ‘reasons’ given for public transport failure were simply excuses for poor planning or justifications for the disastrous adventure of privatisation.

1. Unprecedented summer heat

Melbourne has hot summers. We need to plan for them. The hot weather exposed the fact that we have no effective management of our transport maintenance backlog.

2. Over-crowding: the system is the victim of its own success

The government says that rapid patronage growth causes the crowding that delays trains. This is too convenient. Patronage targets were set almost a decade ago, but new trains are only just arriving. The main cause of over-crowding is poor planning.

3. Connex was bad; Metro will be better

Privatisation has been fraught since its inception due to “aggressive” under-bidding by the operators and the government’s acceptance of demands for extra funding.

4. The system is at capacity

It isn't. As the 1929 timetable shows, we ran far more trains 80 years ago.

Fragmented responsibilities created by privatisation, combined with inadequate planning skills, mean inefficient use of existing tracks and poor design of new projects.

Privatisation complicates and confuses planning for today’s growth in rail patronage. How can it possibly deliver high-quality public transport to meet tomorrow’s challenges?

It's time to fix public transport. We need to:
  • end the current franchise arrangements;
  • create a metropolitan public transport authority and bring in managers with a track record of success to deliver a ‘network’ that meets the needs of our city.
We need a public transport service we can all enjoy.

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