Friday, November 24, 2006

Transport Victoria

It interests me that Melbourne’s urban transport problems have become an election issue in the current Victorian State elections. Like Sydney, Melbourne’s population is expected to grow strongly over the next 20 years and, while the city is expecting much higher levels of car travel, and hence much higher congestion, the public transport system has already come under pressure as motorists switch to train and bus to avoid high petrol costs.

Thus both public and private transportation systems are now under pressure.

The centrepiece of Liberal Party policies is the proposal to introduce free bus travel for students but there are other policies as well – most notably to extend the rail network. The Labor Party also have a comprehensive policy focussed on bus rather than train travel. They are right in emphasising the better economics of buses over rail and their proposal to institute cross town bus services is an astute one. Interestingly, however the Public Transport Users Association rank the Liberals marginally ahead on public transport issues.

One can hardly expect the parties to promote logically consistent policies such as pricing congestion – the political-economy costs are too high. But the long-term need in Melbourne is to divert people from cars to using public transport. Building extra roads won’t help much with this. The key is to induce people to drive their cars less and to use public transport more. It seems to me that neither political grouping has embraced this problem adequately although both parties go some of the way. But maybe such solutions come after, rather than before, elections.

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