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Public transport, a shamble and a missed opportunity in the State

post-election budget

In the Minister's message for the launch of Melbourne 2030, Peter Batchelor stated:
"Not surprisingly, in the consultation process for Melbourne 2030, transport emerged
as a dominant theme. It also proved to be the feature Melburnians liked most and
least about their city." 1

A few years later, Treasurer John Brumby's post-election budget (representing the
same political party), has allocated a dismal amount for the improvement of our
public transport system—and it is not beginning this year, but sometime in 2009. A
newspaper article published in May this year claims that, "In a tacit acknowledgement
that the extent of overcrowding on Melbourne's trains has taken the Government by
surprise, Mr Brumby has also brought forward the purchase of 10 trains and the
training of 22 drivers." 2

Melbourne's suburbs and its periphery continue to be dormitories connected by car to


large shopping malls—this is not a city in any urban sense. Walking in much of the
outer suburbs is hindered by the excessive traffic and unappealing car oriented roads.
The train system has imposed a legacy of level crossings that are not only dangerous
and outdated but add to traffic delays. It is a vicious circle: the more our public
transport fails, the more we rely on the car. Thus, there is less incentive for people to
walk on the streets, less opportunities for socialising, less opportunities for milk bars
and small convenience stores to thrive—all in all, this means less health for the
individual and the environment. This situation also hinders the economic and business
opportunities for those large sections of the city.

Links between social exclusion and access to public transport have been well
established. The Brotherhood of St Laurence has produced valuable research on this
topic, the following paragraph reflects this concern: "Throughout the focus group
discussions, transport was constantly identified as essential in terms of accessing
many of the things identified as key elements of a decent standard of living, as some
of the comments already cited illustrate. Lack of adequate transport was also seen as
a constant problem that caused many to miss out on a decent life".3

Compared to other
developed cities in the
world Melbourne’s public
transport is substandard in
its connectivity at all levels:
to the city centre, within
and across other
neighbourhoods, to culture
and services.4

In cities such as Santiago,


Lisbon, Barcelona,
Stockholm and others, the
underground (Metro) is not
viewed only as a backdrop
for commercial billboards.
The authorities have had
the vision to turn the public
space they generate into an Figure 1: Exhibition space in the underground displaying artefacts
found during excavation works in a Metro station, Santiago, Chile.
opportunity for artistic and
cultural expressions. Painted and ceramic murals adorn the stations of these cities. In

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Stockholm, stations located in areas with high levels of migrant populations, display
artworks incorporating various languages and meaningful designs, while in Santiago,
the stations also provide space for transient and permanent exhibitions.5

It is true that Melbourne has a low-density population, and this situation adds to our
environmental problem. However, as demonstrated in the following comparison by
the PTUA (Public Transport Users Association), Melbourne has a higher population
density as compared to Vancouver and similar to that of Toronto—both cities with
much better public transport systems that are cheaper than ours. Conversely, density
is another issue that we must address and public transport should assist in this
regard.

Cities (in that order): Melbourne (Keysborough), Toronto (New York), and Vancouver
(Surrey). 6
• Distance from the city: 25k, 25k, 30k
• Population density per hectare: 32, 34, 11
• Bus service frequency (peak, in minutes): 60min, 2.5min, 15min
• Bus service frequency (off-peak, in minutes): 60min, 6min, 15min
• Evening: no service, 7.5 min, 15 min.
• Fare (bus+ train): $9.2, $3, $6.

In these cities, public transport


services exist to respond to
commuter demands in terms of
transport options and waiting
times. More importantly, these
services are not necessarily
tied to population size or
community affluence. The
claim—often used by our
politicians and bureaucrats—
that Melbourne’s population is
too small for a “high response”
public transport is not correct.
Neither is the view that we
cannot afford the costs of
major transport
infrastructure—Australia, with
an annual budget surplus can Figure 2: Artwork mural in a Metro station, Stockholm,
Sweden
certainly afford this.

In a recent article, Royce Miller discusses the possibility of "people-friendly transport


tunnels" for Melbourne. These tunnels aim to solve congestion, and opens up more
holistic considerations regarding the upgrading of the rail system, connectivity, and
the notion of a pedestrian friendly city. 7

Efficient public transport needs investment. It does not rely on 'coercing' or


'educating' people into using it—people opt for public transport when it is a real
option. Underground tunnels, assuming these included good public transport service,
could assist cities in becoming pedestrian friendly, as the traffic above is reduced.
Public transport, in my view, should be deemed as a right, an integral part of what
Lefebvre defined as "the right to the city".

Our governments, State and Federal, have not yet understood the importance of
public transport in relation to environmental issues, health and the liveability of our
city. Public transport should act as a network of interconnections to link the

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Melbourne CBD and the majority of Melbournians who live in suburbs and the
periphery.

In sum, we have the required population and density to justify a real public transport
system. If poorer countries can have efficient, reliable, clean and modern public
transport systems, we, with a constant budget surplus can afford all that and more. If
cities with 2,000 years of urban heritage can build metros (underground), our 200
year-old cities can also retrofit a metro and other forms of collective transportation.

While I am not an expert on transport, as an architect and urban designer my interest


focuses on the quality of the city and I am interested to know why our public
transport is of such a low standard. We need educated bureaucrats, professionals and
politicians, with a judicious sense of priorities, a real commitment to environmental
sustainability and social justice. It is for this reason that our 2007 Forum,
Transported, will discuss transport options for a connected city. You are all invited to
participate.

Beatriz C. Maturana
Architects for Peace, July 2007

References
1. Refer to: Melbourne 2030, Minister's messages: Sustainable transport.
http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/melbourne2030online/content/introduction/01c_transport.html

2. Austin, Paul. Brumby's big spending spree. The Age, May 2, 2007. Available from
http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/brumbys-big-spending-
spree/2007/05/01/1177788141341.html?s_cid=rss_age

3. For a community perspective on the current state of our transport system, my colleague Kally Vakras
pointed me to a recent article on The Age, April 27, 2007. "Commuters tired of playing squash".
http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2007/04/26/1177459880045.html

4. See section on Transport in P. Saunders, K. Sutherland, P. Davidson, A. Hampshire, S. King and J.


Taylor. Experiencing Poverty: The Voices of Low-Income Australians. Social Policy Research Centre,
Brotherhood of St Laurence, March 2006 [cited 30 April 2007]. Available from:
http://www.bsl.org.au/pdfs/SPRC_experiencing_poverty__new_indicators_of_disadvantage_focus_group_o
utcomes_report.pdf

5. For more information see:


Metro de Santiago (Metro Cultura-Art): http://www.metrosantiago.cl/metro_arte.php
Metropolitano de Lisboa: http://www.metrolisboa.pt
Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona: http://www.tmb.net/en_US/home.jsp
Stockholm Transport: http://www.sl.se/Templates/SubStart.aspx?id=1906

6. See PTUA: http://www.ptua.org.au/melbourne/better-service

7. Miller, Royce. Council backs people-friendly transport tunnels. The Age, June 15, 2007 [cited June 16
2007]. Available from http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/council-backs-peoplefriendly-transport-
tunnels/2007/06/14/1181414466876.html

Images:
• First image: Exhibition space in the underground displaying artefacts found during excavation
works in a Metro station, Santiago, Chile.
• Second image: Artwork mural in a Metro station, Stockholm, Sweden

Reference
Maturana, Beatriz C. "Public Transport, a Shamble and a Missed Opportunity in the State Post-Election
Budget." Architects for Peace, no. July (2007), http://archpeace2.blogspot.com/2007/07/public-transport-
shamble-and-missed.html.

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