Public transport

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to contribute to the grievance debate. I will be grieving today on behalf of the public transport commuters in Victoria who are suffering after decades of neglect and the failed policies of previous Liberal and Labor governments and who continue to suffer under this government due to inaction. The latest Public Transport Victoria figures that have been published just show what commuters know already — overcrowding on trains and trams is getting worse. It is getting worse, and there is no plan in place to fix it within this term of government.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — I will get to those projects; do not worry about that. Across the entire metropolitan network one-fifth of all morning peak services are overcrowded; that is the highest it has been since Labor was last in office. All lines running through the Prahran electorate — Frankston, Dandenong and Sandringham lines — continue to suffer from overcrowding. On the Sandringham line one-quarter of morning services are overcrowded. That is the same figure as it was in 2009. Not one new peak-hour service has been added on the Sandringham line since 2009.

That is not the only line that is suffering from increased overcrowding. On the Craigieburn line, which I believe runs through the electorate of Essendon, 50 per cent — half — of all peak hour services are overcrowded, and 57 per cent of all passengers are in an overcrowded train. Is there a plan to get this addressed in this term of government? I think the commuters on that line would be asking what their local member is doing about overcrowding in that electorate. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel in this term of government?

It is fair to say that you cannot put it entirely at the feet of this government. We have received decades of neglect under previous governments. Of course under the Kennett government we had the failed privatisation and the failed rationalisations, which saw us at one point have two different rail operators and even two different maps. We saw staff cuts and we saw service levels drop and accountability disappear. We had the Bracks and Brumby governments, which unfortunately poured money into that myki ticketing scheme that still does not do what was originally promised. They failed to invest in public transport. The government failed to take it seriously until it was too late. Then we had four years under the previous Liberal-Nationals government, which I thought started out pretty well, armed with promises for new rail lines and what not. It did some studies but in the end put all its eggs into the east–west link basket and all those rail lines were stuck in development hell.

The current government is very big on announceables — opening things up for tender and shortlisting things for tender. Sometimes they have contradictory announcements: we will have a deep tunnel under Swanston Street; we will have a shallow tunnel. Members here have pointed to the Melbourne Metro and the level crossings. The Melbourne Metro will not be completed until 2026, which is 10 years away. Is the expectation that we are going to wait another 10 years before we see any improvement on our rail network?

Honourable members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Kilkenny) — Order! May I ask members to cease interjecting?

Mr HIBBINS — And then there are the level crossings. The level crossing removals are only going to benefit public transport if you plan to put on new rail services. They are mistaking action for results and announcements of projects for a plan.

I am happy to share with government members what they could be doing and what they should be doing. I will give credit where credit is due. Now that the regional rail link has been completed — one rail project that a Labor government did start and finished under this government — they can implement the new timetable that was supposed to come with regional rail link. Twenty-three extra services were supposed to come on board at the completion of the regional rail link — 23 in the morning and 23 in the afternoon across the network.

Ms Spence interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — Even on the Craigieburn line, I believe, there were supposed to be new services. But we have seen barely a peak hour service added in this term of government. We were promised one by the Minister for Public Transport in 2015 and we were promised one again in 2016. Now I think the latest is that we are promised it in 2017. Why would we believe that this new timetable is going to come at all? What is the reason for the dithering? The only reason we have heard is because there might be some politically hard decisions to make. There might be some trains no longer travelling the city loop. There is no reason why they could not be implementing the timetable that should have been implemented after the regional rail link came online.

There is also no reason why we could not be boosting off-peak timetables as well. If you take the Sandringham line, for example, that is running at every 15 minutes during the week off peak and every 20 minutes on weekends. It could very easily be improved to every 10 minutes, which would be far more suitable for the areas of Prahran, Windsor and Balaclava. With the number of people visiting Chapel Street every weekend, 20-minute services are just not acceptable. In the Public Transport Victoria (PTV) development plan this is already accounted for, so there is absolutely no reason why that could not be implemented.

Again I will give credit where credit is due. The government has implemented 24-hour transport services on weekends. I am sure they will be glad to know that this was a Greens policy long before it was implemented by the Labor Party. That was something we advocated for very strongly. I am glad they have that taken up. There is no reason why they could not get on with implementing more peak-hour services and more off-peak services now.

The second action they could take is bring forward the orders for new rolling stock. Aside from the five X'trapolis trains that were ordered in the last budget, the government's own rolling stock strategy will mean that there will be no new high-capacity trains on any rail line apart from the Melbourne Metro until 2022. The tram rolling stock order does not increase the level of production of trams from the factory in Dandenong. Currently it is at 10 a year, but they have the capacity to be manufacturing 20 trams per year from that factory. We could get these new trains and trams on the tracks sooner, within this term of government.

The third action they could be taking is to invest in the critical infrastructure to prevent the delays and faults that are plaguing our rail network. I think we had some serious delays just this morning. The signalling, the tracks and the overhead wires are the critical infrastructure that is underfunded and that is adding to the problems that plague our rail network. As anyone at Hawksburn or Toorak stations will tell you, if there are delays or cancellations because of faults on the line, the result is overcrowding and commuters cannot even board the train. This level of breakdowns and faults on our rail network should not be happening. It has been reported that the investment in this critical infrastructure is only a quarter of what is needed. Ensuring the tracks, the signalling, the overhead wires and other critical infrastructure is maintained will have immediate benefits — benefits now. It is something we can do in the short term, in this term of government.

The government has done one thing in regard to the PTV overcrowding data. It has halved the amount of times that we actually count the passengers on our rail network. It used to happen two times a year; now the government has moved in and it is only going to happen once a year. They are obviously not interested in that information and the planning that can come out of that data. They know that overcrowding is going to get worse and they want to stop the bad news.

Another thing they could do immediately is get on with upgrading stations — those busy train stations like South Yarra. It has a major development and growth area next door but barely a cent has been invested in it in the last 20 years. That is a recipe for a congested station. Certainly we have had overwhelming support in my electorate for my campaign to upgrade South Yarra station to get that second entrance to serve Melbourne High School and the Forrest Hill growth area and to improve pedestrian, tram and bike access.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — It is unfortunate I just heard an interjection of 'Rubbish', because I was about to say I actually welcome the minister's acknowledgement that the station needs an upgrade. If you look at correspondence and public statements, there is acknowledgement from the government that this station does need an upgrade, and I would say that now is the time to take that first step and create a South Yarra station task force, to get the commuters, traders and community representatives together and start the process of identifying the problems and the solutions.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — Again, I take up the interjection of the member for Essendon, because heritage has actually been raised with me in my discussions with community members about upgrading South Yarra station. They are very, very committed to maintaining that heritage facade of South Yarra station. That is why if we could have them on board, we could understand that we could have a concourse at the northern end and we could open up some of the entrances, as was once canvassed by previous governments. There was actually a plan to improve and expand the foyer area, and it was ditched by the previous government. That is why it is very important to have the community on board, discussing that and sending recommendations to the Minister for Public Transport so we can get the upgrade to South Yarra station right.

Another action we could take, particularly in my area, which I have canvassed recently, is the implementation of an inner-city orbital bus route. The SmartBus initiative has been very successful in the outer suburbs. There was originally an inner-city orbital bus route that was supposed to take into account the 246 route, but unfortunately that was ditched by the previous Labor government. I think it is time to resurrect that proposal now that we have got 24-hour clearways on Punt Road that really boost the capacity on Punt Road.

Honourable members interjecting.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Kilkenny) — Order!

Mr HIBBINS — The Melbourne Metro project has been brought up. The inclusion of South Yarra in the Melbourne Metro rail project is something I have been pushing for. I understand that the Liberal Party has come on board with this particular proposal, but I would just point out that under their government they came up with a final route for Melbourne Metro that left out South Yarra station. If they had included it in the original route and then gotten on and actually built it, we would not be having this debate now. The fact that we are having this debate is as much the fault of the Liberals as it is the fault of Labor. We have also had no money and no commitment from the federal Liberal Party towards this particular project.

I will finish off by saying that obviously funding is a key aspect — how we are going to fund all of this. I would simply point out that this government needs to rethink its funding priorities. The western distributor is a dud. The government should not be spending billions on this project. No-one voted for it. A $500 million West Gate distributor and a $38 million port rail shuttle were previous projects, and certainly we supported those projects. We supported the West Gate distributor, or the truck action plan as it was previously called. The western distributor will cost billions of dollars more than the West Gate distributor. It will just pour more cars into the CBD, and the way it is going to be paid for is by extending the Transurban contract. It is a sweetheart deal with Transurban.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — How else can governments pay for things other than by signing up to sweetheart deals with Transurban? Transurban should not be involved in meeting the transport needs of the state. The government should not sign that contract. The government should end the contract with Transurban, and that toll money should be going into the public coffers, not private coffers — it should not be profiting Transurban. One person who agrees that that contract should be torn up is the bloke who first signed a contract with Transurban, Jeff Kennett. He says we should finish it. The state was broke then; it is not now. We should be taking advantage of record low public interest rates: public money for public infrastructure and public benefit.