If the bookies are right, voters in the electorate of Batman are set to kick sitting Labor member David Feeney out the door on Saturday. In a desperate attempt to protect the incumbent, the Opposition is promising $22 million toward the cost of extending the Route 11 tram by around one kilometre if it wins the election.
With growing demand on local roads and a need to access local services by an ageing population, the extension to the 11 has never been more urgent. The demographics of this area are changing, with older residents ageing and young families moving in. But there is also increased congestion which is making getting around harder for both groups, which is why this project is essential.
Mr Feeney’s likely replacement, the Greens’ Alex Bathal, might well be happy to expand on Labor’s comitment. The Greens promised at the 2014 Victorian election to extend the tram even further, by around 3 km to Reservoir railway station (see exhibit).
Labor’s promise is of course entirely politically motivated; it’s an attempt to increase Mr Feeney’s support in the northern part of the seat where support for the Greens isn’t expected to be as strong as it is the inner city parts.
Naturally there are the usual problems with the promise. For starters, Labor doesn’t know what the total cost of the project would be; $22 million would be a Federal contribution to the project, albeit a substantial one, but it’s not derived from a proper costing.
Nor does Labor know what the (non-political) benefits are; it doesn’t know whether the economic and social benefits of extending it a kilometre up the road would come even close to covering the costs.
The State Government hasn’t hitherto indicated it sees it as a priority. Moreover, it isn’t one of the possible tram extensions mentioned in the Options Book published last month by Infrastructure Victoria. In any event, Infrastructure Victoria concludes that “tram link extensions are relatively high cost for a low contribution to meeting access to employment centres”.
It allows that some tram extensions might be justified if they “increase network connectivity”, but Labor’s promised extension doesn’t do that; it just goes up the road a bit.
The Greens’ Reservoir railway station option on the other hand might well improve local connectivity, but then the likely all-up cost would be higher; assuming a conservative $30 million per kilometre it could cost in the order of $80 million. The area around the station has also got redevelopment potential, but then it’s already got a rail station.
If tram route extensions are on the table, it’s not obvious that any extension of Route 11 would be a high priority. There are plenty of other proposals for small extensions of Melbourne’s existing 250 km of double tram track; there’s even a Wiki on the topic listing 19 mooted possible extensions.
As I’ve noted before, the more plausible projects are the likes of extending Route 1 to link Park Street South Melbourne to St Kilda Rd; extending Route 3 to East Malvern station, then on to Chadstone; and extending Route 5 to Darling station. None of them are a foregone conclusion though. They still need to be evaluated; something that hasn’t occurred with any of the proposals for Route 11.
A one kilometre extension is a minor project from the perspective of Federal politics; neither the Opposition nor the Government should be making this sort of commitment even if they knew the facts. It should be a local decision.
This promise is solely about electoral politics. It’s yet another illustration of what’s wrong with infrastructure planning at all levels; too many projects are promised for political advantage rather than because they make sense as part of the city’s transport needs.