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Myki fare hikes favour some users, punish others and increasingly encourage driving

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Back when Crowded House first played the Opera House in 1996, Melbourne public transport users were paying $4.10 for a Daily Zone 1 fare. From January that same fare will cost $8.20 - exactly double what it was 20 years ago.

Of course, prices for most things have gone up in that time. But if public transport fares had risen at the rate of inflation, that fare would be $6.86, not $8.20.

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Public transport fares rise in 2017

The cost of public transport is set to rise next year, with annual adult Myki fares hitched by $80.

Both sides of politics have given us repeated above-inflation rises. The Brumby Labor government budgeted for CPI plus 5 per cent rises in 2012 and 2013, which were subsequently delivered by the Coalition. Then in its December 2013 budget update, the Coalition flagged CPI plus 2.5 per cent rises annually from 2015 to 2018 - now being delivered by Labor.

However, some passengers have seen recent price cuts. We now have a flat fare for most trips within suburban Melbourne. This is both a curse and a blessing. Commuters coming into inner Melbourne from the sprawling suburbs pay a fare that is cheap by Australian standards, and lower in real terms than 20 years ago.

But for short trips, say from Kensington into the city, or a quick ride on the tram to the shops, the fare is the same. These trips are increasingly not cost-competitive with driving.

The Free Tram Zone has also caused problems. CBD trams were already crowded - now they're positively packed, including with people now encouraged to drive to places like Docklands to park, then catch a tram to work.


The cheap long-distance fares and free trams have to be funded somehow. Both were announced by the Coalition ahead of the 2014 election. It seems likely that the price rises we're now seeing were devised to help cover the cost of the discounts - favouring some users at the expense of others.

This means that for many, fares continue to rise far faster than inflation. In contrast, any proposal for road pricing gets rejected immediately by politicians, and the Federal petrol excise tax was frozen for many years. As a result, ABS figures show the cost of driving rising at less than the rate of inflation - in other words, it's getting cheaper to drive.

Policies that discourage public transport use and encourage more driving are not good for a growing city. The cost and scarcity of parking in the CBD may mean public transport wins there, but in most parts of Melbourne, cars dominate, despite endless traffic jams.

Convenience and service quality are vitally important - and for public transport there is no shortage of improvements needed: more frequent services, better connections and infrastructure, relief from crowding, better reliability.

But the cost of travel is also a factor when making travel choices. Public transport must be affordable, and cost-competitive with driving - not just for longer trips, but also for shorter ones. It's important that fares help fund the system. But policies must reflect that it's good for our city if more people use public transport - and bad if they're getting in their cars adding to the traffic.

Daniel Bowen is a public transport advocate. He blogs at