A couple of weeks ago it was highlighted that, not for the first time, Melbourne Zoo is seeking an additional one thousand public car spaces.
It seems they want to turn Royal Park into Royal Car Park.
For an organisation dedicated to animals, you’d think they’d understand the importance of the natural environment. They seem pretty keen to cover the Park in concrete and asphalt.
Okay, so they’d like to make it easier for more people to get to the Zoo. But bringing them by car, to a prized park in the inner-city, should be the least preferred option.
While the Zoo is served by a train line and two tram lines, they leave a lot to be desired. So rather than pave paradise, there are numerous things that could help people get there without driving.
Zoo parking is some of the cheapest in Melbourne
Car parking at the Zoo is ridiculously cheap. As highlighted in The Age’s article, it’s only $2 for up to five hours, making it some of the cheapest paid parking anywhere in inner Melbourne.
Apparently on no less than 93 days per year the car park reaches capacity.
By comparison at some other zoos around Australia:
- Sydney Taronga Zoo: $18
- Adelaide Zoo: Limited metered street parking, or a special $10 per day (weekends only) offer
- Perth Zoo: From $2.40 per hour, or $5.50 per day
- National Zoo, Canberra seems to be the only one where parking is free… but then, it does seem to be outside Canberra’s built-up area, so presumably land is plentiful.
Increasing the $2 parking fee is not unreasonable (remembering admission is $32.50). It could reduce demand, make other modes more cost-competitive, help bring down the admission price, or fund improvements.
The train line is one the least frequent in Melbourne
The Upfield line only runs about every 20 minutes, including peak hours.
On Sunday mornings before 10am it’s only every 40 minutes. Given the Zoo opens at 9am, this is hopeless, especially given most suburban visitors will be connecting from other lines. Long waits for connections is a great way to ensure the train doesn’t get repeat customers.
How about running the trains more frequently? The single track at the northern end of the line is an issue, but it can be done at least as far out as Coburg. Trains every 10 minutes on this line has been done before – as recently as 2006 for the Commonwealth Games, to help get people to and from venues at… Royal Park.
(A peak-hour upgrade to have trains every 11 minutes as far as Coburg was at one stage planned for 2015. This was postponed, and it’s unclear when it will happen.)
Step off a train at Royal Park platform 2 (from the city), and exit the station. Where’s the Zoo?
You can’t actually see it, and the only wayfinding sign present doesn’t point you towards it.
If you counter-intuitively look at the other side of this sign, then there’s an arrow pointing you in the right direction.
When I was there looking around, I actually saw people off the train looking for the Zoo, and was able to help them.
Surely we can do better than this.
Now get across the road
If you can find the way, from the station to the Zoo entrance is only a short walk. But you have to cross a road.
There’s not much traffic, but I saw families head across without looking. One group realised halfway across that a vehicle was coming, and stopped in the middle of the road to let it pass.
The very least they could do is put a crossing here to make it easier and safer. Ideally a zebra crossing, but that might cause issues due to the boom gates being so close; it might have to be a signalised crossing synchronised with the level crossing. If so, it should have a very quick response time.
While people using the train get no help to cross the road, in contrast there are zebra crossings further along the same road… to help people coming from the car parks. I mean, come on.
Route 55 passes right by the Zoo. Route 19 passes nearby on Royal Parade, though it’s a bit of a walk from the stop — about 600 metres.
Just like in the hospital precinct, both tram services lack accessibility, important for those with mobility aids/wheelchairs, but also prams.
Route 19 has low-floor trams, but no platform stops nearby.
Route 55 has platform stops adjacent to the Zoo, but runs all high-floor trams. The plan to merge routes 8 and 55 should fix this by providing at least some low-floor trams onto route 55, though there are as-yet no platform stops along that route within the CBD.
Local bus route 505 runs via the Zoo, between Moonee Ponds and Melbourne University. But it’s very infrequent; only every 40-60 minutes on weekdays; every 60 minutes on weekends, so it’s not very useful.
The stops aren’t ideally-placed; the one closest to the Zoo entrance is by the railway station (so suffers similar access issues to the station), the other stop which is actually called “Melbourne Zoo” is poorly placed for both Zoo entrances.
Given you might be trying to attract occasional users travelling in family groups, it might also pay to have some kind of joint ticketing deal, or group travel offer, with public transport users able to pay for Zoo entry at their local station and bypass the admission queues. This type of arrangement helps attract people heading to the Royal Show, for instance.
The only real-time information in the vicinity is in the railway station. At the exit to platform one there’s a display telling you… how long until the next tram.
This is part of a program to assist connections between trains and trams. In principle it’s a great idea, though in this case, I wonder if the potential for connections from inbound trains to trams is a bit limited.
Anyway, putting Passenger Information Displays in the station for train departures would be an obvious upgrade (and one that has been done at many stations around the network recently).
Given the technology now exists to provide real-time information for all public transport modes, can they rig up a screen near the Zoo exit telling you how much time until the next trains, trams or buses? If it’s a long wait, you could choose to wander around for a bit longer. (Disclaimer: it’s been a while since I’ve been inside the Zoo. They might already have it… But somehow I doubt it. Also, despite PTV claiming all metropolitan buses are included, it appears bus 505 doesn’t have it yet.)
Make it easier
So let’s summarise: if the Zoo wants to make it easier for people to get there, there are things they can work with appropriate authorities to improve the non-car modes, rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars per space to cover more of the park in asphalt.
First, the easy stuff:
- Change the car park pricing to reflect demand
- Put signage at the station so bewildered visitors can easily find the Zoo entrance
- Install a crossing to make it easier and safer to get from the station to the Zoo
- Real-time information screens at the station and at the Zoo exit
Other changes are more tricky, but there’s a huge pay-off if the system is easier to use. (And again, remember: even if you don’t value parkland, building a thousand car spots could easily cost tens of millions of dollars.)
- Lobby the state government to improve train services. An upgrade of Sunday morning services to at least every 20 minutes is a must, but so too is improving the peak and all-day service to every 10 minutes. (The roll-out plan for this has stalled, but when achieved would mean it is super-easy to get from most places on the train network to the Zoo with a minimum of waiting.)
- Likewise, lobby the government to improve tram services and provide accessible stops and trams, especially on route 55 but also on route 19.
- More buses on route 505 won’t really help people coming from the CBD and elsewhere on the PT network (the route doesn’t actually connect with any trains except at Royal Park, but could improve connectivity from some local suburbs, and changes could be considered as part of bus route reform in the area.
Maybe the Zoo is already lobbying for these changes, but it’s not obvious. Every time information about their efforts comes out, it’s all to do with roads and cars.
Admittedly I haven’t looked at cycling options.
What other changes would improve things for Zoo visitors and staff so they don’t have to drive?
- 20/6/2017: Petra Stock weighs in: Paving Royal Park for car parks