Saturday, September 6, 2008

Plan for free evening rail trips

Clay Lucas
John Brumby at the transport summit.

John Brumby at the transport summit. Photo: Craig Abraham

MELBOURNE'S rail commuters would get free evening travel under a plan by Premier John Brumby to reduce severe overcrowding in the afternoon rush.

Mr Brumby said free travel after 8pm could help spread out commuters.

He floated the idea as new Government projections showed public transport patronage would grow from 480 million trips a year in 2009 to more than half a billion a year by 2010.

Mr Brumby was speaking at the Victorian Transport Summit, the final stage of a consultation process for its transport plan due in November.

He said the morning "early bird" scheme, which allows free travel before 7am on Melbourne's trains, had been a "spectacular success".

"One of the issues we will examine is if there is the case to do the same thing in the evening," he said. "To shift some of that peak (on trains) between 5pm and 8pm."

Mr Brumby, who drove to the conference at Telstra Dome, said anything that helped reduce train overcrowding was a positive step.

Metlink, the transport operators' marketing body, said the "late bird" idea still had a long way to go.

"We've had some discussions that you wouldn't be surprised about," chief executive Bernie Carolan said. "When myki (the travel smartcard) is available, it ought to be feasible."

But the Public Transport Users Association described the idea as a gimmick, and demanded the Government increase train regularity.

"People won't change their travel time if they know they'll have to wait half an hour between trains," it said.

Mr Brumby hinted at the massive funding boost that would be needed to pay for the projects included in November's transport plan. He said: "(The projects) will be projects that are bigger than EastLink, bigger than channel deepening."

EastLink cost $3.8 billion and channel deepening upwards of $1 billion.

Possible projects under consideration are Rod Eddington's proposed $20 billion road and rail tunnel proposals, both of which run from Footscray to the eastern suburbs, and a possible toll road between the Greensborough bypass and EastLink.

Any funded projects would "need to go through final feasibility studies and the necessary environmental and planning processes" before they went ahead, Mr Brumby said. "Many of these projects will take many years to deliver."

Public-private partnerships, State and Federal Government spending and tolls would be considered to pay for the projects.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Brian Boyd said: "We need an immediate multibillion-dollar injection into building … transport infrastructure."

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