Monday, May 27, 2019

Victoria's 2019 State Budget: What public transport got


It's better to judge a government's priorities by its budgets not by its words

Today very serious, very educated and very rational people from the government will be telling us what we can't have because it would cost too much. One must be realistic.  It's what responsible management demands while wasting not a single moment in getting things done. There is no alternative. The minuses on one sheet must reconcile with the pluses on another as Numbers Do Not Lie. 

That's the side of government we'll see today. 

It's a far cry from late last year just before the election. Then we saw the government's visionary, creative and intuitive elements on display.  Most active before elections, they dabble in the strategic, long-term, state-building, and, yes, vote-winning, realms. 

Financially adventurous, they ask 'How do we fund?' more often than 'Can we fund?'. Their antics have made past governments prone to the offerings of spruikers proposing novel off-book financing for their pet schemes. In Australia that's been anything from seeking unconventional finance to develop energy projects to unsustainable transport franchise contracts in an attempt to save money. Fancy schemes rarely end well.  

If the numbers initially don't work you make them work. One might quantify benefits that most people wouldn't express in financial terms. The more you rely on 'wider economic benefits' the spongier things get. You might accuse opponents of being 'narrow' or 'small minded'. Projects could be strung out over long periods, so paying for them becomes someone else's problem. And don't put it beyond governments to leave their successors unwelcome presents, as Labor did with myki in 2010 and the Liberals did with the expensive to cancel East West Link road project in 2014. 

Context

So much for history, where do we find ourselves today? Victoria's population is growing rapidly so there remains increased demand for services such as state-provided health, transport and education. Prisons aren't cheap. And there's a large capital works program with more grade separations, more roads and more trains coming on stream.  People will be looking for the government to honour commitments made there.  That's on the spending side.

On the income side, Australian state governments have few independent revenue sources.  Payroll tax, gambling taxes, stamp duty and land taxes are some of the major examples. However the softening property market means reduced income from the latter.  The recent federal election has returned a result the state Labor government was not expecting (nor would have liked). 

Even ahead of that the treasurer has signalled there will be some tough decisions made. That means either tax hikes and/or spending cuts. Although as it's the first budget after the election now is politically the best time to do them as they will likely have been forgotten by the 2022 election.  

Last year's budget (May 1, 2018)

Before we see the contents of this year's budget we'll examine the salient part of last year's state budget. At the very least familiarity with it should make it easier to find things in this year's document. 

The budget papers most important for public transport are:

Paper 3 (Service Delivery) from page 10 and again page 117

Paper 4 (State Capital Program) from page 2, page 20 and again page 25

Some service km per capita calculations from Daniel Bowen are here

This year's budget (May 27, 2019)




Salient points from Paper 3 (Service Delivery)

* Better Buses Fund. Ramping up to $6.4m in 2022-3. Includes more frequent services in Romsey & Lancefield, new Mernda - Craigieburn bus, new Donnybrook - Craigieburn bus, new Keysborough bus, express bus from Eltham during Hurstbridge line disruptions, new Alexandra - Eildon bus.  

* $6.8m on 'Bus Industry Innovation Fund' to support bus industry "through delivering initiatives focused on improving network efficiency, patronage, customer experience, safety and driver support."

* 100 more authorised offices, to be recruited 10 per year over 10 years across all modes. 

*  Funding for planning and business case development of tram and active transport connections between Fishermans Bend and the CBD. 

* Last year we spent $1210m on bus services, $3899m on train services, $957m on tram operations  and $1357m on road operations (p323). The budget has small increases for buses and trains, a very big increase (67%) for road operations and a small cut for tram operations. 

* There is an allocation (about $56m from 2020-1) for additional train services. Not much detail on these are given but they relate to the Ballarat Line Upgrade, Cranbourne-Pakenham Line Upgrade and High Capacity Metro Trains.  This will be supported by more train authorised officers (p 100). Mobile phone charging will be available at inner Melbourne stations (p 104).

* There is no budgeted increase in metropolitan train service km to 2019-20 (remains at 23.8 million km). Patronage is expected to grow slightly to 246.2m trips (p 332).

* 10 more E-class trams will be purchased and 10 Z-class trams overhauled (p 115). Nothing significant for tram services with a small cut proposed in operating budget.  Page 335 refers to the drop being due to payment scheduling. Tram patronage is expected to rise slightly to 208 million trips per year. Last year's service delivery target (99.2%) will be maintained, even though actually delivery has been less. 

* Metropolitan bus patronage has been and is expected to remain static at just under 120 million trips per year. There is only a very minor increase in service kilometres to be run. (p 326). Much stronger growth is expected for regional bus patronage despite no increase in service kilometres (p 327).

* Significant asset initiatives mentioned in this paper include many level crossing removals (75 by 2025), new trains for Sunbury - Pakenham/Cranbourne, Hurstbridge line upgrade, additional station parking, Melbourne Airport Rail and improved security and resilience. 

Salient points from Paper 4 (State capital program)

* Page 9 has the big picture. Something like 80% of government capital investment is on transport projects. It's way higher than health, education and justice, which are the next three.

* Key current projects include: level crossing removals (25 more by 2025 costing $6.6 billion), Sunbury line upgrade to support the High Capacity Metro Trains, Cranbourne line duplication and doubling peak frequency, Hurstbridge line duplications, 10 new E-class trams and upgrades of Zs (p 3).

* Future projects include Suburban Rail Loop planning, Melbourne Airport Rail planning and Western Rail plan, including electrification to Wyndham Vale and Melton (p 5).

* Allocations for Metropolitan (rail) Network Modernisation Program improvements as part of level crossing removals. (p 78)

Summary

Continuing on from past years, this budget contains significant investment in capital works, but relatively little on running services. So it's very much a status quo budget for passengers. Busy trains, trams and buses will continue to leave people behind in established areas. And tens of thousands more people each year will be living in fringe areas without even basic bus services. The only possible silver lining come from the Bus Industry Innovation Fund, 100% of which should go to reforming bus networks in areas that need it.   


Note: Due to the budget tomorrow's Timetable Tuesday will not run. Normal service will resume next week. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. 

1 comment:

Malcolm M said...

So no breakthrough yet from the campaign for higher public transport service frequencies. Perhaps a better approach would be for a study and trial to get a better estimate of the costs and benefits, rather than rely on the "high-ball" estimate from the Parliamentary Budget Office. There are plenty of data that can be accessed for such a study, from Melbourne and the recent changes in Sydney, as well as international models.

A frequency increase will require an increase in subsidy, but what line sectors and periods for enhanced service would bring the greatest increase in additional fare revenue? A few choices
1. Sunbury line interpeak frequency to 10 minutes from Watergardens.
2. Craigieburn line interpeak frequency to 10 minutes from Broadmeadows.
3. Mernda line interpeak frequency to 10 minutes.
4. Any other low hanging fruit?
What do readers think?