The Transport Master Plan has highlighted a number of corridors in which it will consider either better bus connections or light rail, and in light of that it is logical to look at both as part of a larger package.
While it is the role of the heavy rail network to do the heavy lifting in Sydney’s transport network (about half of all people in Sydney live within 2km of a train station), it is designed primarily as a radial network to get people to and from the CBD. So buses and light rail serve to connect people to transport interchanges (often, but not always, a train station) as well as to provide cross city links that do not start or end in the CBD. To do this, the bus network will be redesigned (page 136), from a radial network with the CBD at the centre, to a grid network based on high frequency and transfers (for an explanation on the benefits of a network based on transfer, click on the link to Jarrett Walker’s transport blog). While this is an improvement, it does not appear to be followed with integrated fares. In other words, it should cost the same to get from A to B, regardless of what mode of transport you choose and how many transfers you make, and it does not appear that this will be the case. Instead, you will be charged extra for being inconvenienced by a forced transfer.
The other major network wide change related to buses in the Sydney CBD. Currently most buses operate on far side terminations, travelling into and through the CBD before terminating on the other end. This is an incredibly wasteful use of CBD road space, as it requires 2 buses to use the same road: one the is dropping passengers off and a second that is picking them up. To ensure a more efficient, and therefore faster trip, buses will either through route through the CBD or begin near side terminations (page 135). Metrobuses currently do through routing, passing through the CBD and then continuing out the other end, in effect halving the number of buses required to travel through the CBD and having the added benefit of providing a cross city connection for passengers starting and ending their journey outside of the CBD. Near side terminations will involve buses terminating at an interchange either outside the CBD or on the edge of the CBD where passengers will be change to a frequent (and also faster, due to less bus congestion) vehicle that will take them to their final destination within the CBD. That vehicle could be another bus, a light rail vehicle or a train, depending on specific circumstances.
As for specific projects, the Master Plan list out a number of corridors, which are listed below in rough order of priority. In the short term, improvements will be made to existing bus services, with a longer term view to putting in place Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail.
Northern Beaches Bus Rapid Transit
An options paper has already been released in regards to the Northern Beaches, and here it has been decided to go with BRT, rather than light rail. What hasn’t yet been decided is what sort of upgrades are to be made. All options require an upgrade of the Spit and Narabeen Bridges to 6 lanes, and include:
- Making bus lanes 24 hours. Cost: $336m
- Segregated BRT on the kerb. Cost: $488m
- Segregated BRT on the median. Cost: $572m
- Segregated BRT on the median, but with buses terminating at North Sydney rather than in Sydney CBD. Cost: $552m
- Segregated BRT on the median, with a tunnel under Military Road connecting the Spit Junction with the Waringah Freeway. Cost: $1.2bn
The Treasurer, Mike Baird, who’s Pittwater electorate is located in the Northern Beaches, has said that he prefers the tunnel option.
The East-West link between Dee Why and Chatswood would upgrade the bus lanes to 24 hours and cost $77m.
Victoria Road Bus Rapid Transit or Light Rail
Further investigation will be made into whether BRT or light rail can be used on the Victoria Road corridor between Parramatta and the CBD. (See: Transport Master Plan, pages 151 and 185.)
Light Rail in the CBD and out to UNSW/Randwick
The government’s light rail feasibility study, which is completed, has not yet been released to the public, but details of it were included in the Transport Master Plan. It suggests a new line will be a North-South line linking Circular Quay in the North to the University of NSW/Prince of Wales Hospital in the South. Options for an alignment via Oxford Street have been rejected, probably in part because this would prevent the line from connecting Central Station to Circular Quay. Light rail to Barangaroo via The Rocks and out to the University of Sydney are of lower priority. Once it is operational, bus lines that previously went into the city would be re-routed to operate as feeder services for light rail.
What has not yet been determined is whether the line will run along the surface along Devonshire Street, or if it will be built in a tunnel underneath it. The tunnel option has been rumoured to cost $100m. A tunnel would allow a faster and more reliable trip. The speed is a key factor, as it also reduced the need for additional rolling stock and staff required, thus reducing operating costs, while the increased patronage will boost fares received. The lower costs and higher revenues would, in theory, repay the additional cost of the tunnel option over time.
The option is also left open to link the Anzac Parade and Alison Road alignments via High Street along UNSW. However, given the steep gradient of High Street, I’m not sure trams would be able to operate along that alignment.
Longer term Bus Rapid Transit corridors: M2 and Windsor Road
Over the longer term, BRT will also be considered for the M2 between Seven Hills and Macquarie Park, as well as Windsor Road between Parramatta and Castle Hill. (See: Transport Master Plan, page 185.)
Parramatta Light Rail
The Parramatta City Council has been pushing for a light rail network centred around Parramatta, in part to compensate for the lack of a Parramatta to Epping Rail Link. The Transport Master Plan acknowledges this proposal, suggesting that it will consider the recommendations of any feasibility study that the Council is able to commission. (See: Transport Master Plan, page 189.)