Congestion is not the enemy

This in the Herald Sun a few weeks ago: Melbourne traffic congestion on par with world’s biggest cities like London, Rome and New York (paywall):

TRAFFIC congestion in Melbourne is on par with New York and could rival the world’s worst cities if nothing is done to combat the problem.

Figures supplied by Tom Tom show congestion levels in Melbourne are at 33 per cent compared to its population.

This means motorists are sitting in peak hour congestion a third longer than if the traffic was free-flowing.

And then this in The Age: Melbourne now as clogged as Sydney, and the city’s north-east has worst traffic:

The Grattan Institute research is based on an analysis of Google map data for more than 300 routes in and out of Sydney and Melbourne. It was collected 25 times a day over 12 weeks between March and June 2017 and found:

An average morning commute to the Melbourne CBD by car takes almost 70 per cent longer than in the middle of the night.

These are based on very similar surveys: the Herald Sun used the much-criticised Tom Tom congestion survey. The Age used a Grattan Institute survey.

Both use the same flawed methodology. They compare a city’s traffic speed at quiet times with the traffic speed at peak hour.

Apart from assuming that getting around by car as fast as possible is automatically the most important thing, you get wacky conclusions because a city with 24/7 congestion (only slightly worse at peak hour) is deemed to be less congested than a city where most of the time there’s free-flowing traffic but for a couple of hours a day it’s proportionately worse.

(The Grattan Institute says there’s more coming. I hope it’s more well thought out than just looking at motor vehicle commuting.)

In any case, if this is our big conclusion that drives transport policy, I think we’re asking the wrong questions.

CBD traffic, Lonsdale and William Streets

The debate shouldn’t be about congestion

I don’t think the debate should be about congestion. It shouldn’t even be about mobility. It should be about access to opportunity: jobs, education, amenity.

It’s not about whether people who choose to drive* are delayed by others who choose to drive. It’s about whether everybody (including those who don’t drive) can get to the places they need to get to.

*Or are forced to do so for lack of viable alternatives.

(To contradict myself for a moment: congestion that gets in the way of efficient transport modes absolutely is the enemy. Ways need to be found to get pedestrians, bikes, trams, buses and trains around it, or at least through it quickly.)

One of the major benefits of a big city, if there are lots of opportunities well-serviced by public transport (and walking and cycling), is that it makes it easier for everyone, of every age, and every income level, to access them… provided they don’t insist on bringing their 2 tonne private vehicle, of course.

Bourke Street Mall, lunchtime

What sort of city do we want?

There’s also a lesson in the headlines. In the Herald Sun story, New York, London and Rome are cited, and compared to Melbourne. In other words, the most prosperous, vibrant, successful cities on Earth have congestion. And we’re becoming more like them.

Is that actually a bad thing?

As Samuel Schwartz says in his excellent book which I just finished reading:

…a study from Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute found a powerful correlation between per capita traffic delay and per capita GDP; and the correlation wasn’t negative, but the opposite. For every 10 percent increase in traffic delay, the study found a 3.4 percent increase in per capita GDP. It’s not that congestion itself increases economic productivity, but that places with a lot of congestion are economically vibrant; those without, not so much.

Should we really be trying to stamp out congestion, or should we look at how other cities deal with it?

The big world cities don’t deal with congestion by eliminating it – which basically isn’t possible; building more roads just grows more traffic.

Rather, they provide lots of ways of avoiding traffic congestion, by making sure more people can get around without driving in it and adding to it: by providing viable non-car modes for most trips, including non-work, non-CBD trips.

Decentralisation and liveability

Meanwhile, the state Coalition is calling for more decentralisation to maintain Melbourne’s liveability. By “liveability” I suspect they actually mean crowding and congestion.

Again, look around the world at the cities we might aspire to be.

What makes Melbourne’s congested city centre successful in this age of the Information Economy is lots of people in a relatively small space. The majority, who come in by train, are simply never affected by traffic congestion. (They are affected by rail disruptions such as last week’s major outage, but that’s not an everyday thing.)

Decentralisation plays against one of our key strengths.

Which is not to say we shouldn’t increase the number of viable business districts, if it’s possible.

But just moving lots of people to car-dominated regional towns doesn’t really help. As Alan Davies notes, decentralisation is just another name for regional sprawl. And replacing urban sprawl with regional sprawl isn’t actually a positive.

Okay I’ve rambled a bit again.

But my key point is: congestion isn’t our enemy. Lack, and inequity of access is what we should be talking about, and seeking to fix.

A (rational) conservative view of public transport

I recently read a book I bought a couple of years ago after seeing an interesting article about it: Moving Minds, Conservatives and Public Transit, by American conservatives Paul Weyrich (who passed away in 2008) and William Lind.

It’s an interesting read, providing a perspective on transport issues which isn’t often seen prominently, at least in an Australian context.

As I read (on my daily train journey!), I tweeted points I thought were worth noting, and I’ve included them all below.

There’s a lot in the book, but if I had to summarise, it would probably be these main points:

  • The current balance of car vs public transport is heavily skewed by decades of governments meddling with the free market, and providing massive subsidies to automobiles.
  • Road infrastructure is very expensive, and does not provide long-term congestion relief.
  • Urban rail infrastructure helps bring investment.
  • Investment in public transport can work towards many conservative goals, including access to employment (reducing dependence on welfare), “traditional” old-style town centres, increase in property values, reduction in reliance on foreign oil, and household budgetary savings from reducing the numbers of cars required
  • To attract choice riders to public transport, the service has to be high quality. They equate this to frequent rail services, claiming that most people won’t ride buses — though they concede buses can work well for short distances eg to get people to railway stations.
  • Old reliable technology is best (they don’t like monorails, for instance!), and more can be done to drive down costs of PT infrastructure.

Here’s all the points I posted in the tweets as I read. (Feel free to skip to the end for some more commentary about local context.)

“The rise of the automobile is not a free-market outcome. Rather, it is the result of massive govt intervention on the automobile’s behalf.”

1921: USA: $1.4 b in govt funds spent on highways, while most transit systems were privately owned with no govt assistance. #WeyrichLind

“the current division of market share between the automobile and mass transit is in no way the product of a free market.” #WeyrichLind p8

Switzerland more balanced transit/auto subsidies, enabling consumers “something of a free market choice between travel modes.”

#WeyrichLind p9 notes the minority (7%) of trips made by low-income people are on transit. And subsidies are higher for affluent commuters.

For the middle class, high-quality transit offers an…important benefit. It reduces the need to buy a new (or extra) car. #WeyrichLind p11

Quality mass transit can have a profound and positive effect on economic growth and development – and it gives examples. #WeyrichLind p14

#WeyrichLind: another important conservative goal served by public transit …is moving welfare recipients into productive employment.

Cultural conservatives (should note) mass transit’s …role in helping foster a sense of community. #WeyrichLind

#WeyrichLind p18 proposes regulation reform, including (controversially I think) watering down disability access requirements.

Conservatives point to low transit mode share, but if transit were removed, commuting in big cities would become impossible #WeyrichLind p24

“In urban areas, there isn’t any place to put more highways…(and) dissecting cities with…freeways makes them die.” #WeyrichLind p24

A better measurement than transit mode share is “transit competitive trips”, where transit is available, high quality. #WeyrichLind p24

“What has held down transit ridership is not unwillingness to use satisfactory transit, but its declining availability.” #WeyrichLind p25

“rail service is not automatically high-quality service.” Amen to that! #FrequencyIsFreedom #WeyrichLind p25

“Nothing drives (commuters) to their automobiles more quickly than an inability to trust transit” #WeyrichLind p26

“in today’s America, very, very few people have high-quality transit readily available.” #WeyrichLind p26 – Slightly better in AU. Slightly.

Some types of trips, such as shopping, have never been transit competitive. #WeyrichLind p26 – Hmm not sure I entirely agree.

Historically, transit served trips for work (commuting) and entertainment – cites baseball team “Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers” #WeyrichLind p29

Chicago Dan Ryan/Kennedy expressways carry 200K vehicles per day. Parallel railways 182K riders; if they drove, gridlock. #WeyrichLind p31

“When a rider has to wait up to a quarter of an hour (for a service) he starts thinking of getting around some other way.” #WeyrichLind p33

Hmm, this book seems to spend a lot of time claiming that “upmarket” people won’t use buses, will only use rail. #WeyrichLind

#WeyrichLind praises station parking, but says in walkable neighbourhoods it discourages pedestrians; transit-oriented development better.

“Hi-tech can be the enemy of rail transit.” #WeyrichLind p40 talking about cost blowouts, says use proven technology.

“When people travel, they want predictability, security and sameness.” #WeyrichLind p41 talking personal security, but it’s a broad truth.

#WeyrichLind p42 encourages premium/first class carriages/services. Hmmm. (Well, it is pitching to conservatives.)

#WeyrichLind p42 also floats the idea of seniors-only carriages/services to make seniors feel safe from crime. Hmmmm.

#WeyrichLind p43 talks about shops and other services such as childcare located at stations- Happily,Melb has this adjacent to most stations

“in one city after another…once people experience high quality (public transport) service, they want more.” #WeyrichLind p50

“On the train, your time is not wasted. …And if you walk to and from the station, you get to add some exercise to (your) day” #WeyrichLind

“You can never build enough roads to keep up with congestion. Traffic always rises to exceed capacity.” – Martin Wachs in #WeyrichLind p55

“A 1.0% increase in (road) lane miles induces a 0.9% increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled within five years.” – Mark Hansen. #WeyrichLind p55

1999 study of 68 urban areas “shows the greatest increases on congestion have been in areas that do not have rail transit” #WeyrichLind p55

Dallas light rail line delivers 20% more capacity than a 6 lane freeway at 14% less capital cost per mile. #WeyrichLind p56

St Louis study found only 17% of train users did not drive or had no car. Bus: 70% #WeyrichLind p57. (Might mean most buses poor frequency)

Rail less flexible than buses, but this is an advantage. Helps spur development. #WeyrichLind p58

Rail can serve suburban job growth if that growth is along serviceable corridors. And rail can help create those corridors. #WeyrichLind p60

#WeyrichLind p61 talks about importance of high quality bus connections from rail to employment centres. Think Melbourne’s 401/601 shuttles.

“In one city after another, rail transit has brought increased investment, higher property values/rent, more customers.” #WeyrichLind p62

In first 4 years of operation, $860m Dallas light rail attracted $800m of investment around stations. #WeyrichLind p63

San Fransisco study showed proximity to BART station added double real estate value than proximity to freeway interchanges. #WeyrichLind p64

San Diego survey found perception of transit safety much better among people that actually use it. #WeyrichLind p66

Any new development, including transit, has potential to increase crime, but can be prevented with proactive measures. #WeyrichLind p67

“we must question the assumption that light rail should have an ‘honor’ fare system and barrier-free entry” #FareEvasion #WeyrichLind p68

#WeyrichLind p69 cites systems (LA, St Louis, Denver) where conversion of bus to rail has increased overall patronage by double or more.

“private vehicle travelers attracted to rail transit are disproportionately drawn from single occupancy vehicles.” #WeyrichLind p69

PT is subsidised – in US, 65% of costs come from taxpayers. But roads are also subsidised. #WeyrichLind p71

Some claim PT average load of 20% of capacity (across day) is inefficient. How many seats occupied in aver car? Usually 1. #WeyrichLind p71

Figures show investment in transit results in more users. “If you build it, they will ride.” #WeyrichLind p74

In US, transit’s ratio of public benefits to public cost ranges from 4.0 to 5.1. #WeyrichLind p75 #BCR

“Rail transit proponents need to do a better job of conveying what it is they are asking people to (support).” #WeyrichLind p75 – Amen!

“Compared to conventional light rail, monorails are visually intrusive, technically complex and much,much more expensive. ” #WeyrichLind p76

“Politics have led to inefficiencies and failures in public transit.” #WeyrichLind p78 – Yup, definitely not USA-only.

For most of the 20th century, govt policy has conspired to make us dependent on automobiles for most of our travel. #WeyrichLind p79

Market share for transit is so small because most people have no access to a satisfactory service. #WeyrichLind p80

Noise from rail? Technology can help with that. Highway noise? Difficult to control noise from so many different vehicles. #WeyrichLind p86

Most Americans have never ridden a train of any kind. Most cities lost their rail transit at least half a century ago. #WeyrichLind p92

#WeyrichLind chapter 4 is about advocating “Bring back the streetcars!” as first step towards building a new PT network. Hmm.

This chapter also has throwaway lines such as about the Left condemning suburbs. Hmm, might be a US thing. #WeyrichLind

People see small historic towns, would like to live somewhere similar: mixed use,grid streets,designed for people not cars. #WeyrichLind p94

Streetcars say “This town, this downtown, is here to stay. It’s not going to go downhill again.” #WeyrichLind p95

#WeyrichLind p96 tries to distinguish between light rail and streetcars. Not sure it’s that simple eg Melbourne.

“Streetcar lines that are integrated into the local transit system are generally more useful, attract greater ridership” #WeyrichLind p100

“The greatest threat to America’s rail renaissance is escalating costs” #WeyrichLind p101 – a lesson there for us too?

Excessive rail construction costs are due to “overbuilding, gold plating and…placating NIMBYs” #WeyrichLind p102

“As conservatives, we find America’s past attractive. America in the streetcar era (about 1890-1950)…was a great place.” #WeyrichLind p110

Streetcars “should serve the Central Business District and serve it well (remember,Americans don’t like to walk very far)” #WeyrichLind p111

Chapter 5 is called “How transit benefits people who do not ride it.” #WeyrichLind

“Most conservatives do not ride transit. Why? Because in most of America, the high-quality transit conservatives demand is not available.”

#WeyrichLind chapter 5 on how transit benefits non-users. The three main points:

“First, transit can reduce traffic congestion, or at least the rate of increase in traffic congestion.” #WeyrichLind p117

“Second, everyone may need transit occasionally, to get to the big football game, car (being repaired) or snow 3 feet deep.” #WeyrichLind

“Third, transit can bring large increases in residential property values…can put money in homeowners’ pockets.” #WeyrichLind p117

“If new roads are built, 66% of Americans do not think congestion on the roads will be eased.” #WeyrichLind p119 quoting 2001 study.

“Just how strong can induced demand be? Some studies find an almost one-to-one relationship.” #WeyrichLind p119 #InducedTraffic

“A 1% increase in (road space) induces 0.9% increase Vehicle Miles Travelled within 5 years” #WeyrichLind p119 #InducedTraffic

“building more roads or adding lanes to existing freeways not only doesn’t work, it also costs a fortune.” #WeyrichLind p119 #InducedTraffic

A rail line can carry more people than a 6 lane highway taking 3 times the space. #WeyrichLind p120

“traffic congestion grew at a rate of 73% higher in non-rail cities, than in cities with rail in..major travel corridors.” #WeyrichLind p121

“75% of Portland’s PT users are car owners that have chosen transit over auto use, at least for some trips.” #WeyrichLind p122

Every choice rider on transit equals a car removed from traffic…people who drive should lead charge for more transit #WeyrichLind p122

“transit reduces energy consumption, & flow of petrodollars to people who like to crash airplanes into our skyscrapers” #WeyrichLind p124 !!

“transit the most effective strategy for…improving the environment without imposing new taxes,govt mandates,regulations” #WeyrichLind p124

If Americans used PT for 10% of daily travel needs, US would reduce dependence on imported oil by more than 40%. #WeyrichLind p125

“public transit can save you money by reducing the number of cars you have to buy, maintain and insure” #WeyrichLind p126

Chapter 6 of #WeyrichLind is about winning transit referenda. Perhaps more relevant than at first glance given #EWLink referendum?

“Build deep support, not just broad support.” #WeyrichLind p133. Good point, relevant to a lot of political debate.

People want to know specifics of a transport proposal, not just vague info. Don’t say “trust us experts”. They won’t. #WeyrichLind p134

Explain proposal to the public. But there is not one “public”. The key is segmentation, and right messages. #WeyrichLind p135

Argue case with current users, workers/unions, and people who don’t and won’t use PT but who will benefit. #WeyrichLind p135

Segmentation builds deep support. People who clearly see how the proposal benefits them can become your champions. #WeyrichLind p136

Opponents of rail tend to say same things everywhere. Prepare in advance to answer them; do so immediately they surface. #WeyrichLind p136

#WeyrichLind chapter 7 is about energy independence…ways to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

USA largely dismantled PT systems, now almost wholly dependent on cars, and highly vulnerable to interruptions to oil. #WeyrichLind p147

Oil demand rising, supplies getting more difficult and expensive to produce. #PeakOik #WeyrichLind p149 — In 2015 we have a temp reprieve?

“a shift from cars to mass transit could have a major effect in reducing oil consumption, in addition to other benefits.” #WeyrichLind p150

#WeyrichLind p150-151 discusses a PT network that serves everyone, with mass transit, and infrequent but coordinated services in rural areas

Conservatives generally favour a level playing field. Private automobile travel is subsidised massively at present. #WeyrichLind p155

Weyrich died in 2008. “He knew that automobiles answered yesterday’s transportation needs better than tomorrow’s” #WeyrichLind p159

“More money for transit” is not enough to gain attention of public. It must be a vision of results, not just inputs. #WeyrichLind p160

“You will not hear us call for a system of monorails or maglev. We desire no new technologies.” #WeyrichLind p161

What is good urban transit? 1.Coverage. 2.Frequency. 3.Ease of connection. 4.As much as possible, rail – people prefer it. #WeyrichLind p161

#WeyrichLind p161 says “mode neutrality” ignores public preference for trains over buses, ignores the market. Hmm…interesting!

#WeyrichLind p161 reference to Vukan #Vuchic. (Search that hashtag for my tweets from reading his books!)

Timed transfer can help make up for infrequent services. #WeyrichLind p162

People prefer rail over bus, but will take “feeder buses”, eg short bus rides as part of a longer trip. #WeyrichLind p162

A good policy is “always a streetcar in sight” – because they are “pedestrian facilitators” to promote activity/growth. #WeyrichLind p163

“To make regular transit work well, as much thought needs to be given to schedules as to routes and transfer points.” #WeyrichLind p166

High-frequency service essential for streetcars to serve as “pedestrian facilitators”, spark economic development. #WeyrichLind p168

Differing types of transit should not exist in isolation. Each feeds into and facilitates the others. #WeyrichLind p170 #NetworkEffect

“Building new railways is expensive. Make maximum use of the rail lines that already exist.” #WeyrichLind p170

Where you have to employ buses, make them as convenient, quick and comfortable as possible. High frequency best. #WeyrichLind p170

“All the technologies our vision (for good PT) employs existed a hundred years ago.” #WeyrichLind p171 — Hmm maybe not signalling/priority?

Interesting para from #WeyrichLind p171 on a conservative view of PT that can’t be summarised in one tweet:

Paragraph from #WeyrichLind p171

20th century: “So vast were (road) subsidies that they drove out of business the privately owned streetcars, railways” #WeyrichLind p175

Road subsidies have “left most Americans dependent on automobiles for almost all travel, with…unhappy consequences” #WeyrichLind p175

“Had highways been forced to compete in a free market with (transit)…we would today have many fewer highways and a lot more railways” p176

“As conservatives, we want cities to work. We know highways, chop cities in pieces and leave them to die.” #WeyrichLind p177

“communities which provide existing car users with a comparable transit experience succeed in reducing VMT (driving)” #WeyrichLind p178

“As conservatives, we are not environmentalists, though on the whole we would rather not breathe smog.” #WeyrichLind p180 — heh!

“people who switch from their car to electrified rail help reduce oil imports, which improves national security” #WeyrichLind p180

#WeyrichLind p181 uses another term for “induced demand” (with respect to transport capacity filling) – “suppressed demand”.

Limited-access highways negative impact on urban vitality – contrasts strongly with railways stimulating urban redevelopment #WeyrichLind p181

Dependence on vehicles fuelled largely with imported oil is the Achilles’ heel of current foreign+national security policy #WeyrichLind p182

“corn-based ethanol takes almost as much petroleum to produce as it saves” #WeyrichLind p185 advocates less reliance on oil

#WeyrichLind finishes up with some stuff about a specific govt report that was adjusted before release, not really relevant to us.

Tony Abbott - Wants to fix congestion, but will only fund roads

As I said, I found the book very interesting, and I’d recommend it for people active in this space who are looking for arguments that are likely to appeal to conservatives.

The problem of course — and I’m sure they face this in the US just as much as here — is that there are some conservatives who don’t take a strict conservative view on these types of issues, don’t consider the pros and cons of arguments, but instead take a narrow-minded ideological standpoint. I’m referring of course to our dear Prime Minister Abbott, who has point blank refused to fund urban public transport, because… well, just because.

As Crikey remarked yesterday (Paywall): This unfathomable position is not based on economics. … The Abbott government must take a mode-neutral approach to future funding decisions and open its eyes to what other successful world cities are doing. It must embrace a nationwide public transport improvement program based on economic merit as assessed by the arm’s-length arbiter, Infrastructure Australia.

The Commonwealth government “sticking to its knitting” is ludicrous. It thankfully hasn’t been like this at the state level. The state Coalition’s continued push for the economically irresponsible East West Link was at least tempered by support and funding for public transport projects as well.

As I’ve noted before, there seems to be a lack of rational, thinking conservatives at the top of politics in Australia, at least at the Federal level — at least while Mr Abbott is running the show. Perhaps that will change, perhaps not.

But the fact remains that to those who are willing to actually engage rationally in the debate, there are strong conservative arguments in favour of public transport over roads.

Victoria’s first 21st century rail megaproject: benefits from Regional Rail Link

Victoria’s first big 21st century rail megaproject is almost complete. Regional Rail Link was started and mostly funded by Labor (State and Federal, in part as stimulus money during the Global Financial Crisis), and largely built under the State Coalition.

Construction itself is now complete, with driver training and other preparatory work happening ahead of the expected opening in April June.

The line provides an enormous amount of additional track capacity in the western suburbs… but of course this is only of use if it’s used.

So what are the benefits, and what do we know about how it’ll be used?

Wyndham Vale station, looking south

Tarneit/Wyndham Vale get their new stations and new rail line, served by some Geelong trains. The infrastructure for starting suburban diesel trains from Wyndham Vale into the City has also been provided, but it’s not clear that option will be used initially. The opening of the stations will be accompanied by a bus route revamp in the area, focussed on the new stations, which makes a lot of sense, and pleasingly have had extensive community consulation.

Geelong line – more reliable travel time in the suburban part of the journey, as V/Line trains won’t get stuck behind slower Werribee line trains. It’s unclear if the trip will take longer though — this was a subject of some controversy when RRL was first planned, and still hasn’t been clearly answered. While it’s a longer distance, the track speeds are higher than the old route, so hopefully the running time won’t be much longer.

We know the Geelong line will go to 20 mins off-peak (probably every 40 minutes to Armstrong Creek due to the single track beyond South Geelong), a move which was probably possible in the past, but will be easier to reliably operate with RRL in place. This boost was promised by Labor before the election, and amusingly matched by the Coalition, who claimed they’d been planning it all along… but they hadn’t actually told anybody about it. Ah, secret railway business.

Ballarat and Bendigo lines — ditto; more reliable travel times. Likely to be faster, particularly during peak when in the past they had to wait for Sunbury line trains. Scope for some extra services, though this is still constrained by the single track sections further out. These trains are already using the new RRL tracks from Sunshine into the City, but timetables haven’t yet been adjusted. The question will be whether the April timetable makes use of this properly, and whether V/Line get their act together at the city end to reduce or eliminate delays coming into Southern Cross, where they should now have plenty of platforms to accommodate all the incoming trains.

The 2021 draft documents suggested the three lines combined would have up to about 15 trains in the busiest hour, but the infrastructure should allow some growth beyond that.

Sunshine station

Sunbury line — apart from between Sunshine and Sunbury, no V/Line trains have to share the metro tracks anymore, meaning a virtual doubling of capacity between Sunshine and the City.

Right now (as of the last load survey in May 2014) figures show crowding on the line has eased, following a roughly 50% boost in peak services over the past 6 years, thanks in part to moving the Werribee line out of the Loop in 2008, and also thanks to the Sunbury electrification, which added stations but also added overall track capacity by removing short haul V/Line trains off the line.

However with Zone 1+2 fares having been cut by about 40% since the start ofg the year, we may see a lot more people on suburban trains across the network, so the question is how quickly will the government move to boost services on the line to cope — particularly in peak hour, but also at off-peak times when crowding can be a problem. The new Calder Park train stabling, expected to open later this year, will help with this.

Sunbury line load survey May 2014

Werribee line — again, once RRL opens the Geelong line trains will be off the Werribee line completely, and with crowding already bad before January, they’ll need to make use of that capacity to boost services.

In the past 6 years, the load survey shows the Werribee line has gone from 13 to 21 services, and in that time has gained Williams Landing station. But the line has evidently seen greater passenger growth than the Sunbury line, with far more trains above the load standard. In fact it has 46% of AM peak passengers travelling on crowded trains, the highest proportion anywhere on the network.

I’m hearing the zone changes have eased demand at Laverton, in favour of Williams Landing, but given the huge population growth in that area, I’d also expect overall patronage to keep growing.

Werribee line load survey May 2014

Williamstown line — theoretically could get a boost, but not seen as a priority as it doesn’t serve growth corridors, and the last load survey showed crowding was well below the levels seen on other lines. One would hope at least the 22 minute peak frequency shared with Altona will be fixed to 20.

Altona Loop — technically part of the Werribee line, the changes in 2011 when the third (turnback) platform at Laverton opened were primarily of benefit to the outer section of the Werribee line (early 2011 was when the line got a big increase in services). It helped add capacity for the Altona Loop stations, but degraded the service in other ways: peak hour service dropped back to an almost impossible to memorise 22 minute frequency, and at off-peak times on weekdays shuttle trains run every 20 minutes only as far as Newport.

This means that at off-peak times, if you want to travel to a City Loop underground station, you need to catch three trains — one to Newport, another to North Melbourne or Southern Cross, then a third to the Loop.

One of the reasons widely cited for the shuttle trains (and the 22 minute peak timetable) was a lack of capacity between Newport and the City, given the need to share the line with Geelong trains. RRL will see the Geelong trains off the line, and it has been flagged many times that this would bring an end to the shuttles, with off-peak Altona Loop trains going all the way into the city — in fact Labor pledged it during the 2014 election campaign. It would help those passengers, but also ease off-peak crowding on the Werribee line by enabling the Werribee trains to run express Newport to Footscray, bypassing busy inner-city stations like Yarraville.

But with a lack of assurances from the powers that be, there are now fears this won’t happen after all, or at least not any time soon. (Do you use the Altona Loop? Click through to find out how to help the campaign.)

Jill Hennessy at MTF forum: Altona rail
Source: Metropolitan Transport Forum — video from Western Suburbs forum

Other lines indirectly benefit: the Frankston, Craigieburn and Upfield lines gain some isolation from V/Line operations which currently can snowball across the network.

So, RRL brings a lot of scope for extra services

With the zone 2 fare cuts, anecdotal evidence is that patronage is on the rise again, right across the rail network. The government is going to need to stay ahead of the growth, to avoid the politically sensitive situation of widespread packed trains that we saw in the later years of the Bracks/Brumby government.

This time, they’re a bit more prepared. RRL unlocks capacity for a number of lines, and planning work is underway to unlock capacity on other lines around the network. The key is for the funding for upgrades (and that includes infrastructure, fleet and services) to keep on coming.

You wouldn’t expect them to use all the extra capacity from day one, but they should where they have the train fleet available and the crowding is worst (eg the Werribee line and Altona Loop), as well as a plan to roll out additional service boosts over time.

Of course it shouldn’t just be directed at easing train overcrowding. Trains, like no other transport mode, have the ability to get large numbers out people out of the traffic on the Westgate Bridge and the other river crossings, if good frequent services are provided.

And remember — all-day, 7-day frequent servicesevery 10 minutes or better — are actually relatively cheap on the upgrade list, because they largely use fleet and infrastructure already provided for peak hour. Frequent services help the people who can, make more trips outside peak hours, and just like in the world’s biggest cities, help turn our train system into a mass transit solution that gets people out of cars by providing good connections between lines, and Turn Up And Go services.

  • Update 20/2/2015: The government has postponed the opening to June, blaming a lack of V/Line rolling stock due to the previous government delaying the order.

The #EWLink billion dollar booby trap

The previously secret East West Link “side letter”, offering compensation even if the contract was deemed invalid, seems to underscore just how desperate the State Coalition was to build the road — despite it being a project that:

Here’s an excerpt from the document, which perhaps surprisingly, was released by the Coalition themselves yesterday:

East West Link side letter

It’s a bit like a contractual version of Pauline Hanson’s assassination video: Fellow Victorians, if you are seeing this now, it means East West Link has been killed.

Obviously it was designed to ensure the project went ahead, even if the Coalition was voted out, and Labor tried to cancel it. A billion dollar booby trap.

East West Link: eastern section, western gateway in Royal Park

I think this is far worse than simply signing a bad contract. It goes much further, by offering a kind of insurance against its later cancellation. (Remember, governments regularly cancel contracts).

This is veering into the territory of… how do I put this? It’s lacking respect for the electorate so much that you would force your decision onto them, even if they specifically voted against it. Remember, numerous people from Tony Abbott down declared the November 2014 election a referendum on the project.

This kind of letter says “We want this built. We don’t have a mandate for it, but we don’t care what you think. And if you vote us out, we’re going to try and force the other side to build it anyway.”

My notes from a quick skim of the #EWLink business case

Late last night, the Herald Sun unexpectedly published the entire East West Link business case, ahead of its official release today.

Some notes from me from a quick flick through:

p12 makes various high-level claims, particularly faster trips for motorists — but as we know, this benefit never lasts because traffic increases.

EWLink: Proposed tolls

p17 flags the toll prices used in the modelling: (2012 pricing) cars $5.50 in peak, $4.40 off-peak. Light commercial vehicles $8.80 peak, $7.04 off-peak. Heavy commercial vehicles $16.50 peak, $13.20 off-peak. I wonder what regular motorists (especially those with commercial vehicles) make of these toll levels?

By comparison, bypassing the city along the Bolte Bridge or the Domain/Burnley tunnels (not both) currently costs $7.06 in a car, or $8.15 for both sections. It’s only marginally more expensive for both because there’s a cap… I assume it’s unknown if a similar cap could exist where adjoining motorways are run by different operators.

p17 says the funding gap between the toll revenue and the cost of construction is $5.3 to 5.8 billion.

p39 says north-south public transport is being degraded by traffic congestion, which may be the case, but that’s because authorities have allowed it to happen by failing to provide tram/bus priority through busy intersections such as Alexandra Parade. They continue to prioritise large numbers of vehicles (single-occupant cars) over large numbers of people. It’s important to recognise that while the greater East West Link project includes tram priority measures, these can be implemented without building a big road tunnel.

p41-42 appears to be cherry-picking statistics to try and claim there’s a lot of demand for cross-city traffic. For instance the diagram at the top of page 42 implies lots of cross-city traffic, but it’s mapping out in percentage terms the demand from different directions heading to the Eastern Freeway in the AM peak — in other words, feeding into the freeway in the counter-peak direction, as if counter-peak travel is where the congestion problem is.

A diagram on page 41 does look at AM peak from the Eastern Freeway, and like previous studies shows little traffic heading to the west of the city — 2% to the south-west (eg Newport area), 6% due west to Footscray and beyond, 7% north-west to around Essendon and beyond. The vast majority of traffic is heading to the CBD and inner north.

In comparison, here’s the screendump from VicRoads traffic status web site this morning (8:16am, peak hour). The camera image shows counter-peak the Eastern Freeway seems to be free-flowing. It also shows free-flowing traffic most of the way across to the west (in both directions), again underscoring that the east-west route isn’t the main problem; as per the page 41 diagram, it’s traffic going into the CBD and inner suburbs.

EWLink: Realtime traffic on Eastern Freeway and Alexandra Parade, 15/12/2014 8:16am

p100 forecasts traffic rampup to % of steady state volume: 91% by month 6. 96.5% by month 12. 100% by month 22. I wonder: Is this in line with recent experience?

A NSW Auditor-General report on Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel (see page 32) found that projections of 80% initially, and 88% after a year were about double the traffic levels that actually eventuated. Brisbane’s Clem7 and Airportlink tollways, and Melbourne’s EastLink had similar problems.

Note that in East West Link’s case the taxpayer bears the risk.

p165 Whoa! The construction cost is much much higher than theoretical revenue of $112 million/year (56x) relative to Citylink (8x) or Eastlink (20x). The average construction cost is also much higher per kilometre than those projects.

p168 The assumed tolling period is 40 years.

p176 Benefit Cost Ratio of stage 1 is 0.8 (eg it costs more than it makes) when “Wider Economic Benefits” (WEBs) are excluded. Including WEBs is 1.3-1.4.

Update: The earlier estimate, using the methodology preferred by Infrastructure Australia, came out at just 0.45. In later versions of the document, the methodology changed and the estimate rose to 0.8. The version released by the Herald Sun has the higher figure, and it’s been speculated that someone supportive of the project dropped that version to them deliberately to pre-empt reporting of the lower figure. Josh Gordon at The Age has some nice analysis of how the figure grew from 0.45 to 0.8 with some WEBs, and then to 1.4 by including other projects such as the Tullamarine Freeway widening, and even Wider WEBs.

WEBs are notoriously wibbly-wobbly in their calculation, and often controversial. For instance it’s not clear how they claim $2153m in agglomeration economies (specifically “growth in Melbourne’s competitive central core”) when the tollway doesn’t directly serve Melbourne’s central core.

It also claims a lot of benefits from travel time savings, but as I’ve already noted, we know these never last.

Compared to the 1.4 the road gets with WEBs, the metro rail tunnel (which is also an incredibly expensive project) apparently got 1.9. And compared to the 0.8 for EWL without WEBs, the metro rail tunnel got 1.17 — so at least it isn’t loss-making when evaluated without possibly dodgy WEBs.

p193. If they built the road elevated rather than underground, the BCR (excluding WEBs) would still only be 0.9. It’s only by building it as a surface road (eg a ground-level motorway, thus obliterating large areas of the inner-northern suburbs) that you can get a BCR above 1: 2.6 to be precise.

EWLink costs and revenues

p209 summarises the revenues and outlays, and if I’m reading this right, seems to show toll revenue of about $200m per year against availability service payments from the government to the operator of about $345m each year. I assume by June 2023 that’s the “steady state”.

If the toll revenue doesn’t get that high, then taxpayers foot the larger bill. And remember this is only stage 1.

p211 ponders the state privatising the road later — that is, selling the toll revenue stream, presumably to offload the taxpayer risk in case revenue flops in the future.

I’ll keep dipping into the document as I get time in the next day or two, and may add some points as I find them.

Hopefully when there’s an official release in the next day or two, the PDFs available will be searchable — it’ll make finding things a lot easier!

And presumably there’s more detail coming as well — for me one thing that stands out is the courageous predictions of quick growth in tollway traffic and revenue, in the face of recent experiences with other Australian tollroads.

And I’d love to see detail on the modelling assumptions that show how well the traffic would flow if the revenue targets are met. It still strikes me that these massive tollroad projects can be profitable, or provide for free-flowing traffic, but not do both.

Update: The official release of documents has now occurred.