Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Adam Butler: " public transport is a must"

The Public Transport Bandwagon

In Sydney, over the last few months, something has been built. It isn’t something you can touch or something you can see, but nevertheless it now exists. It is the Public Transport Bandwagon. More and more influential people are starting to get on board the bandwagon and the media are even starting to look forward (for a change).

There have been countless studies, submissions and reports into the transport chaos that exists in Sydney. In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, Ross Gittens suggested that “at our behest, successive state governments have been pursuing a magnificent dream, to make Sydney a place fit for cars to be driven on all occasions.” I don’t think for a moment that this is an accurate statement. None of my friends, colleagues or acquaintances have ever suggested the notion that building more roads would fix things. It is a stupid notion. I think that successive governments have been lobbied by powerful interest groups year after year and they have won. It is well know that the Roads & Traffic Authority (a government organisation) is a very powerful force and what interest would they have in promoting public transport? I am not suggesting that they are alone, groups such as the NRMA, Linfox, Taxi Council, Transurban, Trucking Association all give “donations” to the major political parties and this buys influence.

As far back as 2001 Ron Christie (former head of State Rail) has been raising alarm bells. He warned “the system is rapidly approaching gridlock”. The state government’s lack of vision, and its inability to commit to a long-term plan for transport is a critical failing that threatens the state’s future. Mr Christie’s landmark 2001 report envisioned new rail links to the north-west and south-west growth centres, and, most importantly, a second line through the city and under the harbour, eliminating congestion on the network for decades. This line “will be essential”, his report found, by between 2011 and 2015. It’s already 2010!

I have mentioned in previous posts that Australia’s productivity commission estimates traffic congestion in Sydney will cost the economy $8billion within a few years. It is so serious that even the PM has weighed in on state affairs.

It is no secret that I am a passionate advocate of free public transport. Evidence overseas suggests that free public transport will halve (at least) congestion, significantly decrease traffic accidents and their associated health and insurance costs, put money back into people’s pockets to keep the economy ticking over and last but definitely not least, reduce air borne pollution by huge amounts.

It is VERY unfortunate, now that the public transport bandwagon is built, that none of the occupants of the bandwagon have even mentioned the notion of free public transport. Instead they speak of “an integrated fare and ticketing system” as if that will be the draw card for people. In Victoria, the government has spent over $1billion on a new “integrated” ticketing system that will cost millions to run each year. In NSW the government has spent well over $100million on a FAILED system and will need to start from scratch. My argument is and will always be, why spend so much money and resources on funding a system that can only ever retrieve way less than a third of the cost of running the system. This is made even more ridiculous when you consider that free public transport will save these amounts. At the same time it will improve the state’s productivity and boost economic activity via people spending more and attracting businesses to the state. There would be countless unforeseen benefits such as people catching a (free) train to regional areas and thereby increasing regional tourism.

I truly believe, with all the logic I can muster, that free public transport is a must. There will be naysayers who will bag such a notion but that is because they cannot see we live in a system of interaction where positive changes will flow through society. Surely this is worth all the money in the world.

Adam Butler, Sydney - 'Be the change you want to be' [17 February 2010]


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