Off-peak fare savings for Melbourne commuters

Moving Well | Words: Sue Hewitt | Photos: Matt Harvey | Posted on 28 September 2020

Melbourne commuters set to save under a new plan to overhaul public transport fares.

A proposed overhaul of public transport fares to encourage off-peak travel and ease crowding should be just the first step in a sweeping reform of Melbourne’s entire transport network, according to RACV.

Infrastructure Victoria has recommended a raft of changes to Melbourne’s public transport fares, which would introduce discounts for off-peak travel and a flat $1.25 fare for buses. 

The proposal, designed to spread commuter demand more evenly across the day and across under-utilised parts of the network, also includes abolishing Melbourne’s free-tram zone and enabling passengers to pay fares by credit card. 

Dandenong line train running along SkyRail

Train fares would cost $5 during peak times and $2.50 off-peak under Infrastructure Victoria’s plan.

Transport network pricing has the power to provide genuine solutions to Melbourne’s transport problems that goes well beyond simply building infrastructure and increasing services.

Infrastructure Victoria’s chief executive Michel Masson says encouraging off-peak travel makes sense, particularly during COVID-19.

“It creates an incentive to choose less crowded services and supports social distancing,” he says. “This is also good long-term policy as it is cheaper, safer and fairer, and makes better use of our transport system.” 

RACV general manager of corporate affairs Bryce Prosser says RACV welcomes the plan as “a logical first step towards improving our public transport system by making it more efficient and fairer for all Melburnians”.

“Fare reform, such as reducing public transport fares for travelling outside of peak hours, has the potential to reduce crowded trains, result in fewer vehicles on the road and in turn ease the pressure on Melbourne’s congested transport network.”

But he says reforms to encourage off-peak travel should not be confined to the public transport system, but rather extended across the entire transport network, including roads.  

Such network pricing could see car registration fees replaced by a user-pays road system, whereby motorists would be charged according to when and where they travel, with higher fees charged for driving at peak times and on busy roads.  

“Transport network pricing has the power to provide genuine solutions to Melbourne’s transport problems that goes well beyond simply building infrastructure and increasing services,” Bryce says. 

He says how people pay for and use the current transport system is “complex and broken” and that network-wide reform is necessary, particularly as Melbourne adjusts to life with COVID-19

Flinders St Station with tram passing in front

Network-wide reform is necessary, particularly as Melbourne adjusts to life with COVID-19.

Busy Flinders St Station during peak hour

Fare reform could reduce crowding on trains and result in fewer cars on the roads.

The experience of cities both overseas and around Australia suggests that traffic congestion will spike as Melbourne emerges from lockdown and commuters shun public transport in favour of the perceived safety of their cars. (More: How COVID-19 could change your commute.)

According to Infrastructure Victoria, the number of commuters driving to work has jumped 15 per cent in Perth and 10 per cent in Brisbane compared with pre-COVID figures. 

“RACV supports engaging with the community on ways to develop a more equitable system of charging to use our complete, integrated transport network,” says Bryce.

In the meantime, he says many of Infrastructure Victoria’s proposals, including cutting the price of off-peak tram trips and introducing a flat $1.25 bus fare, could be implemented immediately.  

Under the proposed changes,  a train trip from the suburbs to the city would cost $5 during peak times and $2.50 off-peak, while the same journey on a tram would cost $2.50 in the peak and $1.25 off-peak. Express bus fares would be $2.50 at peak times and $1.25 off-peak, while all other buses would have a flat $1.25 fare. 

Infrastructure Victoria estimates that 71 per cent of Melbourne commuters would pay less than they do now under the new fare structure. This would encourage public transport use and take 96,000 car trips off the city’s roads each weekday.

It says 70 per cent of Melbourne’s bus routes run below a third of capacity during the morning peak. “Cheaper prices for under-used services such as buses and [for] all off-peak travel gives users power to decide how much they want to pay for public transport based on when and how they travel,” Michel says.

He says public transport operators would not lose out under the new fare system because it would encourage more than 56,000 new users to travel on public transport each weekday.