It’s well known that the Free Tram Zone worsened CBD tram crowding, but the package of fare reforms implemented in 2015 (planned by the Napthine government, matched by Labor) also capped zone 1+2 fares at zone 1 prices.
This removed a long-time bugbear in the fare system: the huge jump from going over the zone boundary. New statistics show the effects.
Herald Sun today: Fare change driving commuter surge towards to outer suburban stations
Here’s the data showing 2014-19 patronage changes plotted onto a map:
- Red = patronage reduced by more than 1.5%
- Yellow = patronage steady: slight drop, or increase up to 8%.
- Light green = increases up to 22%.
- Dark green = larger increases
Overall network growth was 7%, but clearly some stations have done better than others.
Network-wide, three of the top four were in residential growth areas:
- 1. Officer – an amazing 537% increase in 5 years, coming off a low base
- 2. Diggers Rest – up 234%
- 4. Williams Landing – up 117%
- Shown in dark green, there was also strong growth on the outer ends of the Sunbury, Craigieburn and Pakenham lines
On the boundary
You can also see many of the drops (red) were at the edge of Zone 1, with some big increases (green and dark green) just over the boundary in Zone 2.
Jacana was the third highest rise overall with 183% growth. Ruthven came in fifth at 99% growth. Along with Gowrie (91%), Patterson (68%), Jordanville (54%), Aircraft (49%) – these are all stations which are the first on their line outside Zone 1.
On some lines, the next couple of stations along also saw growth, eg Williams Landing (fourth highest, 117%) – this got the double whammy of zone changes and growth area.
It’s clear that what’s happened is the effective removal of the zone boundary for trips into zone 1 mean that some people switched to these stations when the trip to the City became cheaper.
You might jump in your car to drive to zone 1 to avoid a huge surcharge, but if that surcharge is removed, you’d aim for a station closer to home.
Those just inside Zone 1 that lost patronage included many park and ride favourites: Laverton -20%, Mont Albert, Holmesglen and Reservoir (all -19%), and Brighton Beach -10.6%.
Reductions seem to have been more than matched by overall growth. Using Brighton Beach as an example: Annual boardings fell by about 53,000 over five years, but growth at the Zone 2 stations further down that line more than made up for it: Hampton up 131,000; Sandringham 191,000.
Of the zone 2 stations, Hoppers Crossing and Werribee had notable drops, probably due to Regional Rail Link opening in mid-2015, with stations closer to home for those living in Wyndham Vale and Tarneit.
What’s capping train use now?
For a growing city like Melbourne, it’s important to continue to foster growth in train network usage. Patronage and services are not currently keeping up with population growth, and this needs to be turned around.
Peak hour is difficult until the Metro tunnel opens, but this should unlock a lot more peak capacity when it’s commissioned in 2025.
In the meantime, a lot more can be done to spread peak loads by cutting off-peak waiting times. This would also relieve the crowding that is now a regular sight on the lines still running 20 minute off-peak services.
The reliance on car parking also needs to be overcome. The biggest car parks are never enough to satisfy demand. Alongside better walking and cycling options, better connecting buses are desperately needed, especially in the outer suburbs where service levels are poor.
While we wait for the tunnel, more services – on the trains and on the buses – are the key to helping more people catch trains. And the more people catching trains, the better.
- Previous map: Services vs patronage