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MOTION – Inquiry to expand free tram zone and free transport for students and senior

Jun 5, 2019 | Parliament

Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (10:04): I move:

That this house requires the Economy and Infrastructure Committee to inquire into, consider and report, within 12 months, on Melbourne’s public transport, in particular—

(1) the expansion of the free tram system to include—

(a) Wellington Parade to Powlett Street, East Melbourne;

(b) Swanston Street to Elgin Street, Carlton;

(c) Royal Parade to College Crescent, Carlton;

(d) Flemington Road to Abbotsford Street, North Melbourne;

(e) St Kilda Road to Commercial Road, Prahran;

(2) providing free fares for all full-time students;

(3) removing fares for all Seniors Card holders;

(4) new technologies that enable intelligent transport systems that improve the performance of the networks; and

(5) the effects and benefits of dynamic public transport pricing.

I present this motion today because I have a sincere interest in improving public transport services across Victoria, particularly in Melbourne. As you know, my background is in the taxi and hire car industry, and I see this industry as an integral part of our public transport system. Our trams, trains and buses deliver services across the city and out into our regional areas, but as part of that system our commercial passenger vehicles deliver on the first and last mile and in particular for the most vulnerable—those who are sick, those who are frail, those who are young and at risk, the elderly and those travelling late at night.

I ask for this investigation to extend our free tram zone and offer free public transport to our students and our senior citizens because I believe it is a step toward changing the way people choose to get around this great city of ours. It is time we break the culture of using cars to get everywhere in Melbourne, especially when accessing services and events in the centre of the city. Making transport to our universities, hospitals, major attractions and sporting precincts free at all times would make this network the obvious and best option for all who move around Melbourne.

The debate is not whether we should have more roads or public transport. We clearly need both, but much of our current planning focuses heavily on cars and we need to make a cultural shift.

We need to help Melbourne people embrace public transport. We need to find ways to make sure public transport is the best option, the first option, when we travel to the city. Bringing your car into the CBD will not be the best option if our tram network is free.

The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) 2018 Road Congestion in Australia report found that Melbourne had the sharpest decline of all Australian cities in average free-flow speeds from congestion over the period between 2014 and 2018, at 8 per cent. Depending on the metric used—either the percentage of free-flowing traffic or the percentage of speed limit met—the AAA found Melbourne is either the most congested or the second most congested city in Australia. Congestion in our city is a growing problem, and as the population of Melbourne increases over the next 30 years and as we strive to drive tourism, so will the demand for our public transport network grow. The congestion problem will grow with it.

Melbourne city is no longer just the grid and merely a place for 9 to 5. The city is a tourist destination, a thriving shopping precinct and a vibrant social hub of activity and events. It includes major health, education and sporting precincts, and it is also the home of a growing number of residents—people who choose to live right in its heart. Last year, 2018, total tourist spending in Melbourne was over $18 billion, up almost 11 per cent from the previous year. There were over 31 million total visitors, almost 19 million domestic daytrippers, 10 million domestic visitors staying overnight and some 3 million international visitors staying overnight. This was an increase of 7 per cent on the previous year. The fastest growing category of visitor was the domestic overnight category, which saw an increase of nearly 8 per cent from the previous year. People from our regions and interstate are coming to Melbourne. Let us make it easy for them to leave their cars behind.

Extending the free tram zone encourages participation and access for tourists and locals alike and removes the need for them to consider bringing vehicles into the city. It also takes much of the confusion out of the process of getting around the city. While Myki is a staple for Melbourne residents, it is a challenge for visitors to the city, especially foreign visitors, and the cost of the card is an extra cost to a day’s fare. Many of our key destinations for visitors to the city lie just outside the current free tram zone. Visitors have to get off the tram a stop early and walk or buy a Myki card to travel a single stop.

The Committee for Melbourne proposal to extend the free tram zone says that including key visitor experiences in the free tram zone would do a great deal to increase visitor spending to increase the city’s vision for tourist spending to reach $37 billion by 2025. Their proposal cites the National Gallery of Victoria, which estimates that the inclusion of the zone would lead to a 3 per cent increase in visitor numbers, amounting to an additional 75 000 visitors a year.

The proposed extension of the free tram zone extension will include our inner-city hospitals. This will support our needy, vulnerable, sick and infirm, their families and those who support them in medical treatments and hospital stays. It will provide better access for the thousands of staff, volunteers, students and visitors to the hospitals and the education precincts. Overcrowding and inflated parking costs at our city hospitals are a burden for visitors and staff. Giving free transport access to the hospitals in the inner city will take away some of this pressure.

The expansion of the free tram zone to the areas outlined in this motion will take in seven major hospitals otherwise currently excluded. By my count the hospital staff total approaches 30 000, plus another several thousand volunteers. The number of patients and visitors would be enormous. The hospitals include the Royal Children’s Hospital, which has some 4000 staff and 600 volunteers; the Royal Women’s Hospital, which employs 1500 staff and has 100 volunteers; the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, 2500 staff, 200 volunteers; and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, 9000 staff, 480 volunteers. And the free tram zone extension will include the Alfred, with over 9000 staff and 500 volunteers, the dental hospital with its 400 staff and the Melbourne Private Hospital. This motion would offer staff and volunteers an incentive to use public transport—a free alternative to driving to work.

The free tram zone will include Australia’s premium higher education institution, the University of Melbourne, an institution employing 9000 staff and serving over 52 000 students or full-time equivalents. It will provide better access to RMIT University on the fringe of the current free tram zone. It will include some of the fantastic research institutes highly regarded at an international scale such as the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, the Bio21 Molecular Science & Biotechnology Institute, the Murdoch Children’s Research Centre, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health and the Alfred precinct. There will also be free trams to the city campuses of Monash University, the Baker Heart and Diabetes Instituteand the Burnet Institute.

Many of these health and academic organisations work together. An extended free tram zone will encourage and strengthen these programs and allow for better engagement among our leading health and academic professionals. These organisations are the centres of major partnerships between industry and academia. These important connections should be recognised and fostered by linking the central business and academic districts with free travel.

In recent years we have seen the free tram zone extended to include sporting venues during major events, such as the AFL Grand Final at the MCG, with additional trams and trains put on to service the extra travellers in this area. This has been a great success; it is also a necessary measure. The logistics of trying to police fare evasion on these services at these times would be impossible. The free tram extension proposed would include sporting grounds such as the MCG—home of the Collingwood Football Club—Olympic Park to the east and Princes Park and Royal Park to the north and west of the city. Landmarks such as the Melbourne Zoo, the Shrine of Remembrance, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Government House, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Alexandra Gardens and Fitzroy Gardens will be better accessed, along with the Victorian Arts Centre precinct and the National Gallery of Victoria. We want to encourage visitors to these areas; we want to encourage locals into these areas. It makes sense to encourage tram travel to these many major destinations and encourage everyone to enjoy what Melbourne has to offer.

Will there be a cost? Yes, but this is something Melbourne can afford. I have received some preliminary figures from the Parliamentary Budget Office to estimate the costs of extending the free tram network to cover the additional 6.1 kilometres. This free tram zone extension would affect 13 tram routes and could cost somewhere between $4 million and $5 million extra per year. However, keep in mind that while this figure accounts for free tram trips, it does not account for the free tram users who have already paid to travel into the city. If $4 million to $5 million is the cost of battling congestion in the city, it is not a lot to ask.

I spoke earlier about the investment we have in society in driving our cars. We love them, but we need to change that car culture and think longer term about the effects of driving our cars everywhere we go. Training our students to look at public transport as the first and best option to move about the city is a great way to effect change in our culture. By offering free public transport to all full-time students studying at our schools, universities and TAFEs we can build a new mindset about public transport use from a young age and set good habits in place. Likewise, our seniors, who face increasingly high costs of living, should be rewarded for a lifetime of contribution to our communities. Free transport for them would encourage their ongoing and active participation in their communities and in the wider Melbourne community that may otherwise not happen due to financial constraints and distance. Anything that supports full-time students, their parents and our seniors is a good thing. Anything that reduces the reliance on cars through incentives to use free travel options is a no-brainer.

Of course we will not compensate for poor services, but a state-of-the-art tram network should not be beyond our reach just because we make it cheaper for some groups. We want public transport to be the best option, and so it must be the most efficient, the most reliable and the safest system possible. I want this inquiry to investigate new technologies to enable intelligent transport systems that can improve the performance of our network. This might include high-capacity signalling systems, such as those being trialled as part of the Metro Tunnel project; these allow trains to safely run closer together, meaning we can offer more frequent services. Or it might include active public transport prioritisation to give priority to trams and buses to make trips faster. Yarra Trams right now are testing a new signalling system in 25 trams on route 75, which runs along Toorak Road and Burwood Highway. This system uses GPS technology to track the position of the trams and takes into account live road conditions to determine traffic light sequences. If the trams get through congestion, problems are improved. Any technology options that make trains, trams and buses the best option need be considered.

Dynamic pricing—finally, my motion asks the committee to investigate dynamic pricing and options that would encourage more efficient use of the public transport networks. We have some of this already in place. How many of you are aware that your metropolitan train journey is free if you touch on and off before 7.15 a.m. on a weekday, as long as your Myki has some money on it?

Other than this earlybird special, prices do not reflect demand for services. Travelling in crowded trains at peak hour costs the same as waiting until the crush ends and travelling later in the morning.

I want to end today by speaking briefly on some of the international experiences of free public transport. In Estonia public transport is almost free. This small country in northern Europe is one of the world’s most digitally advanced societies; they hold their elections online. In 2013 Estonia’s capital city, Tallinn, made the public transport system free for locals. The sky did not fall in. Public transport in the city has improved, and the city’s population has grown. New revenues have come from the increased population and additional revenues come from tourists and non-residents, who still buy tickets. But most importantly Estonia’s free public transport network is changing habits. Use of the public transport system has increased by 10 per cent. Better still, the number of cars in the city has gone down by 10 per cent.

Luxembourg is set to introduce free public transport in 2020, and many other places have already introduced free public transport for certain groups or at certain times. One-third of all bus trips in London are free with concession travel passes, especially for senior citizens. Wales offers free travel over the weekend to boost tourism.

My motion asks the Economy and Infrastructure Committee to take a bold step towards a cultural shift in the way we use public transport by looking at extending the free tram zone, opening up the entire network for free travel for students and senior citizens, and exploring new technologies and pricing systems that would continue to grow Melbourne’s reputation as one of the best cities in the world.

I commend this motion to the house.

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