University News Is Perth public transport 'off the rails'?

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Claims that Perth's public transport system is in crisis have been proven wrong by researchers who have compiled the first comprehensive look at the city's public transport use since 2004. 

The re-established Planning and Transport Research Centre (PATREC) at The University of Western Australia put paid to media and community allegations that people were turning away from public transport, with previously unreleased figures showing a 61 per cent growth in patronage over the last decade compared to a 32 per cent population growth.

Planning expert Assistant Professor Valerià Paül, from UWA's School of Earth and Environment, compiled the first in a series of reports to be produced on planning and transport issues in Perth and across WA.

"We are trying to respond to the general community and media discussion that is saying Perth's public transport system is in crisis," Assistant Professor Paül said.  "What we've found is that there's no indication to support the assertion that commuters are ‘jumping off trains in record numbers due to crowding, among other reasons'."

The figures show a 26 per cent per capita increase in boardings from 2004-5 to 2011-12 - second only to Melbourne - while the overall per capita number of Perth commuters (79) is well below Sydney (112) and Melbourne (129), but higher than Brisbane (60) and Adelaide (50). 

It found that catchment population and rail capacity was more likely to affect commuter numbers rather than management policy and predicted more commuters would jump on board  when the Joondalup line extension to Butler was completed.

Joondalup was the only line that didn't experience a patronage drop from 2012 to 2013, despite the shutdown to sink the Fremantle line at Perth Central Station.

The opening of the Mandurah line in late December 2007 had a major impact on the Perth train system - overtaking the Joondalup line as the busiest - and has continued to expand with almost six million new boardings in 2013 (compared to 2008).

Commuter levels on the Fremantle line remain unchanged, which is thought to be linked to the relatively stable population figure of its catchment area.

The Midland and Armadale line commuter numbers were lower annually by around two per cent in the 2012-2013 annual variation.  Midland did pick up at the start of this year but Armadale was the only line to experience significantly fewer commuters at the start of 2014 compared to the same period in previous years.

On a world scale, the researcher originally from Barcelona described Perth's train system as pretty good.

"I would say among Australian cities, and especially compared to the US, it's quite European," Assistant Professor Paül said.  "It's quite a good system.  However, more consistency is needed between land-use planning and railways, for instance by increasing housing densities around train stations.

"In addition, there is a need to develop a real network with increasing levels of connectivity and structured into several hubs, instead of the current design devoted to provide services from the suburbs to the CBD, which is the only hub; this might imply new lines avoiding the city centre, not necessarily heavy railways but light rails.

"In any case, it has to be highlighted that there are substantial ‘shadow areas' in the metropolitan region that are not served by trains or hardly by buses, and that need our attention."

Future reports in the series will provide more information on trends to provide a perspective on implications for planning and transport in Perth and WA.

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