3.1 Shape the transport network for better access
Victorians depend on transport infrastructure to support their economic, social and cultural connections. Prosperity and productivity partially rely on public and private transport moving smoothly on road and rail networks, creating reliable and efficient movements of people and goods. Transport connects people to their jobs and livelihoods. It helps people access the services that help them stay productive and well, such as health, education, community and recreational services. It connects them with friends and family, and opportunities to take part in cultural and civic life. Build’ initiative includes 165 road and rail projects, with approximately $80 billion worth of transport infrastructure projects currently underway.1 The program’s flagship projects include the Metro Tunnel project, Level Crossing Removal Project, North East Link and early works for the Suburban Rail Loop. Our recommendations will secure or further realise benefits from these Big Build investments, including for major projects we have strategically assessed. For example, upgrading road management systems (see recommendation 24) can more easily accommodate changing travel patterns, including from these projects.
The transport system must continue to adapt as the city expands. Transport infrastructure is costly and often disruptive to build, and infrastructure projects will become more expensive and complex as Melbourne develops. Many of our recommendations provide ways to better use existing infrastructure, minimising the need for more new construction. But if rapid economic and population growth returns, Victoria must build extra transport infrastructure to keep the economy moving and underpin Victorians’ quality of life.
To maximise the long-term benefits of major projects, transport infrastructure planning and delivery must be strategic, select the best projects in the right order, and be integrated with land use planning, including the protection of corridors. The Victorian Government must strike a balance between responding to existing demand and shaping future growth. It can create a financially, socially and environmentally sustainable transport system by combining efficiency improvements with carefully selected new construction projects.
Victoria’s population has been growing
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Victoria’s population had been growing strongly for over a decade.
Never had the state added so many new residents so quickly.2 In 2019, Victoria added 132,400 extra people to its population – a 2.0% increase on the previous year, and the largest increase of all Australian states and territories.3 Migration was the largest single driver of population growth, with new births also contributing significantly.4
Greater Melbourne absorbed most of this increase with only 15% settling in the regions in 2018-19. Population growth is far from uniform or certain, and some places will grow faster than others. In our modelling for this strategy, we examined population scenarios with three to six million extra Victorians by 2051.6
As the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated, population growth is uncertain. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to initially pause population growth and then progressively increase over the coming decade. The Australian Bureau of Statistics projects Victoria’s population growth will recover to pre-pandemic growth rates by 2023–24, faster than other states and territories.7 Even with these uncertainties, we still expect most of Victoria’s population growth will concentrate in Greater Melbourne. Over the next 15 years, over 30% of Melbourne’s population growth will occur in new growth areas in the north, west and south-east.8 Regional population growth will disproportionately occur in the major centres like Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo. The location of population growth fuels demand for more transport trips, and so requires more transport infrastructure.
Victoria’s population has been growing
We expect Victoria to have five to six million jobs by 2051.9 We expect service sectors to disproportionately generate new jobs, including in the health, education and professional services sectors. In all our modelling scenarios, most of Victoria’s extra jobs were created in Melbourne’s established areas. Different jobs have different productivity effects, meaning they produce different economic contributions.
Better paid jobs tend to cluster in certain locations, like the central city, and generate higher economic output for each worker. Plan Melbourne identifies National Employment and Innovation Clusters to encourage these clusters outside the central city. Transport infrastructure can help develop these clusters, by expanding the labour pool and allowing quick trips between clusters.
Connecting people to opportunities
Future population growth and job creation have different distribution patterns. Some urban areas are projected to combine strong population and job growth like Melbourne’s inner and eastern suburbs. People living in Melbourne’s established inner and middle ring suburbs have access to comparatively diverse local job and education options. A well-developed motorway network serves these suburbs with high quality road links and interchanges, offering motorists many route options. Inner suburbs also enjoy plentiful public transport options, with trams, trains and buses offering good connectivity. The ring suburbs have regular train and bus services. But in other places, strong population growth is not accompanied by much employment growth, such as in Melbourne’s outer northern and western growth areas, as shown in Figure 17.
These places are distant from areas projected to generate many jobs, especially higher-paying specialist employment. This means people living there have fewer job choices and must travel further to reach them. This potentially means people may settle for lower paid work than they are capable of, and places extra pressure on transport networks to accommodate longer trips. Figure 18 shows that without further investment, large sections of Melbourne’s rail network will be heavily congested by 2036. As rail and other transport networks become more congested and unreliable, fewer workers can access employment precincts. This also means employers can find it increasingly difficult to find skilled staff willing to travel to their business, compromising business growth and productivity.
Figure 17: Comparison of employment and population growth projections (2018 to 2051). This graph shows that inner Melbourne employment is projected to grow more than its population, while in new growth areas, population growth will far outstrip employment opportunities.
These places also have fewer transport
options. Motorists have access to fewer
nearby arterial roads or motorways, and
fewer route choices. The radial nature of
the train network means the distance
between rail lines, and often train stations, grows with distance from the central city, making access to trains in outer suburbs and new growth areas difficult. Bus and
train services are less frequent. People living in fast-growing areas of Melbourne’s north and west also use the same transport corridors as growing regional centres, such as Geelong and Ballarat. This can compromise access to
metropolitan Melbourne from these
In outer growth areas of Melbourne, projected strong population growth is not accompanied by similar employment growth, which impacts access to where jobs are located.
Figure 18: The rail network is projected to become crowded without change.
This map shows the rail network in 2036 is likely to be heavily congested in the mornings without further investment, especially in the west, north and north-east corridors.
Achieving environmental and resilience outcomes
Victoria will not meet its net zero emissions target if transport sector emissions keep growing. If Victoria does not transition to zero emissions vehicles, and cars stay the dominant form of transport, emissions will increase drastically. In this scenario, transport emissions from private vehicles would double to 288,000 metric tonnes each weekday in 2051, equal to burning 1600 railcars of coal.10 To meet emissions targets, Victoria will need to transition to zero emissions vehicles (see recommendations 1 and 2), but can also accelerate emissions reductions by switching to less emissions intensive transport modes, like walking, cycling and public transport. Transport projects also generate emissions during their construction. Transport projects can also convert natural landscapes to impervious surfaces.
This can increase waterway pollution from road runoff and affect biodiversity by fragmenting habitats and movement corridors. Construction projects may remove established trees, contributing to the loss of tree canopy, and worsening urban heat island effects. Future uncertainty and more regular disruptions mean the transport network needs adapt and perform in different scenarios. For instance, some people may continue working from home all or part of the time after the COVID-19 pandemic. Automated vehicles may also dramatically change transport use and vehicle performance. For this strategy, we have assessed different scenarios, including a permanent shift to more people working from home, different population growth rates, and the introduction of electric and automated vehicles.
The benefits of major transport projects
City shaping transport projects that significantly improve accessibility can influence household and business location choices, by reducing travel times and congestion, and improving transport network capacity. These types of projects can shape urban development and strengthen Victoria’s economy by delivering broader economic benefits. For example, over time, businesses will gravitate towards areas with high accessibility, reducing transaction costs by easier contact with suppliers and customers, and better access to skilled workers. Business preferences vary by industry. For instance, manufacturing and logistics requires larger plots with good access to freight links and ports. In contrast, knowledge-intensive firms require offices with a smaller land requirement, and access to a deep labour pool. These differences drive the location choices of firms, and influence benefits likely to arise from major transport projects. Transport projects can also affect the location of demand for housing. They can support greater residential development in established areas by reducing congestion in these places, if supported by appropriate land use settings. This reduces demand for homes in new growth areas. Infrastructure capital costs in greenfield areas can be two to four times higher than in established areas, when existing infrastructure in established areas has the capacity to support growth, excluding transport costs.11
Transport projects improve access to employment opportunities, education, health care, and community and social services, helping reduce disadvantage, particularly in areas that currently have limited access to these services. Suitable and accessible transport options can also reduce the risk of exclusion from economic, social and political participation in society for at-risk groups. Transport projects can also improve health outcomes if they encourage more active transport trips, such as walking or cycling.
Residents living in neighbourhoods with better active and public transport options are likely to undertake more physical activity when travelling. Public transport projects that encourage more walking and less car-based transport will contribute to improved health outcomes. Transport project delivery can also help achieve other social and environmental objectives. For example, good environmental and climate change assessment can reduce greenhouse gas emissions (see recommendation 11). Similarly, social procurement can help achieve social policy objectives, such as providing jobs for Aboriginal Victorians and helping Close the Gap in outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians. The final section of this strategy, ‘Delivering infrastructure policies, reforms and projects’, documents other ways to produce benefits during infrastructure delivery.
Recommendations to improve transport access
Infrastructure Victoria makes the following recommendations to improve transport access. They build on recommendations elsewhere, including to adopt new transport technology (see section 1.3), support more homes in existing suburbs (see section 2.2), adopt transport network pricing (see section 2.3), support freight movements (see section 3.2), plan for growth areas (see section 3.4) and support regional Victoria’s economic development (see section 4.1) and connectivity (see section 4.2). Adopting and combining these approaches can get the most from major transport projects. Transport investments should be based on robust evidence, including detailed feasibility studies and businesses cases.