Last month Williams Landing Railway Station opened to much fanfare, and much relief for the residents of Point Cook and Williams Landing. Costing a total of $110 million (Station $86 million, access road $24 million), it's the Taj Mahal of train stations! Containing 500 car spaces, a bridge linking Point Cook and Williams Landing and a major bus interchange, it should be a commuter's wet dream. But it has one major drawback - it's in zone 2.
I attended the grand opening of the station, where it seemed hundreds of families admired the very grand architecture, the impressive view from the bridge, and the somewhat ghost town appearance of the multiple bus stops stretching out into the distance waiting to be used. It turned out I was quite naive in thinking people were there to check out the facilities for possible future use - it seems they were there for the free balloons and sausage in a sandwich. The more I listened to people comment on it, the more disturbed I became...
"Looks nice but there's no way I'm gonna use it as it's in Zone 2. Still gonna drive to Laverton".
Now for anyone that hasn't tried to park at Laverton Station in peak hour before, let's just say you have a better chance of getting a park at Highpoint on Christmas Eve! Yet due to the price differential between Zone 1 and 2, people are still happy to run this gauntlet, and even risk fines for parking in illegal spots.
I've often heard the argument of 'My station is just outside of the boundary, they should just change it to Zone 1'. Of course, you can take this argument to the nth degree. If you keep moving the boundary by one station, people who use the next station will always be 'just one station from the boundary'. Eventually you'll just end up with the whole network in Zone 1! And whilst many people would be happy with that scenario, it's hardly viable economically, nor fair, to have someone traveling from Footscray to Flinders St (2 stops, 6.4km) pay the same as some traveling from Pakenham (29 stops, 56.9km).
So lets do the maths. A full fare 7 day Zone 1 Myki Pass costs $35, compared to a Zone 1/2 pass at $59.20. That's a weekly saving of almost $25, quite substantial by most people's standards. And rightfully so - $25 buys you almost 3 bottles of Holgate 'Temptress' Chocolate Porter at the Station Hotel in Footscray on a lazy Sunday afternoon. So people are well vindicated in their avoidance measures.
Current weekly rate 7 day pass
So what's the solution? Basically the price gap needs to be narrowed between the zones; so much so the incentive to drive to Zone 1 is no longer there. Dramatically reducing the cost of a Zone 1/2 ticket will create the inequality mentioned earlier, not to mention a massive revenue shortfall. So my solution is... (drum roll for expectant backlash)... More zones! (OK, I'm covering my face; you can throw the tomatoes now)!
Now I'm not advocating a return to the old 3 zone system with its associated price structure. The old cost of a zone 1/2/3 ticket was cost prohibitive. The cost of a zone 1 ticket should remain the same as a minimum, and the highest cost should be the same as the maximum now, i.e. of a zone 1/2 ticket. However, there should be 6 zones in between.
Proposed weekly rate 7 day pass
* Any combinations of zones 2-6
People's first reaction may be that this is too complex. However the introduction of Myki has taken any guess work out of the equation - you don't need to know what zones you are traveling through, Myki will automatically work out the appropriate fare for you. Zone boundaries would be at 10km intervals. This would mean that the current end-of-the-line stations would be in the following zones:
Zone 1: Flemington Racecourse (7.8km)
Zone 2: Alamein (14.9km), Williamstown (15.5km), Sandringham (17.9km)
Zone 3: Upfield (20.1km), Glen Waverly (20.9km), South Morang (24.7km), Craigiburn (27.0km)
Zone 4: Werribee(32.9km), Hurstibridge (36.7km), Lilydale (37.8km), Melton (39km), Sunbury (39.5km)
Zone 5: Belgrave (41.3km), Frankston (42.7km), Cranbourne (44.0km)
Zone 6: Pakenham (56.9km), Stony Point (73.3km)*
* Technically Stony Point would fall outside of Zone 6 (50-59km). Myki is soon being rolled out for regional areas, which have their own Zone system, but could easily be integrated with this proposal by beginning at Zone 7. However as the Stony Point Line is currently part of the Metro network, I am happy for it to remain so as part of an 'extended' Zone 6.
Under this proposal, no-one in the current Zone 2 would pay more. As the radius of the current Zone 1 is approx 20km (it varies for each line), some people in the current Zone 1 may incur a slight increase. This is not only necessary to balance the the revenue shortfall of the people paying less in the other zones, it is also fair. Not only do commuters closer to the city have a greater choice (trams, more train lines/stations closer together), they also benefit from more frequent services), thus making the small price differential justifiable. Furthermore PTV could impose a 3 year price freeze to offset any of the once off price increases.
Huntingdale Rd 'Car park' in the mornings
A $5 weekly fare gap is much lower than $25, and should reduce the incentive for people to drive across zones to catch a train. In fact, in my initial example, Williams Landing would be in the same zone as Laverton, thus sparing Laverton station car park the massive overcrowding it currently suffers. Huntingdale station is another that comes to mind, with cars parked along Huntingdale Rd for several hundred metres, much to the chagrin of the local residents.
It also makes sense that commuters who travel further distances, placing more running and maintenance costs on the system, pay for this imbalance. And that the price rises incrementally, rather than one huge jump as is now.
As a bonus, it may act to help something this very website is trying champion - the reduction of urban sprawl. If prices are significantly dearer on the outer rim, maybe, just maybe, people will start to think twice before buying that McMansion in Pakenham!