Ah, the Greens. Like your well meaning Nanna who still gives you a Freddo Frog every time you see her, they mean well but... they just don't get it.
While their commitment to better public transport can't be faltered, it seems they have the economic sense of Greece. It's this complete lack of financial responsibility that led them to come up with this gem last week: Connecting Melbourne's Trams.
To be fair, much of this plan isn't the most crazy idea bandied about in Melbourne's transport planning sphere. That prize is reserved for the Public Transport Users Association's 1991 plan to build a heavy rail spur line to Princes Park, to cater for those millions of fans that used to turn up to watch Fitzroy play the Brisbane Bears and thus couldn't fit on the tram that stopped right outside the ground.
Now there's no denying our tram network needs some love, it is something I have spoken about before. However with money for transport projects becoming thinner on the ground, we need to be very selective on where we spend that money. While the Metro Tunnel should be our first priority without a shadow of a doubt, its $9 billion price tag means we must think long and hard as to where the rest of the transport budget is spent. This means setting out a pipeline of projects, ensuring the cost is spread out over time, as well as providing a steady stream of jobs to build them.
In typical Greens fashion, they have thrown common sense out the window and decided it is a better idea to try and fix all our transport woes in one foul swoop; at least the ones involving trams. And so their tram plan was born; containing a collection of 15 different extensions at a cost of $840 million, a price tag that would make that much maligned spendthrift, the drunken sailor, weep tears of pain.
And unfortunately for this bag of mixed sweets, it contains more boiled lollies than it does chocolates.
$840 million may not sound humongous in light of today's infrastructure costs, however it does when it is being spent on lots of little projects that have an overall questionable benefit. Let's analyse some the best and worst suggestions. Inspired by my first viewing of the spaghetti western classic just last week, I have divided them into the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
This actually makes sense which is why I can't understand why the Greens are backing it. For decades now they have been bleating about how a Doncaster heavy rail connection is the most important project in Melbourne, and now they are actually advocating a reasonable alternative. Or more likely, they are very unreasonably advocating we build both. Either way, this could be a winner. As building a Doncaster heavy rail link has many issues.
This could solve the problem of having a rail link to Doncaster, without the multi billion dollar price tag heavy rail would come with. One down side is the current 39 minute journey time from North Balwyn to the CBD. However with a project 96 style upgrade to light rail, the journey time could be significantly reduced.
Given that Avondale Heights/East Keilor are currently not served by heavy or light rail, this would add some value. With no room for a heavy rail line, a grade separated light rail route down Milleara Road would service quite a large residential area much quicker than buses would in the peak. Another tick.
Right thoughts, right words, wrong action. I don't understand why you would run a tram down Footscray Road, not only is there no residents to service, it would also wreak havoc with the trucks going to the Port of Melbourne creating a recipe for disaster.
Beyond Footscray Rd, the tram would then need to turn right at the major truck intersection at the Docklands Highway, run down busy Whitehall Street, before having to turn at another major intersection at Dynon Road. Given the Port of Melbourne own land on both sides of Footscray Road, it would more than likely be vetoed as part of any long term lease deal anyway.
Surely it would make more sense to go from its current terminus in Docklands, run north through the soon to be new residential precinct E Gate, then along Dynon Road where it could eventually service the Dynon urban renewal precinct, sandwiched between the rail line and Dynon Road itself. No trucks impeded, while servicing two high density residential areas, how could the Greens have got something so basic so wrong?
There's no doubt that a lack of a rail connection to Chadstone Shopping Centre is one of the great Melbourne planning oversights, however I don't know whether a tram link is the best answer. A tram line down heavily congested Warrigul Road would be a disaster, and there are already options for a heavy rail link from either Alamein or East Malvern that would be better equipped to deal with the numbers that frequent the shopping centre. The East Malvern option would even partially pay for itself by selling off land above the Glen Waverly Line.
Dear oh dear. The justification for this is that it will ease pressure on the much overcrowded South Morang Line. However with a journey time of over an hour already from Bundoora to the CBD, how much mode shift would we actually see if people could catch the tram instead of the train?
Childless couples could get on at South Morang and have three children ready to start school by the time the tram arrived at Bourke Street! This works out to be nothing but an extension to join the dots.
I don't quite understand what the point of these are. This is the transport version of architect Jahn Gehl's 'Bird Sh*t Architecture' theory.
It is like someone went up in a chopper over Melbourne and said to themselves 'Wouldn't it be nice if those trams lines linked up and completed a pretty pattern?" Routes 8 & 75 already run to the CBD, while the 3.96 km gap is already serviced by route 72. The 1.2km gap in North Melbourne would save about 5 mins by not having to go via Peel and La Trobe Streets.
This extension merely hugs an existing low patronage heavy rail line. What is the point of this? It is fast becoming a case of quantity of ideas over quality...
Overall, the Greens proposal does contain a few good ideas. However they seem to have fallen into the trap of trying to flesh it out with too many bad or pointless ideas just to make it look comprehensive. Worse still the cost is just a random number.
With no business case, or even an estimated BCR to back it up, it is hard to justify any of the 15 proposals. There's also no explanation of how they arrived at an average cost of $15 million per km (see Alan Davies blog post on Crikey for a good summary on this point).
Trams are great for short to medium urban journeys as their hop on/hop off nature makes them ideal for trips in high density areas, and/or as connector/feeder services to heavy rail. Conversely, due to the increased number of stops, using them as a high patronage, long distance commuter service to the CBD fast becomes a case of diminishing returns. A concept that seems to have been completely ignored with the idea to extend to places like South Morang and Knox.
The Greens would be much better served to concentrate on getting up a few of the really good ideas, rather than a large series of average ones. But of course, they won't. Welcome to the planet that is the Greens, where populism outranks economic reality - every time!