Melbourne's big squeeze, by Clay Lucas .. As passengers crush on to the city's overcrowded trains in record numbers, figures reveal the extent of the daily squeeze Melbourne's rail commuters endure.
Head counts carried out for the State Government over the past five years, obtained under freedom of information, show a dramatic surge in passengers during peak hours.
Melbourne's suburban six-carriage trains are considered overcrowded when they have more than 798 passengers, or 133 per carriage. Yet trains regularly carry 1200 passengers, the head counts show, and one in six of the city's suburban trains is considered overcrowded....
The squeeze has led to an increase in passengers fainting and collapsing, and Connex has told passengers they must take responsibility for their own safety, advising them to drink more water to avoid dehydration. In the past six months, ambulances have been called to stations at least 12 times because passengers have collapsed because of overcrowding. In one instance this week, a Dandenong train was cleared at South Yarra and an ambulance called after a passenger fainted.
During peak times, where train passenger numbers are close to, or at, capacity, short run marginal costs of the servicing additional passengers on the system increase dramatically. This is both in terms of 'private marginal costs' to the operator and 'external marginal costs' (the costs imposed on existing commuters, such as lost productivity, adverse health outcomes, discomfort etc).
One obvious solution is time-differentiated fares, with peak surcharges and/or off-peak rebates to encourage passangers to change their trip timing. At the moment, there are two time differentiated train fares for weekday 'Zone 1' travel.
1. Off-Peak Daily (Zone 1+2) Metcards (Reduced price). Valid on all trains, trams and buses in Zones 1 and 2 after 9am on weekdays.
2. Early Bird Metcard (Zero price). It may be used for journeys between any two stations on electrified train services operated by Connex. It can be used on weekdays for journeys that reach their destination prior to 7am.
Such time differentiated fares (particularly off-peak rebates) are also used widely overseas. The problem with this arrangement is that one would expect peak passengers to have a relatively low price elasticity of demand, given fixed work and school start times. While in the longer-run, increased capacity may address some of the most acute peak overcrowding problems, this may in fact encourage people to substitute away from private vehicles and towards train travel. A peak travelling period will still remain, as will the need for effective time-differentiated fare arrangements. Creative ideas, anyone?