Infrastructure Vic's ticket reform misses the mark

As we grapple with what a post pandemic public transport system might look like, it is essential we find ways to increase physical space on our trams, trains and buses. We welcome the fact that the government, employees and unions have worked hard to make our PT Covid-19 safe.

Infrastructure Victoria’s (IV) ticket reform proposal Fair Move: Better Public Transport Fares for Melbourne attempts to evenly distribute commuters across our train, tram and bus network, but misses the mark when it comes to priorities of improving our transport network. 

Illustrative per trip prices from the fare reform scenario
(Source: Infrastructure Victoria)

While this seems to be an initiative to reduce overcrowding and road travel by making off-peak fares cheaper, it doesn’t address social justice issues or the fact that there is a pressing need for better public transport services across the state. 

At a first glance, the reform might appear positive, as it proposes that peak-hour tram and bus fares be significantly reduced and off-peak travel discounted. However, it also increases train fares to five dollars during peak times, and is largely based on the premise that everyone is free to choose their time of travel.

The global pandemic is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reset public transport priorities, create jobs, and transition to a sustainable future. Many people might continue to work from home, and the Victorian government could make a serious start on the 20 minute neighbourhood. However, we’re already seeing patronage bounce back in places like Perth. We have to expect a similar trend here in Victoria as restrictions start to be lifted.

Public transport will continue to be integral to our society and the Andrews Government must ensure we have an adequate network so that communities aren’t locked into transport poverty.

Something needs to be done about public transport crowding post COVID

Before Covid-19, trains, trams, and buses on many routes were overcrowded at peak times. Now we’re seeing a trend towards more car use, which will lead to gridlock without a shake- up of our transport network. 

Melbourne is building up to overtake Sydney in becoming Australia's most populated metropolitan region and transport is the second largest and fastest growing contributor to emissions in Victoria. More cars on our roads will increase air pollution and contribute to the current climate crisis. If the Victorian government is to meet its legislated commitment of zero emissions by 2050, decision makers must move away from car travel and support for new road-based projects like the North East Link, and towards public transport. 

Now is the optimal time for the Victorian government to invest in:

  • more frequent services on weekends and in off-peak times, 
  • accessible tram and V/Line carriages and infrastructure for people with access issues (making stations and stops accessible also increases space and facilitates physical distancing)
  • upgrading the bus network, and 
  • increasing capacity across the network by starting work on the Melbourne Metro 2 (MM2) rail tunnel. 

Where the ticket reform falls short:

While the ticket reform may reduce the cost of fares for some commuters, it will disadvantage workers, such as nurses, teachers, and other essential service workers, who have no other travel options, and who do not have the luxury of flexible hours or working from home.

Although a survey conducted by IV indicates that 60% of people would be interested in changing the time of their travel if it saved them money, ultimately, it’s up to the employer to decide when people work.

According to IV, lower income people are more likely to catch buses, and thus would benefit from the reform, whilst higher income people are likely to catch trains and trams. However, Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) spokesperson Tony Moreton told The Age "There seems to be an idea of trying to pick out the kinds of public transport trips that rich people tend to make and charging more for that relative to what poor people make … we emphasise the need for public transport to work for everyone and provide equal treatment."

As unemployment soars to the highest it's been in decades, and many people are living with reduced incomes, a five dollar train ticket is simply unaffordable for a large section of our society.

It is unreasonable to punish peak hour travellers when alternative bus and tram routes are less efficient and/or non-existent.

Fair move is not fair! 

What needs to be done: 

If the Andrews government is serious about reducing road congestion, and ensuring a safe climate future, this type of ticket reform is not the place to start. Upgrading services and integrating timetables to make public transport more desirable than car travel is a more effective and equitable way to go. Increasing off peak services to make it easier to travel all day round would also make it easier for commuters to adjust their travel times. 

More frequent services, a fully accessible network, a bus upgrade, and increasing services with MM2 must be prioritised above this type of ticket reform. 

MM2 is the vital next addition to Melbourne’s 21st century rail network and integrated public transport system. It’s a tunnel between Newport and Clifton Hill via Fishermans Bend, Southern Cross, Flagstaff, Parkville and Fitzroy connecting to existing service. MM2 will connect the North to the West (Melbourne’s fastest growing areas), whilst increasing capacity on the Mernda and Werribee lines. 

The Victorian government must consult with locals, community groups and a wide range of transport experts in order to decipher the best move for Melbourne’s public transport future.

Click here to see a full list of Sustainable Cities’ short, medium and long term asks.

For more info on alternative ticketing reform, see the PTUA’s policy.

Bibliography:

PTUA on Fare reform (published 2017) https://www.ptua.org.au/policy/fares/

INFRASTRUCTURE VIC https://www.infrastructurevictoria.com.au/project/fair-move-better-public-transport-fares-for-melbourne/ 

ABC https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-24/new-off-peak-fares-could-save-money-for-melbourne-commuters/12695072?fbclid=IwAR3H-XjBCAlPFFb2xTbgol5GrcGAKn8NNB0aVGRlEBOAnIjgbTTEuOpF3Ns 

THE AGE https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/calls-to-slash-tram-bus-and-off-peak-ticket-prices-to-avoid-crowded-trains-20200923-p55ygq.html 

MELBOURNE ON TRANSIT https://melbourneontransit.blogspot.com/2020/03/bad-move-infrastructure-victorias.html DISABILITY RESOURCES CENTRE
http://drc.org.au/join-transport-for-all/