Sunday, October 30, 2016

ALP and Greens form agreement to govern for the new Assembly - light rail a key initiative both can agree on.

Greens MLA Caroline le Couteur, Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury, ALP Chief Minister Andrew Barr and ALP Deputy chief Minister Yvette Berry 
Congratulations to the ALP and the Greens on reaching an agreement to govern for the new Assembly. This is the third term in a row that the ALP and Greens have supported each other in the Assembly, and the second formal agreement. At the election on October 15, the ALP claimed 12 seats, the Greens 2 and the Canberra Liberals 11. Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury will take a position in Cabinet as part of the agreement. 
For this term of government, there are 77 separate initiatives in the agreement that both parties can agree on. The primary initiatives of interest for this group are those related to public transport.
The Canberra Times reported on the agreement here.
In the 2012 to 2016 term, the agreement to govern delivered signed contracts and construction for Capital Metro light rail Stage One, and the delivery of the Light Rail Master Plan. 
In this term, the agreement refers to 'Building an Integrated transport network' with a focus on light rail Stage Two improving bus services, looking at new transport technologies and promoting Active Travel. 

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Map of polling booth results showing light rail is a vote winner

This simple graphic indicates that light rail is a vote winner. Look at the percentage of the ALP primary vote by polling booth on this map with primary vote numbers from booths overlaid on to a map of Canberra. The proximity of a booth to the light rail route correlates to a 10-15% primary vote gain.

How will the data on this map change when in the 2020 Assembly election light rail from Gungahlin to Civic is operational and Woden route construction may be underway? Only more positively for the parties that support light rail.

  • Coloured circles are Assembly polling place results 
  • Black line is proposed light rail route

Image from Australian Rail Maps Twitter page with data from #actvotes

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Canberra supports light rail future with re-elected Barr government

Thank you to all supporters of light rail and improved public transport in Canberra. Your votes have secured a very different Canberra that will be able to grow without gridlock and increased road congestion. It will be  able to offer  a scalable public transport system that can grow as our population and urban form grows. It was not the only issue that the election was decided upon, but it was a major one.

If there are political lessons to be learnt they are firstly that the Canberra public want our city to grow and avoid the transport problems that other car dominated capitals have. We are on that cusp, and have decided to go another way. The second and bigger lesson is that we are not fools and negative political campaigning just doesn't work. We will support and vote for a positive achievable vision.

It has been a hard slog for all, but at last the four year election campaign has been decided. It has been a definitive rout of regressive negative politics. The Canberra of the future will have an integrated public transport system with light rail at its backbone, and more frequent local bus services.
  • Stage One from Gungahlin to Civic will be built and commence service by 2019. 
  • Stage Two from Civic to Woden will have a series of studies prepared, culminating with a business case that may recommend construction. 
  • An expanded rapid bus service will be extended to several group centres
  • Proper planning for further light rail stages can continue 
  • A compact liveable city with Transit Oriented Development and more density, will emerge around transit corridors
These positive planning and transport policies can now occur with certainty as the Barr government has been returned with a likely coalition government with the Greens to be formed, once firm Assembly numbers are known. The polling booths closed at 6PM on October 15th and by 10PM the Chief Minister had announced the ALP were in a position to form Government, and opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson had conceded defeat.

That the positive election result was known so quickly, demonstrates confidence in the Governments plans. It was a resounding 'yes' for light rail.

For four years the Canberra Liberals had fought a relentlessly negative and dishonest campaign with false claims about costs and spending. These false and deceptive claims continued to the day of the election and it was a refreshing sign of a healthy democracy that the people of Canberra looked beyond the smear  campaign and neglectful and lazy journalistic coverage from the Canberra Times, to form a view that resoundingly supports a light rail future.

However, the negative campaign is now history. The light rail debate has been resolved and it will be built. Stage One will be the first of five planned stages that will reshape our city and lead to better land use, higher standards of living, less road congestion and a more compact livable city. 

The overwhelming endorsement of public transport at this election should be taken to heart by the Canberra Liberals. They should be proactive in creating light rail and public transport policy, and they should be cooperative and not obstructionist as further light rail stages, especially the Woden route, are planned and constructed.

Supporters of light rail in the community, including the 1300 strong members of ACT Light Rail, always knew the public supported better public transport. Now its future is secure.
Canberra Times coverage
Election win shows comprehensive support for light rail
Labor confident of win - expected to form government with Greens
Triumph for Labor - wakeup call for Liberals 
Disappointing Hanson admits defeat at ACT election
Back to the drawing board for all sides
Labor victory a rejection of narrow minded fundamental conservatism

ABC Online coverage
Light rail in balance as Canberra heads to the polls
Labor claims victory, says Canberra voted for light rail
Feeling of exasperation as Canberra Liberals fall short
Where to now for Liberal leadership?

Television coverage of the election result

ABC TV news Canberra carried this report on Sunday 16 October 2016:
Part One
Part Two

WIN TV News Canberra carried this report on Monday 17 October 2016:

A few radio interviews were quite informative:

ABC radio carried this interview on Monday 17 October with Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury about what happens next

Duration: 7min 20sec Broadcast: Mon 17 Oct 2016, 5:30am

"The ACT Election finished on Saturday night but the final preference counting will continue for most of this week.
What will the larger Legislative Assembly chamber mean? How about negotiations for a new Labor-Greens Government?
Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury talk to 666 ABC Canberra breakfast host Philip Clark about what happens next."

Originally on this ABC webpage

ABC radio carried this interview with Liberal MLA Alistair Coe after the election.

Duration: 11min 57sec Broadcast: Mon 17 Oct 2016, 3:00pm

"After appearing to be within reach of Government for the first time in 15 years the Canberra Liberals lost the election by an increased margin compared to 2012, and it's raised questions over the position of leader Jeremy Hanson.
Mr Coe explained the ground campaign of Labor and the complexity of the light rail issue could have been contributing factors to the Liberals' loss.
He also told Adam Shirley on 666 ABC Canberra that he did not see Mr Hanson's statement that he argued against light rail "exceptionally well, but perhaps not well enough" as a criticism."

Originally on this ABC webpage.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Canberra Liberals bus only alternative to light rail exposed as a lie - by themselves!

One of the leased buses expected if Canberra Liberals are elected

Since 2012 the Canberra Liberals have been promising to kill light rail. They claim we don't need it, They claim that they would release a policy that would be better than light rail. They did, several months ago - and there were many questions about it. Could it be implemented? How much would it cost? Would it bring about any of the benefits that lightrail would? Would it be Bus Rapid Transit or just bus lanes?
Today TWO DAYS BEFORE THE ELECTION the Liberals provided their costings to ACT Treasury. It is in the detail that they expose their policy as really, just a flimsy three page description of well, not much really. Certainly not a realistic alternative to light rail.

Remember that this is the policy that they claim is better than light rail. 

This is what it doesn't have:
  • No mention of a new bus depot
  • The "eight new rapid routes" only include assumptions of leased buses and operating costs
  • No new buses  
  • No bus stop / road improvements
  • No new bus lanes
  • No intersection / traffic signal upgrade
  • No bus Interchange expansion (which would be vital)
  • No mention of ancillary equipment - such as additional NXTBUS modules and MyWay equipment
  • No staff increases
  • No opportunity for Transit Oriented Development
  • No opportunity for Canberra based construction jobs
By leasing buses one could assume that this is a cost saver, but in fact it isn't. To lease a bus at $5500 per month - not including inflation - works out at $1.3m for 20 years compared to $800000 to buy one outright. 
What a flimsy unimplementable policy. Appalling. This is what they offer as an alternative t light rail?
This Saturday the two choices are:
  • A costed and funded light rail from Gungahlin to Civic (and then to Woden) 
  • An unimplementable bus only plan that cannot match the transport objectives promised.
There is no choice - Vote for Light Rail.  

Update: Friday 14 October
As of Friday morning (the day before polling day) Labor wound up with one policy uncosted (deemed withdrawn due to lack of time constraints) which was the not-insignificant upgrade of the Centenary Hospital.

The Liberals wound up with 4 deemed withdra
wn due to time constraints. And they're pretty substantial ones:

  • The Zero percent lease variation charge
  • The cost of new 'Rapid' bus routes. They quoted $40m, and in my opinion, from the look of the document there seem to be a few items not factored into that number.
  • The $35m flyover proposal for the Barton Highway.
  • The widening of roads between Gungahlin and Civic (part of their no-light rail platform) which they costed at $58m 
The Greens, for what it's worth, had all their policies costed by Treasury.

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

ALP commits $25 million for design and scoping work for light rail to Woden

Election advertising for the Woden light rail policy
 (Photo by Chris Richards)
The 2016 election date draws closer, and although the Liberals are yet to announce any costings for their bus only transport policy, the ALP and Greens have been releasing regular updates on their policies.

Today the ALP announced $25 million for the design and scoping for the proposed Stage Two of light rail to Woden. This is essential for the preparation of a business case (that would be required before a final decision on whether to proceed, could occur).

In early September, the ACT Government announced that if re-elected, they would build light rail to Woden, through the Parliamentary Triangle from Civic. This would create a light rail line running from Woden to Gungahlin.

The announcement today attaches funding to that proposal for design and scoping work. Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris said the $25 million would provide information that would hopefully progress the project to the procurement stage.

"We have done preliminary technical analysis that shows us that it is a good route, it has excellent and sustainable outcomes for the development of our city, connecting the north and south of our city,"

"It's really important that we get the scoping and design work right in consultation with the community and with technical experts just like we have on stage one."

ABC TV Canberra covered the funding announcement on its 7PM news on 10 Oct 2016

A media statement was released by Minister Meegan Fitzharris on 11 Oct 2016

Labor’s plan for light rail stage 2 and free buses across CBR

A re-elected Labor government will start work immediately on stage two of our city-wide light rail network and encourage more people to use public transport with a free trial of all new Rapid Bus services.

Almost 210,000 Canberrans will live, work or study within one kilometre of the Woden light rail corridor by 2041. Planning for this growth will be vital to reducing congestion on our roads and providing commuters with a quick, practical and efficient alternative to driving their cars.

Labor has already committed to take light rail to Woden via the Parliamentary Triangle and create a north-south spine for our public transport network. This will get light rail across the lake, and buses, bikes, walking routes and later stages of light rail will feed into this spine, making it even easier for Canberrans to get where they need to go.

To support this city-building infrastructure, Labor will invest $25 million for scoping and design work to progress the project to the procurement stage. This important work will assist in understanding the stage two route alignment, develop the funding and financing model for the project, and determine the best procurement approach for the Territory.

Light rail is an affordable infrastructure investment for the future of Canberra, and only Labor will deliver a city-wide light rail network. Light rail has been talked about for 100 years, and it’s now or never. It has to start somewhere, but under the Canberra Liberals, it never will.

Before the 2012 election, ACT Labor committed to “plan, finance and develop the first stage of a Light Rail Network” with “construction estimated to commence in 2016”. We’re delivering on our promise with stage one now underway.

Stage two will continue the renewal of Woden, where the town centre is already benefiting from recent upgrades and the ACT Government decision to relocate more than 1000 public servants to Woden at a time when the Federal Liberal Government has taken jobs out of Woden.

Labor will also offer all passengers on our new Rapid Routes a free two-month trial of the service to encourage more people give public transport a go.

The first new rapid buses to begin would be the Green Rapid from Woden to the City via Manuka and Barton, and the Black Rapid from Belconnen to Gungahlin. Passengers on these new routes will be able to ride for free for the first two months of service from mid-2017.

In another reform to the bus network, Labor will also relaunch the Xpresso routes as ‘Peak Express’ services. On average these services carry around 13,000 passengers a week - 3.7 per cent of total bus patronage, but they could do better.

A rebranding and marketing campaign will be undertaken to encourage more people to use these ‘Peak Express’ services, which are a great way to commute quickly to work every day.

A new Peak Express service will be trialled from Gungahlin to Tuggeranong, offering three express non-stop morning and evening services between the two centres. 

While the Liberals are concreting the whole of Northbourne Avenue and turning it into an eight lane highway with massive bus bays that will replace footpaths, Labor has a real plan to improve our public transport system so it becomes more convenient, efficient, affordable and reliable – a genuine alternative to driving.


Woden to Gungahlin light rail 

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

More buses, the ultimate band-aid solution

As a regular public transport user, I meet the cry of “more buses” as a solution to Canberra’s long term transport future with rolled eyes, a sigh and the odd scream. Sure, buses are a serviceable part of public transport system, but once you reach a certain population and size, they cannot be the only solution.

For a bus system to potentially service a population of just shy of half a million people, we’re looking at building supporting infrastructure and changes to business and staffing models and the costs incurred with these changes. Providing a rapid bus service does not simply mean buying a couple more bendy buses, whacking a logo on the side, and letting them fang down Northbourne Avenue or Adelaide Avenue in a way that would make Daniel Ricciardo proud. 

To enable rapid bus services we would need to see changes to Northbourne (such as less stops, raised platforms, priority lanes and specialised vehicles) that are already happening for light rail that people seem to have such a problem with, and yet apparently it would be okay if we did all that for buses?

First let’s understand the difference between buses and light rail and what they’re meant for in city public transport.  

Light rail provides a backbone to public transport. Light rail is not intended to be flexible, meander through suburbs like a big maxi van and stop at your door. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bus service in a city the size of Canberra that does this. 

The purpose of light rail is to service major arterial roads on a regular basis, connecting town centres in the most efficient and reliable way. From the start and end points of light rail services, buses take up the service of suburbs. Stage One of light rail will free up hundreds of bus hours, making them more useful in the suburbs than they ever will be trapped behind dozens of cars on Northbourne Avenue.

There are drawbacks to buses that people who don’t take them regularly won’t understand: 
  • they are subject to the flow of traffic, 
  • they aren’t very roomy, 
  • there aren’t as many seats as you think there are, 
  • they can (and do) break down, and 
  • rides can often be jerky and uncomfortable. 

In peak hour, buses are filled very quickly (for those who say you’ll never get a seat on the light rail, try taking a 200 series Rapid Bus in peak hour), and reliability and adhering to timetables is reliant not only on traffic but also the behaviour of the passengers, particularly where suburban routes turn into arterial routes such as the 259 and where multi modal travel wins over a single route that lasts an hour and provides more opportunities for delays.

Light rail, by comparison, will effectively have its own lane and its progress along the route will not be hampered by what motorised traffic is doing. Unless there’s a car crash right on the light rail track, a dingle on Northbourne Avenue will make no never mind to the light rail. 

Passengers who don’t have their MyWay card out of the wallet and ready to go when the service arrives also won’t hinder the progress of light rail – when light rail pauses along its way at each stop, there is a pre-determined amount of time for passengers to get on and off, passengers have a bit more time to tap on and off with ticket facilities at stops as well as on the light rail vehicles, and if you have a question, you won’t be holding everyone up by taking up the driver’s time. 

The driver is separate from the passengers and instead customer service officers at stops and on the light rail will field questions and concerns so the driver can get on with driving and keeping the service on time. Many people who don’t use public transport don’t realise that it’s often passengers who can hold up the service along its route.

“More buses” screams nothing but “more traffic” along routes that are already congested and slow particularly in peak times. Without dedicated bus lanes – which would either require road widening or taking a lane off current traffic – more buses is not a long term solution. “More buses” also comes at a cost. More vehicle purchasing costs (which have to be paid immediately, as opposed to the light rail PPP model), more drivers, more maintenance, bigger depots, not to mention massive infrastructure changes that are required to make additional buses actually worth the initial outlay. 

Can you imagine the outcry that car loving Canberrans would make if Northbourne Avenue became two lanes so that the third could be bus only? The Letters to the Editor section of The Canberra Times simply isn’t big enough! 

Alternatively, the proposal of an additional lane for motorised vehicles down the middle of Northbourne Avenue makes even those who couldn’t care less about the current public transport debate raise an eyebrow in bewilderment. It’s still going to require tree removal and building of infrastructure such as stops, and it will result in an additional lane that makes the ‘country chic’ median pointless, as well as providing a precedent to turn medians into roads.

In a city over 100,000 people, buses have their place as part of an integrated transport system with light rail at its spine. A massive shift in how Northbourne Avenue and, in the future, other arterial roads in Canberra are used will have to happen either way in order to make light rail or “more buses” actually have an impact on the quality of public transport in Canberra. 

There is only so wide we can make a road for “more buses” until there isn’t any room left for anything else. Utilising the ready made medians for level light rail tracks will, however, provide a substantial change to public transport access and availability with minimal impact to how the roads in Canberra currently work. 

When you consider all the implications, “more buses” will provide more headaches for Canberra road users in the long run, either by losing current lanes or creating more of an eyesore of our medians than light rail ever could.

The “more buses” argument is not only unsustainable, but is a band aid solution that will require additional updates and fixes in the very near future. 

Light rail allows buses to do what they do best which is servicing suburbs along existing roads, with light rail transport easily and efficiently servicing major roads where flexible routes are not required. 

As a regular public transport user, this is what Canberrans need now in order to save time commuting, and increase the usability of the existing bus service. Multi modal travel has been shown to cut commuting times, simply by allowing the right mode of transport to do what it does best, and this is where integrated public transport will allow Canberra’s public transport system and its efficiency to grow. 

More buses, in isolation, are only a band-aid solution. 

Article by Cyn Piromali

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

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Why rails instead of rubber

It’s clearly a polarising question in the lead up to the ACT election, the future direction of public transport in Canberra. The Canberra Liberals are staking their election chances on outright opposition to light rail, (it’s not a tram, just to be clear Mr Hanson), and have proposed to effectively provide more of the same. Wider roads, more buses, with maybe a couple of bike paths. Labor and the Greens on the other hand promise to extend light rail across the city as a high capacity ‘spine’ for an integrated bus/light rail public transport network.

So what’s the better option? You’ll get no argument from this author that as a pure transport policy, buses are the cheaper way to provide immediate effects for commuters on the existing road system. So why, I hear people ask, did the Barr government decide to invest in the more expensive, fixed transport option? For me, it all comes down to land use, and human behaviour.

In case you didn’t know, Canberra has a problem with car dependency. We have the highest Vehicle Kilometres Travelled (VKT) per capita in the country, and over 82% of us commute to work by driving. Our urban form makes it nearly impossible to get by without a car. If you doubt it, ask yourself what you’d do if tomorrow you lost your ability to drive. Now think about a person living in Banks, Duffy, MacGregor, or Casey.

The problems associated with urban sprawl, exactly the problems our city has, are not disputed by any rational observer. Canberra’s low urban density, vast single use suburbs spread out like carpet into the distance, extensive road networks and car parks, and large scale retail complexes are the types of land use which produce our high VKT and resultant congestion, energy use, and emissions.

Then there are massive economic drawbacks. It costs an average of $12,000 a year to run a car for individuals, most of which is not returned to the local economy, while the government pours hundreds of millions of dollars a year into road construction and upkeep. This is an expenditure road users come nowhere close to funding, so inevitably it is the rate payers of Canberra who pay. Additionally, each new suburb that we build piles on the requirement for the territory to not only maintain existing infrastructure, (power, water, sewerage, parks & gardens etc), but to construct and maintain the required new infrastructure. Spreading this compounding liability over a sparsely populated tax base logically results in a higher cost per rate payer.

So what do we do about it? We work to find a way to change land use that encourages better use of existing infrastructure, eliminates car dependency, and encourages ‘trip localisation’, i.e. creating places where residents can access services locally by walking to it. Light rail, in case examples from all over the world, is a proven mechanism for anchoring Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) which are typically mixed use and walkable. TOD encourages more efficient land use through greater urban density, and a focus on functional design that people react to in a positive way.

And this leads to the next point. While some people point out that a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system would be cheaper to build and result in the same change to land use, the evidence doesn’t support the claim. People are not mathematical constants. You cannot look at passenger numbers on a bus-only transport system and automatically translate that across to a future light rail option. When the Gold Coast light rail commenced operation in 2015, public transport usage overall increased 22.6%, an extension to the light rail in Adelaide saw an increase in patronage of 39% in its first week, and when a new light rail line opened in the US city of Minneapolis, a full 40% of riders professed to never having used public transport in the past. This author’s own wife refuses to ride a bus, but was an avid user of the Sydney train network when we lived there. People will, and do, go out of their way to use rail based public transport over road based.

A lot of this behaviour has to do with the urban amenity supported by an electrically powered, wide & low floored, high capacity transit system that can deliver large numbers of people directly into a pedestrianised environment. It is far more comfortable to walk beside a light rail line in the city than it is a road capable of carrying the same amount of people as that line. Picture George Street in Sydney and the enormous noise problems and danger of being hit by a truck if you step off the curb, compared to Bourke Street in Melbourne. It’s not hard to see why Sydney is moving to emulate Melbourne in this respect.

Oh, but what about self-driving cars I hear people ask. I ask this in return. How does a continuous stream of individual vehicles on roads which are now completely hostile to pedestrians promote urban amenity, so necessary for changing land use habits? Where do we park these vehicles? How do autonomous vehicles move a crowd of 15,000 people away from Canberra stadium after a rugby game? How do we power these thousands of vehicles? Autonomous vehicles have their place, but it isn’t in the role of efficient mass transit which is what light rail is all about.

When the clear benefits to the urban environment that light rail can produce are taken into consideration, it becomes increasingly frustrating to listen to the continuing opposition from certain elements of the Canberra community. What’s more frustrating for this author is the fact that a party who would seek to be our government are promising to reverse the project despite the clear economic, social and environmental benefits. To accept the current land use/transport status quo is regressive. It denies there’s a problem, shows zero vision for a more liveable city, and exposes their position to inconsistency with reality. How, for example, are they going to pay $300 million in penalties for scrapping the light rail and build better schools and hospitals all while lowering our rates? When are we going to see some bipartisan support for evidence based public transport and land use policy?

I guess that depends on what we all say on the 15th of October.

Article by Robert Knight

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

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How are we paying for light rail in Canberra?

Since 2012 we have seen almost every action and decision of the ACT Government linked to light rail by opponents of better public transport. They see light rail behind every government decision and spending announcement. It’s a deceptive, shallow and misleading campaign that the public is tired of. 

My intention in stepping through the economic arguments in this article is to assure you that the big numbers are not scary numbers, that the Territory is in a position to afford light rail, and that you are paying for light rail in the same way as you pay for any other public service provided by the government, and that your rates are not increasing to pay for light rail.

Neglecting road and public transport in Gungahlin 20 years ago, has had negative impacts on Canberra today. Northbourne Avenue is still Canberra’s most congested road, despite Majura Parkway and the GDE being built.

Stage One of Canberra’s light rail network is now underway. The long suffering residents of Gungahlin and north Canberra that endure road congestion and jam-packed ACTION buses, can travel past light rail construction and know that a better alternative to driving and parking every day, or riding in sardine packed bus (if it doesn’t drive past them already full), is on schedule to commence in 2018. 

Despite this overwhelmingly obvious need for improved public transport, the community has been subjected to increasingly shrill and unbalanced arguments from opponents of public transport. Many of the arguments against light rail are focussed on the economics.

The economic claims fall into several broad categories: that the costs don’t ‘stack up’, light rail is unaffordable, the money could be spent elsewhere (with health and education the key areas), and too much money is being spent in Gungahlin to benefit too few people. Then there is the claim that rates are rising to pay for light rail.

Let’s examine these various claims one by one.

The ACT Budget papers for 2016/2017 show that health, education and disability services are 56% of the total budget, and public transport only 4%. Light rail was allocated 0.4% of the budget, to pay for the Capital Metro Agency. A contract for the construction and operation of light rail stage one was signed in 2016. We now know that the cost of light rail will be $65 million a year for 20 years.

The $65 million a year cost for light rail does ‘stack up’. Public transport is a service delivered by the government in the same way as it delivers health services, educates our children and collects our rubbish. We pay for all these services, even if we don’t use them.

We don’t ask students to pay for their education (although their parents can choose private schools), we don’t ask those who can't pay for money before medical treatment (although they can privately insure or use private medical facilities), and we don’t charge the blind or the elderly the full cost of a bus ride.

The reason we don’t do this is that there are public expectations that the money used by the government on our behalf will be expended equitably. In areas that may never benefit us directly. As Canberra expands and grows to half a million residents, we need to provide support for that growth and manage it so it doesn’t negatively impact us directly or indirectly. Public transport is no different, and light rail is no different.

Why is it important that the costs ‘stack up’? If we want public transport to be profitable, we need to insist the government charge the full cost of every trip to every bus passenger, and dramatically reduce the salaries the ACTION workforce enjoys. It is unlikely that either side of politics would adopt this view.

The real question is – what are the costs of not having public transport? The community accept that public transport needs to be provided as it benefits all sectors of society and the cost of not providing public transport would lead to massive road congestion. Those buses that take your children to school, or ferry you from Floriade and Raiders games, would still need to be provided for in some way.

Privatising ACTION would not bring about any budget joy as the public would still have expectations such as subsidised school fares, concessions for pensioners and health care card holders. 

Political realities would dictate government subsidies to private operators to perform services in areas where the private operator would not be able to profitably operate a route.

Because we demand certain concessions for different sectors of society, public transport may never be profitable. Is this wrong?  The cost of public transport is the same as any other service that we expect the government to deliver. This is the reality of all public transport services across Australia. 

The main focus should be on delivering public transport in the most efficient way, in cost and service delivery.

The fare box of ACTION Buses provides only 20% of its funding, and that amount has been declining as patronage declines. If we want that revenue to increase, it needs to come from full fare paying adult passengers that commute every day. Light rail is a proven way to increase public transport patronage. This has been recently demonstrated by Gold Coast light rail.

Light rail is proven to attract and increase public transport patronage, and is cheaper to operate over the longer term than buses. When a truly integrated public transport system exists, public transport use rises and road congestion decreases. In Canberra public transport use has decreased and road congestion increased.  Buses alone cannot serve our current or future public transport needs.

The other claim of the anti public transport forces is that light rail is unaffordable. They quote the total project cost of $930 million and fulminate about this cost. They invent a fictional cost of $1.8 billion.

They don’t tell you that this will be paid over 20 years. That the actual cost to the ACT is $65 million a year, for twenty years. That this is how most infrastructure assets are paid for. They realise this figure is affordable, and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Paying for light rail over twenty years is the same way that we all pay for a home when we seek a mortgage. Few of us are in the position of paying for a home from the money we earn this year. It is the sensible way to acquire any asset. 

Where is this money coming from then?

The majority of the money to pay for light rail will come from selling assets such as ACTTAB and old public housing stock. These assets aren’t leaving the ACT; they have transferred ownership and the money is being reinvested in the ACT.

New public housing of better quality is being built to house the tenants that are relocating, and this is part of a long-term program to improve public housing stock. No tenant will be homeless as a result, and will certainly be rehoused in better quality housing than the rundown housing along Northbourne Avenue. 

Recycling these assets is a very successful way to fund new public transport infrastructure, spark urban renewal along a tired corridor and rehouse public tenants in better quality housing. The benefits transcend public transport and benefit several areas of our economy such as employment and construction.

The asset recycling program has already raised  $400 million of the expected $930 million before the first payment to the Canberra Metro consortium is required (in 2018, the first year of light rail operations). The Federal Liberal government has also contributed $66 million towards this project, as it is seen as a way to boost productivity.  

The rest of the money for light rail will come from the ACT Government via General Government Service revenue totalling around $5.1 billion in 2016/17. Commonwealth Grants are over 40% of this $5.1 billion, our rates less than 20% at $447 million. Interestingly the amount received from payroll tax was almost identical to the amount received from rates, yet I have never heard anyone complain that payroll tax is increasing to pay for light rail.

If we can’t pay for $65 million a year for 20 years out of $5.1 billion dollars a year (in 2016 terms), we are in bigger trouble than cancelling light rail will solve. It is a small one percent of our annual budget that is entirely manageable and a sound investment in our future. Most people’s car payments are greater than 1 percent of their annual income.

The selfish argument that light rail will only benefit a small percentage of the population is also false. Gungahlin’s population will be at 100 thousand within ten years. Based on ABS statistics from the 2011 census, the corridor for light rail Stage One that takes in much of North Canberra, has 9% of Canberra’s population within one kilometre of the light rail line.

That doesn’t take into account the population of Woden or the Inner South of Canberra that would benefit from the Stage Two extension. That doesn’t take into account the people that would catch one of the more frequent integrated bus services to a light rail station. That doesn’t take into account those that will use the free ‘Park and Ride’ instead of paying around ten dollars a day to park their car in Civic or the Parliamentary Triangle.

It is also selfish and disingenuous to object to public funds being spent in areas that don’t directly benefit the individual. You may never need to use a sewage pipe in Theodore, but the greater public of Canberra benefit from a sewerage system. Public transport and road infrastructure are exactly the same.

Public infrastructure is for the general use and benefit of us all. Schools and hospitals are expensive to construct and staff, but no one objects to publicly funded health service or schools, even if we haven’t used them in years. They may be used by friends or loved ones, or ourselves at some point in the future.

No one uses every road in the ACT. However we all contribute to the funding and construction of these roads. People in Canberra’s north may never use the Monaro Highway, but they appreciate and understand how these roads benefit people in other areas of Canberra, including friends and family. Light rail stage one and stage two are no different. 

Finally, let us look at your rates. The ACT Government went to the 2012 Assembly election with a range of taxation reform measures. It proposed removing stamp duty and inequitable taxes and slowly increasing rates. In the face of a concerted ‘your rates will triple’ campaign from the Canberra Liberals, the public returned the Government.

It was a courageous election policy, so courageous that Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has supported it, and described the political difficulty in securing this type of taxation reform as ‘ten out of ten’. It is a taxation reform that almost all economists recommend other states adopt; yet they lack the political will to attempt it. 

Our taxation reform is designed to ensure a predictable income stream buffered from the stamp duty property boom and bust cycle. Stamp duty has been reduced; eventually it will be removed altogether. There have also been cuts to insurance taxes, car taxes and payroll taxes.

This provides a more predictable stream of income that prevents slashing services in years when stamp duty income suffers from a real estate ‘bust’ period. No one likes paying bills, and no one likes rates increasing, but they would also complain and be materially impacted if services had to be cut if the real estate market collapsed

The ‘triple your rates’ campaign ran in 2012 is again being run by the Opposition, although as the tripling didn’t occur, they are now referring to rates increases as ‘unfair’. Yes our rates will steadily increase. Stamp duty elimination is only a part of that. Rates are also increasing as our home values increase.

Note that the fear campaign doesn’t have a promise of reversing taxation reform and reintroducing the inherently illogical stamp duty grab.

The real issue for this election campaign is this - are the increases in rates related to light rail? No. 

Categorically they are not. As shown earlier, rates are less than 20% of our total budget. Light rail is not being paid for from your rates. To suggest that rates will increase to pay for light rail is a deceptive fear campaign not based on any evidence.

When light rail begins operation, the ACT Government will pay the private operator an annual fee to operate the light rail service and pay the balance of the construction cost. In twenty years, the consortium operating light rail on our behalf will hand the asset back to the ACT government, and we will have a workforce and administration with the experience to manage the network. 

The annual payment to the Canberra Metro consortium will be $65 million or 1% of our current annual budget. In 2036 that $65 million will be a fraction of the annual budget of the ACT. Recall that the Commonwealth Grants totalled $5.1 billion dollars.

Funds used for major projects are usually raised through asset sales, Commonwealth Grants and borrowings. That is what is happening in the ACT. We aren’t paying for light rail from your rates, and they aren’t increasing to pay for light rail.

When you look at all slices of the budget pie, 1% is not much compared to 56%. There may be room for reform and productivity savings in the ACT Health and education sectors; and this would bring about far greater benefits on the front line of services than taking the 1% allocated for light rail and having to endure the future costs associated with road congestion and the drag on productivity that this would result in.

The case stacks up for light rail.

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

If a tree falls on Northbourne Avenue, is light rail to blame?

On the afternoon of 4 October 2016 a severe storm cell swept over Canberra. The local SES reported 116 incidents they attended, mainly due to damage from trees.

This photo is of a eucalyptus tree on Northbourne Avenue, across two lanes of traffic. We can only hope that the tree didn't cause any injuries or damage a persons car when it fell.

Many of the existing eucalyptus trees along Northbourne Avenue are diseased or unsuitable for urban locations, due to a propensity to drop limbs without warning. When light rail construction is finished, the trees that have been removed will be replaced with around 1000 more than there are now.

These trees fall over constantly. They would need replacement, even if light rail wasn't being built.

See also: Northbourne Avenue trees and light rail - facts not fiction

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

Vote for Light Rail signs

With the 2016 Assembly Election in full campaign mode, members of ACT Light Rail donated enough money to buy signs to demonstrate our support for light rail, and the candidates that are campaigning for better public transport.

Although we have only a few thousand of these signs, any light rail supporter can print their own sign and display it. The files are roughly 600x900mm in size when printed, but you can print them at whatever size you desire to display in your home, office or car window. All signs carry appropriate authorisation to conform with the Electoral Act.

You can download them from here (click on links for the PDF files):

Vote for Light Rail
Light Rail and Hospitals - ACT Can do BOTH
Trapped in Traffic? Vote for Light Rail
Future Light Rail station here
Light rail for Belco makes sense
Light rail for Tuggers makes sense
Light rail for Woden makes sense

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