I‘m a big supporter of public transport. You might think this is ironic from the point of view of a petrol head. But if you sit down and think about it, why would it be such a bad thing if we used our cars less? We can save on wear and tear and extend the life of our beloved mechanical beasts. We can even save a lot of money on maintenance by doing this.
The biggest issue with Melbourne is its development as a low density, sprawling city in the image of Los Angeles and Chicago. A small, dense core as the seat of government where all the high paying jobs are. The density drops off dramatically after a few kilometres and the landscape is then dominated by single storey housing with some smatterings of medium rise apartment blocks. This means the city is dominated by freeways, highways and cars for moving about. Whilst our traffic jams are nowhere near as bad as Beijing’s, it will certainly become a much bigger problem as the city grows, but doesn’t adapt to the much larger population. I’m not arguing for higher density living, but for smarter options of getting people out of cars and into mass transit.
Part of the issue is that most of the jobs that people depend on are no longer based in the core of the city. At last count, only 10.6% of the jobs in the city are now based in the CBD whilst the transport systems are still designed around getting traffic into, but not necessarily through it. There are some attempts to get out of this funk of course, like CityLink and the proposed East West Tunnel, but why more highways? Yes, most of the traffic movements are on the road network right now, but surely the best solution would be to remove the need for new freeways and build proper alternatives for people to use? Line extensions to far flung suburbs are great, but when they’re built on top of existing infrastructure, it’s really only a partial solution to the major issue of connectivity between major hubs of the city. Surely, if Sydney can continually build new lines throughout the metropolitan area, then Melbourne, with its much flatter topography should be able to do something better with its transport infrastructure.
There are of course issues that the system has to deal with now. The state of the infrastructure is terrible due to money being continually pulled out of the system, the technologies in the background supporting it seem antiquated and most importantly, it will most likely continue to be a cost to the government to run irrespective of passenger numbers. But continually building tollways only gets people into more cars. Just this week, it seems that the government will start to rely on people driving down the emergency lanes of the Monash Freeway to get traffic moving. This, only a year or so after a new lane was added in both directions means we’re moving much closer to Beijing’s traffic situation.
In the interim, it seems that the one thing that is under utilised is the bus network of the city. Currently, the majority of bus lines are confusing, meandering and have inadequate frequencies for properly reliable service. In reality, getting buses to be more point to point with better frequencies are probably the ideal solution for the suburbs of Melbourne. Buses are more flexible, but also carry less passengers than trams or trains. But at least it would be a good first step to stopping our reliance on private cars to get around everywhere.