Monday, September 21, 2009

City lobbyists go for cheap

Each age seems to bring a catch-all adjective that vested-interest spruikers use to advocate bad policy ranging from the merely ineffective to the to the positively harmful.

The last century has seen the rise and fall of such buzz-terms as 'scientific', 'electric', 'space-age', and 'computerised' to describe products. After faith in modernity wilted, 'natural', 'community' or (in Melbourne) 'liveable' became big. More recently almost everyone wants to dub their pet policy as 'environmental' or 'green'. And with the wish to give silly schemes false respectability and confine debate to 'experts', 'economically modelled' has also risen as a selling-point. Single-issue advocates try to retain their message, only changing their justifications with the times.

Today's Herald Sun contains an article where the Committee for Melbourne advocates for free city public transport.

And, right to script, the hallowed 'economic modelling' makes it into paragraph one. Environment comes in a little lower, in paragraph 4.

My standard procedure when faced with such articles is to go to the source, where additional information can often be found. For many 'news' stories start as media releases from vested interests; only a minority are uncovered by snooping journalists. To be newsworthy, these releases have to be based around some event, even if manufactured, such as the release of a 'report' (easily arranged) or a voice grab from a sympathetic academic.

Well I couldn't find the cited 'economic modelling' on the Committee for Melbourne website. Nevertheless, it contained several other relevant articles, such as their year-long lobby for free city transport and support for concession fares for overseas students.

On the other side of the ledger is professed concern about what they call creaking public transport and limiting sprawl by concentrating development along public transport corridors.

Notice how they want a buck each way? One one hand they want a stronger role for public transport, but do not agree that city passengers ought to contribute to its operation. More than anywhere else in the state, the CBD cannot operate without public transport, yet the city's supposed advocates appear unwilling to grant it a revenue stream to keep it strong.

Some claims in favour of free transport made in the article are rubbery.

Since statewide fare integration in 2007, the country visitor coming in on V/Line already enjoys free transport, not just in the CBD, but Zone 1 as well. Similarly those from the suburbs will not benefit since their daily, weekly or multi-ride tickets effectively include free CBD transport.

Then there's tourists and the benefits they bring to the city.

$6.80 for a Zone 1 daily ticket is not unreasonable. No tourist whose spent $1000 to fly here is going to curtail their expenditure on stuffed koalas, river cruises or meals because of that fare. Instead that sort of expenditure is quite inelastic, which my brand of economic model says brings Victoria more money, not less. Plus there's the theory of sunk costs, which means that if you've paid for a ticket you'd want to get some use from it. So you grab the tram to Luna Park, pop up to the zoo, visit Scienceworks at Newport and the rest, eating and drinking all the way. Good value for them and better value for us, improving transit's cost-recovery off-peak.

Of course some will benefit from free CBD transport, but they're not particuarly deserving.

For example drivers and parking operators will be winners. By parking on the CBD edge they will have free transport. If this takes longer haul trips from public transport then this harms patronage. Some short walking trips may move to public transport if the latter was free. Neither makes free transport particuarly 'green'.

Overall the Committee for Melbourne seems to be wanting 'cheap transport' more than 'better transport'. Increasingly paid for by others, of course. This is even though 'better transport' is more effective than 'cheap transport' in bringing people to the city, and hence increasing the latter's commerce. Rather than seemingly having a bet each way, this is the horse they should be backing.


Russ said...

"yet the city's supposed advocates appear unwilling to grant it a revenue stream to keep it strong."

Peter, nothing is "free". However we get p/t it will have a revenue source, be it the state government coffers, ticketing or something else. It is the "something else" I am interested in. What should have been done, before instituting Myki, was conduct a study into likely revenue models for p/t and their social/economic effects.

I am not convinced tickets are a very good model, even if they are the traditional method. They are cumbersome and expensive, because they require extensive infrastructure, enforcement and sellers. If p/t is really an essential service, necessary to de-congest streets and promote movement of goods and people, then it should be levied the same way sewerage is, via an enforced rate. With the added proviso that those rate-payers should have some say in the level of service they receive on pre-defined routes.

That's a broader issue than CBD only free p/t (which I'd agree is a waste of money), but given the state government already forks out money for 50-60% of the ongoing expenditure and 100% of the capital on p/t it isn't that outrageous an idea.

Vic Rail (Riccardo) said...

Back to basics fellas, Jeff Kennett 101. A gold coin in the slot.

I loved on the Tin Seng (Star) ferries you point your coins in, or on the Island tramway put your coins in. Or Sapporo's one tram route, come in the back door, walk down to the front, pop your coin in the slot, the driver lets you out the front.

Now I know Melbourne's transport is multi-nodal, but levied at an appropriately low amount, such as what Onelink was dividing up among the parties per journey anyway - probably come out in the wash.

Even in Kyoto I needed a bag full of coins, that was the worst you could say for it. Legibility and navigability perfect. Prices reasonable. Services all TUAG and clean and perfect. Worse things you could complain about than a purse full of coins.

Booboo said...

A "bag full of coins", Vic Train Riccardo, not so bad?! Having to remember to have one $20 and one $10 note every Monday morning (because our outgoing ticketing system can't handle any other note configuration for this fare) to buy my weekly metcard is hassle enough. If i had to lug around a purse full of coins I am quite sure I would simply become a chronic fare evader. I am biased on this question, but i am truly looking forward to myki so i can top up my account at home, online, when it suits me. I think it's hilarious, and kind of intriguing, that there's sooooo much bad press about a system that we're not even using yet! but once the early bugs are ironed out of the myki system it'll be beaut. Thanks for the uniquely informative, straight talking info on this blog.