The Real Reason Melbourne Lost Its Claim To Fame

With a crippled transport network, it's no surprise that Melbourne lost its claim to fame this week.

Melbournians were reeling this week after the mega-city was toppled from its top spot as the world’s most livable city, but with a fractured transport network, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

With a mounting public transport crisis spurred by a population boom and infrastructure decay, it’s no surprise Melbourne has been pushed from its top spot as the world’ most livable city this week after seven years in the  Economist Intelligence Unit’s spot.

For years now, Melbourne has been slow to react in the face of an unprecedented population boom. Latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show Melbourne experienced its highest-ever net annual population increase in 2016-17, bringing  its population to 4.9 million, the highest growth level of all capital cities.

The population boom has been so great that by 2050, Melbourne’s population will match that of London. And the situation is forecast to worsen even more, with Melbourne’s public transport network expected to reach 200 per cent of current capacity by 2031.

Melbourne's population has met unprecedented growth.

Overcrowding and vehicle congestion are causing trams to spend 17 per cent of their time stopped at traffic lights, while infrequent services and a fraught radial network are cramping trams and causing them to travel at just 16 km/h compared to the Gold Coast's 27km/h, according to a recent public transport discussion paper from the City of Melbourne.

“Our public transport network is under strain. The number of people living, working and visiting the municipality is growing faster than can be accommodated by current services and committed public transport projects,” the city’s public transport discussion paper said.

Despite the plethora of problems with the city’ transport network, the city is still unable to settle on a workable transport strategy, despite a final strategy meant to be released later this year, with a 10 year plan and 30 year vision for improved outcomes to 2050.

Tram passing through Flinders Street

The city is currently is the process of releasing a series of discussion papers floating various options to inform the city’s 10-year public transport strategy, with a draft set for release later this year. But projects identified as ‘critical’ in a recent discussion paper have still not been given the green light by the Government, despite a draft strategy due in just months.

For instance, Melbourne’s public transport discussion paper, released in April, recommended the introduction of a Metro 2 network linking Newport to Clifton Hill and a Metro 3 connecting Southern Cross to the airport. But despite Metro 2 being a key recommendation of the discussion paper and identified as a priority by Infrastructure Victoria and the Rail Network Development Plan, the project has not yet been signed off by the government.

The paper also proposes the introduction of electric buses, bus charging capabilities at stops, traffic priority for buses and trams, more accessible tram stops and the creation of orbital routes to link suburbs - but it’s still unclear what the shape of the government’s final strategy will be.

The city is set to release a public transport plan later this year

The city has floated various other solutions to the crisis over the past few months, including replacing a fuel tax and vehicle registrations with a user-pays road pricing system to unlock more efficient public transport networks and manage gridlocked roads.

Other global mega-cities such as London, Stockholm and Singapore have successfully introduced ‘road pricing’ to better manage traffic congestion in their cities, but the idea was quickly pushed away by Victorian politicians, with Roads Minister Luke Donnellan saying the Labor government had no plans to introduce road pricing.

With a crippled public transport, booming population and infrastructure unable to cope, with the added challenge of the Government being slow to act, it comes as no surprise that Melbourne lost its title as the most ‘livable city.’

This is particularly so given a key element of the liveability ranking is stability, environment and infrastructure. The outcomes is even more self-explanatory when Melbourne’s transport system is compared with Vienna.

Vienna has a famously efficient public transport unlike Melbourne’s notoriously bad public network.  With buses, trains, trams and underground lines operating like clockwork throughout Vienna and a 24 hour network, well, one plus one equals two.

So when Melbournians start defensively capitulating their claim to fame, point them in the direction of a peak hour tram.