Ferries and underground railways!! … But why?

Yet again we have public figures extolling the virtues of technology over service in public transport.

Underground railways

Jeff Kennett thinks underground railways are the panacea:

“If I was able to wave a magic wand even now, I would start the planning for an underground rail system,” he told the Australian Property Institute Pan Pacific Congress in Melbourne on Tuesday.

“It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but I can assure you when you look back in 50 years, or 100 years, whatever you pay today would seem cheap.

“We can hardly accommodate the traffic on the surface of our community in an efficient way and it is only going to get worse.”

AAP: Underground rail would be magic: Kennett

It’s great that the bloke behind Citylink (the inner-urban motorway that was meant to fix Melbourne’s traffic — but didn’t) now understands that to move people more efficiently around big cities, you can’t do it with cars.

But without knowing exactly what else he said, he seems to not have realised that the (mostly European) cities that have underground railways have them because the city developed before the railways came.

In Australia it’s the opposite — the railways were built as the cities developed, so naturally the railways are at ground level because that’s the cheapest option.

The proposed Melbourne Metro tunnel is only a tunnel because now the inner-city is built-up, and if you’re going to do expansion of track capacity and serve the hospital precinct and St Kilda Road with heavy rail, it’s got to be underground.

The benefits of European rapid transit/metro systems aren’t because they’re underground (many aren’t outside city centres). The benefits are from having high-capacity, high-frequency services meaning large numbers of people can move quickly with minimal waiting, at any time of day, providing the sort of freedom of mobility the motor car can offer (better, in fact, given traffic levels in most cities).

This can be done with Australian suburban railways, by simply running more frequent trains all day every day, along with level crossing removal, and better connecting feeder buses to make more trips viable without a car.

Ferries

Proposed Melbourne ferry mapMeanwhile, Melbourne Lord Mayoral candidate Robert Doyle is pushing ferries:

At the launch of “Team Doyle” this morning on the banks of the Yarra River, lord mayoral candidate Mr Doyle said the ferry trial would cost about $500,000, would run five times a day and take about thirty minutes to sail between three stops.

Mr Doyle said existing water taxis and ferry services mainly operated on weekends and the new service would help workers who want to travel around Docklands.

The Age: Doyle pledges free Docklands ferry

Five times a day? You’re kidding me.

Aimed at workers? What Docklands workers are going to wait 1-2 hours for a ferry, which will take 30 minutes to cover a distance they could walk in 17 minutes?

Tourists would probably like it, but for workers/commuters, how does this solve anything, except perhaps for a struggling ferry operator who would appreciate $500,000 a year in revenue?

Sorry Robert, but unless vital information is missing, this idea makes no sense at all.

It’s not about infrastructure

When will our leaders figure out that better public transport is not about digging tunnels or exploring new modes such as ferries? It’s about dependable, well-connected, capacious, safe, fast, frequent services.

If a ferry or an underground railway or a maglev or a monorail is being proposed, the first question should be: does it cost-effectively deliver on the basic requirements of good public transport and improve mobility? And is it better/cheaper/quicker than upgrading what we already have now?