Thursday, November 6, 2014

ACT Government deserves support for Capital Metro business case and the bold vision it represents

The release of the full business case detailing both the costs, and the economic benefits of Capital Metro, is another positive step towards better public transport and the future planned growth of Canberra. For a small community based group that has been lobbying for light rail for over a decade, it is a vindication of ACT Light Rails beliefs that a mass transit backbone of light rail, and an integrated bus system, are the key to encouraging Canberrans to choose public transport over the private car for their daily commute.

This form of transparency is rare with governments and this ACT Government deserves support for the political courage it is demonstrating in continuing to move forward with a project that has faced determined opposition from those that view the world through the windscreen of their car, those who would never use public transport, and those who resent public money being spent on infrastructure unless it directly benefits them. By looking at Canberra in 50 years time, instead of the Canberra of 50 years ago, the current government are taking a bold progressive stance.

As well as leading to decreased road congestion, increasing light rail patronage will ensure that over time less money will need to be spent by government on building more roads and parking spaces. Decreased road construction is one of the difficult to quantify advantages of light rail, as the road will never be built, it is money you never spend, instead of money you need to plan to spend. It is money that can be spent on other areas of equal importance, such as schools and hospitals.

How will the Canberra Liberals respond? By 2016 construction will have commenced. The current Opposition has no public transport policy and no light rail policy. It is not a sustainable position for an alternative government to go to the electorate lacking a policy on the Territorys most important infrastructure project. They must announce a viable policy on light rail, or they will not be able to be taken credibly by the electorate. 

Not only will light rail provide a better way for commuters to travel from Gungahlin to Civic, but it could also be the transport spark to deliver a large employer to the Gungahlin Town Centre. Much of the focus has been on getting people from Gungahlin to Civic, but all the Town Centres have large employers – except Gungahlin. ACT Light Rail believes this project can create the conditions large employers consider favourably when looking for a place to establish themselves.

The team at Capital Metro has worked very hard, very quickly to assemble a comprehensive engineering study and now a full business case for the first stage of Capital Metro. The successful bidder will have good oversight from a capable professional body in Capital Metro Agency, and a clear set of guidelines to build the world class light rail that the nations capital deserves.

There is wide interest domestically and internationally, in building our light rail. The resulting light rail construction phase will enable local industry to gain new skills. When the follow-on stages, such as Civic to Russell, or Belconnen to Civic are built, ACT Light Rail believes local firms will have a good chance to tender for a greater share of that work based on the skills transfer Capital Metro Stage One will deliver.

Better public transport and decreased travel times mean that people spend less time commuting, and less time away from their home. They can leave for work a little later, and leave the workplace a little earlier. All these recaptured minutes that a person spends not at work or not sitting in traffic, can be spent with their family.

The decision to build light rail and to extend it over the long term along dedicated corridors, will see a shift away from multi-unit multi-storey developments in the suburbs (where they probably don’t belong), and see greater density built where it can be best served. There is no argument that Canberra is growing. The Land Development Agency says we will need 43,000 new dwellings in the next 20 years. ACT Light Rail believes it is better that this new stock is built along light rail corridors, than in our leafy suburbs, where existing residents do not welcome them.

Light rail doesn’t take anything away from the average Canberran in the suburbs. People will still have the choice of a suburban house and a two car garage, but they will also have the choice of a car free existence where they can choose to live close to a high-frequency, reliable form of public transport that is attractive to travel in. They can downsize and move closer to shops, services and cafes and suffer no loss in lifestyle.

The legacy of 50 years of the Y-Plan has led to a Canberra that is car dependent. 
Focusing high density housing along transport corridors served by light rail, will see a generation of Canberrans grow up not needing two or more cars per family. Not only will this save families significant amounts of money, that they don’t need to spend on cars, it will encourage more walking, more cycling and greater social mobility. 

The Capital Metro business case demonstrates clear economic and societal benefits for Canberra. This is just for the initial stage from Civic to Gungahlin. Once constructed, Canberrans in other parts not served by light rail will see the benefits and demand that it is extended. It is a bold move by a government that was looking stale after 12 years. New leadership and new ideas have seen a new set of proposals aimed at growing our city sustainably. That deserves support.

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

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