Public submissions to the Eddington report have been released – some 2042 of them – and one wonders what effect (if any) they will have on the whole process. I doubt much of it will be read, let alone inform decision making within the government. But on a broader level, public pressure to improve public transport has become a key political issue for Brumby and co. and it’s likely that it will come to dominate the 2010 state election.
Intuitively, this seems to be a very positive step for public transport – but will it see better outcomes? Having sat on their hands for so long, it will be difficult for the state government to make meaningful improvements without the public complaining that those improvements should have been made 5 or 10 years beforehand. With potential political gains muted by a decade of inaction, the opportunity cost of spending that money on public transport becomes too high to bear.
On the other hand, the government may see fit to pour resources into public transport, as the apparently impending $20bn Eddington response suggests. But that’s also potentially problematic. The Ribbon-Cutting Effect, as detailed in Riccardo’s Training Track series is a key issue. There’s a real risk the current political pressure may result in a big new project, but the chances of investment occurring in the boring but necessary stuff are much slimmer. Just look at how the Dandenong triplication – arguably the rail centrepiece of Meeting our Transport Challenges, a plan that fell squarely into the boring but necessary category – has been quietly abandoned (not that the triplication was a sound idea but I digress). It is important to acknowledge that many boring but (to varying degrees) necessary track amplification works have been undertaken in Melbourne over the last half century – but what happened to the investment to actually run a decent service over the improved tracks? It never came.
Moreover, many of the problems in Melbourne’s public transport have come to be seen solely through the prism of the Eddington report, an inquiry that was never asked to investigate how best to improve Melbourne’s public transport, instead focussing solely on east-west congestion. I fear that Eddington’s public transport recommendations will be taken as the complete solution to Melbourne’s transport woes, leaving many necessary improvements out in the cold for another few decades. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.