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Vic public transport ‘poorly co-ordinated’: Auditor-General

Victoria’s public transport services are “poorly coordinated” and progress on improving this “has been slow”, a report from Auditor-General John Doyle released on Wednesday argues.

Doyle says he finds that the “longstanding deficiencies … in the planning and management of co-ordination initiatives are particularly concerning”, but notes that the establishment of Public Transport Victoria in 2011 was “a key development that has begun to address this situation”.

Inadequate planning in the past has meant “a number of tram routes that terminate short of the nearest train station, and many bus routes that do not harmonise well with the rail network”.

Doyle’s recommendations include:

  • Improved measuring of service performance;
  • Building incentives for the co-ordination of different services (buses, trains and trams) into future contracts;
  • Providing better and more timely information to customers, and;
  • Ensuring public transport planners are working to defined goals.

The Victorian government should also finalise its draft co-ordination framework, he said.

The report argues there is a need to plan for public transport on a whole-of-network basis, rather than taking a mode-by-mode approach:

“Governance arrangements have not adequately supported coordination, as they have focused mainly on managing individual modes and contracts with related providers, rather than managing the network as an integrated system or establishing the contractual provisions necessary for improving coordination.”

It notes, however, that:

“… by shifting its focus from modal to network planning, PTV has improved its understanding of the challenges and actions needed to improve co-ordination.”

And although contracts with train, tram and bus operators are valued at around $2.7 billion per annum, current contracts between government and service providers are lacking in requirements to co-operate:

“These agreements … do not include explicit provisions focused on achieving defined system-wide co-ordination objectives. The absence of such provisions means that PTV largely relies on the goodwill of operators and indirect incentives within current franchise agreements to achieve co-ordination improvements.”

Doyle also believes inadequate measurement of service performance hinders evaluation and planning. He recommends:

“… developing measures, and reporting on indicators that reliably convey the level of intended and actual coordination across different public transport modes [and] strengthening its monitoring processes around the measurement of on-time running of train and bus coordination … PTV’s capacity to effectively monitor the performance of bus operators in improving coordination is compromised by an over-reliance on self-reporting, minimal quality assurance, and by a lack of reporting on the achievement of defined co-ordination goals.”

Improving the effectiveness of the public transport system does not necessarily require expensive new investments in new train or tram lines — the report points out that there is significant capacity to “leverage better value from existing bus services” by improving customer satisfaction:

“… while around 85% of residents live near a bus [and only 30% of dwellings are within walking distance of the train network], patronage per kilometre is comparatively much lower than other modes, with only around one passenger per kilometre … Research by PTV indicates that this is due to low satisfaction with these services mainly because of meandering routes, infrequent services, and insufficient hours of operation, which reduce their attractiveness to potential users.”

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne.