Melbourne’s roads may have become quiet during the pandemic lockdowns, but the morning rush is once again a nightmare for outer-suburban drivers, according to new data.
Between 6:00am and 10:00am, suburban arterial roads have filled up as more workers head back to the office — but the city’s train network remains well below capacity.
However, drivers in some of Melbourne’s wealthiest suburbs are still experiencing a better run, with workers in those areas having more opportunity to work from home, experts say.
Data from traffic analysis company Intelematics Australia shows that in 2021, the numbers of vehicles in Chirnside Park in Melbourne’s outer east has doubled on 2019 levels during the morning peak.
In Mill Park, about 21 kilometres north of the CBD, the vehicle count is up 35 per cent.
The data also suggests there has been a huge spike in drivers from Geelong and Melbourne’s western suburbs using their cars to head into the city via the Princes Freeway.
On average, more than 30,000 cars are passing through Altona North each weekday morning, an increase of 20 per cent on 2019 levels. In Geelong West, the count is up 24 per cent.
Intelematics product manager John Cardoso believes flexible working arrangements, cheap parking deals and infection fears are behind the squeeze on the roads.
“Because [some] people don’t have to come to the office every day, they’re more willing to pay parking for one or two days a week and just decide to drive,” he said.
Inner-city arterials like Hoddle Street, Kings Way and Punt Road are “above pre-COVID levels”, Mr Cardoso said.
For Andy Witlox and his daughters, the morning rush is a constant headache from their Chirnside Park home, about 40 kilometres east of the CBD.
In recent months, the roads became so bad Mr Witlox gave up driving all the way to the city, and now takes the train from Heatherdale Station, in Mitcham.
And it was lucky he did so yesterday — the Eastern Freeway was brought to a standstill before 7:00am after a pile-up involving five cars.
Mr Witlox, a former deputy mayor, believes his suburb’s traffic woes have been caused by increased development, the installation of more traffic lights and workers who are reluctant to catch public transport during the pandemic.
“Not everyone’s going to the city either. A lot of people are driving through to other suburbs. There’s a lot of tradies in the area,” he said.
“The roads out here in the outer suburbs are getting fuller. It’s more time away from the family and more time in traffic.
“Everyone’s using the suburbs as a rat-race. They’re going through the backroads to avoid where it’s getting busier on the main roads.”
The bad news for drivers like Mr Witlox, according to Mr Cardoso, is things will get worse before they improve.
“People may feel compelled to use public transport again when the traffic actually gets really worse,” Mr Cardoso said.
If there is any consolation, Monday is now no longer the worst day for weekday traffic, Mr Cardoso said.
“Wednesdays and Thursdays are actually busier than Mondays and Tuesdays,” he said.
In Donvale, where drivers can access the Eastern Freeway, traffic levels have all but returned to pre-pandemic levels.
It is a similar story in Clayton and Mulgrave, where Princes Highway and the Monash Freeway respectively pass through.
But some suburbs in Melbourne’s bayside and inner-east have seen huge drop-offs in morning traffic volumes since the pandemic, according to the Intelematics figures.
Canterbury is down 34 per cent, while there have also been significant declines in Middle Park (26 per cent), Sandringham (22 per cent), Hawthorn (16 per cent) and Hampton (15 per cent).
These city-wide trends were predicted by Professor Graham Currie, a Monash University expert who has been studying how COVID-19 has impacted transport.
“A lot of the effects here are quite divided by income as well. Working from home really is occurring more for richer people,” he said.
Passengers have been slow to return to the city’s train network, despite all caps on public and private-sector offices being lifted by the state government.
On April 22, the Department of Transport said its network was at 62 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
Professor Currie said “infection fear” would be a long-term issue.
“We’ve been doing surveys of the population. We found that more females have concerns about infection fear and perceived crowding issues than men do. That’s affecting how they travel,” he said.
“We expect public transport ridership to be about 10 per cent to 20 per cent down in the long-term. But with population growth that will not take long to get over.
“Based on previous growth rates, it’s a seven-year return to full ridership.”
We hope you enjoyed reading this story about “What’s On in the Geelong Region called “Traffic worse than before the pandemic in outer suburbs as Melburnians shun public transport”. This news update was presented by My Local Pages Australia as part of our VIC events and what’s on local news services.
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