Would an airport rail link take us for a ride?

Possible corridors for an airport rail link identified by DoT

A senior economist at Essential Economics, Sean Stephens, has joined the debate about a rail link from the CBD to Melbourne Airport, arguing in The Age last week that “a rail link would help Melbourne maintain its world-class status, where visitors and locals could access Melbourne Airport, our gateway to the world, with ease and convenience”.

There are some misconceptions in the article and an evident misunderstanding of existing public transport services between the airport and the CBD.

The main supplier is Skybus, a privately operated and profitable operation that carries two million passengers per annum, or about 8% of airport passenger traffic. Skybus operates a 24 hour service (with 10-15 minute frequencies between 4am and 11.45pm). Because Skybus makes use of the emergency lane on the freeway, it takes 20 minutes from the airport to the CBD in the off-peak and up to 40 minutes in the peak.

Also, from next year, the Government will extend operation of the existing Frankston to Ringwood Yellow Smartbus service to connect with Melbourne Airport via Broadmeadows station. Buses will operate every 15 minutes with ticket prices based on the standard Metlink fare structure.

Mr Stephen’s only concrete criticism of Skybus is that the fares are too expensive and “well above those of comparable cities that provide a rail link”. In fact Skybus tickets cost $16 one way, much the same as those on the Sydney ($15) and Brisbane ($15) airport rail systems, notwithstanding Melbourne airport’s greater distance from the CBD. Skybus offers airport workers a discounted fare. Read the rest of this entry »