Friday, September 30, 2016

Don’t wait for driverless cars - build light rail now

The autonomous car
Light rail has already started construction in the first stage of what will be a Canberra wide network. This will transform our city and change our culture over time, from a car-centric society where each family needs to have at least two cars, to a place where public transport is easily accessible, frequent and reliable.

Opponents of better public transport are largely drawn from the 93% of Canberrans who don’t use it now, and can’t see why they should have to pay for it. They are used to driving everywhere and parking at the door for free. That is what it was like when they arrived in Canberra in the 1970’s and they can’t understand why it needs to change.

Canberra is changing. The Y Plan was of its time and followed current planning trends, but the NCDC is not a religion and logic needs to be applied to future planning. Some elements of the Burley Griffin vision were adopted, others weren’t. Some elements of the Y Plan have been successful, others not. The current trend of a family home having not one or two cars, but four or more in the driveway is a trend the Y Plan fostered, that cannot continue.

Parking is no longer free, and the vast free car parks of Civic and our Town Centres are no longer there. Free car parking in the Parliamentary Triangle no longer exists. As our city matures, those vast spaces are being replaced with buildings that are of greater economic use than having a car sit on them for eight hours or more a day.

Buses in Canberra once coped admirably with the task assigned; yet as the Y Plan stretched to Tuggeranong and Gungahlin, a bus trip became long and circuitous. We asked ACTION to be both a local bus service and a mass transit provider. It has struggled with this dual task, and under varying management and union approaches, it has seen patronage trend down as private car use soars.

At the same time, the intertown routes are at capacity. On some routes the buses sail past people, as they are full. Clearly a better approach needs to be adopted, and in 2012 the ALP and Greens went to an election with light rail as that better approach. 

In 2016 light rail construction has started. Over time a network will link Canberra and encourage greater public transport use, better planning around transport corridors and decrease road congestion.

If you could travel in comfort to work every day, why would you drive? Wouldn’t you rather sit and read, or rest instead of wait in a traffic jam and then spend fifteen minutes looking for expensive parking? 

Opponents of light rail talk up a bus only solution, yet it is obvious that more of the same will deliver us, well, more of the same. More buses wont lead to greater public transport use or encourage Transit Oriented Development. More buses on the roads wont reduce road congestion either. Not on Northbourne, and not anywhere else.

They also claim autonomous cars will suddenly emerge from labs and become the panacea to the private car, and miraculously reduce the need for mass transit. While this technology may eventually become practical, it isn’t now and not for the foreseeable future. Even if it was, it really only replaces one car for another, and a robot car going home and returning twice a day doubles road congestion instead of reducing it.
14,000 Raiders fan leave Bruce Stadium and have to wait for 14.000 autonomous cars
The biggest flaw in the self-driving car dream is what happens when fourteen thousand Raiders fans exit Bruce stadium after a victory? Or when the Department of Inland Drainage closes down at 5.30PM and eleven hundred employees walk out the door at once? Which person’s car arrives to pick them up first? Where do they queue?

We replace traffic jams with driverless traffic jams. Driverless cars are not a mass transit solution. They are a part of a larger transport picture with multiple solutions to multiple demands.

Light rail offers passenger capacity beyond current buses, with 220 people able to be carried in a single light rail vehicle.  When light rail service commences, over a million bus kilometers a year will be freed up to increase frequency of local bus services.

Your once an hour bus service in Kaleen could become once every half hour or better. As each light rail stage rolls out, the integration of bus and light rail becomes better, and service becomes more frequent and more reliable.

Driverless cars and buses alone cannot provide these future options. We need to support the politicians that have invested enormous political capital in our future, by recognising that the Canberra of the past has changed, and we need to let that change happen in a planned way.  

A version of this article was published in City News on 2 Oct 2016

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

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Your rates aren't rising to pay for light rail

Your rates aren't rising to pay for light rail. Taxation reform introduced following the 2012 election has seen inefficient taxes removed and stamp duty start to be phased out. Rates and land tax has risen as a result. The reasons for taxation reform are that the ACT requires a reliable revenue stream, and the stamp duty income is heavily dependent upon land sales and real estate booms.

These articles explain this quite well:

The idea to eliminate stamp duty was the result of best practice, non-partisan recommendations from taxation specialists, primarily the Quinlan review. Read the ACT Taxation Review from May 2012 here.  

Rates are also increasing because of our compounding capital and maintenance costs of the city's infrastructure, namely roads, sewerage and draining systems, electrical distribution network, telecommunications, waste management, parks and gardens upkeep, etc. 

This ever expanding infrastructure liability, spread over a very low density taxation base, i.e. Ratepayers, means that each of us has a bigger and bigger bill as we spread our suburbs further into the surrounding countryside.

Light rail and its associated land use relationship is proven to actively combat the problem of suburban sprawl. Making use of already existing infrastructure and attracting development within the established urban footprint it will increase the taxation base such that Canberra will be more than able to afford future infrastructure capital and maintenance liabilities.

Plus, with the uncoupling of the city's reliance on stamp duty as a source of income, we can also combat suburban sprawl by not being reliant on the sale of land to fund these things.

The two graphs below illustrate two things:
  • That light rail is a small component of the ACT Budget
  • That there is no possible way that rates increases are driven by light rail in the context of all other government spending

But aren't our rates skyrocketing? There is no question that peoples rates are increasing. They have not tripled. No ones rates have tripled. Increases have been due to stamp duty reduction and the associated increase in rates, and the increase in your property value since 2012. As property values increase, so will your rates. 

This graphic from the Riot Act demonstrates this well.

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Public transport policies in the 2016 ACT Election

ACT Light Rail have a page with all the public transport policies of the competing major parties, for the 2016 Election.

It is here:

If we have missed a policy announcement, please email [email protected]

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

Candidates in the 2016 Election

ACT Light Rail have a page with all the pro light rail candidates competing at the 2016 Election.

It is here:

If we have missed a pro light rail candidate, please email [email protected]

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Canberra Liberals Northbourne Avenue bus-lane policy arrives with a thud

The proposal by the Canberra Liberals for widening Northbourne Avenue and slicing the median strip in half, to accommodate bus lanes is a very poorly thought out idea. A disappointing policy in many areas. It fails on transport, planning and economic grounds. Not only does it fail to address current road congestion and public transport problems especially those in Gungahlin, it adds to them. Extra road lanes will inevitably be filled with more cars. 

The proposal released today to a resoundingly unenthusiastic thud is Option One from their December 2015 options announcement. See "1995 faxes bus plan to Canberra Liberals" here.

The proposal will fail because buses are already at capacity on the Gungahlin to Civic route, and there is little ability to add more buses. That is one reason that light rail has been chosen. Each bus carries 70 people, each light rail vehicle carries 220 people.

For years the Canberra Liberals have been telling us that light rail wasn't needed because bus rapid transit was cheaper, and could do the same job. They also said that bus rapid transit wasn't simply bus
lanes. Yet that is what today's bus lane announcement is.

The Canberra Liberals have also admitted we will need light rail 'down the track'. By widening Northbournes road surface and slicing the median strip in half - where exactly will light rail go down
Northbourne under this plan?

Will we sacrifice the Northbourne median strip to asphalt and concrete only to rip it up again in 20 or 30 years years? It is a very poor approach to planning. As to the idea that the median strip of Northbourne can simply be eaten away for more roads - It is doubtful the NCA would sign off on that. 

When asked by the Canberra Timesthe NCA responded"Any alternative proposal for transport options for this main avenue ... would be rigorously assessed in accordance with the provisions of the [National Capital] Plan ..
"The NCA supports improvements to Canberra's public transport system and any sustainable initiative that increases accessibility to central Canberra. The NCA considers that a complementary mix of transport modes that supports workers and visitors being able to easily move around the national capital should be the desired goal."

The Canberra Liberals also claim that no trees will be lost. That is simply not realistic. Cutting the median strip in half will lead to tree loss. Trying to appeal to people by deceiving them is a low point in territory politics.

Under this plan we lose the trees, we lose the median strip, we lose the bicycle lanes. We get more roads, and more cars.

None of the alleged bus time savings will be realised as bus services on that corridor are at capacity now. The proposed bus lanes - and not bus rapid transit mind you - are only on Northbourne, not the whole corridor. As traffic on Flemington increases, what happens? They are building in a traffic bottleneck. 

This proposal doesn't solve any transport problems, and will only lead to further traffic congestion and decreased public transport use. It also erodes any TOD benefits and land value capture that will accrue from light rail. 

Any cost savings from tearing up the light rail contract and building bus lanes are illusory. The premise that the light rail consortium will simply build a road instead is deceptive. The penalty for breaking the contract at 300m plus needs to be factored into any of these claims of cost saving. 

This bus lane policy is one of the most poorly thought out policies the Canberra Liberals have produced. If this plan eventuates, then we lose the opportunity to re-engineer our city for the next century. Instead we will continue to be stuck with 20th century road oriented city planning. We deserve better. We deserve light rail.

The Liberal bus lane policy

 The Canberra Times reported on the policy "ACT Liberals plan to widen Northbourne Avenue with two bus lanes plus a bike lane down the middle" here. 

"A Liberal government would build a wide bike lane down the middle of Northbourne Avenue and a bus lane down either side, carving five metres out of the median strip to fit the extra lanes.
"...Alistair Coe said the Northbourne work would cost up to $58 million with a generous contingency.

"He said about 2.5 metres would be taken from each side of the centre strip on the main gateway road. That would reduce the width of the Northbourne median from about 27 metres to about 22 metres."

"The extra road space would create enough room, when combined with the current kerbside bike lane, for four southbound and four northbound lanes of traffic on Northbourne Avenue from Barry Drive to Antill Street. One lane in each direction, adjacent to the kerb, would be a dedicated bus lane, with bus bays where possible."

"Mr Coe said the bus lane was expected to bring travel times for a non-stop bus from the Gungahlin centre to the city at peak hour down to 18 minutes, and 30 minutes from any suburb of Gungahlin.
The central bike path would be three metres wide, and run all the way from the Gungahlin town centre to the city through the middle of the median. The bike lane would have its own lights, which would be phased with the traffic lights, allowing bikes to cross major intersections with the flow of traffic."
"Work would begin early if the Liberals were elected to government, and Mr Coe believed he could re-purpose the light rail consortium to do the Northbourne construction work."

"Mr Coe said he caught the bus from Gungahlin where he lives to the city at the peak morning time on Tuesday. It was not a non-stop service and was scheduled to take 28 minutes from the town centre. It took 31 minutes. Mr Coe believes his bus lane can knock as many as 10 minutes from the scheduled travel time."

"He also believes he can carve as many as 2.5 metres from each side of the median strip without affecting many of the Northbourne Avenue trees. He says there is space in the middle for the bike lane without having to cut down trees."

"Mr Coe said the Liberals would also redevelop the corridor, including the public housing, but not at the rate nor with the urgency of Labor. With no demand for large numbers of new apartments at the moment, the Liberals would be "far more strategic" about the corridor development, he said.
North of Antill Street and into Gungahlin, the Liberals would have just one south-bound bus lane. They would also build an extra traffic lane on each side of Flemington Rd and include lights to give buses priority at intersections."

Media responses

ABC Online reported on it here
Canberra Times reported on it here

WIN TV News Canberra broadcast this on 21 Sep 2016

ABC TV News Canberra broadcast this on 21 Sep 2016

Government responses to the bus lane plan

The response from the ACT Government has been spot on in identifying the flaws. Describing them as "un-costed" and "half-baked". Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris said.
"The travel times that they are proposing are simply untrue,"
"A 30-minute travel time from Bonner to the city is completely unrealistic, unless the Canberra Liberals have flying buses in mind, because they simply cannot deliver that.
"This is the first the Canberra community has seen of an alternative plan and it doesn't stack up. It's unaffordable and it will only lead to further congestion on Northbourne Avenue."

Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury said he was "staggered" by the decision to widen Canberra's main thoroughfare to eight lanes.
"I don't think many Canberrans would be really excited by the idea to make the road even wider," he said.

Transport Canberra and City Services Minister Meegan Fitzharris MLA issued the following media release: 

Libs will turn Northbourne Ave into concrete traffic jam at cost of hundreds of millions

The Canberra Liberals’ plan to concrete Northbourne Avenue will turn it into an eight-lane gridlocked highway, at a cost of hundreds of millions.

Concreting Northbourne Ave so more people can sit in a traffic jam would take the ACT backwards.

The plan announced today would allow for nothing more than a conga line of buses clogging up the city’s main entry road, which won’t even stop to pick up passengers along the route. It is a bandaid solution that will fix nothing but cost a fortune.

The proposal is poorly thought through, massively underfunded and excludes the $300 million cost to rip up the existing light rail contract. First they want to rip up the light rail contract and now they want to rip up Northbourne Ave to turn it into an eight-lane highway.  

The travel times floated are simply impossible, especially when the extra lane runs out at Flemington Road.

Their plan does nothing for Flemington Rd except add more congestion at its northern end, with their conga line of buses clogging it up. Labor's light rail will free up Flemington Road for all users. 

Today’s announcement also includes the ridiculous notion that an international light rail consortium would agree to lay concrete and build bike paths instead. It is like asking someone who is building your house to build you a car instead.

This morning the Liberals’ transport spokesman even admitted on ABC radio that their costing for concreting Northbourne Avenue was a guess.

The Liberals must immediately provide their ‘costings’ to Treasury to reveal the full cost of their plan, including cancelling the light rail contract.

They must also confirm that they have received NCA approval to concrete Northbourne Ave, with no hope of replanting any of the trees that would have to be removed.

As we celebrate opening our city to the world today through direct international flights, the Liberals are scurrying around trying to gridlock our city.

The Canberra Liberals have again demonstrated that they have no clue how to procure, manage or deliver large infrastructure projects.

ACT Labor's plan for an integrated transport network delivers a dedicated right of way for public transport, frees up the cycle lanes and the road network, reducing congestion  and improving travel times for everyone.

Statement ends 

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

Friday, September 2, 2016

Light rail Stage Two announced - Off to Woden we go

In its final Cabinet meeting before entering Caretaker period, the ACT Government has endorsed a Civic to Woden route for Stage Two of Canberra's light rail. by creating a north-south spine, the light rail network will stretch from Gungahlin to Woden. From this mass transit spine, frequent bus services will radiate out and increase public transport options for everyone.

By declaring a bold stage two of light rail, the ACT Government firmly indicates to all of Canberra that the light rail project will eventually reach their town centre. Crossing the lake and travelling through the Parliamentary Triangle are the two big factors that the rest of the network depend upon.

Future extensions to Tuggeranong, or even Queanbeyan are now extremely feasible. A Civic - Russell - Airport route would connect to a light rail network that travels to many national attractions and hotel/entertainment precincts. Going across the lake opens up the other routes from the Light Rail Network Plan for realistic implementation.

The ability of light rail to act as an urban renewal catalyst, as well as a tool to deal with road congestion and increase public transport patronage is well known, and the main reason Canberra chose light rail over BRT. This announcement is well timed, and politically savvy. It will appeal to voters in the South of Canberra and provides an overwhelmingly superior policy when compared to the Canberra Liberals bus only policy.

Civic - Parliamentary Triangle - Woden light rail Stage Two route
ABC Online reported:
"Stage two of Canberra's controversial light rail project will be extended to Woden if Labor is re-elected, the ACT Government says. The Government today announced the second stage of the tram line would join Civic and the Woden town centre. The announcement could counter concerns Capital Metro would only benefit a small area of Canberra, living between Gungahlin and the city centre.

The light rail project has a been a key election issue with the Opposition threatening to scrap the project. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the new plan would create a north-south public transport spine for Canberra from the first stage from Gungahlin to the second stage to Woden.

Mr Barr said the route was yet to be determined, with plans to be developed over the next parliamentary term. But the line is expected to run through the Parliamentary Triangle.
"There are of course the complications of getting over Lake Burley Griffin and the preferred route there is over Commonwealth Avenue Bridge," he said
"There may be some additional costs in getting south of the lake but, broadly speaking, we anticipate the costs to be similar to the costs of stage one."

Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury welcomed the announcement and said future extensions to the route were already in the works.
"By 2040 we expect thousands more people travelling from Woden towards the city in the morning peak and employment in the Parliamentary Triangle is expected to dramatically increase between now and 2041," he said."
Map of potential future light rail links across Canberra.
Potential light rail network map from October 2015
ACT Government Media Release 1 Sep 2016
Stage 2 announced for light rail
Woden to the City via the Parliamentary Triangle has been selected as the preferred route for the next stage of a Canberra’s city wide light rail network, connecting the north and south of our city, linking employment and cultural hubs and creating a public transport spine from Gungahlin to Woden.
This Cabinet decision follows extensive community consultation on the priority corridors for the next stage of light rail and preliminary investigations by the ACT Government.
Making Woden to the City via the Parliamentary Triangle the next stage of the light rail gives us a north-south spine for our public transport network, which rapid and local buses will feed into and from which we can extend into the next priority stages of the core light rail network: Belconnen, the Airport and further into the Parliamentary Triangle.
It will also continue the renewal of Woden, which is already being led by relocating more than 1000 ACT Government employees into the town centre.
Minister for Transport and City Services Meegan Fitzharris said connecting light rail all the way from Gungahlin to Woden would be a city-building project and would alleviate congestion across the north and south of Canberra.
“We have always said light rail would be a city-wide public transport project. Now that the first stage of light rail, from Gungahlin to the City, is under construction, we can consider where it will go next.
“We’ve consulted with the community, and with almost 210,000 Canberrans projected to live, work or study within one kilometre of the Woden corridor by 2041, it makes sense to extend light rail over the lake, through the Parliamentary Triangle and into the bustling Woden town centre.”
Planning Minister Mick Gentleman said:
“We need to start planning for the future growth of our city now. Identifying the next stage of the light rail route is vital if we want to continue to reduce congestion on our roads and give commuters a real choice to leave the car at home and take public transport.
“Extending light rail to Woden confirms the ACT Government’s vision and commitment to developing a city-wide light rail network starting with this north-south spine. It is all part of our plan to develop an integrated public transport network that is convenient, efficient, affordable and reliable – a genuine alternative to driving.”
Planning for the next stage of light rail will get underway in coming months.
Minister Shane Rattenbury said it was vital to keep momentum with the light rail network.
“Stage one, which links our fastest growing suburb to the CBD, is just the start. It is critical that we don’t stop now and the light rail network continues to grow as planned, serving more Canberrans. This next step is very important, and once we have the spine of the network running from Gungahlin in the north to Woden in the south in place, we will be in an excellent position to expand city-wide.”
The other priority corridors identified through community consultation were to Belconnen, the Airport and further into the Parliamentary Triangle. These will form the next stages of the city wide light rail network.

Statement ends.

The Australian Rail Association, the rail industry peak body released a statement in support f the Stage Two announcement.

ARA Welcomes ACT Light Rail Stage Two Announcement

The ARA congratulates the ACT Government on its announcement that City to Woden has been selected as the preferred route for Stage 2 of Canberra's Light Rail network.
With Stage 1 of the network connecting Canberra's fastest growing region - Gungahlin - with the city, it is an intuitive decision to further extend the light rail route into Canberra's southside across Commonwealth Bridge.
"Stage 2 from Civic to Woden will generate urban renewal, create jobs for Canberrans and realise a renewal of Woden town centre," said ARA CEO Danny Broad.
"Light Rail along the Woden corridor through the Parliamentary Triangle will ease congestion and is friendlier to the environment than continuing Canberra's reliance on motor vehicles.
"With more than 200,000 Canberrans projected to live or work within a kilometre of the Woden corridor by 2041, this Stage 2 decision is a vital link in Canberra'a broader Light Rail network that has future public transport needs at its heart.
"It is positive to see that an integrated approach to public transport is at the core of the ACT Government's planning for Canberra's future public transport needs.
"Buses, bicycle paths and parking will be smoothly integrated with Light Rail to ensure a safe, efficient and environmentally friendly transport network for our nation's capital.  
"Canberra's Light Rail network must also eventually extend to Belconnen in the north and Tuggeranong in the south and I call on the ACT Government to move quickly in announcing future stages, to ensure a continuity of associated works programs and to maintain community support," said Danny Broad.
Statement ends

The reaction to the announcement of a second stage of light rail from Civic to Woden has been overwhelmingly positive.

Transport Canberra Minister Meegan Fitzharris, WVCC's Martin Miler and ACT Light Rail Chair Damien Haas were interviewed on 666ABC radio on Friday Sep 2nd about the announcement.

Listen to the audio here.

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