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Public Transport Comes With Densities

July 6, 2011

Epping station underground platform

Proud to have been chosen as keynote speaker for today’s big public transport conference in Parliament House in Canberra, sponsored by a coalition that includes rail, bus and bike groups plus local government and ( interestingly ) the Heart Foundation. The Gillard Government and its predecessor have made commitments to public transport, reviving – I said in my speech – the work of the Whitlam Government in urban policy.

Not before time. Capital cities generate 84 percent of economic growth in Australia and they are growing . By mid- century we will see Sydney and Melbourne at seven million. They won’t work without higher densities. Sydney is the only Australian city where more than half of new housing starts come in existing areas. In Melbourne it is only about 50 percent.

Here was my first proposal for boosting public transport : make sure that the metropolitan plans for our capitals mandate that, one, we increase the percentage of the population within 30 minutes by public transport of a major centre( like Parramatta or Liverpool ) within the overall metropolitan area ; two, we aim to have 80 percent of new housing within walking distance of public transport. Call these two ideas “key performance indicators” for city planning. They will nurture public transport. They do exist in the Sydney metropolitan plan where urban density and public transport reliance are the highest in Australia.

The Liverpool to Parramatta bus t-way

The Henry report recommended we move towards abolishing vehicle registration charges and fuel taxes for a system that charges drivers for distance travelled and time of journey. One of my fellow speakers suggested research towards ways of persuading private motorists that they could be better off under this model. And another speaker said marketing and politics can deliver this reform – and that we talk about distance-based charging instead of congestion charging.

Henry advocates variable congestion pricing and that heavy vehicles pay ” for their specific marginal road-wear costs.”

I reviewed the success of Bus Rapid Transit systems – designated bus expressways – which are being recognized as by far the most cost effective way of delivering public transport. Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney offer good models. The Liverpool-Parramatta bus transit way, costing $346 million, boasts 35 stations and runs a bus every 10 minutes every peak hour. It has carved an hour off travel times. A speaker at the conference told me there was $1 billion allocated to light rail on the Gold Coast when an investment of only $50 million would have delivered an environmentally sound bus transit system . BTR gives you more kilometers of public transport.

The serous rail projects in Australian cities in recent years have been the $2 billion 13 kilometer Epping to Chatswood line, the $1.66 billion 72 kilometer Perth New MetroRail Project and the $650 million five kilometer South Morang Rail Extension in Melbourne. Heavy rail has its place where there are populations to support it – that densities argument again.

You cannot escape it.

Professor David Hensher, an advocate of Rapid Bus Transit,  said that Sydney should not procede with the north-west rail project. He said that to relieve congestion it is better “to flood the system with buses.” Just a six percent shift away from cars ends congestion, he argues. And he argues that a single additional rail link – anywhere – won’t deliver the benefits that would come with more buses across the whole system. They offer flexibility and affordability. One restraint, however, is curb space. Already Brisbane is, according to one participant here, simply not able to accommodate more uses coming in from the suburbs at peak hours. There isn’t the space. A high standard of debate here.

  1. July 6, 2011 4:44 pm

    Hensher is bus mad. He always has been, and always will be. He’s completely one-eyed when it comes to buses.

    The problem with this “brave new world” is that most of us don’t want to live in a rabbit hutch 10 storeys above the ground. Most people also utterly detest public transport, and use it only if they absolutely have to. I got sick of the overcrowding and lateness of trains about six years ago and took to a bike, but that’s not easy because the last government promised an awful lot of bike paths every year and delivered almost nothing.

    Rail can work in lower density areas if you provide plenty of parking at the stations. You don’t have to cram people in around each station – just put up multi-level car parks. I remember that being proposed to Brian Langton when the land around stations wasn’t that expensive, but it went down in flames and no one seems to have been game to raise it again. You can also have low density combined with customers cycling to the station and either parking their bike at the station or taking it with them on the train, but CityRail management would rather poke their eye out with a fork than entertain that idea (and I know that because I fought that battle back in the early 1990s with CityRail management – and lost).

    Distance based charging also smacks of Big Brother. Governments would have a much easier time if they tried to deliver what people want, rather than trying to force them into an ideal world envisioned by urban planning wonks in ivory towers.

  2. July 6, 2011 6:50 pm

    That’s a good comment from boy on a bike, particularly as regards the contents of his second and closing paragraphs. Bob, people don’t want to catch trains or buses; they’d rather drive and be free, or like boy on a bike, ride and be free. I used to commute by train to the Adelaide CBD from one of Adelaide’s southern coastal suburbs for more than 20 years; an hour, an hour and ten door to door, on good days. The experience of sitting on a train for so long and being subject to the vagaries of the public transport system is one I’d like to forget, though I did read a lot and did a lot of crosswords. Yes, it certainly is cheaper, but that’s an illusion because it’s all subsidised; commuters don’t pay anywhere near the real cost of the travel. And of course, were one to drive all the way to the CBD every day there’s the problem of finding and paying for parking. Ideally of course, one should live as close as possible to one’s place of employment, but this is available only to the very few, unless of course one own’s the corner shop and lives out the back.

    Public transport out to be seen as a supplement, not the principal means of going to and from work.

    Try commuting from a long way out in Sydney for a year or two, Bob, day in day out, and see what you think then.

  3. July 7, 2011 11:10 am

    If you are going to use bus along dedicated busways I would strongly urge trolleybuses, buses powered by electricity. Gives a very smooth ride! In the 60s I travelled via trolleybus down Port Rd to Queen Elizabeth Hospital every quarter and still remember the smooth ride.

    Advantages: if powered by renewable or nuclear energy no pollution, even if powered by burning coal or gas at least no pollution in the city. Trolleybuses are also great at climbing up hills.

  4. Kerry Wright permalink
    July 7, 2011 12:03 pm

    Dear Mr Carr
    I am in Singapore en route to Burma, then India. I am deeply moved by the level of discussion here in the newspapers (so much more advanced that Australia’s mass presentations)about such issues and US-China relations, US and ASEAN, etc, and the openness of the Chinese people here about all things. They have space to see.

    They also have so little natural environment to enjoy, yet in many places have a relaxed life. They yearn for more travel and freedom.

    This morning one beautiful young Chinese graduate (born here) asked me about Chinese students visitng Dharamsala. His sttitudes were so much wider and richer than I experience with Chinese young people in Australia.

    Actually, I find Australia very dense and overworked and more than a bit bogged down these days. And as a History teacher for some 31 years I find that amazing. Is it even possble for families like the Boyds, or the Heidelberg School, to even exist in our fast heating ripped up world?

    It seems to be in the interests of some to keep the nation running blindly, while insidious changes occur.

    You may wish to read this below. The values of the Dalai Lama and all peacemakers are extremely important, as is Tibet, and Burma. The world is changing, and we are all working on diofferent levels to keep it a people-friendly place. Every person’s actions matter. Every person (and child) matters.

    What China Could Learn from The Dalai Lama

    Mr Carr elitism is easy for many. In NSW corruption was easy. In Australia corruption was easy. But hopefully the well-educated baby boomers are not done yet. Hopefully their children do not want a country with no real art, thinkers and rainforests, a country uncaring of the world around it.

    I keep in my mind the sea of tiny innocent faces on the Burma-Thai border. 65 schools of them. What price intellectual elitism and rampant wealth?

    Mr Carr Australians from all walks of life in Australia can do better. And it is not by selling our country to China, ignoring those who fall in Australia – or coldly betraying those who have devoted their whole life to a better humanity.

    Kerry Wright

  5. Ralf Kluin permalink
    July 9, 2011 10:55 am

    Hi Bob Carr,

    I’m at my daughters residence in Potomac, Maryland reading your statements concerning dedicated “bus lanes”. As you know the ideas were developed in Germany, in towns like Essen. The South Australian Labor Government planned & built the first dedicated bus – way in the Adelaide metropolitan region during the 1970/80s. In 1983/4 the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils advocated the examination of a dedicated “O-Bahn” bus way, as reported in the newspapers at the time. These buses operate with a different mix of energy applications. If planned and managed efficiently, these buses are capable to operate in similar fashion when compared to light rail (Trams) every 5 to ten minutes, without timetables, constantly carrying volumes of people efficiently and economically. I believe that the ALP must examine these styles of services, in order to compliment capital investments for new industry as a part of “better” living in Metropolitan centres like Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and even regional city centres like Wagga, Albury, Gosford, Coffs Harbour etc. The big impacts concerning Climate Change, our ability to adapt seems in early stages of planning. The quicker we all get on with it the better will be our society to reap the benefits from it. The reported No, No & No factor is death for Australian society. The people who vote and promote such dastardly attitudes do nothing to further Australian humanity’s cause in maintaining freedom, equality of opportunity and order. The ALP must urgently re-invent itself.

    Sincerely, Ralf Kluin

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