Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I move:
That this house notes that —
(1) there are no express services on the South Morang train line during the morning and afternoon peak travel periods (in the direction of peak travel);
(2) all peak direction express services that run between Clifton Hill and Jolimont stations are Hurstbridge line services;
(3) as a consequence of (1) and (2), South Morang line passengers are disadvantaged as compared to Hurstbridge line passengers both in relation to travel time and overcrowding;
(4) overcrowding during the morning peak has meant that some passengers are unable to board inbound carriages at Merri and Rushall train stations;
(5) these issues stand to worsen once the Mernda extension is completed;
and calls on the Minister for Public Transport and the Andrews Labor government to work with Public Transport Victoria and Metro to amend the South Morang line timetabling to include express services at peak times.
I rise to speak to my motion regarding the South Morang train line. This is a train line that runs through the heart of my electorate, Northern Metropolitan Region. It runs through one of the fastest growing regions in Australia. In highlighting this issue today I hope to contrast the South Morang train line with the Hurstbridge train line, its sister service, which shares some lengths of track from the CBD to Clifton Hill.
In short, the South Morang line is bursting at the seams and changes urgently need to be made. Not only is it bursting at the seams right now and people actually cannot get on the train in the mornings and in the evenings; that line is about to be extended by another 8 kilometres within two years, opening early in 2019.
Mr Ondarchie — If you’re lucky.
Ms PATTEN — Indeed, Mr Ondarchie. I hope that I am not being optimistic and we will see an extension of that line opening in early 2019, which is just going to further exacerbate the problem.
I am not asking for a lot in this motion; I think it is a very commonsense and reasonable motion and a reasonable call. Currently there are no express services on the South Morang line during the morning or afternoon peak travel periods. All peak-direction express services that run between Clifton Hill and Jolimont are on the Hurstbridge line. As a consequence, South Morang line passengers are extraordinarily disadvantaged compared to Hurstbridge line passengers both in relation to travel time and in particular to overcrowding. Overcrowding during the morning peak has meant that many passengers — and I have had many constituents speak to me — are just unable to get on the train. This happens particularly at Merri and Rushall train stations. As I mentioned, this will worsen once the Mernda extension is completed.
Before I go on I would really like to express my gratitude to Mr Ondarchie, who raised this matter with the minister just a couple of months ago via a constituency question. He was kind enough to share the response he received from the minister. He was seeking clarification again on what the government was going to do about the overcrowding and the lack of express trains on the South Morang line. The government responded, saying that they would look at this once the Mernda extension was in place — that they might look at this in 2019. This needs to be looked at now. This is absolutely urgent now. There is no point waiting until another 8 kilometres of track are built and we have tens of thousands more people trying to cram onto those trains making it absolutely impossible. We have a situation that is urgent now; we cannot wait for two years.
When I looked at the passenger data, which I will talk about a little bit later — as I mentioned, I have spoken to many commuters and the Public Transport Users Association — the answer is in some express services. Express train services, as we know, do two things: they are a little bit quicker in that they take off a minute for each station they do not stop at; but I think what is most important is that they help redistribute passengers according to the sections of the line they service, and this helps prevent the overcrowding that we are currently facing.
For those at the outer end of the South Morang line, this would make their transit somewhat quicker. For people at the inner end of the line, they might actually be able to get on board the train and hopefully not endure the crushes that they are currently experiencing. If you try and get on one of those trains early in the morning, it is like getting on a Tokyo Metro train. You are a sardine; you are incredibly up close and personal. In the morning everybody is fresh out of the shower, but in the afternoon on a hot summer’s day, it is not quite so. The crush is absolutely extreme.
Currently the Hurstbridge line is privileged over the South Morang line in terms of the volume of services and the express services. This does not make sense. I understand from speaking to Tony Morton at the Public Transport Users Association that this is historical. In the past they did not use express trains on the Epping line because it was shorter than the other lines and they said that it had different journey characteristics. They felt that people living around the Epping line were less likely to use trains to commute into the city, as opposed to the population in the north-east, which in those days was considered to have a larger proportion of city commuters.
But that is not the case now. South Morang is the largest growing area in the country. You can watch it grow. You can be sitting out there and you can almost see it. Mr Ondarchie and I go to citizenship ceremonies out in that area, and each month there are 150 or 160 wonderful new citizens from a multitude of countries populating that area, not to mention around the inner-city areas where the infilling is going on at an enormous rate. We are seeing the population in those inner suburbs grow substantially — not quite at the same rate as we are seeing in the outer suburbs, but certainly at a very substantial rate. Every day you see another house go down and plans for another dozen apartments on that house block go up.
Our current networks and services in the north are built on historical ideas of transport demographics that do not reflect the reality of today. The South Morang line is now as long as the Hurstbridge line, and there are many more commuters on it, as I said. I will make a quick comparison, looking at the numbers. This is to understand why we need to focus on the South Morang line. The Hurstbridge line is 49 kilometres from the city and has 28 stops. The South Morang line is 42 kilometres and has 26 stops, so they are fairly similar. The Mernda rail extension will add another 8 kilometres of track and three stations to the South Morang line within two years.
Surprisingly Public Transport Victoria (PTV) has not released passenger statistics for these lines since 2014, but what we could see in the trends in those is that passengers on the Hurstbridge line were actually declining while passengers on the South Morang line were steadily increasing. Even without those numbers we can see that.
Just going into slightly more detail on this specifically, the South Morang line now has 17 outbound services in peak times and the Hurstbridge line has 18. In that period all South Morang line services stop at all stations between Jolimont and Clifton Hill while only one of the Hurstbridge line services does this. So the South Morang line is picking up every single passenger in those inner-city suburbs of Richmond, Collingwood and Clifton Hill — very large and growing communities who use public transport. Bearing this in mind, the South Morang line is also servicing the vast majority of the 12 000 or so people who use the shared stations up to Clifton Hill. As I have noted, this is a major problem. We are seeing express services on the Hurstbridge line but none on the South Morang line.
I can understand that this is a complex issue. Ideally what we need are more peak services. We would need a service every 10 minutes. I am sure, Acting President Morris, that your electorate would only dream of having services every 10 minutes, and certainly we can only dream of that on the South Morang line. I do appreciate that the government is doing work on the level crossings and the Metro Tunnel and that that will assist us in increasing the number of train services on these suburban lines, but I believe we could really accommodate some adjustments fairly easily just by adjusting train services and express services on the South Morang and Hurstbridge lines.
I tried to talk to PTV about this, and they were not that interested in talking to me. In fact they did not get back to me. If we could basically provide some express services on the South Morang line, taking them off the Hurstbridge line and balancing this out, it would not be a perfect solution but it would be a short-term solution that would certainly meet the needs of what is a crisis of overcrowding that we are currently experiencing.
Accordingly this motion calls on the Minister for Public Transport and the government to work with Public Transport Victoria to amend the South Morang line timetabling to include express services at peak times. As I have said, this is probably just taking express services off the Hurstbridge line and creating a better balance between the two lines, balancing out the share of who is picking up those passengers from Jolimont to Clifton Hill. I look forward to hearing other speakers on this. I am sure Mr Ondarchie has got a lot more to contribute in this area.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I thank my colleagues for their contributions on this motion. Frankly this was a simple, reasonable, short-term solution for what is an urgent problem now. Unlike Ms Dunn, I am not trying to solve the whole public transport system problem in Victoria. I think that quite often we hear this from the Greens. Their desire for perfection gets in the way of the good — ‘We can’t do anything unless we have this, this, this and this’ — whereas what I am saying is that the simple solution for a current, existing, urgent problem is purely a timetabling solution. This is simply about adjusting some of the timetables to help with what is a growing problem. I take Mr Ondarchie’s point that it is a growing problem not just at Rushall and Merri stations; this is a growing problem at Reservoir and the rest of the way down. Unless you are travelling at 5.00 a.m. you are going to find it very difficult to get on a train.
It was interesting when I went and looked at the population figures. We are seeing population declines around the Hurstbridge line and population explosions on the South Morang line. I take up Mr Leane’s point and the invitation to meet with the minister. I appreciate that and would very much like to meet with the minister to discuss this. Unfortunately we currently have the response that the minister gave Mr Ondarchie only a month ago, saying that they would look at this in early 2019 once the Mernda extension was built. I think this is far more urgent than that.
As I said, I am very happy to work with the government to find a solution, but this motion is calling for a simple, reasonable, commonsense approach to an existing problem, recognising that we are going to see new signalling, recognising that we are seeing level crossings being removed under this government and recognising that we are seeing the Metro Tunnel being built, which will assist us in creating a much better public transport system. However, this motion is about something that we can do right here, right now, to fix the problem. I commend the motion.
Motion agreed to.