Science and Technology

Ministerial address: the future of public transport in Victoria

The-Hon.-Melissa-Horne-Minister-for-Ports-Freight-Public-Transport
The Hon. Melissa Horne, Victorian Minister for Public Transport, and Minister for Ports and Freight

On 26 March 2019, The Hon. Melissa Horne, Victorian Minister for Public Transport, and Minister for Ports and Freight, gave the opening address at iMOVE’s recent Transport of Tomorrow Symposium. Below is the transcript of Minister Horne’s address.

Victoria’s current population and economic growth is unprecedented. We grew by an average of 146,000 people a year over the past three financial years. 2800 people are added to the Victorian population every week. This is the largest and the fastest growth of any state or territory at 2.3 per cent per annum.

This growth is placing enormous demands on not just public transport, but on the entire network. Right now, Melbourne’s transport network handles 17.4 million trips a day. By 2051, our experts tell us it will have to cope with 30.3 million trips (in cars, utes, trucks, on public transport and foot or on bike). Freight volumes are expected to nearly triple over the next 30 years. We are spending nearly $38 billion on major infrastructure and smart technology projects and another $10 billion of upgrades and improvements across road, rail and port.

This unprecedented investment will meet the needs of massive growth and while we undertake this mammoth task, we must never lose sight of our passengers. And that’s what I want to focus on today – how our investments will help connect us up to jobs and to each other.

I want to talk about how we’re making every journey as safe, convenient, efficient and seamless as possible, no matter how you travel. Every public transport trip begins on a road. We walk, drive, cycle or get taxis or rideshare to and from train stations. Currently, a third of all public transport trips are on our roads – buses, trams, rideshare.

The way people travel is integrated and the way we plan, build and operate the network is be integrated too. Mobility as a service only works if our public transport network is functioning well.

Understanding how people move

We can get lost in the big numbers. Across Victoria, there are now 23.1 million trips a day and that is forecast to grow to 38.8 million by 2051.

But behind every number, there is a person, and behind every person there’s a story that explains when, where and why to travel. Women and men who combine paid work with care for children or other vulnerable people, often have incredibly complex travel patterns. Students combine trips to education with journeys to work, to music gigs, to the shops and footy. People who have made a tree change or a sea change knit together regular local trips with longer commutes across their regions, to the city or interstate.

As all our journeys become more complex, we need to shift our focus away from the CBD commute. 75 per cent of travel is not about getting to paid work and most paid work is not in the CBD. But trips to paid work in any location are important in the morning because they coincide with trips to education.

It’s not wrong to focus on the morning crush but it is wrong to think it is the only thing that matters. We need to get in and out of the city, but we also need to travel around it at all times of the day and night.

The steps to better public transport (infrastructure)

The past shapes what we can do in the present and future. Modern administrations have inherited a robust, extensive 19th century rail and tram infrastructure that’s been pared back to a linear set of rail lines. From the 1950s on, our spending all went towards the car. After decades of neglect, the first major improvement in public transport was the City Loop in 1985.

In more recent times, three successive budgets have boosted capital funding to public transport by almost $40 billion. This is unprecedented investment and amounts to the biggest public transport overhaul in Victoria’s history. It’s not just about building new trains or tracks or buying new buses; we must make the old fit with the new.

The first step was Regional Rail Link. It connected people in the fast-growing western suburbs with the city centre via new stations at Wyndham Vale and Tarneit. Then we began to untangle rail lines and roads by removing 75 level crossings. Twenty nine of the most congested ones are already gone. Our Western Rail plan will electrify lines to Melton and Wyndham Vale, an essential step towards getting fast rail to Ballarat and Geelong.

By 2025, the Metro Tunnel will free up space in the original city loop by taking our busiest trains through a new tunnel under the city. The installation of high-capacity signalling is under way. We are integrating 21st century wireless technology with analogue signalling systems that are more than 100 years old, so we can run bigger trains, more often.

The new signalling and new metro trains gets us a step closer to a turn-up-and-go rail network, beginning with the Cranbourne-Pakenham line. And we are planning for the suburban rail loop, an orbital line that will connect people with jobs in major new centres of employment at Monash, La Trobe, Sunshine and more. This 90-kilometre network will circle Melbourne, connecting every major railway line from the Frankston line to the Werribee line via Melbourne Airport.

The price of change

We know there is going to be a lot of pain as we build a public transport system that can handle up to 2 million more trips a day in Melbourne in the next 30 years.

Sentiment analysis is helping us understand the impact of disruptions. Since 2017, we have spoken to thousands of people across the network, including Gippsland, Cranbourne and Pakenham, about how they cope with disruptions and what we can do to make their journeys smoother during construction blitzes. We are also tracking people’s responses on social media.

The message from our sentiment analysis data is clear: people want to know what is happening, how long they will be delayed and what alternatives they have. The data also lets us put on extra buses or tram services to create an agile, interim network that gives people choices during disruptions.

Better public transport through data

As you all know, mobility is more than infrastructure. Safe, efficient, smart roads, tracks and tunnels are vital but so is data. At a time of growth and change, we need to know a lot more about how and why people travel.

Data analytics and data science are helping us see how our travel patterns have changed and will continue to change as the state grows and new technologies, innovative vehicles and the sharing economy shape the choices we make. Our agencies have developed a new service usage model called Train SUM. It uses Myki data, arrival and departure times and passenger counts to give us much deeper insights into how many people are travelling on trains and when and why peaks occur, especially at nights and on weekends.

Train SUM has boosted our understanding of the train network – but we need to know much more. Our patronage data for other modes is still quite patchy and something I’m keen to address. Because tram travel is free in the CBD and yearly passes mean there’s often no touching off, our Myki data is limited. This means we often underestimate how many people catch trams.

There are also big gaps in our understanding of buses. Our latest patronage report shows that concession trips on metropolitan buses continue to decline, but we don’t know why. If we can’t understand why these vulnerable transport users are changing their behaviour, we can’t make a more equitable system. To improve data capture of bus use, we’ve begun trialling technologies like object recognition as well as on-board sensors to get a better picture of what’s going on for passengers.

Streaming real-time data will allow us to tell customers how many seats are left on the bus they’re waiting for. Late last year, we asked the market to help us understand how people get to train stations and what they need once they arrive. The 50 submissions we received were very diverse. The technologies on offer ranged from optical-type sensors; to small networked devices; to mobile-phone technologies such as apps.

The sorts of solutions we’re talking about include real-time information to tell passengers where to stand on a platform if they want to get a seat; an opt-in travel planning service for disruptions; as well as the capacity to change bus timetables on-the-fly to deliver more services when and where they are most needed.

We are following up with several suppliers – some local, some international – and many who have worked on smart cities projects around the world.

Trials and innovation

One third of all public transport trips made in Melbourne are made on-road, whether that’s by tram or bus. That’s why we’re particularly interested in predictive congestion modelling.

We want to better understand how emerging data sets can be used to monitor, predict and manage congestion that slows on-road public transport. We want to combine current and historic data to predict congestion up to 30 minutes ahead of time to better support traffic management. We recently began a trial of tram priority at traffic lights on Route 75. We’ve fitted 25 trams with technology that allows them to send a signal to a central traffic control centre to change the light sequence, triggering the traffic lights from red to green to prioritise late-running trams through intersections along Toorak Road and the Burwood Highway.

Those 25 trams have also got short-range radio technology so they can provide information about when their doors are open to allow better synchronisation with traffic lights.

Myki goes mobile

Mobility as a service is sometimes defined as a concept that lets users plan, book and pay for all their travel – with either public or private operators – through a single platform. To enable mobility as a service, the government’s first role is to get the regulation right so we can make way for innovation. Our second one is to share our data with industry so we can work together to make travel easier for everyone.

Our new partnership with Victoria’s ticketing provider, NTT Data, and Google, shows what is possible when government, operators and industry work together. Myki is one of the world’s biggest smart ticketing systems with more than 15 million cards and 700 million transactions a year.

From this Thursday, passengers with Android smartphones will be able to use their phones to pay for travel on Victoria’s public transport network. The new technology uses Google Pay on the Android operating system and allows passengers to travel with a full fare, concession, child or senior Myki using both Myki money and Myki pass.

The sharing economy

The sharing economy is disrupting how we travel. Five years ago, few people had heard of rideshare but our travel survey data (VISTA) shows that in 2017-2018 more Melbourne households used rideshare than taxis. We are already seeing a decline among the young in car ownership and a greater embrace of shared and on-demand services, whether public or privately owned.

Mobility as a service is something that really aligns with current trends and user expectations. An end state where journey planners cover every mode, including roads. When you plan a trip, an app can deliver you granular information like parking availability at stations or disabled access, as well as the cost to the climate like carbon offsets by using public transport instead of driving.

And as a recent iMove survey revealed, there’s a real opportunity for mobility as a service, because 46 per cent of the population said they were ready to adopt pay-as-you-go when it comes to moving around. The other good news is that the survey revealed a strong preference for schemes with government oversight and public transport was consistently quoted as the most popular transport mode for inclusion.

Melbourne is regularly cited as one of the world’s most liveable cities. Keeping it that way will require us to find new and better ways of moving around, whether we’re going to work, picking up a child from school, visiting a hospital or having a big night out. We want to preserve the things that make Victoria and Melbourne a great place to live, even as we grow to a city of 10 million people. We want a future where the focus switches from today’s concerns about data reliability to a point where we’re using data to make more informed decisions, whether that’s a commuter making travel plans or a government making multi-billion-dollar investment decisions.

The ideas and solutions that this conference throws up could well be critical to our success in achieving this.

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