04 October 2012

The Age: "Too much transport talk - action required"

The Premier must deliver on his public transport
promise according to The Age.

THE AGE THE mayhem on Melbourne's roads yesterday gives us all cause to pause and ponder the city's transport systems tomorrow and beyond. The community's vulnerability to transport disruptions was underscored when a computer glitch sparked the closure of the Domain and Burnley tunnels near the city centre.
The cost in lost work hours from that one event would be in the millions of dollars. So, in analysing arguments for investment in various transport projects, it is vital to weigh the productivity implications of inadequate infrastructure. Over longer periods, the numbers become enormous; it is estimated Melbourne road congestion costs the economy about $3 billion a year right now, a figure tipped to rise to $6 billion annually by 2020.
The Age has long advocated greater investment in, and reliance on, public transport. It is the optimal option in a metropolis with a rapidly rising population - it is forecast to surge from 4.1 million today to close to 6 million in 25 years.
Public transport is relatively easy to scale up; more trains and trams can be deployed on the existing rails, buses can be added to existing routes and new bus routes can be readily created. In the medium term, new tram and train lines can be created.
Public transport has a smaller environmental impact than private cars, an increasingly important consideration for many commuters.
Further, public transport, as numerous sophisticated cities around the world have demonstrated, is safer, quicker and more convenient for many trips, particularly close to city centres.
Yesterday's tedious difficulties on Melbourne's roads came as former premier Jeff Kennett, not exactly known while in office for his championing of investment in communal transport, floated the notion that Victoria's most pressing infrastructure need is a network of underground railways. At the very same time, one of Mr Kennett's successors as head of the Victorian Liberal Party's parliamentary team, current lord mayor Robert Doyle, pledged that if re-elected to the top of town hall, he would trial a free weekday ferry service on the Yarra.
Mr Kennett might be right, although it would seem more likely that the most cost-effective way to augment public transport is via more overground infrastructure, rather than a metro system. Cr Doyle, too, might be on to something, although it would be good to see a more robust exploration of the potential of ferries, perhaps by trialling a service from Geelong or Mornington to the city.
What is most important is that the debates and analyses lead to action - and soon. One of the pivotal promises that led to Ted Baillieu being elected Premier of Victoria almost two years ago was to improve the public transport system. As far back as 2006, the former Victorian government commissioned Sir Rod Eddington, the chairman of Infrastructure Australia, to develop a transport plan. When he delivered that plan in 2008, he stressed a dualist approach; road and rail networks need to be extended and improved.
Yet six years on, and notwithstanding Mr Baillieu's pledge, there is little progress. The Baillieu government is moving towards central planning and control of transport by creating a Public Transport Development Authority, but little has been heard about what changes citizens might expect.
The Age's primary position remains constant - we believe public transport must be the priority for taxpayer-funded transport investment. But, as Mr Kennett showed to the benefit of the community, private investment and public-private partnerships are critical elements of any transport solution. Mr Baillieu's government has a minimal majority. It gained power partly on transport promises, and risks losing it if it does not get on with curing congestion. If it does not help voters better get from A to B, they could well send it on a historic ride to obscurity.

What do you think of the Baillieu governments progress on public transport and transport overall?

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