Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Transport: Visions for a Sustainable Future

Held in the ironically-named 'BMW Edge' at Federation Square earlier tonight this gathering attended by about 400 provided a stage for various academics and lobbyists to say their bit on transport. Thanks to Transport Textbook for the notice.

Here's a quick summary from each of the speakers:

William Mitchell (MIT Design Lab) advocated electric micro-cars aimed to satisfy last-mile 'mobility on demand' that existing bus services generally do not.

Like Flexicar they turn car ownership on its head, with 'swipe and drive' one-way rental replacing full-time ownership. They provide an intermediate position between no and full car ownership. Stackable like shopping trolleys with kerbside recharging depots dotted around the inner suburbs and near railway stations. Unlike Flexicar (which uses standard vehicles) their small size means that they're less useful for some errands that can't be done with public transport such as large-scale grocery shopping and bulky retail.

Rob Adams (City of Melbourne): Argued that nearly all non-housing infrastructure we'll have in 2020 is already built and we can't build our way out of congestion.

Blames the early 20th century Garden City Movement and later motorisation for our low densities which he says are unaffordable. Strongly advocates high housing densities (4-8 storeys) along every major road within about 20 kilometres of Melbourne CBD; this could accommodate an extra 2 million people within the existing urbanised area. These corridors would be served by trams or frequent buses. Housing in between these corridors (about 90% of the urban area) would be at existing densities but 'greener'. Cities such as Barcelona and Curitiba provided examples.

Like other speakers, high density was considered essential due to a claimed relationship between it and good public transport (similar to Newman/Kenworthy). Having single-family houses on tramlines (a common sight 5 - 10km from Melbourne) was considered a waste that this reurbanisation would address and bring more people closer to public transport.

Dr Jago Dodson (Griffith Uni) introduced us to his mapping work comparing fuel dependency with suburban location, transport infrastructure and incomes (called VIPER). When interest rates and fuel prices rose in 2007 the study got an M (for mortgage) and became VAMPIRE.

As would be expected, the lower income outer suburbs had the biggest susceptibility to fuel price increases due to more widely spaced services, poorer walkability and less public transport. Conversely the posh inner suburbs had high incomes, better public transport, lower car usage and thus high resilience to oil price hikes. Hence we had an urban structure that conspired to increase inequalities as cities grew larger and fuel prices rose. While he did not advocate a government housing program he did mention that private developers tended to seek highest returns by developing in (dear) inner city areas instead of outer areas (I assume this referred to unit development; there are plenty of private housing estates on the fringes).

Not mentioned tonight were two points; that mortgage holders are generally not the lowest income earners (most of these rent) and that the outer suburbs can be quite diverse and include high-service nodes such as central Werribee, Frankston and Dandenong where people can live without a car. Comparison between residents very close to those centres and those further afield (but in the same suburb) would have been interesting.

Dr Jago was a Melbourne 2030 skeptic for a couple reasons. Most activity centres are in the inner suburbs therefore they perpetuate existing inequalities, and much high-density development is of low quality and poor energy efficiency (which might even offset saving from reduced car use). A critic of large infrastructure projects, he saw planning, co-ordination and service as important and supported high-frequency buses. He also preferred local road/rail seperations to mega-projects such as road tunnels.

Nicholas Low (GAMUT) started off with a shopping list of transport projects that he claimed were to be in the Premier's transport statement next month. His particular list included: Tarneit railway line to Southern Cross, extension to South Morang, electrification to Melton, what was called Mees-style trains through central Melbourne, 100 new buses, Doncaster and SmartBus improvements, bike paths. Plus road projects like the Frankston bypass (already announced), Greensborough - Eastlink freeway and half the Eddington road tunnel (Sunshine to Citylink via Tottenham, Kingsville and Seddon).

Prof Low saw this list as being biased too heavily towards roads. Instead he (like Prof Currie but unlike Prof Mees) advocated Eddington's rail tunnel plus rail lines to Doncaster and Rowville. This could help stem car use in Melbourne, which had recently outstripped Perth (in average kilometres driven per year). He stated his opposition to the plan (before it has come out), instead favouring a 'no new roads' policy and bigger cuts to carbon emissions (350ppm suggested).

Cath Smith (VCOSS), like the previous speakers mentioned how lucky she was to live in a bikable inner city neighbourhood with trams, trains and buses. However with high rents and property prices such living was less available and affordable.

VCOSS' constituents comprise many who don't drive, the disabled, pensioners and the unemployed. While train crowding was important, it was clear that VCOSS' priorities were elsewhere, especially with regard to co-ordinating community transport, integrating country school buses and, in Melbourne, local bus route coverage. Industrial estates have no or little public transport and apprentices in particular can find jobs difficult to reach due to 'historical' bus routes that skip job growth areas. As with prevous speakers, the interplay between housing, jobs, transport, education and services was mentioned.

Faster DDA roll-out and higher multi-purpose taxi funding was advocated (the ministerial announcement today was praised) as well as minimum frequencies for buses. Every 30 minutes seven days a week was proposed; while this is a doubling of the existing MOTC safety net, it still may not necessarily guarantee connectivity with trains.

On the environment the point was made that transport modal shift was the key to carbon reductions, not more efficient cars. This was contradicted by Robin Batterham who said that our car fleet (amongst the least efficient in the world) could double its efficiency to European standards if only regulation was applied.

After the main speakers were two respondents; Robin Batterham (former Chief Scientist) and David Ettershank (Kensington resident and, like other speakers a self-confessed 'inner-city elite member of the chattering class').

Robin Batternham drew several threads together and saw a general consensus (at least amongst those there, an important qualification given the non-representative speakers and audience). These included support for higher density and a belief that (pace Mees) it is necessary for good public transport. This can be made to happen politically if those in power are convinced of sufficient support.

David Ettershank carried the political theme further. He claimed that the Labor Party was abandoning the inner-city (Andre Haermeyer was mentioned), and that ALP focus groups have such a construct called 'Cranbourne Man' (who always wants more roads), as well as a 'Shepperton Man' (who was not explained) to draft policy.

Questions from the audience were about housing, train over-crowding and one from left-field apparently advocating a high-speed ferry to Hobart. Jago Dodson said good houses cost no more than bad houses and all should have 6-7 stars (in energy rating). Nick Low said that more trains were needed, but we also needed more train paths as well so they could run. Rob Adams said that train infrastructure had long lead times and 100 'green' buses could be put on special bus lanes on major roads overnight. A Vicroads employee suggested an intermediate road network for human-powered and low-powered vehicles. Such a metro-wide network would cost about the same as a single freeway and overcome the main impediment to cycling - safety and cars. However one of the panel suggested kerbside lanes on all roads would be cheaper and provide a more extensive network.

Overall it was an interesting session, albeit predictable given the narrow inner-city pro-density panel. The attendance of 400 (estimated) indicates extreme interest in transport and city policy.


Anonymous said...

Today's Herald Sun has an article reporting that the Footscray - Caulfield rail tunnel will be included in the Premier's transport statement. This is at odds with Nicholas Low who said the tunnel wasn't going to be part of the statement.,21985,24683181-661,00.html

Vic Rail (Riccardo) said...

I think the tunnel will be on the 'Rudd please pay for' list