The Airport CEO has an op-ed in The Age today
Interesting piece by Mr. Strambi. It advocates for the AirRail consortium bid to participate in the project. The timing is interesting, suggesting that this consortium has realised that their self-interest has been called out and yet they still want to come out to play. What he fails to mention is the required flow of funds back to AirRail as profit, should their money be accepted into the project. There are a few takeaways from his comments.
First, he reiterates the reasonable conclusion that road connections are approaching maximum capacity at busy times. I recall reading a report from the airport estimating that SkyBus cannot increase their capacity to carry more passengers after the middle of 2020. There are only so many buses that can be dispatched from Southern Cross and we’re close to that point now. We need the a rail connection urgently because the roads can’t deliver the airport’s transport needs in the near future, let alone in a decade.
Secondly, he sees the airport train as the only solution and just as a line that will serve the airport and his “customers” travelling through it. So much for it being a section of the outer suburban loop to Broadmeadows and eastwards. He does not view the train as part of a network. Further, his vision is a prestige service which will cost a packet to use. He nominates $20 out of thin air and finds this reasonable! I guess he can afford that fare on his salary. I can’t. That would be $100 for a family of five going to the airport. I should imagine many of the 10,000 employees working at the airport would similarly avoid the train at anything more than the going Myki rate. AirRail’s model comes from, predominately, North America where the transport networks are often privately owned and segment these prestige services so that it looks like it’s a good deal. On the other hand, travellers can get from various airports in Paris to the city for a Metro or RER fare. Same in Seoul - one of the biggest cities in the world, and that's to name but two. Why should we entertain the idea of this high-priced fare structure for our airport train? Perth, in comparison, is extending the state-owned network into its airport and it will be part of the existing fare structure.
Mr. Strambi also is focussed on a rapid journey into the CBD, as if speed is the rationale behind the airport link. What is needed is reliably, not speed. He is disingenuous in comparing a 20 minute rail journey to the SkyBus which he uses as a benchmark for a train journey time and cost. His bus journey time is a best-case scenario during the off-peak. During the peak it might be twice that much. It suits his agenda to quote 20 minutes because a rapid service will be used to justify a high fare. Likewise, the $20-ish fare “benchmark” is the highest price SkyBus thinks can be charged without sending passengers elsewhere - as if there is a choice. So, not a benchmark then but the highest price the customers can be expected to fork out.
Mr. Strambi’s desire for speed best serves those whose time is money and a lot of it, but it is less relevant for the common or garden variety traveller who has experienced and expects two or three times that travel time into a city as far away from its airport as Melbourne; London, for example. A factor that might deliver his feared white elephant rail link is a service set at a price that effectively excludes the hoi polloi and is tailored to the more affluent passenger. This is precisely what happened in Toronto four or five years ago. Toronto tried the rapid high-priced option. The most rapid thing about this service was its failure. It failed because of exorbitant fares and the service was forced to reduce the cost to attract custom. It was built as a 25 minute run for about a $25 fare (does this sound familiar?) and ran mostly empty all day. Sydney’s airport train failed too, initally, for that matter - also because the private consortium owning the two terminal rail stations set high fares to use the stations - and the two either side of the airport.
Besides all this, state and federal taxpayers are handing over a huge amount of money to pay for this project and will expect that their investment will be returned as a public good at the standard fare. That AirRail can think that they deserve to get their cut requires no comment.
What we need is an airport rail link that is part of a wider network to transport all Victorians and visitors but without unaffordable supplements, or cars will continue to be used.