Is The Age providing fair comment on transport issues?

Prospective corridors for road tunnel (Eddington Report)

I take an agnostic view of freeway proposals – I don’t assume apriori that they’re all bad or all good. I prefer to look at the evidence first before deciding if a proposal has merit or is a poor idea. But it seems there are some who will overlook evidence to the contrary if it undermines their ideological view.

Like Kenneth Davidson in his column in The Age on Monday, Why the east-west road tunnel is a stinker, I have some misgivings about the tunnel proposed to connect Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway with the Western Ring Road. The Victorian Government has just submitted a proposal to Infrastructure Australia, seeking funding to develop the tunnel idea further.

My key concern is the anaemic benefit-cost ratio. But Mr Davidson, who’s a senior columnist at The Age, goes further. He reckons the proposed tunnel recommended in 2008 in the Eddington Report is a “stinker” and a “confidence trick”.

That’s because an earlier study undertaken for the Bracks government in 2004, the Northern Central City Corridor strategy (NCCC), found most of the traffic coming off the Eastern Freeway heads into central Melbourne. It found only 15% is bound for the northern or western suburbs. “In other words”, Mr Davidson says:

the public justification for the east-west link – that it would take traffic away from the central business district – was a confidence trick……The first question (Eddington) should have asked was where did the 2004 study go wrong.

I don’t think anyone disputes the NCCC study was negative about the case for the tunnel. Nor is Mr Davidson the first to raise this objection. The “gotcha” Mr Davidson seizes on with such alacrity is that Sir Rod Eddington apparently ignored the NCCC study’s key finding.

But it seems it’s Mr Davidson who’s doing the ignoring. The Eddington Report actually does consider the NCCC study. Moreover it deals with it in a way that is prominent and impossible to miss by anyone with their eyes open (read it – Chapter 5, page 129).

The Report argues it’s a myth that nearly all Eastern Freeway traffic is destined for the inner city. It says the NCCC produced diagrams that present “a distorted view of traffic distribution (and further NCCC modelling for a future link would have identified and addressed this issue)”.

In a section titled, ‘Myth 2: nearly all the Eastern Freeway traffic is destined for the inner city’, It argues the NCCC study didn’t look beyond the capacity of existing roads or the ultimate destination of traffic once it left the NCCC study area.

First, given the roads in question, the traffic distribution (identified in the NCCC study) is not surprising: at the end of the freeway, there are ten freeway standard traffic lanes (five each way). By the time traffic reaches Macarthur Avenue in Royal Park, the corresponding ‘connection’ is a two-lane road (one lane each way). The traffic distribution is as much a function of the roads available, which progressively reduce in capacity towards the west, as it is a reflection of the demand for a particular direction of travel.

Secondly, when the (Eddington) Study Team analysed how traffic from the Eastern Freeway is distributed (with the analysis closely matching the NCCC distribution), it revealed that around 40 per cent of the daily traffic from the freeway travels beyond the central city area – to the south and the west. That is the case with the current network: in the future, EastLink will add a new dimension.

The Eddington Report also argues (page 137) the NCCC study focussed on Eastern Freeway traffic and didn’t fully consider traffic using adjacent streets instead. Moreover, it didn’t recommend against the tunnel because insufficient vehicles would use it, but rather because the high cost of construction yielded an inadequate benefit-cost ratio. Read the rest of this entry »


Does the media neglect policy?

BRT - Backpacker Rapid Transit (H/T #Bustration)

In this short clip, Jon Faine from ABC 774 takes Victoria’s Transport Minister, Terry Mulder, to task for point-scoring over the Regional Rail Link (RRL). Despite criticising the proposed new $4.2 billion rail line while in opposition, the Baillieu Government has finally announced that the project will nevertheless go ahead.

You’ve got to admire Jon Faine’s persistence in hammering away at the theme of hypocrisy. The Minister is shamelessly milking the “blame it on the last lot” mantra well beyond its ‘use by’ date and Faine accordingly seems determined to make him pay for his back-flip. Straight up, Faine asks: “You criticised (the RRL) in opposition and now you’re rubber-stamping it and the price goes up, how come?”. Then towards the end of the interview Faine sums up the situation:

So in other words the bottom line is you opposed a program in opposition that you now endorse in government; you said it wasn’t needed and now it is; it was gonna cost $4 billion, it’s now gonna cost a bit more because you’re including the cost of the trains when before you weren’t and two underpasses which hadn’t been factored in; other than that it doesn’t sound as if it was that far off target at all

That’s all well and good. However the trouble is it’s the only issue Faine addresses. He doesn’t address the substance of the RRL. He’s not interested in the main benefits – more peak hour train services in the west – the Minister says the project will deliver. He doesn’t ask if it will be money well spent or whether there might be better projects the money could be spent on. He doesn’t pursue the claim made by some that the same objectives could be achieved at substantially lower cost, or that Geelong commuters will have to travel further, or that neither of the two new stations will have electrified services.

Of course it’s very important that the media calls politicians to account on matters like hypocrisy, but there’s also a question of balance. The appetite of the media for issues of behaviour – by which I mean proprieties and manners, ethics, honesty and dishonesty, hypocrisy, corruption, law breaking, broken promises and such like – crowds out consideration of the substance of policy. Once a hot story about bad behaviour takes flight, there’s not much space for anything else to get off the ground. Read the rest of this entry »


Is this story a beat-up?

A great song that really is about public transport (click to play)

Kenneth Davidson reckons the Regional Rail Link (RRL) is a “wasteful infrastructure investment” that hopefully will be cancelled in its entirety as a result of the Federal Government’s flood reconstruction cutbacks.

He bases this argument largely on a review prepared for the Government in 2008 by consultant transport planner Edward Dotson, who formerly worked for Melbourne’s public transport authority from 1983 to 1991.

Mr Dotson was commissioned to review four of the recommendations of the East West Link Needs Assessment study undertaken by Sir Rod Eddington. One of those recommendations relates directly to the RRL, a planned new rail line from West Werribee via Tarneit to Southern Cross Station (a.k.a the Tarneit Link).

Referring to Mr Dotson’s report, Mr Davidson says “his report was scathing. He described (the Eddington report) as a ‘pre-feasibility study’ whereas what was required was a full study that included engineering analysis, service planning (including timetabling), costing and public consultation”.

He says Dotson also recommended the examination of alternatives to the RRL, including using the existing Bunbury Street tunnel and running a new set of tracks alongside the existing line to Werribee rather than a new route through Tarneit. He goes on:

The RRL proposal looked as if it was set up to fail in the first place. On the basis of what the transport expert Dotson said, the Eddington report was a pre-feasibility study that hadn’t done the engineering studies in sufficient detail to come with cost estimates in the first place.

I hadn’t heard of the Dotson report so I tracked it down and had a look – you can read it too, here (It would also be a good idea to have a look at the Eddington report, here). There’re three things that struck me about this report. Read the rest of this entry »


How to pay for public transport?

Additional revenue from fare increase, Sydney - three scenarios (Independent Inquiry)

I was pleased to see the call earlier this week by The Age’s city editor, Jason Dowling, for tolling of roads to be introduced in Melbourne (Losing our way on roads).

He sees it as a way to reduce congestion and generate revenue for public transport improvements. Road pricing is something I’ve advocated on a number of occasions (here and here), but what particularly caught my eye in Mr Dowling’s article was his opening line:

“Everyone pays for public transport, first through taxes and then through fares, and it is time everyone had access to it, just as they do to roads”.

Few would disagree that Melbourne would be a more attractive place if it were as easy to access a train, tram or bus as it is a car. Somewhere along the line, however, the issue of cost has to be considered. Transport projects are very expensive. The State Government is spending about $2.5 billion on increasing the capacity of Victoria’s rail and road systems this year.

At that rate it will take many decades to improve the capacity of Melbourne’s public transport system. Just one project, the Regional Rail Link, is costing $4.3 billion in total and is only proceeding because the Federal Government is contributing $3.2 billion. Read the rest of this entry »