Thatcher and her privatisation legacy

It’s inevitable that the passing of Margaret Thatcher would provoke mixed responses. Such polarising figures often do.

She may have been a trailblazer for women in power in the western world, but I don’t remember her time as Prime Minister fondly. I was young and perhaps it was a naive viewpoint, but I remember the early-80s under her and Reagan as a time of real fear from nuclear war.

The real situation probably wasn’t that fraught (people cleverer than me could theorise how tough-talking from the west helped bring down the iron curtain), but some have pointed out that Thatcher was against German reunification and did not support sanctions for South Africa against Apartheid.

In terms of lasting legacies, the one that sticks out for me was that her privatisation of numerous nationalised industries.

Wikipedia notes:

Thatcher always resisted rail privatisation and was said to have told Transport Secretary Nicholas Ridley “Railway privatisation will be the Waterloo of this government. Please never mention the railways to me again.” Shortly before her resignation, she accepted the arguments for privatising British Rail, which her successor John Major implemented in 1994. The Economist later considered the move to have been “a disaster”.

Disaster indeed. My mother recounted how, on a visit to Britain after it happened, at a railway station a staff member couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give her any information about a different train company that also happened to serve that station.

Half the train network

In transport and in other sectors, this mess was later replicated here in Victoria — perfectly illustrated by this on-board train map from the early Connex days. It not only excludes the half of the network that Connex didn’t run, it also excludes the underground Loop stations where Connex did run, because these stations were managed by the other operator.

Later reforms, both here and in the UK, fixed many of the issues around privatisation.

Some industries, including public transport, can’t rely on companies that only compete, and never co-operate. PT operators need to work together to form a network — because their real competitor is the private car.

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit off my original topic. But that’s blogging, right?

Abbott reckons the Commonwealth doesn’t fund railways… Of course they do. Here are some examples.

“We spoke to Infrastructure Australia and their advice was that the most pressing road priority in Melbourne was the east-west link,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Frankston on Thursday.

“Now the Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads. We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.”

The Age

Perhaps the Federal Coalition has no history of funding urban rail, but the Commonwealth most certainly does.

Commonwealth Railways locomotive

Several urban rail projects are currently being built with Commonwealth funding:

Moreton Bay rail link (Qld) — $742m from the Commonwealth, $300m plus land from the Queensland government, and $105m from the local council.

Regional Rail Link (Vic) — which despite its name, is entirely within Melbourne, and will serve two new suburban stations at Tarneit and Wyndham Vale. $3.225 billion from the Commonwealth government, and about a billion from the state.

Perth City Link — is a sinking of one rail line in inner-city Perth, with $236 million of Commonwealth funding for rail infrastructure.

Adelaide rail electrification is a $400 million project, which includes Commonwealth funding.

Not heavy rail, but certainly urban: the Gold Coast light rail project includes Commonwealth funding.

In recent times, other projects have gained Commonwealth funding. In Victoria alone there’s been $95 million from the Feds for inner-Melbourne rail freight upgrades, $30 million for level crossing upgrades (some in regional areas, some metropolitan), and $40 million for planning work for the Metro rail tunnel… with rumours today that the tunnel will get more funding, presumably if Federal Labor is re-elected.

Going back a few years, Melbourne’s Cranbourne line was upgraded and electrified in the 90s with money from the Commonwealth’s Building Better Cities scheme.

Commonwealth funding was also used for the “4D” double-deck development train.

These are just the projects I found during a quick search around on Google last night. No doubt there are others.

Despite what Abbott thinks, the real distinction (which is more relevant to PT than to roads) is that the Commonwealth gives once-off funding. What they don’t generally do is recurrent funding — required to actually run public transport, but also required to maintain roads — in fact people often forget that the rough cost of roads maintenance is about 1% of the construction cost per year.

The Commonwealth can fund what they like

It might be convention for conservatives not to fund urban rail, but there’s no reason they can’t. It’s entirely up to them.

I think all but the most car-centric person would see that in modern growing cities, you can’t move everybody around by road — that rail, particularly in inner-city areas, is much more efficient.

Unfortunately unlike some of his Liberal colleagues (and unlike conservatives in such places as the UK), Tony Abbott does appear to be the most car-centric person.

It comes down to this: if you want more people on public transport, provide more public transport. If you want more people on the roads, build more roads. Abbott is clearly backing the latter.

In the 21st century, with car use waning and urban public transport booming, this is a regressive stance, and should make people think twice about voting for the Coalition in September.

Tracking Southland station: any progress since the 2010 election?

Southland station makes sense. The rail line runs adjacent to the west side of the centre. It’s the kind of destination midway along the line which can boost patronage (eg get people out of cars) without putting pressure on peak hour services.

Southland car park

“But…” FAQs

It’s too close to Highett/Cheltenham! — no, it’d be about 1.2km to Highett, and 1.1km to Cheltenham, making the spacing similar to inner-city line sections, and in fact wider than the Ormond to Moorabbin section.

Parking would be a problem — no, not if Westfield applies parking limits (as long as 4-6 hours) and properly enforces them. Commuters should not be able to park at Southland.

It would kill Highett and/or Cheltenham and their shopping centres — no, because they would maintain their commuter car parks and bus connections, as well as considerable walk-up patronage. Southland would be primarily for inbound passengers, and those within walking distance for whom it is more convenient.

The other stations are close enough for people to walk — the nearest to Southland is Cheltenham, more than ten minutes walk away. People don’t live in railway stations — they’ve already made the effort to get on the train at their journey origin. Make them walk another ten minutes at their destination and they won’t do it. They don’t do it. Barely anybody catches the train to Southland now.

People can use the connecting buses — there are a number of buses, all fairly infrequent — hopelessly so on the busiest (weekend) shopping days, in fact it’s common to see the bus terminus completely devoid of buses. None of them are coordinated to connect with trains. At Cheltenham they depart from several different bus stops. Again, this is why few people catch the train to Southland.

Southland bus terminal, Sunday afternoon - not a bus in sight


Before the election

Both major parties promised to build Southland station. The Labor pledge was for a $45 million station, apparently including moving the existing bus terminus — which I’d argue is unnecessary, because almost all the bus routes involved intersect the Frankston line at other stations.

The Coalition policy was, in their exact words:

The $13 million Southland Railway Station on the Frankston line between Highett and Cheltenham will feature two platforms and ramps and lifts for full-time access by commuters with a disability, senior citizens, mothers with prams and children with bicycles.

Construction of the station will feature:

  • a two-bay bus interchange;
  • an enclosed waiting room on at least one platform;
  • closed-circuit TV monitoring on both platforms;
  • a secure Parkiteer bicycle cage on the city-bound platform;
  • tactile paving on both platforms; and
  • a designated drop-off and pick-up area.

– Press release: Coalition to rebuild the basics of Vic public transport network, 14/11/2010

After the election

So, what’s happened since the election? Some of the references found in a trawl of Hansard…

Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder, 21/12/2010:

I thank the member for her question in relation to the Southland railway station. As the member will be aware, there was a great deal of discussion within the broader community as to the cost and configuration of railway stations under the former Labor government. In particular the member would be aware that a consultant had a look at this particular station and costed it in the order of $10 million to $13 million.

In relation to Southland and other railway stations, I have given my department instructions to go back and look at the functionality and design of some of these stations, because under the previous government they were completely and totally out of control. There were no cost pressures put on the department to come up with functional designs that met the community’s expectations. That is what we are doing. That is the path we are going to go down. We want to make sure that we get value for money. The consultant’s report said it all. It was provided to the previous Labor government, but it did not know how to control costs.

Hansard

Local newspaper, 12/1/2011:

Mr Mulder denied the project had been shelved, but would not provide any construction details.

“The Coalition Government is currently finalising the timetable for building the new Southland railway station,” Mr Mulder said.

“This commitment remains an important part of the government’s public transport initiatives. Further announcements will be made in due course.” Former Labor public transport minster and now government scrutiny spokesman Martin Pakula said this failure was one of several Liberal back-pedalling moves.

Mr Pakula said the $13 million was never a creditable budget for the station – the ALP projected it would cost $45 million – and was a bogus election promise. “Fixing the problems is harder than just putting together a press release,” he said.

Moorabbin Leader, 12/1/2011: Southland Station ‘back-pedal’

Member for Bentleigh Elizabeth Miller, April 2011:

During the election campaign I made a commitment to my electorate of Bentleigh to see a railway station built at Southland shopping centre. This is a piece of infrastructure that is long overdue, which is symbolic of the previous Labor government’s inability to provide for our growing community. I ask the minister to provide an update on this commitment and on when my electorate can expect construction of this railway station to commence.

Hansard

Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder, in response to the above, 7/4/2011:

I am delighted to inform the house that the Department of Transport has already undertaken a concept development study into the proposed Southland railway station and in the next couple of weeks the department expects to recommend that it move to the next step, which includes a concept design for the station plus scoping and costing. The issue of scoping and costing points to the difference between the new coalition government in Victoria and the former Labor government.

Hansard

Member for Bentleigh Elizabeth Miller, talking about the state budget, 26/5/2011:

Some $700 000 has been allocated to begin planning for the railway station proposed for Southland, which will mean fewer cars on the road and increased patronage on public transport. Of course increased accessibility will mean more trade for retailers. This is an example of a project that has actually been thought through by a government and will produce benefits in the variety of ways which I have just outlined.

We are a responsible government. This is an important project that will seriously improve access to Southland shopping centre. Given its importance, it is critical to ensure that we get it right — and get it right we will. We will have a measured, rational study into what is required, so we are not going to waste the money. We will set out a defined, clear plan and get it right, and the people of Bentleigh and the residents around that shopping precinct will all benefit. The previous Labor government’s record of cost blow-outs exposed the fact that it did not adequately plan projects, and we are determined that this will not happen under a Baillieu government.

Hansard

Minister for Public Transport Terry Mulder, 25/10/2011:

I also understand from the feedback I am getting from the department that the planning and design work is going well. The coalition government’s station user panel is also assisting the Department of Transport in the development of these proposals. Given that we had so many disasters with railway station developments under the former Labor government we felt it was important to put in place a station user panel. We do not want similar issues with the projects we embark on.

We therefore have a very strong panel to inform design and look at issues in relation to functionality around stations.

The member for Bentleigh will be delighted to hear that Southland station is getting that level of support. The government expects formal community consultation to commence around March. The government will also be seeking input from community members about the design of the station and will work with the station user panel, using the concept design prepared by GHD as a reference point. Many major stakeholders are also giving feedback. I would like to thank the local councils for their interest and work in that regard. I can inform the member for Bentleigh that the Department of Transport will be having further discussions with shopping centre owners Ventana Pty Ltd, the Westfield Group and AMP in relation to this very important project. It is an exciting project which will increase the accessibility of Southland shopping centre and the bulk goods retail stores nearby, not to mention the local light industrial areas.

Hansard

Lee Tarlamis, upper house member for Southeast Metropolitan, 7/6/2012:

Another commitment that was made before the election was for a train station at Southland. This budget is silent on funding for the $13 million promised at the last election. I recognise that $700 000 has been allocated for planning, but if this promise is to be fulfilled in this term, as postulated by the members for Bentleigh and Mordialloc in the Assembly, money needs to be allocated in the budget to build it. Members of the government have called me a liar for pursuing this issue of funding and the government’s commitment to it, but until it allocates the money we can only assume it is not committed to this project.

Hansard

Local paper, 13/11/2012:

PLANS for a railway station at Southland (pictured) are still on track, the Transport Minister promises.

State Public Transport Terry Mulder said despite no obvious progression in the past two years, the station would definitely be delivered.

The Coalition in the 2010 election gained power by just one seat – on a platform of improving public transport, especially along the Frankston line. Both parties spruiked a new Bay Rd station as a key policy of their campaigns.

But no physical work has started on the project, designed to improve access to the shopping centre and provide another commuting gateway for Cheltenham residents.

Mr Mulder said things were progressing behind the scenes. “The Southland station project continues to be in planning and development,” he said.

“Public Transport Victoria is working to identify the exact location of a station, indicative station layout and access requirements and connections with local bus routes, roads and surrounding residents and businesses.”

Bayside Leader 13/11/2012: Mulder pledge on Southland

The Age, yesterday, in an article about the marginal seats along the Frankston line:

It is a similar story for Bentleigh’s Elizabeth Miller although somewhat alarmingly one of her big campaign promises – to build a station at Southland for $13 million – will not be honoured in the Baillieu government’s first term.

The Age, 27/11/2012

So there we have it.

In summary, apparently some study work has happened, but little visible progress, no construction funding, and they’ve finally admitted it won’t be delivered during this term of government.

Meanwhile the next section of the Dingley Bypass, a pseudo-freeway from the eastern end of Moorabbin to Dingley Village, is going ahead at a cost of $156 million — or ten times the Southland station pledge.

(I’m not sure how Vicroads gets away with describing it as a new road from Warrigal Road, given the first section already exists as the South Road extension, built only in 2007.)

Vicroads are supremely well-organised, of course. The plans for the Dingley Bypass have been sitting around for decades, and you can be sure it’ll be finished first.

Update February 2014: Southland got funding in the 2013 budget for an unknown amount, but as of early 2014 no construction work has been done.

As a pedestrian, I hate streets with only one footpath

The Greens are traditionally strong on sustainable transport issues, but one of the local candidates for council raised my hackles with this comment:

Do we really need footpaths on both sides of the street, in every street in Tucker Ward? There are plenty of places without footpaths or footpaths just on one side. This would save a whole lot of concrete / resources and it looks much better.

Brett Hedger on Facebook

Yes, we quite definitely need footpaths on both sides of the street.

There are few things that make pedestrians (and by definition, this includes all public transport users) feel like second class citizens more than a lack of footpaths.

Leary Avenue, East Bentleigh

In many cases it forces people to cross roads where they wouldn’t otherwise be compelled to — in some cases twice, to avoid walking on the grass.

It’s doubly worse for those of limited mobility, including those with wheelchairs and other walking aids, and for parents with prams.

A side effect of no footpaths is blurred property boundaries, resulting in some overzealous home owners encroaching, resulting in public space effectively lost.

I spoke to Brett’s running mate Rose Read at Bentleigh station on Thursday morning. I think she has an understanding of why I disagree with Brett.

Brett has emphasised in an update overnight that his comment shouldn’t be taken out of context, and that’s fair enough. It’s not like he was stating a big policy position — he was just kicking an idea around. This is worth emphasising: I must give Brett credit for engaging with the community, throwing his thoughts out there and being willing to debate and discuss them, which is a lot more than some other candidates have done.

But I’d be frankly horrified if it was actually proposed to start removing any footpaths, or routinely build streets with only one.

Unlikely? One would hope so. But there is a live example, in Glen Eira, in this ward, right now:

In East Bentleigh, the area behind Valkstone Primary School is being re-developed. While most of the streets have footpaths on both sides, the access road (pictured above) east through to GESAC and East Boundary Road only has a path on the southern side, so if you’re from the north side of the access road, headed north on foot, you have to cross it twice… and this being the only road out in that direction, is likely to get reasonably busy at peak times when the estate is finished.

Sure, open space is a concern. But changes such as only providing one footpath will actively discourage walking and public transport, and encourage car use — that’s no solution at all in urban environments.

One possible way forward (not in the example above, but in quiet streets that don’t get through-traffic) might be what the Dutch call woonerfs — shared spaces, where the road is de-emphasised, allowing other users into the space, slowing down cars and making more effective use of space.

In Australian terms it’s (more or less) a Shared Zone, and there are examples such as this one on the Williamstown Rifle Range estate, developed about 15 years ago.


View Larger Map

That said, I wonder if the average person understands how to use a Shared Zone — in particular that the law says that vehicles must give way to pedestrians.

But whatever the solution, the last thing we’d want around here is more streets missing footpaths.

Almost election day for local councils

Just a few notes about the council elections, which officially take place on Saturday (though many areas are postal ballots, thus a lot of people have already voted).

A fascinating article in The Age the other day with former Glen Eira mayor Helen Whiteside saying she wonders why people bother trying to get onto the council.

Glen Eira council election billboard

It doesn’t seem to have deterred the candidates, of course. One, Raj Dudeja, appears to have spent a small fortune putting up billboards right across Tucker ward. Yet curiously I haven’t seen him at all campaigning in person on Centre Road, whereas most of the others have put in an appearance either in the street on the weekend or at the railway station on weekday mornings. (He may well have been around and I simply haven’t run into him.)

The two Greens candidates have been particularly prominent, as have incumbents Oscar Lobo and Jamie Hyams. New independent Newton Gatoff has been out and about both on the street and in his decorated car, and I’ve also spotted Rodney Andonopoulos been driving around. I think I’ve spotted Phillip De’Ath (my kids jokingly call him Phillip Death) and a few others handing out their brochures and talking to constituents. Apparently it’s been similar in other wards.

Glen Eira council election campaigning

Those I’ve asked how they think they’ll go say they really have no idea — the lack of polls makes it impossible to tell. They say it’s just a matter of getting their names out there (hence the use of posters, billboards, and signs on cars).

They seem to take the view that most people aren’t that concerned by how the council is run, and agree when I suggest that unless people see garbage piling up in the streets, they assume there’s no problem.

But some of the new candidates have highlighted issues, such as Councillor Penhalluriack’s controversial conflicts of interest, and the recent case of the council wanting to extract a fee from frisbee players in Caulfield Park.

Glen Eira council posters

Brett Hedger, Greens Candidate has an interesting Facebook page that profiles other candidates (and tries via the How To Vote cards to identify the stooges and highlight those with undeclared party affiliations) and notes the shops that have apparently taken sides by only accepting one candidate’s poster.

It’ll be interesting to see how the vote goes. And given we’re one of the few council areas with attendance voting, I’m hoping that means there’ll be a sausage sizzle on polling day!

Local council elections: Saturday October 27th

It’s local council election time again. Candidates have been prominent around the streets of Bentleigh, and at least one billboard has popped-up, nicely located so you can see it as you come down this street:

Local council election billboard

I haven’t decided who to vote for yet. Oscar Lobo, pictured above, is running again, and was one of those who responded to my queries on public transport the last time around, along with Jamie Hyams, who I ran into in Centre Road on Saturday morning.

Also spotted recently around the streets have been Brett Mason Hedger (Greens) and Rose Read (Greens — she introduced herself to me on the train one morning, and we had a good chat).

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as the campaign hots up in the next few weeks.

Update: The complete list of candidates (for every council area) has been posted on the VEC web site. In Tucker Ward, there are 14 candidates for 3 seats.

My federal MP’s Twitter feed: relentlessly negative

Because I’m interested in politics, I make it my practice to follow various politicians on Twitter, whether I agree with them or not, including all the local ones I can find.

Andrew Robb on Twitter

My local federal MP Andrew Robb would have to have the single most relentlessly negative Twitter feed of any of them.

Here’s all his Tweets for the past week (excluding retweets and also those addressed to other people, therefore not showing up in most users’ timelines).

  • I see Wayne Swan has a juvenile petition out on cruel cuts, I presume he’s referring to his cruel cuts to community grants. #hypocrite.
  • Swan and Wong need to stop the spin and explain Labor’s $120 BILLION BLACK HOLE.
  • Labor has reached the dangerous stage, saying and promising anything to save political skin. #Labor’s$120billionblackhole.
  • Chickens come home to roost – Labor’s $120 billion budget black hole revealed in Fin Review.
  • Financial Review reveals Labor’s $120 billion black hole.
  • Is there a policy Labor has implemented without botching it?? Think pink batts, NBN, mining tax, carbon tax, live cattle, border protection.
  • Let’s judge Labor’s record debt by Australian standards, rather than against the basket cases of the world. It leaves us vulnerable.
  • If Labor is returning to surplus why in budget did they raise the Commonwealth debt ceiling to an unprecedented $250 BILLION??
  • Why did Labor tell us net debt would peak at $94.4 billion two years ago, but now it’s $145 billion? Only $50 BILLION out!
  • $4.1 billion unfunded dental promise, part of Labor’s $100 BILLION BLACK HOLE of unfunded or hidden budget liabilities.
  • Labor promises $4.1 billion for dental scheme but can’t say how it will be funded. That means higher taxes or more record debt.
  • Labor has reached the dangerous stage. $100 billion worth of commitments either hidden or unfunded. #Laborblackhole
  • Penny Wong’s credibility through the ‘floor’, see what she said before & after Labor’s carbon tax floor price backdown.
  • Labor told us the carbon tax floor price was needed for certainty, now they tell us the opposite. They are a shambles.
  • Labor’s carbon tax chaos recipe for budget black hole but Combet says trust our modelling!!!
  • At last election Penny Wong said net debt would peak at $94.4 billion; now that figure is $145 billion. A $50 BILLION blow-out in 2 years!
  • Penny Wong fails to lock in prosperity as under Labor Australia has become a less attractive place to do business. [link]
  • Penny Wong in denial. BHP has warned for months investment climate is being crippled by carbon & mining taxes & other sovereign risk issues.

It’s all attacking Labor. EVERY. SINGLE. TWEET.

Not a single comment about what he would do in government.

Not even a single comment on what he thinks Labor should do.

Even Tony Abbott, derided by Labor as “Doctor No”, often tweets about the people he meets and the events he attends.

As the next generation of voters increasingly get their information from social media rather than mainstream media, it’s going to become important for politicians to represent themselves better through avenues like Twitter. With a growing and changing population, even Goldstein won’t be blue-ribbon Liberal forever.

C’mon Andrew, surely you can do better than this. Just for a moment, stop telling us why you think the other guys are idiots, and instead tell us why we should vote for you.

Metro apostrophe crimes! (and will the next state election again swing on PT?)

As if disrupted trains weren’t enough, now we have Metro apostrophe crimes.
Metro apostrophe crime
(from Channel 10 news 25/6/2012: Commute derailed)

Metro was already having a bad Monday morning peak with the inner part of the Sandringham line suspended due to a maintenance train derailing overnight. Things didn’t improve when at about 7:15 the outer section of the Cranbourne line also went down, and it just got worse when at 8:10 a train caused an overhead power fault at Caulfield. By 8:40, they were evacuating that train and others, as these snaps I grabbed from a passing Frankston line train show:

Passengers evacuate a train at Caulfield, 25/6/201227a

Passengers evacuate a train at Caulfield, 25/6/2012

They weren’t the best pictures, but thanks to Twitter, what they did do was alert journalists that there was a major disruption emerging at Caulfield. The second pic got picked up by The Age, though far better was a pic and video shot by Gavin Tan on Twitter:

Now, the maintenance train derailing on the Sandringham line could be just bad luck. Metro are pointing at vandalism for the Caulfield problem. And the Cranbourne issue (which seemed to recur on Monday afternoon)? We don’t know.

But it all underscores just how fragile and troubleprone the rail network continues to be.

The political fallout

While Metro might be the operator, it’s the level of investment, and the level of scrutiny of the operator that must ensure a good outcome. And that’s the government’s job.

The last state election was won and lost on public transport — both sides said so.

Not everybody uses the trains, but everybody knows somebody that uses the trains. In the 2010 election campaign, they were a powerful symbol of a government failing to deliver.

Will history repeat in 2014?