Map: How the 2015 zone changes affected train patronage

It’s well known that the Free Tram Zone worsened CBD tram crowding, but the package of fare reforms implemented in 2015 (planned by the Napthine government, matched by Labor) also capped zone 1+2 fares at zone 1 prices.

This removed a long-time bugbear in the fare system: the huge jump from going over the zone boundary. New statistics show the effects.

Herald Sun today: Fare change driving commuter surge towards to outer suburban stations

Here’s the data showing 2014-19 patronage changes plotted onto a map:

  • Red = patronage reduced by more than 1.5%
  • Yellow = patronage steady: slight drop, or increase up to 8%.
  • Light green = increases up to 22%.
  • Dark green = larger increases

Overall network growth was 7%, but clearly some stations have done better than others.

Network-wide, three of the top four were in residential growth areas:

  • 1. Officer – an amazing 537% increase in 5 years, coming off a low base
  • 2. Diggers Rest – up 234%
  • 4. Williams Landing – up 117%
  • Shown in dark green, there was also strong growth on the outer ends of the Sunbury, Craigieburn and Pakenham lines
Williams Landing station, 3pm

On the boundary

You can also see many of the drops (red) were at the edge of Zone 1, with some big increases (green and dark green) just over the boundary in Zone 2.

Jacana was the third highest rise overall with 183% growth. Ruthven came in fifth at 99% growth. Along with Gowrie (91%), Patterson (68%), Jordanville (54%), Aircraft (49%) – these are all stations which are the first on their line outside Zone 1.

On some lines, the next couple of stations along also saw growth, eg Williams Landing (fourth highest, 117%) – this got the double whammy of zone changes and growth area.

It’s clear that what’s happened is the effective removal of the zone boundary for trips into zone 1 mean that some people switched to these stations when the trip to the City became cheaper.

You might jump in your car to drive to zone 1 to avoid a huge surcharge, but if that surcharge is removed, you’d aim for a station closer to home.

Those just inside Zone 1 that lost patronage included many park and ride favourites: Laverton -20%, Mont Albert, Holmesglen and Reservoir (all -19%), and Brighton Beach -10.6%.

Reductions seem to have been more than matched by overall growth. Using Brighton Beach as an example: Annual boardings fell by about 53,000 over five years, but growth at the Zone 2 stations further down that line more than made up for it: Hampton up 131,000; Sandringham 191,000.

Of the zone 2 stations, Hoppers Crossing and Werribee had notable drops, probably due to Regional Rail Link opening in mid-2015, with stations closer to home for those living in Wyndham Vale and Tarneit.

What’s capping train use now?

For a growing city like Melbourne, it’s important to continue to foster growth in train network usage. Patronage and services are not currently keeping up with population growth, and this needs to be turned around.

Peak hour is difficult until the Metro tunnel opens, but this should unlock a lot more peak capacity when it’s commissioned in 2025.

In the meantime, a lot more can be done to spread peak loads by cutting off-peak waiting times. This would also relieve the crowding that is now a regular sight on the lines still running 20 minute off-peak services.

The reliance on car parking also needs to be overcome. The biggest car parks are never enough to satisfy demand. Alongside better walking and cycling options, better connecting buses are desperately needed, especially in the outer suburbs where service levels are poor.

While we wait for the tunnel, more services – on the trains and on the buses – are the key to helping more people catch trains. And the more people catching trains, the better.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

18 replies on “Map: How the 2015 zone changes affected train patronage”

I’m one of those that quickly switched from Holmesglen to Jordanville with the effective change. On this issue of carparks and buses, are we seeing much from the Govt relating to On-demand Bus trial around the major stations so that park and ride can be reduced?

Attended a few presentations on this topic last week (Roads/Traffic event) and NSW was sharing their experience. Not all successful outcomes but they did find some good results that are now permanent services. One in Moree was a real winner and significantly grew overall PT patronage.

Is there a dataset somewhere on railway station boarding that is more recent than 2011/12 on If not, why not?

I live in Zone 1, so it’s removed a (mostly mental) obstacle for discretionary travel to stations or stops that were previously in Zone 2. Previously, I would have driven instead of paying the zone “surcharge”.

In the early evening (7 to 8 pm), it is discouraging to have to spend a large portion of a journey waiting for a train because the service frequency drops off rapidly for most lines.

The zone boundary still exists of course, it’s just been pushed out on the regional lines, to even more dramatic effect.

There is a steep increase in fares as you cross the boundary from zones 1&2 to zones 3+, and worsened by the fact that only zones 3+ are subject to peak fares.

For example – the daily peak fare from the Geelong suburb of Corio (zone 3) to Melbourne (zone 1) is $24.00.

However, one can simply drive 10 minutes up the line to the next station, where the daily return fare from Lara (zone 2) to Melbourne (zone 1) is just $8.80.

That’s a $15.20 difference on a daily fare – the fare is almost triple!

No wonder they’ve had to extend the carpark at Lara. In fact even now, it still seems to be overflowing.

@Arthur, it’ll be interesting to watch how on-demand buses go in Sydney. Melbourne has had the Telebuses for a long time – these are part on-demand and part fixed route.

Route 490 to Gowanbrae works in a similar way, but there’s no information I can see about this on the PTV web site – only on the old web site does it say: PLEASE NOTE: Request stops must be booked via telephone on 1800 898 590 at least 15 minutes prior to bus departure from Airport West Shoppingtown.

@Harvey, absolutely right – I always thought it was a little bit crazy to peg Lara to Zone 3, which then became Zone 2, and then fell into the Zone 1 cap. It actively encourages people to drive across Geelong because of the big price difference.

I suspect the Diggers Rest patronage is more to do with a huge increase in new estates in and around Diggers Rest.

I’ve been catching the train from Diggers Rest since before the electrification and I’ve seen the effect of the increase, and it feels like it has increased significantly in the last 2-3 years because of the new housing.

I can see a justifiable decrease at Laverton. Before, a lot of people wanting to save on Zone 1+2 fares will drive all the way to Laverton and take the train from there. Now they park at Williams Landing or further out. Also, as you said, the introduction of Tarneit and Wyndham Vale services must also contribute to the decline. It is however, still very well used though with the boom in growth in the western suburbs.

I do notice however, that on the north side of Laverton that there are still available parking, perhaps because of the need to negotiate through the Aviation Road level crossing. I hope with the removal, there is still no justification to increase the already sprawling parking area at Laverton station.

Not to mention the fare anomalies in conjunction with regional fares. For me, travelling to Geelong, there is an incentive to catch the V/Line train at Sunshine rather than Footscray, which I do by catching the train from West Footscray ($4.40 + $3.64 < $9.38). In reverse, I can do it even cheaper by not touching off at West Footscray (default 1+2 fare, but I've already travelled in Zone 2 so only pay the $1.40 difference rather than $4.40).

And it seems that on a lot of journeys now V/Line conductors aren't checking mykis – I'll let you work out what incentive that provides after a train trip from West Footscray to Sunshine (touching off both ends) and touching on again at Sunshine for the trip to Geelong… But it doesn't work in reverse!

What Mark said above is correct. A large proportion of the huge increases at Officer, Diggers Rest etc are much more to do with the explosion of outer suburban housing estates.

To do a realistic comparison you need to look at the stations where the population in the station’s catchment has been relatively stable.

@Arfman as a north side of the Laverton tracks local I must correct you that all the parking on the north side does indeed get full. Granted it’s not until around 8:25-8:30am but there’s cars all the way to the freeway every morning.

What was most disappointing is that the 2018 timetable changes in the area decreased service on the main north south thoroughfare (Bladin St) meaning those people in the north still need to drive (or ride a bike) to have a way to connect with train services.

I’d love to see an on demand trial here and in Williams landing surrounds for those who live a few KM away and currently need to drive. The current service gaps of 20 minutes or more and general unreliability in the peak makes using busses impossible.


It seems about 2/3 full by 8.30am this half of the year from my observation. Perhaps it’s the works on Aviation Road.

No doubt, the increase at Officer, is due to the masses of houses going up around it recently, and no doubt Digers rest, would be the same, and/or from the provision of more trains?

Sorry Daniel, but you cannot just make a blanket statement that people changed their behaviour due to more fairer fares being made. (A theme that goes through your posts – you dislike any reduction in fares and you are totally opposed to the free tram zone and want higher fares overall to reduce patronage to allow you to get a seat…)

The real reason patronage has increased at these stations has already been mentioned above. Melbourne has an exploding population and all the folks catch the train to the city. Nothing to do with any changes the Liberals made a long time ago. Most folks wouldn’t even have a clue about the prices…you do, but the average punter knows nothing – similar to politics. (The amount of people I know who catch the “free train in the morning” but have weekly passes is laughable….)

@Steve, yes, the anomalies of V/Line fares really need to be fixed.

@James Y, wow, quite the set of assumptions you’ve made there.

You’re saying I want fewer people using PT? Uhhhh no. As the closing line says: “And the more people catching trains, the better.”

I didn’t make a blanket statement. I talked about the strong rises in growth areas, and then I talked around the zone boundaries (mostly NOT growth areas) which also rose strongly.

Patterson, Jordanville, Rosanna, Mitcham etc are not growth areas. Feel free to provide your own explanation as to why patronage at those stations went up so strongly.

Ok, lets look at Mitcham station.

Rebuilt recently – more carparks and easily accessible – better signage, more spaces, more cars
Recent population growth in the area (google it) – more units and subdivisions and growth in the area
More population in surrounding suburbs too (such as Doncaster)
Not as much population growth as the outer suburbs, but still growth.

The article was about zone boundaries…ummm…Mitcham no where near one. Nope, Heatherdale slowly went from a massive use station to a smaller use station (figuratively speaking) when the shocking Zone 3 was moved… but its no where near zone 1 (that would be Surrey Hills) and Mitcham did not directly benefit from the Zone 1 and 2 changes you mention in the article.

The article implied the reason for the growth (at any station) was bad (i.e. the Zone 1 2 changes). It put it in a negative light. If you are happy with the changes (Zone 1 2 travel) then state it. I have yet to see you say anywhere that you are happy with the changes for the free tram zone, Zone 1 2 travel, etc. You mention the facts about it, and quote figures about the effects of the changes….but where do you say that these are good? Hence my reading of your article as negative towards the Zone 1 2 travel charge arrangement change. Are you happy with the changes for the Zone 1 2 travel?

Still, I agree with other things that you said – the need for removing the cars from car parks, spreading patrons across all stations. And more people on trains – pack them in I say – every train should be full like the trams in the CBD at lunchtime.

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