After decades of under investment in public transport, we welcome the attention that the major parties are giving to new rail projects.
But neither a Suburban Rail Loop in Melbourne nor faster trains to regional centres are a magic bullet to solve congestion, overcrowding or suburban and regional transport disadvantage.
Instead, we need to take a holistic approach to addressing Victoria’s transport challenges. We can only do this by considering these projects in relation to how they support an integrated system of transport across the state.
To this end, we call on all parties to commit to delivering an integrated transport plan for Victoria. Huge commitments to massive but contradictory road and rail projects in Melbourne demonstrate a huge deficit in planning and analysis that has worsened in the last decade.
Roads ... and keeping Melbourne 'liveable'
In the past, Melbourne has had plans that have promised ‘liveable neighbourhoods’, land use and transport integration, regional connectivity and dense high-quality multimodal networks. The most recent plan, Plan Melbourne calls for ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’.
But these ambitions become undone by massive spending on roads which has delivered more lane-kilometres than any other Australian city.
Labor’s commitments to the North East Link and Eastern Freeway widening, the West Gate Tunnel and the Mordialloc Freeway projects; and the Liberal Party’s commitment to build the North East Link, a wider Eastern Freeway and East West Link simultaneously in tandem, are a significant departure from the aspirations of a liveable, sustainable and resilient state contained in Plan Melbourne and state-wide planning documents.
As cities around the world seek to tear down inner-city freeways and commit to quality public transport as an alternative to private-car based travel, the commitment to build more roads is an egregious mis-step on the part of our two major parties at a time when we face serious issues of climate change and growing social inequality as many more people are forced into outer suburbs lacking in public transport.
Research shows that single-occupancy private vehicles increase our demand on land, induce future car travel and produce poor land use integration.
Victoria has a Transport Integration Act that provides the legal framework for integration of transport with land use to improve accessibility and to reduce private car usage. The large-scale road projects committed by the Labor and Liberal parties provide little scope for integration with land use. Roads are designed to move people through places, rather than facilitate the development and regeneration of adjacent land uses (which is possible with public transport).
Rail - Advantages and concerns
Labor has announced that it would commence planning a $50-billion, 90-kilometre Suburban Rail Loop and if re-elected, they will recommend this project to Infrastructure Victoria for assessment.
This is a bold project for metropolitan Melbourne of the kind that has the potential to transform the public transport system and land use in the middle suburbs of Melbourne. dependence. The initial announcement seemed to be received positively by many voters, which may indicate that Melburnians understand the need for alternatives to their current car dependence.
However, as this project idea evolves it is imperative that it is fairly distributed across the west, north and south delivering improved public transport services to regions that are most under-served.
We also echo concerns that this project was developed without direct engagement with Transport for Victoria - the agency tasked with integrating our various transport modes. To ensure that the project employs the most effective technologies and achieves the maximum land use and transport integration benefits, it is necessary for plans to be openly debated by state agencies, local and international experts and the public.
Labor’s other big public transport infrastructure announcement for metropolitan Melbourne is a commitment of $5-billion to build the Airport Rail Link. It is imperative this project develops in consultation with local government and key stakeholders to ensure it offers maximum local and regional land use and transport benefits.
The Coalition have committed $15-19 billion towards building high speed rail to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton and Ararat, over a period of 10 years. The Liberal Party has also committed $500-millin to extend the Cranbourne Line in Melbourne to Cranbourne East and Clyde.
Labor promises $50-million towards the planning of a highspeed train to Geelong, and $26.2-million towards upgrades to VLine Services.
Outer areas of Melbourne and the suburbs of Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo are growing at unprecedented pace, due to rapidly increasing population and the housing unaffordability constraints of Melbourne’s inner and middle suburbs. These areas are largely car-dependent, and considerably more effort is needed to provide quality public transport services. Quality public transport could increase the job options available to people living in these areas by improving access to jobs, education and other services.
The Greens have also committed to a major metropolitan rail project in the form of Melbourne Metro 2. If they make up the balance of power they will advance this project by committing $100-million to planning MM2 which has the potential to act as an alternative transport initiative to the proposed North East Link, East West Link and West Gate Tunnel projects by providing an east-west link across the city that would complement Melbourne Metro 1 when it’s completed in 2025. This is an exciting alternative vision and is one that is both bold and necessary to help Victorians meet its current transport and land use challenges.
Buses, trams and active transport
The Greens promise to allocate $500-million towards a network of Smart Buses and building an Eastern Metro Rapid Bus Network. Quality bus services in outer metropolitan areas are vital to servicing lower density regions, especially when integrated with the existing tram and train network.
The Greens have also committed to upgrading tram routes, including separating trams from other traffic, providing traffic-light priority to trams, committing money towards the manufacturing of 30 new high capacity trams and building an inner-city super bike lane.
Targeted and smaller-scale initiatives such as these are the kind that will support our collective ambition for a more sustainable, liveable and resilient regional for all Victorians.
Image: Melbourne skyline. Credit: goodfreephotos.com
Table icons made by  from www.flaticon.com