Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Light Rail presentation at CAP 'ACT Now!' Conference - Sat 2 July 2011

Damien Haas, Chair of ACT Light Rail has been asked to speak at the Community Alliance Party Conference 'ACT Now!' on Saturday 2 July.

The theme of the CAP Conference is 'Governance in the ACT'.

Mr Haas will be delivering his presentation "Light Rail in the ACT - The Challenges and Benefits" - around 11.30 AM - the public are welcome to attend I'm told.  

Apart from the light rail presentation - other topics are: governance, accountability, corrections (prison related I suspect), schools, population, community councils,  and territory-federal government relations. It should be very interesting. 

The conference is being held at Havelock House on Northbourne Avenue starting at 9.30 AM and running until 4.30 PM.

(Mr Haas is not a member of any political party, but is happy to speak to any group about light rail.)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Greens Paper - A Better Transport Solution for Gungahlin and Wider Canberra.

The ACT Greens today published a very well researched and balanced paper examining the different modes of transport available to Canberra residents. The paper looks at roads, cars, buses and light rail - and recommends light rail and integrated bus services as the best solution for (initially Gungahlin) residents.  The paper can be downloaded here. 

The paper uses the ACT Governments own reports and research in proving the business case for light rail and/or bus rapid transit. It lists the benefits and disadvantages of both modes, and recommends light rail. The initial route that the Greens propose is from Gungahlin to Civic, with extensions to Barton via Russell. 
Greens proposed light rail route from Gungahlin to Civic/Barton/Russell

In looking at the various transport modes, there is also a look at the requirement to continuously build parkway style roads in Canberra. The current debate concerning the 400 million cost of the Majura Parkway is examined. This road certainly needs upgrading, but not to Parkway standards. The paper recommends some sensible upgrades to Majura road and identifies where this funding could come from.

Naturally being the product of a very robust political debate underway right now, it is critical of the Labor governments approach to transport. Some quotes from the Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan illustrate the difference in opinion on what sustainable transport consists of.

“The ACT Greens want to see real transport solutions – solutions that will create convenient, sustainable and equitable ways to get around Canberra,” Ms Bresnan said.
“We are arguing for investment in and prioritisation of a rapid, high capacity public transport network. This is the long term solution for bringing convenient, effective and sustainable transport to North Canberra.
“It is troubling that the Government’s arguments for building the Majura freeway are not standing up to scrutiny. The Government hasn’t assessed issues such as the benefits that quality public transport would have compared to a freeway. Nor has it properly assessed future traffic congestion on the road, the greenhouse gas emissions it will generate, or the impacts on Canberra’s urban form.

"In Australia and around the world, the lesson to learn from the evidence presented by planning experts is that good public transport is the best way to tackle congestion." Ms Bresnan said. 
Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, the research in the Greens paper is supported by evidence. Indeed much of that evidence comes from the ACT Government own research - and is not new to those following the light rail debate.  It will be interesting to see what sort of run this paper gets from the media.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gungahlin to Civic Light rail - yet another study!

The announcement by the ACT Government to undertake yet another feasibility study into light rail has been in the media today. It is a welcome announcement from the new Gallagher government. Unlike the previous light rail bid, this is specifically focussed on  the Gungahlin to Civic route. 

See Light Rail back on the Agenda from the Canberra Times,  Light Rail back on track from the ABC and The Greens media release 'Why the eternal wait for Light Rail?.
The most popular news item on 14 June

This is a sensible first link for a light rail network in the ACT, and is entirely consistent with what ACT Light Rail has been lobbying for. If built, this light rail link would alleviate road congestion in the North of Canberra significantly and lead to an increase in public transport patronage. Studies have shown that when light rail is provided, bus service usage also increases.

Although this announcement is welcome, it is very light on detail and attempts to paint a picture that previous feasibility studies have not found light rail viable. This is wrong. The feasibility study that the ACT Government prepared for the bid to Infrastructure Australia in 2008 found that light rail was economically viable, would increase productivity and would provide a return on investment

Chief Minister Gallagher was quoted as saying:
It is important to keep all options on the table. We think there's an opportunity to have a look at it and as time goes on maybe the economic viability of a project like that will increase over time and we think there should be the opportunity to be able implement it, light rail, if it stacks."

"Whilst we're looking at this piece of road, we think it's worth rolling light rail and the feasibility of light rail into it. I really want to make sure we're not excluding the possibility from ever occurring and we have capacity through this study to have another look at it," she said.

It is good that the Gallagher government have an open view on light rail, but what the ACT government  needs to do is commit itself to an engineering study

This was the vital piece missing from the previous bid to Infrastructure Australia and the reason the bid failed. The guidelines called for 'shovel ready' projects, and without an engineering study - the project will fail and not gain the Federal funding the ACT Government claim they need to build light rail. 

In response to the government announcement, Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan was quoted by the ABC as saying:

"We've had quite a number of reports done before, in fact about three, one which went to Infrastructure Australia, what we actually need now is to start seeing a commitment. I think we've come to a point in time in the development of the city where we've actually got to decide do we want to put adequate investment into public transport so we have those rapid routes there for people."
In the absence of any great level of detail, ACT Light Rail are hopeful that this current announcement is leading to an engineering study for light rail along Northbourne from Civic to Gungahlin. The amount of money mentioned - $2.5 million - is in the ballpark of the funding required for a proper engineering study to be carried out.
Of course at that point the issue of funding will be raised and this is the area in which the ACT Government can show real leadership and commitment to sustainable transport. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Light rail link cheaper option than Majura Rd conversion to a Parkway

The ACT Greens are asking that the true costs and reasons for the Majura Rd upgrade are assessed by the ACT Auditor General. This is a request based upon the reading of the Victorian Auditor Generals report on the over-egged claims by road builders for their efforts over any years on Victorian road projects, and of course comparisons can be directly made locally after the ongoing debacle of the GDE.

Canberra Times article: Light-rail link cheaper option than parkway: Greens
Several Victorian major roads projects were built based on reduced road congestion justifications, which have not eventuated, in fact the congestion has grown. The ACT Greens are now calling for the same scrutiny to be applied to the ACT Governments justifications for the Majura Rd upgrade. They also argue that a light rail solution would be a cheaper, and better solution for Canberra.

I think if we take our political blinders off and look at what the Greens actually said you will find that its actually a quite sensible question to ask. Why do we accept the claims made that are used to justify building more roads? 

Light Rail ACT are not anti-road or anti-car. We are pro-public transport. We believe that a family shouldn't need two cars to carry out its affairs. A well designed road and public transport system should allow this.

From the ABC article:

The ACT Government has allocated $144 million from 2012 to fund the first two years of the project which will link the Monaro and Federal highways.
It is currently pushing for the Commonwealth to put up the same amount to finish the road from 2014.
Ms Bresnan says it may be that the money is better spent on public transport.
"The ACT Government's website on Majura Parkway continues to claim that a new Majura Parkway will 'relieve traffic congestion' and 'reduce greenhouse gases'," she said.
"We can't keep spending ACT taxpayers money on false promises. We have to be realistic about the genuine impacts of any new proposals that are put up as a solution to congestion."
But Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says the Government has thoroughly examined the reasons for building the Majura Parkway.
"One of the important reasons for this road is that it's going to keep freight out of the main areas of Canberra, suburban Canberra," she said.
"That's where I need to press the Commonwealth on the fact that this is not just about Canberrans moving between north and south."
The reasons to convert Majura Road into a parkway have always been spurious, based more on the need for upgraded freight corridors than concern for commuters. The Majura Road upgrade will mainly benefit the trucks carrying freight from the Airport to the Federal Highway – that will be the reason it will receive federal government money.

These other claims regarding reduced road congestion etc are just false. It carries 17,000 cars a day now, do you think that number will decrease when its changed to two lanes each way ?

Logic says it will not.

I am not saying you dont upgrade the road, because I have used it and it needs upgrading, but to thrust this road upgrade forward to Infrastructure Australia as the ACT’s PRIMARY infrastructure project is just bizarre – however totally instep with ACT Govt thinking. Two year ago Light Rail was the primary Infrastructure Australia bid - why the change in priority

The article also quotes the 2004 KBR costs for light rail construction, which were then regarded as 'too expensive'.  The total cost of this road project will exceed what would be required to build light rail from Gungahlin to Civic. What do you think will deliver a greater long term benefit to ACT residents ?  

Most of the passenger cars that fill the Majura Road from Gungahlin are used for commuting. Build a proper public transport system that would let people commute quickly, reliably and comfortably – and they will use it. This will reduce road congestion, and decrease the need to build more major roads.

Lets circle back to the report though. What I use when lobbying for public transport is evidence. Looking at claims made to justify all transport infrastructure investment is important, all claims should be scrutinised

Maybe this sort of scrutiny would have delivered light rail in the early 1990's or a properly funded four lane GDE instead of a never ending construction zone which has caused more road congestion than it has ‘solved’

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday CT Light Rail article

The Canberra Times have their feature on light rail in todays paper. It is called End of the Line and is a reasonable summary of the current status of light rail and public transport issues in Canberra today.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Future of Light Rail in Canberra

The Canberra Times will be running a feature on light rail/public transport in the Sunday June 5th edition. I provided the following article for them to use all or parts of for their feature. 

The future of light rail in Canberra is assured. Although the present government dare not speak its name, light rail is still needed in the nations capital - and not in twenty years, it needs it now. Canberra is a city designed for the car, but not the volume of cars that it now has. A city with proper public transport does not require each household to have two cars or more. That’s a sign of a broken system. Road congestion, a decrease in parking availability, higher urban density – these are factors that will only increase.

The best public transport system for Canberra is a light rail system connecting the major employment and population centres of Canberra, with a linkage to Queanbeyan. With this high speed network in place the ACTION bus fleet would be retasked with an increase in the frequency of buses serving suburban areas and feeding commuters to transport nodes. The transport nodes or stations would also have Park and Ride facilities and bike cages.

This integrated bus/light rail system will offer public transport that is reliable, frequent and attractive.  It also provides a realistic alternative to a private car for more than the 6% of people who choose public transport today. Public transport should be the first option, not the last. A functional public transport system, will also decrease road congestion, travel times and provide a better quality of life for Canberra residents. The governments own studies have shown this.

Despite this being known, the government pretends to address the requirement for better public transport with tentative steps towards a mass transit network with the ‘Rapid’ buses. This is not a proper Bus Rapid Transit system and it never will be. The same investment in expenditure that would be required to make Bus Rapid Transit work is roughly the same investment that would be need to build light rail. This investment in light rail is something the Labour government seems unwilling to make.

There is no shortage of will for light rail in Canberra from every sector except the Government. Despite a bid to Infrastructure Australia for Light Rail two years ago being the primary item, it is now never mentioned and much government effort is being put into finding funding for a new road. The bid failed because there was no engineering study to support it. The cost of this study is less than building a new skate park or marina on the Kingston foreshore.

Since self government, the ACT Government has been unwilling to borrow money for infrastructure – fearful of running a deficit. This is the same as a person buying a home and only being able to pay for it out of that years salary. It’s a tactic that has delivered substandard infrastructure and caused projects like the GDE to run for a decade, when it could have been built in half that time if funded properly from the start.

While the ACT Government has finally decided to borrow money for transport infrastructure, its just a shame its not infrastructure that will benefit the greater community. The investment needed to build the Majura Road upgrade is roughly the same amount required to build light rail from Gungahlin to Civic. What investment will deliver a better return for Canberra over the longer term? Another road or the first part of a light rail network. I know what answer commuters would give.

Although the issue has fallen off the government’s agenda, the requirement for better public transport still exists, and will only grow over time. Despite efforts to improve ACTION, patronage barely grows while road congestion and the number of cars in Canberra does. The only solution is a modal change to light rail. The voters of Canberra do not fear an investment in public transport; they want to know why it hasn’t yet occurred.