Does concern for the environment drive public transport patronage growth?

Factors affecting public transport patronage growth, 2002-07, Melbourne (DoT)

According to a recent paper, research by the Victorian Department of Transport (DoT) suggests concern for the environment and a healthy lifestyle is a key driver of the recent surge in public transport patronage in Melbourne.

DoT initially concluded that the primary drivers of growth over the period 2002-07 were population growth, higher petrol prices and growth in CBD jobs (see exhibit). Neither traffic congestion nor public transport service quality appeared to play a significant role.

However a large proportion of the patronage increase on trains – equivalent to about 40,000 extra daily passengers – was not explained by the variables and/or the elasticities that DoT assumed in its modelling. This unexplained increase is labelled “Other factors” on the exhibit.

Some research undertaken by Dot and Metlink suggested it might possibly relate to attitudinal factors. Of the top eight reasons given by respondents for reducing their vehicle use, environmental concerns and health & fitness ranked equal second behind petrol prices, but ahead of parking costs.

DoT subsequently undertook a telephone survey of 1500 Melburnians aged over 16 years, asking them about their attitudes to travel options and their existing travel patterns. Using cluster analysis, the researchers identified six main “attitudinal segments”:

Public transport lifestylers (19%) – “Using public transport as much as possible is just the right thing to do. Apart from being a part of my basic day to day life, it has the advantage of being better for the environment when compared to other transport modes”

Public transport works for me (17%) – “I value the time I spend on public transport. I get things out of using public transport that I wouldn’t with other modes”

Public transport rejecters (18%) – “I wouldn’t use public transport even if it was free”

Car works for me (16%) – “Car is the most convenient and useful way for me to get around. It’s not that I have a big problem with public transport; it’s just that it doesn’t suit me as much”

Agnostics (15%) – “I’m just not all that interested in the matter of how I get around. Some people are car people and some like public transport, but I’m not overly fussed either way. If you changed the public transport system, I probably wouldn’t even notice”

Convertibles (15%) – “I use my car mainly but am actually pretty open to using public transport more….but it will need to improve before I do”

Thus according to this research, nearly a fifth of Melburnians are now Public transport lifestylers who “align themselves with public transport due to a strong belief in environmental and sustainability issues, as well as a desire to live a healthy lifestyle”. What’s surprising is that all six segments have almost no (significant) relationship with age, gender, income, education or distance from the CBD e.g. the large Lifestylers segment is not just made up of inner city Greens voters.

While respondents in this segment don’t necessarily all use public transport, the paper concludes that “the results strongly point to attitudinal change having played a significant role in recent patronage growth”.

I’d like to, but I don’t buy the implication that this attitude is a major independent driver of patronage growth. My interpretation is that there’s a cluster of people who have green attitudes and not surprisingly also have a positive attitude to public transport. But I don’t think they’d use public transport in significantly greater numbers if it took longer or was more expensive than the alternatives. They’d use public transport for the same reasons most people do – because for some trips it’s cheaper and/or faster than the alternatives. Read the rest of this entry »


-Are there really limits to what planning can do?

States' and Territories responses to 23 land use planning 'challenges'

There are, but in Victoria those limits appear to be very elastic.

Because it controls the use of land, the whole complex edifice of planning regulation touches to a greater or lesser extent a lot of the things we do.

In a newly released report commissioned by COAG, the Productivity Commission gives us an insight into how the nation’s planning agencies think the land use control system influences our lives.

The report, Performance Benchmarking of Australian Business Regulation: Planning, Zoning and Development Assessments, examines the regulatory frameworks of each jurisdiction, the processes for supply of land, the bases for assessing developer contributions, compliance costs for business, and competition issues arising from planning decision-making.

As part of its investigations, the Commission asked each State and Territory to answer this question: “To what extent can government use the planning, zoning and DA system to positively influence the following challenges”?

The answers each jurisdiction provided to 23 “challenges”, graded from “no effect” through to “major effect”, are shown in the accompanying chart (copied from the report). The survey was completed between October and November 2010, prior to the Victorian State election.

Bear in mind that the survey relates specifically to the powers of land use planning agencies i.e. not transport or other agencies. Also, the planners were specifically asked about the scope to positively influence each of the challenges. There are some interesting claims here and some equally interesting comparisons between States and Territories.

There’s a consensus that, given (presumably) the right policies, land use planning can have a major positive influence on managing greenfield development, accommodating population growth, managing the transition to higher population densities, providing diverse/appropriate housing, and protecting biodiversity.

By and large I’d agree with that. My only caveat would be the understanding that some of the benefits will come from reducing rather than increasing the degree of planning intervention. A prime example is the many restrictions on constructing higher density housing within established urban areas.

Where the survey gets really interesting is outside these five key areas. Victoria in particular stands out from its peers. Read the rest of this entry »


Is Victoria’s new public transport authority just the beginning?

Establishing the Victorian Public Transport Development Authority before Christmas is a smart move by the new Government. Such early action signals its commitment to tackling the problems with public transport.

But the Premier and the Minister for Public Transport should not get too carried away – as so many others have – with the idea that changing management arrangements is the silver bullet we’ve been waiting for.

 

Setting up the new authority is neither a sufficient nor even a necessary condition for addressing the problems of public transport. What matters above all else is getting the right leadership, the right policies, the right resources and the right people.

The people aspect is by and large the least problematic area for improvement. Of course there are exceptions, but the great bulk of senior public servants across Australia at both Federal and State level are intelligent, committed, practical and hard working executives.

It should be no surprise to anyone that the weak link in the quality of public administration in Australia isn’t usually the public servants but rather the politicians. As clever as it was, I think the TV series, Yes Minister, did public administration a great disservice by portraying the public service as self interested and manipulative –  and politicians as hapless and dim witted.

Read the rest of this entry »


What’s a new rail line worth?

This is hilarious! (click) Men in Suits choir - Metro Trains Melbourne Regrets...

One way to answer this question is to consider what else the money could be spent on.

One possibility is the 1,235 people with disabilities in Victoria who, according to this article, are registered with the Department of Human Services for supported accommodation.

One of them is David Graham, a 44 year old who is legally blind, has an intellectual disability and suffers from epilepsy. Last month his 70 year old mother died of cancer. She had looked after him all his life since he was born premature at 24 weeks. Now Mr Graham is on the waiting list for supported accommodation.

Mr Graham’s plight illustrates the importance of opportunity cost, something I’ve banged on about here at length. In plain terms, when you spend money it refers to what else you could have spent the money on i.e. the opportunities you’re foregoing.

The writer of the article, Carol Nader, refers specifically to the $50 million that Ted Baillieu promised he would spend in his first term to commence building a rail line from the CBD to Avalon Airport. The full cost would be $250 million.

She implies that $50 million could instead be spent on something else, like supported accommodation for people with disabilities. It costs $1.5 million on average she says to provide a unit for five residents and an average annual cost of $125,000 to support each resident. Read the rest of this entry »


What’s good about the Coalition’s planning policy?

What Americans think 'family' means

I think some aspects of the Victorian Opposition’s clumsily titled Plan for Planning are doubtful, especially their proposal for ensuring 25 years land supply within Growth Areas and their intention of levying the Growth Areas Infrastructure Charge at the time of development.

But there are also some good ideas that I want to discuss, notably the proposal for a new strategic plan for Melbourne and another for an audit of the infrastructure capacity of the entire metropolitan area.

A new plan for Melbourne would be timely because Melbourne 2030 is misguided, old and tired. It’s been more than ten years since the process of preparing the metropolitan strategy began and eight years since it was published.

A key problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was misconceived from the get-go. It never worked properly and simply hasn’t delivered on its lofty ambitions.

Its relevance took a serious hit when the projections of future population growth that underpinned its policies were revised upwards. Further, one of its main directions – the primacy of the CBD – was weakened in 2008 when the Government decided to establish six new CBD-type Central Activities Districts in the suburbs.

The objective of locating nearly 70% of all dwelling commencements out to 2030 within the existing suburbs – rising to almost 80% by 2030 – was also abandoned in 2008 and replaced with the much less challenging target of just 53%.

And of course the much vaunted Urban Growth Boundary lasted only a few years before it was breached. The supply of well-located affordable housing that the plan was intended to foster dried up and neither jobs nor housing gravitated to suburban centres on anything like the scale originally envisaged.

The problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was driven from the outset by ideological posturing rather than logic. Too many of its key directions weren’t supported by data or analysis and the consultation process was largely a sham. Read the rest of this entry »


Is management of public transport a mess?

Who is responsible for public transport? (PTUA)

It seems the way management structures and processes are arranged is still the key public transport solution being advanced in the Victorian election campaign.

The first three points in the Green’s Six Point Transport Plan all relate to governance and management. Now the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has released this chaotic flowchart with the charge that “a hundred different organisations are running public transport in Victoria” (see first graphic).

The PTUA says the flowchart illustrates how difficult it is for the average person to work out who to contact with questions and problems. This is a brilliant and no doubt effective piece of politics, building on the glorious history of spaghetti diagrams like Barry Jones’ famous Knowledge Nation vision.

As I’ve argued before, I think management arrangements are a second order issue – there’re more important things to get right first. And I’m by no means arguing that current arrangements are ideal or can’t be improved.

But there are a number of reasons why this flowchart is not a fair and reasonable account of the way transport is managed in Victoria.

First, as pointed out by a commenter (Invincible) over at Skyscrapercity.com, this is a deceptive diagram – flow charts usually flow from top left to bottom right, otherwise they will always look misleadingly complex. Invincible has redrawn the same information in a more logical flow, producing a vastly simpler diagram (see second graphic). Read the rest of this entry »


Does the Opposition’s pitch on Doncaster rail stack up?

San Francisco bans the Happy Meal!

So now the Victorian Opposition has jumped on the Green’s bandwagon and proposed a new rail line along the Eastern Freeway from Clifton Hill to Doncaster!

Ted Baillieu has made an art form of ‘vagueing’ the details, but this is essentially the same proposal as the Greens put forward last month for linking Doncaster with Victoria Park station.

I dealt with the shortcomings of this idea last week (here and here) so I’ll just look at a claim made in The Age that the City of Manningham has low public transport use.

This is attributed to the absence of both trains and trams in Manningham – the only municipality in Melbourne that doesn’t have at least one of these modes.

The reporter, Clay Lucas, says that only 7% of all trips made by residents of Manningham are by public transport compared to the metropolitan Melbourne average of 9% (actually he said 14% but the VISTA travel survey indicates the correct figure is 9%. Note also that this claim does not appear in the on-line version of The Age).

He is right – public transport does indeed have a lower share of trips in Manningham. In fact VISTA shows its share compares poorly with the neighbouring municipalities of Whitehorse, Banyule and Maroondah, which all have rail lines. In these municipalities, public transport carries 10%, 11% and 7%, respectively, of all trips. Still, there’s not all that much in it – the car dominates in all four.

The journey to work is probably a more pertinent measure of the warrant for a rail line to the CBD as peak period passenger volumes determine the need or otherwise for a mass transit system. Read the rest of this entry »


Victorian election – why have the Greens dug a black hole?

The Green's transport plan for Melbourne's east

If you think the Greens provide a real alternative to the tired, cynical politics of Labor and the Liberals, then you might be very disappointed in the transport initiative the Green’s are promoting for the forthcoming Victorian election.

The Green’s Public transport plan for Melbourne’s east proposes a massive $6 billion program of public transport works, including a new rail line to Rowville and another along the Eastern Freeway to Doncaster. It also proposes rail duplications and triplications, new train stations, level crossing upgrades, tram line extensions, transport interchange upgrades and improvements to bus services.

The Greens clearly and loudly proclaim that the $6 billion will be found by scrapping the Government’s proposed North East Link, the so-called ‘missing link’ between the metropolitan ring road at Greensborough and the Eastern Freeway at Bulleen.

It almost sounds too good to be true. No additional funding, no new freeway and heaps of new public transport infrastructure! Trouble is, as the Greens well know, it isn’t true – there is no $6 billion to reallocate. Read the rest of this entry »


Can we make living together better?

OK so now it’s time to turn to State politics.

I have a modest idea for making our major cities more liveable that I’d like to offer to the Premiers and Opposition Leaders of Victoria, NSW and Queensland in the run up to their forthcoming State elections.

The idea could be named something like the Better Neighbours Initiative or it could as easily be titled Considerate Cities or Liveable Cities or something of that ilk. The idea starts with the recognition that living in close proximity within cities imposes stresses on human relations and demands strong remedial action.

Some of the risks associated with cities, like disease, respond to investment in physical infrastructure. But some don’t – they require behavioural approaches.

The main objective is to limit the stress that inconsiderate behaviour, like noise from “hot” cars or audio amplifiers, imposes on residents and neighbours. I’ll focus on noise here, but the ambit of the liveable cities idea could extend to other problems such as taming the speed and behaviour of cars in local streets and activity centres. Read the rest of this entry »


What if you were the Premier?

Imagine you’ve just been elected Premier. You carried the electorate on a simple but radical two-promise platform: (1) to prohibit alcohol and (2) to shift all travel out of cars and onto public transport.

The Party is solidly behind you. Members agree that both alcohol and cars are bad for the individual and bad for society. You’re lauded as a reformer.

But you’ve not long been in office before you discover just how entrenched car use is in your largest city. Just 10% of trips are made by public transport and 90% of households have at least one car. Less driving would make the community better off but you quickly discover how much people like doing things that are bad for them and bad for others. You have a stiff drink.

For all their talk about sustainability, your predecessors knew the electorate loved cars. The former Premier talked-the-talk about public transport and even threw a few paltry dollars its way, but at the end of the day she didn’t do anything that would come between voters and their cars.

Eager to get started, you begin your quest to reduce car use by investing massively in public transport. You mortgage the State budget for the next 50 years in an endeavour to provide high quality, metro-style public transport across the entire city. Travellers without access to a car, like school children and tourists, think you’re God. CBD workers think you’re Gary Ablett. But you fail to notice that most of them either don’t vote or don’t live in marginal electorates. Read the rest of this entry »


Should Parliament move to Werribee?

Contrary to what seems to be a widely held belief, it is not an easy matter to make jobs simply materialise in places that have a shortage of employment. It is a difficult and complex business that involves much more than merely rezoning land for business use.

However here’s an outrageous shortcut for developing Melbourne’s west. Why not shift the seat of Government in Victoria – politicians, bureaucrats, departments, the whole kit and caboodle – out of the CBD to somewhere like, say, Werribee?

Parliament House as it was intended...

Such an action would give an enormous boost to the development of the west and reinforce the Government’s new policy of developing significant suburban activity centres. A location like the west makes sense because the weight of future metropolitan growth will have to be north of the Yarra due to environmental constraints in the south and east.

This is a shocking idea but it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds (although I don’t mean to suggest that it would be costless or easy, much less politically tempting).

The standard argument for retaining the seat of Government in the CBD is that high level strategic operations obtain external economies of scale from co-location. Thus the efficiency of government in Victoria is greatly enhanced by face-to-face contact between politicians and bureaucrats on the one hand, and captains of business on the other. Further, the CBD maximises access to high human capital workers because of its excellent accessibility, particularly by rail, from all parts of the metropolitan area. Read the rest of this entry »


20 years of TAC campaigns

The Victorian Traffic Accident Commission’s montage of 20 years of road safety advertisements. This is very harrowing. Read the rest of this entry »


We need to be more strategic about how we tackle greenhouse gases

Do we need to tackle climate change and peak oil on all fronts or would it be more strategic to focus on priority areas?

This question is prompted by reading Victoria’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions, 1990-2005, prepared for the 2008 Victorian Climate Change Summit by George Wickenfield & Assocs. This report calculates that 64.4% of all carbon emissions in Victoria are generated by the residential, commercial and manufacturing sectors. Almost all of these emissions are in the form of electricity generated by brown coal.

In contrast, all passenger transport in Victoria – by both car and public transport – generates only 13.9% of the State’s total carbon emissions. That’s less than a quarter of what the electricity sector generates. Read the rest of this entry »