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Fair Move: 01 Introduction

The current COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant disruption to the way Victorians live. People are unable to connect and travel as freely as they once could, and this has affected the use of Victoria’s transport networks.

Public transport use is down, and private cars are currently the preferred mode for social distancing – and this will have flow on impacts across both the public transport and road networks in the immediate future. Travel restrictions, social distancing and greater working from home have dampened the demand for public transport – particularly to the Melbourne CBD.[1]

At some point, however, restrictions on the way Victorians connect and travel will be eased and removed, migration to Victoria will resume and Melbourne’s public transport system will be under pressure again. While not currently apparent, Melburnians do not have to cast their minds back very far to recall the significant crowding on trains and trams during peak periods – making journeys uncomfortable, frustrating and unsatisfactory experiences.

The public transport system has limited `slack’ to cover disrupted services, meaning that cancellations, problems with vehicles, incidents and other delays quickly ripple out across the network, affecting thousands of commuters. This pressure is likely to continue even as Victoria rolls out its pipeline of new infrastructure investments.

To support people as they return to travelling for work, education and leisure (whether by public or private transport), we need to better manage the existing metropolitan public transport network, particularly at times and points of strain.

Fares are a powerful tool for informing people so they can make the best travel choices for themselves, as well as for society. Fares can provide incentives for people to change their behaviour to make best use of the network; however, this tool has been mostly left unused for metropolitan Melbourne. There are limited incentives to shift trips away from peak times or to encourage greater use in parts of the network with excess capacity, particularly metropolitan buses.

Providing travellers with more alternatives through more variable fares can change the attractiveness of using different modes of public transport at different times. This would increase comfort and safety for public transport users and enable better government decision-making in the timing and selection of future public transport infrastructure. Fare reform should also be fair reform: any changes to fares should be progressive and equitable – making a positive difference in the lives of Victorians and their use of the public transport network, and delivering significant benefits for low income travellers and households.

Fares fall within the transport network pricing framework presented in Infrastructure Victoria’s earlier report Good Move: Fixing Transport Congestion (Infrastructure Victoria, 2020). In that report, we called for pricing of the entire transport system across roads, public transport and parking. We also acknowledged that such a framework would take some time to implement – including time to gather the information to implement correctly.

In this report, we focus solely on fare reforms that could be implemented in the short to medium term, ahead of introducing any form of road pricing.

We also focus on how public transport fares can be part of the set of tools used to support social distancing while Victoria deals with COVID-19 and to manage the state’s transport network in the post-COVID-19 world.

Research for reform

Infrastructure Victoria has made transport network pricing a core focus of our research program, with the aim of designing a system that is suitable for Victoria, that is effective, efficient, fair and sustainable, and that can attract community support.

Transport network pricing is a system where prices are set to influence how, when and where people use the transport system. Prices can be set to encourage people to travel at times, to places and by modes that provide the greatest benefits relative to the costs. Prices can also be set to take into account factors such as the costs of air pollution and road trauma. Infrastructure Victoria’s research shows that making the shift to comprehensive transport network pricing would deliver significant benefits to Victorians.

Fare reform is part of our ongoing research program. The project takes a more detailed look at metropolitan fare reforms that could be implemented in the short to medium term.

This paper focuses on Melbourne’s public transport network. Infrastructure Victoria recognises the need for improvements in regional fares and the independent transport pricing advisory body recommended in this paper would be well placed to conduct research into regional fares.

Our final recommendations for the introduction of transport network pricing in Victoria will be made in the 2021 update of our 30-year infrastructure strategy.

[1] This is a classic example of how disruptions can lead to behaviour change. See Ortmann and Dixit (2017) for more detail.

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