Monday, December 03, 2007

The "European Model" of Public Transport stinks

The socialistas at The Age website were having a furious debate about our train and tram network, sparked by the upcoming price rise in tickets.

They correctly point out the obvious problem - prices rise, but standards and services are still very deficient and lacking.

But then as expected, dozens of Age commenters claimed we needed to adopt the European approach and cited London and Paris as good examples where the trains are supposed to be reliable, efficient and popular.

The ideas being suggested were that Melbourne should invest more, operate more services, create more stations, hire more staff and even build new stations and lines. These were often put forward with another strategy - to stop building roads and make it more unpleasant or expensive for car owners. Force more people onto public transport and voila - London !

This is the most idiotic argument from inner city dwellers and it needs to be stopped. Firstly, London is a city of over 10 million people living in very dense dwellings. As is Paris. The government in the UK has legislated the whole "green belt" nonsense where no new land is released for development around the outskirts, pushing up property prices and forcing people to live in more confined dwellings.

I recently returned from Paris, having seen firsthand what their Metro system is like during the strikes, and it is no utopia. Many of the stations are dark, outdated and smell of urine. And quite a few of the trains were severely overcrowded - and I mean overcrowded to a degree I've never seen in Australia and are more likely to see in Bombay or New Delhi. Perhaps this is due to the strikes, but that in itself is a strong argument against public servants operating the trains, and a good argument for private operators who do not need to hire unionised thugs and lazy workers who love to strike simply because their retirement age is being changed from 55 to 60, to be in line with the rest of the French population.

Another thing to note is that the Metro system in Paris is actually quite small geographically. It covers an area that geographically, isn't even as big as Melbourne, but is far more densely populated and has a higher number of stations and lines. So if we were to emulate Paris, we would be removing all lines and stations outside of the inner city (i.e Zone 1 ).

Another issue to consider is the trams we are burdened with in Melbourne. Not only are they slow and expensive compared to buses, but they require expensive infrastructure (tracks and power lines) and they cause massive traffic congestion because they cannot be overtaken easily and they occupy the middle of the road.

Buses would be much more preferable than trams, except perhaps in the crowded Melbourne CBD. We've seen the proliferation of expensive new tram "super-stops" that cost over $100,000 each, as councils struggle to spend their booming annual budgets of $200 million.

But there are some spend-happy bureaucrats who will claim that trams are part of our heritage (so are horse + carriages!) and thats reason enough to let them clog our roads !

Here are some unavoidable facts about transport. People strongly prefer cars and roads. Mass transit is usually only popular in dense and heavy traffic areas for commuting to work or to big events.

We already tax the heck out of petrol, cars, insurance, stamp duty and then ration out parking spaces as well as imposing lots of fines and penalties for speeding and driving whilst talking on a phone.

You can easily make life even more miserable for motorists, but why would you want to ?