Tag Archive: transport

The Car Culture

The car culture is something I’ve been trying to get my head around ever since I took an interest in transport systems and planning. What I mean by the car culture is the almost immediate belief that the only way to get from A to B is to do so in a car, either by driving, getting a lift, or taking a taxi. I’m genuinely curious as to why so many of us have this belief, and what could be done to promote alternatives to driving.

As anybody who has read this blog probably knows, I’m a strong advocate for and believer in a good public transport system. I believe that developing such a system has the capacity to remove the need to use a car for many trips, and thus can ease road traffic congestion levels. However, it’s just interesting to note people’s attitudes to public transport, and how much of an effect they have on their choice of transport mode.

Take for example this event just from this weekend (I’ll blur the details in parts). I attended (and thoroughly enjoyed) a Christmas party for the store at which I work. The store is located in the middle suburbs of south-eastern Melbourne, with most of its employees living in the general area or the suburbs slightly further out. This Christmas party was being held at the Melbourne Docklands, a fairly central location just west of the CBD, with good access to trains and trams not far away. Despite the fact that this party was guaranteed to become a boozy affair, and few people were likely to be able to drive after it, I was one of the only people who chose to take a train there, with everyone else either designating a driver (who then missed out on being able to drink) or taking a taxi (at the cost of a small fortune, especially for a trip from the suburbs to the city).

I paid $1.47 in total (a Zone 1 2-hour concession fare) to get where I needed to that night, and all it cost me was sharing a train with a few people and a short walk from the station to the venue. Yet many of the others who came were prepared to fork out $10 an hour for parking, or pay $1.62 per kilometre (bear in mind our store is located 20 kilometres from the CBD) to travel by taxi. The same scenario was repeated afterwards, with people opting to again pay for a taxi to continue their night out at St Kilda, when the 96 tram departs regularly from just up the road at Spencer Street, and drops you off right on Fitzroy Street in the heart of St Kilda.

I’m not having a go at my co-workers for choosing their respective transport modes, far from it. I’m just genuinely curious as to why the public transport option was not considered by more of them. I do admit to being a bit nerdy in this department and having a semi-encyclopaedic knowledge of Victorian public transport, but I still would have thought that many would be at least aware of its existence and its ability to get you where you need to go. And if they were not, then I would love to know what our leaders and planners can do to make people aware of these systems, and encourage them to use them.

I guess what I’m trying to address is this: we can build all the fantastic systems we want, but if people aren’t prepared to use them, then there’s little point. I’d just like to gain an understanding of why so many people have this engrained car culture, and what we can do to open their eyes to the alternatives.


The Victorian Liberal Party launched their 2010 state election campaign last night in Melbourne, and although for the most part it was a policy-free zone (as the Libs have been criticised for being since Jeff Kennett left), Liberal leader Ted Baillieu did have some very significant announcements to make in regard to the area of transport, most specifically public transport in Melbourne and Victoria. For the purposes of convenience, I’ve listed some of the commitments the Liberals have made so far in this campaign:

  • Feasibility study into the Rowville railway line
  • Commitment to planning for a railway line to East Doncaster
  • New railway stations at Southland (a favourite campaign of the PTUA) and Grovedale, in this blogger’s old stomping ground of southern Geelong
  • Commitment to planning for a heavy rail line to Melbourne Airport via Broadmeadows
  • 40 new electric trains for Melbourne’s suburban system
  • $379 million to remove dangerous metropolitan level crossings (ooh, I like this one)
  • Creation of a Public Transport Development Authority to plan, co-ordinate and maintain transport services and infrastructure (which even the eternally pessimistic transport planner Paul Mees is described as being “optimistic” about)
  • Adding security officers to police every metropolitan railway station and major regional railway stations from 6PM to last train every night
  • An extra $100 million to rail maintenance
  • An aspiration to return direct rail links between the regional centres of Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo (wow, talk about a promise from left-field)

That’s a very significant list of promises, no matter which way you look at it from. It certainly makes you think that the Liberals have isolated public transport as a key issue in this state election, and are intent on campaigning strongly on it. I’ve thought for some time that Terry Mulder, the opposition transport spokesman, is a man with at least half a brain in that head of his, which is more than I’ve thought of Labor’s transport ministers in Peter Batchelor, Lynne Kosky and Martin Pakula.

However, this in no way means I’m about to become a blind Liberal Party fanboi. While these policies and promises look great on paper, there are some concerns I have about aspects of all of them. Firstly, the Liberals deciding to adopt a Greens-like government control-type policy in regards to a dedicated Public Transport authority strikes me as odd, given the Liberals pro-market, anti-intervention fundamental base. I think the policy is good, don’t get me wrong, but I expect the Liberals to be the last people to agree with the idea, let alone take it to an election as their policy.

The second, and most pressing of my concerns, is the sheer scope and number of improvements proposed. For a party whose leader has described Labor’s debt as enormous and in need of control and reduction, how does he propose to fund these significant and expensive additions to the transport system while keeping debt under control? I know the Liberals trade on their economic management record, but when Jeff Kennett took power of a state in massive debt in 1992, his solution to manage it was about as far removed from expanding the public transport system as possible. I don’t need to point out how difficult it would be for Ted Baillieu to be Jeff Kennett-like in terms of debt reduction, yet the complete opposite in terms of infrastructure improvements.

The reality is, if the Labor experience of 1999 is to be replayed (which is most likely), then most of these promises will not eventuate if Mr Baillieu becomes premier. In 1999, the Labor Party under Steve Bracks promised the following initiatives for transport in Victoria should the win the election (which they did)

  • Return rail to Mildura, Ararat, Leongatha and Bairnsdale – only two of the four lines are again operational, with the other two not looking like being reopened at all
  • Construct a rail link to Melbourne airport – never built
  • Extend the tram line to Knox SC – extended only as far as Vermont South
  • Feasibility study into the Rowville railway line – never completed, and Labor policy now opposes the construction of the line

So that’s just a few promises, and even most of them were broken. You could read into this that it was the Labor Party, not the Liberal Party, who broke these promises, but I’m not about to get involved in a Labor vs Liberal brawl about who’s more honest. They’re all politicians in my view, and all likely to renege on promises, or change their tune on policy once in office.

Having said that, if even some of these projects do occur, the state will be better for it. A good public transport system is pivotal to a vibrant and liveable city, and can really play a role in addressing road traffic congestion. Investments of this type made now stand to benefit the city for many years to come. Regardless of who wins the state election, it would be good to see these policies adopted and these improvements made to the transport system.