There’s a perception that living in rural areas is cheaper than in cities, but the added cost of transport can actually make it more expensive to live in the country. Higher fuel costs fall disproportionately on people living in rural and regional areas, given the longer distances many have to travel to get to work, or to drive children to school, sports and recreational activities. During VCOSS’ visits to regional communities in 2018, access to transport was identified as a key concern by almost everyone we spoke with.
And that’s for people who have a car. Without one, many people are stuck. People living in outer regional and rural areas are more likely than their urban counterparts to have trouble accessing many different services. People struggle to access doctors, dentists, telecommunication services and government services. Rural and regional Victoria’s limited public transport network might not be able to get people to these services at all, or only through a long series of connections. And a lack of services outside of peak times and on weekends can make it even harder to attend appointments.
By 2031 the population of Victoria’s regions is expected to grow to 2.1 million, and by 2051 the number of older people is likely to triple. Public transport is a lifeline allowing older people to shop, attend appointments and connect with their community. It increases young people’s job prospects, their ability to get a qualification and to access health and community services.
We’ve seen some promising recent announcements – commitments to improving regional rail across Victoria, a study into faster rail services for Geelong, a project to untangle freight and passenger services in Ballarat, and the Regional Network Development Plan. However, communities feel progress is too slow.
People living in rural and regional Victoria require frequent and well-coordinated services. They need a network of regular bus and coach services that connect with trains to ‘feed’ passengers to rail services, provide services to smaller towns, and make more direct connections between regional cities and between rail corridors. They also need better timetabling to minimise the wait between connecting services.
Transport is freedom. For a good life, people need to be able to reach the places where they work, learn, get healthcare and community services, connect with family and friends, and participate in community life. To maximise everyone’s freedom, we need great public transport right across Victoria. Because all Victorians should be able to get where they need to go.