While Sydney’s late-night economy devolves as a result of a draconian, prohibitive response to antisocial behaviour, Melbourne is embracing a spread of trading hours with sweeping change.
For more than a decade Victorian Police have identified what they call the “dark hours” after the public transport ceases and restarts. This is the peak time when the city’s violence and alcohol-related misbehaviour has traditionally flourished.
A 12-month trail of the Night Network, which will introduce 24-hour trains, trams and buses, is the heart of plans to transform the city into a late-night retail and entertainment zone, along the lines of international successes such as New York’s Times Square.
But further to eliminating the transport void, businesses and entertainment providers such as retailers, restaurants, theatres, galleries and cinemas will be encouraged to stay open into the early hours. The city is also considering a night market in the Flinders St hotspot for revellers heading home.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle told Fairfax Media they “want to activate the city”.
Complementing police data that shows much of Melbourne’s problem with violence and poor behaviour on the streets stems from bored, drug or alcohol-affected revellers waiting for transport, police data also shows that violence is not pegged to the size of the crowd but ‘the mix’.
Large-scale events attracting families, such as night AFL, New Year’s Eve and the White Night journeys have proven highly successful, and authorities are hoping the spread of appeal away from strictly alcohol-based entertainment in late hours will aide this diversity.
The $50 million weekend service will play a big role helping people get home, but police are also planning countermeasures to deter drunken late-night revellers heading into the city.
Over 100 Protective Services Officers will man 78 major suburban stations and additional transit police will ride the late-night trains. Both will screen passengers at major stations and again at Flinders St, in the hope of blocking anyone affected by alcohol or drugs.
Assistant Commissioner Stephen Leane said the public needs to be confident that the system is safe.
“This is not a transport system for drunks … We will be there to meet and greet.”
Far from questioning the public’s need to conduct themselves at these times, the Lord Mayor likens the initiative to Mediterranean practises and sees the potential in diversification.
“We want to normalise the city from midnight to 2am so it feels like Melbourne at 10pm.”
The Night Network trial began 1 January.