Saturday, August 28, 2010

2010 state election - they're off and running

With the Federal election passed (albeit with some current uncertainty due to the hung result), focus will now shift to state politics, with the Victorian poll less than three months away.

Transport is likely to be a prominent election issue.

Melbourne is fast growing in population and needs a transport system that can cope. Scarce space in our cities and national resource security require alternatives to building roads and driving everywhere. Our rail system is fragile, with infrastructure maintenance and service levels lagging modern expectations. Increased traffic levels are slowing trams while legibility and connectivity remain challenges for our bus network. And our ageing population will require improved access to services, especially in regional areas.

The incumbent Labor Party will go to the people with parts of the Victorian Transport Plan coming to fruition (eg the Green Orbital SmartBus which started earlier this year). Labor has also promised additional staffed stations. Expect a flurry of other Ministerial announcements in coming days, weeks or months. Labor has not updated its website since the 2006 election, and their Linking Victoria transport policy from then is still available.

The main opposition Liberal Party has made public announcements on security staffing at railway stations and a feasability study into a rail extension to Rowville. However like Labor they do not yet have a publicly available transport policy for the 2010 election. As coalition partners The Nationals support the Liberal's station security initiatives and revoke Labor's inner-suburban clearway rules.

Bouyed by its strong federal result, including is first lower house win at a general election, the Greens are demanding the transport ministry should there be a hung parliament. Its leader, Greg Barber, has been a vocal member of the Legislative Council Select Committee on Train Services and supports an independent public transport authority to plan services. The policy tab on the Victorian Greens website takes the reader to their national website and policies, with nothing specific for Victoria.

Hence none of the parties yet have a coherent published transport policy for the people's consideration in November. The best we can do to date is to study their announcements and examine any past records in government (which The Greens do not yet have).

If the past is anything to go by, the next few months will be an exciting time for public transport. Transport is so tied to the political cycle so major things happen around election time. For example late 2006/early 2007 saw upgraded regional rail, the start of extended bus operating hours across Melbourne, a new SmartBus route, Zone 3 abolished and fares integrated across regional and NightRider services.

As in 2006 some of the earliest advised changes have been to fares; this time we have seen Zone 1 extended to the ends of the longest tram routes and free weekend travel for Seniors myki users from January 1, 2011. Next will be bus changes. We have already seen upgrades for Melton and some for the Mt Dandenong area will start on Monday.

Most interest though will be on the proposed 'big ticket' bus improvements of DART (four new SmartBus routes for the Doncaster area) and bus upgrades for Casey-Cardinia (large outer suburban areas currently with somewhat limited service). More trains are being delivered and a new train timetable is expected later this year on some lines.

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