San Francisco bans the Happy Meal!

So now the Victorian Opposition has jumped on the Green’s bandwagon and proposed a new rail line along the Eastern Freeway from Clifton Hill to Doncaster!

Ted Baillieu has made an art form of ‘vagueing’ the details, but this is essentially the same proposal as the Greens put forward last month for linking Doncaster with Victoria Park station.

I dealt with the shortcomings of this idea last week (here and here) so I’ll just look at a claim made in The Age that the City of Manningham has low public transport use.

This is attributed to the absence of both trains and trams in Manningham – the only municipality in Melbourne that doesn’t have at least one of these modes.

The reporter, Clay Lucas, says that only 7% of all trips made by residents of Manningham are by public transport compared to the metropolitan Melbourne average of 9% (actually he said 14% but the VISTA travel survey indicates the correct figure is 9%. Note also that this claim does not appear in the on-line version of The Age).

He is right – public transport does indeed have a lower share of trips in Manningham. In fact VISTA shows its share compares poorly with the neighbouring municipalities of Whitehorse, Banyule and Maroondah, which all have rail lines. In these municipalities, public transport carries 10%, 11% and 7%, respectively, of all trips. Still, there’s not all that much in it – the car dominates in all four.

The journey to work is probably a more pertinent measure of the warrant for a rail line to the CBD as peak period passenger volumes determine the need or otherwise for a mass transit system.

Analysis of journey to work data from the 2006 Census undertaken for the Eddington Report shows that Manningham scores poorly on work trips too. Only 37% of Manningham workers used public transport to travel to the City of Melbourne, compared to 56% in Whitehorse, 51% in Banyule and 56% in Maroondah.

So it seems a reasonable proposition that, if it had better infrastructure, Manningham ought to be able to increase public transport’s share of trips to the city centre to a level comparable with neighbouring municipalities, i.e. by around twenty percentage points.

This might seem like a compelling argument for a new rail line but it isn’t. The number of Manningham workers who commuted to the City of Melbourne at the 2006 Census was very small – just 8,500 (i.e. 17,000 two-way trips).

And the number is declining – this was 700 fewer than in 2001. Nor is this group likely to get much bigger due to population growth, as Manningham is projected to increase by a paltry 0.7% p.a. out to 2031.

Of these 8,500 commuters, 5,100 drove to work and 3,150 took public transport. The latter group mostly used buses but a third used the Hurstbridge and Ringwood rail lines in neighbouring municipalities.

Thus in order for Manningham to achieve the same mode split as Whitehorse – i.e. to increase public transport’s mode share by the aforesaid twenty percentage points – around 1,600 commuters would have to stop driving to work. (Transit’s share has undoubtedly increased in Manningham since 2006 but it would also have increased in the other municipalities, so 1,600 still seems a reasonable number).

I estimate that inducing those 1,600 commuters (that’s 3,200 trips) to change mode would save 7,392 tonnes of carbon p.a. I calculate this by following Victoria’s Commissioner for Sustainability in assuming peak hour carbon emissions of 95g per person kilometre for train and 250g for car. Based on a carbon price of $40/tonne, the value of the saving in avoided emissions would be $295,680 p.a.

There are two approaches to reaping this decidedly modest benefit (yes, there’re also savings in petrol, etc, but total kilometres saved total only 48,000 p.a. – equivalent to taking about three cars off the road).

One is the $360 million the Government is spending to provide the new Doncaster Area Rapid Transit (DART) bus service. Of course the horse has already bolted – DART commenced operation (conveniently) at the start of last month.

The other approach is the proposed Doncaster rail line. Eddington estimated it would cost circa $2 billion. It would have the distinct disadvantage that by the time it was built, DART would already have redressed much or possibly all of Manningham’s shortfall in public transport share.

If we return to looking at all trips (i.e. all day, all purposes), the outlook for rail does not look any brighter. Eddington forecast that by 2021, a Doncaster rail line could potentially carry up to 24,500 trips per day in total (two way, all day). This is low patronage – the Frankston line, for example, carried 51,500 passengers per day back in 2007 and the Hurstbridge line carried 38,000.

However most damning is that only 2,500 of these trips would be new public transport users.

There’s some measure of comfort in the fact that, should the Opposition win on the 27th, its only specific promise is to do a study. Nevertheless the risk is that expectations could be so high there might be no way of dampening them.