I have heard it said by country people, many times, “why should I pay for you to have public transport when I don’t use it?” Most country people will rarely use the public transport system in the major cities but, if the public transport system doesn’t meet the needs of the people then country folk, just like their city companions, will pay for construction and maintenance of roads to allow people to move as they need to do.
In comparison with some other states, Perth has a good public transport service, but it can be much better. Looking back over the years it appears that coalition governments focus on cars and providing roads, and Labor [sic] governments focus on public transport. That says a lot for where their loyalties lie. The Liberal-National government of Sir Charles Court shut down the Fremantle line in 1979, only for it to be opened again, with electrification, by the Labor [sic] government in 1983. The Labor [sic] Party also had the Joondalup (now Butler) line built in the late 1990s, and that to Mandurah was built in 2007. In both those cases Liberal party opposition was claiming that they would never be used very much. The contrary has proved the point.
People will use public transport if it can get them from where they are to where they want to be in reasonable time, in reasonable comfort, and at a reasonable cost. Stations on the Joondalup and Mandurah lines were extended to allow longer trains because patronage was so high that people were refusing to board because there were too many people already in the carriages. That shows how effective public transport CAN be.
With a focus on cars and roads, support for Perth’s public transport system has been poor at best. The Mitchell Freeway has been widened several times to allow more cars to approach the city, but with little effort to deal with the morning rush when it gets there. In order to buy votes, the coalition has, on more than one occasion, promised a rail link to Ellenbrook, in the north-east of the metropolitan area, and a light rail link to the University of Western Australia and to Curtin University. No progress has been made on either of those suggestions, which, I suggest, were never realistic possibilities for a coalition government.
Any talk of light rail should be squashed immediately. If we use the more common term, trams, and if we’ve had any experience in Melbourne, we will realise that planning for a tram line takes years, there is huge disruption to local homes and shops, cars, buses and trucks will have to stop whenever a tram stops (where the different forms of transport use the same space) significantly increasing pollution, construction takes months to years and at astronomical expense, and a single break-down can stop operations for the whole line. It is the worst decision that could be made with the intent of improving road safety and the use of public transport. Dedicated bus lanes, if they are enforced, allow gas-powered buses – and, in the next few years, totally sun powered buses, to collect and drop off passengers without interfering with other traffic, and with priority access to speed people on the way. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.
Much money is spent every year on policing fares on our public transport, with SmartRiders requiring to be scanned at every point of embarkation and disembarkation – including all stations and every bus and ferry, security officers patrol trains and stations to ensure fares are paid, and a robust computer system has to operate to ensure that everything else can work. Those who don’t pay fares can end up in court, with the extra cost of having people prepare briefs and attend the court for a hearing. If we make public transport free then all the equipment and time taken up ensuring that people pay their fares can be retired. Yes, it will cost the government money through the loss of income from fares, and governments are well known for their blinkered approach to finance. If public transport is free then there will be fewer people using cars to commute to the city, and those who still insist on doing so when public transport is running could be required to pay a toll for entering an area around the CBD, with the funds from that toll being used to offset the loss of income from fares.
More trains are required on each line, and that expense needs to be considered as urgent if we are to have patronage increasing, and especially if people can use the system at no cost. Frequency of services should be considered to maximise the number of passengers using trains and buses during peak periods, and it may be worth while using smaller buses on some routes connecting to trains to reduce operating costs. Adding new trains lines underground, which is now much cheaper to achieve than it was a few years ago, would allow expansion of the network to other parts of Perth with disrupting homes, businesses and roads. Gradually putting existing lines underground would provide an opportunity to get tracks more level, thus saving on power consumption costs, would release vast areas of saleable real estate above the lines, and would increase property values along roads parallel to the train tracks. An added bonus is that some curves could be eliminated altogether, shortening distances and making the service faster.
The principal on which trains work is based on reducing to a minimum the friction between wheels and track. They come into their fore on tracks which have little or no rise and fall. Indeed, a small slope can increase power consumption by 50%. Rising and falling tracks, as we see around Perth, are wasting huge amounts of electricity, and trains have to be heavier than really necessary, just to stay on the tracks and keep moving forwards. That is simple high school mechanics. The roller-coaster pattern on the Fremantle line is a classic case of how NOT to organise a train line.
I will push strongly for:
● public transport around the Perth metropolitan area to be free;
● building of multi-storey parking facilities at busy train stations, to provide more parking, especially shaded parking, for commuters, and at a reasonable cost reflective of parking costs in the CBD and vehicle costs for the run;
● work to start on cutting the Joondalup and Mandurah lines through hills they currently climb from both directions – such as between Warwick and Greenwood;
● serious planning work to start on putting sections of each existing tracks underground, releasing real estate above and getting a return from that release, with the aim of having all lines completely underground as soon as possible, and thus removing all level crossing;
● planning to be started on expanding the metropolitan area train network using underground routes linking centres of interest to people and with least disruption for station building;
● setting up a toll system to charge people who insist on using their cars to commute to the CBD during the morning peak period, if free transport doesn’t shift enough of them to trains.
Authorised by Steven Secker, 4 Dower Court, Armadale.