11.07.2019Hansard | Parliament of Victoria, Economy and Infrastructure Committee | Free Tram Zone
Mr BARTON, Ms TAYLOR, Mr DAVIS, Ms PATTEN, Ms MAXWELL, Dr RATNAM, Mr QUILTY, Dr CUMMING, Mr DALIDAKIS, Ms TERPSTRA
ECONOMY AND INFRASTRUCTURE COMMITTEE
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 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 meet 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, with 2500 staff and 200 volunteers; and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, with 9000 staff and 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 to be considered.
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.
Ms TAYLOR (Southern Metropolitan) (10:16): I am very happy to speak on this motion. As someone who has over many years used a lot of public transport, I certainly do not disagree with the premise of using it as much as possible because it is better for the environment generally speaking and it is also convenient because you can read your mobile phone and you can do lots of things when you are on public transport. When I was a councillor I used to read the paper on the way. I cannot do that now because, with my metropolitan area being so large, it is not quite as convenient. That is why I bought a hybrid, so I can at least lower the amount of emissions that are being emitted. Hopefully in time we will get more electric cars and we will be on a different page there; that would be even better. That is not what Mr Barton wants to talk about today, but I just thought I would add that little component so he understands that I do bring this down to a very personal, grounded level in the way it impacts all of us here.
I think the premise of having an inquiry is a good idea because then it forces—if it is a good inquiry and it is done properly, with the appropriate parameters—all facets of an issue to be brought out, because obviously when you are in government you have to own all facets of an issue. That means you own the really, really nice components of an issue, which is saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you free public transport. Off you go. That’s it. Done. Happy’. I am not saying that that is not a good idea either, but we do have to be accountable and responsible in the way that we examine that issue: with what we give to people, do we also create other problems? I am not saying no or yes, I am just saying it is really, really important, as you can understand, from the position of the government to factor in all facets of an issue and to make sure that we actually create something that is for the greater good and does not in the process create further problems or exacerbate an issue along the way. That is just to expand on that issue so that we are being fully accountable in this discussion. That is why I am explaining that aspect. I know there are pragmatic realities with this, but let us explore that. We can have a bit of a discussion about that today, and then if the inquiry goes ahead, it too can explore the issues on many, many levels.
I have lived in inner-city areas and used trams and so forth. I have actually used the trams in the city area quite a lot since the free tram zone was introduced on 1 January 2015. I know a lot more people have been taking that up and those trams are very cosy as a result. There are a lot more trips having to be squeezed in there. The benefit of having that free tram zone—Mr Barton has already spoken to this—is it has increased accessibility to retail, to entertainment and to businesses, and that certainly is a positive.
It has meant that less people are using the bikes around the area to get up and down. Some of the tourists in particular used to rent the bikes. They are not using them as much, and less people are walking around the city. I am just pointing out all facets of the issue. Again I am not criticising the point or the motion that has been put forward; I am just saying that we have to balance out the choices that people make when you make something free. Certainly it is appealing, and I understand the merits of the argument, but it does mean people may then elect not to use their feet or a bike. They may choose an option which is not quite as good for their health and which may actually increase congestion on the tram routes and not necessarily increase activities in other ways. These are just things to be factored in, again not in any way wanting to take away from the motion that has been put forward.
If we look specifically at the extent of the free tram zone, there is a stop at Federation Square. These are real tourist hotspots, and I am not telling members anything they do not know. Any Melburnian knows very well, as do people visiting from regional Victoria, that for obvious reasons these areas are hotspots for visitors. The free tram zones help people to be in walking distance of Jeff’s Shed, Crown Casino, the Victorian Arts Centre and the National Gallery of Victoria. So yes, for tourists that is a good thing, and I do not want to criticise that. Also, as the member has quite rightly pointed out, the free tram zone has been extended for special events such as the AFL Grand Final. There is certainly merit in undertaking that in order to help with some of the major transport disruptions that can occur at peak times and during peak use of our transport networks, such as the AFL Grand Final and other major events in the city.
We do just have to factor in—and I am just following this discussion through—that if we were to extend the free tram zone on a permanent basis, as has been requested or suggested, we would need to consider the impact on revenue and network performance. Effectively, having travelled in the city zone myself, when we extended that free tram zone it meant that people were even diverted from train travel to tram travel, which meant the trams got very, very snug and cosy indeed. I know that on Friday nights it can be hard to get onto trams because they are so popular. Sometimes you think, ‘Oh, look, I won’t walk down’, although I do have a yearly Myki pass—just to be clear about that—so it would not make a difference anyway. But I would think, ‘I won’t walk down, I’ll take the tram’. These are things that need to be factored in as well. I am not putting down the motion; I am just saying we have to factor in all elements.
If you did expand the zone out to residential areas, you would probably expect to see a similar impact in terms of—as I describe it—cosiness. It is not that I do not want to be near my fellow Victorians; it is just that it can get a little snug at times. One thing leads to another leads to another, and these things can influence the choices people make in transport between one mode and another. I think part of the member’s intention is to say, ‘I do want to influence those choices’, but we would have to also factor in the time element and so forth when we introduce these kinds of changes. If you just say, ‘Right, we’re going to do this’, what is that going to create? What are the ramifications? All those things have to be very, very carefully thought through so that there is not a ricochet or domino effect that creates another negative impact, which would get a backlash from the community. That is just something to be factored in.
If I go back to the motion, it is looking to provide free fares to full-time students, so essentially looking at concessions, and to remove fares for Seniors Card holders. We know that eligible full-time students can apply for concession travel and can have access to student passes, which further reduce the cost of travel. So it is not a fact that we do not have concessions in place to assist people in mitigating the costs of getting around the city. Those are in place. Seniors also have access to concession fares and in addition get free weekend travel in two consecutive zones, and every year they receive a number of free travel vouchers. There are already some significant concessions in place to help mitigate the cost of transport. I just put that out there to make sure that it is factored in and not dismissed as insignificant or irrelevant in this discussion.
I know that when we look at what the cost overall would be if we were to, for instance, provide free travel to students under 16, it could—and this is a Department of Transport estimate—cost around $50 million to $60 million per annum in lost revenue. Additional costs would be incurred if this were extended to all students over 16 years of age, including VET and tertiary students and all seniors. You can see why the government has to factor that in, and $50 million to $60 million is certainly a significant sum and something that has to be taken into account. If you say, ‘Okay, we’ll give free travel there’, where does that $50 million to $60 million come from and what other aspect do you take away from the community? I am not saying yes or no, I am just saying that you give and then you take. We do have to balance that out. We cannot just say, ‘Bang, you don’t have to pay anymore. We don’t know how we’re going to fix it, but it sounds really good and it’s landing really well with the community’. Do you know what I mean? I am not trying to be sarcastic, I am just trying to say that we do have to be accountable and say, ‘Okay, right, let’s look at our ledgers and let’s see where that money could come from over the longer term’.
The Andrews Labor government did introduce important changes to the fare structure, which has cut the cost of public transport for many concession card holders across Victoria, and this is in order to make fares fairer and easier to understand. For instance, from 20 January 2017, the age at which a child must start carrying a Myki increased from four to five. This saves carers and parents the expense and hassle of getting a Myki for their child before the child has started school. We have also lifted the eligibility age for a child Myki from 16 to 18. So you can see the significant effort that the government has undertaken to help buffer the cost of transport.
The other thing that has to be factored in is that under the agreements the government has with its operators, Public Transport Victoria is required to increase fares by CPI to contribute to the rising cost of running public transport. We cannot just say, ‘Oh well, it cost this much this year and that’s the end of it’. Unfortunately there are inherent costs in running a public transport system—and it is just something to be factored in. The former government’s four-year commitment to increase public transport fares by 2.5 per cent plus CPI ended in 2018. So in 2019 fares rose only by CPI—something that was factored in—which was 2.2 per cent.
Now I know there was a comparison with some parts of Europe, and a particular country in Europe, and I cannot say yes or no with regard to Estonia specifically, not having visited there or personally examined the way their transport system works. I am sure that if we looked at all European countries we would find a whole array of different mechanisms of assisting people in using public transport. I know that when I have travelled in Europe I have seen people having to use their particular transport mechanisms to get on and off transport, so I think we have to be careful about comparing apples and oranges when we are looking at different population sizes. We have to look at all aspects of their budgets. If you look at all aspects of a budget of an individual country, then you get a holistic approach to an issue.
I think it is a really good idea to examine—as you, Mr Barton have done—other countries overseas and say, ‘Okay, how are they doing this? Can we learn something from this? Is there something that we can take on board?’. But I know that I would want to be looking at the whole transport system, the whole way that that country manages its budgets et cetera before I would do a direct comparison, because I think there is a danger that we might be avoiding some inconvenient truths that may be relevant within that particular country’s transport or overall movement infrastructure. I could be right, I could be wrong, but I just think that we do have to be very careful when we are comparing different countries. I do not say, ‘Don’t’. I think it is a good idea to look at different countries and how they run their transport systems, factoring in the size of the population, factoring in how they get their revenue and so forth. But you do need to look at the whole transport system and the whole budget, and then I think you can get a well-rounded comparison.
I take on board your point about looking at other countries and how they run their transport systems, how they balance the various costs and how they incentivise people to take public transport. I factor that in, and I think there certainly is merit in looking across the board, but we do have to be careful. Are we comparing apples and apples? Are we comparing apples and oranges? Is it a fair comparison? When you balance the whole budget, are they comparable or are they not?
I am sorry to be a little bit of a pollyanna on these issues, but it is just that in terms of accountability and responsibility we do not always get to deliver what might seem magical and brilliant and perfect when we have to look at the holistic perspective of an issue. Mr Barton, you understand where I am coming from with that argument. It is just that we need to be accountable and we need to be able to own the various costs and elements of a particular decision. But it is not only the costs, as I was saying before. It is also the comfort level of commuters and the choices that they make, even choosing between different elements of public transport or whether they—even better still—might, where it is possible, go to the bike or go to walking instead.
I have no disagreement with the absolute fundamental premise of getting more people out of cars. That is a good idea, because we know that there are only so many roads and there is only so much room for the many cars on the road. Certainly we are in furious agreement about encouraging people to use alternative modes of transport, and that underpins our government’s decision-making in helping people not only from a financial perspective but also by encouraging them to use public transport and other modes of getting around our wonderful state.
Now I will move on to some other parts of Mr Barton’s motion which have been raised and which are certainly interesting and very important when we are looking at the issue of how we move people around our wonderful state. The motion says:
… new technologies that enable intelligent transport systems that improve the performance of the networks …
Certainly there is significant merit in exploring those elements. I know that there has been a significant investment in the managed motorways program. The government has already invested in intelligent transport systems to improve the operation of a freeway network through measures such as variable speed signs and coordinated ramp signals—you know, where they go green and red and help to just steady the flow. Mr Barton, you probably know a lot better than I do because you would be an expert in those things. As a driver I have seen those signals and I understand it is to help just get a better pace and to balance out the traffic flow. Other measures are traffic time signals, vehicle sensors and CCTV cameras in order to make sure people do not lead-foot it around the city, which is obviously very dangerous. It is not something that I do myself; I will say that quite proudly. These are all part of a dynamic traffic system that helps to respond to whatever is happening on the roads at any given time.
But it does not end there, and it is good that you have actually raised that point as well, because obviously the whole concept is dynamic in and of itself in that this technology is improving all the time. Now, you might be pleased to know, or you might already know, that there is a trial underway to test new technology designed to better balance the needs of trams and other road users—pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. The Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems technology was fitted to 25 trams on route 75, which run along Toorak Road and the Burwood Highway, which you are obviously already aware of. The system uses real-time GPS technology to track the position of a tram on the route and in turn determine traffic light activity based on live road conditions, which is pretty amazing. It blows my mind away to think that this is happening. But that is great; this is good.
Trams which are delayed or running behind schedule will be given priority for passage, resulting in more efficient journeys for tram passengers. When trams are running on time or ahead of schedule, traffic lights may favour other road users, resulting in a faster and more efficient journey for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists—so in a sense trying again to balance out the flow of traffic generally. This system will integrate with VicRoads’s existing road management system while also providing a link in to Yarra Trams operations centre. The Australian Road Research Board will provide detailed findings of the trial to VicRoads so it can be determined if it is an effective solution to be rolled out more broadly across the tram network. So I guess what I would be saying is we have got to watch this space and see where that trial ends up, but it is certainly very promising. Further to your particular point, it is looking at how we can basically better manage the transport infrastructure that we have in place right now and make sure it is used in the most efficient way possible. I hope that that goes some way to your point, but obviously it is a dynamic space itself, and the technology is advancing all the time. There may be lessons that we can learn from overseas as well, but we need to factor in that our local transport authorities are looking into these issues and recognising the importance of having a more efficient transport network.
I am going to proceed to the other point in the motion: ‘the effects and benefits of dynamic public transport pricing’. This certainly does have the potential to really be able to manage those peak congestion periods when everyone is deciding, ‘Right; we’re all going to go to work now’, and we all go at the same time. Then you have this awful congestion, and it is really unpleasant for everyone. I know the Victorian government already provides peak and off-peak fares for regional public transport. This encourages customers who have a choice of travel times to travel off peak and allows additional space on peak services for those who must travel in the peak times. That is good, and it is certainly a thoughtful initiative, one that allows people to make choices which ultimately benefit everybody on public transport—actually everyone on their way to and from work or significant areas that they have to go to.
There is a similar incentive called the early bird. This is applied to metro services. The early bird offers free travel to those who can travel and arrive in Melbourne before 7.15 a.m. When I used to work for the Community and Public Sector Union we had members travelling to and from their workplace right in the city, and some of them would elect to take that early shift. It was beneficial to them because they saved money, but it was beneficial to all of us because it was actually taking the burden off the overall transport system. This certainly has a lot of merit and is something that I think could be used even more into the future.
Speaking of interstate, as I did live in Sydney for a couple of years I know that because the transport there was so congested—it was a shocker—people would actually stagger their start times and their finish times at work in order to be able to mitigate the peak congestion that we all hate. Nobody likes peak periods, nobody likes sitting in traffic and nobody likes being overly squashed. Sometimes just some pragmatic decision-making can actually de-burden the overall transport experience for all of us. It also allows people to make those choices and be empowered in that. They can say, ‘Well, actually I wouldn’t mind starting earlier in the day. I’ll get home a little bit earlier. Boy, it’s a bit cheaper for me, and at the end of the day I’m not sitting in traffic, tearing my hair out and dying when I could be doing other wonderful things’—planting trees or spending time with their kids or whatever else.
I know we all feel passionately—let us not say everyone, but many of us feel very passionately about—
Ms Shing interjected.
Ms TAYLOR: That’s right. I was going too far, wasn’t I.
Ms Shing: We live in hope.
Ms TAYLOR: I live in hope. I would like to think that everyone is very passionate about looking at multimodal transport and getting people moved from the obsession with the car, particularly cars which take petrol as opposed to the more modern versions of hybrids and electrics—people who are not necessarily as enthused about public transport options or walking or riding. But we live in hope. Perhaps even having these discussions and an inquiry et cetera inspires people and hopefully gets that information out there for people to think about all these various aspects of making a more efficient and, if you like, carbon friendly transport system as well, whether it be looking at what the parameters of the free tram zone are, factoring in the negatives as well that we have to take into account.
Obviously we cannot just sledgehammer and say, ‘Hey, free tram zone. Everyone, all students, off you go, free, fine, great’, without factoring in what that means in terms of even the comfort levels of people travelling on the transport system and also the fairness across the board when you are balancing a budget generally and looking at the ramifications of the choices you make. On the one hand we give you something for free here, but we might have to take from a hospital there. You know what I am saying? You have to own that whole piece and what it means and what it might mean for somebody else who is quite vulnerable in your community when you give or take various transport concessions or measures. It may on the face of it look like a real win but may in fact create other problems that are not as beneficial for the whole community.
As I said, I am not actually criticising the intent or the fundamental tenets of this motion. I think there is a lot of merit in it, and I really enjoyed reading the motion itself and understanding where Mr Barton is coming from. I am really glad that we have other members in Parliament who are thinking about and conscious of our impact as MPs on the public transport system. This is actually a really positive thing. I think the community would be glad that we are debating these issues, which impact every one of their lives on a daily basis no matter who they are—no matter whether they are retired, no matter whether they are a student or otherwise. I think it is a really good sign that we are happy to have this open and democratic discussion and constantly review and revise where we are headed. What is working? What are the benefits? What could we do differently? If we make certain choices, what will the ramifications of them be? The real shame is when you get the 30-second grabs on the news and they will point out one little flashpoint, and the community thinks, ‘Oh, that’s the whole issue’—no disrespect to the community; it is just that people are busy. They do not have time necessarily to read the paper from front to back. They do not necessarily come and read our Hansard—I am not sure how many members of the community actually go back and read Hansard.
Ms Terpstra interjected.
Ms TAYLOR: They are watching it all the time. I am not sure what the ratings on our parliamentary presentations would be.
Dr Kieu: Is there a rating?
Ms TAYLOR: Is there a rating? Probably not even a rating. However, one way or another what we do and the decisions we make obviously can have a very significant impact on the quality of their lives. I can speak from this side of the fence—I will not speak for everybody as I think people should be able to speak for themselves—but we certainly are very concerned about making sure that the decisions we make are actually for the greater good in the long run. That is the fundamental premise of the values which speak to what we are about and why we are here. Just to understand, we are coming from a good place and we want the best for the community.
Certainly if I speak for myself, I want the best possible outcome in terms of transport measures. That is why I was so excited about that bike infrastructure, the segregation. That is the kind of thing that gets me up in the morning. That is like, ‘Wow!’. That is why I love being a member of Parliament. I just had to say that; I just had to add that in there because it is not irrelevant. When we are looking at all the trams that flow along there, if we get that bike infrastructure, automatically we know that is going to make a significant difference and make people feel safer, and they may then choose that, perhaps even over the tram. It is something to factor in.
I hope that I have in some way explored some of the facets of the very comprehensive motion that is here and the elements of this motion. But just to understand, we take it seriously and we are looking at all angles of this issue.
Mr DAVIS (Southern Metropolitan—Leader of the Opposition) (10:45): I am wanting to make a short contribution, and I make the point it will be a short contribution. I do not intend to abuse the time of the house, as the last speaker did, with a long, long rant.
Let me be quite clear here. This is a motion to send this reference to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee. It is a proposal that the public transport system in Melbourne be looked at with respect to the expansion of the free tram service. It particularly points to a number of geographic locations. It talks about free fares for full-time students, it talks about removing fares for all Seniors Card holders, it talks about technologies and it talks about the effects of dynamic public transport pricing. There is some significant merit in having this inquiry, and the opposition will not oppose this inquiry. We actually do see some significant points.
I want to just take a very quick trip through the background of free public transport in the city. It was an initiative of the then Napthine government in the 2014–15 budget. It was a very innovative policy. It has been well-received and it has now become a matter of bipartisan policy. I remember a transport forum I spoke at prior to the election, and there were questions about whether the free public transport would be maintained. Some do not like it. I made the point that it would be and the then public transport minister also made the same points. The base that is there now is an important one.
It is important for those who come into the city to shop or to transact business and who wish to leave their car at home and have the ability to move around the city. It is also an important aspect for students and for office workers and for tourists. International tourists note our free City Circle tram, and I think the government has not put enough into protecting the City Circle tram. I indicate that one thing I think the inquiry ought to examine is the government’s disparagement and winding back of the City Circle tram, which I think is a major tourist emblem for Melbourne and actually widely respected internationally as an important service.
The opposition, in government, also provided access to reduced fee public transport concession fares for those who were over 60 but still working, with the deliberate intention that this was a practical step that we could take to ensure that people continued to work and had the option of working with sensible support for the public transport that they would need around that. I was, as the then Minister for Ageing, active in ensuring that that happened.
I think this reference does provide an opportunity to look closely at the data and the material about collections and the costings of all of these proposals. None of these proposals, let me tell you, are cost-free. They do have significant costs. Forgone revenue means less options in public transport elsewhere, and we have got to actually balance those points quite closely.
As shadow minister for the arts I am quite focused on the fact that we actually need to think about access to the National Gallery of Victoria, which is outside the free tram zone but is important for many, both tourists and local people, who want to get to the gallery. For those who want to move around the city and get to the gallery there is a legitimate argument for that being in the free tram zone. It is true that the free tram zone applying to Docklands has been an important underpinning for the commercial development and the residential development of Docklands, and I think that has been used in this instance as an instrument to attract businesses and others into the Docklands precinct to help build that. I do not think we should count out the use of public transport as an instrument to develop precincts in that way.
I do think it is important, though, to again squarely point to the issue of cost in Victoria. We collect just a little over 20 per cent of the cost of public transport in fares. It is a relatively low amount compared to other jurisdictions. We actually have a line to walk on these sorts of approaches—on one hand holding fares low so that usage is high and choices with cars and other modes are reduced, but at the same time collecting enough fares to enable us to run the quality of service that we want. Free public transport in the city has actually been a wild success. People love it. There is also, I might add, a data issue that applies when we make something free in this way, so people with their Mykis—
Ms Shing: Like TAFE?
Mr DAVIS: No, no, it is a serious point. When people in the free tram zone do not swipe their Myki card on, you do not have the data of who is moving at what time and indeed the background information for service planning that is actually an important part of what this sort of inquiry should be looking at. So my point is that government then needs to actually go out and undertake surveys to understand who is using the free tram zone. I understand a number of those surveys have been undertaken and this inquiry can get access to those. I see this as an important inquiry to the extent that it would enable a large amount of information to come into the public domain to inform and strengthen our position with respect to our decision-making on a number of these key areas.
I think that for full-time students there are legitimate arguments for free access, and there are different cohorts within the full-time student population. There are postgraduate students who have made significant cases and there are overseas students who also have made cases for access. This inquiry can certainly look at those. I accept that there are opportunities for and effects of dynamic public transport pricing, and we have a number of aspects of that in place already in terms of access costs being reduced if you come into the city before an early point on a workday. Those reductions in the fare have actually had some success in moving some of the load in a highly congested system.
We have a very highly congested system, and that is a significant challenge. We saw yesterday in the Age an article about people from Cranbourne and Pakenham facing challenges in that corridor where reliability is a problem and crowding is a problem. V/Line is facing huge crowding problems. Looking at tweets yesterday, people were complaining legitimately about their inability to get a seat on a train after the first one or two stations past Geelong. The same applies to people coming from Ballarat. They are on those V/Line trains. They are packed in like sardines. The trains have become unpleasant and difficult to travel on in a regular way, and the reliability of our trains has also fallen.
There has to be a balance here between what needs to be done to add capacity and what needs to be done to ensure reliability and punctuality. The government’s performance on punctuality and reliability has been terrible. It has been shocking. We have seen trams and trains and buses face challenges with reliability, and our country V/Line service has been a shambles. Most of these services have not been meeting their targets. The government needs to run a reliable and basic service so that people can be sure they can get to work on time. That is not the case currently.
So the opposition will not oppose this motion. We see some merit in this inquiry. We see some opportunities to better examine and better cost a number of the proposals. We need to understand what the dynamics of that are. The bits that are laid out here in the motion—the new technologies for intelligent transport systems, and Mr Barton mentioned the last mile challenges—I accept those. We have got to have better connections to our public transport for pedestrians and bikes and also commercial passenger vehicles of various types. There are options that are available but the government has not taken up those options.
The final thing that I think the inquiry perhaps misses out on is ensuring not just the reliability and punctuality that I pointed to but also the safety. The coalition was very active in government in putting 940 PSOs in place—the first really significant attempt to tackle safety on our public transport system—but we know from comparative national data that Victorians do not feel safe on our public transport. We know that Victoria performs the worst of any of the states on safety on our public transport and on perceptions of safety on our public transport. That is a significant challenge. I think that these pricing decisions cannot be looked at in isolation; they have to be looked at in a holistic way across the system.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:57): I too would like to speak briefly on Mr Barton’s motion, which I think is a very sensible one and one which I am very pleased incorporates much of my region of Northern Metropolitan with the extension of the free tram zone around the universities. It is effectively 6 kilometres of track that would be added to the zone and affect 13 different tram routes. The overarching goal, which I think is a very good one, is to improve access to universities, hospitals, sporting precincts and of course the city. I would probably like to add that during the inquiry the committee should look at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre as well, because as we see—and as Mr Davis pointed out—by putting free transport into places like Docklands you really can invigorate an area. I think this is one of the very effective ways of using our public transport to offset some of the costs that Ms Taylor pointed out, because it brings more commerciality to those areas. It means people are spending more in the areas and small businesses are benefiting from that.
The student union at Melbourne University has been campaigning for some time to extend the free tram zone up to Melbourne University. As someone who catches the tram down Swanston Street most weeks, I can see this makes an awful lot of sense. And we are not the only city to do this. As Mr Barton mentioned, Tallinn in Estonia has done this. I just note that Luxembourg—I think Ms Taylor mentioned Luxembourg—is also going down this path of making public transport completely free. Where there may be a cost—and if we use the example of the preliminary costings that Mr Barton has had of $4 million to $5 million in lost revenue—that would be offset by things like the cost of managing the fares. I do not know how much Myki costs, but I am pretty sure that the fares we collect barely cover the cost of collecting them. This is something I would be very interested to hear from the committee. How much does it cost to collect the fares that we are collecting? Could we use that money better? And does extending free tram zones not just in these areas but maybe even more broadly really actually invigorate the local economy and therefore actually improve things?
Very quickly, I certainly commend the Committee of Melbourne for the work that they have done in this area and some of the costings that they have done. They have really considered this. Certainly the National Gallery of Victoria says that this would bring probably close to 75 000 new visitors to the gallery, which is significant. We know our tourists love our trams; they love the free trams, but they do get confused when they are catching the tram and all of a sudden they get to the Yarra and they realise that now they have to pay to get to the Arts Centre Melbourne or the national gallery. The same goes for going down to the MCG, going to the university or even going to St Vincent’s Hospital. So we are not talking about a large area, but we are talking about an area that would have a significant effect.
In France, for example, they found that passenger aggression was greatly reduced. They found there was an incredible decrease in antisocial behaviour because 90 per cent of aggression on trams was due to fares. Operators were able to achieve faster boarding times. I take Mr Davis’s point that Myki touch-on/touch-off does enable us to collect a lot of data about the usage of our tram system, so looking at alternatives on how we might collect that data if people are not using their Mykis is something I would be interested in the committee considering. As I have said before, when customers can get around with greater ease, this makes it a lot better for our small businesses around our city, but it also makes the city more accessible and fairer for our low-income earners, especially students. For people who are suffering social isolation—this is something that is very close to my heart—this does enable people to get out and about more easily. Anything that we can do to do that is an improvement. Certainly for people with disabilities enabling a much simpler way of using our public transport is very sensible, so I commend it.
I suppose because I have an inner-city electorate—I know Acting President Elasmar would agree—quite often we talk about wonderful transport and free transport in our inner city. Then I talk to my constituents in Epping or my constituents out in Meadow Park or Broadmeadows and they say, ‘We would just like a bus that goes somewhere near our houses a couple times a day’. So while I think this is a very important and very good motion, and I am very pleased to support it, I am constantly conscious that while we talk up the inner city, we have to be very conscious of the disadvantage that our sprawling outer suburbs are experiencing, and obviously our regional and rural areas also have these issues. I would like to commend the motion.
Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (11:03): On behalf of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party, I indicate that we will be supporting Mr Barton’s motion. There is considerable merit, as far as we are concerned, in the prospect of referring this motion and each of the issues he has listed to the Economy and Infrastructure Committee. What we like most of all is the possibility of examining the spectre of expanding the free tram zone to the Royal Children’s Hospital. It has been a serious problem for some time in Melbourne for parents and/or guardians having to bring their children to the hospital, often for treatment of very serious conditions, including intensive cancer treatment. They typically face substantial repetitive public transport costs and the costs of parking, which can make life far more traumatic than it needs to be when they have children placed in hospital. It would also be wonderful, if possible, for them to have access to better and less expensive transport options, and this might well represent a very positive step in that direction. We also like some of the other similar changes to which the motion gives expression, and some of those have been previously expressed here in this chamber.
The idea of fare relief being provided to full-time students travelling to university and the scrapping of tram charges for all Seniors Card holders would be seen to be extremely beneficial for reasons previously detailed in Ms Taylor’s narrative. Naturally we also think it is also very appropriate that in such contexts the committee should consider, as is specified in the motion, issues such as improved technologies and dynamic pricing, not to mention that the general principle of reducing road congestion in Melbourne would be likely to be assisted significantly by some, if not all, of the measures in the motion.