VERY soon, perhaps even this morning, people all over Australia will remember with horror that it’s not Christmas every day of the year and they actually have jobs to go to. It’s time to set the alarm and, if you’re a public transport user, join the reluctant throngs at bus and trams stops, ferry wharves and railways stations countrywide for the daily commute.
But for many of us, travelling by public transport in 2016 could be very different, both good and bad.
On the upside new transport links are due to open. On the downside, construction work for public transport projects will shut down chunks of our major cities, potentially lengthening journeys and forcing people into frustrating detours.
Perhaps one of the most innovative developments in public transport started in Victoria on New Year’s Day. And if you only use transport during the rush hours you might miss it altogether.
Dubbed the ‘Night Network’, from 1 January a one-year-trial of new after-hours transport services on Friday and Saturday nights began. Nothing new there, you might say. After all, most cities have had some form of night transport for years — mostly buses.
ALL-NIGHT TRAMS, TRAINS AND BUSES
However, Victoria is taking the concept one step further with all-night trams and trains, in addition to buses, from the CBD to outer suburbs. New night coaches will even ferry people between Melbourne and regional cities.
Victorian minister for public transport, Jacinta Allan, told news.com.au that 2016 was shaping up to be a watershed year for transport in the state. “Night Network represents the biggest advance in late night travel in Melbourne’s history, and will bring our city to life, allowing locals and visitors to enjoy the world’s most liveable city for longer, every weekend.
“Melbourne will be the only other major city, aside from Berlin, to offer all-night public transport at the weekend across all three modes,” she said.
A big change indeed, but it’s arguably more focused on weekend revellers than shift workers with a paucity of night services during the rest of the week. While London, for instance, only has buses during the wee hours, with plans for a ‘night tube’ Underground service on the back burner, the network is frequent and runs seven nights a week.
A spokeswoman for Transport for NSW said Sydney had “plenty” of late night options, which include some bus routes running nightly throughout the week and 24-hour trams to the casino, but they would, “continue to look at how we can improve the services we offer.”
In Queensland, night services can only be found on the weekends on the Gold Coast’s G:link trams and bus routes in Brisbane.
NEW SOUTH WALES
One of the most immediate changes for passengers in Australia’s largest state will is the virtual retirement of paper tickets which happened on 1 January. Only single and return tickets can now be purchased forcing virtually anyone with a period pass onto the Opal smartcards.
In August, treasurer Gladys Berejiklian justified the move saying, “Given the enormous success of Opal, it’s time to stop running two ticketing systems.” Nevertheless there have been concerns that the insufficient number of free top-up machines may lead users to being stung with fees to recharge at local shops.
In the run up to Christmas, many commuters may have missed it but two new stations, Leppington and Edmondson Park, were added to the main rail network with through trains now running from the city to the south western suburbs.
A $100m refurbishment of Wynyard station in the heart of the CBD, and a more modest $8m “refresh” of Town Hall station, will also be completed in 2016. A new ferry terminal at the Barangaroo office is underway.
If you thought 2015’s ‘nightmare on George St’ to build a new light rail, was bad this year, you may want to leave the CBD altogether in 2016 with almost the entire thoroughfare likely to be behind hoardings by October. Meanwhile, the building of the North West Metro continues apace as do preparations for new and faster bus services on the Northern Beaches.
Newcastle’s new transport interchange, at Wickham, will be a building site this year with trains continuing to terminate at the congested Hamilton station.
Night Network aside, Victorians can also look forward to Flagstaff station, in Melbourne’s CBD, now being open on weekends as well as new stations at Southland and Caroline Springs. More of Melbourne’s dizzying number of level crossing will be removed while early works for the $10bn Melbourne Metro will continue.
Next year will also see the completion of a $100m project to refurbish, or as the Victorian Government bluntly puts it, to “save” the city’s iconic main station.
“Flinders Street station is the heart of our train network, and it is falling apart,” says Ms Allan. “We’ll fix the roof, restore the facade and give the station a new lick of paint. We’ll also make it safer and more user-friendly for passengers.” The station’s loos, surely some of the dingiest in all Australia, will also be freshened up.
The big news in the Sunshine State is the Moreton Bay rail link which has seen the construction of 14km of new track, 22 bridges and six new stations to reach Kippa-Ring.
“This will provide a more reliable commute, with more than 650 train services per week between the Moreton Bay region and Brisbane’s CBD, as well as reduce congestion on the road network,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Transport and Main Roads told media.
Construction is due to start in April on an extension to the Gold Coast’s light rail line to link up with the rail network in readiness for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. But there may be disruption on the Gold Coast to Brisbane rail line from March as work is started to increase capacity.
Not to be left behind when it comes to trams, Canberra is due to start construction on the $1bn ‘Capital Metro’ line from Gungahlin to the city. But the Liberals have said they will scrap the project should they come to power in next October’s Territory elections.
Construction continues in 2016 on the O-Bahn city access project which is designed to speed up bus services into the city which linger on some streets at a paltry 8km/h. A controversial new bus-only tunnel, which has chewed up some of the city’s parklands, will bypass several sets of lights and deliver services straight into the CBD from 2017.
A new city centre bus station, called the ‘busport’ is due in 2016. At which point attention will turn to a new rail link to the airport which will see Perth join only Sydney and Brisbane in having a direct train link to its major interstate gateway.