Saturday, December 17, 2011

Light Rail on Northbourne Avenue from Civic to Gungahlin - an 'option'

The latest media release from the ACT Government on the City to Gungahlin Transit Project has appeared with lovely images of light rail vehicles on Northbourne Avenue and Hibberson St. 
Northbourne Avenue (Civic) 

The project team has presented several options for bus rapid transit and light rail down Northbourne and out to Gungahlin. The ACT Government is able to build whatever it likes in Mitchell and Gungahlin, but the NCA has final say on the Northbourne proposals. The update is available from here.

Hibberson Street (Gungahlin)

ACT Light Rail remain unconvinced that the recommendation will be for light rail. We remind readers that the FAQ for the project states that 5000 people per hour must use the Gungahlin to Civic route before light rail can be considered. typically, the lazy journos have ignored this (they may not have actually read it, since it isn't in the press release). 

The problem with this requirement is that congestion along Northbourne Avenue is considerable, and growing. This congestion includes the ACTION buses that travel along it. The existing ACTION bus services coming out of Gungahlin in the morning are also at their maximum capacity. 

The ACT Government is well aware of this and should show real leadership by finding the money to build a light rail service which would alleviate both road congestion and provide an attractive, reliable and frequent public transport service to replace the ACTION buses on this route. An article in todays Canberra Times, quotes the Minister:

Environment and Sustainable Development Minister Simon Corbell, who has issued an update on the project, says something has to be done to ease traffic congestion between the city and Gungahlin.

''Northbourne Avenue is already at capacity. Congestion will continue to increase along the corridor. So doing nothing is not an option,'' he said.

Deloitte Access Economics is conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the options, with its report due to be issued early next year when more public consultation will take place.

Mr Corbell said the City to Gungahlin Transit Project was the Government's No1 priority in a wish-list of projects presented to Infrastructure Australia, the advisory body to the Commonwealth Government.

''We need a strong business case because this is a project that I think, fundamentally, is only going to occur with some level of Commonwealth infrastructure funding,'' he said.

ACT Light Rail would like to remind the cynical that the Number One priority submitted to Infrastructure Australia in 2009 was light rail, and all the ACT saw out of that was zero lobbying by the ACT government for light rail funding but plenty of effort for funding for the Majura Parkway. 

The business case for light rail can be made by looking at international examples where light rail construction has lead to transit oriented development, and higher density, with the follow on benefits to the ACT Treasury that this stamp duty will deliver. These benefits cannot be delivered by a bus. 

The other benefits that will be delivered by a light rail system are a reduction in road congestion, decreased travel times (for car and public transport users), increased productivity, greater levels of walking and cycling by public transport patrons, and a decrease on parking pressure in Civic (and along the entire light rail route). 

The other factor that is in light rails favour is staffing. The greatest ongoing cost in public transport is staff. To carry 5000 passengers an hour on this route, ACTION would need to schedule 50 Tag Steer Buses (passenger capacity of 100). That would require 50 drivers. A light rail vehicle can carry several hundred in one vehicle. Other light rail vehicles can be added if required, all using one driver.  

What does this 'update' from the Minister really mean ?

The ACT Government and Transport for Canberra are well aware that light rail has significant support from the voting public. Many of the frustrated motorists and bus passengers who use the congested Civic to Gungahlin road everyday are also watching this project with interest. This 'update' is to remind this group that the project is underway, and that certain 'options' are being considered. 

ACT Light Rail are pleased that light rail is being considered as an option, but continue to remind readers that the FAQ for this project sets conditions that mean that the ACT Government actually endorsing light rail is unlikley. 

It should also be made clear that numbers and reports matter very little, ultimately the decision to select light rail over buses will be a political decision

Instead of yet another cost benefit analysis, the government should be conducting a proper engineering study. This would provide the true costs of building a light rail route from Civic to Gungahlin, and more importantly, would meet the guidelines that Infrastructure Australia have for 'shovel ready' projects.

The Minister and the ACT Government need to show leadership by finding the funding for light rail construction. There are a range of funding models which could be used for the roughly $200 million cost to build this route. Asking the Commonwealth for funding is only one option - and should not be the ONLY funding option. 

If you have any thoughts or suggestions on the project, the public are invited to email their suggestions to: [email protected]

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Northbourne light rail - spin v reality

The government has been very careful in spinning its latest 'study' into Northbourne Avenue and in turn, the Civic to Gungahlin corridor.  The impression has been that it is a light rail study. I urge people to read very carefully what the governments actual study consists of, and the guidelines that have been provided to determine the outcome. 

This is at odds with the impression the government and its media minders who have been drip feeding some unquestioning journos. 

Lets go to the FAQ for the current study:

Why aren't you considering light rail?

The study will consider short, medium and long term options for improved public transport in the Northbourne Avenue corridor. In the short to medium term, this will be through the use of buses, with measures to give them priority over general traffic ensuring service reliability and faster travel times.

The design of the Northbourne Avenue corridor will incorporate future provision for light rail within the corridor. At present public transport passenger numbers within the corridor are in the order of 1500 per hour during the peak, which will continue to grow as Gungahlin develops further, residential density consolidates in the inner north suburbs and employment is consolidated in the CBD. Light rail would be considered be more viable as public transport passenger numbers approach 5000 per hour during the peak.

Some questions:

  • Why would you wait until passenger numbers reached 5000 before providing a better solution?
  • Who determined this 5000 figure?

Clearly the government study will recommend buses for the 'short term' and another 'study' into Light Rail probably post 2031. I don't even have to wait until June 2012 to predict this. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Northbourne Avenue 'Rapid Transit' study announced

Yet another announcement in the Canberra Times with no funding attached, even better, its a hand-out request to Infrastructure Australia - again.

The story in the Canberra Times is headed 'Light Rail bid pushes for Federal funding'. This is an optimistic spin on the reality.

When you go to the ACT Treasury website and read the actual IA submission document, its calling for lightrail or bus rapid transit. However, the Minister has spun this in the media as a light rail announcement. The Canberra Times article is uncritical and asks no questions, accepting the 'spin'.

Can I just remind people that the Light Rail bid to Infrastructure Australia from 2009 - is not referenced ONCE in the ACT Transport Planning 2011-2031 document. Not once. Its been entirely abandoned.

So let us all wait until June 2012 - conveniently just before the ACT Assembly election, and see what the outcome of this latest exercise is.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

ACT Light Rail submission on ACT Transport Plan 2011-2031

ACT Light Rail today provided the ACT Government with their submission in response to the draft ‘Transport for a Sustainable City 2011-2031 transport planning document.

Mr Damien Haas, Chair of ACT Light Rail, said that the ACT Government plan was a disappointment in that it was locking Canberra into a high density, congested, car-dependent culture – while the government was trying to pretend that the future high density Canberra would be built around public transport.

He said that while ACT Light Rail were pleased that the ACT Government has finally issued its latest strategic transport document, some two years late, sadly there was too little actual planning provided for mass transit Public Transport in the form of light rail.

The Government have hired expensive foreign consultants to tell them what they want to hear – that buses are the way to go. They talk ‘light rail’ but really its ‘Bus-ness as usual’. Their own bid to Infrastructure Australia proved the benefits to Canberra – but today its the ‘Study that dare not speak its name’, not being referenced at all in their ‘strategic planning ‘ document Mr Haas said.

‘The entire plan really lacks a cohesive vision’, Mr Haas said. ‘Increasing density and buying more buses is the extent of their plan and it means that they are just surrendering to road congestion. Future generations will regard this as an opportunity squandered.’

The submission by ACT Light Rail also makes the following points:

·    The draft Transport plan discusses openly the aim that medium and high density housing will be built along ‘transit corridors’ which means bus routes.

·    By encouraging medium and high density housing, without providing the proper public transport to support it, Canberra will experience all the disadvantages of high density housing, and none of the advantages.

·    The draft Transport plan is also disingenuous when it talks of light rail. Where light rail is mentioned, it is scant, and promises yet more ‘studies’.

·    Not once is the Infrastructure Australia bid for light rail funding from only two years ago mentioned.

·    There are no real plans for how exactly the government will convince motorists to shift from cars to public transport. The 2031 target is still only 16% of trips taken by public transport.

·    The plan will actually reduce local bus services and increase trip times in urban areas.

·    The draft Transport policy has no funding models attached to it and states several times that buses are the future for Canberra’s public transport.

On the subject of funding, Mr Haas said that this was the area in which ACT politicians could show real vision and leadership. “They had no problem smiling for the cameras when Majura park funding was announced, we would like to see the same effort applied to securing funding for light rail, and we make several recommendations on how they can achieve that funding – ranging from issuing bonds, borrowing money (like they have for the Majura parkway) or entering into a Private Public partnership.” Mr Haas said he had tried to meet with the Minister to discuss this but his meeting was cancelled and not rescheduled. 

ACT Light Rail suggest that Transport for Canberra immediately start planning for light rail to be introduced into Canberra, and explore the funding models required for that to occur. To plan for a high density city without an appropriate public transport system to serve it, this Government is locking future residents into a more congested, car dependent, less sustainable future.

ACT Light Rail recommendations summary.

These recommendations are taken from the ACT Light Rail submission

1.  Given the lead-times for light rail and the fact this is a 2030 plan, this draft Transport policy document should make a definitive statement that ‘yes, the ACT is going down the light rail path’.
2.  An engineering study needs to be carried out immediately, so that a revised bid to Infrastructure Australia can be submitted.
3.  ACT Light Rail would like to see the ACT Government and federal political representatives apply the same level of effort to a bid for public transport funding, as was applied to the funding for the Majura Parkway.
4.  The ACT Government, in consultation with local communities and business, to take the lead in planning and transport requirements for town centres and neighbourhood hubs, so that in the future there will be adequate public transport access, parking and pedestrian safety.
5.   If the ACT Government truly wants to bring about a medium to high density ‘compact city’, they need to plan proper mass transit using light rail, and then encourage Transit Oriented Development.
6.  ACT Light Rail do not think cars or carparking in town centres should be banned, which is where we fear this plan is taking us. The ACT Government should not force people into using public transport. It should offer a better alternative to private transport.
7.  The Transport plan must contain details of a program to encourage active and public transport use by ACT residents. Every day residents are subjected to numerous advertisements for private cars, yet public transport advertising is almost nonexistent.  Advertise the alternative.
8.  In addition to increasing rapid and intertown services, local bus services must be increased to at least three times an hour, and not decreased to a once an hour minimum as proposed in the draft Transport plan.
9.  The ACT Government must have an active feedback mechanism, that can acknowledge and act on feedback received from residents and Community groups.
10. The draft Policy, while very densely stocked with positive goals and aspirational objectives, lacks a clear vision when it comes to public transport.
11. By providing a viable alternative to the private car, many families could shift from being two car families to single car families – saving an estimated $10,000 a year (NRMA figure).
12. With a light rail network established, Active transport would also grow as people are able to more easily take bicycles on light rail vehicles, and will be more open to walking.
13. ACT Light Rail recommend that instead of constantly dismissing light rail as ‘too expensive’ the ACT Government explore the many funding models available and commit to construction.

The full submission can be found here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Light rail will attract new public transport users

Politicians in Perth have understood the issues, and addressed them. Perhaps the ACT Government might find some courage to come up with a funding model for light rail in the ACT.

If the ACT Government is serious about increasing public transport patronage - they already know what the solution is. It is not a bus-only network.

Read this article 'Light rail will attract new public transport users' in the West Australian.

Some brief excerpts:

Light rail has proved, well documented benefits that far outweigh other public transport options.

Light rail gets people out of cars and creates new public transport users. It is flexible and efficient because it has the ability to combine the benefits of on-street accessibility but is faster and more reliable than buses.

But it is not just a vehicle for moving people, it is a transportation mode that transforms the physical form of the city and revitalises underdeveloped areas.

Investment in light rail networks stimulates investment and has been demonstrated to reduce vacancy rates, increase residential property values and increase the profitability of businesses located along its route.

In Portland, Oregon, $3.5 billion worth of investment within two blocks of its streetcar route has taken place. More than 10,200 new housing units were built and 5.4 million square feet of commercial space constructed within two blocks of the light rail.

Similar results have been achieved in Manchester, Bordeaux and in Dallas. Businesses located near the Dallas Area Rapid Transit light rail starter line experienced a jump of nearly 33 per cent in retail sales in one year, compared with just 3 per cent elsewhere in the city.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Paul Mees criticises light rail advocacy

Normally I agree with Paul Mees, but I think his criticism of light rail advocates is misplaced. The bus system is beyond its capacity, and still cant satisfy its mandate. There needs to be a modal change with lightrail as the backbone of a public transport system and buses feeding commuters into light rail nodes, park and rides etc. 

Otherwise, he is right. Canberra is being locked into a car dependent future. 

My other response is that if it wasnt for light rail advocates lobbying for better public transport, you would not be seeing any improvements or even discussion of improvements. Governments only react when pressure is applied.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Forum on 'Transport for Canberra' plan in Weston Creek

On Wednesday 26 October 2011 the Weston Creek Community Council is hosting a Public Forum on the ACT Government’s Transport for Canberra plan. The Forum will give residents an opportunity to discuss the transport strategy with one of its authors, Kristin Blume from the Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate.

The Public Forum will be held at 7.30pm at the Weston Club, 1 Liardet Street, Weston. If you’re interested in transport issues and seek to influence or know more about the future direction of transport policy in Canberra – come along and have your say!!!

On 7 October 2011 the ACT government launched the Transport for Canberra Draft Policy for public comment. The government is encouraging ACT residents to input into transport strategy, which will guide transport policy and planning in the ACT between now and 2030.

The draft report and information on how to provide feedback as part of the consultation process are available at

Submissions are due by Friday 11 November.

(note - text copied from a post on Riot Act)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Bus-ness as usual: Draft ‘Transport for Canberra’ policy plan released

Last week the ACT Government released its draft ‘Transport for Canberra’ policy plan and it is underwhelming.  The ACT Government is pursuing a medium to high density housing strategy, and using the ‘public transport, ‘transit route’ etc reasoning to justify it. The policy has no funding models attached to it and states several times that buses are the future for Canberra’s public transport. Where light rail is mentioned, it is scant, and promises a ‘study’. Not once is the Infrastructure Australia bid for light rail funding from only two years ago mentioned.

The draft policy plan discusses openly the aim that medium and high density housing will be built along ‘transit corridors’ which means bus routes. By encouraging medium and high density housing, without providing the proper public transport to support it, Canberra will experience all the disadvantages of high density housing, and none of the advantages.

Aiming low and redefining success

Sadly, the draft transport policy, which is meant to guide ACT transport planning until 2031, aims low. The percentage of people the ACT government predict will use public transport in 2031 is 16%. Up from what they claim is 9% right now. That’s an amazingly low target. By failing to deliver a world class mass transit system in the form of light rail, our government is content to allow Canberra to continue as a car-centric, increasingly congested city. Our nations capital deserves better.

On page 22 of the draft policy they say:
“The government has committed to increasing the public transport share of all work trips to 9 per cent by 2011, 12 percent by 2016, and 16 per cent by 2026”

By focussing on ‘work trips’ this allows the policy makers to ignore the following members of our society: school children, the aged, stay at home parents using public transport during the day and others. This tricky language doesn’t fool anyone. Public transport is not just satisfying peak hour commuting, it is a social obligation.

Page 6 of the draft policy has an interesting graph. The ACT Government forecast that in 2026 there will be 277,000 jobs – and that only 80,000 of these workers will choose public and active transport.

In the draft policy plan, they also see ‘active transport’ (walking and cycling) growing to 14%. The Canberra Times reports:

Minister for the Environment Simon Corbell launched the plan yesterday at Belconnen bus interchange, saying he wanted 30 per cent of Canberra journeys to work to be taken by sustainable transport, foot, bicycle or public transport, by 2026.

In the draft policy a table supporting this aim appears on page 54:

By aiming this low, it means that in 2031, our half million residents of a compact city of high density housing will still see 70 people in every 100 driving to work. As our population is expected to rise from 330,000 in 2011, that is not less reliance on cars, that is MORE cars. Very sustainable.

Minister Corbell also redefines success, and promises less services for people in Canberra’s suburbs. It is accepted wisdom among transport planners that to increase patronage you must offer frequent, reliable and attractive public transport. What does Minister Corbell announce:

'There will be a frequency of 15 minutes or less on the rapid and frequent service corridors, new guarantees about how long people have to wait to interchange.''
The plan calls for ''coverage'' service that feeds into the ''frequent network'' and ensures every home would be within 500m of a service of at least 60-minute frequency, putting a regular bus route within a short walk of every home in Canberra.

Yes, people waiting for a bus in Amaroo to connect them to a 15 minute service will have to wait up to an hour for a local service.

Simply put – a once an hour bus service will not attract commuters to public transport.

By contrast, ACT Light Rail propose building light rail as a mass transit backbone and increasing local service frequency for buses connecting to local transport nodes (such as park and rides) to a 20 minute frequency.

The same Canberra Times article also discusses light rail:

He said that a ''business as usual approach'' to Canberra's transport mix would result in a doubling of congestion on the city's roads by 2031 and pledged to continue to study the possibility of light rail on major road corridors.

Yet another study into light rail

Yes, what Canberra needs is yet another study into light rail. This study comes less than two years after the ACT Governments submission to Infrastructure Australia asking for federal funding for light rail. The light rail bid that was at that time the leading bid. Where the Chief Ministers media release stated 'Stanhope lists light rail as ACT Priority for Commonwealth infrastructure funding'.

The only bid from that exercise that our local politicians pursued with any vigour was the bid for more road funding to build Majura parkway.

As the new study will show, light rail has several advantages over buses including higher passenger capacity per vehicle (and driver), lower cost over total life, greater passenger comfort, reduced journey times (over buses on roads), less energy per passenger kilometre and provides investment certainty along transport corridors because of infrastructure commitment. In addition, light rail improves property values, and increases rental and retail income. These factors appeal to property developers who have demonstrated globally their willingness to invest in Transit Oriented Development along light rail routes.

Bus-ness as usual

It is crystal clear from reading this draft ‘Transport for Canberra’ policy that this government sees Canberra’s transport future as cars and buses. It is ‘Bus-ness as usual’. This does not come as a surprise. By pursuing this bus-only public transport strategy, the public transport patronage figure will only rise by a small amount. If the ACT Government truly want to bring about a medium to high density ‘compact city’, they need to plan proper mass transit using light rail, and then encourage Transit Oriented Development. Not only will the proposed bus only plan fail to deliver transit oriented development, it will fail to attract increased patronage.

ACTION buses are being asked to do two things – act as a mass transit intertown service using limited capacity buses (requiring more and more of them) and serve as a local area coverage feeding the intertown services.

ACT Light Rail suggests that light rail provide the mass transit backbone, and ACTIONs fleet is retasked to provide a higher frequency local area service. This makes best use of the advantages of both transport technologies. The greater carrying capacity and higher speed of light rail, and the flexibility of buses to serve new areas and routes and pass within 500 metres of resident’s homes.

Although it may appear that light rail is dealt with casually in this new transport policy, at least it is being discussed. Compared to the 2004 Sustainable Transport Plan – which claimed buses could deliver all the benefits of light rail – this Transport Plan now discusses light rail. ACT Light Rail would like to take some credit for that, but we aren’t the only group that have been telling the ACT Government that buses, and continued reliance upon them for mass transit – wont work. It is a message that the general public has delivered, through numerous polls, and also at the Time to Talk exercise.

It was obvious at the ‘Time to talk’ public consultation sessions that the public are aware that light rail is required. That process was very focussed on planting a meme that medium and high density was OK, and that we needed to convince people to believe that. ACT Light Rail do not have a position on urban densities, but light rail will provide a true magnet for transit oriented development. This is something the government talks up, but will find that it can’t attract by relying on bus routes. 

Why light rail can deliver TOD and buses cannot

Fixed rails bring investment. This is proved time and time again especially in US based urban renewal where light rail has been introduced. The only transit oriented development that bus rapid transit brings is at the site of the actual bus stations. It does not lead to transit oriented development along the bus routes.

It is positive that the Draft report talks about light rail in several places, it shows that the ACT Government now realise the benefits that light rail can deliver - although they still talk up bus rapid transit (BRT). Take page 27, section 2.4 for example:

The 2031 network has been designed for the current bus-based fleet, but will be adaptable to and supportive of mass public transport technology like light rail, bus rapid transit, monorails or other technology. To help plan for mass public transport, we will focus on defining the Frequent Network in policy and planning so other city-building activities can respond to it.

Its clear from reading the entire document that buses are the ONLY mode this government are planning on. By mentioning monorails it really cheapens the credibility of the document. The authors would be well aware that there are no monorail systems anywhere in the world, or even any in planning, that are used as mass transit public transport systems.

Where is the vision?

Overall it is disappointing that the report, while very densely stocked with positive goals and aspirational objectives, lacks a clear vision (focussing solely on the public transport aspect).  Active transport is a great thing to encourage but there are several problems with it. In winter cycling rates plummet, and by closing local schools and centralising super schools, the opportunity for children to walk or ride to school declines, and the requirement for parents to drop kids off to school, and then drive to work increases.

The increased residential density in the Inner north is also leading to a rising rate in ‘active transport’ i.e. – walking, not through any ACT Government policy, but because it is putting homes closer to peoples workplaces.

Just as this years Infrastructure Plan didn’t really have any single vision for public transport, this plan is the same. Piecemeal bus priority lanes added to roads which surge with traffic from new developments in Molonglo will continue for the life of this plan. A suspicious person could think that this is really more road spending hidden as bus transit way spending – although there are no funding figures associated with the report at all.

What the plan also fails to understand is that for a true shift to public transport there needs to be a modal shift. Buses will not provide the shift. The graph on P.62 of the draft policy would have us believe that there will be 16% of people using PT in 2026! That’s an amazingly low target. Why is it low? Because the ACT Government knows that by continuing to rely on buses, PT patronage will not grow. 

How can the ACT Government increase public transport patronage and grow our city in a sustainable way?

If the ACT Government provided a proper public transport system using a mass transit technology like light rail as its backbone, the percentage of workers or other residents would rise above 20%. It would then continue to rise as transit oriented development grew along the light rail routes, feeding more commuters into the system and establishing public transport use as an ingrained value. By providing a viable alternative to the private car, many families could shift from being two car families to single car families – saving an estimated $10,000 a year (NRMA figure). Active transport would also grow as people are able to more easily take bicycles on light rail vehicles, and will be more open to walking.

No money for public transport infrastructure

The draft policy plan also fails to commit to any real public transport infrastructure funding. After a sell off of buses in 2006, the government has been rebuilding the bus fleet and building piecemeal bus lanes on existing road – these bus lanes are referred to by this government as ‘transit ways’. 

In a 'Bus News' article , the Minister was quoted as saying:

“The policy provides options that support growth of the ACT economy by creating a safer, more efficient and more sustainable transport system, with ring road options for cars and freight, and public transport corridors for people,” he says.
"The ACT Government has already invested more than $1 billion in the transport system in the past 10 years, with over $120m committed in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Budgets to roll out Transport for Canberra projects.”

Sadly this money is not going to build an initial light rail route in the ACT, or even bus rapid transit. It is the normal ongoing spending associated with the ACTION fleet, and incremental bus lanes. And of course more roads.

Conclusions from the draft policy

Although the draft ‘Transport for Canberra’ policy plan is underwhelming in its vision and aims, it does contain some positive aspects. Light rail is at last discussed positively in a strategic policy plan coming out of the ACT bureaucracy. The ACT also desperately needs a clear plan for its existing bus network.

One should not dismiss the tremendous amount of progress that has been made in recent years – especially with the introduction of the Red and Blue Rapid and Expresso bus services. These are good examples of smart transport planning. It is hoped that they lead to an increase over the longer term of bus patronage.

“IF” the public transport trip percentage hits 16% that would be the best argument for light rail – as ACTIONs fleet will be bursting at the seams. It is already at capacity on some routes. Buses out of Gungahlin in 2011 are so crowded during peaks that they have to drive past commuters waiting at stops.

“If “the 16% target were achieved, this would mean that the ACTION fleet would have to double. That is twice the amount of drivers and twice the amount of buses, mainly to serve the peaks. It is more logical to build light rail – and use the increased passenger carrying capacity and decreased staffing, that would bring. The highest cost of public transport (after infrastructure provision) is ongoing staffing.

So to sum up:

  • Report actually discusses light rail as an alternative to bus rapid transit
  • Has a plan to expand the bus network (although I’m doubtful it will actually increase patronage)

  • Heavy on motherhood statements
  • Light on empirical data to allow us to reach our own conclusions
  • Yet another ‘light rail study’
  • Sets low goals.
  • No clear vision.
  • No plan to provide a proper mass transit system (even BRT)
  • No mention of funding (doubling the number of buses and bus drivers wont be cheap).
  • ACT Government see Canberra’s transport future as cars and buses.
  • Guarantees a continuing car culture.
  • Will see more road congestion.

ACT Light Rail will be putting in a submission on the draft ‘Transport for Canberra’ policy plan. We welcome your feedback. Our submission will be lodged before the November 11 date, so any input must be received at least a week prior to that closing date. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Greens push for Light Rail in Assembly

The ACT Greens have announced that they will be pushing for a concerted effort by the ACT Government to develop a proposal for light rail routes in the ACT that can be presented to Infrastructure Australia, and that can be pursued without Commonwealth Government assistance. 

This is the lead item in three pronged transport proposal from the Greens that includes support for the mooted high speed rail linking East coast capitals, and also developing rail transport infrastructure in Fyshwick that would attract freight from road to rail. 

Amanda Bresnan MLA,  the Greens transport spokesperson said:
“Light rail, high speed rail, and an increased proportion of rail freight would bring significant benefits to the ACT region – including economic, social, environmental and travel benefits. These are the services Canberra deserves.
“Rail needs a champion in Canberra. The Chief Minister has lobbied and pushed for new freeways. Sustainable transport projects like light rail and high speed rail should receive the same effort.
The Greens will be presenting legislation to the Assembly this week in support of this proposal.  

Since the initial announcement of the Infrastructure Australia bids several years ago, the focus on Light Rail - at least in terms of concrete support from the ACT Government -has waned, despite overwhelming public support. 

While much effort was put into securing funding for the Majura Parkway, little effort has been made by the ACT government into securing funding for light rail. The main element missing from the ACT bid to Infrastructure Australia for funding, was a 'shovel ready' proposal. This proposal by the Greens, will ask for that work to be undertaken - so that a revised bid can be made to Infrastructure Australia. 

It will be interesting to watch this greens proposal and the reaction from the Assembly this week.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thoughtful Canberra Times editorial on transport and society

There is an outstanding editorial in todays Canberra Times. Titled 'Public Transport a safe investment', it talks about cultural attitudes to public transport, the increased car-centric society we are creating, and the cost this takes on us as individuals. It also examines the ongoing cost of a driver-centric society.

The Canberra Times has not been terribly pro-public transport in the past, with the odd journo writing very good articles, but a general anti-public transport and definitely anti-ACTION slant reflected in its editorials. Todays editorial therefore is a pleasant surprise, and I hope leads to a permanent shift in the way that the nations capital journal of record covers public transport.

I urge you to read it.

A few interesting quotes from the article:

  • We created a car-dependent city that, in hindsight, we would have done better to avoid.
  • 25 years ago, four in five Canberra schoolchildren either walked or cycled to school. Today, four in five are driven, by their parents, directly to the school gates.
  • The widespread use of cars comes with growing direct and indirect costs to taxpayers. Governments must continually build new roads and maintain existing ones as they deteriorate.
  • the federal Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics estimates congestion losses in Australia will amount to more than $20 billion a year by 2020.
  • Cars are a far costlier habit than most of us realise, because we never see a bill that lists their true price.
  • census data also shows that the number of cars per household has climbed steadily for decades, as we opt increasingly to drive, rather than walk, to our work, local shops and social events.
  • The ACT Government allocates less than 3c on public transport for every dollar it spends.
  • we need to change our way of thinking about projects such as better bus networks, cycling facilities and even light rail. We see them as costs, when they might actually represent valuable returns on investment; weapons against our sedentary culture.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Gungahlin buses exceed capacity - solution - light rail

At Wednesday nights Gungahlin Community Council meeting Paul Peters - Director of Transport Planning, advised that the outcome of the Northbourne Transit Study (which has somehow become a defacto light rail study) will be available before the next election in October 2012.

What an amazing coincidence! Perhaps the ALP can go to yet another election saying they are in favour of light rail - then do nothing except build more roads for another 4 year term.

Although Simon Corbell, ACT Minister for Transport,  didn't attend, a staff member from his office did attend the GCC meeting. He was dismissive of light rail when raised as a solution to the suggestion by Paul Peters that ACTION would have to double current bus numbers to tackle the peak hour overcrowding problem. The Ministers staffer dismissed light rail on cost grounds.

One thing that became clear from the meeting was that peak hour buses into and out of Gungahlin are at capacity, and there is no surge capacity built into ACTION to tackle it. At least three people at the meeting reported buses failing to stop and collect them due to the bus already being full.

ACT Light Rail are not anti-bus, we are pro-public transport. We consider the fact that ACTION buses are at capacity to indicate that the passenger volume justifies a modal change to light rail. The main Gungahlin to Civic transit route should become light rail, tripling passenger capacity, and ACTION buses can be re-tasked to feed passengers to the light rail.

Clearly Light Rail needs to be built - immediately.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Toll roads and free rides - CT article

In todays Canberra Times there is an interesting article by Richard Denniss, Executive director of the Australia Institute on the real cost to society of poor road planning and the knee-jerk rejection of the concept of toll roads by the ACT Government. 

The article comes a few days after the ACT Government rejected Infrastructure Australia's recommendation that the proposed Majura Parkway be a toll road when constructed. This idea was hastily rejected, because the ACT Government already knew Minister Albanese had approved the funding. 

Making Majura Parkway a toll road would be a good idea. It has received funding from the federal government because it is to be a major freight route, and it makes sense that the bulk of that freight will be going out of the Territory. Trucks using ACT roads but paying no registration, insurance or even GST on the fuel they use would be able to make their contribution to maintaining the road infrastructure by paying a toll. 

The article mainly focusses on the economic cost of roads, and places the opposition to toll roads in perspective by pointing out what we cant have due to there only being a limited pool of funding to draw from.

A few choice quotes:

"It is a rare driver who sees those new lanes and thinks that given the projected rate of population growth, freight growth and the lack of investment in public transport those enticing new lanes will soon be as congested as the one they are already in."

"As we have seen recently in the ACT, politicians don't like telling a minority of aggrieved motorists that they are unlucky enough to live on the route that gets a tollway. It wouldn't be fair, we are told, for some people to pay a toll to get to work while others do not."

"Just why a bus or light-rail ticket purchased by an ACT taxpayer should cover the cost of construction, operation and maintenance but the cost of a road trip should not is left unsaid."

"The dismal fact is that every $100 million we spend on roads is $100 million we don't spend on hospitals, we don't spend on teachers and we don't spend on light rail. The sensible question is not ''would another road be nice'' but ''of all the things we could spend money on is a new road the best idea we can think of?''

I urge you to buy todays paper and read the article in full.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Federal funding announced for Majura Parkway

With great enthusiasm local Labor MLA's and federal Labor representatives for Canberra assembled around 11AM on 7 July 2011 to announce that Infrastructure Australia would provide funding for the Majura Parkway.
Gai Brodtmann, Anthony Albanese, Katy Gallagher, Andrew Leigh, Mike Kelly and Simon Corbell looking over the Majura Parkway plans. (photo from ABC website)

Chief Minister Gallagher optimistically welcomed the news saying:
"It means this project can start in the second half of next year and can be completed on time to deal with some of the traffic demands that we've seen"  

I am glad that the funding has been provided, as this is a road that desperately needs upgrading, but I'm not convinced that it needs to be upgraded to Parkway standard. Its being upgraded based on the roads significance as a freight route out of the Airport. 

This is why the federal government have been so keen to provide funding - by making Canberra Airport a 24 hour air-freight hub, the NSW ALP avoid a politically damaging second Sydney Airport fight. 

The first announcement of the Federal funding came out via Senator Kate Lundys office with the following media statement:

    More than 40 years after the first line appeared on a map, construction of the long awaited Majura Parkway will finally start next year and be completed in 2016.

    Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese today said the project had secured the backing of the Gillard Labor Government and would receive $144 million in Federal funding, matching the ACT Government’s contribution dollar-for-dollar.

    “Recommended by Infrastructure Australia and set to be built with monies from our Building Australia Fund, the Majura Parkway will make it easier for Canberrans to get around their city as well as well as taking trucks off local streets,” said Mr Albanese.

    “Construction of this new road is an investment in Canberra’s future, with Infrastructure Australia putting its long term economic, social and environmental benefits at close to $1 billion.

    “Funding for the Majura Parkway builds on the record capital works program we initiated in our very first budget back in 2008. Together with the Gallagher Labor Government, we’re building the modern, well planned transport infrastructure befitting Canberra’s status as our nation’s capital.

    “This confirmation of funding for this project is the culmination of a persistent and passionate community campaign led by local MPs including Gai Brodtmann, Andrew Leigh, Mike Kelly and Senator Kate Lundy.”

    The Majura Parkway will be an 11.5 kilometre long duplicated road with seven bridges and three interchanges at the intersections with Fairbairn Avenue, Federal Highway and Monaro Highway.

I'm now hopeful that the same amount of effort that has been expended on road funding will now be followed by lobbying for public transport funding. 

I find it amazing that Senator Lundy can claim that there has been a 'persistent and passionate community campaign' for this road funding. I've been involved with community issues for many years, not just as Chair of  ACT Light Rail, but also as a member of the Belconnen Community Council, and I've not come across this pro-road grass roots movement before. 

The ABC also carried news of the announcement (Federal funding for Majura Parkway) and asked other local political parties on their views towards the requirement for another road, and its priority in comparison to other transport requirements.

ACT Opposition Leader Zed Seselja has also welcomed the news.
"We're certainly pleased there is some contribution by the Commonwealth," he said.
"I think what's really important now is that the ACT Government demonstrate that they actually can deliver it in a reasonable time frame on budget."
But the ACT Greens say the project should not go ahead.
Greens MLA Amanda Bresnan says there are better transport options.
"The Greens obviously are always happy when we get federal funding. It's just that we would have actually liked to have seen this go to something different, that is to public transport," she said.
"It's a shame that the ACT Government didn't put the same lobbying effort that they put into Majura Parkway, that they put into their bid to Infrastructure Australia, for light rail."
These two views clearly show the reality as opposed to the spin of the announcement. The ACT Government have a demonstrated inabilty to fund, build and complete major public works on time and within budget. 

Exhibit A- GDE
Exhibit B - Cotter Dam expansion
Exhibit C - Alexander Maconochie Centre (the prison)

Amanda Bresnan is also correct. Despite the Light Rail bid being the ACT Governments Primary bid for IA funding in 2009, the latest IA report to COAG contains no mention of that bid at all. It has simply been forgotten. 

One has to ask the ACT Government this question - are you serious about building light rail or simply announcing the possibility of light rail as a media spinning political tool to appear as if you are serious about improving public transport in the ACT ? 

One way the ACT Government can demonstrate their commitment to public transport is by funding a engineering study for an initial light rail route, and include that study as part of a revised bid to IA for funding

They could also demonstrate real leadership and find the funding to build an initial light rail line. One positive out of the latest ACT Budget is that they have reversed a long standing ACT Government stance on not borrowing money to build infrastructure. That this money will be used on a road is not my preference, but now that the willingness to 'borrow to build' has been shown it should be capitalised on. 

The $280 million that is estimated as the cost of the Majura Parkway is an amount that could easily fund a light rail route between Gungahlin and Civic. What would provide a better return to the people of Canberra ? 

ACT Light Rail will continue to lobby for the bid to be revisited. 

What can you do ? 

Contact your local MLA's and Federal representatives and tell them that you would like to see light rail in the ACT. Encourage them to apply the same effort to public transport funding that they have for road funding.