City divided on free trams extension

By David Schout

As submissions closed on the parliamentary inquiry into expanding Melbourne’s Free Tram Zone (FTZ), key lobby groups remain divided on whether the zone’s boundary should be widened.

In detailed submissions to the inquiry, the influential Committee for Melbourne (CFM) were at odds with commuter group the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) about the logic of extending the FTZ, which covers the CBD and Docklands.

There was also division in the higher offices at Town Hall, as the views of pro-extension Lord Mayor Sally Capp conflicted with those of her deputy Arron Wood.

In its fourth submission to government arguing for an extension, CFM claimed the FTZ should be extended to include prominent stops in the sports and arts precincts.

These included: The Arts Precinct, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (MCEC), Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), Melbourne Museum and Melbourne and Olympic Parks.

“The FTZ is a significant part of Brand Melbourne and gives us a competitive advantage as an attractive, globally relevant and distinctive city,” the submission, signed by CEO Martine Letts, stated.

“However, in some areas it falls short of its potential. That is why the Committee strongly supports the extension of the FTZ to include some of Melbourne’s most important cultural and sporting institutions.”

CFM first proposed free tram travel in the CBD in 2009, six years before the Andrews Labor Government formally introduced it in 2015.

But its call for the zone’s extension was countered, perhaps surprisingly, by the PTUA, which said the zone has caused overcrowding and provided little benefit to paying users.

In fact, the commuter group is not only opposed to the zone’s extension, but its presence altogether. 

also asked to consider free public transport for students and seniors.

The zone’s extension was a pre-election pledge in 2018 from Lord Mayor Sally Capp, who vowed it would cover the entire municipality if elected.  But the initiative has seen repeated pushback from the Andrews Government and Capp has since put the issue on the backburner.

She has, however, remained steadfast in her view that widening the FTZ would have economic advantages for the city, and made a private submission (that is, not endorsed by the City of Melbourne) to the inquiry championing its benefits.

Her deputy Arron Wood, however, took to Twitter to reiterate that the Lord Mayor’s views did not reflect the council’s.

“Our own City of Melbourne data shows people spend more in our retail strips and hospitality venues when they walk, in addition to many other benefits. There’s good reason why extending the free tram zone isn’t council policy,” he said.

A report, to be tabled in Parliament, will now be prepared by the committee.

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