Posts Tagged ‘Cars and roads’

VIDEO: Transport for NSW COVID-19 Response: Essential Service (23 March 2020)

Social distancing has seen the movement of people in Sydney drop by about 90% in recent weeks. The Citymapper Mobility Index shows mobility beggining to slow on the weekend of Saturday 14 March, shortly after the government announced its first set of restrictions, but before those restrictions came into effect on the following Monday. Transport agencies have since responded in order to enable the safe movement of people around the city, whether that be by car, by foot, or by public transport.

In terms of road traffic, a comprehensive ABC article uses Google Maps traffic data to show that “peak-hour gridlock has virtually vanished”, with the same article using TomTom Traffic Index data to show a trip that typically takes 30 minutes would now take 26 minutes. The same TomTom Traffic Index shows the biggest drop occurring during peak-hour, with only a minor drop in off-peak road travel. Transurban, which owns most of Sydney’s toll roads, has reported a 36% drop in traffic volumes on its toll roads in the final week of March.

Push buttons in CBD pedestrian crossings have been automated since Monday 23 March, to prevent these normally high touch surfaces from becoming transmission zones for COVID-19. This is a limited time change and was restricted to the Sydney CBD.

Public transport usage has likewise seen a dramatic drop. Occupancy data published by NextThere for the 4 weeks to Sunday 22 March show demand for real time planning journeys began falling on Tuesday 10 March and was down to about half their regular volumes by the end of that 4 week period. Meanwhile, during that time peak-hour trains on the T1 Western Line went from over three quarters being standing room only to none being standing room only (see image below, Source: NextThere). Bus occupancy levels appear to have also fallen in the same time period, with the proportion of peak-hour buses passing through Neutral Bay Junction on the North Shore’s Military Road corridor with a majority of their seats available rising from about one in three buses to almost all buses.

Other than minor changes to the L1 light rail line, the government has yet to cut back on service levels; which combined with the fall in patronage has enabled members of the public who must travel on public transport to better observe social distancing when they do so. Additional changes include regular deep cleaning of public transport vehicles, a suspension on the sale of single use Opal tickets from buses, and closure of Opal readers and seats near bus drivers.

Despite this, there are actions that have been taken elsewhere which have not happened in Sydney. The most extreme of these responses occurred in the Chinese city of Wuhan, believed to be the epicentre of COVID-19, which suspended its public transport network in late January. Brisbane has moved to rear door boarding on its buses, with the front door only available for passengers requiring assistance and to maintain disability access. Advocacy group Walk Sydney is calling for the automation of push buttons to be extended to all of Greater Sydney. So far the automation is being extended out to crossings near many of Sydney’s hospitals, but not the entire city.

Note: For the second time this year, this blog has taken an unannounced hiatus for a number of months due to the pressures of real life. This post was written up at the end of June but never properly finished and thus not posted. It will probably be the final monthly round up, at least for the foreseeable future. This blog will not be ending, posts will still continue. But instead, the focus will be on specific issues or events as they occur with no set frequency of posts. For now, please enjoy the breaking news from 3 months ago…

VIDEO: Urban Taskforce Research- Who Lives in Apartments (31 May 2015)

2 June: $50m cost blowout for NWRL

The budget for constructing the skytrain portion of the North West Rail Link, an elevated viaduct between Bella Vista and Rouse Hill, has blown out from $340m to $390m. Despite the cost blowout, a project spokesperson said that there has been no change to the completion date for the skytrain, while the Transport Minister Andrew Constance stated that variations in cost had been factored into the full $8.3bn budget and that the overall budget remained unchanged.

The skytrain portion of Sydney Metro, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The skytrain portion of North West Rail Link, shown at the proposed Rouse Hill Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

 4 June: Sydney Rapid Transit renamed Sydney Metro

Sydney’s single deck train network will be known as Sydney Metro, replacing the previous name Sydney Rapid Transit. This follows the passage of legislation authorising the privatisation of state owned electricity assets, which passed both chambers of Parliament the previous day.

4 June: NSW Opposition dumps support for light rail because of Infrastructure NSW Report

The new Shadow Transport Minister Ryan Park, who together with the Opposition Leader Luke Foley recently withdrew their support for light rail down George Street, announced that the change of heart on light rail came after reading the 2012 Infrastructure NSW Report that opposed George Street light rail. The alternative bus tunnel option suggested by the report was criticised by Transport for NSW, with Infrastructure NSW later supporting George Street light rail.

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

A very early proposed map for the CBD BRT would see a tunnel between Wynyard and Town Hall, removing many buses from the surface streets. Click to enlarge. (Source: First Things First, Infrastructure NSW, page 99.)

6 June: Transport corridors in Western Sydney to be reserved

Work to reserve transport corridors in Sydney’s West for an Outer Sydney Orbital motorway, Bells Line of Road to Castlereagh Connection, and South West Rail Link extension is moving into the public consultation phase. The NSW Roads Minister Duncay Gay said that work on the 2 roads was not expected to begin for decades; with the SWRL corridor set to be identified by late 2016.

8 June: Olympic Park becomes preferred light rail option

A light rail line connecting Parramatta to Olympic Park has firmed as the favourite option for a new light rail line in Sydney’s West. The line could extend out to Wesmead in the West and Strathfield in the East. It gained favour after a campaign by businesses and developers who touted the possibility for development of the corridor and the potential for value capture from that development to fund the cost of building the new line. However, local councils have labelled the line a white elephant and are calling for the Government to build a line to Epping instead.

11 June: Opal only gates installed at Wynyard Station

New Opal only gates have been installed as part of the Wynyard Station upgrade. Opal only gates have recently been installed at Olympic Park Station. No date has been set for the full phase out of ticket gates that accept magnetic stripe paper ticket.

12 June: SWRL connection to CBD via Granville?

Transport blogger Nick Stylianou suggests that Leppington trains may be connected up to the T2 South Line, travelling to the CBD via Granville. This may happen as soon as the end of this year, with Campbelltown to city services running exclusively on the T2 Airport Line.

12 June: 65 new transport officers

Sydney’s existing 150 transport officers is set to increase to 215, with an additional 65 transport officers to be hired.

15 June: Trial of backdoor boarding on CBD buses

The Government is set to trial boarding of buses via the back door for 2 weeks. The trial will be restricted to Opal card users between 4PM and 7PM at 7 bus stops in the CBD. Marshals will be present to ensure boarding occurs safely. It is hoped that the trial will see lower dwell times for buses by allowing customers to board more quickly.

VIDEO: Seven News Sydney – Trial of back door loading on buses (15/6/2015)

19 June: Reduction in minimum parking requirements

The NSW Government has announced a watered down version of a minimum parking requirement policy that it announced last year. The new policy allows new apartment blocks in areas well serviced by public transport to have fewer off-street parking spots than is currently mandated by local government regulations. The previously announced policy would have eliminated the requirement for off-street parking entirely and has not been adopted. Supporters of the move argue that it will help to keep construction costs down and help with housing affordability. Opponents of the move claim that it will cause cars to spill over into existing streets where parking is already scarce.

23 June: Barangaroo Station confirmed

A Station at Barangaroo has been confirmed in the Sydney Metro City and Southwest. Stations still to be determined are Artarmon, St Leonards/Crows Nest and either Sydney University or Waterloo.

VIDEO: Sydney Metro Barangaroo Station

The Federal Government’s refusal to fund public transport infrastructure dates back to 4 April 2013, when the then Opposition Leader Tony Abbott declared his opposition to it:

“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)

In the 2 years since then, this position has barely changed. Which is to say it has evolved (very slowly) in the right direction.

2014-05-22 Jamie Briggs

The first change came on 16 May 2014, when the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Jamie Briggs promised that federal funding from its asset recycling fund would not be restricted to roads. It followed through with this promise on 19 February 2015, providing $60m in funding to the ACT for its proposed light rail project. This funding was small, particularly compared to the billions going to the marquee roads projects; it also included a side comment from the Treasurer Joe Hockey’s office that “it has been a controversial project in the ACT” and that “there has been debate as to whether alternative projects may have higher potential economic benefits”.

While the ACT project received lukewarm support from Canberra and could be described as tokenistic in terms of the quantity of funding; the 8 March 2015 decision to send $2bn to NSW changed that. With $1.3bn of that going towards the Sydney Metro project, the Federal Government is now providing more funding to this rail project than the $1bn it has committed to WestConnex. However, the rail funding came with strings attached in the form of requiring privatisation. Funding for WestConnex has no such restrictions.

Warren Truss, Federal Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Federal Shadow Transport Minister (Image: Australian Parliament)

Warren Truss, Federal Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Federal Shadow Transport Minister (Image: Australian Parliament)

14 June 2015 showed more promise on this front, with the Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss stating that “the Federal Government is quite happy to fund metro rail projects”. This would appear to be in start contradiction to the statements quoted by Mr Abbott earlier that the Federal Government “have no history of funding urban rail” and would not be funding public transport.

Perhaps the reason can be found by winding back the clock a month to 6 May 2015 when Greens leader Christine Milne was replaced by Richard Di Natale. In the past, Ms Milne had been resistant to supporting the re-indexation of the fuel excise because additional revenue would be hypothecated (i.e. promised to) road funding. However, when the Finance Minister Matthias Cormann offered to eliminate the hypothecation Ms Milne maintained her opposition.

The party now has a new leader, and one who appears to be more willing to negotiate with the Government of the day. Following the May budget, Mr Di Natale met with Mr Abbott. In this meeting, he offerred to support indexation if some of the revenue was hypothecated to public transport projects. In that context, Mr Truss’ comments make a lot more sense.

The policy taken to the last election – to not fund urban commuter rail, is a bad one. However, the question here is not whether the Government should abandon it. By funding Sydney Metro to the tune of $1.3bn, it already has abandoned it. Instead, the question is about when the Government will take a mode neutral stance on funding of transport infrastructure. Let Infrastructure Australia or the states determine the best transport projects and fund those. There’s a chance this possibility may become a reality sooner than expected.

Open Drum – The Daily Commute

ABC Open is taking contributions on the topic of “the daily commute”. The deadline for contributions is midday Tuesday 9 June.

“Tell us about your daily commute. What are the joys and challenges? How does it impact your life or your family? Would improved public transport, affordable accommodation near workplaces or better roads help? Whatever happened to telecommuting? Do you have a survival tip or utopian vision for policy makers? Share your story and opinions in 350-700 words.”

1 May: Rail line to Badgerys Creek downplayed

Suggestions for a fast rail service between Badgerys Creek and Sydney CBD in time for the opening of a future Western Sydney Airport were dismissed by the Federal Transport Minister Warren Truss. “A rail line connected to the metropolitan area of Sydney is not essential in that [early] phase” said Mr Truss. The NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance was more open to the idea, stating that he was “putting all things on the table”, including a possible extension of Sydney Rapid Transit out to Badgerys Creek via the existing Kingsford Smith Airport at Mascot. Proposals exist to extend the recently opened South West Rail Link to Badgerys Creek, but there are no current plans or funding to do so.

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The proposed corridors for an extension of the SWRL through to Badgerys Creek and beyond. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

4 May: Opal-only ticket gates

New ticket gates that accept only Opal cards are to be trialed at Olympic Park Station. Existing ticket barriers that accept both Opal and paper tickets will continue to be in use.

7 May: Mousetrap to catch graffiti vandals

A new technology is being trialed which detects either spray paint or permanent marker on trains, so far leading to the arrest of 30 individuals. Known as “Mousetrap”, it uses an electronic chemical sensor which detects the vapour of both spray paint and marker pens.  Live CCTV records and provides images directly to Sydney Trains staff. Removing graffiti from the Sydney Trains network cost $34 million last financial year, up from $30 million the year before.

10 May: Epping to Chatswood Line will be disconnected for almost a year

The Epping to Chatswood Line, set to be shut down for 7 months during which it will be converted and connected to the North West Rail Link in order to create the first stage of Sydney Rapid Transit, will be disconnected from the T1 Northern and North Shore Lines prior to its shut down. A recently approved government proposal will see the line operate as a shuttle service between Epping and Chatswood for 4 months prior to this conversion, most likely in 2018.

21 May: Light rail predicted to kill someone each year

A report prepared for the government predicts that 1.14 people will be killed by the new CBD and South East Light Rail line every year on average. Between 2010 and 2014, there have been 3 fatalities involving pedestrians and buses in the Sydney CBD. The report also predicts 1 fatality every 5 years for the existing light rail line to Dulwich Hill, although no deaths have occurred on this line since it opened in 1997.

22 May: Opal card user information handed over to government agencies

57 requests for Opal card data, which include the card user’s address and travel patterns, have been granted by Transport for NSW to government agencies since December 2014. A total of 181 requests were made, with no court approval required in order for information to be handed over. By comparison, information from Queensland’s Go Card had been accessed almost 11,000 times between 2006 and 2014.

26 May: NWRL tunneling 40% complete

Tunnel boring machines on the North West Rail Link have reached Showground Station. 12km of the 30km of tunneling, representing over a third of the total length, is now complete.

26 May: Long Bay Prison sale under consideration

The Government is considering the possibility of selling off Long Bay Prison, possibly raising a estimated $400m. The sale, which would see the site redeveloped, has been linked to a possible extension of the light rail line currently under construction. The CBD and South East Light Rail is set to open in 2019, initially reaching Kingsford. However, an extension as far as La Perouse has been raised as a possibility.

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

Potential extensions to the CBD and South East Light Rail to Maroubra, Malabar, or La Perouse. Click to enlarge. (Source: Infrastructure NSW, State Infrastructure Strategy Update 2014, p. 40.)

26 May: Congestion will be worse after WestConnex

Internal government reports show that traffic levels on inner city roads around the planned WestConnex tunnels are predicted to be higher in 2026 than in 2011, despite the planned completion of WestConnex by 2023. A spokeswoman for the WestConnex Delivery Authority commented that “[traffic on] the inner south will improve with WestConnex as opposed to a do nothing scenario”.

28 May: Light rail construction schedule announced

VIDEO: Ten Eyewitness News Sydney – Government admits public transport system “broken” (27/5/2015)

A construction schedule for the CBD and South East Light Rail was released to the public. George St is set to see three and a half years of construction, with the new CBD and South East Light Rail set to be built between September 2015 and April 2018. The line is currently scheduled to open in early 2019, following testing of the line.

The Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who recently declared his opposition to light rail on George St, compared the project to the Berlin Wall and declared that it would lead to chaos and confusion.

The Government released video (above) of a bus and pedestrian walking down George Street during the evening peak hour showing the pedestrian being faster than the bus. Pedestrianising George St, resulting in the replacement of cars and buses with trams, has been put forward as a way to reduce congestion for public transport users which currently exists in many parts of the city.

The announcement also included plans to defer construction on the Northern portion of the Castlereagh St bike path until construction on the light rail line is completed. The Roads Minister Duncan Gay had previously proposed including loading zones along portions of Castlereagh St, which would have the effect of making it a “part-time” bike path. Deferring its construction pushes back the need to make a decision on this issue. However, the existing bike path on College St is set to be converted into a bus lane. This will help to handle bus movements once George St becomes closed off to vehicles, but removes a North-South bike path in the CBD for a number of years.

28 May: mX axed

Newscorp is set to discontinue mX, its free commuter newspaper. mX is currently distributed each weekday afternoon in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane; it began in each of these cities in 2001, 2005, and 2007 respectively.

29 May: Electricity privatisation passes lower house

Legislation to allow the 99 year lease of 49% of the NSW electricity distribution network has passed the NSW Legislative Assembly. It now goes to the Legislative Council, where a combination of the Liberal, National, and Christian Democratic Parties that have committed to supporting the legislation have enough votes to ensure its passage through the upper house of Parliament.

VIDEO: Sydney Light Rail Flythrough – May 2015

The announcement on Thursday of the construction schedule for the CBD and South East Light Rail has seen the debate over the line re-open. Construction of the George St portion, set to occur between October 2015 and May 2017, will last over a year and a half. Closure of streets during this time will hurt businesses operating in the area. Meanwhile, changes to bus routes and timetables, set to change in October to co-incide with the start of construction, remain a secret to the public.

VIDEO: Sydney Light Rail Construction Schedule – May 2015

Earlier in the week, the Opposition Leader Luke Foley had declared his opposition to light rail down George Street, while supporting light rail from Central to Randwick and Kingsford. When the construction schedule was announced, Mr Foley said “the Liberals will deliver a Berlin Wall down the central spine of Sydney, dividing the CBD into east and west…Sydney needs light rail – but not down George Street. The Liberals should listen to the experts and terminate light rail at Central Station”. Mr Foley supported the full light rail project prior to the last election, committing to build it in full if elected Premier.

The Premier Mike Baird defended the decision to go ahead with construction, stating that despite the disruption “if we say we’re going to build it, we’ll build it”. The Transport Minister Andrew Constance reinforced this view, saying that “we’re not in the business of cancelling contracts”.

The former Premier Barry O’Farrell, who was Premier when the current project received approval, also criticised Mr Foley for relying on Nick Greiner’s opposition to George St light rail in order to make his case. Mr O’Farrell has previously distanced himself from Mr Greiner, a previous Chairman of Infrastructure NSW, arguing that Mr Greiner may oppose rail based public transport but Mr O’Farrell and his government support it.

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Route of the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

Commentary: Just build it

Sydney is set to continue to grow and that growth needs an increase in transport capacity. For dense areas like the inner city, that means public transport should be prioritised ahead of private motor vehicles; while for the CBD, that means rail needs to be prioritised. When it comes to high capacity, almost nothing beats rail. Right now, that means light rail down George Street and Sydney Rapid Transit under the CBD. That is current government policy.

But not if Mr Foley had his way. In his world you not only see light rail terminate at the outskirts of the CBD but also no new funding for SRT under the CBD, effectively killing the project. Meanwhile, Mr Foley went to the last election commiting to extend the M4 all the way into the CBD. He would expand road based transport for the CBD, but not rail based transport. He has it the wrong way round.

Compare this to the government’s plans for WestConnex, bypassing the CBD and connecting the M4 and M5; with future plans for a Western Harbour road tunnel to connect Rozelle to North Sydney, further bypassing the CBD. Add this to the previously mentioned 2 major rail projects for the CBD and you get the right solution: cars out, trains and trams in.

VIDEO: Public Transport, Malcolm Turnbull (May 2007)

Monday: Light rail to Olympic Park could pay for itself

A new light rail line from Parramatta to Sydney Olympic Park could be paid for by raising $2.9bn in voluntary developer levies along the “Olympic Corridor”. The proposal has been raised by the WestLine Partnership, an alliance of business and local government groups representing interests between Parramatta and Sydney Olympic Park. Both the NSW Government and Opposition have committed to building at least one of four short listed light rail lines from Parramatta if they are elected to office. Though a line from Parramatta to Macquarie Park was initially seen as the most likely, a line from Parramatta to Olympic Park is now firming up as the favourite. It was mentioned specifically by Opposition Leader Luke Foley, and has also received the backing of Western Sydney Business Chamber Director David Borger.

Parramatta City Council's proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Parramatta City Council’s proposed 4 light rail lines. Click to enlarge. (Source: Western Sydney Light Rail Network: Part 2 Feasibility Report, p. 6)

Monday: Light rail gets planning approval

Planning approval has been given to modifications proposed to the CBD and South East Light Rail Line. Changes include the removal of one stop along George St in the CBD and the relocation of the light rail line to the Northern side of Alison Road, opposite the Randwick Racecourse. The Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said “The green light from planning means we can roll out longer light rail vehicles with more seats for customers and 50 per cent more capacity, allowing us to move up to 13,500 passengers every hour”. Construction will begin later this year, and is expected to be completed in 2018, with the line opening in early 2019.

Thursday: Nile adds conditions to asset sale

The Christian Democratic Party’s leader Fred Nile has added conditions to supporting the 99 year lease of the state’s electricity distribution assets. Mr Nile has demanded that workers rights be protected, seeking that “There would be no sackings for five years [and] their existing conditions and superannuation arrangements must be guaranteed”. The Coalition, which is seeking to lease the assets in order to go ahead with its $20bn infrastructure plans, is not expected to gain an absolute majority in the NSW Upper House and will likely need the support of the CDP in order to do so.

Saturday: WestConnex gets approval from Infrastructure Australia

Infrastructure Australia has given WestConnex, the proposed 33km surface and tunnel freeway connecting the M4 and M5 freeways in Sydney’s West via Sydney’s Inner West, the green light. IA found that WestConnex would provide $1.80 in benefits for every $1.00 spent, although this is less than the $2.55 that the NSW Government claimed it would provide in a 2013 report.

However, the report is based on the assumption that no additional car trips will occur as a result of the road’s construction. These “induced” trips were partly responsible for Melbourne’s East West Link receiving a benefit cost ratio of 0.45, compared to WestConnex’s 1.8. The report also does not take as conservative an approach to potential cost blowouts as IA normally takes, potentially understating the cost and thus overstating the benefit cost ratio.

Despite this, IA believes that the benefit cost ratio would still be above 1 (indicating benefits outweigh the costs), even if these two anomolies were taken into account.

VIDEO: #Equality – A short film by Neel Kolhatkar

Monday: Future of the Meccano Set uncertain

The structure holding up traffic lights and signs at the intersection of Woodville Road/Henry Lawson Drive and Hume Highway in Lansdowne, commonly known as the “Meccano Set”, could be removed. RMS is taking community and stakeholder feedback, with two possible options for the intersection:

  • repaint and maintain the structure, or
  • remove it completely and replace it with traffic signals and directional signage.

The Meccano Set was errected in 1962 and is not heritage listed, though it is considered a “place of interest” and a Western Sydney icon. Feedback will be accepted until 13 February.

Tuesday: Commuters can save by leaving car at home

Commuters could save $10,000 per year by switching from driving to taking public transport according to a report by the Australian Railway Association. The savings are contingent on not owning a car at all. Smaller savings of $1,700 per year would be possible by maintaining a car, but taking public transport to and from work rather than driving. Alan Davies at Crikey writes more on this topic.

Tuesday: SWRL appears on rail map

The South West Rail Link has appeared on the network map for Sydney Trains, while the timetable for the line has also been released. Trains will run every half hour between Leppington and Liverpool when the line opens on 8 February.

Sydney Trains network with the SWRL on the bottom left of the map. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Sydney Trains network with the SWRL on the bottom left of the map. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Tuesday: 524 new parking spots at train stations

Over 500 new parking spots at train stations were announced or opened this week. 400 parking spaces will be added at Holsworthy Station and 100 parking spaces will be added at Oatley Station. Meanwhile, 23 additional parking spaces were officially opened at Granville Station.

Wednesday: NWRL running ahead of schedule and under budget

The North West Rail Link is running 2 months ahead of schedule and is currently $300m under budget. The news comes as Elizabeth, the first of the 4 tunnel boring machines, reaches the future site of Norwest Station. Elizabeth began digging from Bella Vista, 2.1km away, in September of 2014.

Sunday: New ticket gates may be on the way

New, skinnier ticket barriers have been spotted at Olympic Park Station, suggesting that the current ticket barriers might be replaced soon. The barriers are currently covered up, but are clearly a more streamlined size and shape. Entry/Exit indicators have also been removed from Town Hall Station, which would also support the possibility that ticket barriers are soon to be updated.

NOTE: This post was meant to be written for 31 December 2014, but was delayed for numerous reasons.

Reflecting back on 2014

2015-01-05 Stats for 2014

This blog received over 255 thousand views in 2014, a time during which:

Posts with the most views

  1. Paper tickets to be retired and replaced with Opal, 1 June 2014 (7,693 views)
  2. Badgerys Creek infrastructure and noise impacts, 16 April 2014 (6,969 views)
  3. Sydney maps: real and fictional, 12 February 2014 (3,484 view)
  4. Opal’s hidden gems, 31 January 2014 (3,008 views)
  5. Metro plan could cost more and Northern Beaches Rail Line in the planning, 3 February 2014 (2,818 views)

Opal and its rollout garnered a great deal of interest, particularly given the bulk of the rollout occurred during 2014. Most the posts with high traffic were also either original content (Sydney maps: real and fictional or Opal’s hidden gems), or covered specific current issues in greater detail than other media did (Badgerys Creek infrastructure and noise impacts or Metro plan could cost more and Northern Beaches Rail Line in the planning).

11 June was the single day with the highest traffic volumes, with 1,924 views. This was the day after the Asset sales to fund Sydney Rapid Transit post was published. That post was not the most viewed post, but was likely viewed many times on the home page, rather than as a specific post.

Posts with the most comments

  1. This week in transport (7 December 2014)7 December 2014 (128 comments)
  2. This week in transport (30 March 2014)30 March 2014 (121 comments)
  3. Metro plan could cost more and Northern Beaches Rail Line in the planning, 3 February 2014 (92 comments)
  4. Commentary: Why a 2nd Harbour road tunnel is a good thing, 22 November 2014 (63 comments)
  5. Asset sale to fund Sydney Rapid Transit, 10 June 2014 (60 comments)

The 7 December post was in relation to the CBD and South East Light Rail (CSELR), while the 30 March post was in relation to the North West Rail Link. All up, Sydney Rapid Transit was responsible for igniting debate in 3 of the top 5 commented on posts, while the other two were in relation to the CSELR and a future Northern extension to WestConnex. All are projects that are still for the most part in the planning stages, with construction either yet to begin or only recently having begun.

The most frequent commenters over the last year were Simon (140 comments), Ray (123 comments), QPP (84 comments), MrV (77 comments), JC (58 comments).

Thank you to all commenters for engaging in discussion. Comments are always welcome.

Posts with the most activity on social media

  1. Paper tickets to be retired and replaced with Opal, 1 June 2014 (42 shares on Facebook and 3 tweets on Twitter)
  2. Opal soon to be available on entire Sydney Trains network19 February 2014 (41 shares on Facebook and 1 tweet on Twitter)
  3. Comparing Opal to Myki and TCard, 29 January 2014 (21 shares on Facebook and 11 tweets on Twitter)
  4. Live Blog – All Stations Challenge (22 December 2014), 22 December 2014 (18 shares on Facebook and 15 tweets on Twitter)
  5. The cost of transport and fare setting10 January 2014 (24 shares on Facebook and 2 tweets on Twitter)

Opal was, again, the issue that got readers to share posts from this blog. All up there were 2,651 referrals to this blog from Twitter and 1,971 from Facebook during the past year. Together they represent about 1.8% of all views on this blog.

Terms with the most searches

  1. Rail map (1,064 searches)
  2. Badgerys Creek airport (966 searches)
  3. WestConnex (238 searches)
  4. Sydney transport blog (191 searches)
  5. Sydney trains (184 searches)

Over 100,000 referrals came from search engines, of which approximately 95% were anonymous searches. The remaining 5% of searches were ll quite different, so similar search terms (e.g. Badgerys Creek airport, Badgerys Creek airport flight path, Badgerys Creek airport noise map, etc) with more than 5 searches were added up. Various combinations of rail maps and Badgerys Creek airport each yielded the greatest number of searches. However, it is difficult to tell if these are a representative sample of all searches.

Looking forward to 2015

The first half of this new year will see the opening of the South West Rail Link (February), the NSW State election (March), and the start of construction on the CBD portion of the CSELR after the Centenary of Anzac Day (April). Changes to the CBD bus network are also set to be announced during this time.

The new year will also see the rollout of Opal Concession cards and ticket machines plus the start of construction on the M4 and M5 portions of WestConnex. Details are also awaited on which alignment is chosen for light rail from Parramatta and specific information on enhancements to be made to Western Sydney’s heavy rail network in order to expand network capacity once the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link is closed in 2018 to be integrated into the Sydney Rapid Transit network.

NOTE: Apologies for the lateness of this week’s post. It was written up, but then not posted immediately.

Thursday: Opal card fare hack discovered

Opal users can reach their weekly travel reward for $13.86 in under 30 minutes on Tuesdays if they have made 2 journeys on the previous Monday. The “hack”, as it has been dubbed by the Opal Card App developers who discovered it, comes less than 3 months after the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian encouraged the public to seek ways of cutting their fare costs using their Opal card.

VIDEO: Opal Card Hack

The method requires customers to have already made 2 journeys on a previous day, due to the $15 daily cap. Customers must also travel during off-peak (outside of (7:00AM-9:00AM and 4:00PM-6:30PM) in order to receive the off-peak discount. It also makes use of the fact that Macdonaldtown Station and Erskineville Stations, the two stations that are the closest on the network, are only 350m apart.

An adult Opal card. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW)

An adult Opal card. Click to enlarge.
(Source: Transport for NSW)

By tapping on at one and tapping off at the other, customers simulate catching a train and making 1 trip. By returning to the original station and tapping on again, a new trip is initiated. However, these 2 trips do not appear to be linked, thus making them independent journeys for the purpose of reaching the weekly travel reward. Normally customers must wait 60 minutes between tapping off and tapping back on in order for trips not to be linked and thus count as 2 separate journeys.

The 2 stations must also be ungated, ruling out any CBD stations as well as major suburban stations.

Thursday: Pedestrian countdown timer trial

The NSW Government is set to trial pedestrian countdown timers at six intersections in Sydney to determine if the timers help improve safety for pedestrians. A yellow countdown timer, displaying the number of seconds left for pedestrians to cross the road, will replace the red flashing “don’t walk” signal.

VIDEO: Putting pedestrian countdown timers to the test

Friday: Real time data comes for ferries and trams

Real time locations for ferries and light rail is being introduced to transport apps, in addition to the existing real time vehicle information previously available for buses and trains. Real time data will be available on six transport apps: NextThere, TripView, TransitTimes+, TripGo, Triptastic, and Arrivo Sydney.

Saturday: Second Harbour road crossing planned

The NSW Government is planning a second Harbour road crossing, linking the Balmain peninsula to the M2 at Lane Cove. The plans, reported by the Sydney Morning Herald and yet to be officially announced, are reportedly contingent on the 99 year lease of the NSW electricity distribution network. It will link up to the Northern extension of WestConnex, which will link up WestConnex to the Anzac Bridge.

Commentary: Why a 2nd Harbour road tunnel is a good thing

WestConnex and its new North-South extension to the Anzac Bridge and Sutherland. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact Sheet 4, p. 1.)

A new Harbour crossing would begin at the current end of the proposed Northern extension to WestConnex and end at the M2 in Lane Cove. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Rebuilding NSW Fact Sheet 4, p. 1.)

Sunday: 60,000 apartments for Parramatta Road

Plans for 60,000 new apartments to be built along the Parramatta Road corridor are set to be released by the NSW Government. One quarter of the new homes would be built in Granville, while a third would be built in Homebush. The plan includes improved bus connections between Burwood and the city, set to coincide with the completion of the M4 East portion of WestConnex parallel to Parramatta Road. Though the existing M4 is set to be widened between Parramatta and Concord, no details have been announced about any public transport improvements in this part of Parramatta Road. Over two thirds of the 60,000 apartments are to be built in this Western portion of Parramatta Road.

This follows a push by the opposition for these plans to be made public immediately, rather than in 2015.

It was revealed earlier today that the Government is making plans for a new Harbour tunnel, which would link a proposed extended Westconnex freeway near the Anzac Bridge to the M2 in Sydney’s North. Such a corridor was not news, it was included as one of the 4 corridors for investigation in the 2012 Transport Master Plan. But it now appears that the Government has moved beyond investigation and is actively planning for its eventual construction.

Road projects recommended by the Transport Master Plan. Click on image for higher resolution. (Source: Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

Road projects recommended by the Transport Master Plan. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW, Transport Master Plan, page 140.)

Concerns have been raised about the continued expansion of the freeway network. One source reportedly asked “where does WestConnex end” while transport advocacy group Action for Public Transport said the proposal was “bad policy” and that “more roads = more congestion”. Urban planner Lewis Mumford famously said in 1955 that “building more roads to prevent congestion is like a fat man loosening his belt to prevent obesity”.

The author of this blog sympathises with these views and believes strongly that a sustained investment in expanding public transport infrastructure should take priority over road infrastructure in Australia’s major cities.

Despite that, roads are still needed. While it makes sense to encourage mode share towards public transport and away from cars, there are some trips that are more suited to public transport and other better suited to cars. Trips into the CBD and other major centres or within the dense inner city, for example, are well suited to public transport. This is evident by the high mode share which public transport already has into the CBD (70% of all journeys to work in the 2006 census). In these places, it should be further encouraged through greater investment in public transport, more bus lanes, or even pedestrianisation of streets. However, trips from dispersed and/or low density origins and destinations are much better suited to car transport and here car trips hold a high mode share (85% of all journeys to work in the 2006 census). Consider that a single occupant car is much more sustainable from both a financial and environmental perspective than a bus with a single passenger. In these cases, investment in roads is needed to provide the most efficient mode of transporting people.

Too many times ideology clouds what should be a mode-agnostic review. If the best mode for a particular area is rail, then rail is what should be built. If it is walking, then wider footpaths are needed. If it is cars, then more roads should be the solution. Extremist and ideological views, such as opposing all urban freeways or all urban railways, are not helping.

Which brings us back to the proposed tunnel. This tunnel, much like Westconnex, does not actually take traffic into the CBD. It acts as a bypass, allowing cars to go from the very dispersed origins and destinations mentioned earlier. It is a ring road which, as this blog outlined last year, is the best kind of road. It allows cars to do what they do best – transporting people and goods to and from dispersed locations; meanwhile it quarantines the CBD for what public transport does best – transporting large numbers of people into a small area.

The smart thing to so would be to push for improvements to the proposal, rather than oppose it. For example, this would provide a great opportunity to have bus lanes all the way along the Western Distributor, Anzac Bridge, and Victoria Road. This would be similar to the bus lane that was instated on the Harbour Bridge when the Harbour Tunnel was built. This would go well with the planned urban renewal of the surrounding Bays precinct, which would need additional public transport capacity to support additional development. Light rail, either a spur from the existing line to Dulwich Hill or a new line along the Victoria Road corridor, should also be considered.

What is not helpful is the idea that this is an either/or situation. Sydney can and should have more road and public transport infrastructure. What matters is not the mode, but whether that mode is appropriate for the purpose.

Monday: High speed rail costs could be halved

The Australasian Railway Association has released a report showing that, based on international construction costs of $35m/km, a high speed rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne could be built for $63bn. This is significantly less than the $114bn in the Australian Government’s recent high speed rail study.

Tuesday: 4 routes shortlisted for Parramatta light rail

An initial list of 10 possible light rail lines from Parramatta has been cut down to 4, with a final decision to be made in the near future. The government is set to pick a line connecting Parramatta to either Castle Hill, Macquarie Park, Olympic Park, or Bankstown.

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of light rail in Parramatta. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Tuesday: Fuel excise indexation introduced via regulation

The indexation of the fuel excise is to be introduced by the Australian Government despite the Senate having blocked legislation to enable it. Reintroducing indexation will cause the price of petrol to rise by about 1c per year and is expected to raise $2.2bn over 4 years. The move is expected to put pressure on Senators to pass the measure so that the additional revenue raised does not have to be refunded to petrol companies.

Tuesday: Mobile apps to help with accessibility

The Government is calling on app developers to help create a series of apps that will meet the needs of people with a disability using public transport. This is aimed at ensuring compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act to provide better services for people with a disability. “Planning a journey, knowing that our stop is coming up next or even knowing which side of the train to alight from are tasks that most of us take for granted,” a Transport for NSW spokesman said, adding that “for customers with disability or impairment it can be a huge cause of anxiety”. Selected app proposals will receive seed funding, ongoing access to real time transport data as well as promotion of their product by Transport for NSW.

Thursday: Gold Opal card to be released

A Gold Opal card for seniors and pensioners is to be released on Monday 3 November. The card will feature a $2.50 daily cap and also offer free travel after the first 8 journeys each week. Speaking about existing paper tickets for seniors and pensioners, the Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian said that “the paper Pensioner Excursion Ticket will continue to be available on Monday November 3, and well into the future”. Gold Opal cards can only be obtained online or over the phone.

Thursday: 50,000 new homes for Parramatta Road

An additional 50,000 homes will be built along Parramatta Road over the coming decades, with over two thirds of homes slated for the Western end of these Parramatta Road between Granville and Strathfield. The NSW Government is planning to widen the M4 alongside this portion of Parramatta Road while building the M4 East Tunnel underneath the Eastern portion of Parramatta Road as part of its WestConnex project.

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Friday: Whitlam Station proposed for NWRL

The terminus station on the North West Rail Link (NWRL) could be named Whitlam, after Blacktown City Council proposed naming a new suburb after the former Prime Minister. The station is currently known as Cudgegong Road.

VIDEO: Man races a train to the next stop

Tuesday: Parking minimums for new developments scrapped

New developments near transport hubs in and around the inner city will no longer be required to include parking spaces as part of government reforms to planning laws. Including a parking space can add an additional $50,000 or more to the cost of a unit, with the changes designed to allow inner city residents who do not need or want a parking space from being forced to pay for one. Developers can still choose to include parking spaces, should market demand for them exist. Opposition to the plan prevented it from being extended to outer suburban locations, with critics worried that it would result in cars spilling over into streets and using up the limited amount of available on-street parking in the inner city.

Tuesday: Replacement Epping to Chatswood Line bus routes announced

Five indicative bus routes have been identified which will run while the Epping to Chatswood Line is shut down during 2018 and 2019. The line is being upgraded as part of the North West Rail Link and will not operate for 7 months. During this time, additional bus services will operate to connect the T1 Northern Line and T1 North Shore Lines that are currently linked by rail between Epping to Chatswood.

5 bus routes will replace the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link in 2018 and 2019 during the 7 months that it is being upgraded as part of the North West Rail Link. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

5 bus routes will replace the Epping to Chatswood Rail Link in 2018 and 2019 during the 7 months that it is being upgraded as part of the North West Rail Link. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Thursday: Registration of Interest for Maldon to Dombarton Line opens

Update: Northern Line added (10:52PM, 28/09/2014)

The NSW Government has called on private sector investors to show their interest in building and operating the 35km Maldon to Dombarton Rail Line. The freight line would connect Port Kembla in Wollongong to the Southern Sydney Freight Line, potentially removing freight trains from the T4 Illawarra Line that currently travel via Sutherland to reach Sydney from Port Kembla. This could mean a completely segregated freight and passenger rail network in metropolitan Sydney outside of the Western Line and Northern Line, much of which consists of 2 pairs of tracks and can better handle disruptions to passenger services caused by broken down freight trains, while also allowing more freight to operate during the busy commuter peak hour during which curfews are in place for freight trains on much of the passenger network.

Construction on the Maldon to Dombarton freight line began in 1983 but was never completed due to an economic downturn and the forecast growth in coal traffic not eventuating.

Saturday: Rail line building plan to be scrapped

Plans to build high rise buildings close to the CBD by utilising the airspace above the rail line between Central and Redfern Stations looks set to be abandoned. The plan has proven to be too risky and too expensive. This made it unlikely that the private sector would be willing to bear the risk of the project, leaving the Government the risk burden. The plan, which would also contain a redevelopment of industrial areas on either side of the rail line near Redfern, had been compared to Barangaroo in size and scale.

Finance reporter Alan Kohler wrote yesterday about how he believes clearways, the removal of on-street parking from major roads to improve traffic flow, are needed outside of peak hour as congestion problems now last well outside of peak hour; particularly so on weekends. In many cases a 4 lane road dedicates 2 lanes to parking, which restricts the maximum capacity by 50%. Rather than building expensive new roads, Mr Kohler opines that a better option would be to unlock this existing capacity.

Mr Kohler is right about one thing, this is definitely a much cheaper way of improving road capacity than building new roads. Sydney’s WestConnex and Melbourne’s East-West Link alone are reported to cost $11.5bn and $18bn each, with State and Commonwealth Governments contributing a combined $9.3bn to the road projects so far. But removing on-street parking will only dramatically improve traffic flows if parking is the major bottleneck. In many cases, removing on-street parking can just see it replaced by intersections and bus stops as the bottleneck.

Removing on-street parking removes one bottleneck, but often only sees it replaced with other bottlenecks. Bondi Road, nominated as a possible all day clearway by the NSW Government, shows how bus stops without bus bays and intersections without turning lanes can cause through traffic to get stuck behind buses and other cars when clearways are introduced. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author.)

Removing on-street parking removes one bottleneck, but often only sees it replaced with other bottlenecks. Bondi Road, nominated as a possible all day clearway by the NSW Government, shows how bus stops without bus bays and intersections without turning lanes can cause through traffic to get stuck behind buses and other cars when clearways are introduced. Click to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps, modified by author.)

A major road without additional turning lanes at intersections can see delays as through traffic is delayed by cars waiting to turn. However, because parking is not allowed near intersections, this effectively creates turning lanes. Thus, through traffic does not get stuck behind cars waiting to turn. This isn’t particularly problematic during peak hour as most traffic is through traffic headed towards a few major centres . However, outside of peak hour and on weekends in particular trips tend to be dispersed and this encourages more turning movements rather than through traffic. The effect of this is to enhance the benefit of clearways during peak hour but diminish it outside of it.

The absence of bus bays can also cause through traffic to get stuck behind buses picking up or dropping off passengers at bus stops. With on-street parking, bus zones act as de facto bus bays, allowing buses to pull in and allow through traffic to continue undisrupted. However, unlike turning lanes, this is a bigger problem during peak hour when buses are more frequent.

(There are alternatives to improving traffic flows. Putting aside additional investments in public transport to encourage car users out of their cars and into public transport or even considering bus lanes rather than clearways, the best way to allocate scarce resources is to put a price on it – in this case by pricing both driving and parking. Alan Davies has written on road pricing here and here, while Paul Barter explains how better pricing of parking can cut congestion.)

Extending clearways by removing on-street parking can improve traffic flows, but not all of the time. Care needs to be taken to ensure that doing so will actually improve traffic flows and not just replace one bottleneck with another. The best possible outcome is that these are considered on a case by case basis to improve traffic flows where it is possible rather than where it is not. The worst possible outcome would be that this does little to improve actual traffic flows but instead gives the impression that it will, encouraging extra road users into their cars and thus worsening traffic congestion.

Monday: 40km speed limits for the city

A large part of Sydney’s CBD will become a 40km per hour speed zone for cars by the end of September. The Roads Minister Duncan Gay said that “the new 40km per hour limit zone will operate in the area bound by Castlereagh Street to the east, Kent Street to the west and Hay Street to the south” and was due to be introduced by the Christmas shopping period at the end of the year. Large parts of the central Sydney area already have 40km per hour speed limits, including Millers Point, Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst, Surry Hills, Redfern, Chippendale, Rosebery, Leichhardt, and Erskineville.

Tuesday: NWRL trains announced but will include 6-7 month shut down for Epping to Chatswood Line

Trains on the North West Rail Link (NWRL) will run every 4 minutes in peak and 10 minutes during off peak initially using a fleet of driverless 6 carriage trains. With platforms designed for 8 carriage trains, these can eventually be upgraded to longer trains. The line will initially have a capacity of about 17,280 passengers per hour, which could be doubled (34,560) if the maximum capacity of 30 trains per hour is reached. This maximum capacity of almost 35,000 passengers per hour is higher than the current 24,000 passengers per hour capacity for double deck trains, but will see fewer seated passengers per hour.

Artists impression of the trains to run on the NWRL at Kellyville Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of the trains to run on the NWRL at Kellyville Station. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The line will require a 6-7 month shutdown of the Epping to Chatswood Line in order for it to be converted to operate on the new Sydney Rapid Transit system. This will occur in early 2019 and possibly also late 2018.

Friday: Rail workers lost right to not be retrenched

Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink employees have agreed to an enterprise agreement in which they have given up conditions which protected them from job redundancies in exchange for a higher pay in the agreement. Previously rail employees could not be retrenched if their positions were made redundant, a working condition that had become increasingly rare. The agreement was agreed to by two thirds of employees and according to Transport for NSW the state will save $20m per year.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that 200 rail employees are currently employed despite having their positions being made redundant. The organisation responsible for managing these employees, INS, spends a reported $8m in administrative costs each year. Employees will be able to be retrenched after 12 months if no job is found for them during that time.

VIDEO: Dancing Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy

Monday: WestConnex construction to cost $473m per km

Analysis done for the Sydney Morning Herald finds that the WestConnex freeway will cost $473m/km to build. The high cost has been attributed to the high level of tunnelling required to build it; large parts of the 33km freeway will be entirely underground. Comparable surface only roads have a much lower cost per km, such as the M7 ($58m/km), or the planned roads to support an airport at Badgerys Creek (ranging in cost from $50m/km to $89m/km). Roads in other states that make heavy use of tunnels came in with higher price tags than WestConnex, such as Melbourne’s East-West Link ($1,000m/km) or Brisbane’s Airport Link ($747m/km).

Monday: Lane Cove Tunnel court case begins

Courts have been told that initial traffic forecasts for the Lane Cove Tunnel (LCT) of 57,686 cars per day were inflated up to between 150,000 and 187,000 cars per day in a bid to win over investors for the project. The LCT ultimately opened in 2007 with 66,000 cars per day, a figure much closer to the abandoned projection than the final one used. The forecasters, Parsons Brinkerhoff and Booz Allen, are being sued by two funds, AMP Infrastructure Equity Fund and the Retail Employees Superannuation Fund, who claim they relied on the forecasts when making investment decisions about the LCT. The funds are seeking over $144m in damages, more than half of which is interest on the initial loss.

Wednesday: Treasurer calls petrol tax progressive: poor people don’t drive as much

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey described proposed changes to the fuel excise as progressive, telling ABC radio that “the poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases”. His comments were strongly criticised and Mr Hockey apologised for making the comments 2 days later, saying that “I can only apologise for any hurt I’ve caused”.

Wednesday: M4 widening EIS released

The Environmental Impact Statement for the M4 widening, the first part of the WestConnex freeway, was released. The M4 widening will see the existing M4 between Parramatta and Homebush widened up to 6 or 8 lanes, from an existing 4 or 6 lanes. The EIS forecasts that Eastbound peak hour travel between Parramatta and Homebush is expected to rise from 12 minutes (2014) to 19 minutes (2031) if nothing is done, or drop to 5 minutes with the M4 widening. Westbound peak hour travel between Homebush and Parramatta is expected to rise from 5 minutes (2014) to 15 minutes (2031) if nothing is done, or rise to 9 minutes with the M4 widening. (Source: M4 Widening EIS, p. 14.)

The M4 will have additional lanes added between Parramatta and Homebush. Click to enlarge. (Source: Roads & Maritime Service, M4 Widening EIS, pp. 16-17.)

The M4 will have additional lanes added between Parramatta and Homebush. Click to enlarge. (Source: Roads & Maritime Service, M4 Widening EIS, pp. 16-17.)

The number of vehicles per hour on Parramatta Rd in the morning peak fell 18.9%, from 3,960 (2008) to 3,210 (2011), following the removal of the toll on the M4. The return of a toll will see some cars shift from the tolled M4 to the free Parramatta Rd, while other cars will shift from the slower Parramatta Rd to the faster M4. This will see a predicted 4.3% increase in cars on Parramatta Rd, from 3,210 (2011) to 3,350 (2021). (Source: M4 Widening EIS, p. 21.)

Thursday: Premier seeks crowdsourced solutions to traffic problems

The people of NSW will have the opportunity to suggest ways to deal with Sydney’s traffic problems under a plan by the Premier Mike Baird to crowdsource solutions to this problem. The plan follows similar initiatives in cities such as Los Angeles, Toronto, and London.

Friday: Finance Minister supports Uber

The NSW Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet spoke favouorably of ride sharing app Uber, saying that NSW “should welcome the sharing economy as something profoundly conservative”. This contrasts with the existing NSW Government policy, which puts strong limits on apps like Uber. “Services must be provided in a licensed taxi or hire car, by an appropriately accredited driver, authorised by Roads and Maritime Services” a Transport for NSW spokesperson said, adding that those not following these rules could be fined up to $110,000.

Do poor people drive less?

Posted: August 15, 2014 in Transport
Tags:

Break in transmission: This blog has gone without updates for a few weeks due to illness and a family holiday. Things should now return to normal for the foreseeable future. In other news, today marks 3 years of this blog!

VIDEO: Hockey says poorest people ‘don’t drive very far’, ABC News (13 August 2014)

Suggestions that poor people either don’t own cars or drive their cars less by the Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey have resulted in Mr Hockey apologising for any hurt his comments have caused. The comments were made to ABC Radio on Wednesday, in which Mr Hockey said the following:

“The people that actually pay the most are higher income people, with an increase in fuel excise and yet the Labor Party and the Greens are opposing it. They say you’ve got to have wealthier people or middle-income people pay more.

Well, the change to the fuel excise does exactly that; the poorest people either don’t have cars or actually don’t drive very far in many cases. But we are actually, you know, they are opposing what is meant to be, according to the Treasury, a progressive tax.”Joe Hockey, Australian Treasurer (13 August 2014)

Later that day he backed up this statement with a clarifying statement, which stated that “average weekly expenditure on petrol in absolute terms increases with household income, from $16.36 at the lowest income quintile to $53.87 at the highest income quintile”. Meanwhile, it also showed that households with low socio-economic advantage were more likely to own no cars and least likely to own 3 or more cars. The opposite was the case for households with high socio-economic advantage.

Car ownership based on household socio-economic advantage. Click to enlarge. (Source: Australian Treasury based on ABS data.)

Car ownership based on household socio-economic advantage. Click to enlarge. (Source: Australian Treasury based on ABS data.)

Critics were quick to take issue with Mr Hockey’s claims that this was a progressive tax. A progressive tax is defined as a tax that increases as a proportion of income as income rises. So to be progressive, an individual must not only pay more in tax as their income rises, but more tax as a proportion of their income. On this basis, although the richest quintile spent 3 times as much as the poorest on petrol ($53.87 vs $16.36), they also earned 11 times as much as the poorest ($3,942 vs $360) according to a report by the left leaning Australia Institute. The result is that the highest income quintile spent only 1.37% of their income on petrol, compared to 4.54% for the lowest income quintile. An increase in the price of petrol per litre would, according to this, disproportionately hit lower income households harder than higher income households.

The Shadow Transport Minister Anthony Albanese also criticised the increase in the fuel excise due to the government’s decision to cut all funding to urban commuter rail and other public transport. Doing so prevents individuals from being able to switch from the soon to be more expensive driving option to taking public transport, according to Mr Albanese.

RMIT Professor Jago Dodson analysed Mr Hockey’s statement as part of a fact check for The Conversation and found that it ranged from conditionally true to not necessarily true as well as partly unverifiable. Professor Dodson concluded that there was insufficient data available to fully verify that “poorer people either don’t own cars or don’t drive very far”, while finding the statement “higher-income people pay the most fuel excise” to be true on the basis of absolute spending on petrol. However, this did not hold up when considered as a proportion of income, which is the basis of determining whether a tax is progressive or not – another one of Mr Hockey’s claims.

In addition, Professor Dodson also stated a preference for using disposable income as the measure of income, rather than pre-tax/pre-welfare gross income figures that the Australia Institute report used. When looking at spending on petrol as a percentage of disposable income, it is the middle 60% of income earners who spend the most on petrol followed by low income earners and finally high income earners. The lowest income quintile spend less on petrol than all but the highest income quintile.

All this shows that the answer to Mr Hockey’s rhetorical question is actually a much more complicated answer than the headlines may suggest.

Commentary: Why the fuel excise should be indexed

Lost in the whole discussion over whether and how much poor people drive cars is the question of whether re-indexing the fuel excise is good policy. The answer is yes. The reasons are listed in detail by Alan Davies at Crikey.

In brief, this policy will raise an additional $2.2bn over the next 4 years via the elimination of a tax cut rather than a tax increase. Indexation merely prevents the erosion of the tax base as prices increase. It will also make public transport more competitive while acting as a price on carbon (which did not exist under the carbon tax as petrol was exempted).

When determining how taxes are raised, it is better to tax the things that we as a society want to discourage. That is why alcohol and tobacco are taxed, that is why there was a push to put a price on carbon, and that is why the fuel excise is a good tax. If we choose to shift the tax base away from these areas, then it means taxing things that we as a society want to encourage, like income taxes on salaries. Alternatively it means cutting back on government spending. Neither of these is preferable to taxing something like petrol, and it is therefore disappointing to see this being ruled out as a revenue source.

The Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey. Click to enlarge. (Source: www.joehockey.com)

The Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey. Click to enlarge. (Source: www.joehockey.com)

Where the government has made things difficult for itself is in ruling out funding public transport, urban commuter rail in particular. By doing so, it opens itself up to criticisms that it can’t use the price signal to encourage a shift from driving to public transport while simultaneously raising barriers to public transport by cutting funding.  It would also make its life easier if it attempted to compensate the lower income earners from the impacts of re-indexation. This could be done at a low cost according to Mr Davies: “the poorest 20% of households could be compensated for indexation if just 8% of the additional revenue raised was returned to them through the tax-transfer system”.

Wednesday: Guardian services to be axed

Guardian services on Sydney Trains, with their guaranteed Transit Officers onboard select late night trains, are to be abolished. The government will replace them with roving police from the Police Transport Command. The Shadow Transport Minister Penny Sharpe has criticised the decision, arguing that police are under resourced to protect rail customers. According to Ms Sharpe “the Police are supposed to have 481 officers – they currently only have 401 and around 40 of those are seconded from other areas”.

Thursday: NRMA argues against bus lanes for Parramatta Road

Motoring lobby NRMA has warned against removing traffic lanes from Parramatta Road once the WestConnex freeway is opened, arguing that surface road space may be required should the M4 East tunnels be blocked in order to prevent congestion. Current plans for WestConnex involve removing traffic lanes on Parramatta Road and converting them to bus lanes or bike/pedestrian paths.

Artists impression of Parramatta Road at Five Dock after WestConnex is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Artists impression of Parramatta Road at Five Dock after WestConnex is completed. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Sunday: Opal readers installed at light rail stop

Opal readers have been spotted on the previously installed mounts at Central Station. This suggests that Opal will soon be rolled out to light rail, quite possible well ahead of the current “early 2015” timetable. It also suggests that Opal readers will be off vehicle rather than on vehicle, as is the case with ferries and trains.

VIDEO: Opal Man is Transport for NSW’s newest advertising campaign for the Opal card

Tuesday: Woman on train filmed being abusive and racist to other passengers

A woman on a Central Coast train was filmed abusing other passengers, including children, after asking the children to give up their seat so that she could sit down. Another passenger then offered his seat to the woman, but she did not take up the offer and instead called the police. The video, uploaded to YouTube by user Kareem Abdul, shows the woman calling the police about the incident before she begins calling other passengers “bogan” or “gook” (a derogatory term aimed at an Asian woman on the train) as well as mocking an Asian woman and asking her “what’s wrong with Hong Kong, why did you come to this country”. At the time of writing, the video has over 800,000 views.

The woman later apologised for her actions, claiming that she had a “rotten day”. It also emerged that the name “Sue Wilkins” that she gave on the phone to the police was not her actual name.  She was later arrested by police over the incident and taken to Wyong police station.

Transport for NSW issued a statement over Twitter, stating that they would work with police to keep customers safe.

Tuesday: Sydney Trains turns 1 year old

Sydney Trains had its first anniversary, following the creation of Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink on 1 July 2013 from the old Railcorp and CountryLink. Sydney Trains CEO Howard Collins spoke to radio station 2GB about his 12 months on the job in which he cited clearer train and station announcements as one of his successes. He also called for more capital investment in the rail network, and urged that it be continued investment rather than one off investments.

The news was followed with an announced $33m refresh of 28 stations across the network, on top of 19 stations already announced that are to be refreshed. This will involve a deep clean and overhaul of facilities, including upgraded toilets, new furniture, energy-efficient lighting, repainting and landscaping. The move has received criticism for including stations which have just been upgraded in recent years, such as Newtown (2013), North Sydney (2008), or Seven Hills (2008). The 28 stations include: Ashfield, Auburn, Cabramatta, Fairfield, Rockdale, Macquarie University, Bankstown, Mount Druitt, Liverpool, Edgecliff, Campsie, North Sydney, Rhodes, Chatswood, Hornsby, Epping, Eastwood, Artarmon, Westmead, Gordon, Newtown, Campbelltown, St Peters, Sutherland, Seven Hills, Sydenham, Turramurra, and Milsons Point.

Tuesday: Road tolls increase

Tolls on most Sydney freeways increased, with the biggest increase found on the M7 where the maximum toll rose 19c to $7.56. License fees for 3 and 5 year drivers licenses also increased by $4.

Wednesday: Opal Man campaign introduced as Opal rolls out to almost 1,000 buses in a month

A new advertising campaign involving “Opal Man” (see video at the top of this post) has been introduced, with 5 actual Opal Men deployed to various stations on the network to encourage individuals to get their Opal card. 360,000 Opal cards have now been issued, with over 15,000 more cards issued every week.

Opal Man is the new TV advertising campaign for the Opal Card. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

Opal Man is the new TV advertising campaign for the Opal Card. Click to enlarge. (Source: Transport for NSW.)

The rollout will see Opal readers enabled on 600 Hillbus buses on 30 June as well as a further 300 buses in South West Sydney and Hurstville on 14 July and 16 July respectively. A total of 5,000 buses across NSW will be Opal enabled by the end of the year, with light rail set to be Opal enabled in early 2015.

Video: Sydney’s Trains – Flashback Report, Seven News (21 June 2014)

Monday: Opal rolls out to buses in Northwest Sydney

600 buses in the Hillsbus fleet covering Castle Hill, Rouse Hill, Pennant Hills, Parramatta, Blacktown, and express services along the M2 Hills Motorway to the City will become Opal enabled starting from Monday 30 June. There are now more than 340,000 Opal cards issued, with the bus rollout expected to finish by the end of 2014.

Friday: Ashfield Park saved from WestConnex while WestConnex saved from inquiry

Plans for a tunnel connecting Parramatta Road to the M4 East portion of WestConnex that would have impacted on Ashfield Park have been abandoned as part of a deal between the NSW Government and the Shooters and Fishers Party. The tunnel will now emerge at another location, as yet undecided, which will leave the park untouched. In exchange, the Shooters and Fishers have agreed to not back a proposed Parliamentary inquiry into WestConnex.

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Map of the WestConnex freeway. Click to enlarge. (Source: RMS)

Saturday: WestConnex access roads around Parramatta abandoned

Previously planned links between the M4 and local roads around Parramatta have been abandoned as not “cost effective”. A number of the M4’s on and off ramps around Parramatta only provide access in one direction or only from certain roads. The planned widening of the M4 between Parramatta and Strathfield will still go ahead as planned.

Tuesday: Budget includes $60bn for infrastructure

The NSW Budget included funding for $60bn of planned infrastructure spending over the next 4 years. The spending includes new heavy rail lines (North West Rail Link, South West Rail Link), light rail lines (CBD and South East Light Rail, a yet undetermined light rail line from Parramatta), roads (WestConnex, NorthConnex, roads around Badgerys Creek in Western Sydney, Northern Beaches roads and Bus Rapid Transit), and new public transport vehicles (trains and buses).

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Major transport infrastructure projects included in the 2014-15 NSW Budget. Click to enlarge. (Sources: NSW Treasury, Transport for NSW, Open Street Map.)

Wednesday: NWRL Skytrain construction begins

Construction has begun on the 4km Skytrain viaduct for the North West Rail Link (NWRL). Two stations, Kellyville and Rouse Hill, will be on this portion of the NWRL, elevated above the ground. It will also include a rail bridge crossing Windsor Road.

Video: NWRL Building Skytrain, Transport for NSW (17 June 2014)

Friday: New Rail Operations Centre for Sydney Trains

$11.4m will be spent this year to create a new Rail Operations Centre, which will consolidate the operations and communications functions that are currently geographically dispersed across Sydney. The concentration of these operations will allow for improved communications in responding to incidents on the network.

However, concentration of operations has been criticised in the past. Last year a fire at one of Sydney’s signal boxes (there are 19 in total, with most equipment concentrated in 2 depots) caused a virtual shut down of all trains for 30 minutes on the Sydney Trains network (other than the T4 line). The lack of contingency was blamed for the shut down, with no back up plan available to take over once the signal box was evacuated.

Friday: Transport Police make 5,000 arrests in 2 years

The Public Transport Command (PTC), police responsible for safety on public transport, was established in May 2012 and since then have issued 92,000 infringements, laid 9,000 charges, and made 5,000 arrests. Along with Transport Officers (responsible for checking that tickets are valid) the PTC replaced the old transit officers. Police and Transport Officers now patrol all forms of public transport (Transit Officers were only found aboard trains) but have been criticised for being fewer in number than the old Transit Officers.