Friday, July 18, 2014

Gaps in Transit Review - riposte to sloppy analysis from a CT reader

An excellent riposte to the sometimes misleading and sloppy analysis on light rail costs and benefits, published recently in the Canberra Times, in a letter from a reader. This letter is in the 'Letters to the Editor' page of the July 18 edition of the Canberra Times, and also online.

Gaps in transit review

I write as an outsider but frequent visitor to Canberra. I think the heading in your article ''Light rail poor value: report'' (July 15, p1) was misleading.

The Productivity Commission has criticised the process of moving to a go-ahead for Capital Metro from the point reached in a submission to Infrastructure Australia in 2012.
That does not necessarily imply they conclude the project is of doubtful validity. I sense they are instead criticising a gap in the decision-making logic without actually having the data to finally judge the project options. The submission in 2012 for preliminary funding showed better benefit-cost ratios for Bus Rapid Transit options than Light Rail Transit Options because of the lower capital cost of the former.

However, the two types of projects would not be equal on other grounds, and I think this is where the gap in economic and business cases has not been filled (at least in terms of public disclosure). Light rail will be better for value capture in relation to property development, based on overseas experience. The economic benefits of densification along transport corridors, and so-called agglomeration productivity benefits, are areas where our local experience in cost-benefit analysis is perhaps at the learning stage, but that is not to say that one cannot judge that they will be valuable.

In addition to the projected fare revenue and the lower operating costs of trams versus buses, I understand the ACT government had previously pointed to car parking revenues and this relatively new area of ''value capture'' as two key prospective financial benefits.
No one has yet done justice to analysing these factors in a publicly available study. The Nairn report for the ACT Liberals, which claimed the Capital Metro project would be unviable, seems to me to have a few major holes in terms of financial analysis. A long-term project was evaluated over less than its effective economic life, using 100 per cent debt funding paid off over 15 years, but assuming that the project was worthless after repaying the debt.

To assume a project is worthless in 15 years' (or even 30 years') time would necessarily pre-condition the result of such an analysis and make it a misleading exercise. And that is not to criticise Bob Nairn's transportation knowledge - it just says that the financial analysis (as distinct from his analysis of the transport issues) could not have been complete and must, to that extent, be unsound. I can't tell how this might have affected the end result, as I don't have all the data.

However, Mr Nairn's table of figures seems to project a stabilised fare revenue of only $2.2 million per annum. Simple arithmetic says that at an average light-rail trip fare of circa $4.50, this revenue estimate implies only about 1300 paying passengers per day, or six to seven full vehicles. Unless I am misinterpreting his analysis, that seems ridiculously low and would be a second doubtful element in terms of reaching a sound conclusion as to project viability.

I hope I am not being too unfair to Mr Nairn, but what I read didn't convince me that we have the full picture as yet. And, as a visitor, I cannot understand why the parliamentary and government offices area south of the bridge would not be a viable future route.
It is not just locals one should provide for, because if Canberra Airport goes international, future tourism potential is another major beneficial factor.

Ian F. Bell, Sydney, NSW

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Simon Corbell: The case for light rail

In todays Canberra Times, Simon Corbell, Minister for the Capital Metro Agency, has a powerful defence of light rail in Canberra.

The CT also carries a story: Light rail benefits more than just cost.

Rail network has proven its benefits worldwide

We are fortunate that Griffin provided us with a legacy of extreme foresight; a planned city linked by 'rapid transit' – his own term – with higher densities of retail, employment and development lining the transport system. We have the wide avenues in place and the designs drawn; the framework for a city wide tramway has been ready and waiting for the past hundred years.

Unfortunately, until today we have ignored Griffin's transport advice and plans. Politicians have debated the cost of installing Griffin's railway and tramway system for one hundred years, always deciding it was an unjustifiable cost until Canberra grew; we are having the same conversations now. Canberra has grown, will continue to grow and public transport investment is clearly imperative for the success and sustainability of our city.

A recent article, one of the many by ill-informed 'experts' advising that Canberra is making a mistake by investing in light rail, said that "smart people learn from their mistakes, smarter people learn from the mistakes of others". On this point, we agree. We do need to learn from the mistakes of others and we do not need to look very far.

In the PricewaterhouseCoopers Cities of Opportunity 2014 survey 30 cities were analysed across 10 indicators, Sydney's only 'low' grading was on transportation and infrastructure. And what is Sydney's response? Investment in rail. The NSW government has signalled its strong support for rail projects through the 2014 budget, with the North West Rail link, South West Rail Link, $400 million for the Parramatta Light Rail, $1.6 billion for the CBD and South East Light Rail route and a further $2.8 billion for new state of the art intercity trains.

The lesson to learn from our nearest city neighbour is that congestion is a major social, economic and environmental issue that must be solved. In the Territory, we have a choice: we can start addressing transport issues now at a relatively low cost, or we can wait until congestion, pollution and poor accessibility cripples our city and pay a much higher price.

Congestion was costing the Territory $110 million a year back in 2005, and is projected to increase by 82per cent to $200 million in 2020 (BTRE 2007). During peak travel times, road congestion already adds approximately 15 minutes to the travel along the city to Gungahlin corridor.

With a population set to almost double by 2050 and a car dependency rate of more than 80 per cent, the costs of congestion will only continue to increase. Introducing light rail is projected to halve corridor congestion immediately, providing travel benefits to road users and a frequent and reliable service for public transport users.

Without investment in light rail, Canberra's transportation expenditure is heavily skewed to roads-only expenditure. The proposed investment in light rail over the next four years compares with the total cost of 'Roads and Sustainable Transport' between 2010 and 2014 of $1.13 billion. On a like-for-like basis (in 2013-14), and acknowledging their different funding sources, the capital delivery cost of the proposed investment in light rail (excluding contingency and rolling stock) is anticipated to be less than road investments in the Majura Parkway plus Gungahlin Drive Extension. After decades of under investment, with public transport infrastructure receiving less than an estimated 10 per cent of the investment in road infrastructure (estimated by TAMS, ACT government), it is time to restore the balance.

On the issue of balance, we need to discuss the benefits as well as costs of light rail. The economic analysis of the light rail projects – or the Benefit Cost Ratios (BCR) – was first developed back in 2011 for the Infrastructure Australia submission on the City to Gungahlin Transit Corridor. If we maintain the same land-use along the corridor the BCR was estimated 1.02. If we increase residential and commercial density along the rapid transit corridors (as suggested by Griffin and set out in the Territory's Planning Strategy) the BCR is 2.34; to clarify that is a return of $2.34 on every dollar invested.
Compare this to the recently opened light rail extension to Sydney's Dulwich Hill that was approved with a BCR of 1.0. The extension was oversubscribed in its first week of operation and surrounding land values increased significantly, the outcome is more investment by Sydney in light rail.

Transport investment projects BCRs can vary significantly, even for a single project depending on the options, assumptions and impacts included. The Capital Metro Agency will make the latest BCR as accurate as possible and it will inform the government's decision, but let's ensure a BCR is used as a tool to guide decisions; not the panacea to govern all decisions.

It is true that the benefit cost ratio for bus rapid was higher than for light rail – but there are important benefits beyond economic return that a BCR does not consider. And importantly in Canberra's case, the light rail project Capital Metro is not just a public transport project – it is the glue that holds together the city's urban renewal plans.
Light rail has a proven ability to attract investment, businesses and people. The land around light rail stops increases in value due to the benefits associated with this mode of transport – this is a researched and well evidenced phenomenon. In Curtin University research on Perth's BRT, there was no evidence that buses have the same economic effect. This can be explained by the perception that buses and bus lanes are not seen as permanent fixtures; routes can change, lanes can be reallocated back to normal traffic as soon as congestion creates public pressure. Tracks in the ground are a permanent fixture that gives investor confidence. Often commercial development happens before the light rail is even open, like the Minneapolis-St Paul new 'green line' light rail, where more than $1 billion was invested in projects along the route before the trams even started running. More investment and business in the city's core will be good for all of Canberra.
There is also the way that light rail can integrate with the surrounding areas, a busway would need to have barriers and be segregated, this would act as a divisive structure within the important Northbourne Corridor, splitting communities and turning this important gateway into a bus and car thoroughfare.

Light rail can blend with urban areas and bring communities together as shown in Burke Street in Melbourne and throughout the cities in Europe. Maybe this is why people demonstrate a preference for light rail, and why it is the only public transport mode that can attract 20 per cent of its passengers directly out of cars. It is clear that we need to reduce our car dependence for a multitude of health, environmental and economic reasons. More buses are unlikely to tempt Canberrans out of their cars.

An additional benefit that should be discussed is the potential to provide new and sustainable jobs for the Territory. Jobs that are not public sector and that will be accessible to young Canberrans and the long-term unemployed. The Territory is already identifying skills shortages and introducing training opportunities to increase employment opportunities created through its light rail investment.

During the construction phase, EY analysis estimates that more than 3500 direct and indirect jobs will be supported. Future mapping across a 30-year period indicates that around 50,000 jobs will be supported. At a time when youth unemployment is high and public service jobs are being cut, this is an important contribution to diversifying and strengthening employment opportunities for all of Canberra.

And last but not least there are the huge environmental benefits of reducing car dependence. Twenty-three per cent of the Territory's carbon emissions are from transport, compare this to the national average of 14 per cent. All the world's cities need to act now to stop the upward trend in vehicle emissions; investment in light rail will help us play our part.

Many of the major challenges we face as a growing city point to the same solution: a well-integrated public transport network with light rail at its core – more roads and more buses have not, and will not, solve the problems we face.

I do not ask you to make your mind up now on light rail. What I do ask is that you keep an open mind and weigh up the benefits as well as the costs. Let's learn from the past and others, finally listen to Griffin's advice and invest in the future of our great and unique city.

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

First earth turned for Capital Metro light rail in Canberra

WIN News report on this historic occasion

July 14 is a historic day for Canberra. A spade went into the ground and when that occurred, the first physical act on the way to improved public transport for Canberra began. Although this was as part of the services investigation, and not as part of actual track being constructed, it is an important step. Earth has turned on light rail in Canberra!

The works will begin in Gungahlin and progress along the corridor towards Civic and will take several months. The machinery used is similar to that used to install cable underground all over Canberra, although they are looking for services, not installing them.

The Canberra Times 'Light Rail utility study begins in Gungahlin' report is here.

The Minister for Capital Metro Agency was on hand with Emma Thomas, Project Director, and the staff from local company Leach Steger who will carry out the investigation into the underground services.

Simon Corbell and staff from Capital Metro and Leach Steger

The Minister's  office issued the following press release:

South Canberra company plays an important role in Capital Metro project

The Capital Metro Agency today started a program of utility services investigation works by Kambah company Leach Steger that will provide further detail around the location of underground services along the light rail corridor.
Minister for Capital Metro, Simon Corbell, said the works were a critical part of informing the project's next phase of design, in addition to providing more certainty around costs.
"This is an important and exciting step for the Capital Metro project. These investigations will provide the Capital Metro Agency with required detail to further progress their early designs and to validate the projected costs.
"I am very pleased to say this work is being planned and delivered out of local offices and using local experts. The Canberra office of Brown Consulting is working closely with Kambah-based survey company Leach Steger to deliver these works and this is a great example of Capital Metro engaging well with local industry."
Utilities can present a significant risk for infrastructure projects and this activity is one of many steps teh government is taking to ensure the first stage of light rail in Canberra is well planned, managed and delivered.
"A great deal of work has already occurred to get to this point and through desktop analysis and detailed discussions with utility owners Capital Metro has developed a good understanding of the utility network. This work will take that understanding to a far more detailed level.
"These investigations, which will include careful excavation techniques such as potholing and trenching, will be delivered between Gungahlin and the City, starting at the Gungahlin end."
The works are expected to take three to four months to complete, during which almost 1,000 small excavations will be used to verify the location and the condition of the utilities. In each case a photo will be taken of the infrastructure and this will be combined with spatial data that is fed into the stage one designs. The excavations will then be carefully filled in and the area will be monitored to ensure the right levels are maintained.  
"As these works will occur alongside and sometimes within a busy roadway, they will be managed carefully, with a reduced speed limit, signage and in some instances, traffic controllers in place to coordinate traffic safely. Aspects of this work that require traffic changes to busy intersections will be completed outside of peak times to support efficient traffic and pedestrian flows," Mr Corbell said.
Weekly updates on works progress and upcoming activities will be provided on the Capital Metro website.

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Capital Metro - Light Rail Early Design Consultation

(from Capital Metro)

Capital Metro - Light Rail Early Design Consultation

Capital Metro is Canberra’s light rail project and an important part of the territory’s vision for the city. We invite you to get on board, see the initial design for Capital Metro and provide us with your feedback.

We would like feedback on the following main areas to help develop the final design:
  • Strategic approach - the design and planning principles guiding the project including the underpinning context
  • The passenger experience - what you can expect as a light rail passenger in Canberra
  • Urban design - information on the urban design and look and feel of the area surrounding the light rail
  • Nuts and bolts - what we are building and how it will work

To find out more information visit the:

Capital Metro website and provide feedback through the online survey.

Capital Metro Information Centre

Come in and have a chat at our pop-up shop between 30 June - 8 August Monday to Friday, 8.30am -5.30pm
2 Mort Street (bus interchange)

Drop-in information sessions

Come along to learn more about Capital Metro, talk to the project team and provide your feedback:
Saturday 12 July, 9.30am - 1.30pm, Dickson Shopping Centre (outside Woolworths)
Saturday 19 July, 9.30am - 1.30pm, Gungahlin Shopping Centre (outside Coles)
Saturday 26 July, 9.30am - 1.30pm, Dickson Shopping Centre (outside Woolworths)
Saturday 2 August, 9.30am - 1.30pm, Gungahlin Shopping Centre (Big W building)

For more frequent updates on Capital Metro and light rail related news, please visit our Facebook page 'Light Rail for Canberra'.