Free CBD trams in plan to overhaul zones
Free trams in the CBD and maximum daily fares capped at the zone 1 rate across Melbourne if the Liberal Party wins November's state election.says Victoria's Premier Denis Napthine.PT0M0S 620 349
None of the train, tram and bus companies that operate Melbourne's public transport system were consulted or even told about the Napthine government's decision to change the ticket zoning system and provide free trams in the city centre.
Metro, Yarra Trams and bus operator Transdev began investigating on Wednesday how the ticketing changes will affect their operations, after learning about the policy announcement through the media.
Together, Melbourne's train, tram and bus operators carried 524 million people last financial year.
From January 1, tram travel within the CBD and Docklands will be free, and zone 2 commuters will be charged a zone 1 fare, under a $100 million-a-year pledge by the Napthine government. The promise was quickly matched by the state opposition.
It is not yet known how the fare restructure will be paid for. Those details will be revealed in the May budget.
Melbourne University transport expert John Stone said the surprise nature of the announcement indicated transport planning in Victoria had been hijacked by politicians seeking re-election in November.
"To have had three years of inaction on transport and then try to, in a flurry before November, do all sorts of things like move the Melbourne Metro [rail tunnel], announce these fare changes ... they are not coming out of a serious plan for fixing the problems," Dr Stone said.
Tram overcrowding in the CBD rose sharply last year, with 14 "rolling hour" load breaches – meaning an hour in which passenger numbers exceed tram capacity – compared with nine in 2012.
Yet plans to encourage tram travel in the city by making it free were not tied to others reducing overcrowding, Dr Stone said.
"If you get a new tram that costs you millions of dollars and then it sits in traffic, that's a really poor use of your investment," he said.
"We really haven't done the work needed to improve tram services. Having more trams helps, but if the trams were going faster, if traffic was kept out of their way, if the traffic signals worked in their favour, then each tram could carry far more people in a shift than it does at the moment."
John Stanley, adjunct professor at the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at the University of Sydney, said changes to the zones were a good move that would benefit people on lower incomes living in the outer suburbs.
But he said there was no evidence the government's decisions on trams and buses were part of a wider plan for Melbourne.
"If you make decisions on a project-by-project basis, there is no guarantee you're going to get the kind of city you want," Professor Stanley said. "You've got to start with the kind of city you want and then put your transport initiatives in place to give you the city you want."