From the Canberra Times April 21 2013
Tony Trobe talks to Peter Newman, Curtin University professor of sustainability and author of Towards a More Sustainable Canberra.
TT: Does Canberra need a light rail?
PN: Canberra is one of the most car-dependent cities in the world. It has the highest car use per capita of all Australian cities and its public transport is in decline after being one of the best cities in Australia for buses. All cities in Australia that have built rail options in recent years are rapidly growing in public transport patronage. Most cities with rail across the globe are growing rapidly in this option. US cities building light rail have had growth of about 6 per cent per year. Car dependence is increasingly an economic, environmental and social burden. Cities that are heavily car dependent will be less competitive, more vulnerable to oil and carbon constraints and more inequitable.
TT: Does Canberra deserve a light rail?
PN: At last count, there were 545 cities with light rail. There are now 118 cities with populations under 150,000 that have light rail or are constructing light rail. It is no longer the case that any city must be large and dense to deserve a rail system. That was said about Perth and was proved wrong. Each of Perth's north and south corridors that have had a rail project constructed were about the size and density of Canberra, each were dramatically successful due to their careful integration with feeder buses and each were bitterly opposed by transport planners stuck in an old paradigm. The recent election was fought almost entirely on which rail options were preferred - in reality, both the Coalition's MAX light rail and the Opposition's Martinet heavy rail will be needed and will eventually be built. All the small cities of Australia are planning light rail including Hobart, Newcastle, Cairns, Darwin, Geelong and even Parramatta.
TT: Can Canberra pull off a light rail?
PN: A Canberra light rail will need to have a good benefit-cost ratio. It will need to be part of an integrated plan with bus feeders and integrated ticketing and it will need a clear land-use plan, showing how it will help create a more productive and sustainable built form in Canberra. The latest tool for enabling this to happen is value capture. It can mean underused land near the train could be sold off or developed as part of the package to fund the line. A more sophisticated version is based on the reality that residential and commercial properties near the new rail service will increase substantially in value. The beneficiaries will be paying more for rates and taxes that are land-value based. Part of this increased return to the government's coffers can be hypothecated to help finance the rail line. It requires a clear plan to help the land development near the rail to be more dense and mixed. . It's certainly worth a try.
Tony Trobe is the Australian Institute of Architects' ACT president.