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Flexible work times, protected bike lanes and permanent off-peak fares can cut congestion and get Melbourne moving safely again

Flexible start and finish times, safer cycling infrastructure, permanently cheaper fares for buses and off-peak travel are needed to reduce Melbourne’s worsening congestion and get Melbourne moving again as workers return to the city.

New modelling by the state’s independent infrastructure body shows congestion in inner Melbourne could reduce average vehicle speeds by 20-30% compared to pre-COVID levels as Melburnians choose to travel by car instead of public transport. This would cut average vehicle speeds in inner Melbourne to under 21 km/h during the morning peak.

Infrastructure Victoria CEO Michel Masson says without government intervention COVID car habits could become entrenched, risking long-term damage to Melbourne’s liveability and economic recovery.

“Congestion costs our economy, hinders growth, increases transport emissions and is wasted time away from our families and friends,” Mr Masson says. “Without intervention, we expect car use in inner Melbourne to increase by around 15% compared with pre-COVID levels – the equivalent of 100,000 additional car trips every day – while public transport use is unlikely to return to above around 60% of previous passenger numbers.”

Infrastructure Victoria’s modelling of public transport capacity shows ample provision for social distancing is possible (two in five seats occupied) on more than 90% of morning peak train services, even if 75% of Greater Melbourne’s workforce returns to workplaces full-time. At present, Google mobility data indicates around 50% of Melbourne’s city workforce has returned to workplaces.

The report, Transporting Melbourne’s Recovery, by the infrastructure advisory body outlines a range of policy measures that should be considered by government to ease congestion, particularly on inner-city roads, including support for active transport and continuing to encourage up to 25% of workers to work from home, on average, across the working week.

“As we emerge from holidays and return to work and school, a range of measures are needed to get commuters safely back on to public transport to get the city and the economy moving again,” Mr Masson says.

“For example, more flexible work practices, such as a mix of working from home and the office and earlier or later start and finish times, can help shift demand across the transport system, helping to support safer public transport travel.”

Infrastructure Victoria also recommends permanently offering cheaper fares for travel outside of normal peak hours, and discounted fares for buses, to distribute demand across the day and across different modes.

Next month the Victorian Government will trial off-peak fares, offering a 30% cheaper fare for anyone tapping on between 9:30am-4:00pm and after 7:00pm.

“This is a great start,” Mr Masson says. “We think the government could go a step further by introducing discounts for travel on buses to further shift demand across public transport modes and ensure ample room for physical distancing.”  

The report finds cycling and walking infrastructure investment is a cost-effective way to encourage commuters to choose active transport and offers other health and environmental benefits.

“There are proven examples from Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK that show with improved safety, many people would make the switch to active transport,” he says.

Infrastructure Victoria modelling finds an increase of 265,000 cycling and walking trips every day is achievable, including an increase of 55% of people choosing to cycle, and could lead to a time saving equivalent to around 18 minutes stuck in traffic per week, for every inner Melbourne car driver.

Mr Masson said: “Increased investment in separated cycled lanes across Melbourne, which we are seeing already in parts of the inner city, would encourage more CBD workers to safely cycle to work.”

Other recommendations in the report include campaigns to encourage up to 25% of Melbourne workers to continue working from home at least some days of the week, additional off-peak public transport services and support for local government to re-allocate parking and road space for pedestrians and economic activity, such as outdoor dining or pop-up markets.

“These cost-effective and safe measures will not only deliver short term gains as we continue to navigate the COVID-Normal era but can position Melbourne for a better new normal in the long term,” said Mr Masson.

To read Transporting Melbourne’s Recovery: Immediate policy actions to get Melbourne moving report visit: https://bit.ly/TransportingMelbournesRecovery

Media contact: Mandy Frostick, Ph: 0419 546 245 mandy.frostick@infrastructurevictoria.com.au

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