Free public transport, early knock-offs for ‘Fab Friday’ could bring Melbourne’s buzz back



The last time Reid got his hair cut at his favourite barber in Melbourne was a year ago, just before the coronavirus pandemic completely transformed the city.

As he returned to have his hair trimmed on Tuesday morning, he reflected on how different the city felt months after harsh lockdowns were introduced to see off substantial outbreaks.

“I came back a couple of days before the most recent outbreak but then I went back to working from home,” he said.

“I’m back a couple days this week and getting back into the swing of things.”

Two men, one getting his haircut and the other holding scissors and a comb.
City worker Reid has been returning to CBD businesses he used to visit before the coronavirus pandemic hit.(ABC News: Zalika Rizmal)

Reid is supportive of a proposal that’s been floated that would enable people to knock off work early and travel for free on public transport on Fridays to try to speed up the city’s recovery.

Fab Friday designed to bring Melbourne’s ‘buzz’ back

The Victorian division of the Property Council of Australia has approached the City of Melbourne with the idea, dubbed “Fab Friday”.

The council’s executive director Danni Hunter said that prior to the pandemic, a million people used to travel into the city daily, but that has now dropped to 30 per cent of that number.

She said the plan would rely on the Victorian government offering free public transport for the day and businesses pledging to allow their employees to finish work at 4:00pm on Fridays.

“Five hundred thousand office workers don’t come into the city anymore, and instead, we only have 24 per cent of people coming into the city to work in the office,” she said.

A sign saying Melbourne is open, come and explore, next to artificial lawn and a cafe.
The City of Melbourne is considering proposals to draw people back into the city centre.(ABC News: Zalika Rizmal)

Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the city was in “early discussions” with the Property Council about the idea.

“Initiatives like Fab Friday are important to help encourage workers back into our world-class hospitality businesses and bring the buzz back to Melbourne,” she said.

“Enticing workers back to their city offices and workplaces is critical for our economic recovery.

“Every extra person in the city is a potential sale for cafes, restaurants and retailers.”

Shorter day would give workers chance to explore the city

City worker Carla said Melbourne no longer felt like a ghost town the way it had when stricter coronavirus restrictions were in place.

“I think it’s almost back to normal now,” she said.

She said if the Fab Friday plan or other measures to reinvigorate the CBD were introduced she would take advantage of them.

“I feel like we all should have a shorter working day to explore the city and definitely put some more money back in for locals,” she said.

Peter works for the Returned and Services League (RSL) in Melbourne and has begun heading into the office again in line with restrictions.

A mean with grey hair wearing a blue and white checked shirt with buttons.
Peter has returned to work for the Returned and Services League (RSL) in Melbourne’s CBD a few days a week.(ABC News: Zalika Rizmal)

On Tuesday morning, while picking up coffees from a cafe near his office, he said any ideas to help breathe life back into the city were worthwhile.

“Once we all follow the bouncing ball of the government restrictions related to coronavirus, I think we’re doing our bit,” he said.

“I’m assuming they will change and ease, touch wood, bearing any further outbreaks.”

Peter said he had noticed the increase in activity as he spent more time at the office rather than working from home.

Things better than before, but still tough

Steve, who cuts Reid’s hair, said prior to the pandemic he used to have three or four barbers working at his CBD business each day, but lately he had been working alone.

A barber cutting a man's short brown hair in a chair.
It’s been a year since Melbourne office worker Reid has been for a haircut at Steve’s business in the CBD.(ABC News: Zalika Rizmal)

He said since people had started working from home his business had dropped substantially.

“They’re not going to travel 50 kilometres for a haircut,” he said.

Steve said things were improving slowly and he supported any measures designed to get more people into the city.

“Anything would help,” he said.

“It’s still very quiet compared to the suburbs.”


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