Developing Transport Infrastructure and Services for Population Growth Areas

Tabled: 21 August 2013

Audit summary

Melbourne's population is growing rapidly and is expected to reach over 5 million before 2030. A significant portion of this population will be in the outer Melbourne growth areas of Cardinia, Casey, Hume, Melton, Mitchell, Whittlesea and Wyndham.

Rapid population growth in Melbourne's growth areas has created a major challenge for the state to provide the transport infrastructure and services needed to sustainably support these communities.

A November 2009 Parliamentary Inquiry into the Impact of the State Government's Decision to Change the Urban Growth Boundary noted that the early provision of infrastructure is a critical factor in the long-term success of new communities.

The total cost to state and local government of providing all the infrastructure needed in greenfield sites incorporating as yet undeveloped land is estimated at approximately $36 billion over 30 years. Over $18 billion of this cost is needed in state funding for transport infrastructure and services. This excludes the cost of maintenance and renewal.

Delaying and retrofitting the required transport infrastructure and services can significantly increase this cost over time. Inadequate public transport services can also impede mobility and accessibility, and adversely impact on the environment by encouraging greater car dependence.

Growth Corridor Plans (GCP), developed in 2012 provide a high-level framework to guide the planning of new communities in the state's growth corridors. Precinct Structure Plans provide further detail of the proposed development of smaller related land areas and new suburbs.

The vast majority of funding required to deliver state transport infrastructure in growth areas relies on State Budget processes and Commonwealth contributions. The Planning and Environment Act 1987 also establishes other mechanisms to generate infrastructure funding for growth areas. These include both development contributions that are primarily for local infrastructure—such as local roads, community facilities and open space—and the Growth Areas Infrastructure Contribution payable by land owners that will contribute to state infrastructure works including arterial roads and public transport.

Responsibility for planning and delivering state transport infrastructure and services for growth areas rests with several agencies including the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, the Growth Areas Authority (GAA), Public Transport Victoria (PTV) and VicRoads.

This audit assessed the effectiveness of state agencies in planning and delivering transport infrastructure and services for population growth areas. It examined whether planning for growth areas is effective in identifying current and future transport needs, and whether implementation and funding strategies support the timely delivery of required transport infrastructure and services.

Conclusion

Over many years, the state has failed to deliver the transport infrastructure and services needed to support rapidly growing communities. This is adversely impacting accessibility, and risks the future liveability of metropolitan Melbourne.

Urgent action is required to address this serious problem. Inadequate public transport and growing gaps in the road network in these communities are creating barriers to mobility, including access to critical services, education and employment opportunities.

In turn, these deficiencies are increasing car dependence, pollution and exacerbating traffic congestion at significant community cost. This both limits state productivity and the time that people can spend with their families.

Despite these growing problems, funding to address the transport needs of growth areas can take more than a generation to materialise. This longstanding disconnect between planning and funding gives credence to the perception that past statewide planning initiatives have been disingenuous.

Growing pressure on state finances heightens the need to effectively prioritise limited funds, and to develop alternative funding sources and implementation strategies to meet the growing challenge.

This audit's recommendations are focused on addressing these longstanding issues. However, they will have limited value if their implementation is not supported by a realistic and effective whole-of-government approach.

Findings

Current transport infrastructure and services in growth areas

Ongoing delays in providing transport infrastructure to growth areas means that significant investment is required to complete longstanding proposed rail and road works.

According to transport agencies approximately $6.2 billion in rail projects intended to service growth areas are yet to be funded. Almost 62 per cent of the funding required is for two projects first identified in the former Metropolitan Town Planning Commission's 1929 Plan of General Development or the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Study for the then growth areas of Doncaster and Rowville.

While it is important to recognise that growth area projects typically require longer delivery time frames, this demonstrates that the elapsed time from initial identification of growth area rail projects to the commitment of funds often spans more than a generation.

Additionally, VicRoads advised there are number of outer suburban arterial roads currently at or beyond capacity, creating significant issues of congestion, delay and safety. It estimates that significant investment of between $4.1 billion and $5.1 billion is required to address longstanding road gaps in the more established suburbs within and around growth areas.

This situation has resulted in inadequate services, and a significant backlog of required state public transport and road infrastructure works.

There have been some notable improvements to public transport and the road network in growth areas in recent years, supported by investment of around $2.5 billion. Examples include: rail extensions and new stations; bus route upgrades; road duplications and bypasses, and freeway upgrades. Nevertheless, most growth areas remain inadequately serviced compared to the rest of metropolitan Melbourne particularly with regard to:

  • geographic coverage—growth area residents, on average, have less than half as many public transport routes compared to other metropolitan residents and, almost one-quarter of growth area households are not within the state's target of 95 per cent of households being within 400 metres of public transport.
  • frequency of services—growth area residents generally wait longer for bus services compared to the metropolitan Melbourne average.
  • directness of services—growth areas have less direct routes compared to the rest of metropolitan Melbourne, which contributes to comparatively longer journey times.

The former Department of Transport undertook planning to expand bus services into newly developing areas following a series of bus service reviews between 2007 and 2010. These reviews highlighted a range of service deficiencies across Melbourne including:

  • inadequate network coverage
  • poor service frequency, reliability and connectivity to other transport modes
  • insufficient hours and days of operation.

In response, the department prepared costed proposals for numerous additional services, however, only relatively minor service expansions in growth areas have been funded to date.

Consequently, the service improvements envisaged in growth areas have yet to be realised, leaving significant ongoing gaps.

PTV advised that $197 million of recurrent funding would be required to address the identified service gaps across metropolitan Melbourne.

Planning for transport infrastructure and services in growth areas

In the past, land use plans were often developed prior to transport planning taking place. Further, in contrast to some overseas jurisdictions, Melbourne has had a succession of land use and transport plans that have lacked continuity and have often been superseded before they are implemented. These past deficiencies have contributed to the current inadequate transport infrastructure and services in growth areas.

In September 2006, GAA was established with a key role to plan Melbourne's newest suburbs. It's recently developed GCPs and integrated Precinct Structure Plans (PSP) represent an important improvement in planning for Melbourne's growth areas.

While PSPs establish a sound framework for identifying required transport infrastructure for new suburbs, it is not evident GAA has established effective arrangements to assure all required transport standards have been adequately addressed in the development of PSPs. GAA initiated action to address this during the audit.

The above plans have strengthened integration between transport and land use. However, the absence of a supporting funding and implementation strategy integrated with broader statewide transport and land use plans remains a key shortcoming. Without such a strategy it is likely that state transport infrastructure identified within current plans will not be provided in a timely manner, and that the growing challenge of inadequate transport infrastructure in growth areas will not be satisfactorily addressed.

Further, the above arrangements relate primarily to greenfields and do not extend to addressing the growing transport infrastructure backlog in more established areas of growth councils. The absence of such arrangements impedes the development of coordinated strategies to effectively respond to these longstanding challenges.

PTV and VicRoads prepare detailed network service and operating plans to complement their strategic transport plans.

PTV is currently updating its network plans for trams and buses. The updated plans are expected to provide an improved basis for identifying future service needs and investment in the transport network. It is also developing a new Multi-Modal Coordination Policy and Strategy that has the potential to further improve the accessibility and coordination of public transport services in growth areas.

At present, only the December 2012 Network Development Plan—Metropolitan Rail is completed. Further work is required to finalise the tram and bus plan, and develop a priority list of infrastructure projects and associated costs over the coming decades. These plans are expected to be completed by 2014. Until PTV finalises its network plans and multi-modal strategy, their implications for current growth area public transport priorities cannot be fully assessed.

Although PTV has developed standards to determine public transport coverage, there are no equivalent minimum service standards to guide planning for the frequency and directness of public transport services.

To assist in identifying road infrastructure priorities, VicRoads has developed a useful methodology supported by clear criteria for prioritising projects in outer suburban areas. This approach has enabled it to assess and prioritise road improvement projects needed in growth areas. However, the absence of broader arrangements across the transport portfolio for prioritising related investments, means that the basis upon which these projects subsequently compete for limited state funds with other statewide transport priorities is unclear.

Prioritising, funding and monitoring the delivery of transport infrastructure

There is no clear statewide strategy for addressing the longstanding backlog of transport infrastructure for established growth areas. Consequently, there is little assurance this backlog will be addressed, or that the emerging transport infrastructure needs of new growth areas will be delivered when required. It also offers little assurance that current statewide investments in transport infrastructure are effectively targeted and soundly based.

To date, the State Budget process has failed to deliver the quantum of funding required to meet the transport needs of growth areas, and this is expected to continue into the future.

If this funding challenge is not addressed, the current situation is likely to worsen as new growth areas come online. Therefore, there is a pressing need for agencies to explore alternative financing options and strategies to address the growing transport infrastructure backlog and needs of growth areas.

It is acknowledged that limited state finances and access to funding is the principal challenge impeding timely infrastructure and service delivery. However, apart from the introduction of the Growth Areas Infrastructure Contribution in 2010 as an additional charge on landowners for contributing to state infrastructure, insufficient action has been taken by transport agencies to date to address this longstanding issue.

Most of the funding required for state infrastructure and services has traditionally relied on the annual State Budget process, which is underpinned by departmental Budget bids. The state has also sought contributions from the Commonwealth to support transport infrastructure benefitting growth areas. Additionally, in 2012 the former Department of Transport, in consultation with other transport agencies, developed a proposal to fund selected growth area projects supporting the state's recently developed GCPs. This positive initiative, however, was limited to newer growth areas and does not address the longstanding infrastructure backlog in the more established areas of growth councils.

PTV and VicRoads have developed a Benefit Management Framework to provide important insights on outcomes of public transport and road related projects. However, these insights are limited by the absence of a broader monitoring and evaluation framework which examines how well the transport infrastructure and service needs of growth areas are being met.

Recommendations

  1. That the Growth Areas Authority, in consultation with state transport agencies, finalise development of effective arrangements for transparently acquitting the Precinct Structure Plan guidelines and related transport requirements.
  2. That Public Transport Victoria develops minimum service standards to guide planning for the frequency and directness of public transport services.
  3. That the Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, in conjunction with Public Transport Victoria, VicRoads and the Growth Areas Authority develop and implement:
  • a statewide framework for prioritising the delivery of transport infrastructure that reconciles broader statewide priorities against the needs of growth areas
  • an implementation and funding strategy incorporating alternative financing options and innovative solutions to systematically address the transport backlog and meet the future needs of growth areas
  • an associated monitoring and evaluation framework to assess whether the progressive delivery of transport infrastructure and services in growth areas is being achieved as planned and has been effective.

Submissions and comments received

In addition to progressive engagement during the course of the audit, in accordance with section 16(3) of the Audit Act 1994 a copy of this report, or relevant extracts from the report, was provided to Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure, the Growth Areas Authority, Public Transport Victoria and VicRoads with a request for submissions or comments.

Agency views have been considered in reaching our audit conclusions and are represented to the extent relevant and warranted in preparing this report. Their full section 16(3) submissions and comments are included in Appendix B.

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