Lonie Report

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The Victorian Transport Study, better known as the Lonie Report, was an extensive study of freight and passenger transport within the state of Victoria, in Australia. The study was set up on 13 June 1979 by the Parliament of Victoria, and the report was published on 26 September 1980.

Murray Lonie, a retired executive of General Motors and BHP, was appointed to head the study and the secretary was the head of the Country Roads Board, Robin Underwood.

Scope and aims[edit]

In the words of the authors the Lonie Report aimed to:

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.

To some extent, the Lonie Report followed on from a 1972 inquiry into land transport in Victoria by Sir Henry Bland, but was extended 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.

Study and recommendations[edit]

Between June and December 1979, 41 individuals, 21 government agencies and 28 of the (then) 211 Victorian local government areas wrote submissions to the study, as did a large number of lobby groups representing various positions on the question of transport planning.

The writing of the report was done between December 1979 until its final publication in September 1980. It was presented to Transport Minister Rob Maclellan, and was released as a total of twenty-five volumes and a final report, containing recommendations on every topic covered.

The Lonie Report argued that, despite the immense change in demand for various modes of transportation since the beginning of the twentieth century, the transport system was still run by the same methods as prevailed in the nineteenth century. It argued for large-scale deregulation of transport markets, especially by the removal of the current restrictions on the carriage by road of such goods as cement, sawn timber, fertilisers and grain.

The report was particularly concerned about the operating losses made by VicRail due to significant 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 services, except from Melbourne to Geelong, should be replaced by buses
  • trains on the suburban 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-time 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
  • already-closed rural freight lines should remain closed and be dismantled to recycle the sleepers and steel
  • small-volume freight should be shifted from rail to road
  • a multi-modal public transport fare system be developed
  • a system of multi-hire taxis be instituted to provide public transport in new suburbs

The report stated that because of increasing demand, Victoria's major highways should be duplicated. It also argued for the reservation of land to allow the construction of road bypasses around 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, claiming that these increases in road capacity were needed to meet predicted demand for road transport. It also advocated a road bypass of Lilydale on the Maroondah Highway, and argued for the introduction of clearways on main suburban streets 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 on public transport services, which it said would reduce the overcrowding on these services during peak periods, and the number of under-used services at other times. The report argued that this be done through employers being encouraged by government to develop more flexible hours.

Influence[edit]

The release of the Lonie Report by the government of Rupert Hamer led immediately to severe criticism, particularly from large numbers of people who used the 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 reject a number of the report's recommendations. All tram services were retained, and the $115 million 'New Deal' for Country Passengers, a plan for the reorganisation and revitalisation of country passenger rail services, was unveiled in February 1981.[1]

Only the following country passenger rail lines were closed:[2]

Some of those lines remained open for freight. Cobram, Stony Point and Leongatha passenger services were reinstated by the incoming Labor government. The Cobram and Leongatha passenger services were again shut down by the Kennett Government.

The Hamer Government's plans to close several suburban rail lines were halted because of continuing protests. However, late night services on the Upfield Line were eliminated (they were restored in 1997) and a multimodal fare system was introduced that - unpredicted by the Report - boosted patronage to such an extent that historians[who?] believe it has been responsible for the very survival of the system.[citation needed]

Despite those changes, the Lonie Report proved very influential in transport planning, especially after the election of Jeff Kennett as premier. Indeed, the report could be seen as providing the basis for the "Linking Melbourne" project carried out during Kennett's seven years as Premier, and also for the elimination of the large number of regulatory mechanisms that governed transport in Victoria before the 1980s, which culminated in the privatisation of public transport in the 1990s. Some of the report's recommendations were carried out before Kennett became Premier, such as the linking of the South Eastern Freeway to the Mulgrave Freeway.

Criticism[edit]

The Lonie Report has been severely criticised ever since it was first released. Professional transport planners have generally believed that it only considered direct financial cost in making its recommendations. It has also been criticised for not fully considering how building additional road capacity affects people's decisions about whether to use private or public transport, creating induced demand for even more major road construction, thereby negating any benefit from building the road in the first place. The Public Transport Users Association argued that the report did not consider that further public transport service reductions would cause a vicious circle of greater declines in patronage, poorer cost recovery and even larger deficits.

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 question its assumptions and conclusions. The 1991 Russell Report, written by transport academic Bill Russell, claimed that the benefits of freeway building, which had been propagated by governments before and since the Lonie Report, were overstated.

Indeed, the Lonie Report could be seen as evidence for the relatively recent claims by academic Guy Pearse that car, mineral and fossil fuel lobby groups have long written government policy on energy and transport in Australia (see Greenhouse Mafia).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Scott Martin and Chris Banger (October 2006). "'New Deal' for County Passengers - 25 years on". Newsrail (Australian Railway Historical Society (Victorian Division)): page 319. 
  2. ^ Chris Banger (March 1997). "Rail Passenger Service Withdrawals Since 1960". Newsrail (Australian Railway Historical Society (Victorian Division)): pages 77–82. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Engineers; The Lonie Report in Brief; published 1980 by the Victorian Division.