I grew up in Berlin, Germany, which I believe has a great public transport system and you only realise how good it is once you lived in other cities and have experienced other public transport systems around the world. There are a lot of good systems, average ones and cities that almost have no public transport at all. Currently I life in Melbourne and while I think that public transport is reasonable it could be better.
The biggest issue I have with public transport in Melbourne is that it takes me usually much longer to go places by public transport then by car and that is definitely not an incentive and for sure no encouragement to switch from car to public transport. To me a public transport system should get me to places within the inner city, i.e. CBD and surrounding suburbs as fast as a car if not faster and obviously without the hassle of having to find a car park. That this can be achieved I know, since it worked for me in Berlin where trains run up to every 90 SECONDS during rush hour and on weekends most train lines even run all night making it a no brainer if you feel like having more then one drink, but don’t necessarily want to take a taxi home.
Why can’t we have a better public transport system in Melbourne? Admittedly Melbourne is very different to Berlin in structure. Melbourne has one main centre and that is the CBD and from there everything goes out, i.e. al the trains are going into the city and congestions increases due to ALL lines converging in the CBD, whereas the public transport system in Berlin is more like a criss cross of lines all over the city and there is not necessarily one centre, but a number of them. This might be an issue for Melbourne, but not an unsolvable one, but I believe it requires some radical changes and our society needs to start looking at some, what others might call “outlandish”, initiatives that could address the particular issues we are facing in Melbourne. On the contrary “outlandish” ideas of the past have turned into “the daily normal” of our society, like for example flying 400 people in a plane around, something unthinkable of a 100 to 150 years ago. When I say outlandish I am thinking of things like:
1) Putting train lines underground. Currently all train lines, except for the small part when they run through a ring in the CBD, are above ground. This leads to congestion whenever there is a crossing with streets and often means that train frequencies can not be increased without major disruption to traffic, be it public, like busses, or private. I strongly believe we should investigate the option of going underground, especially since Melbourne is still strongly growing and trains are one of the best ways of moving large masses of people.
2) Change of tram lines to busses. While trams are great in some areas, they are nothing else then a train sharing space with other transport vehicles, which leads to congestion, especially since trams can not be diverted like busses and require additional infrastructure to be maintained. I am not an engineer, but I believe with current technology we can quite efficiently produce the energy needed at the point where it is required and that busses might just be better from an energy efficiency point of view. In addition modern busses can be lowered to the curb and allow people with disabilities, parents with trams or people with pushbikes to utilise busses much better then trams. There would also be a reduced risk of being run over by a car when entering a tram. In addition busses can be diverted when required due to road blocks. Furthermore busses don’t require addition infrastructure like rails or wires above the street.
3) Connect suburbs by introducing connections in a circle around the city. There are a number of busses connection neighbouring suburbs, but because they run so infrequently it is often as quick to take a train into the CBD and then out again to the suburb one wants to go, even thought it might be just next to the one one starts its journey from. This becomes an additional burden for traffic into the city, since it could be avoided. Why don’t we build a circle line around the city that connects other train lines through the inner suburbs to improve public transport around the city and reduce inner city transport congestion?
4) Change the cities structure by encouraging growth in other areas then just the CBD. This could lead to better distribution of traffic as well, but once again might have to be supported by making it equally easy to get to all parts of Melbourne, including its inner suburbs as easy as to the CBD.
Unfortunately I haven’t seen to many discussions really addressing Melbourne’s public transport of the future and other city planning issues. Politicians these days obviously focus on the stuff that wins elections and not what they believe in. Society also tends to laugh about completely crazy ideas without even thinking about them. I know there are some groups that have dedicated their efforts towards the improvement of Melbourne’s public transport, like pt4me2, but these are unfortunately in the minority. I would be curious to hear what others are thinking and what ideas are out their so we an say one day that it takes us as long with public transport to go places as it does with our own car, only then I believe we have a viable public transport solution.