Monday, October 23, 2006

Should an expanded Melbourne City council run transport?

The Herald Sun has an article about a plan to create an enlarged inner Melbourne council to allow a more co-ordinated transport policy.

Such a council area could include not just the CBD and immediate surrounds, but also inner-Melbourne areas, such as St Kilda, Brunswick, Richmond, Footscray or even further out.

These sorts of things come up every now and then. Amalgamated councils apparently 'co-ordinate better' and 'have more resources', whereas divided up councils can be 'more responsive to local concerns' and are better at 'local solutions'.

But people should stand back and consider the implications before supporting it, rather than taking the 'grass is greener on the other side' approach and thinking it must be good.

Brisbane has been cited as an example of a powerful local government. The City of Brisbane has approximately 700 000 residents and has some tasks that would be state government functions elsewhere (eg running buses).

But I'm not sure if transport planning in Brisbane can be regarded as a success. Admittedly they've done very well lately with Translink fares and bus patronage, but for years Brisbane was less innovative than cities such as Perth, which has had genuine multimodal service planning for years.

A Brisbane-like structure just sets things up for big power plays between a big state government and a big local government. And especially if one controls trains and the other controls buses then you're going to get some pretty stupid decisions being made if an integrated approach is not taken (eg busways paralleling railways, or in other cases light rail where a bus would have been better etc).

After a few years of waste and politicking, people will be calling for an integrated body to be formed, and so the wheel will have turned full circle.

Fragmentation can also hinder or spoil big projects. Would Allanah McTiernan have got the direct (Narrows Br) Mandurah railway option up if PCC and the NIMBYs of South Perth were more powerful? The answer is no she wouldn't. The 'second-best' option of the train via Cannington would have been built, and trip times would be scarcely faster than the current freeway buses.

The other problem with public transport being controlled by inner suburban interests is that it will be divided into inner versus outer systems, with inner parts thriving at the expense of the outer parts of the network. This is effectively conceding that PT will not work in outer areas. However it is essential that it does since the liveability of the inner areas is a major beneficiary of it.

Is this pie in the sky stuff? No.

Go back to the Lonie Report, which recommended mass rail closures. Or the early proposals from the Kennett era.

If you wanted to travel after 8pm from the city to beyond Caulfield or Moorabbin, you will have to get off the train and onto a bus. This was predicated on seperate inner vs outer networks. Such a network would be particulary unsuitable for a city such as Melbourne where population density differences between inner and outer suburbs are quite small.

In summary, I have yet to see anything that convinces me that changes of this ilk are progress, as opposed to mere activity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I suspect that the comments in regard to public transport were made in relation to policy and advocacy coordination and not necessarily operating the services.

There is perhaps some scope in reviewing council boundaries to better reflect like communities (example includes Casey and Greater Dandenong) but I doubt that another round of wholesale amalgamation is required.

Ultimately it does make it easier for one larger body to advocate than several smaller bodies. The Brisbane example has seen local government work in a much more coordinated fashion particularly in the application of a holistic vision for the city.

In Melbourne's case perhaps there is strength in a regional focus rather than necessarily needing larger local governments.

Alex Makin