(published in the Canberra Times, 6 June 2014)
The announcement in Tuesday's ACT budget of $21.3 million for the
Capital Metro Agency is yet another positive commitment to light rail
and improved public transport from the ACT government.
very slow start in staffing the Capital Metro Agency, and months of
silence between public announcements, it is clear that behind the scenes
the Capital Metro Agency staff are working away on engineering,
financing and planning projects.
Into these long silences, the Canberra Liberals have been injecting doubt about the project into the public discussion.
At the last Assembly election both Labor and the Greens had light
rail policies and the Canberra public were aware what they would get if
the Greens/Labor government was returned. The Canberra Liberals had
no public transport policy at that election, and have no public
transport policy now.
The main attack on Capital Metro seems to
focus on the cost, and whether Canberra really needs better public
transport. The other claim is that the light rail project is a form of
indulgence to keep Green MLA Shane Rattenbury’s support in the Assembly.
Both claims are wrong, and misplaced.
There is strong
community support for light rail, and there has been for many years. It
is a public transport concept that people realise can improve both
public transport patronage and the future shape of Canberra.
There is also broad support for light rail from all three of Canberra’s
major political parties; some Canberra Liberals are members of ACT Light
Rail, a community group that has been campaigning for improved public
transport in the Canberra region for more than a decade. When the
Canberra Liberals publicly posture against the project, it is not a true
representation of public support – it is naked politics.
Although the focus is on the cost of Capital Metro, little focus
has been placed on the costs of not building this first stage
of Canberra’s light rail: a continuing decline in public
transport patronage, the productivity loss, the cost to families owning
multiple cars, and the lost economic opportunity from using open space
as car parking for 10 hours a day.
The opportunity to redevelop
Northbourne Avenue, decrease congestion and guide higher density along
transit corridors are compelling reasons for beginning the network
between Gungahlin and Civic. In future, other parts of Canberra will
benefit when the network is extended across the lake.
doubt in some people’s minds is the affordability of the light rail
project. That needs to be put into perspective. The ACT has an economy
of $4 billion a year and rising. The ACT government
has committed to
a territory-wide infrastructure program that will total $2.5 billion
over four years. The cost of Capital Metro is around $620 million,
spread over three years. The initial phase of Capital Metro will include
rolling stock and maintenance and stabling infrastructure – future
extensions will be much cheaper.
Public transport is an
infrastructure investment, which provides benefits to all sectors of the
community. It is not a tired government's vanity project. However, the
model that the ACT
government selects to fund the project must be
announced and it must be sold well to the public. Mishandling this
aspect will lead to long-term political headaches for the government.
Although the government has announced that it prefers a
public-private partnership, several thought bubbles regarding levies and
extra taxes have been floated through the media. The raising and
handling of the money for this project will inevitably colour the
public’s view of it. It is fair to say the ALP government has a somewhat
chequered past when it comes to managing major projects.
Regardless of where the money to build light rail comes from,
$600 million over three years is an affordable major project. It is
about the same cost that is spent on ACT roads annually. Unlike the
construction or repair of an ordinary road, the delivery of Capital
Metro will have significant benefits to the Canberra economy and the
quality of life of residents.
The Liberal and Labor federal
governments have preferred not to invest in ACT public transport
infrastructure. The current federal government wants to invest in the
"roads of the 21st century". The ACT should seize this opportunity to
pay for its own public transport infrastructure and ask the federal
government to pay for our roads. That is surely a proposal that would
make the Canberra Liberals happy.
This year is a crucial year
for the light rail project, as financing and engineering plans must both
be finalised in order for construction to begin on schedule in early
2016. If properly managed the project can be delivered on time and on
budget. By providing an extra $21 million for Capital Metro in this
year's budget at least one tier of government is demonstrating that it
is serious about Canberra’s transport requirements.
think of Canberra’s future we should think of a sophisticated city that
is easy to move around, that offers easy access to our homes and public
venues. The trips between the places we work and the places we live
should be short and comfortable. Both the private car and better public
transport are the key to this, not one or the other.
declining public transport patronage rates show, we have outgrown the
ability of a bus-only public transport system to move us around. The ACT
government realises this and is working on a better system, that is
scalable, for our future.
Our city is growing and we need to
choose whether we are a city designed for people, or the private car. A
well-run light rail network will be the backbone of a liveable city.
Canberra is not just another town in Australia, it is our nation's
capital and it deserves world-class public transport, not five cars in
Damien Haas is chairman of ACT Light Rail,
the peak public transport lobby group in the Canberra region. Mr Haas is
not a member of any party, but assisted Liberal candidate Matt Watts at
the last Assembly election.
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