I’ve been listening to a lot of transport-related podcasts recently. Almost all of them are from outside Australia. (Here is a list of some from November 2015; I mean to post another list at some stage soon.)
Every time I listen to one of the overseas podcasts, I ponder what someone from Melbourne would say if asked to introduce Melbourne’s public transport in 2 minutes.
Here’s my attempt:
Melbourne was founded when white settlers arrived in the 1830s, making it a similar age to many of Australia’s biggest cities, but it really started to grow during the 1850s gold rush. The first railways were built around this time, with land and railway speculation leading development into the suburbs during the late-1800s. The suburban rail network as we know it was mostly completed by 1910.
Cable trams and later electric trams developed between the 1880s and 1930s, and unlike in much of the western world, most of the tram network was retained, meaning we have one of the biggest tram networks in the world, making trams something of a city icon. Most of the tram network is street-based, leading to challenges due to car traffic.
There is also an extensive number of bus routes, particularly in suburbs developed since the 1930s, though buses are often overlooked due to the high profile of the trams and trains, and service quality varies widely.
Today, greater Melbourne has a population of roughly 4.5 million people. The public transport network was in decline between the 1950s and 1990s as cars took over, development spread away from the tram and railway lines, and government investment focused on motorways. As in other western cities, this hasn’t gone well – at peak hour much of the road network is predictably congested, no matter how much they expand it.
With recent strong population growth and in particular employment growth in the Central Business District, public transport patronage has gone through the roof, leading to overcrowding on some services, and a push for investment in new infrastructure and services. Growth in car use has tapered off, as population density increases in the inner suburbs, though cars continue to dominate in the middle and outer suburbs.
Today, the train network is slowly transitioning from a suburban commuter network into a metro, and the state regional rail network (at least the sections within 90 minutes of Melbourne) is morphing into a commuter railway. The tram network is modernising with longer larger accessible low-floor trams and platform stops, and is transitioning to light rail. Some bus upgrades are coming through too, but with all three modes there are growing pains, and a long way to go.
What did I miss?