The Herald Sun reports the government is planning big changes to Melbourne public transport fares:
The radical changes, being unveiled today ahead of the State Budget, would cap maximum daily fares at the Zone 1 rate across Melbourne’s entire tram, rail and bus network.
And CBD and Docklands trams would be free under the changes, due to take effect on New Year’s Day.
The cost of the windfall, to be funded in the May Budget, has been estimated at $100 million a year.
– Herald Sun: Commuters in Melbourne’s outer suburbs to see public transport costs slashed by up to $1200 a year in proposed changes by State Government
This is bad policy on a couple of fronts.
Free rides for CBD motorists
Firstly, if CBD and Docklands trams are made free, then the major beneficiaries are people who drive into the CBD.
People who’ve used public transport to get into the city gain no benefit (other than perhaps slightly faster loading trams) because unlike in cities such as Perth, the Myki daily cap system means their CBD trips, for instance at lunchtime, are already paid for.
Flat fares = higher base fares
Merging/removal of zone 2, as I noted in this post last year, over time, this is likely to put upward pressure on all fares.
Adelaide went to a flat fare many years ago. As of the last comprehensive check, it also had Australia’s highest fares for trips below 20km.
In Melbourne, people already complain that any trip in zone 1, even one stop, is $3.58.
The removal of Melbourne’s zone 3 in 2007 also added to upward pressure on fares:
- In 2006 a Z1 daily (using 5xDaily or 10×2 hour fares, the equivalent of today’s Myki Money) was $5.34. That’s now $7.16 — a jump of 34% (compared to about 21% inflation in that time).
- Meanwhile Z2 (only) daily fares went from $3.68 to $4.96, a jump of 35%.
- Zone 1+2 daily fares leapt from $9.02 to $12.12 in that time, 34%
- Before the zone 3 removal, a Zone 1+2+3 daily was $10.44. It dropped once zone 3 went to $9.02, but has now climbed back up to $12.12 — up 16%.
(The post last year also notes some benefits, of course. It’s not black and white. One benefit would be that presumably touch-off would become optional for most suburban trips, though this has caused mass confusion on the trams.)
What about better services?
$100 million sucked out of fare revenue is another whittling away at funds which could be better used to upgrade services, which is where I’d rather see it go.
For most, particularly in the outer suburbs which will primarily benefit from this plan, the problem isn’t the fares, it’s the infrequent, inadequate services.
In the long run, service upgrades such as PTV’s plans for lots of frequent suburban buses, would benefit outer suburban families more, given most of them don’t commute to the CBD every day, by giving them better transport options for their suburban trips.
Other reforms could include more zones (so the jump between them is less severe), changing zone boundaries and overlaps to remove anomalies, single zone fares for buses (which would cost very little, but enhance the feeder/connection role for them), or cutting all fares by 20% (which would also cost about $100 million/year).
But if the government’s proposed change goes through, it’s unlikely a change of government would reverse it. We just had a CPI+5% rise, and another is expected next year. Obviously two-zone travellers are about to benefit in the short term, but expect many more big rises for everybody in the future to cover the shortfall.
How soon before that one stop trip on a tram (outside the CBD that is) costs $5?
Update 1pm — the government has published the map showing where the free tram rides would be. Note the Museum is just outside the area. And is it telling that the biggest dot is a freeway interchange?
Update — Thursday
Perhaps Alanis Morissette summed up the free trams proposal best, with regard to existing public transport commuters:
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid.
But what perhaps is ironic is that for a free zone supposedly aimed at business and tourist travellers, attractions such as the Casino, Arts Centre and Museum are just outside the free area. Even Federation Square is shown as outside it, which is odd.
Explaining to people where the free rides start and end will be a challenge.
How it’ll all work
My educated guesses, gleaned from the info out there:
- No touch-on (and indeed, no Myki) required for tram rides entirely in the free area
- Zone 2 will become part of the Zone 1+2 overlap area, meaning trips entirely in the old zone 2 area will require touch on/off to get the cheaper zone 2-only fare
- Default fare will be a zone 1 fare, meaning for most trips, touch-off is not required — just like the trams now. This — at least — should have benefits in cutting suburban station exit queues in rush hour.
- It’ll also help the role of connecting bus services around the zone overlap areas, and take pressure off zone 1 station car parks (though as noted previously, this is confined to a relatively limited number of locations. But it may have the reverse effect at some zone 2 stations.
- It’s unclear if V/Line stations in zone 2 are included in this. At least one report has stated: The changes do not apply to V/Line fares — but it’s still early days, and it’s obvious this package was put together in a hurry, and perhaps without fully thinking through the implications.
Obviously the most significant thing is it’s likely to make two-zone trips much more attractive to people, and the government (whichever flavour after November, given Labor has said they’ll also implement the change) will have to be very careful about adding extra services where needed to cope with this.
Ditto CBD trams, likely to become more crowded at peak (including lunchtime).
There are also sorts of other implications that need to be thought through — the deployment of tram AOs won’t be needed in the CBD, but may become prominent just outside it. Attractions such as the Zoo will still be very keen to ensure Myki is continued to be marketed to tourists.
It’s still not clear where the $100m/year will come from. Perhaps it should be part funded by a further increase in the CBD/inner-city car park levy, given the car park operators inside the free tram area will be beneficiaries of this. There’s a huge car park at Etihad stadium, for instance. They must be delighted.
Let’s hope the next policy announcements are about the things that will benefit PT (and potential PT) users more… service upgrades.