But Yarra Trams and the Public Transport Users Association have argued against the expansion citing increased congestion and costs.
The inquiry (pdf), which was tabled on Nov. 26, found the city’s free tram zone (pdf) should be expanded along St. Kilda Road to the arts precinct, as well as towards the convention centre at South Wharf.
It’s estimated expanding the free tram zone would cost an additional $14.8 million a year in lost fare revenue. Currently, the free tram zone costs the Victorian Government $10 to $13 million per year in lost revenue.
According to the committees chair, Enver Erdogan, extending the free tram zone will help promote Melbourne “as an attractive destination.”
“The Free Tram Zone has also become synonymous with the city. As we look to recover from the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic, every competitive advantage will help draw people from interstate and overseas,” Erdogan said.
The inquiry acknowledged the scheme caused overcrowding and acknowledged concerns of a slow down in the tram network in the CBD.
However, the inquiry found that data provided by the Department of Transport “did not show any observable reduction in tram speeds following the implementation of the FTZ (Free Tram Zone).”
Daniel Bowen from the Public Transport Users Association told 3AW’s Tom Eliot that the scheme would send the network “backwards,” which “may lead to more problems than it solves.”
“The crowding is actually causing problems for those users, including those who are actually trying to get a tram home in the evening, and find themselves crowded out by people getting the free ride.”
“[T]his is probably a net dis-benefit for most public transport users because if you’ve paid to use public transport to get into the city, your trips all day are basically free anyway, they’re included in the cost of your fare,” he said.
Bowen added that the association would prefer to see the free tram zone “scrapped.”
Yarra Trams, the operator for Melbourne’s trams, said patronage increased by 30 percent the year the free tram zone scheme was introduced, leading to more packed services. Yarra Trams was forced to alter their timetable due to an increase in stoppage at tram stops.
In 2018, Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp expressed support for the scheme but said it was a long-term goal that “could ideally be delivered when the Metro Tunnel Project is up and running and the public transport system has more capacity in the heart of the city,” News Corp’s Herald Sun reported.
The committee’s recommendations will now be brought forward to the Andrews government for consideration.
AAP contributed to this article.