“People should be able to choose their mode of travel”

“RACV has a very clear view that people should be able to choose their mode of travel and not be confronted by artificial policy directions that constrain particular modes of travel…

– RACV spokesman Dave Jones, Herald Sun 9/12/2013

Yes, it’d be awful if artificial policy directions prevented people choosing their travel mode.

Policy directions such as transport provision skewed almost entirely in favour of cars, resulting in a failure to provide most suburbs with fast frequent public transport services.

Decades of building roads at almost any cost, but in many areas a lack of safe convenient walking and cycling routes.

Sixty years of policies which give many Melburnians little choice but to drive their cars.

Yes, that’d be no good.

(RACV was actually railing against efforts by Yarra Council to reduce the number of cars on inner-city roads.)

Traffic heading into Southland on a Saturday morning

It’s not hard to see the effect of the transport policies of the last half-century. At Southland on the weekend, motorists circled the car park looking for spaces. The alternative – mostly hourly buses – is no alternative whatsoever.

Frankston line – has train punctuality really improved? Well yes, but…

I noted this tweet from my local state MP, boasting of improved punctuality on the Frankston line since she and the Coalition came to power in November 2010:

But are these two figures really showing an improvement? Tony Smith on Twitter replied, pointing out that two data points aren’t a trend. (And I think he wants me to run for parliament.)

Funny thing is, my records show punctuality was actually lower than Ms Miller quoted in November 2010 — at just 73.5% (arrivals within 5 minutes). I suspect she was looking at the November 2011 figure.

Here’s the period in question on a graph, with a trend line added.

Frankston line punctuality

So yes, the trend is up.

But there’s a problem with the Coalition claiming credit for it. The biggest boost in punctuality in mid-2011 was when a timetable re-write was introduced, separating out most weekday services from the Dandenong line. It also cut the myriad of stopping patterns. But that timetable was largely prepared while Labor was still in power.

The other relevant changes during the Coalition’s term (apart from very welcome boosts in weekend frequency) were timetable tweaks providing a longer running time on the line (in some cases leaving multimillion dollar trains sitting idle waiting for the timetable to catch up), and Metro’s new habit of skipping stations (either bypassing them completely by running direct instead of via the Loop, or running express where scheduled to stop) to catch up time.

Metro would claim that this is to keep trains in position by ensuring one service delay doesn’t cascade into the next, but on occasions they have been found to be doing this where it didn’t make operational sense — such as this example, where an evening shoulder-peak train was altered to stop at just a handful of stations, despite plenty of trains being available for its return run.

Train altered to skip 9 of its 15 stops

Network-wide the punctuality trend is also up, though it’s less pronounced:

metro-punc

So overall, there’s no denying the punctuality stats have improved since November 2010.

But what about…

But what about a graph of that other big election promise for the Frankston line?

Frankston line - Southland station

Not so impressive. Today’s Age reports some progress, but with no station now expected until 2016/17, and a question mark over the facilities it will provide, clearly there’s a way to go.

Photos from ten years ago – September 2003

By September 2003, I was using the digital camera a little more.

Yum yum yum — doughnuts at the Queen Victoria Market
Queen Victoria Market, 2003

One for the gunzels — trains in the yards outside Spencer Street Station (click here to see it bigger)
Trains outside Spencer Street, 2003

Here’s one showing the old Spencer Street building… I think those who complain about the new station have forgotten just how dumpy it was (though the subway was very handy).
Spencer Street Station, 2003

A better view of one of the platforms. You can see in the background they’re building the Collins Street bridge.
Spencer Street Station, 2003

Here’s a Siemens train at Murrumbeena, in its original colours. Not very appealing.
Siemens train showing original livery, 2003

Those who catch Eastern Freeway buses might remember how crowded the old Swanston Street stop used to get at peak times.
Lonsdale Street main bus stop at Swanston Street, 2003

Later in the evening, the central entrance to Flinders Street Station — often left unstaffed.
Flinders Street, centre entrance, 2003

Me in the garden in the rented house in Carnegie, trying to keep the lawn under control.
Mowing the garden in Carnegie, 2003

Down in Cheltenham, Southland Station, without its station then… and that still hasn’t changed.
Southland - no station, 2003

While we wait for Southland Station, road funding rolls on. #SpringSt

Next Tuesday’s state budget is probably the last chance the government has to fund Southland station as promised and have work well underway by the time the next election comes around.

Southland: No railway station, and an overflowing carpark

Given a string of seats along the Frankston line swung on public transport issues, if it doesn’t get funding, I reckon there’ll be some nervous local Coalition MPs.

I won’t recount the recent history again, but let’s assume for a moment that the Coalition’s $13 million costing for the station was too low. And let’s assume that Labor’s $45 million was too high (as it included moving the existing bus interchange, which I still think is not a priority). What if for argument’s sake, the real cost was going to be, say, $30 million?

And how would that $30 million, which would benefit people right along the Frankston line corridor, compare to the various road projects that have been funded recently?

A quick skim of the Vicroads web site, excluding public transport projects such as grade separations and tram and bus lanes, shows the following, mostly relatively minor, projects:

I’ve also excluded another $170 million of various road upgrade projects announced yesterday — apparently mostly repairs to deteriorating country road surfaces, rather than road expansion.

Now, I’m not saying that specific projects on the above list should not have been funded — I don’t know enough about them — for all I know, some might be bringing genuinely needed safety improvements, for example. (The Dingley Arterial, however, in my view is just a continuation of past rampant freeway building in the misguided belief that it’ll fix traffic congestion.)

Nor am I saying that PT has received no funding since the election.

But the projects above, which have been funded and commenced with relatively little fuss, and many of which I suspect weren’t even in the Coalition’s election manifesto, add up to $471 million — or more than fifteen times the cost of Southland station.

You have to hand it to the roads guys. While the marginal seats that gave the Coalition the last election keep waiting for Southland station, road funding keeps rolling on.

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.

Update April 2014: On 23/4/2014 the government announced the cost of the project was now $21 million, and that early works will commence soon, with the station opening in 2016.