The Future of Public Transport in Victoria: Homesafe

It’s just past midnight on a Saturday morning as you say goodbye to your friends and manoeuvre through a crowded inner-city bar, desperate to get to the door. As you hurry down the street, you pull up the train timetable on your phone, praying that the public transport gods have mercifully scheduled the last train half an hour from now. They haven’t. As you quicken your pace, you gaze wistfully at the kebab place on the corner that you sadly won’t be patronising tonight – the two minute detour could be the difference between a $2 train ride or a $60 cab to get home. Descending into the train station, the feeling of dread overcomes you as you come to the realisation that for once, the train network is running perfectly on schedule. This spells bad news for you – and your bank account – as you reach the ticket barrier, you realise it’s all over as you watch the last train home snake its way out of the train station and into the distance.

In January this year, Victorian Labor recognised the seriousness of a modern-day metropolis not having an all-night transport network, and announced its ‘Homesafe’ policy – a commitment to implement a $50 million year-long trial of 24 hour public transport on Friday and Saturday nights if it wins the state election, to be held in November this year. Homesafe would include services on all lines on the metro transport network, key tram lines and an expansion of the current Nightrider bus network. The policy would also increase services to regional Victoria, with 2am bus service from Southern Cross Station to Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Traralgon.

Jill Hennessey, Labor’s shadow minister for Transport, is excited about how the policy will specifically benefit students. “Homesafe recognises students do not always have the available cab fare coming home from work, or a night out. Homesafe is about getting home safely and easily across Victoria,” she says.

It is a situation that plenty of university students have found themselves in before: having to make the tough call to end a night out on the town early in order to catch public transport home, or take costly private transport options to get home after a big night out. Shockingly, it is all-too common for young people to reject the option of a costly taxi to get home and instead wait for the train network to commence services the following day, spending hours waiting in unsafe train stations.

Even more concerning for young adults is the inadequacy of public transport for those who work late into the night and require an affordable way to get home. The fact is the high cost of taxis and city parking place a heavy financial burden on young people. Many students work part time in hospitality – an industry that often operates outside standard hours. To restrict transport options during these times does a disservice to the tourism and hospitality industry, as well as to its workers.

With an estimated 400,000 people going out every weekend, it is understandable that our existing late night transport options are becoming over congested. “We want to reduce congestion and increase the number of services available – Homesafe is about providing new and improved public transport options available for those who need to use public transport outside the standard hours,” says Ms Hennessey.

Melbourne is not alone in considering 24 hour public transport models, with New York, Berlin and Chicago already operating with such systems, and London announcing a similar trial last year. “It’s time we take a step into the modern era. If we want to encourage people to use public transport, then we need to improve its accessibility and reliability,” Hennessey argues.

The policy is in stark contrast to the offerings of the other political parties vying for the votes of Victorians at the upcoming state election. The Liberal Party have sparked controversy with their decision to build the East-West Link as their centrepiece infrastructure pledge ahead of the November poll, at the expense of a commitment to invest in similar public transport projects. With a price-tag of up to $15 billion, Hennessey argues that while roads are important, “the Napthine Government has sunk billions into a dud tunnel project and every other area of Victorian life will suffer because he has chosen the wrong investment priorities.”

A cursory glance at the policy document of the Victorian Greens reveals no concrete proposals to extend the hours of public transport offerings in Melbourne, beyond a general commitment to the importance such a policy.

With public transport that is available at all hours a priority for young people, voters have a chance this November to support a platform that will enable students – whether they’re heading home from a night out in the city, or finishing a late shift at work – to get home safely. In our opinion, that’s a policy worth voting for.

Ben and Samantha are both members of the Australian Labor Party.

Image via wikipedia

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