Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monorail not suited for Canberra

The recent news that the Monorail in Sydney is to be closed and dismantled, with the new focus to be on light rail construction, has seen several other cities with public transport problems to look at using the Sydney monorail. 

I cannot comment on the Hobart proposal, but I can comment on the Canberra monorail suggestion. 

Canberra needs to focus on building a proper mass-transit public transport system to act as the backbone of a fully integrated system. Light rail can do the heavy lifting this system needs, with ACTION buses providing the flexibility in urban areas to feed passengers to light rail nodes. 

The Sydney monorail cannot. Its carriage passenger capacity is very low. The carriages are small. I have used the service - it is like siting in a row of old Kombi vans being towed one way around a strange non-relevant route. 

Light rail is a proven, commercial off the shelf technology, with multiple providers and a set of recognised standards. 

Monorails feature largely proprietary systems and technologies, locking users into contracts or using obsolete technologies with little to no service support available if the original supplier goes into liquidation. The same applies to providers of 'guided buses' and other types of proprietary technologies. 

The Sydney monorail track is very short. It runs one direction on a loop. 

Light rail in Canberra needs to link the major urban areas, with the major employment areas. It cannot be at the scale of a small tourist novelty. 

The Sydney Monorail is over twenty years old and maintenance on such an aging asset needs extra attention. Acquiring this system would be fraught with unknown technical challenges that would be expensive to resolve. Technical knowledge and support for this obsolete technology is scant and expensive. 

Building a light rail network would mean new infrastructure with system support from the contracted providers, who are still building this technology. There is a deep pool of this experience in Australia, and multiple vehicle builders and providers. 

While the availability of a cheap monorail system may have initial appeal, it is an impractical suggestion and should be rejected by public transport planners.  The Sydney monorail system has never attracted the patronage expected, and the reason it is being replaced is so that light rail can be extended.

Conversations on alternatives to using diesel buses as Canberra's mass transit public transport system are always welcome, but monorail is not that alternative. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Build a Smarter Canberra - Canberra Love 40%

Canberra  Loves 40% are a local group that are committed to lowering the Territories carbon dioxide emissions by 40% in line with State and Federal government policies. They have been quite active in lobbying Territory politicians and conducting activities to raise public awareness on this issue. 

Part of this strategy to lower carbon dioxide emissions is to convince people to reduce private vehicle use, by using alternatives such as public transport, cycling or walking. They are also keen to support change to the primary mode of mass transit from diesel buses to electric light rail vehicles. 

Although support for light rail is only one part of their overall strategy, I urge you to read their 'Build a Smarter Canberra' proposals.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

An ACTION users blog - 100 days of ACTION

With the recent investment into the bus system in Canberra, it would be useful to know how the average passenger finds using the system.

An enterprising Canberran has decided to start a blog chronicling their trips on our public transport network, and how it impact on their life. It is called '100 days of ACTION'.

From their first post:

The ACT Government would like more Canberrans to use public transport. It’s a noble goal, and I fully support it. But there’s a small issue - public transport in Canberra sucks. Or does it?
I’m putting Action to the test! Over 100 days, we will see whether Action buses are more likely to be on time rather than broken down or extremely late. We’ll see whether I make it to work or meetings or training or social events on time or even at all. 
And over these 100 days, I’ll also provide some insights into the wonderful world that is Canberra via public transport. 
Good luck, Action, and I hope we can find a bright future for public transport in Canberra.

It should be interesting and I will follow it (note - ACT Light rail have ZERO, NADA, NO involvement with the blog or blogger).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fund it and they will build

A very interesting article in todays Canberra Times titled 'On the road to nowhere' about the expense of our current public transport system, and the recent proposed changes to it. It talks about urban density, increased ACTION service frequency, and the need for light rail. One of the academics correctly picks up the fact that unless there is a funding model created, then there is no 'plan' for light rail. Another falls into the 'not now, but perhaps in twenty years' lazy thinking trap.

ACT Light Rail have long called for the ACT Government to show real leadership and explore funding models to construct and operate at least one light rail route. This would cost about $200 million, over 3 to 5 years. This is not an outrageous sum in infrastructure terms. This sort of money can always be found for more roads - but never for public transport. The ongoing cost of ACTIONS service is around 90 million a year - which results in the real cost of every trip taken being $6.50. 

The government has it half right - by trying to improve the current network and increase service frequency. They need to focus on the other half - a proper mass transit technology - light rail - and a funding model to build it. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New 'Transport for a Sustainable City 2012-2031' strategy fails commitment to light rail

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 positive. The broad plans to improve the ACTION network are welcome. ACT Light rail are pro-public transport. 

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. 

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

CT editorial on new Transport Strategy

The Canberra Times editorial on yesterdays release of the new Transport Strategy is pessimistic. While I broadly agree with their assessment, they do get a few things wrong. Decisions on timetabling and policy have been removed from Action and are now 'in house' with TAMS under the 'Transport for Canberra' name. The CT also fail to understand how public transport infrastructure can revitalise a city, and guide future development. Instead they drone on about how people love driving their cars. 

They also fail once again, as does the government, to push for light rail. While the city continues to expect buses to do the heavy lifting of mass transit, many of the operational problems ACTION experience, will remain. 

Go down to 'Potential Action' halfway through the editorial.