Highway Hell

As it is my last day of Easter leave, I have been chilling out and doing a lot of reading. This one article in the Melbourne newspaper The Age got me thinking. It is titled “Stuck in our cars on the highway to hell“. It describes the nightmare that is the transportation headache around Melbourne. Building new freeway tunnels and bypasses are not going to solve the problem. Our public transport system has not had a major upgrade for many years, and even India is upgrading their metro rail system. This means that the expanding western suburbs of the city, which have grown considerably in size over the last 10 years, cannot cope with the increasing amount of cars on the road. I will give you an example. When I first moved to Melton West in August 2000, it would take me 45 minutes to get to South Yarra by car, which is some 51 km. This was with me leaving at 0630 in the morning. If I drove to the Central Business district today, which is only 42 km from Melton West, it would take between 70 -120 minutes if I left at 0630. This is craziness, because if I did not have a Hybrid, I would be idling longer in traffic jams and stop/start driving is not very fuel efficient. When I do drive my Hybrid, I can’t help to think about everyone else who’s car/trucks do not turn off when idle, or don’t use electric only mode when crawling along at 20-40 kph. All those emissions make me sick!

So what are the alternatives? Public transport in my area is a joke, but because of my painful bonus, I am forced to use it (I can’t sit down for very long). We have a bus stop about 10 minutes walk from my house, and many times I have been standing, waiting for a ride to the railway station and it doesn’t turn up. The buses have a frequency of about 30 minutes during peak and hourly off peak. Then when I do get to the train station, the platform is jammed packed with people, and a two carriage train turns up! Talk about sardines in a tin.

The train system out west is a joke. We have a single track, that is not electrified, and serviced by slow old diesel locomotives made in the 70’s. There are some new fast trains, but the carrying capacity is nothing like what is required. I know trains are more efficient at transporting the same number of people compared to cars, but I am sure these old loco’s need a tune up, you should see the smoke when they start moving! The train frequency is every 30 minutes peak and every 60 – 90 minutes off peak. The similar journey that I take by car takes me 75 minutes by public transport and walking part of the way. One very positive thing I will say for the Melbourne public transport system is the single ticketing system and the fares are very reasonable. An all day ticket from my area to the city of Melbourne is only A$10.20, and you can travel on any bus, tram, and train all day. Packed like sardines, but all day travel.

This country is addicted to automobiles and building freeways to solve the current issues. Our current climate change targets will never get met if we continue in this manner. Even if everyone changed to Hybrids, it would still not solve the problem for too long. In a few years, the volume of traffic would have increased further, negating the efficiencies of the new technology. The only solution I can think of is to beef up the public transport system, and to start making Electric Vehicles or Plug-in Hybrids, that have been charged by renewable energy, and do it very, very quickly. As in most citys, the urban sprawl is increasing every year, so the transportation and emission problems will only get worse, unless we act quickly. I am no expert on this subject, but I can see what is going on around me, and it is not pretty.

Another solution would be to decentralise the Central Business District. Take the business and industry out to the suburbs so that workers are local and not spread across the entire city. Just a thought, it might work. With modern communication as it is today, there shouldn’t be any problems, except for the companies ego’s worrying about the stigma attached to being located in certain suburbs. They will have to get over it! With this solution, car travel is reduced as most people could ride bikes! How fit would everyone then be? Obesity in this country would be a thing of the past, decreasing the strain on the public health system. The road toll would reduce, because a head on collision between bikes would not be a tenth as bad as two cars hitting each other (and easier to avoid). The air would be cleaner, and we would be well on our way to meeting any emissions targets that are likely to be set in Kyoto II. When Peak Oil does does happen, if it hasn’t already, and global oil supply starts to decline rapidly, we would not free fall into a spiralling economic depression (maybe) because of transport issues. The railways would be freed up to transport more goods instead of using massive diesel powered trucks. Just like the good old days.

Well, I have had my rant for the week, and hopefully got you thinking about the transportation options of the future. As I said, I am no expert on these matters, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure all this stuff out!

I will leave you with this quote for the day;

“When the freeway disappeared, so did a lot of the problems. Now, the neighbourhood feels like a neighbourhood.” – Robin Levitt


  1. says

    Jon Faine on the ABC played an April Fools joke this morning, by getting Harry Barber from Bicycles Victoria to play along with the idea that the middle lanes of St Kilda road would become bike paths. The levels of anger in the callers was scary. So many people feel so strongly about their God Given Right to drive through the city and park there. None of them seemed to acknowledge that the roads should be designed for all of us, not just them. That public policy is broader than just them or their family. None seemed fussed that their insistence on driving means that my (inner city) streets are clogged and smoggy and noisy, despite the fact that my neighbours don’t drive much. They seem determined to make the inner suburbs as unliveable as they can.

    We need good public transport, we need to make it easier and cheaper to catch a train than to drive. We need to make it easier to cycle to the train station, and we need transport that connects suburbs to each other, not just to the CBD. It’s really really overdue.

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