‘Horrendous’ traffic back as flexible working fails to curb driving in Melbourne

Melburnians are battling bumper-to-bumper traffic again, as pre-pandemic congestion returns to the city’s roads, despite more people working from home now than three years ago.

Many are still avoiding public transport, with train, tram and bus patronage one-quarter below 2019 levels over the first 20 days of February, according to state government data, but traffic on major freeways and arterial roads was just 4 per cent below 2019 levels.

Commuters at Southern Cross Station last Friday morning. Friday is one of the quietest days of the week.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Chris Blake commutes to work from the outer-east two to three days a week, driving from Ferntree Gully to Mitcham Station and taking the train to the CBD.

“Road traffic is getting terrible and is the worst I’ve seen it in 22 years in Melbourne,” said Blake, who works as a contractor at a private defence company. “Traffic in the morning, afternoon and even over weekends is horrendous out in the eastern suburbs.”

But he said the Lilydale and Belgrave line trains from Mitcham are not as busy as before the pandemic, when he used to travel to the office five days a week. Blake said his 1½ hour commute gave him added incentive to work from home a few days.

“I think a lot of people still aren’t coming back to public transport,” he said. “I do it because I hate driving in the city.”

Commuter Chris Blake said traffic on the roads is getting terrible.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Transport Department data shows many workers prefer to work from home on Mondays and Fridays, buttressing their weekends. Since mid-January, Mondays and Fridays have averaged 72 per cent of 2019 passenger numbers; rising to 79 per cent between Tuesdays and Thursday and peaking at 89 per cent on weekends.

Wilson Parking chief executive Stephen Wuffli has seen this trend reflected in parking volumes, which have been down 21 per cent on Mondays and 20 per cent on Fridays compared to mid-week.

“We are taking the approach that flexible commuting and hybrid working is here to stay,” Wuffli said. “More flexible ways of working means leaving early to pick up kids and then logging back on from home – so parking patterns have changed dramatically.”

But the roads are not as variable. VicRoads data shows traffic on major roads since schools reopened on January 31 has averaged 94 per cent of 2019 levels on Mondays, 95 per cent on all other weekdays and 99 per cent on weekends. Rush-hour traffic speeds have only been 3 per cent faster over the period too.

But the traffic is unevenly distributed: last Tuesday, traffic on major city roads was 3 per cent quieter than the same day in 2019, but 12 per cent busier on Hoddle Street and 6 per cent busier on Bell Street, the highways that run through the northern suburbs.

Crystal Legacy, an associate professor of urban planning at Melbourne University, said lingering fears about catching COVID-19 might be a factor in Melburnians returning to driving faster than to public transport, while flexible working could allow workers to run errands during the day.

“People are still driving their kids to school, and maybe going to the grocery store because they have greater flexibility – that’s one of the great benefits of working from home,” she said.

“And because there’s such poor public transport accessibility in the suburbs, people are retreating to the car and making a lot more shorter distance [trips].”

Traffic on CityLink has steadily increased over the past year, according to toll giant Transurban, whose latest data shows traffic is about 6 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

Before the pandemic, there were about 873,000 transactions on CityLink a day. In the most recent quarter, ending December 2022, they had climbed back to 818,000 from lockdown lows of 355,000.

Transurban Victoria general manager of operations Phil Naulls said traffic was gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels.

“As we’re settling back into our routines and enjoying more time in the office with colleagues, we’re seeing a return to traditional peak hour traffic,” he said.

Figures show Melbourne’s traffic has risen to close to pre-pandemic levels.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Boris Mathys, who works for consulting firm EY in the CBD, said Tuesday to Thursday were the busiest days on his commute.

Mathys has returned to working from the office five days per week, catching the tram into work from South Melbourne.

“It has been pretty busy this year,” he said. “Last year it wasn’t, but this year it is ramping back up. Monday and Friday is a bit more quiet. Most people stand, and by the time we get to Flinders [Street], there is barely any standing room.”

For those who live close enough to the city centre, cycling has been one way to avoid congestion.

Nicholas Zull rides to Docklands from Coburg North three days a week and said while his colleagues complain about traffic and parking, he has no issues.

“I think because we have had really good weather lately, bike patronage is way up and maybe there is people who want to do New Year’s resolution stuff as well,” the technology worker said.

“It is definitely much busier than usual and I think it is really only going one way in terms of number of people using the bike.”

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article