Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ring roads and buses - welcome to Congested Canberra 2031

A new ACT Transport strategy 'Transport for a Sustainable City 2012-2031' was released by the ACT Government yesterday. Naturally there was a strong focus on the ACTION network, and how this can be improved and attract more patronage. Some of the proposals are quite positive. It is good to see a 7 day network, hopefully this will do away with ridiculous route renumberings on the weekends which confuse even seasoned public transport users. Increased frequency is also welcome. The broad plans to improve the ACTION network are welcome. 

Media release here.

No commitment to light rail

Reading the entire document brings a sense of disappointment. Ultimately the new strategy squibs real commitment to public transport infrastructure. It continues to hedge bets and attempt to mollify public transport advocates by mentioning light rail in association with bus rapid transit. Light Rail as a standalone issue is not mentioned in the document until page 15 - where the abandoned and ill-supported bid to Infrastructure Australia is listed as under 'Transport Highlights 2001-2011'. That the ACT Government regards failure as a highlight in relation to public transport would be funny if it weren't so reflective of this governments approach to public transport. The spin is spun, and you and I ride the results every day. 

While the work on establishing the rapid routes is to be commended, the government is only setting itself up for long term failure in its stated public transport objectives. It continues to use these rapid transport corridors and promised results, in its push to rapidly densify Canberra - especially along the transport corridors. 

Unless a proper mass transit technology - the most logical being light rail - is built simultaneously to the now occurring densification, the resultant road congestion will further clog Canberra's road arteries. The report even states that private car ownership is still rising in percentage terms - defying its 2004 policy projections. 

The strongest 'committment' to light rail in this new policy is the following statement from p.22 

All our infrastructure feasibility studies include assessments of alternative public transport technology. For example, the City to Gungahlin transit corridor study will see the ACT Government work in partnership with the National Capital Authority and the Canberra community and business sector to create a vision for a transit- oriented corridor. Mass public transport will make the most of the development opportunities from existing land use settings and highlight the national significance of this entry to Canberra. The ACT Government will continue to explore funding opportunities for light rail and bus rapid transport with the Australian Government and private sector, and planning for light rail (or bus rapid transit designed for later conversion to light rail) is at the centre of planning for this corridor. 

In other words - the ACT Government want someone else, anybody else really except themselves, to pay for light rail.  The message is clear and consistent from the Stanhope through to the Gallagher government. Road funding is fine - public transport is secondary - make that last.  

While the 2012-2031 Transport Strategy maintains that all future planning must make provision for light rail, the real truth is that there is no financial commitment to this goal. All planning and infrastructure engineering is based on buses and recently on-road cycle paths. There has been no engineering study conducted on a light rail network in Canberra. This has consistently been asked for by ACT Light Rail. 

Infrastructure Australia guidelines required this most basic level of planning for its bids - yet the ACT Government submitted a bid without knowing what they actually needed, or how much it could cost. More has been spent on engineering plans for on-road cycle paths than light rail routes. 

Ring roads - the future of ACT transport infrastructure spending

Roads and road spending have always been a favourite photo opportunity for our local politicians. Who can forget all local ALP politicians standing in front of a scale model of the Infrastructure Australia funded Majura Parkway? Well hang on for the ride because the 2012-2031 Transport Strategy tells us that the future transport infrastructure major spending commitment in Canberra wont be public transport but -  a ring road. 

Ironically, this announcement on p.46 of the 2012 Transport Strategy is on the same page as a long dissertation on the economic detriment that road congestion causes the economy. The ACT Governments own submission on light rail to Infrastructure Australia pointed out that Light Rail would reduce congestion. The solution to road congestion is not to build more roads. Ask anyone using the GDE. 

The increasing densification along the 'transport corridors' will result not only in more road congestion, but also in increased rates as the high-rise building corridors begin to fill with residents. That this ratepayers money will build ring roads, and not public transport infrastructure is a cruel joke. light rail along these transport corridors will reduce road congestion. More roads will not. 

If the government had a serious commitment to reducing road congestion it could start by eliminating the causes of that congestion before it arises. The new Molonglo development is a prime example. This was an opportunity for the Government to show commitment to public transport by either constructing a light rail route linking Molonglo to Civic or a dedicated bus way, that could be converted to light rail at a later stage. 

By providing visible public transport prior to residents populating the new town of Molonglo, the residents would be able to choose this ahead of their private car. Instead the government has decided to go with on-road buses. The investment in public transport in Molonglo is minimal. It follows consistent public transport policy failure in Gungahlin - which despite having buses at capacity - still cant decrease the number of people using their private car for work trips. 

Show leadership by funding public transport not more roads

The ACT Government needs to show real leadership and commitment to Canberra's future transport needs and build Light Rail. It needs to begin by committing to an engineering study, then establishing a method to fund light rail construction, beginning with one route. We do not need more studies, They occur every electoral cycle.