I don't move in truck driver circles nor mix among those good folk of the leafy eastern suburbs. If I did, I might come across someone who thought the State Government's east west road tunnel across the north of inner Melbourne is a good idea. I certainly haven't come across anyone in my life who thinks spending $8 billion on the tunnel is a good idea, hang on the figure seems to have jumped to $12 billion.
This project has become a political liability for the State Government. Always one must look for either a payoff to someone, such as a trucking magnate, or votes, and I just can't see the votes in it for the government. I am quite mystified.
The government has managed to get the story off the front pages for a time with some grandiose public transport initiatives. Our public transport seems to be becoming less reliable and more overcrowded. The train tracks, wires and signals are all very old and big money needs to be spent on them. Removing level crossings is also necessary so more trains can run, and that is very expensive.
Now the government has announced the virtual abolition of Zone 2 in the fare system, taking out $100,000,000 of revenue. This is crazy. It will cost the same amount to travel one tram stop in the suburbs as it will to travel in a train for an hour.
Daniel Bowen ex president of the Public Transport Users Association has done the sums. To journey one station from Flinders Street to Richmond will cost $1.38 per kilometre. To journey many stations from Flinders Street to Pakenham will cost $0.06 per kilometre. While I don't think charging users from Flinders Street to Pakenham $1.38 per kilometre would be fair, the election promise just seems absurd. So who will benefit? Voters in outer marginal seats, of course. Well, unlike the road tunnel, that makes sense, although I think voters everywhere care more about a frequent and reliable service more than price.
Another promise made at the same time will see trams within the Central Business District and Docklands free for everyone. Of course if you arrive in the city by tram, train or bus using a two hour ticket, your ticket is probably still valid for at least one tram ride without paying more. If you have a public transport day ticket, you can ride on trams all day.
Who will benefit from this? Some overseas students who live in the city, and local people who live in the city too. From my observing of who is collared for fare evasion in the city, the overseas students are very reluctant fare payers anyway. There will no benefit to myself or R as we will still have to use our Mykis to get to town, not very far away.
Tourists staying in city hotels will benefit. They can ride around the city on trams for free, but they usually want to go to St Kilda Beach or Chapel Street, so they will have to pay anyway.
Who will benefit is office workers did not catch public transport to town and home again later, and who like to get about the city in their lunch break, and business people who like to lunch and use the tram to get to a restaurant. Are these people worthy of free tram travel ?
Some will lose, as our friend will who delivers documents from his city law firm. He is given an annual ticket to use trams in the city to deliver documents. He sees as part of his wages because it also covers him for his travel from home to to work and back. But I can't see his firm giving him an annual ticket if tram travel within town is free.
Living where I live, it is very much user pays. We pay dearly to live where we live. Everything for us costs more and we get much less benefit under the same council as when we lived in a house in Balaclava. Every so often I have a go at our at Mayors, now Amanda Stevens, and local councillors, now Anita Hovarth, about the unfairness of it, and they make soothing noises, but nothing changes. The building we live in contributes something like $130,000 in rates to City of Port Phillip and we get little value for what we pay. A very long St Kilda street full of free standing houses might contribute about the same.
Ok, I chose to live in such an expensive area, but I want a bit of fairness too, and reducing the fares for Zone 2 travellers and free public transport in the city is wrong. Trams within the city and peak trains from Zone 2 areas are already overcrowded. Both these election promises will make things even worse.
Later edit: A terrific piece by Alan Davies, writer for Crikey.com.