Should public transport fares to the airport be subsidised?

Yesterday’s discussion of an airport-CBD rail link prompts me to look further at the idea that airport users have a “right” to public transport priced at the standard Metlink tariff.

My first reaction is that the idea makes sense. After all, everywhere else in Melbourne is provided with public transport subsidised by the Government (no matter how inadequate it might be). Melbourne Airport is also one of the largest suburban activity centres in the metropolitan area, with around 12,000 workers.

If travel to and from the Airport were charged in accordance with the Metlink tariff, the fare to the CBD would be the standard Zone 1-2 fare of $5.80 one-way. But while it might be the equitable solution it doesn’t follow that it’s the sensible one, the necessary one, or the one that’s in the best interests of all Melburnians. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


More on Melbourne Airport rail link

There’s been a strong reaction, predominantly negative, to my oped in The Age this morning where I argue that there are higher priorities for scarce transport funding at this time than the CBD-Airport rail link championed by the Lord Mayor and The Age.

I expected a hot reaction because The Age’s online poll is currently running 97% in favour of a rail link. Also, there were 208 comments, almost all strongly in favour of a rail link, on this piece run by The Age last Monday.

Some commenters seem to think my brief must be to defend the Minister for Transport and the Government. Others think I must be in the pocket of Skybus, the taxi industry, the Government, or all three. Someone’s even accused me of being anti public transport and of lamenting the decline in driving in my earlier post Why is Gen Y driving less? Lukas, who says he works in DPCD, reckons the consensus “around here” is we do need the link and the reason it’s not happening is “so many industries …have their hands in Brumby’s pockets”. Phew!!

Now that the flood of invective is slowing, let me say that not one of these personal insinuations is true. It is possible to raise serious questions about the desirability of this or any other transport project without being corrupt, incompetent or worse. No project, rail or otherwise, is automatically a “no brainer”.

My point remains that on the information publicly available, it does not seem to me that a rail link from the CBD to the airport is as high a priority at this time as some other pressing transport needs, such as improving outer suburban public transport services. Airport users generally have much better, if imperfect, options at present than those who live in the vast reaches of suburbia. Read the rest of this entry »


Does a rail line to Melbourne airport make sense?

The Age ran a front page story on Saturday (Train derailed by buck-passing and vested interests) on the need for a rail link from the airport to the CBD. I say story, but as the headline and this quote indicate, it was more advocacy than news:

“But thanks to decades of buck-passing and pandering to vested interests by successive state and federal governments, Melbourne – unlike so many other cities of its size and wealth – does not have a railway line to its airport”.

So having pressed the civic pride button, it’s a pity The Age didn’t also push the rationality pedal and ask: is there a case for constructing a new public transport system (rail) to compete with the existing one (bus)?

Airtrain terminal Qld international airport

I would quite like to have a rail line from the CBD to the airport, but as I’ve indicated before (here and here), only if it makes sense. Let’s look at some pertinent issues.

First, the feasibility studies undertaken by the Government conclude that the numbers for rail don’t stack up (yet). The most recent evaluations, undertaken in 2001 by BAH and in 2009 by IMIS, both concluded there is not a strong enough case to build a new rail line to the airport.

The Department of Transport projected rail would capture only 9% of all airport trips and would require a subsidy of $350-450 million over 10 years (in 2001 dollars).

Second, in 2003 the Government upgraded the Skybus service so it could deal better with congested conditions around the CBD and on the Tullamarine Freeway. According to the Transport Department, new roadworks enabled Skybus to bypass traffic delays at the Tullamarine/Calder Freeway interchange and at the city fringe. The package included lane widening as well as line marking changes to create an emergency lane wide enough for buses. Read the rest of this entry »