All night public transport and road safety

Firstly, apologies for not having updated in the last couple of weeks – I’ve developed a pretty serious West Wing addiction that’s been consuming most of my time.

More importantly, I read on the weekend that restricting first year drivers to carrying one passenger is back on the cards in the form of an RACV submission to the State Government. This is mainly an issue on Friday and Saturday night, when young drivers take 3 or 4 drunk friends home from parties. Friday and Saturday nights are when a substantial of road deaths involving young drivers occur.

I was a P plater not so long ago, and can vouch for the fact that driving intoxicated friends home at ungodly hours of the morning is a serious distraction to any driver, especially a young one. However, I’m not entirely comfortable with restricting passenger numbers because reducing vehicle occupancy may well require more young people to drive, negating some or all of the benefits. But if the evidence suggests it is a good way of lowering the road toll then I’m all for it.

What I don’t understand is why public transport is not mentioned more often as a potential way of reducing road accidents. The problem is that the very time that public transport could most benefit young drivers most (from a road safety perspective) is when it is least available. The government’s 1 hour extension of train and tram services on Friday and Saturday nights was a step in the right direction and seems to have been received well. I caught the last tram to Kew Depot on a Friday night few weeks back and was amazed at how busy it was. We really need to consider further extending these services another 3 hours to get a viable all night service.

Interestingly, the 2006 late night service extension really didn’t cost very much.  MOTC figures put the cost at $130 million, although this appears to be a 10 year figure. Annually, we’re looking at about $13 million for every extra hour of train and tram services provided on a Friday and Saturday night. Extend the services an extra 3 hours, and the cost would be $52 million per year, assuming constant returns to scale.  That’s not a lot of money to pay for a massive expansion in services. Put into perspective, it’s about 13% of current total annual train and tram operating expenditure (excluding new capital works).

The only problem is that the taxi industry would hate the idea, just as they hated the idea of an airport rail link.


10 Responses

  1. Welcome back Phin.

    You’d be competing against the NightRider services if you extended general PT, although I think that the NR should just be stopped and services run on normal PT instead anyway.

    What kind of frequency is run at those hours? I think you’d only need quite infrequent services; if revellers knew that services on all lines left ‘at the hour’ or similar from Flinders all night until regular services at 5.30 or whenever, that would probably be enough for many. Not sure with trams.

    I’m not sure that the taxi industry would be -that- against it – fewer drunk people in their cabs, vomiting instead into a train, but I’m hopeful that the percentage in that position is low regardless and it’s more a perception…

  2. Oh my god. The West Wing. How incredible is it? Good god, what a show. What season are you up to? I’ve only watched the first 3 and a quarter or so …

    All night public transport makes perfect sense to me. And I completely agree that it’s odd that it hasn’t been tabled in these discussions; to me, it seems like the most logical solution to reducing the road toll, as well as helping alleviate the problem of drunk, drugged out, violent teenagers left roaming the city all night because they can’t get home.

    And surely the extra cost in public transport (I’m thinking specifically of trains as I write this comment) couldn’t be considered a much higher price to pay than the environmental cost of thinning out carpools? I’m not saying they shouldn’t introduce the one-passenger rule; it makes sense. But nowhere near as much sense as all night trains.

    Also, it’s damn good to read something from you again!

  3. Thanks for the comments Dave and Yosh!

    Dave, you’re spot on about NightRider, if all night trains and trams are running then we should just cut it completely (it basically follows rail lines) and use the savings to fund the trains and trams.

    Off the top of my head, night time service frequencies are every 30 minutes for trains and every 20 for trams. However, on Friday and Saturday between 12 and 1am the trains only run out of the city. My very basic estimate of cost is based on these frequencies, although I would expect to see trains running into the city as well. As to ideal service levels, I’d say that every 10 minutes until 10pm, every 15 from 10 to 12, every 20 from 12 to 1 and every 30 after 1 (Friday and Saturday only) is an acceptable standard for both trains and trams.

    Yosh, that damn West Wing has consumed my life – I’m up to season 6 and I’ve only been watching for 2 weeks! Fortunately, Boston Legal season 3 is providing a distraction. What an amazing age we live in!

  4. Good blog, and agree West Wing can be addictive.

    Agree what a dill Moran is, and funny for a rightwing think tank to be pushing roads – the last bastion of Albanian Stalinism you will find anywhere – plan, build, more demand, more planning, more building.

    While I don’t want the taxi industry wagging the Transport Minister dog, I do think a vision for a transport future needs MORE use of taxis and taxis on the road, at the expense of private ownership of cars.

    But you’d have to get organised crime out of the industry first, which is why the dog is able to be wagged.

  5. Thanks Riccardo, interesting point re the taxi industry. I’ve been wondering recently whether there is any value in restricting the number of taxi licences handed out. Surely it would be more efficient to let the market sort out quantity, even if the price is fixed. What are your thoughts on taxi deregulation?

  6. Hi Phin

    Re taxis, I would favour deregulation, with the government saying implementing a system that says if you do want to run a taxi, it must have a meter, must be clean, yellow etc, and the driver must have a special licence you can withdraw if he behaves badly.

    But no other reason for the government to withhold the licence.

    There needs to be ways to get more taxis onto the roads at night, but deregulation, combined with the higher price charged, and also with the police upholding the laws against violence and bad behaviour generally, this should be adequate.

  7. I’m interested in the broader topics that affect rail eg why does violent crime happen at night?

    Is it all alcohol? or do the darker elements prefer the dark?

  8. I entirely agree regarding taxis Riccardo. As to the broader issue of night time crime, I think alcohol is definitely part of the issue. As to whether a perceived or actual relative difficulty of detection encourages crime at night, I suppose it depends on what you think about rational choice theory. Personally, I’m not convinced that violent crime is committed by people rationally maximising their expected utility.

    As always, thanks for your most insightful comments.


  9. I want to do a big post on my blog on rail sociology (and rail enthusiast sociology) and will look forward to comments when I’ve done it.

    Certainly I think the bigger challenge facing passenger rail at the moment in Australia is not economics, nor even politics, but issues like crime and social problems.

  10. All night public transport is very much needed in Melbourne. Even services until 2.30 or 3pm would do just fine, because alot of people tend to go home around this time, rather than at 1 o clock (which is currently when the last trains/trams leave).

    The taxi industry is a bloody rip off, its $49 to get from crown casino to my house in bundoora.

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