Melburnians need to get back on public transport

One of the most striking features of the COVID-19 shutdowns in Melbourne was the silence. With little traffic on the roads, the city became eerily quiet. It is now a distant memory as many people prefer to use their car rather than public transportation.

Traffic in Melbourne is almost back to pre-COVID-19 levels – the evidence is congested – despite a large number of people still working from home and fuel costs heading north for $ 2. It has been a much slower return to public transport. The latest data from the transport department shows that the network experienced its sharpest increase in protection since 2020 last Thursday. The figure hit 63 percent of baseline before COVID – a 9 percent increase over the same time last week, but still long after returning to cars.

Passengers leave a tram in the CBD on Sunday.

Passengers leave a tram in the CBD on Sunday.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Fear of being hit by COVID-19 is clearly an important factor in people’s hesitation. But the risk is not what it seems. Professor Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, believes that being inside a store or cafe for more than 15 minutes can pose a higher risk of infection than being on a train, tram or bus where face masks are still on. mandated.

It is an argument that needs to be heard loud, clear and often. Environmental organizations have spent years convincing people to leave their cars at home when they get around town. If we are to kick our dependence on fossil fuels and save our roads from gravel, leaving our vehicles in the garage will play a big role. Nearly one million Tesla electric cars may have been sold last year, but it will be at least a decade before the new technology dominates the car market.

The state government has begun luring people back to public transportation. Prices froze last year, and increases this year were below inflation – rising 2.3 per cent for the city and 1.1 per cent for the regions. The government also temporarily reduced low-cost prices to minimize congestion earlier in the pandemic.


The Victorian greens will go further. They call for public transport to be made free of charge for an initial period of one month and for it to be regularly audited depending on the prices of the bowser. While free everything usually attracts a crowd, some question whether it is worthwhile to offer public transportation at no cost. Public Transport Users Association spokesman Daniel Bowen said the people most affected by high petrol prices lived in suburbs with poor public transport services and would not be helped by the Greens’ proposal.

So if not for free, then what? Dr. Jonathan Spear, CEO of Independent Consultants Infrastructure Victoria, suggested this week that there was room to lower prices for some underutilized public transport services. With people tending to avoid the office on Mondays and Fridays, there may be room for discounts on certain days.

Appealing to the hip pocket, however, is not a panacea. After being encouraged for so long to stay at a safe distance from each other, the thought of getting on a crowded train is for some an embarrassment. Bringing up protection again will take time, but it can be accelerated by a coordinated campaign by the state government and public transport operators to encourage people to leave car keys at home. It would be a benefit to the environment, a way to alleviate our congested roads and possibly a chance to save a few dollars.

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