Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Stimulating public transport

This week the Prime Minister announced billions of dollars in cash handouts and funding for various projects to 'stimulate the economy'. The object appears to be, in Keynes style, to get people spending and thus retain jobs. There are some things like home insulation subsidies, road blackspot fixes and community facilities that might benefit. However the spirit of the personal handouts appears to be that it matters less where the money goes than if it ends up being spent. Besides most of those working aren't too badly off at the moment; lower interest rates and lower petrol prices are bringing relief to the key outer suburban 'mortgage belt' electorates.

But what if you had a stimulus package to spend on public transport? What sort of things would be in it, and what would be missed? Given the emphasis is on short-term spending on quick projects, very large rail and road projects would not be included. And though highly desirable, and necessary to maximise use of public transport infrastructure, off-peak and shoulder-peak service frequency increases involves some recurring funding so might not be sustainable if funded by a one-off 'stimulus measure'. Hence while important, they won't qualify for money from this particular bucket.

So having excluded them, here's my list of top five transport projects that would deliver lasting benefits from stimulus money.

1. Small scale pedestrian access improvements. Each metropolitan municipality might have an average of 50-100 such projects, which might include zebra crossings, underpasses, traffic islands, roadworks, roundabout conversion to traffic lights, cycle modification, etc. These would be focused around shopping centres, bus stops and railway stations, and also larger roads where there are long intervals between safe crossing points.

2. 1000 kilometres of new cycleway to form a new city-wide network, including grade-seperation with roads on major routes. This rate of construction is several times that which currently occurs.

3. Modification of suburban streets in transit-hostile neighbourhoods. This might include widenings (to permit bus movements), modified roundabouts (to permit buses), opening of culs-de-sac (to permit more direct bus, cycle and pedestrian movement) and new pedestrian and bicycle bridges over rivers and creeks between suburbs. The latter would expand the pedsheds of bus stops and railway stations and reduce backtracking. On larger roads, minor works to assist bus and tram movement could also be done, perhaps complementing the worthwhile 'blackspot' program.

4. An expansion of passenger information, with bus information at railway stations and general information in 'main streets' off the system. Travelsmart-style maps at interchanges and in public places would also identify key walking and cycling routes.

5. A program of works to improve train reliability and make the currently fragile network more robust. This might include projects such as accelerated concrete sleepering, better security for often vandalised trains, lightning protection of vulnurable signal boxes, track duplications, communication improvements and more.

A veritable shopping list for sure, but doing them would kill two birds with one stone; 'stimulate the economy' and deliver improvements of enduring value. At least the higher taxes we'll have to pay in the future to support increased public debt will have had something to show for it in this period of building.


Anonymous said...

You have my full agreement (as usual). Johnson Street, Fitzroy is a classic case of car-friendly, polluted and ugly streetscapes.

Anonymous said...

And Johnston St Fitzroy is proof positive that if a metro system had been built, places like that would use it well. The number of times I've been there, by car, no parking, no sensible transport option to where I lived (east of there). All very well to point out the E Brunswick and W Preston Trams but not much use to me and too slow to the City, where interchange with the loop stations is uncertain.

If they had just done a turn-up and go line from CH/VP to Doncaster or the NE, then Fitzroy, Carlton/Parkville and Museum, all would have been right!