Thursday, March 31, 2016

Chief Ministers 2016 State of the Territory speech focuses on innovation, light rail and transport

Chief Minister Andrew Barr made his  'State of the Territory' Speech today. It was quite wide ranging, with a theme of 'Ambition and Advantage' with innovation at its core. These are excerpts of his comments on light rail, integrated transport and autonomous vehicles:

Introduction: Ambition and Advantage 

Today I want to talk with you about the ambition and advantage of Canberra. A year ago, at this event, I outlined my vision for the Territory as Chief Minister: a vision of Canberra taking control of its own future. A vision for a Canberra that relies on no one’s efforts but our own. One of the world’s most liveable and competitive cities – welcoming to all. And I outlined a plan to deliver on this vision:
By constructing a modern transport network; by creating a more economically self-reliant Canberra that drives job creation in emerging industries; and by conceiving of Canberra as a true “knowledge capital”, where our world-class universities have structural advantages over their Australian and international competitors.
We have made significant practical progress towards this ambition over the past year:

Light rail
For example, we are getting on with the city-defining project that will help Canberra avoid the productivity-crushing, and morale-destroying, traffic congestion that characterises most other Australian cities.
I spent some time here last year outlining the fundamental benefits that an efficient, reliable light rail system will deliver for the fastest-growing parts of Canberra, as well as driving economic growth and urban renewal along the corridor.
In the year since, we have finalised our comprehensive assessment of shortlisted bidders, and selected a world-class consortium including John Holland and Mitsubishi Corporation with Deutsche Bahn International as the operator.
That is a strong endorsement of our city in itself: these world-class partners have a proven international track record, and they want to do business here in Canberra.
The competitive nature of the procurement meant that costs have come in well under what we originally allowed for.
To put it in context, the total cost will be equivalent to less than one per cent of the ACT Budget over the next 20 years.
Comparatively speaking, for every dollar we’re budgeting for light rail, we’re investing $10 into our roads, footpaths and parks.
Just as we promised before the 2012 election, work will start this year – construction of the first stage will be completed in late 2018 – and operations will begin in early 2019 – sooner than previous estimates, meaning less disruption and faster access for Canberrans.
Simply, for a city the size of ours, at the stage of development we have reached, this is the right project, at the right time, at the right price.

Transport integration

Last year I also made the point that this project is part of an integrated public transport system for our city – essential now, and absolutely critical to Canberra’s ongoing success 20 years from now.
Since then the Government has released our Transport Improvement Plan and Light Rail Network Plan, which set out clearly how every Canberran benefits from a transport network that is convenient, reliable, affordable and efficient. It is mirrored by the Chamber’s Destination 2030’s support for an integrated transport network.
Work has begun. A single agency, Transport Canberra, will commence on 1 July to join the bus and light rail operations, our road network and walking and riding infrastructure.
Transport Canberra’s key deliverable is: one network, one ticket and one fare.
We must do this to achieve our future ambitions; and consolidate our current advantages.
If we want life in this city to keep its essential character, integrated public transport is an absolute must.
That will be our competitive advantage over every other major East Coast city.

I will be taking to the election a commitment to extend the light rail to the next stage. The Parliamentary triangle is an obvious extension, and beyond that the airport is very, very close.

Autonomous vehicles

And it’s why we are pursuing opportunities in semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles. We recognise the mobility and growth benefits that will flow from attracting one or more of the major players to Canberra.
Autonomous vehicles are not a mass transit solution and they are not the solution to congestion. But they are a very promising complement to strong public transport networks and will give mobility to those who need it most, which will make our city even more inclusive.
That’s why we have been engaging with the main players in this space – companies like Google and Tesla – to see what structures they need, so that we have the best idea of future advances before we move to develop a particular regulatory regime. That approach worked for ridesharing in the ACT, and it will work for this technology too.
ACT companies, such as Seeing Machines, are also at the forefront of technology supporting autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles with the work they are doing here and with overseas research partners.

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

Canberra Liberals bus only transport policy - is it an election winning vision?

1960's bus photo to match a 1960's bus only public transport reality

The Canberra Liberals released their long awaited response to the Capital Metro light rail master plan today. It is called 'Canberra's Transport Future', and is bus only. This is the transport policy that the Canberra liberals hope will win them the october 2016 Assembly election.

The Canberra Times reported on it here and here.

That this public transport policy comes six months out from an election is a sign that after 25 years of self-government, the Canberra Liberals have finally realised that people do care about public transport. Previous Liberal public transport policies have been released days from elections, when people have already decided on their vote. At the 2008 Assembly election, the Canberra Liberals were very keen on light rail. In the face of an actual light rail system being delivered, they have doubled down on more buses and cancelling light rail contracts (an act described as economic lunacy by the federal Liberal government). 

Before looking at the policy details the big picture needs to be examined. It just won’t work. It is that simple. Canberra has grown beyond the point when a bus only public transport system will suffice. Canberra will have a population exceeding half a million people in less than twenty years, and will continue to grow. If the aim is to get people onto public transport, the new policy won’t achieve that. More bus services sounds great, but the new plan while having some appealing features, won’t provide the infrastructure that Canberra needs for a growing city. Many of the improvements to the bus fleet and network are improvements that are already planned by the Government and ACTION.

The new Liberal policy is really a short term election winning policy. It isn’t a vision. This plan might help for a few years, it may solve some short term complaints about frequency and no public transport to the Airport, but our long term future is light rail. Light rail brings carrying capacity benefits, will attract Transit Oriented Development, will assist the change to a medium and high density future, will guide urban renewal, will attract tourism, will contribute to a reduction in climate change emissions, reduce road congestion, increase public transport patronage and change the way we travel around our city. No longer will a family have to be a two car (or more) family. Better public transport will change our lives and our city for the better.

While the Liberal policy has some appealing features, such as the same route numbering 7 days a week, and expanded late night services, it is a short term plan and seriously underestimates the demand that the increased population will make on transport services. While this plan may not lead to increased public transport use, it will lead to more road congestion.

Let us look at the policy in detail. The Canberra Liberals are promising (from ‘Canberra Transport Future’):

"Eight Rapid routes: six new bus routes across Canberra.
A new Parkway Express route: linking Canberra Hospital and Woden Bus Station to Calvary Hospital and Belconnen Bus Station.
The introduction of non-stop services, ‘X’ routes: to make travelling in peak hours even faster.
A seven day bus network: the same bus routes operating the same services, seven days a week.
Late night services every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night: giving party goers and shift workers a truly safe and economical transport option home.
Summer services: during the summer months, more services to suit the active lifestyle of the season.
Make bus routes faster: by reducing circuitous bus routes in Gungahlin, Tuggeranong and Belconnen.
Introduction of additional Weston Creek to City routes.
Airport services: finally bridge the gap between the airport and the City.
We will keep every bus stop: there will be no reduction in access to services in suburban areas.
Colour coded routes and buses: a fleet of new Rapid buses will be colour coded to reflect the routes they operate including colour matching bus stations, signage, way-finding and timetable information.
Introduction of a simplified frequent timetable with the ambition of being timetable free.
Additional cashless buses: to reduce boarding delays and speed up travel times.
Real time upgrade: create ‘moving dots’ to see actual locations of buses, provide more real time information and push more information to customers across the network using on-board information systems, transport websites, mobile apps and social media.
‘Friday free’ for nine rides or more in a week: we will reward loyal customers who travel with us by offering free travel after eight paid journeys are completed.
Enable MyWay for other purchases: consultation with convenience stores, caf├ęs and other merchants regarding accepting MyWay cards as a form of payment.
100% accessible and air-conditioned bus fleet: to ensure that ACTION is striving towards full compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and to ensure that passengers are travelling in a pleasant environment.
Prioritise the bus network: ensure that our buses and bus stations are reliable and are a first priority when roadworks and major community gatherings are being planned.
Stadium transport: upgrade infrastructure to make travelling to Canberra Stadium and Manuka Oval an easier and more attractive option.
Accessible Canberra: implement a wayfinding system to help passengers navigate our public spaces and find the closest transport services.
A great customer experience: a commitment to putting passengers first through a walk-in centre for bus information and ticket sales in the City and deploying roving customer service ambassadors to help passengers on the network.
Commitment to intersection jump-starts: plan and construct slip lanes as well as priority phasing for buses at traffic lights.
Kiss & Ride facilities: to provide additional locations for easy and safe drop-off locations across the network.
New fit-out for buses: introduction of high capacity four-door articulated buses on Rapid routes to deliver efficiency and elegance. We will also look to bring bikes on board buses so that people can quickly board and depart.
Local technology and innovation budget: making funds available to locals to contribute their great ideas to help make Canberra a truly smart and innovate transport city.
Intelligent transport systems: including signalisation, variable speed limits and other technologies.
Electric buses: undertake a trial to see if electric buses are suitable for Canberra.
Major Bus Station Infrastructure:
improvements to paths, lighting, shelters and security, and mid-to-long-term improvements to the design of the infrastructure.
Audit of bus stops:
to ensure that they are accessible for people of all abilities.
New northside bus depot:
the establishment of an additional facility to serve a growing city.
Creating attractive sheltered bus stops: new super stops and shelters at all Rapid bus stops with all weather shielding and heating, real time information displays as well as detailed way-finding, static passenger information and maps.
Publish performance data and monitor the network: we want everyone to know how the system is functioning. We will also establish a transport service control centre to coordinate the daily running of the bus network with input from the road services group and emergency services.
Possible statutory authority: to enable ACTION to become accountable for its expenditure and service delivery."

That is the list of promises that the Canberra Liberals are making in their bus only policy. Three thoughts occur immediately.
  • Many of the improvements they are proposing are already going to happen under the current governments plans,
  • How much will the really bold proposals like 7 to 15 minute frequency on all routes really cost? That would require a doubling or tripling f the current fleet,
  • Many of the proposals are short term only. The need for light rail will still exist.

ACTION Fleet renewal is already occurring, and will continue. Electric buses have already been flagged as a desirable addition (and almost certainly a long term replacement over decades) to the fleet. The implementation of Apps and software services to make route selection and travel planning easier has already occurred, and will only get better.

How much will this all cost? The Canberra Liberals say that:
“This proposal is an economical solution that is suited to Canberra and will deliver world class public transport services and facilities for all parts of our wonderful city. Through the combined cost of ACTION's current budget and the cost of operating the Capital Metro government department, we can deliver this network.” 

Clearly this isn’t possible. Expanding the frequency of all routes to operate at 7 to 15 minute frequency would mean that the plan to increase the ACTION fleet from 410 buses to 460 buses (by leasing 50 buses) simply wont be enough, it’s a mathematical impossibility. The Liberals claim this can be achieved by combining the Capital Metro operating budget, and the current ACTION budget (a total of around $160 million) and using that money. It defies common sense.

Setting aside the inability to actually pay for the policy, let us assume it is implemented as promised. The proposals may assist in the short term at making local bus services better, but they wont address the conditions that have led to the need for light rail. Yes local bus services need to improve, yes there needs to be higher frequency, but to cancel light rail and hope that the bus only transport plan will get Canberrans out of their cars and into public transport is wishful thinking.

Much of the debate around Capital Metro Stage One has been on capacity, and the claim that buses can achieve what light rail can. The alternative to Light Rail is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). That is buses travelling on their own right of way. This new policy doesn’t mention that at all, so it is more buses on the same roads. Buses are limited in their passenger carrying capacity; even the articulated buses only carry 150 people. The light rail vehicles Capital Metro will use can carry 220 people.

The best transport technology for mass transit in Canberra is light rail, with integrated bus services. Increase the frequency of local buses to feed light rail backbone. When Capital Metro commences operations in 219, one million bus kilometres will be available for allocation across the ACTION network. That will go a long way to increasing frequency on all other routes. As the light rail network expands to the Parliamentary Triangle, Woden, Belconnen and Tuggeranong, all those buses doing intertown work can be reallocated to the suburban local services.

Capital Metro light rail will bring about a dramatic change in Canberra, not only in public transport use, but also in reshaping Canberra for the future. As it has on the Gold Coast, public transport patronage will increase dramatically with light rail. Or, we can go back to the past on a bus only network that Canberrans continue to walk away from, or should I say drive away from, as they choose the private car over public transport.

The electorate now has two visions of our future to choose from at the October election, a Canberra wide light rail master plan with expanded integrated local bus services, to be implemented over 25 years or a bus only system with expanded frequency.

Is the Canberra liberals policy an election wining vision? No, it isn't. The Canberra electorate have already voted for light rail and an integrated expanded bus system. A bus only system offers no long term benefits. 

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

Canberra Liberals April Fools Day joke scooped by Canberra Times

Canberra Liberals release bus only transport plan one day early... April Fools day is tomorrow!

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Russell light rail extension delayed until after October election as part of expanded Stage Two

The extension of Capital Metro Stage One from Civic to Russell has been talked about by the ACT Government for well over a year now, with engineering studies performed and a cost to construct figure sought from the Canberra Metro consortium. A formal announcement that the extension will proceed has been expected.

In a move widely believed to be aimed at securing Federal funding as part of a wider extension to Stage Two of Capital Metro, the Russell extension has now been rolled into Stage Two, instead of an extension to Stage One.

Today the ACT Government indicated that it would wait until after the October 2016 Assembly election before proceeding with the Russell extension. On WIN News the Chief Minister Andrew Barr said "We are expanding our thinking in the context of stage two of the light rail project and we look forward to making a further announcement on that closer to the election". 

The second stage that initially was to run from Civic to Russell now forms part of a post-election Stage Two expansion, possibly taking in the Parliamentary Triangle and/or the Airport, and the crossing of Lake Burley Griffin.

It is a brilliant piece of politics by the ACT Government.

By putting Capital Metro Stage Two to the public, post-election there will exist a clear and unequivocal mandate from the public to proceed with further light rail extensions. It also shifts the debate from defending Stage One to positive campaigning about light rail expansion and improvement to public transport in Canberra.

With the willingness of the Federal government to assist with urban public transport infrastructure there could be a convergence of factors leading to further federal funding for Capital Metro (the Federal Government has contributed $60 million to Stage One as part of the Asset Recycling scheme).

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a proponent and user of urban public transport, and light rail in particular. His use of and support of light rail also shows the public the wide gap between the Canberra Liberals and the Federal Liberal government on public transport and infrastructure priorities.

In announcing the delay of a formal announcement of an extension to Stage One, Chief Minister Barr said "People will be very clear when they come to vote in the territory election in October what our commitment to stage 2 of the project will be and what we would intend to deliver if the government were re-elected.""What's really exciting is there's an opportunity to go beyond Russell, to look at connections that are not just city to Russell but city to other major employment centres in our city, particularly potentially the parliamentary triangle or other locations ... the airport or university."

ACT Light Rail await the announcement of Stage Two keenly.

The joint press release from Chief Minister Andrew Barr and MLA Simon Corbell:

Russell to be considered as part of stage two of light rail network

The ACT Government will consider an extension of the light rail network to the Russell defence precinct as part of a second stage of light rail in Canberra after the next election.
In the meantime, the Government will progress with delivering its 2012 election commitment to build the City to Gungahlin stage of the network. Work will start this year and be complete in 2018-19, in line with our 2012 election commitment.
Just as we sought and were given a mandate for the first stage of the network, we will seek a second mandate at the 2016 ACT election for the next stage.
It is encouraging that now both sides of Federal politics back urban rail project and with the Commonwealth the major landowner, employer and beneficiary of a future stage of light rail we will continue to engage with the Commonwealth Government.
Taking into consideration the light rail master planning work and community consultation that the government is currently undertaking we will make further announcements closer to the election about the next stage of the light rail network under a re-elected Labor government.
Minister for Capital Metro Simon Corbell said Russell would be strongly considered, alongside other options, in the next stage of Canberra’s city-wide light rail network.
“Our preferred proponent, the Canberra Metro consortium, has provided an excellent bid for stage one from City to Gungahlin and the government is acting now to secure this excellent deal for the people of Canberra.
“We have always said the City to Gungahlin was just the first stage of a city-wide light rail network and the work that has been done to develop a future extension from City to Russell confirmed that.
“Canberra deserves a world-class public transport system and a Labor government will take the next step in making that happen by building on the base we have put in place with stage one and progressively extending the system across Canberra.”
In line with the 2012 election commitment, contracts are due to be completed for stage one in May or June with significant early infrastructure works beginning immediately.  The project is being delivered cheaper and faster than estimated by the government and will deliver about 3500 jobs during construction. Canberra Metro has committed to 90% of its workforce being acquired locally.
“ACT Labor took stage one from Gungahlin to City to the last election with a plan to secure a Public Private Partnership to start construction by 2016,” Mr Corbell said.
“Having delivered on that election commitment we will be in a position to make a new commitment to extend light rail to even more Canberrans.

“While stage one tackles the ACT’s most congested corridor it is has always just been the first stage of a light rail network that will service all of Canberra. Before the next election, we will detail the next stage of the light rail network.”

The Canberra Times reported on the announcement here.

WIN Canberra report from March 22

ABC TV Canberra report from March 22

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