The State Budget was last Thursday, and I went along to the stakeholder lockup to peruse the Budget Papers and quiz the government officials.
From a public transport perspective there’s not the huge amount of new spending we’ve seen in some years.
See the PTUA view here, but some of the notable items include:
$985.8m for 25 new X’Trapolis 2.0 trains and upgrades at the Craigieburn Train Maintenance Facility to help manage them (it’s not clear how much goes to the trains and how much to the TMF)
$613.1m for “Regional rail sustainability” to boost V/Line maintenance works to help improve reliability
$93.6m for works to enable 9 car V/Locity V/Line trains from Wyndham Vale and Melton – arguably just a stopgap to help those services deal with growing demand in Melbourne’s west, ahead of hopefully a future investment in electrification and track expansion.
$240.1m for Caulfield junction rationalisation – a surprisingly pricy project for what at first glance looks like just removing a few points. There’s more to it than that, but one benefit is it will enable faster train speeds. And I’m told it’s necessary to enable High Capacity Signalling, which will run from Dandenong through to Sunshine (and later the Airport) – the tracks with HCS need to be as separate as possible from the other lines.
$2m for Caulfield interchange upgrades – that is planning money. Such upgrades will become very important when the Metro tunnel opens in 2025. Hopefully further funding for the actual work in the next year or two. I’m hoping for a new concourse.
$10.5m to re-open the Lydiard Street, Ballarat level crossing
$367.6m for infrastructure to support new trams (sounds like it’s power upgrades and tram stop alterations), upgrades at Southbank depot, and a new tram depot/maintenance facility in Melbourne’s north west. My assumption is this is to help relieve space issues at Essendon and enable larger (and low floor) trams to be used on routes 57 and 82. Where would they put it? Not sure, though in the 80s there was a plan for a depot at Airport West.
$42.4m for tram separation improvements (already going in around the CBD) and other minor upgrades, and $25m for minor tram stop upgrades. All good, but actual accessible tram stop upgrades are still pretty thin on the ground. It’s hard to see how the government will meet the 2022 target of all tram stops being accessible, unless they hope to somehow have it include some criteria such as tactiles, but exclude level boarding!
And for buses? Mostly minor changes and upgrades (about $15m/year in total) which seem to be largely targeted at maintaining service levels while extending some routes to keep up with urban growth and road network changes.
- Continued ongoing funding for some routes recently introduced such as 444 (Rockbank) and 454 (Cobblebank) and school routes in Shepparton and Horsham
- Modified alignments for route 181 (Werribee-Hoppers Crossing) and 605 (City-Gardenvale)
- Extension of Clyde routes 897 and 898 further east
- New routes from Tarneit station: 154 to Tarneit North and 155 to Tarneit North West
- simplification of Yarra Valley routes including on route 685 to Healesville
- Broadmeadows route 538 to be more direct
- Parkville route 505 a few additional services
- …and also some bus interchange upgrades at Berwick, Glenroy, Lilydale, Chelsea, Hampton – some linked to level crossing removal projects
There is a more solid bus service upgrade for SoCross to FishBend buses 235/237, which is good, given the growing importance of Fishermans Bend. (I still think they should terminate those routes at Southern Cross to improve reliability and frequency on the main part of the route.)
And apparently there’s also some planning work starting on gearing up for future bus network reform. So while the buses are not getting a big boost this time, it does point to more action in coming years – sorely needed.
I haven’t listed everything new – there is some other funding. You can read it all in the Budget Papers (specifically BP3).
It’s all worthwhile, though I get the sense the focus of the budget this year was elsewhere, and fair enough – mental health reform is very important.
And of course we’re 18 months out from an election, so it’s not unreasonable to expect they’d hold off on really big announcements this year.
Also remember that transport infrastructure has got a lot of funding in recent years, and many of those major projects (Suburban Rail Loop, Airport Rail, Metro tunnel and others including at least three major motorway projects) are still in progress.
The problem is that funding of public transport services is still lacking, and not much new money has been coming through.
One would hope that the long-term effects of COVID-19 on travel patterns sees the government look seriously at how public transport can stay relevant.
Large numbers of white collar workers are at still home at least part time, so it’s no coincidence that bus journeys (and car journeys) have recovered faster than train and tram – as seen in the charts in this Guardian article.
And I’m betting off-peak and non-CBD patronage has also come back stronger than peak and CBD, for the same reason.
The opportunity here is to use the pause in peak CBD commuting growth to hold off on (invariably very expensive) peak upgrades for a bit – and focus on off-peak/weekend/evening and suburban services for a while, where good upgrades are more affordable because they often don’t rely on expensive fleet and infrastructure investment.
But will the decision-makers in transport realise this, and act accordingly? I guess we’ll see.