Among the 12 (or more) seats lost by Labor in Saturday’s election were four in Melbourne’s south: Frankston, Carrum, Mordialloc, and Bentleigh.
What do these have in common? The Frankston line.
The Frankston line is the poorest performing in Melbourne. While overcrowding has eased since the June timetable change, punctuality is the worst in the city. In the past 12 months, just 71.2% of trains arriving within five minutes of the schedule. (Network-wide average 85.1%)
One of the causes of this is the extensive use of Siemens trains on the line. These trains have only two doors per side per carriage, and few handholds along the aisles, which causes passengers to congregate around the doors, slowing loading, particularly at peak times.
More critically, an intermittent brake problem means the trains have a 30 km/h limit when approaching a station stop with a level crossing on the far side. By my count, this affects 6 stations from Frankston going towards the city, and 10 going back towards Frankston.
Siemens train brake problems were first reported in 2003, but gained prominence in summer 2006-2007 when a large number of trains were taken out of service because of it. A full solution still hasn’t been found.
The Siemens train problems, combined with the premature scrapping of Hitachi trains as they were introduced, has led to overcrowding and delays.
The Coalition’s David Davis cited the Frankston line as a factor in the swings of bayside seats against the ALP, and one new MP agrees with him:
Ms Wreford says voters in her electorate and the nearby seats of Frankston and Carrum – which also look likely to fall to the Liberals – have had enough of the Frankston railway line which runs through the three bayside electorates. — AAP
And the Herald Sun this morning notes Swinburne University’s Professor Brian Costar:
“It shows that voters see state governments as service providers.”
The failures in public transport were symbolic of a government that had become ineffectual.
“Any Labor member along the Frankston-Pakenham line was in trouble. That was extraordinary. It was the south-eastern suburbs that did Labor in.”
So we have multiple failures with a specific model of train — and indeed a poor choice of model in the first place. They were chosen by National Express, but would have been approved by the Department of Infrastructure (now Transport). Subsequently there’s the placement of many of those trains on the Frankston line, no solution to the brake problems despite seven years having passed, and continuing disquiet over overcrowding and late-running. (And to be fair on Labor, they had started to turn the latter two problems around.)
Add to that a not-necessarily representative, but very alarming recent security incident (and a general concern over security — see: Stateline 19/11), poor decisions and cost blowouts with the new Myki ticket system, frustration from many over station carparks (caused by infrequent buses that aren’t coordinated with the trains), and it’s no wonder that the Coalition’s message, that they would fix the reliability and security problems, and form a Public Transport Development Authority to better plan, manage and coordinate the system, resonated with voters.
What difference would a PTDA make? If it’s done right, it would be staffed by experts who wouldn’t let an operator buy a bung brand of train, nor let a brake problem go unresolved for years on end, nor scrap old but perfectly functional trains when patronage growth had been predicted. It would have powers to ensure bus/train/tram timetables are coordinated. It would do proactive planning and lobbying for funds, at arms-length from government (eg not subject to excessive interference from the politicians, such as Metro recently found when its etiquette campaign, which if successful would have improved punctuality, was deferred by the Minister’s Office due to the election — see Thursday’s Herald Sun print edition: “Stopping all stations, except for manners”). And it would have proper public involvement and transparency, unlike the secret decisions that currently get made behind closed doors.
I’m sure public transport wasn’t the only factor in Labor losing the election, but the message must be that governments have to get basic services right, or face the consequences.
Let’s hope the Coalition get it right.