Archive for April, 2013

Note: As an iPhone and iPad user, this post has an iOS tilt to it. Some comments may not apply to non-iOS device users.

Real time data on transport apps was recently added for trains, in addition to government operated buses. It achieves this through the use of GPS tracking devices installed on all trains as well as all stations on the suburban rail network other than Waterfall and the Carlingford Line. As with the real time bus data, this functionality does not apply to either the Google Transit or 131500 apps.

Correction: The train data uses information from the rail network signals, not GPS as previously stated.

There are 6 apps in total. TripView and TripGo, screenshots of which are included below along with some descriptions. Arrivo is only available on Android phones. Triptastic requires iOS6 and has received positive reviews, but has no free version. TransitTimes is available for various cities around the world, whereas the other apps are Sydney specific. The final app, Hidden City, is less a transport app and more a random trip generator, suggesting activities in Sydney after providing details such as group size and budget which also provides transport details and information about the cost.

The TripView app displays train locations in an easy to view manner and has also added a function which informs you whether a particular train is air conditioned or not. It appears to be the only app to provide this feature.

TripView rail map

TripView street map

TripView aircon trains

TripGo benefits from having an iPad version of the app as well as an iPhone one. It’s also seen a few improvements since the version looked at previously. You can, for example, select a specific bus stop and cycle through all buses that depart from it, rather than having to select each bus route individually before seeing it. It also displays the actual bus route, and not just the bus stops, which is particularly useful for express or limited stops bus routes.

TripGo bus stop

Like before, it provides both multimodal journeys together with real time information, while providing various comparisons on price, trip duration, and even carbon emissions. It even lets you prioritise which of these are more important to you in choosing how to get to your destination. However, it still has some teething issues (as it did last time), such as the different trip options disappearing from the trip list and requiring you to flip through them in the itinerary. The ability to flip through was not initially apparent, so it appeared that it was only showing the “best” trip, rather than giving you a list of different modes to choose from.

TripGo empty trip list

In addition, the name of the train is an abbreviated line name, such as ESI for the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra Line or WNS for the Western Line, which while logical in hindsight, wasn’t initially clear given the depth of information provided by the app. Train trips were also sometimes shown on the map as continuing through to the end of the line, rather than stopping at the destination. This appeared to be the case when the journey was made up of 2 or more trips (including a journey involving 2 trains), such as this one for Bondi Junction to Strathfield which continued all the way to Penrith.

TripGo end of the line

It also once recommended taking a train from Central past Strathfield to Lidcombe and then backtracking to Strathfield.

TripGo backtrack

If these issues get ironed out, then TripGo has the potential to be a better transport app than TripView, given all the additional information it contains. But for now you’re probably better off sticking to Google Transit for trip planning and TripView for real time information.

Another recent app, Triptastic, has also received positive vibes. It has no free version, only a $2.99 download, which probably turns off many potential users. It also requires iOS6, which the author has held off from upgrading to, so is not covered in this post.

The point of interest throughout the evolution of transport apps is the government’s response to them. When TripView first came out, the Transport Department tried to have it shut down as it competed with its 131500 Transport Info service. Since then, the government has become actively involved with private app developers, resulting first in the rollout of Google Transit to Sydney and then the addition of real time bus and train information to what is now half a dozen transport apps.

It is this sort of collaboration, one that brings in private developers, that has produced the sort of innovation that wouldn’t be possible had it remained a government only monopoly. It unleashes the dynamism of the private sector, while maintaining government control over planning and oversight needed to make the network function as a complete network, rather than various independently operating agencies or organisations. This has been a welcome move that will see benefits for commuters, just as contracting out cleaning services and franchising of transport operations have the potential to control out of control operating costs.

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Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian refused to change the alignment of the proposed South East Light Rail Line from Devonshire Street when she faced hostile Surry Hills residents on Monday evening in a community forum organised by the City of Sydney. Many of those who attended reside on the controversial Devonshire St route. A number were angry at what they described as insufficient consultation, with one resident telling Ms Berejiklian “don’t offend us in the future by suggesting this is a consultation. This is not a consultation”. There were also concerns about uncertainty over the future of Devonshire Street and Surry Hills. The new line could see a loss of on street parking and compulsory acquisition of properties, particularly for residents of the Olivia Gardens apartment block on the Eastern end of Devonshire Street, in order to get the line from George Street to Anzac Parade. Some forum participants questioned whether the line could reach Anzac Parade via another route, but these suggestions were rejected.

Residents attended a packed community forum to hear Transport Minister Gladys Berejilkian address their concerns. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Residents attended a packed community forum to hear Transport Minister Gladys Berejilkian address their concerns. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Author)

Ms Berejiklian accepted that the project was bad for Devonshire Street, at one point almost pleading “if I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be here” to an audience seemingly cynical about her motives. But she insisted that for the rest of Surry Hills there would be many positive benefits that light rail would provide, such as being a catalyst for urban renewal. She also argued that if the alignment were changed, then she would be having a similar conversation with a different group of people, and that as it was the most viable route, the Devonshire Street alignment would remain.

Deputy Director General of Transport for NSW outlined the different alignments considered. He stressed that connectivity with the rest of the network (at Central Station in particular, as this would allow interchanges with buses to occur there, rather than further into the city at Town Hall) and the ability to generate a sufficient level of patronage were both required for the line to be viable.

  1. Cleveland Street – this the major East-West road in Surry Hills and it would not be possible to shift its traffic elsewhere if 2 lanes were used exclusively for trams.
  2. Devonshire Street (surface) – would require some property acquisitions.
  3. Devonshire Street (tunnel) – costs hundreds of millions more than a surface option. Eliminates the possibility of a Surry Hills stop and the possibility for urban renewal. Safety concerns from the depth required.
  4. Foveaux Street/Albion Street – too steep, with almost double the maximum 7% gradient that trams can handle. This is particularly problematic when going downhill as trams may not be able to brake in time.
  5. Campbell Street/Elizabeth Street – requires trams to loop back to Central Station, adding 4 minutes to each trip, which would cut estimated patronage by a third.
  6. Campbell Street – skips Central Station, a key transport interchange, which would cut estimated patronage by a third.
  7. Oxford Street – skips Central Station, a key transport interchange, which would cut estimated patronage by a third. Also requires buses from Bondi Junction to share the street with trams
Routes considered (from top to bottom): Oxford Street (pink), Campbell Street (pink), Campbell Street and Elizabeth Street (orange), Albiono Street and Foveaux Street (blue), Devonshire Street surface (blue), Devonshire Street tunnel (brown dashed), Cleveland Street (green). Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW, hardcopy only)

Routes considered (from North to South): Oxford Street (pink), Campbell Street (pink), Campbell Street and Elizabeth Street (orange), Albion Street and Foveaux Street (blue), Devonshire Street surface (blue), Devonshire Street tunnel (brown dashed), Cleveland Street (green). Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport for NSW, hardcopy only)

All options presented challenges. Eliminating those with insufficient patronage and major disruptions to traffic flows leaves only the two Devonshire Street options. The decision to go with the surface options suggests that the desire to spend less on construction was more important than the community anger such a decision would create.

Though the Devonshire Street alignment will not be altered, residents were encouraged to take part in further community consultations which will determine how the project will proceed in areas where flexibility does exist. This would extend to things such as what times constructions would occur, where stops would be located, and how Moore Park is crossed. Ms Berejiklian listed a viaduct or tunnel as potential options for the latter.

The Minister also refused to pass the buck onto Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who chaired the meeting, stating that “for my sins, I take full responsibility” and pointing out that this was a state government project in response to a resident who accused Ms Moore of not taking her share of the blame for the situation. She also assured residents that fares would be set by the government regardless of who the operator was, and that light rail would be included in the Opal smartcard rollout.

Ms Moore concluded the meeting by recounting that Surry Hills residents opposed the construction of the Eastern Distributor over decade ago. Yet community engagement on this project allowed for many benefits, such as reducing most street speed limits to 40km per hour, converting Crown and Bourke Streets to 2 way, as well as the inclusion of parking and landscaping on South Dowling Street. It was things like these which turned Surry Hills into the village that it is today, and suggested that light rail’s urban renewal would be beneficial for the suburb, not detrimental.

An artists impression of the now abandoned slot portion of WestConnex. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, page 89.)

An artists impression of the now abandoned slot portion of WestConnex. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 89)

The NSW government’s preferred slot option for the M4 East portion of the WestConnex freeway is set to be abandoned following the revelation that it would be more expensive than the tunnel option rather than cheaper as initially believed. The news was first rumoured by Nine News reporter Kevin Wilde  in late March, then confirmed by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Jake Saulwick earlier today.

The change will increase the construction costs by billions of dollars and is reminiscent of the $500m that were lost when the Rozelle Metro was abandoned in part because the then Labor Government did not do sufficient planning prior to beginning the project. Premier Barry O’Farrell had promised not to repeat this mistake, yet this is exactly what has happened in both here and with the North West Rail Link. In both cases, the government committed to something before doing its homework on it, and then had to go back on their previous announcement once public servants demonstrated that prior promises were not the ideal option to take.

Map of the proposed WestConnex route. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map.)

Map of the proposed WestConnex route, including where the slot would have been. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Open Street Map)

These revelations raise additional questions over the viability of WestConnex. Some of these concerns, as well as some good history on the general topic, were covered by EcoTransit in a recent video. While I have questioned some of the conclusions made by EcoTransit in the past, this video is one whose broad message I am generally in agreeance with, and is worth viewing.

Meanwhile, this week the state government also announced the $5bn sale of the Ports of Botany and Kembla, by way of a 99 year lease, thus locking in the funding it needed for a number of road improvements – chief among them being the $1.8bn it had promised for WestConnex. This price is much higher than the $3bn initially expected, and key to this was the abolition of the container movement cap of 3.2m TEU. In order to facilitate this, the government is effectively locking itself in to freight transport improvements around these ports that will allow for an increase in container movements. In effect, the government inflated the value of the port assets by committing to invest in the surrounding infrastructure with the money raised, a win-win situation.

In the case of Port Botany, that means building WestConnex. This is in addition to the political imperative to build WestConnex, so as not to be seen to be a government that announces infrastructure projects and then abandons them – something which contributed to the defeat of Mr O’Farrell’s predecessor.

And so we find ourselves with a state government that has painted itself into a corner – it must build WestConnex. Yet it has done so before all the planning work on it is complete. That is not to say that the numbers do not stack up in favour of WestConnex, we won’t know until all the planning is done. But the government should have done the planning first and made a decision second, not jump the gun to announce its support for it. Instead, we will now get a new road whether we need it or not.

I have advocated a more “sectorised” rail network, one in which rail lines operate more independently of each other, untangling what is currently an overly complex system. One of the downsides of this is that it will require some commuters to make a transfer from one train to another in order to complete their journey, where currently they do not have to do so. For example, someone going from Schofields to Central would have to take two trains instead of one as they currently can, as would someone going from Rhodes to Town Hall.

Ray made the following observation in the comments section (reposted in full):

“I don’t think Northern or Richmond Line commuters would ever accept being denied direct access to CBD stations. Why should they be singled out while every other line maintains direct access to CBD stations beyond Central? Why can’t some Western Line services also be terminated at Central? In the case of the Northern Line, which north of the Parramatta River is Liberal heartland territory, there would be hell pay for the local members of Parliament, for their inability to stand up in support of their constituents. There may be acceptance for some Northern Line services to terminate at Central, so long as the option of direct services through the CBD to North Sydney is maintained. Epping and Eastwood, which are both interchange stations, already have the benefit of express services from Newcastle and the Central Coast to Central terminus.

Whilst the transport bureaucrats might push for further sectorisation along the lines previously canvassed, the political reality is that ALL lines must have direct access to the CBD via either the link to the North Shore or the City Circle and they have to find a way to accommodate this operating pattern.”Ray (8 April 2013)

He rightly outlines the reasons against such changes, particularly the fear that many people will refuse to transfer from one train to another. This is, all other things equal, a much worse outcome than a direct service. But it is the assumption that all else remains equal which is not correct here, and this is where I disagree with Ray’s assessment.

The current system is designed on the basis of direct trips, one train or one bus from your origin to your destination, and this means having services from everywhere to everywhere else. In reality, this is not possible, so what we have instead is services from some places to some other places, but still so many routes and lines that frequencies are often as low as every 15 minutes in the peak and every 30 or 60 minutes in the off-peak (if at all). This makes transfers difficult. Even on the rail network, only 49% of stations on the Cityrail network have a train to the CBD every 15 minutes or less all day (and this is being generous with some stations).

NOTE: When a network is not designed to use connections, then you need to focus on frequencies of the direct journeys. A network designed around connections facilitates transfers in a way that a network designed around direct services does not, which is why this frequency map excludes stations on the Upper Northern and Epping to Chatswood Lines, which have 15 minute frequencies, but with every second train terminating at Chatswood. If frequencies from Chatswood to the CBD were higher, then it would allow for easy transfers, and effective mobility for users of these stations.

Of the 176 stations on the suburban Cityrail network, only 86 (blue) have a train every 15 minutes all day. The remaining 90 (orange) do not. This represents about half of the stations on the network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail network map)

Of the 176 stations on the suburban Cityrail network, only 86 (blue) have a train every 15 minutes all day. The remaining 90 (orange) do not. This represents about half of the stations on the network. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Cityrail network map)

A network based on connections, on the other hand, purposely limits the routes and lines available to you. But in doing so it is able to run more frequent services directly to an interchange, where you can then take another service to your destination. It is both predictable and reliable. Unlike the previous model, it is far more likely to provide an everywhere to everywhere service. The diagram below shows a generic example, taken from a Brisbane Government transport policy document.

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

How increased frequencies can allow a transport network based on transfers to operate better than one based on direct services. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Queensland Government)

In this example, the average trip is cut from 15 minutes to 9 minutes. This is due to 3 factors:

  1. Higher frequencies for local services, meaning a shorter initial wait time. Here the local service has gone from 30 minute to 10 minute frequencies, meaning an average wait time of 15 and 5 minutes respectively. While it’s true that you can use the timetable to minimise that wait time, it is still possible for you to be delayed, for your service to arrive early, or for that service to be cancelled. In each of those cases, you must now wait the full period (i.e. 30 minutes or 10 minutes). That is why the average wait time is still important.
  2. The main trunk service (red in the example above) can be converted into a high capacity, high frequency, and (optionally) high speed service. This again means less waiting time, which is important for the reasons mentioned above.
  3. The transfer must be simple, preferably cross platform where possible, minimising the additional total travel time.

Taken together, these result in a reduction in total travel time. The key here is higher frequencies, which allow transport based on connections to occur.

Using the proposed changes to the Richmond Line shows the actual improvements possible there:

Right now, there are 6 trains per hour on the Richmond Line (from Schofields onwards) in the AM peak – although there is a maximum 15 minute gap between trains. This would be increased to 8 trains per hour, but shifted to the Cumberland Line, and so no longer continue through to Central. In the off peak, there are currently 2 trains an hour, which would be raised to 4. The Western Line would also see 20 express trains per hour to Central in the peak, and 8 trains per hour in the off-peak. Travel times are 55 minutes from Schofields to Central in the peak, 62 minutes from Schofields to Central in the off-peak, 26 minutes from Schofields to Westmead, and 31 minutes from Westmead to Central.

Implementing these changes would result in an average time saving of 1 minute (maximum of 5 minutes) during the morning peak, and an average of 12 minutes (maximum of 15 minutes) during the off peak.

Richmond Line time savings

This would not be possible to do effectively by just adding more trains with the existing network. In the AM peak there just aren’t the additional slots available into the city centre, and creating them would make the network even more vulnerable to delays and cancellations than is already the case. In the off-peak, adding more trains is possible, but they would either have to be all stations in order to maintain a high coverage or be express and give a low level of coverage. Either way, neither option provides the frequencies necessary to allow for easy connections that allow the sorts of time savings provided by the proposed changes.

The lesson to take from this is that connections are not something that we should be afraid of. Not only will they provide faster overall journeys, but more reliable ones. And when they occur entirely within the rail network, they happen without the sorts of financial penalties that currently exist when you transfer from a bus to a train or from one bus to another bus because fares are not integrated.

The second phase of the federal government’s High Speed Rail (HSR) study, released earlier today, finds that a 1,700km long East Coast HSR line could cost $114bn and will not be completed until the second half of this century. The line will not require any ongoing government subsidy to pay for operational costs or asset maintenance, with fares comparable to the equivalent air fare. The report finds a benefit to cost ratio of 2.3 (indicating that every $1 spent provides $2.30 of economic value), which is much higher than in the report commissioned by the Greens earlier this year that reported total benefits of $48bn, an amount less than the $114bn cost.

Cost and completion dates for HSR broken down by stage, based on the optimal timetable. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report - Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 20)

Cost and completion dates for HSR broken down by stage, based on the optimal timetable. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report – Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 20)

If built, the project will be broken up into stages, with the Sydney to Canberra leg being the first. Even then, the earliest that portion will be operational is 2030, with an optimal commencement date of 2035. Brisbane may not be connected to Melbourne until 2058. The 1,700km of track includes 144km of tunnels, with 67km of this in Sydney. All up, tunnelling accounts for about one third of the cost of this project. The line will require a 200m wide corridor.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese was quick to dismiss the notion that this would eliminate the need for a second Sydney airport, pointing out that it was already congested and that overseas travellers will still require air travel. He also downplayed the possibility of medium speed rail, such as in Britain, arguing that journeys must be under 3 hours or else people will choose to fly instead and that this was why Britain was now upgrading its medium speed rail to HSR. He also accepted that the high construction cost was the most sensitive part of any potential HSR line and ruled out any funding for it in this year’s budget.

Cost benefit analysis shows that benefits would outweigh costs using both a 4% and 7% discount rate. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report - Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 21)

Cost benefit analysis shows that benefits would outweigh costs using both a 4% and 7% discount rate. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: High speed rail study phase 2 report – Executive Summary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, page 31)

The cost, roughly 4 times the cost of the National Broadband Network, is the biggest hurdle to building HSR in Australia. The interest expense of such a capital outlay alone would pay for the Gonski education reforms into perpetuity, and probably deliver far greater social and economic benefits to the nation. The discount rate of 4% also seems low, given that even the federal government’s long term borrowing costs, but a much more conservative 7% still provides a benefit to cost ratio of 1.1. This is above 1.0, but only barely, and suggests that this money could be spent on other more worthy infrastructure projects – such as the backlog of urban commuter rail improvements which Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has ruled out funding.

Ultimately this was certainly a study worth undertaking, if only to confirm that Australia is not yet ready for HSR. However, it has done much of the preparation required for it, thus allows the federal government to revisit the idea again in 10 or 20 years time when some of the assumptions currently used may no longer be valid. But until then, the video below probably best describes HSR in Australia.

George Street could be free of overhead wires when trams run down the CBD’s civic spine at the end of this decade, according to an industry briefing on the CBD and South East Light Rail Line provided by the government earlier this week. The slides that accompanied the briefing, posted on the Transport for NSW website, list catenary free operation as “potential in the CBD area” (page 11). The City of Sydney council has been pushing for no overhead wires in the portion of George Street which is to be pedestrianised as part of the new line. While this does not commit the government, it is the first evidence that it is at least seriously considering this as an option.

City of Sydney Council wants trams on George Street to run without overhead wires. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: City of Sydney)

City of Sydney Council wants trams on George Street to run without overhead wires. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: City of Sydney)

These changes will not come pain free, and the Herald reports that George Street in particular will see 2 years of work starting in mid 2014 in order to relocate major services such as electricity and water. This follows a similar timetable to the light rail line currently under construction on the Gold Coast, and if it is anything to go by then these 2 years will provide the most significant disruption during the construction process.

The new line will operate 45m long trams with a capacity of 300 passengers per vehicle. This compares to 30m long trams that have a smaller capacity of 200 passengers per vehicle, or to existing buses, the longest of which are the bendy buses and have a capacity of 110 passengers per vehicle.

Map of the Randwick and Kingsford portions of the new light rail line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: CBD and South East Light Rail Industry Briefing Session, Transport for NSW, page 10)

Map of the Randwick and Kingsford portions of the new light rail line. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: CBD and South East Light Rail Industry Briefing Session, Transport for NSW, page 10)

The briefing also includes a map showing that the University of NSW stop will be on UNSW property itself, whereas the current bus stop layout requires passengers to cross the road either when they arrive or depart the university. It also shows the light rail line running along an extended version of the bus road that currently parallels Anzac Parade and Alison Road. This bus road currently ends at Doncaster Avenue on Alison Road, but according to the map light rail will continue in a separate right of way until it reaches Clovelly Road.

The federal Liberal Party's transport policy consists exclusively of road projects, with no committments to public transport. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Our Plan Real Solutions For All Australians, Liberal Party, page 32)

The federal Liberal Party’s transport policy consists exclusively of road projects, with no commitments to public transport. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Our Plan Real Solutions For All Australians, Liberal Party, page 32)

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared last week that he would be committing no funding to public transport ahead of this year’s election, despite having committed $4bn to road projects in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.

“We spoke to Infrastructure Australia and their advice was that the most pressing road priority in Melbourne was the east-west link. The Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads. We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.”Tony Abbott, Federal Opposition Leader (4 April 2013)

His first point, about the highest priority road project in Melbourne, is correct because he is talking about road projects specifically rather than transport projects in general. However, according to Alan Davies at The Urbanist, the East-West Link road is only on Infrastructure Australia’s “Real Potential” stage, the second of four categories, while the Melbourne Metro rail project is in it’s top “Ready to Proceed” category. At best, Mr Abbott is asking the wrong question, at worst he is committing money to a project with a benefit cost-ratio of only 0.50 (i.e. the benefit is less than the cost), when he could be funding the Melbourne Metro with a benefit-cost ratio of 1.30 (figures from Alan Davies’ article linked to previously).

His second point, on the Commonwealth government having no history of funding urban rail, is just flat out wrong. As Daniel Bowen points out when listing just some of the urban rail projects funded by the Commonwealth, “perhaps the Federal Coalition has no history of funding urban rail, but the Commonwealth most certainly does”.

“I think all but the most car-centric person would see that in modern growing cities, you can’t move everybody around by road — that rail, particularly in inner-city areas, is much more efficient. Unfortunately unlike some of his Liberal colleagues (and unlike conservatives in such places as the UK), Tony Abbott does appear to be the most car-centric person. It comes down to this: if you want more people on public transport, provide more public transport. If you want more people on the roads, build more roads. Abbott is clearly backing the latter.”Daniel Bowen (5 April 2013)

The decision to fund road projects over rail is not a merit based decision, it is a politically based on (and one which I have criticised the Labor Party for doing in the past on both WestConnex and the Parramatta to Epping Rail Link). As a comparison, urban rail has received a majority of Infrastructure Australia funding when merit is used as the criteria.

“Fifty-five per cent of Infrastructure Australia nation-building money went to urban rail on merit.” –  Professor Peter Newman, Infrastructure Australia advisory board member (4 April 2013)

The state governments in Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia, all governed by Mr Abbott’s Liberal-National Coalition, have also all publically voiced their opposition to his decision.

“We will continue to vigorously pursue federal government funding for this important infrastructure development.” – Denis Napthine, Victorian Premier (4 April 2013)

“Given the current Federal (Labor) Government’s support of $236 million for rail infrastructure at the Perth City Link and $3 million towards planning of the MAX light rail project, we expect that future Federal governments, whether Liberal or Labor, would consider the benefits of funding such important transport initiatives based on merit.”Colin Barnett, WA Premier (4 April 2013)

“The reality is if there is not federal funding for these projects, they cannot proceed, we cannot afford to do them alone. We’ll continue that process of lobbying the federal coalition and federal Labor.”Scott Emerson, Queensland Transport Minister (4 April 2013)

Feeling the heat, Mr Abbott later clarified his statement, pointing out that his government would still fund freight rail and interstate transport, and that it was only commuter urban rail projects that he was referring to. On his side is the division of powers set out in the Australian constitution, where the Commonwealth government is responsible for freight and interstate transport, leaving state governments responsible for urban transport. While Mr Abbott is well within his rights to follow a strict interpretation of the role of the Commonwealth government, it is also true that such a view would preclude federal funding of schools and hospitals, given that they are a state responsibility. This is why the days of health, education, and transport being funded solely by the states has now long gone.

This is where his argument starts to fall apart on constitutional grounds, and it becomes clear that it is ideologically driven. He seems much like American conservatives, who see public transport as a socialist means of transport “for the masses” requiring government subsidy while seeing the private motor vehicle as a form of transport that is liberating and free and more in line with their small government philosophy. He looks at the inner city areas which most heavily use public transport and sees Labor and Greens leaning voters, then at the car dominated outer suburban areas are where the swinging voters he needs live and decides that the politically astute thing is to build more roads.

“Public transport is generally slow, expensive, not especially reliable and still [a] hideous drain on the public purse…Mostly though…there just aren’t enough people wanting to go from a particular place to a particular destination at a particular time to justify any vehicle larger than a car, and cars need roads”Tony Abbott, Battleline, page 174 (2009)

Not all conservatives still think this way. NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian has successfully championed public transport despite opposition from Infrastructure NSW Chairman Nick Greiner and CEO Paul Broad, while London Mayor Boris Johnson is pushing an ambitious £913m expansion of his city’s bike network. They understand that you can’t build your way out of congestion with more roads and that, while roads play an important role, so does public and active transport. It’s disappointing to see that Mr Abbott hasn’t worked this out yet.