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.