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Monthly transport subscription fee mooted for Melbourne CBD

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Melburnians could pay a monthly subscription fee to access a mix of public transport and ride share options in the CBD under a new plan being considered by Melbourne City Council.

A transport strategy discussion paper released on Wednesday suggests a shift towards a Mobility as a Service scheme (MaaS), which has been pioneered in Finland and is being tested in the Netherlands and in the UK.

Under the plan, public transport will be combined with ride and bike share services across the city. Residents would be able to access options through an app on their smart devices.

“Studies have suggested a well managed MaaS platform with shared services supporting public transport can deliver a reduction in vehicle kilometres travelled, comparable to a congestion charge,” the discussion paper states.

The chair of the council’s transport portfolio Nicolas Frances Gilley said the app would offer options. “It is saying, what is the choice I will make today, given the traffic, the weather, the cheapest option. It provides a streamlined path for you to get to work and taking stuff you see on the Uber app or Tramtracker all in one place.”

He said while the scheme would most likely start in the CBD it could potentially be rolled out across the city.

“I think it is possible all around Australia. It’s about whether Melbourne stays in front, and does it well, or waits to see what happens and cops the potential congestion,” he said.

Mr Gilley also said the service might not be far off. ”The RACV in Victoria are working on what it could look like as an offering, so it is not far away, it could be here soon,” he said.

Monash University public transport policy expert Graham Currie said the scheme was an easy way of giving customers more choice.

“It will only really work in the inner city, where there is a lot of choice,” he said.

“At any one time in the city centre, you have loads of choices, but most people don’t really know what they are. What this does, if it works properly, is tell you what all the options are in one simple app and leave it to you to make a decision.”

He said he was not sure how much it would cost.

“Everyone will be worried about it, when it starts,” he said. “I’m a little bit worried, if it’s a commercial venture, it could become a monopoly. That’s the reason for the government to be involved, we need to be careful about that.”

The council is currently working on a new transport strategy to 2050, which aims to prioritise space-efficient transport modes to deal with the booming population growth.

Interestingly, Wednesday’s discussion paper also included an assessment of the impact driverless cars will have on the city.

The paper warns that driverless cars in the central city will have any benefit as empty cars driving around waiting for passengers could increase traffic, increase emissions and lead to poor health outcomes.

The council suggests driverless cars must be integrated with public transport, rather than compete with it, and says the vehicles could be made to pay a fee to use the road.

Mr Currie said there was a lot hype around driverless cars but realistically they wouldn’t be functioning on our roads until 20 or 30 years in the future.

“My main point is, we are not just a long way from it, I don’t think it’s a good idea anyway,” he said. ”In a growing city which is getting close to 8 million, we need to be super efficient in sharing the space.

“Driverless cars can even have nobody in them, it doesn’t make sense.”

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