Today Tonight: Sydney has Australia’s most sustainable transport

Posted: January 23, 2013 in Transport
Tags: , , , , ,

A recent piece on Channel Seven’s Today Tonight program discusses transport usage across a number of Australian cities over the last 35 years, and finds that Sydneysiders have the highest public transport use of any Australian city. (This isn’t really new information, given that transport is one of the questions asked in each 5 year census.) The video of the story is included at the end of this post.

Public transport mode share vs population density for various Australian cities. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Charting Transport via The Urbanist.)

Public transport mode share vs population density for various Australian cities. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Charting Transport via The Urbanist.)

The report correctly points out that this fact would probably surprise many Sydney commuters, as would the assertion made by Dr Lucy Groenhart, an RMIT academic and author of the report, that Sydney is “built around a strong heavy rail network” and has buses which “are better co-ordinated than in other cities”. Dr Groenhart appears to be comparing Sydney to Melbourne, where one major flaw in the network design was separate train and tram networks that competed rather than complemented each other (so it’s quite common to see a train and tram line running in parallel). Conversely, in Sydney the network has been designed around the rail network, with feeder buses that link commuters from their home to the nearest station or transport them between stations on different lines. This expands the catchment of the transport network considerably.

Countering this view is Kerryn Wilmot, Research Principal for the Institute for Sustainable Futures at UTS, who points out that Sydney lacks integrated fares. It’s true that while Sydney has an integrated network, it lacks an integrated fares system. That means that users are penalised if they make a transfer (unless it is train to train), which prevents an integrated network from working most efficiently. Having a myMulti ticket does get around this problem, but these are currently only available as periodicals (there is a daily ticket, though very expensive at $21) and are city-centric, meaning that if you only intend to travel within one of the outer zones then you must also pay for the inner zones even if you aren’t heading into the CBD or inner city. However, Ms Wilmot’s claim that “you can’t get a yearly that just allows you to become a public transport user to do all of the stuff you want to do during the week” would appear to be incorrect, as you can get a yearly myMulti ticket which would allow you to do that (unless you just wanted one for one of the outer zones only, which as mentioned earlier is not currently allowed).

Towards the end of the piece it makes the point that taking the toll roads from Northwest Sydney only saves one minute of travel time, yet costs $12 in tolls. What it does not point out is that most of this trip is along the M2, which is being widened and where the associated road works have virtually eliminated the travel time savings until the construction has finished (which just so happens to be some time early this year). This is just sloppy journalism, but while that’s normally the norm for Today Tonight, this time it appears to be the exception. That, and the bit where the reporter is walking on the bike path, which is just as illegal as bikes on footpaths not designated as shared paths.

Dr Groenhart concludes that “the government’s priorities are not with sustainable transport so they are with roads”. She doesn’t state which government she is referring to, and given that Today Tonight did a Sydney and Melbourne version of this story, it is possible that she was referring to the Victorian government. This would make sense, given the Victorian government has made a road tunnel under the CBD it’s top priority, with a smaller CBD rail tunnel being the next most important transport project. Compare that to NSW, where the top project is the Northwest Rail Link (a public transport project), and the next most important projects are WestConnex (a road) and a Second Harbour Crossing (another public transport project).

  1. Simon says:

    Peak hour in Sydney is the best in Australia – arguably because it has the worst roads. It’s the off peak which fails for Sydney’s public transport system.

  2. Great commentary Bambul. I’d say the Channel 7 report is pretty misleading really. The Sydney CBD has been in stasis as a place of commercial activity compared to other metropolitan centres like Norwest, the Hills, Epping technology Park etc. What matters is modal share and travel times for all, not just those going to a Sydney CBD of declining singular focus. Sydney CBD is barely one half of the workforce population that was planned for it in the 1983 City Of Sydney Strategic plan (about 230,000 against 400,000). All the evidence I have seen (both state and federal) is that rail (and transit generally) has continued to decline as a proportion of metropolitan journey kms.

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