Nudging public towards flexible work could help solve Melbourne’s transport issues, according to Infrastructure Victoria

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday January 21, 2021

Michael McNamara will lead Victoria’s new digital transformation agency.
Michael McNamara will lead Victoria’s new digital transformation agency. (Image: Treasury Gardens, Melbourne. Adobe/Greg Brave)

The Victorian government could reduce congestion in Melbourne by using the state public service as an example of best practice when it comes to embracing flexible work, according to a new report from Infrastructure Victoria.

The report, ‘Transporting Melbourne’s Recovery: Immediate policy actions to get Melbourne moving‘, notes that Victorian public servants account for more than 4% of employees in the CBD — which will face higher levels of congestion as the state returns to a ‘COVID normal’.

Infrastructure Victoria has suggested that Victoria follow the lead of New South Wales by adopting staggered start times and rotating days in the office for government employees, as a way of ‘nudging’ other workplaces to do the same.

The agency’s latest research aims to address “competing objectives” regarding the transport network that the state government will need to balance during the recovery phase of COVID-19, including transmission risks, congestion, and stimulating economic activity.

“Governments across the world are working rapidly to understand how to cater for the shifting transport demands of their cities — specifically, a disruption to entire transport systems that were not designed with such health and biosecurity challenges in mind,” the report says.

The research presents a number of short-term policy solutions that will allow for a return to higher levels of economic activity, while limiting road congestion and delivering safer public transport services.

Read more: Shakeup of Melbourne public transport fares could ease congestion, improve affordability, according to Infrastructure Victoria

Based on enhanced transport modelling, mobility data, case studies and evidence from Australian and New Zealand cities, the proposed solutions encourage the state to explore workplace policies and safe public transport travel regulation, pricing mechanisms, greater collaboration between all levels of government and business, and enhanced infrastructure service levels.

Two changes that Infrastructure Victoria has modelled are greater active transport use (such as cycling and walking) and more flexible work, which, if implemented, could make a “significant contribution” to reducing road congestion and public transport crowding.

“Our modelling has shown that greater levels of flexible work, consisting of levels of working from home of around 25% and more flexible work times, result in congestion levels in Inner Metro close to pre-COVID-19 levels (a reduction of over 100,000 delay hours compared to COVID Normal), and much lower congestion across the rest of Melbourne,” the report says.

“Our modelling also shows that an increase of over 142,000 cycling trips each day to, from, and within Inner Metro, when combined with greater walking trips, results in a reduction of 40,000 delay hours for Inner Metro road congestion.”

However, the report argues that policy and operational interventions from the government are needed to achieve these two behaviour changes, including:

  • Government directives and guidance, such as mandatory wearing of masks and capacity guidance on public transport to “support safer and more confident travel”.
  • Pricing mechanisms. Introducing off-peak fares, for example, would complement flexible work incentives and encourage commuters to travel during quieter times of the day. Meanwhile, removing the Free Tram Zone and developing incentive schemes could encourage greater uptake of active transport.
  • Infrastructure provision, including larger and more permanent separated cycling corridor upgrades and pop-up bike lanes, and re-allocated parking and road space for pedestrians and economic activity.
  • Government collaboration and leadership in flexible work. Examples include ‘nudges’ towards greater flexible work using public campaigns, collaboration with industry, and the use of the state public service as an example of best practice.

Read more: Nothing but nudges: behavioural economics comes of age


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