Melbourne’s station parking problem

Melbourne’s rail network already has some huge car parks, up to 1000 spaces at some stations, as many as a medium-sized shopping centre. There are more than 40,000 spaces across the Metro network, and thousands more on V/Line. Unlike in some cities, they’re all free.

The common complaint is that all station car parks fill up between 7 and 8am each weekday.

Presumably because car parks are so visible and politically popular, the politicians love building more. Here’s Labor’s pledge:

The problem is that building big suburban car parks is not an efficient way to get more people onto public transport.

  • It takes away valuable land around stations
  • It adds to local traffic congestion
  • It undermines more efficient alternatives by slowing down buses and trams, and making walking and cycling less pleasant
  • It requires that users can drive and have a vehicle that want to leave there all day, meaning it’s expensive for commuters
  • Like all solutions involving individual motor vehicles, it doesn’t scale due to the space required
  • It’s really, really expensive. The 1600 planned spaces for western suburbs stations will cost an average of $14,000 each, but at Tarneit it’s an eye-popping $37,500 per space (presumably multi-storey).
  • And worst of all, it’ll STILL be full by 8am (because demand always outstrips supply — Tarneit is a station that didn’t even exist 4 years ago, and it already has 1000 spaces) — so it won’t actually fix the problem
  • This means it only caters for (some) peak commuters, and undermines the efficiency of the whole train system by providing poor access for the rest of the day

I’m not going to tell you to vote for the other guys, because they want to do the same thing.

For example the Coalition has pledged $30 million for an additional 450 spaces, an amazing $66,000 per space. That’s about 7,600 daily fares, or more than 30 years of Monday to Friday commuting — almost 40 years if using a Yearly fare.

It’ll never even come close to recouping its costs. How is this seen as a sensible investment?

The Greens notably have policies around better buses, rather than more car parks, but are unlikely to be running the government anytime soon.

Sure, bigger car parks will get a few more people onto trains, but it’s far from the most efficient way of doing it. What about finding a method that’s cheaper, causes fewer problems, is more scalable, and doesn’t assume train passengers have a car?

Tarneit station

Park and ride has its place. It’s appropriate for urban fringe areas where land is cheap and not suited to other uses such as residential or commercial development, walking and cycling distances for people are too far, and density doesn’t support good bus services.

Perhaps it’s time to consider applying a small fee to help offset the cost and discourage those with alternatives, combined with a rebate for those driving to the station from areas with no other options?

There is one arguable benefit from big car parks at stations that someone well-connected pointed out to me the other day: it’s a method of land banking for future development.

Elsternwick might be an example. Some years ago, the decades-old ground level parking got converted to multi-storey, freeing up space for apartments and retail. I don’t think the retail has been a raging success, but the theory is good… though in practice, given the cost of multi-storey, I’m not surprised it doesn’t happen very often.

Alternatives to driving to the station

The mystery to me is: in suburban areas, when the walking/cycling and bus options are all crap, but could be viable with a little more investment, how come the answer from both sides is always “spend $$$ on more parking”, given it doesn’t solve the problem, and creates others?

“But Daniel, nobody wants to use the bus”. Nope, completely untrue. Here’s a crowd at Tarneit who are more than willing to catch a bus home, but they’re left waiting. Route 167 only runs every half-hour. Apparently the solution is to pay millions to get them to drive to the station instead.

Tarneit station bus stop

“But Daniel, most people drive to the station!” No they don’t. Even in zone 2, a minority of people drive to the station.

The stats for 2013-14 show 27.9% of weekday access to stations (excluding the CBD) was by car. It was higher in zone 2, lower in zone 1, but driving to the station is a minority mode in all areas, with only some individual stations having a majority of arrivals by car.

It just looks like most people drive, because the car parks take up so much damn space.

Station access 2013-14 (PTV data)
(This graph is from the 2015 post, which used slightly older figures. Unfortunately there are no figures after 2015 showing the effects of zone changes, and none for V/Line stations like Tarneit and Wyndham Vale.)

Now, I’m not about to tell people they should go and walk along terrible unlit footpaths, or use a second-rate bus service.

People will use what’s most convenient. Remember, transport is supply-led.

But the infuriating thing is that every time the government has tried upgrading connecting buses, people have flocked to them. Even my local 703 route, which is okay during peak but very poor after the PM peak, gets a crowd every morning and every night.

703 bus arrives at Bentleigh station

Other stations with feeder buses running at good frequencies also get lots of people connecting by bus.

  • Bayside City Council is currently trialling a free commuter bus service, running every ten minutes each morning and evening peak to/from Middle Brighton station. Details

Some stations also have substantial levels of bicycle access, often outstripping capacity of bike cages. At Newport, where the Parkiteer cage is regularly full, locals resorted to the Pick My Project initiative to try and get another one… it wasn’t selected. Given one cage storing 26 bikes takes the space of about 2 cars, and is something like an eighth of the cost, why isn’t government just routinely installing more bike parking, either cages or another design, as demand grows?

And at almost all stations, more people walk to the station than drive, despite often adverse walking conditions.

All these can be improved at far less than $37,500 per car space. Why are these modes not getting more investment?

Public transport shouldn’t require that users own a car. There are proven fixes that are cheaper, can get people to the station even if travelling after morning peak, that don’t take up lots of space around stations, and don’t contribute to local traffic congestion.

If only the politicians could see it.

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22 Replies to “Melbourne’s station parking problem”

  1. Hi David, very good analysis. We need more buses in growth areas. On demand public transport is another option. Wynbus another pickmyproject initiative for on demand public transport in point cook received sixth highest number of votes across western metropolitan Melbourne. Fb.com/wynbus. It also won govhack Wyndham award

  2. I’d catch a bus to the station if I could but I’m in one of those areas where the buses run around every 30-40 minutes. Plus, the bus takes an hour vs. thirty-five minutes driving and if I want to go anywhere on Sunday, the earliest bus leaves my stop at 9am. I don’t want to drive to the station, but I have to if I want to save time and it’s so frustrating. I’d much rather a government invested in better public transport rather than carparks.

  3. You can also look at it from a cost per person angle. Most cars have one person in them, so you have almost $37,500 per person. The 26-bike cage caters for 26 people (unless they fit tandems!), so if that’s as big as two car spaces you can divide the cost per person by 13.

  4. Great article, Daniel. I’m sure The Age would be interested in publishing this as an opinion piece.

    When the state government needed Westfield’s cooperation to open the new Southland station, I wonder how much it cost taxpayers to compensate Westfield for all the infrastructure needed to ensure Southland shopping centre did NOT become a commuter car park?!

  5. One fact that is hard to overlook is that areas such as Tarneit are vast dormitory suburbs, on a scale that you need to see to believe. And Labour Govts have been too keen to extend the urban growth boundary, but less keen to keep up the necessary infrastructure. For those in the inner west, we are gearing up to bear the brunt of more overcrowded trains, plus overcrowded roads. The Westgate Tunnel Project will not solve the problem, despite the spin. It will back to the current levels of service within 5 years. Meanwhile the Govt is spending money on unnecessary level crossing removals. The entire level xing removal program should’ve been better targeted to ensure that xings are removed and immediately the train services are increased. Only now, in the second batch of xing removals is Andrews adding Hoppers Crossing! It should’ve been one of the first to go.

  6. I’ll often visit my friend who lives in Cranbourne West on a weekday evening. If I want to reduce the walk from Cranbourne station and catch the 897 bus part of the way, it’s clearly evident that no thought whatsoever has gone into any sort of timetable coordination.

    434 train arrival, bus leaves at 449 (15 minute wait)
    454, 509, (15)
    514, 529, (15)
    533/549, 550, (17)/(1)
    608, 608, (0)
    622, 634, (12)
    636, 654, (18)

    Two impossible options unless the bus is running late, then a best case scenario of a 12 minute wait. There is also the caveat that since many Cranbourne bus routes were altered two years ago, real time tracking has *still* not been re-activated for most of these routes (I emailed PTV back in March, who told me they hope to have this resolved ‘in the coming months’).

    My best case scenario for minimal waiting times is to catch a late-running Cranbourne train (thank you real time train tracking), hope it doesn’t get terminated early at Dandenong due to the single track limitations, then hope the bus is on time.

  7. People who walk, are mostly walking less than a km. 1.5 km, tops.

    If you build train lines which are 3 km apart, then everyone is within 1.5 km of a station. Problem solved. But there are never going to be that many train lines outside the inner suburbs.

    When people are buying houses, people who expect to spend their career in the cbd area, will make a extra effort to buy houses within walking distance of the station. Whereas, people who are not focussed on the cbd as a probably job locale, don’t care nearly as much and will buy houses anywhere. But, people’s career expectation change. And the market generally is so unaffordable, that people cannot necessarily fund the extra expense of buying close to the station.

    I don’t think that people queing at those bus stops are very happy at all. They are probably poor people who don’t have a car. Or more likely, don’t have a 2-car household.

    When I was young, and didn’t have a car, it used to really annoy me that the 20 km on the train from the cbd, was quicker than the last 3 km to get home from the station on the crappy bus. Not to mention, if I needed to go out somewhere else in the car that evening anyway, or even to the supermarket, could drive directly from the station.

  8. Here’s an obvious solution: charge for parking.

    Parking near stations is a scarce commodity. While the first empty space of the day is presumably not very valuable (say, 10 cents for the whole day), the last empty space is surely of great value to commuters – perhaps $20 or more.

    Dynamic pricing allows PTV to maximise revenue for future public transport investment while providing a useful service to those who value it most. You could also link parking fees to myki cards and even offer periodic parking subscriptions.

    It’s logical and efficient. And, I imagine, utterly beyond the courage of any Victorian politician.

  9. 2016 Census data for Melbourne (Greater Capital City Statistical Area, place of work basis) shows that 63% of those who caught a train as part of their trip to work must’ve walked to the station (i.e. train only), 15% used another public transport method as well (although that could well have been at the other end in some cases), 11% presumably drove to the station (car, as driver – that’s almost 28,000 cars), and a very small group (1% or less) rode to the station. There were also almost 6,000 people who must’ve been driven to the station (car, as passenger). Another 19,000 used multiple non-train methods – so could’ve driven or ridden to the station and caught a tram at the other end. This is a very brief analysis based on the very basic Community Profile table – but you could probably look at this data for areas in the vicinity of stations like Tarneit and Wyndham Vale, and see how that compares. Given its location, I’d say that Tarneit has very little walk-up traffic!

    Someone might already have done this type of analysis!

  10. I’d much rather leave my car at home and catch a bus simply because I prefer the passive security of it being in my driveway during the day (intruders still think car = people home), as well as not having to worry about my car sitting in a relatively insecure and deserted railway car park all day long. I’m sure there’s a lot of people who think the same way too.

  11. You write that it is “a mystery” to you why both sides propose spending more on free parking. Really? A mystery? Aren’t they all politicians? What politicians DO is curry favor with other people’s money. Parking like all other services should pay its way with fees and charges on users. Of course there will be both overbuilding and shortages without charges that reflect the full costs. Only support politicians who promise to privatize parking so it ceases to political pork.

  12. The parkiteer bicycle cages aren’t particularly efficient uses of space, up to 30 or so bicycle in the space of 4-5 cars (assuming you only use car parking space). These standalone structures that PTV seem so enamoured with, bike cages, PSO offices, automated toilets, etc might be flexible to deploy and move around but they take up more space than a single building housing it all in one.

  13. Yes, we need more buses in growth areas, but I think some consideration of what the actual “potential lift” of a transport network WITHOUT park and ride is.

    Where around 50%!!!! of people are presently arriving at train stations by WALKING, then the productive capacity of each station is significantly limited by its WALKABLE CATCHMENT. Which is actually a pretty small number in zone one, and much smaller in zone 2.

    The world in which people go from most people walking to stations to suddenly buses being the majority mode of arrival is a MASSIVE quantum leap. These ‘final yards’ journeys are not by and large causing congestion across the network, and not providing car parking at suburban stations, would in THIS reality actually reduce public transport usage.

  14. There should be Myki barriers for cars on the entries and exits of public transport car parks, to make sure that they are used by fare payers (non-PT users might still use them but would have to pay at least PT fares to use them, the entry barriers are so they pay daily or periodical fares instead of 2-hour fares (unless they are using them short term)).

    A small additional charge for public transport parking, to encourage people to walk or cycles or use other PT to get to the station, seems reasonable. It should however not be so high that it discourages people who would otherwise drive all the way. The extra fee would need to vary between zones (higher in zone 1) and could be lower for people who arrive after 9:30am or so. The extra fee need not apply to cars that vacate the car park before 7:15am, arrive after 6pm or on weekends or public holiday.

    Combining services into combined buildings seems like a good idea and is happening in some of the newly grade-separated stations. Longer and thus more capacious bike cages are a good idea, particularly at high demand locations

  15. I’m really pleased to see that the 767 bus stops at the new Hughesdale railway station are right near the station entries – this goes a long way to making connections work better. Hopefully there are plans to increase the frequency as well. I’m one of the many who walks to the station (less than 500 m) and then walk again at my destination (about 1.5 k), and then do it all again in the evening. It’s an easy option to get some activity in your day so has many benefits.

  16. Melbourne bus system is so annoying. So few Smartbus/frequent service routes. And so many meandering routes that run 30 mins peak 1 hr offpeak and finish at 8pm. No wonder they are mostly empty. People want a reliable frequent service that goes reasonably late. Just join up all the employment education, comercial clusters with frequent routes. Auckland have recently redesigned their complete bus network. We can’t even ditch the Hope(less) St bus, where the walk to adjacent parallel routes was about 300m either side because 3 old ladies complained. And don’t get me started on the retarded PTV app for bus expected arrival times – times jump around all over the place and then the bus doesn’t even turn up – useless. Rant ends.

  17. Ten minute bus services (five minutes in peak hours) would remove the objection many people have about using buses.
    Combined with more practical routes (within 500 m of any home), they would be well patronised. If introduced, it would take time, but they would end up being well patronised.

  18. Regarding the suggestion of Myki barriers to stop non-PT users, at some stations in Perth this is enforced without barriers.

    It works like this: you can only pay for parking with Smartrider (=Myki – all Perth stations have pay parking). If you buy a parking ticket but then don’t catch a train/bus, the system picks it up and blocks you from buying another parking ticket. To lift the block, you have to catch a bus to/from the same station. I believe this is gradually being rolled out at all stations.

    From the website:
    “When you’re using your SmartRider to pay for parking, you must tag on to a bus or train to or from the station you parked at on the same day that you parked. If you don’t, you won’t be able to use your SmartRider to pay for parking the next time you park. If this happens to you, you’ll need to make a Transperth journey using your SmartRider either to or from the station you last paid for parking at. Once this has been done it can take up to three days for your SmartRider to work on the parking machines again.”

  19. Regarding bus routes I’m in agreement with most people here. Another comment I’ll add here is to possibly run 30 min services for the meandering routes as a supplementary to service the less able folks, which I remember seeing in another transport planning website – forgot exactly where. The majority should be able to walk to a main route on a main road that comes, say, every 5-10 mins.

    Also, if the train is delayed, then either the connecting bus should be waiting at the station to meet the train, or another bus should be standing by as a substitute if the former procedure isn’t possible. (This is assuming that the train comes, say, once every 15 mins or less.) That’s basically how connecting flights work, and from what I’ve heard, how connecting conventional/slower trains in Japan work when the Shinkansen is delayed.

  20. Look I do respect on your thoughts but you have been harping on about this for a while. How often do you take a bus and for how long. I hope this isnt some ivory tower talk. The public certainly feels entitled considering we grew 1 million in 10 years and because of this force growth car traffic has been bad. No one likes to take the bus. If it’s so great why do doncaster ppl complain all the time.

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