The Sustainable Urbanist: Doomed for a Slow Ride?

Trams are an icon of Melbourne.

We love them, but how many times do we feel we could walk faster when our tram is stuck in traffic?

Journey times on some tram routes have seen an increase since 1950.

This has much to do with the increase of traffic and congestion as well as old and outdated infrastructure.

On many routes the drivers themselves have to get out and with a key change the direction of the tracks.

Tram route 96 is already one of the most successful, and the third most patronised, tram routes in Melbourne.

However, current running times between Spencer Street and East Brunswick are 40 per cent slower than in 1950 (28 minutes today compared with 20 minutes in 1950).

Route 96 trams spend 33 per cent of their journey time stationary.

This is in addition to the 17 per cent of the journey spent loading passengers.

It is high time the State Government worked towards improving the iconic tram system and equipping it to function in the modern age.

The Melbourne City Council’s draft Transport Strategy Update 2011-2030 highlights key issues with trams in the city centre.

A major issue in the report is the slow average running speeds.

These are caused by sharing tramways with other traffic, limited priority at signalized intersections and slow boarding and disembarking time.

Transport scholar Paul Mees says “the report is an example of the Council's transport staff making work for themselves.”

In Victoria the State Government is responsible for decisions relating to public transport, and the Council has no power to make decisions in the matter.

Mees believes prioritising trams and their movement through Melbourne would improve the system.

He sees a strong need for new routes to be situated east to west where there is a lack of transport.

“What's required is tram-only lanes as in Nicholson Street, Carlton, plus priority at traffic lights.

“North-south routes should in general be configured more like existing east-west routes.

“The traffic function of the interchanges needs to be downgraded, with more emphasis on the people-moving function,” he said.

The dependence of Swanston Street as the central spine means any small disturbances can have major setbacks across the network.

Poorly designed interchanges at Federation Square and Southern Cross Station are also of concern in the report.

The Council looks to speed gains made in Munich for inspiration: Munich’s ten year program separated trams from traffic, gave them priority at signalised intersections and optimised stop spacing.

The reports says these changed improved average tram speeds from about 16km/h to 21km/h, leading to greater reliability and punctuality and increased patronage.

The Council proposes a similar program be implemented in Melbourne.

The Council envisages new tracks/routes along Dynon Road, Graten Street and into Fishermans Bend.

Proposed movement of some routes from the St Kilda Road – Swanston Street corridor to the west of the city would take pressure off the existing spine and improve accessibility to the west of the city centre.

Tram improvement is not only required in the city centre.

The need for tram priority extends to most areas of the city such as Brunswick and Smith Streets, Sydney Road and Chapel Street.

The State Government needs to take bold action to prioritise trams in Melbourne.

They could start by removing the ability to park in activity-centered streets, implement tram-only lanes, and allow car and bike access to the sides.

Matt O'Leary



Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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