Just pretend you live there

I could grumble about the trains yesterday, and the apparent lack of security on the last weekend of the school holidays that allowed 16 trains to be vandalised, but I won’t, since I already did that on Twitter (live from the scene, as it were).

People complain about railway station car parking. That there’s never enough. And on the face of it, that’s true: the car parks tend to fill up by midway through the morning peak hour. So people who are outside walking distance of a railway station can’t get to the trains after that.

So why don’t they build more spaces? They do, but what people don’t realise is that car parking is incredibly expensive: it can easily cost thousands of dollars per space to seal a car park and paint lines and install lighting and build access driveways and everything else — $2 million for 120 spaces at Huntingdale station comes out at an incredible $17,000 per space. And if you think that’s high, once you get into building multi-level car parks, the cost goes through the stratosphere. At a return of one paying customer per day, in most cases it really doesn’t stack up.

How big a problem is the lack of parking? Sure, it’s very visible, but in fact there are “only” 30,000 railway station spaces, and more than ten times that number use the trains each weekday. The vast majority of train passengers in Melbourne don’t drive to the station, but walk. But with something like 80% of people living outside walking distance to a station, and connecting services mostly being utterly appalling, clearly more needs to be done to help people get to the trains.

Upgrading connecting bus and tram routes (with proper services that run every few minutes, meet every train and drop you at the door of the station) would not only provide more people with the option leaving the car at home altogether (or in fact reducing the number of cars required in their households), it would also mean local public transport services improved for people who didn’t even need to use the trains.

But that’s not really what I wanted to write about.

On days that I have to drop the kids at school or my mum’s (neither of which are easily accessible by public transport), I drop them in the car, then drive to the nearest station to catch a train into the city. There’s no really viable alternative, not without waiting ages for buses. But of course by the time I get to the train, it’s usually the tail end of peak hour, so the station car parks are full.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you’re prepared for a five-ish minute walk, there is NO problem with parking. At the places I’ve tried, I can ALWAYS find unlimited free parking within five minutes’ walk — ten minutes tops. I’ve done this at Glenhuntly, Ormond, Brighton Beach, even that bastion of inner-burbs living, Balaclava, which has no station car park at all. And for many of these locations, the bulk of the walk to the train is underneath the shop awnings, so it’s not even a huge problem if it’s pissing down rain.

Just pretend you live there, and you walked from home.

So, it isn’t scalable — it’d never work if lots of people did it — but until the government get their act together with proper feeder services, if you have a problem with car parking at stations after peak hour, using your feet may be the answer.