Most people seem to love the idea of airport rail links. Some media outlets have taken to referring to an “embarrassing gap” between Melbourne Airport and other big airports. It’s even been claimed that “experts say” a rail link to Badgery’s Creek is vital to that planned airport’s success.
Such claims are dubious. Getting people to airports is important, but the best planners think about the needs of the city, not just its CBD – a point made well by transit expert Jarrett Walker (no relation). And compared to other uses of the money, it’s hard to make CBD-to-airport rail stand up when you compare benefits to costs. On top of that, Melbourne Airport already has a good bus service.
Since writing the column I’ve been pointed to this thesis paper, which reiterates two points often overlooked in these discussions:
- Airport rail link advocates tend to overestimate ridership and understimate costs, as shown by the work of Bent Flyvbjerg.
- Bus links tend to cost less, scale better and let you pick up and drop off passengers in a lot more places.
Australians mostly prefer trains and trams to buses. But some relatively small investments in better bus links – more protective and comfortable stops, more seat space, better road priority and so on – may make much more sense than huge investments in airport rail. That’s particularly so when autonomous vehicles are making the future of public transport less clear.
David on Twitter: @shorewalker1