“Extending the free tram zone will lower network performance and reduce social equity … any increased demand from extending the free tram zone will cause further overcrowding, reducing the comfort of existing users,” Infrastructure Victoria says.
The elderly, people with a disability, pregnant women and parents with prams or young children are already disadvantaged in the CBD by their limited mobility and the poor accessibility of the City Loop train service, the submission states, and would be disadvantaged most by overcrowded trams.
More free services would also encourage bad habits, such as people taking the tram when they could walk or cycle, and mean they catch fewer buses and trains, reducing revenue from fares, according to the submission.
“Investing in greater active transport infrastructure [such as bike lanes and footpaths], or in better train and bus services may be more effective at improving transport network performance,” the submission states.
Mr Barton said more trams could be run to deal with overcrowding and a larger free zone would decrease car congestion in the city.
“We can deal with it, we can put more trams on, we can put bigger trams on. Perhaps the free tram zone should be a group of trams that only stay in the free area,” he said.
He added that the extensions would only be “one or two” extra stops in each direction, and had support from RMIT and Melburne University, the Royal Children’s Hospital and workers’ unions.
“We are not reinventing the wheel.”
Infrastructure Victoria believes other slated benefits, for example providing free access to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Parkville, would “only be free for people whose journeys start in the free tram zone”, in particular CBD residents
Any additional costs to cover a loss of revenue from tram fares would be covered by Victorian taxpayers, the large majority of whom do not benefit from free trams, Infrastructure Victoria says.
In 2018 it was estimated that extending the free tram zone to the entire City of Melbourne council area would cost about $9.5 million per year.
The state government has previously ruled out extending the free tram zone, but will consider the report when it is handed down in September.
Cr Capp argues that ending the free tram zone close to main tourist attractions, such as Melbourne Museum and Melbourne Zoo, was confusing for tourists.
Mr Barton also called for tiered or free fares for seniors and students, who he said often had to choose between public transport fares or meals.
Infrastructure Victoria disagrees, saying free travel would remove the incentive for those groups to travel at off-peak times.
Michael is a reporter for The Age.