Free access will not resolve the issues for Melbourne’s public transport system; including overcrowding, lack of services and poor coverage.
A conference amongst disadvantaged transport users revealed that 99 percent of commuters would prefer newer, more efficient services, rather than free public transport. Professor Graham Currie, Chair of Public Transport, Monash University, concedes that “if you haven’t got anything, the fact that it’s free is irrelevant.”
According to Daniel Bowen from the Public Transport Users’ Association, “the service quality is just not there.” Allowing free public transport will cost money, leaving less to spend on upgrading services.
Railways are currently experiencing 40 percent overloading. This figure will rise with Melbourne’s population growth. Allowing free fares would increase the market by 20 to 30 percent.
Professor Currie projects that this increase would impact little on the number of cars on the roads. Congestion would be reduced by only one percent, if at all, considering the expected population boom.
Professor Currie believes there is a “social justice reason” why public transport should not be free. The wealthy, white-collar classes account for the majority of public transport commuters.
No fares will cost $300 million per year, giving “rich people free fares, to not have much effect on travel, to increase crowding on trains and stress the budget,” Professor Currie said.
The reality lies within the paradox: free public transport comes at a cost.