Free Melb CBD trams from January 1
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine promises that free CBD trams and a cap on train fares will be in the May state budget, meaning the policies will happen whether the Coalition wins the election, or not.
In one sense, this is clever hip-pocket politics. By announcing the introduction of zone 1 fares across Melbourne's entire train network from January 1, the Coalition is directly pitching to voters in a swath of seats in Melbourne's suburbs where cost-of-living pressures are a paramount issue.
For commuters in marginal electorates like Mordialloc, Carrum and Frankston — all of which helped deliver government for the Coalition in 2010 — the saving will be significant.
At the same time, a promise to offer free tram travel in the city and Docklands will allow the government to spruik its public transport credentials more broadly, with particular appeal for people working in the CBD.
What you do have to wonder about is the timing. That the Coalition has fired this significant shot now — eight months before the November 29 election and more than a month before the budget — shows just how rattled Napthine is.
Before the 2010 election, public and private polling showed the issue was a clear negative for John Brumby and Labor and a positive for Ted Baillieu and the Coalition.
In the space of three-and-a-bit years, the Coalition government has somehow managed to squander that crucial advantage, such that public transport is now seen as a negative for the the government and a positive for Labor.
The latest policy offering represents an attempt to reclaim that advantage, or, at the very least, neutralise the issue. An extensive taxpayer-funded advertising campaign spruiking the government's public transport credentials forms another part of the attack.
Trouble is, the policy, which will cost about $100 million a year, will do little to wedge Labor on public transport. It will be funded in the May 6 budget. Exactly how, the government is refusing to say. The opposition has no intention of standing in the way of the policy.
In other words, no matter who wins, separate fares will be gone and tram travel will be free in the city from January 1.
The danger for the Coalition is that by the time the election rolls around, voters will, to some extent, accept it as a given.