Thursday, August 15, 2013

Light rail the best choice for Canberra’s future - Speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly

This was first published at the ALP website here. ACT Light Rail will happily publish the Canberra Liberal response if it is provided. 

Light rail the best choice for Canberra’s future - Simon Corbell MLA

Speech to the ACT Legislative Assembly during budget debate on the Capital Metro project 15 Aug 2013

Labor went to the 2012 election with a specific policy to develop light rail along the transport corridor between Gungahlin and the City. ACT Labor chose this initiative because after over a decade of analysis, investigations and reports into rapid transport for our City, it was time for our city to make a decision. To make a decision which was the best, long term choice for our city. Labor chose light rail for our city.

We chose light rail because -
Canberrans are concerned about growing congestion, they are frustrated by it, they know it has a direct impact on their quality of life, their productivity, their time with family and friends.
Canberrans are concerned about costs, the cost of running a 2, 3 or even 4 car household, the costs of petrol, insurance and registration. They want better choices, better alternatives that provide convenient, reliable and fast public transport.

Canberrans are also concerned about housing. Canberrans want more housing choices close to where they work, where they shop, where they use cultural, social, community and professional services. And they want more affordable housing.

Canberrans are also concerned about our cities impact on the environment. They want smarter, greener transport which reduces pollution, noise and greenhouse gas emissions. They want transport which is sustainable.

Labor understands these concerns, we know we need to take long term decisions to respond to them. That is why the Government has chosen light rail as the best choice for our city.

It is why we announced and campaigned on the development of the Capital Metro project. It is why in this budget we are delivering on that commitment, investing in the establishment of the Capital Metro Agency and laying the foundations for the design, procurement and delivery of this project which can transform the way our city develops into the future.

Development of Capital Metro project will help tackle Canberrans concerns about congestion. Analysis undertaken as part of the development of the Gungahlin to City transit corridor business case demonstrates that currently peak period delays on Northbourne Avenue are estimated at 16 minutes from Gungahlin to the City. Put another way this equates to a morning peak journey time along the corridor of 26 minutes southbound and 20 minutes northbound.

By 2031 without dedicated transit in place, travel times in the morning peak will be 57 minutes southbound and 27 minutes northbound. That’s right, in less than 20 years Gungahlin residents will face travel times of nearly one hour to get from the Gungahlin Town centre to the City.

With Capital Metro built the current delay of 16 minutes during peak periods is estimated to be reduced by more than half, to approximately 6 minutes, a greater time saving than that achieved by bus rapid transit. Total journey times will also decrease, by 2031 with Capital Metro in place total southbound journey time in the am peak will be 41 minutes, instead of the 57 minutes anticipated under the business as usual scenario.

Yet the Liberals say bus rapid transit is better, despite inferior travel time savings compared to those Capital Metro can deliver. The Liberals have other questions to answer - How do they propose BRT to work? Where will the bus lane go? Down the middle of the Northbourne Avenue median? Do the Liberals really think the NCA will approve bulldozing of the Northbourne Avenue median into a 2 lane road? Perhaps the Liberals propose that one current traffic lane in each direction of Northbourne be turned into a bus lane instead? Shrinking Northbourne Avenue from 3 lanes for general traffic to 2? Further, do the Liberals still support using bus lanes for T2 or T3 private cars as well, like they did for the Belconnen to City and Woden to City bus lanes last year? How will that work when it comes to buses apparently offering a fast, convenient and reliable public transport service along the corridor?

The question must also be asked why should anyone believe the Liberals at all when they say they support BRT, when they opposed the Bus Rapid Transit proposal for the Belconnen to the City corridor when it was proposed in 2005.

The Gungahlin to City corridor already has the one of the highest levels of public transport use in the City, yet it is very unbalanced. While it is high in the North Canberra district, it is very low in Gungahlin, where car dependency is very high, with 9 out of every 10 journeys being made by car. This pattern of car use is consigning residents in Gungahlin, often on lower incomes and facing the costs of mortgages and raising a family, with the burden of having to maintain a 2, 3 or even 4 car household. As fuel prices continue to increase in the coming decades, and without a viable transport alternative, we will be consigning these households to financial and social vulnerability and isolation.

Labor will not let this happen. Development of Capital Metro will provide a reliable, convenient and frequent mass transit corridor which will give Gungahlin residents transport choice and reduce the number of journeys they need to undertake by car, as well as the number of cars they must, rather than choose, to own.

Canberrans don’t want to wait until we have congestion like Sydney or Melbourne or Newcastle, they want long term decisions for a better future and to avoid the congestion nightmares cities face when they grow. This is why Labor says Light Rail is the best choice for Canberra’s future.

Northbourne Avenue is the front door to the National capital. Yet right now our front door is suffering from deteriorating amenity. The current high level of car and bus congestion means the environment for residents who live on the corridor, pedestrians, cyclists and those waiting to catch buses is compromised by high levels of traffic, noise and pollution, discouraging walking and cycling trips and the development of a urban form envisaged by the National Capital and Territory Plan. It should feel and be safe to walk down the Avenue at day and at night, yet currently it is alienated and made inhospitable by the cars, noise and pollution and lack of street level activity.

Capital Metro will drive a transformation of residential and commercial development in the Gungahlin to City corridor. The business case for Capital Metro recognises the level of redevelopment activity along the corridor will move beyond the business as usual levels due to the investment certainty and improved amenity that will be provided by light rail. Such assumptions are consistent with the experiences of other cities around the world, such as Portland in the United States. BRT was not considered to be able to achieve the same level of redevelopment activity for 2 important reasons. Firstly the economic analysis concluded that market forces are less likely to promote densification of residential and commercial activity around BRT links and secondly government planning strategies in relation to zoning, densities and the locations of services were considered to be more likely influenced and supported by the development of Light rail infrastructure.

North Canberra and Gungahlin are already seeing much higher rates of growth than other parts of our city. North Canberra has grown at a rate of 2.6% pa and Gungahlin at a rate 6.8% pa, much faster than the overall ACT growth rate of 1.4% per annum.

This is why Labor has chosen the Gungahlin to City corridor as the first stage for the Capital Metro network. It is where the population growth is, now and where it will be into the future. The population of Gungahlin is projected to be 73,000 people by 2021, and ultimately, to 90,000 and there will significant population growth in the City Centre as well as more people choose to live closer to jobs, services and facilities.

Labor knows we must plan for major growth in our population over the next 2 decades, this means taking the long term view on transport, because high levels of population growth increases demand for transport infrastructure and services.

By 2031 there will have been a 28% increase in the number of people living in the Gungahlin to City corridor, 14,261 more people, and another 5447 in the City itself, or more than double the current City centre population. The number of people who have jobs located in the corridor will also dramatically increase, with another 23250 more people working in the city and the corridor by 2031.

These increases cannot be met by buses, business as usual is not good enough. We need transport infrastructure with the capacity and frequency to meet this big increase in population and jobs. It is another reason why Light rail is the best choice for our city’s future.

Light rail will drive higher levels of development in the corridor. It is the most effective means of realising the strategic direction of the ACT Planning Strategy, which targets increased residential densities along transport corridors and in our major centres, like the City, Dickson and Gungahlin. Under the higher density scenario developed in the Gunaghlin to City Business case it is projected that population growth will be 78% in the corridor and 237% in the city centre. This means another 39,653 more pople living in the corridor, another 7947 living in the city centre, 22029 more homes in the corridors, 4967 more in the city centre. 

This demonstrates the potential for light rail to transform where people live as our city grows. It means housing choice, improved affordability and a sustainable pattern of development which allows more journeys by walking cycling and public transport. This significant uplift in development potential also brings jobs, jobs in construction, jobs in the service and supply industries, jobs in maintainance and cleaning and municipal services.

Yet the Liberals say BRT is better and we have spent too much money on studies. Why should we believe them? in 2008 they issued a policy paper, called Getting Light Rail on track. It contained bold and sweeping statements like “ it’s Time to take Light rail Seriously” and the Liberals committed $8 million to undertaken engineering studies, integration of bus and light rail connections, planning and rezoning and patronage assessments. Why should we believe the liberals now when they say the Government has spent too much on studies when they proposed a multi million dollar investigation only 4 short years ago?

In this budget the Government establishes the Capital Metro Agency, to drive the realisation of this project. Developing a big infrastructure project is a significant undertaking, it requires robust governance, detailed investigation and due diligence and a team of committed and experienced professionals to make it happen.

Labor is making that investment. It will continue to make that investment and it will deliver a project that has the long term future, not short term politics, of our city and its citizens front and centre.

Canberrans deserve infrastructure investments that will meet their growing needs for reliable and convenient rapid transit, for sustainable transport, and infrastructure which will shape our urban form consistent with the strategic plans we have laid out for a more sustainable and equitable future. Capital Metro is a critical infrastructure project that will meet the aspirations Canberrans have for the future of their city, and which only Labor has the imagination and determination to realise.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Infrastructure Australia want worse road congestion before better public transport?

The Canberra Times are running an article titled "Canberra light rail plan: 'Not enough traffic' says Infrastructure Australia report" which, if accurate, contends that Canberra must have worse road congestion before it can receive funding to improve its public transport infrastructure.

The Infrastructure Australia view that Canberra's road congestion must become worse, before public transport improvement is warranted, is extremely disappointing. Canberra already has a declining rate of bus based public transport patronage and the introduction of light rail is the modal shift required to encourage drivers to use public transport for trips to work, ahead of their private car.

By focussing solely on one aspect - road congestion - Infrastructure Australia overlook the other compelling factors which make Capital Metro so important.

  • Unlike buses, light rail will be able to cope with the patronage increases that urban redevelopment along Northbourne Avenue will allow. 
  • Further transit oriented development will not only contribute to treasury coffers, but also alleviate urban sprawl. 
  • Gungahlin residents will have an alternative to a slow road journey and a battle for limited parking in Civic and the Parliamentary Triangle. 
  • Shifting commuters from road to light rail will alleviate road congestion significantly on Northbourne Avenue and decrease rat running in adjacent areas. 
  • The cost benefit analysis of Capital Metro shows that for every dollar invested in light rail, two dollars thirty will be returned to the territory. 

ACT Light Rail are disappointed in this recent report from Infrastructure Australia. We feel that building for the future is essential in planning transport infrastructure. Capital Metro from Civic to Gungahlin will underpin a public transport renaissance in Canberra, and ACT Light Rail urge the ACT Government to work with Infrastructure Australia to progress the project.

The ACT is an entity with a four billion dollar economy and growing. While it would be sound for the federal government to provide funding for Canberra's public transport future, if necessary, the ACT Government could come up with a funding model that did not rely upon federal funds.

The projected construction cost of 600 million dollars over four years is roughly the same amount of money spent on Gungahlin roads in the same period, so the ability to build this ourselves is already there. All it requires is political will

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