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The Lonie Report, officially titled Victorian Transport Study, was a thoroughgoing study of freight and passenger transport within the state of Victoria, in Australia. It was first organised on 13 June 1979 by the Parliament of Victoria, and was finally published on 26 September 1980.
Scope and aims
The Lonie Report aimed to, in the words of the authors:
institute a study into all freight and passenger transport within Victoria, and to and from Victoria, in order to produce a co-ordinated transport system capable of meeting the needs of all residents of Victoria, having particular regard to the effect of transport on the balanced development of the State
The Report developed from an earlier inquiry into land transport in Victoria in 1972, but extended that report to cover a much greater number of topics, including, but not limited to, ports and air transportation. There were special sections for the transport of certain important commodities, including cement and grain. There were a few essentially similar recommendations about a number of rail lines that Parliament had originally wanted to keep open.
Study and recommendations
The person appointed almost immediately after the Report was convened to head it was a retired executive of General Motors and BHP, Murray Lonie. The secretary was the head of the Country Roads Board, Robin Underwood. Between June and December 1979, 41 individuals, 21 government agencies and 28 of the then-211 local government areas wrote submissions to the report, as did a large number of lobby groups representing various positions on the question of transport planning.
The actual writing of the study was done from December 1979 until its final publication in September 1980. It was given to then-transport Minister Rob Maclellan for publication and was released as a total of twenty-five volumes and a final report covering recommendations on every topic covered by the report.
The Lonie Report argued that, despite the immense change in demand for various modes of transportation since the beginning of the twentieth century, the transportation system was still run by the same methods as prevailed in the nineteenth century. It argued for large-scale deregulation of transport markets, especially through removing protection to antiquated railways, and that prohibitions on the transport of such goods as Geelong cement, Gippsland sawn timber, fertilisers and grain by road be eliminated.
The Lonie Report was particularly concerned about the operating losses made by VicRail due to large declines in patronage and large increases in car ownership. The Report fundamentally argued that it would be much too expensive to upgrade the rail system to be competitive with the car or even with buses and that therefore:
- all country passenger rail lines except the service from Melbourne to Geelong should be replaced by coaches
- trains on the Port Melbourne, St. Kilda, Altona, Williamstown, Alamein and Sandringham lines should be replaced by buses, as should the Hurstbridge line beyond Eltham.
- trams on Routes 1 (to South Melbourne Beach only), 12, 57, 69, 72, 78/79, and 82 should be replaced by buses
- all night and weekend rail services be replaced by buses or multi-hire taxis
- fares should be increased more frequently to eliminate public subsidies as soon as possible
- closed rural freight lines should remain closed and be dismantled for recycling sleepers and steel
- small-volume freight should be shifted from rail to road
- development of a multimodal fare system
- developing a system of multi-hire taxis to provide public transport in new suburbs
The Lonie Report also argued that because of increasing demand, there should be major plans to duplicate and divide all of Victoria's major highways. It also argued to reserve land for bypassing major towns on these highways. Within Melbourne, it argued for extensions to the Eastern and South Eastern Freeways, for the linking of the West Gate Freeway to Port Melbourne, and for the building of a ring road around the city, believing that these increases in road capacity were needed to meet predicted demand for road transport. it also argued for a bypass of Lilydale on the Maroondah Highway. On another note, there was an argument for the introduction of clearways to speed up road traffic.
Another recommendation of the Report was the staggering of school and work hours in order to spread out the demand for the most economic public transport services, which it was argued would reduce the overcrowding on these services during peak periods and the number of empty services at other times. It argued that this be done through employers being encouraged by government to develop more flexible hours.
The release of the Lonie Report by the government of Rupert Hamer led immediately to severe criticism from large numbers of people who used rail services that the Report recommended eliminating. As a result of public protests in the last three months of 1980, the Hamer Government was forced to greatly tone down the recommendations of the Report. All tram services were retained, and the $115 million 'New Deal' for Country Passengers plan for the reorganisation of country passenger services was unveiled in February 1981.
Only the following country passenger rail lines were closed:
- Lilydale - Healesville: 1 March 1981
- Donald to Ballarat: March 1981
- Toolamba to Echuca: 2 March 1981
- Numurkah - Cobram: 27 April 1981
- Baxter - Mornington: 20 May 1981
- Dandenong - Leongatha - Yarram: 6 June 1981
- Frankston - Stony Point: June 1981, 1981
- Portland to Ararat: 12 September 1981
The Hamer Government planned to close several suburban rail lines but did not do so because of continuing protests. However, it did eliminate late night services on the Upfield Line (restored in 1997) and introduced a multimodal fare system that - unpredicted by the Report - boosted patronage to such an extent that historians believe it has been responsible for the very survival of the system today.
Some of these lines lost their passenger service. The lines themselves were not closed and were used for freight. Some of these services were reinstated by the incoming Labor government. i.e. Cobram, Stony Point and Leongatha. The Cobram and Leongatha passenger services were then converted to buses by the Kennett Government.
Nonetheless, the Lonie Report has proved very influential in transport planning, especially since the election of Jeff Kennett as premier. Indeed, the Report could be seen as providing the basis for Kennett's "Linking Melbourne" project carried out during his seven years as Premier, and also for his elimination of the large number of regulatory mechanisms that governed transport in Victoria before the 1980s, culminating in the privatisation of public transport in the 1990s. Some of its recommendations were indeed carried out before Kennett became Premier, such as the linking of the South Eastern Freeway to the Mulgrave Freeway.
The Lonie Report has been severely criticised ever since it was first released. Professional transport planners have generally believed that it factored only direct financial cost into the equations for considering its recommendations. It has also been criticised for not fully considering how building additional road capacity changes people's incentives in choosing between private or public transport, sometimes inducing increased demand, which negates the benefit of building the road in the first place. It has also been argued by the Public Transport Users Association that the Report did not consider that further public transport service reductions would not recover more cost but would instead lead to larger deficits and a vicious spiral of falling patronage on public transport.
The fact that the Lonie Report was written by people with a vested interest in increasing road transport has also led many professional planners at universities to doubt its accuracy. The Russell Report of 1991, written by an academic, suggested that the benefits of freeway building, which had been propagated by governments before and ever since the Lonie Report, were overstated.
The way the Lonie Report was written, indeed, could be seen as evidence the relatively recent findings of car, mineral and fossil fuel lobby groups (see Greenhouse Mafia) having written government policy on energy and transport in Australia for much longer than Pearse's study confirmed.
- Ashworth Improvement Plan
- Operation Phoenix
- 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan
- New Deal
- Regional Fast Rail project
- Victorian Transport Plan
- Scott Martin and Chris Banger (October 2006). "'New Deal' for County Passengers - 25 years on". Newsrail (Australian Railway Historical Society (Victorian Division)): page 319.
- Chris Banger (March 1997). "Rail Passenger Service Withdrawals Since 1960". Newsrail (Australian Railway Historical Society (Victorian Division)): pages 77–82.
- Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Engineers; The Lonie Report in Brief; published 1980 by the Victorian Division.