My notes from a quick skim of the #EWLink business case

Late last night, the Herald Sun unexpectedly published the entire East West Link business case, ahead of its official release today.

Some notes from me from a quick flick through:

p12 makes various high-level claims, particularly faster trips for motorists — but as we know, this benefit never lasts because traffic increases.

EWLink: Proposed tolls

p17 flags the toll prices used in the modelling: (2012 pricing) cars $5.50 in peak, $4.40 off-peak. Light commercial vehicles $8.80 peak, $7.04 off-peak. Heavy commercial vehicles $16.50 peak, $13.20 off-peak. I wonder what regular motorists (especially those with commercial vehicles) make of these toll levels?

By comparison, bypassing the city along the Bolte Bridge or the Domain/Burnley tunnels (not both) currently costs $7.06 in a car, or $8.15 for both sections. It’s only marginally more expensive for both because there’s a cap… I assume it’s unknown if a similar cap could exist where adjoining motorways are run by different operators.

p17 says the funding gap between the toll revenue and the cost of construction is $5.3 to 5.8 billion.

p39 says north-south public transport is being degraded by traffic congestion, which may be the case, but that’s because authorities have allowed it to happen by failing to provide tram/bus priority through busy intersections such as Alexandra Parade. They continue to prioritise large numbers of vehicles (single-occupant cars) over large numbers of people. It’s important to recognise that while the greater East West Link project includes tram priority measures, these can be implemented without building a big road tunnel.

p41-42 appears to be cherry-picking statistics to try and claim there’s a lot of demand for cross-city traffic. For instance the diagram at the top of page 42 implies lots of cross-city traffic, but it’s mapping out in percentage terms the demand from different directions heading to the Eastern Freeway in the AM peak — in other words, feeding into the freeway in the counter-peak direction, as if counter-peak travel is where the congestion problem is.

A diagram on page 41 does look at AM peak from the Eastern Freeway, and like previous studies shows little traffic heading to the west of the city — 2% to the south-west (eg Newport area), 6% due west to Footscray and beyond, 7% north-west to around Essendon and beyond. The vast majority of traffic is heading to the CBD and inner north.

In comparison, here’s the screendump from VicRoads traffic status web site this morning (8:16am, peak hour). The camera image shows counter-peak the Eastern Freeway seems to be free-flowing. It also shows free-flowing traffic most of the way across to the west (in both directions), again underscoring that the east-west route isn’t the main problem; as per the page 41 diagram, it’s traffic going into the CBD and inner suburbs.

EWLink: Realtime traffic on Eastern Freeway and Alexandra Parade, 15/12/2014 8:16am

p100 forecasts traffic rampup to % of steady state volume: 91% by month 6. 96.5% by month 12. 100% by month 22. I wonder: Is this in line with recent experience?

A NSW Auditor-General report on Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel (see page 32) found that projections of 80% initially, and 88% after a year were about double the traffic levels that actually eventuated. Brisbane’s Clem7 and Airportlink tollways, and Melbourne’s EastLink had similar problems.

Note that in East West Link’s case the taxpayer bears the risk.

p165 Whoa! The construction cost is much much higher than theoretical revenue of $112 million/year (56x) relative to Citylink (8x) or Eastlink (20x). The average construction cost is also much higher per kilometre than those projects.

p168 The assumed tolling period is 40 years.

p176 Benefit Cost Ratio of stage 1 is 0.8 (eg it costs more than it makes) when “Wider Economic Benefits” (WEBs) are excluded. Including WEBs is 1.3-1.4.

Update: The earlier estimate, using the methodology preferred by Infrastructure Australia, came out at just 0.45. In later versions of the document, the methodology changed and the estimate rose to 0.8. The version released by the Herald Sun has the higher figure, and it’s been speculated that someone supportive of the project dropped that version to them deliberately to pre-empt reporting of the lower figure. Josh Gordon at The Age has some nice analysis of how the figure grew from 0.45 to 0.8 with some WEBs, and then to 1.4 by including other projects such as the Tullamarine Freeway widening, and even Wider WEBs.

WEBs are notoriously wibbly-wobbly in their calculation, and often controversial. For instance it’s not clear how they claim $2153m in agglomeration economies (specifically “growth in Melbourne’s competitive central core”) when the tollway doesn’t directly serve Melbourne’s central core.

It also claims a lot of benefits from travel time savings, but as I’ve already noted, we know these never last.

Compared to the 1.4 the road gets with WEBs, the metro rail tunnel (which is also an incredibly expensive project) apparently got 1.9. And compared to the 0.8 for EWL without WEBs, the metro rail tunnel got 1.17 — so at least it isn’t loss-making when evaluated without possibly dodgy WEBs.

p193. If they built the road elevated rather than underground, the BCR (excluding WEBs) would still only be 0.9. It’s only by building it as a surface road (eg a ground-level motorway, thus obliterating large areas of the inner-northern suburbs) that you can get a BCR above 1: 2.6 to be precise.

EWLink costs and revenues

p209 summarises the revenues and outlays, and if I’m reading this right, seems to show toll revenue of about $200m per year against availability service payments from the government to the operator of about $345m each year. I assume by June 2023 that’s the “steady state”.

If the toll revenue doesn’t get that high, then taxpayers foot the larger bill. And remember this is only stage 1.

p211 ponders the state privatising the road later — that is, selling the toll revenue stream, presumably to offload the taxpayer risk in case revenue flops in the future.

I’ll keep dipping into the document as I get time in the next day or two, and may add some points as I find them.

Hopefully when there’s an official release in the next day or two, the PDFs available will be searchable — it’ll make finding things a lot easier!

And presumably there’s more detail coming as well — for me one thing that stands out is the courageous predictions of quick growth in tollway traffic and revenue, in the face of recent experiences with other Australian tollroads.

And I’d love to see detail on the modelling assumptions that show how well the traffic would flow if the revenue targets are met. It still strikes me that these massive tollroad projects can be profitable, or provide for free-flowing traffic, but not do both.

Update: The official release of documents has now occurred.

Recent photos

You know I’m busy when the blog posts are few and far between, and contain a lot of photos…

There do seem to be a lot sightings of Google Streetview cars recently. Here’s another. This one was resting.
Google Streetview car

Christmas shopping crowds at Southland shopping centre last weekend. It’ll get busier as the month rolls on, of course.
Southland shopping centre: Christmas crowds

Southland’s car park was packed, and the station somewhat… non-existent. If you want to be sneaky during the shopping season, instead of hunting for a car park at Southland, park across the street. But shhhh! Don’t tell too many people! (No, that’s not my Merc.)
Sneaky parking at Southland

“That’s the second biggest inflatable Christmas gift I’ve ever seen!” At Southern Cross station. I think there was a sign saying it’s in support of a charity.
Big Christmas present, Southern Cross Station

Those audio-visual ads at underground stations may be irritating, but occasionally serve up some geek amusement, such as this 404 error. Mind you it disappeared after a few seconds.
404 on web page ad, Flagstaff station

As the city gets busier, motorcyclists are taking up more of the pavement, even in pedestrian mall areas. This kind of unregulated constriction of pedestrian space really needs to be reviewed.
Motorcycle parking in Bourke Street Mall

…and in fact even police motorcyclists seem to be unaware of the guidelines that you shouldn’t park in a bus stop.
Perhaps even police are unaware the guidelines say you shouldn't park motorcycles in bus stops

Spotted in JB Hifi… The Beatles “Help”. Rated MA? Really?
The Beatles "Help" - rated MA?!

Good to see works continuing at Bentleigh station after the election. Ah, removal of the pointless blockage in the exit to platform 3 — good!
Bentleigh station works

Sure enough, passing a day or two later, it was gone, and extra Myki readers are going in too. Not sure of the wisdom on these for the rarely-used platform 3, but extras are going in on platform 2 as well.
Wider entrance and more Myki readers on platform 3 at Bentleigh

It was said the X’trapolis train on the Frankston line was just an election stunt. Some thought it would disappear straight after the election. Then the rumour was it would run for an extra week so it didn’t look like an election stunt. To my surprise, it’s still on the line — maybe they know the rumour got around, so it’s been left for a bit longer. It’s costing more money than the other trains as it has two drivers in the cab (as not all the lineside equipment has been fully modified) and is only scheduled on a couple of morning runs before spending the rest of the day in stabling.
The only X'Trapolis on the Frankston line, still running a week and a half after the election

Baaa! Waiting for trains to pass at Bentleigh station. While grade separation benefits motorists more than other groups, there’s no doubt pedestrians benefit too, though the need would be less great if the underpass had been left operational.
Baaa! Waiting for trains to pass

Birdlife at Albert Park lake. The ID tag on the swan made me ponder if that’s what some have in mind when they demand that cyclists have number plates… not really practical. (Has anywhere in the world done it?)
Albert Park Lake birdlife

Public transport fares to rise about 5%

It hasn’t been announced yet, but I understand Myki fares are going up about 5% in January.

(Zone 1+2 fares will drop to zone 1 level of course, in line with the pledge made by the Coalition and matched by Labor.)

This is rise the Coalition government announced in December 2013, which I assume the new Labor government has approved: 2.3% CPI, plus a rise in real terms of 2.5%.

(Perhaps it’s not surprising Labor has okayed it; the Coalition went through with CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 which had been planned by Labor back when it was in office.)

Myki zone changes

Leaving aside the enormous disparity in per kilometre fares, the combination of zone changes (including free tram rides in the city) plus a real terms rise means we get the terrific combination of:

  • Fare revenue dropping by about $100m per year
  • Those travelling short distances (eg those costing the network the least in terms of driver and vehicle hours, and fuel) getting fare rises
  • Those travelling long distances (eg most expensive to serve, especially if you consider things like the demand to build more express tracks, and fleets being unable to run more than a single round trip in peak) seeing a big fare cut (increasing their subsidy)
  • A price signal that it’s good to use PT for long trips, which is likely to add to crowding, particularly on trains

Plus of course those who currently have crap PT in the middle and outer-suburbs will continue to have crap PT because there’s less money available to pay for upgrades.

Sigh.

While I don’t think a per kilometre fare is really a great idea (especially with Myki’s currently hopelessly slow readers and even more hopeless GPS devices), nor do I think a trip from Flinders Street to the Shrine should cost the same as one to Pakenham.

Silver lining: If they’re smart, they’ll let people know that in most cases you no longer have to touch-off after metropolitan train/bus trips. Just as on most tram trips now, the default fare if you don’t touch-off will be the same fare you pay if you did.

Still unknown: The fate of the Earlybird fare, long rumoured to be on the verge of being removed.

Update: Beat the rise?: Hoping to beat the price rise by splashing out on a Commuter Club yearly? No chance. The news of the rise came through in a CC bulletin yesterday showing the rise for Yearly fares, and declaring the ordering deadline to be 5pm the same day — way too fast for any CC organisations to scramble to let employees/members know. Usually there’s at least a few days’ warning. Not this time, though it’s still cheaper to buy a CC Yearly Pass than a retail Yearly.

If you use other Myki Passes, you can still beat the rise by buying them before the end of December. (But don’t buy a zone 1+2 pass; you’ll just need to get a partial refund once the zone changes happen). You can’t beat the price rise with Myki Money — it’s charged as you use it, not when you load it.

Update 6:30pm Tuesday: The rise has been confirmed by PTV in The Age: Myki fare rise for commuters travelling in a single zone.

Of course, those travelling in three or more zones will also see a rise, though I don’t think it’s been clarified if a zone 1 to 4 trip (eg Melbourne to Geelong) would still pay the zone 2 portion of the fare as part of that.

It’s also worth noting that this is not the only recent above-CPI rise: there were CPI+5% rises in 2012 and 2013 (the ones planned by Labor).

I also note that while this 2014 rise was been planned by the Coalition, in 2011 then-Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder said in the Ballarat Courier: “The Coalition Government wants to keep changes in ticket prices to no more than CPI (Consumer Price Index).”

Update 17/12/2014: The rise has finally been confirmed by PTV. Early Bird is staying, and the weekend daily cap will remain at $6 (though it’s not much cheaper than the new zone 1+2 daily cap anyway).

Geek central, Melbourne

They say geek is the cool, right?

Geek central in Melbourne must be the corner of Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets.

Why? Because within a few metres are no less than three pop culture shops:

Firstly, there’s the Doctor Who “popup” (eg temporary, until January) shop. Actually it has Sherlock merchandise too, which probably makes it more of a Steven Moffat shop.
Doctor Who Popup Shop, Melbourne, Summer 2014-15

Secondly, a little further up Little Collins Street is this shop, which as far as I can tell, has no actual name. At least, none prominently on display. (Professor Google says it’s called “Critical Hit“.)
Collins Gate pop culture shop

Thirdly, that old favourite, Minotaur. I used to shop there in the 80s when it was in Swanston Street. Then it moved to Bourke Street, and more recently(ish, well, probably 10+ years ago now) to Elizabeth Street — the former Melbourne Sports Depot, I think.
Minotaur

Also nearby:

EBGames in Swanston Street (also a former Melbourne Sports Depot?) has opened a geek section in their basement.

The ABC Shop has moved to Emporium.

Our new Premier on the need for frequent public transport #FrequencyIsFreedom

One should never read too much into politicians’ rhetoric, but it was rather good to see comments from Premier-elect Daniel Andrews on Monday in free commuter newspaper MX:

“Yes, we need better local roads and yes, we do need to invest in that infrastructure, but the transformational infrastructure is a better public transport system. One where you don’t need a timetable, one where you can comfortably and optimistically leave the car at home knowing that you’re getting on to a first rate public transport system.”

– Daniel Andrews, MX 1st December 2014

(My emphasis added)

Daniel Andrews at Bentleigh station during the 2014 Victorian election campaign

…as well as these comments on election-eve:

“I want to make sure we build the best possible public transport system. I simply won’t ask Victorians to get out of their car and into a second-class public transport system. They won’t do it, and I won’t ask them to.”

– Daniel Andrews, Channel 10 news, 28th November 2014

Public transport that’s frequent enough that you don’t need a timetable is critical to willingly get people out of their cars and out of the traffic.

Frequency is particularly important to cater for a network of services to make anywhere-to-anywhere trips are possible with the minimum of waiting.

To draw an analogy, you don’t need a timetable (or face a 20-30 minute wait) when driving your car through a major intersection or freeway interchange.

Some services already run frequently — in peak hour particularly. Thanks to governments of both persuasion now recognising its importance (and/or being forced to add services thanks to overcrowding), as well as the transport bureaucracy getting behind it, more parts of the network are getting to that magic “every 10 minutes” standard, though promotion to actually tell people it exists is lacking.

In fact while there are some issues with proposed Transdev bus service changes in 2015, one change that’s welcome is route 903 between Box Hill and Mordialloc (including Chadstone) will be upgraded to every 10 minutes on Saturdays. Unfortunately the western end of that Smartbus route, at Altona, will suffer from service cuts of up to 50% — the current 15 minute off-peak service will go to 30 minutes. Apparently this is due to the former government’s wish to squeeze more efficiencies out of the bus operators — not necessarily a bad thing, but it may have gone too far. A case of one step forward, one step back?

There is a plan for frequent services

PTV have a plan to make more buses and trains run more frequently, all day every day. Trams are almost there, but could also do with a boost. (The PTV tram plan hasn’t been revealed.)

And the beauty of it is, many service upgrades are possible now, particularly at off-peak times, without huge investment in infrastructure, so there’s a huge opportunity to make a lot of progress in the next four years.

We’ll find out who the new Public Transport Minister is today — let’s hope they and the Premier will be keen to push ahead with implementing Melbourne’s frequent network.

Update: Lynne Kosky: Very sad to hear of former transport minister Lynne Kosky’s passing at just 56. It was under her that serious PT investment (especially train fleet expansion) started. This interactive graphic shows the projects underway in 2009, during her time as minister. (And no, she didn’t start Myki… that was a Peter Batchelor creation). RIP.

Update: New minister: Jacinta Allan is the new Public Transport minister. In related portfolios, Luke Donnelan got roads, and Richard Wynne got planning.