Buses miss a chance to join the fast lane

Buses miss a chance to join the fast lane

Seeing red: The traffic jam that is Hoddle Street in Collingwood in the mornings and evenings.VICTORIAN Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder has rejected advice from within his own departments to give crucial bus services to Melbourne’s east a better run in the afternoon peak – in part because the plan would have forced a cut to on-street parking.

Documents released to The Age under freedom-of-information laws have revealed that the minister ditched a plan by VicRoads and the former Department of Transport to extend clearway times for outbound buses along Victoria Parade and Hoddle Street.

The proposal, put to Mr Mulder in February, was expected to have saved commuters eight minutes a day on average.

Studies found the buses took between five and 23 minutes to traverse the two major roads, depending on traffic. It was proposed to give buses a dedicated lane between 4pm and 7pm; 165 parking spaces and six trees would have been lost.

The rejected ministerial briefing states that ”VicRoads has satisfied itself that the clearways and bus lane proposal will provide major benefit to buses, will not negatively impact upon pedestrian or cyclist safety, will not degrade the local environment and that there is adequate alternative parking available”.

Mr Mulder told The Age: ”Hoddle Street and Victoria Parade are very busy roads where the needs of all road users must be balanced.”

The buses provide the only direct public transport to the north-eastern suburbs.

Plans to build a railway line to Doncaster date back to the 1960s but no state government has committed to it, although a $6.5 million feasibility study is under way.

The so-called DART (Doncaster Area Rapid Transit) network was launched in late 2010, with four bus routes given priority in-bound lanes and more regular services. In its first nine months DART bus patronage leapt more than 30 per cent to 10,700 passengers each weekday. But outbound priority lanes were not created along Victoria Parade and Hoddle Street, although they are on the Eastern Freeway and in Lonsdale Street.

Monash University public transport expert Graham Currie, who assisted the departments in their research, said outbound traffic on those two roads was holding up buses immensely.

”If you get the morning peak working that’s fine, people can get into town reasonably well,” Professor Currie said. ”But they want also to go home, and if they get stuck in the afternoon they’ll make a decision to drive in the morning.”

Extended peak-hour clearway times were a contentious issue at the last state election, and the Baillieu government has wound back many that were introduced by Labor.

Traders and inner-city councils opposed the extensions, arguing they hurt retail, but road-user group the RACV backed them.

Ten traders opposed the DART priority lane plan last year, as did the City of Yarra, which called for the bus lane to be installed at the expense of a lane of traffic, not parking.

Bus Association executive director Chris Lowe said the bus lanes’ benefits would outweigh the negative impact on traders and residents using the parking spaces.

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