catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Should public transport be free?

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One way of solving the dispute over public transport concession fares for overseas students would be to make public transport free for everyone. The Age has been running a campaign on this for weeks now, which was well-debunked by Harry Clarke when it started. Among Harry’s sensible points:

1) It favours inner city areas which are already well-serviced by public transport. I have two tram routes and four bus routes within a block and train station 10-15 minutes walk away, so it would be good for me. But it would be useless for people living in the outer suburbs, which would still have to make do with their once an hour and not on Sundays inconveniently located bus route. Harry was too polite to point it out, but is it that surprising that the The Age, mostly read by people in inner suburbs, is running this campaign, and not the Herald-Sun, read by everyone else in Victoria and the people whose taxes would have to pay for this give-away?
2) Because many areas of Melbourne are poorly served by public transport, making it free cannot cause significant shifts from cars as the primary mode of transport. What it will do is encourage excessive use by people already within the well-served areas.
3) The cost of making it free is under-stated, because the system is at or near capacity during peak hour now, so increased use would cause costs to rise as more rolling stock is purchased and more staff employed. If this is not done, people will return to their cars. If you are going to have to deal with congestion either way, at least cars are more comfortable and take you door-to-door.

Today’s arguments from The Age sink to new low standards. In an article entitled ‘What’s the lesson, Mr Bracks?’, the paper says:

Transport operators were flat out from the start of the Games, scheduling 15,000 additional bus services, 12,500 more tram services, 2800 more metropolitan train services and extra regional trains and buses. The result was that Melbourne’s roads were relieved of many of the usual peak-hour problems.…The gold-medal finding is that Melburnians will flock to public transport given the right circumstances — and one of those is when it is free. (emphasis added).

Only a few paragraphs from the end do they mention one of the major other reasons for the low peak-hour problems: it was school holidays. This always causes a noticeable drop in car use, as parents stop driving their kids to school and many families exit the city entirely. And only in passing do they note a point Harry Clarke emphasises in a second post, that with regular warnings of Commonwealth Games traffic chaos many people avoided inner Melbourne. It’s been so bad that many traders are complaining of significant declines in sales, with tourists not making up for the missing locals. As public transport was free only to people with Games tickets, the decline in road congestion was almost entirely due to factors unrelated to public transport pricing and which either cannot or should not be replicated year-round. The Age is left only with the weak arguments it started with – and a pathetic beat-up as their front page story.

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Written by Admin

March 26, 2006 at 7:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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