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]