The following draft of a public transport policy for Socialist Alliance expands and extends existing national policy, by incorporating work done for the NSW state elections in 2007, articles for Green Left Weekly and other research. It attempts to both illustrate the problems with the existing situation, where inadequate provision of public transport disadvantages poor communities and the environment and point the way to an socially and ecologically sustainable alternative.
Draft Socialist Alliance Policy on public transport
Provision of adequate public transport to service all communities is a social and environmental imperative. Private road transport (both cars and trucks carrying freight) are a major contributor to carbon pollution, while lack of access to public transport places a huge burden on poorer communities in particular.
Reliance on private transport costs at least $39 billion a year, according to Rapid and Affordable Transport Alliance (RATA). Of this, $21 billion is lost due to road congestion and $18 billion for traffic accidents. Socialist Alliance believes that immediate government action — at a federal, state and local level — must be taken to reverse the heavy reliance on private transport in Australia.
Griffith University researchers Jago Dodson and Neil Sipe published Oil Vulnerability in the Australian City in December 2005. The study attempted to determine the potential social impact of increasing petrol price rises on residents of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, based on their dependence on cars and their socio-economic status.
“Clearly, outer-suburban areas, locations that contain low socio-economic status populations, and suburbs which have high levels of car dependence will be most affected by [petrol price] increases”, Dodson and Sipe argue.
Their study found that because of the relatively poor provision of public transport in outer-urban areas of Australia’s major cities, particularly “circumferential” public transport (i.e. public transport that links suburbs with each other, rather than the city centre), residents were forced to rely more heavily on private cars than more affluent, inner-city residents.
Part of the problem is that provision of public transport does not meet greatest need, Dodson and Sipe found. “The major capital cities each have extensive metropolitan rail networks but the numbers of services running on them are far below system capacities. There is typically little integration between modes particularly between the rail and bus networks and the use of local buses as feeders to the higher capacity rail systems is underdeveloped”, they argue.
What public transport is available in cities does not generally help the most economically disadvantaged. For instance: “In Sydney the high socio-economic status households of north Sydney have been able to capture among the best quality public transport services in the city, while lower socio-economic status groups in fringe areas receive much poorer services”, Dodson and Sipe argue.
In August 2008, Dodson and Sipe updated their research in Unsettling Suburbia: The New Landscape of Oil and Mortgage Vulnerability in Australian Cities, with information drawn from the 2006 Census (conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics), which showed that the situation had grown worse. In Melbourne, “42.3% saw their oil and mortgage vulnerability worsen during the 2001-06 period”, the report found. In Sydney, the figure was 41%, while in Perth the figure was 39.5% and Adelaide 38.5%. Only in Brisbane was the situation “largely static”.
In Roads, Railways and Regimes: Why some societies are able to organise suburban public transport — and why others can’t published in October 2007, Griffith University researcher Chris Harris said the neglect of public transport had been a “policy of contrived ‘state failure”’. The failure is most common in English-speaking countries going back to the 1950s and 1960s.
“It is clear that the rise of ‘automobile dependency’ to the levels seen in the English-speaking world — where there is often not a public transport alternative, or only a ramshackle one — was a policy choice”, Harris said.
“To paraphrase the tag line to Doctor Strangelove, it was as if policymakers in all the English-speaking countries simultaneously ‘learned to stop worrying and love the automobile’.”
Lack of public transport has also been found to be a serious impediment to finding a job. The Urban Research Centre of the University of Western Sydney (UWS) was commissioned by the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils to prepare a report on job prospects for western Sydney until 2031. It assessed the state government’s target of creating an extra 235,000 jobs.
The UWS study, North west and west-central Sydney employment strategies, was published in November 2008. It found that one of the major barriers to job creation was the lack of public transport in western Sydney.
“It is clear that public transport in Western Sydney has suffered from chronic under-investment”, the report said.
“The region’s rail network has remained largely unchanged in coverage since the 1930s, while over 120 kilometres of motorway have been developed at a time when Western Sydney’s population has increased dramatically. As a result the region is heavily car-dependent.
“Journey times for commuters on key parts of the rail network have actually increased over the last twenty years.”
In his Thirty Year Public Transport Plan for Sydney, University of Technology Sydney researcher Garry Glazebrook estimates the environmental costs of private car transport, including greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, noise and water pollution to total over $2 billion a year. All this cost is born by the community.
“Cars are thus our most expensive mode, costing 86c per passenger-km compared with 47c for rail and 57c for bus (all figures include externalities and for 2006)”, Glazebrook argues. “Our current transport system is too heavily weighted to cars, the most expensive and least sustainable mode.”
According to RATA, “Transport is Australia’s third largest source of carbon pollution providing 14 per cent of total emissions. It is the fastest growing sector and accounts for about 34 per cent of household greenhouse gas emissions.
“Road transport (cars, trucks, light commercial, buses) accounts for about 90 per cent of total transport emissions. Emissions from road transport were 30 per cent higher in 2007 than in 1990 and even with the implementation of abatement measures these emissions are projected to be 67 per cent higher in 2020 than 1990 levels.”
This effective privatisation of transport options also comes at a significant environmental cost. Under the federal government’s proposed carbon trading scheme, such costs would largely be passed onto individual commuters.
The University of Western Sydney Urban Research Centre argues that: “As climate change mitigation efforts continue and an emissions trading scheme is introduced, the residents of Western Sydney will face increasing financial pain as the inequities in decades of transport investment in Sydney become even more apparent”.
According to the federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “Two-thirds of domestic freight uplifted in Australia is hauled by road and 26 per cent by rail. Road transport accounts for 80 per cent of freight movements when the distance travelled is less than 100 kilometres.”
Greenhouse gas emissions from road freight haulage are projected to rise by at least 27% in the next 10 years.
In its 2006 policy statement Moving On, he NSW Rail Tram and Bus Union argued that the NSW government had to reduce reliance on road freight by increasing the use of rail freight. The report says:
“At a metropolitan scale, the NSW Government needs to have a strong focus on increasing the proportion of freight transport by rail to reduce environmental impacts and congestion. This means providing new rail freight infrastructure and multi-modal terminals in appropriate areas.
“At subregional and local scales, the NSW Government should explore innovative freight delivery options that provide an alternative to road transport as well as implementing measures to reduce the environmental impact of road freight transport (e.g. through improvements in vehicle technology and efficiency).”
According to RATA:
“Rail uses two-thirds less fuel than road per tonne of goods carried and has more than three times the environmental efficiency of road haulage.
“Some 27 per cent of Australia’s containerised imports arrive at Port Botany each year and 90 per cent of these end up in western Sydney. Road transport accounts for 86 per cent of Sydney’s freight task and this is increasing.
“Rail freight capacity must be increased faster than increases in the total freight capacity to alleviate road congestion, reduce land and resource use wasted by additional roads and reduce air and water pollution. Melbourne has similar issues but with the added burden that the container port has become a de facto truck park due to inefficiencies of service.”
In order to facilitate a transition from road-haulage to rail transport of freight, Socialist Alliance advocates:
The poor provision of public transport in Australia is not simply the failure of any particular government, but a failure of strategic planning over many years. As cities have grown, public transport infrastructure has generally failed to keep pace.
Ron Christie, a former head of NSW State Rail and the Roads and Traffic Authority presented a report to the NSW government in June 2001, Long-term Strategic Plan for Rail. The report outlined a 10-year strategy for increasing the geographic spread, capacity and reliability of the Sydney suburban rail network.
“Unless the ‘reach’ of the rail system is extended in this way, Sydney will be doomed to a future under which more than half the urbanised metropolitan area, and especially those areas at more distant locations, will not be serviced by the rail system, creating and reinforcing significant inequalities in access to employment, education and other community facilities”, Christie said.
The “Christie report” was shelved by the NSW Labor government.
“Switching the balance of new infrastructure provision towards public transport, walking and cycling would not only assist to achieve currently relevant planning objectives but would hedge our urban systems against potential impacts of rising fuel costs”, Dodson and Sipe argue in The New Landscape of Oil and Mortgage Vulnerability in Australian Cities.
“Continuing the present model of road-driven urban transport policy may only make any eventual adjustment to accommodate higher fuel prices more painful, complex and fractious. The pain of such adjustment would invariably fall most heavily on the more disadvantaged members of our communities.”
Socialist Alliance advocates that public transport be subject to a long-term strategic plan, which is prepared through extensive community consultation. Such a plan must stipulate that all new development incorporate extension to the existing heavy rail corridors where possible, or the construction of new lines to service population growth areas where necessary. Such a plan would include:
As a critical measure to reduce Australian carbon emissions and as a urgent priority to reverse social and economic equality, Socialist Alliance advocates a massive short-term increase in government spending on the provision of public transport infrastructure.
Such spending must be socially accountable to residents and workers (see 4. Strategic planning, above). In order to make-up for 50 years of neglect, such public spending must guarantee the following:
Public transport is a public service. Whether it is allowing workers to get to and from work, or individuals to travel to shops, hospitals, to see family/friends or for recreation, it is a social obligation of government to provide it. Giving communities access to adequate public transport also tends to reduce private car use, which reduces carbon emissions.
Socialist Alliance believes that government must seek to provide the most modern, fuel efficient, low-carbon impacting and most far-reaching public transport possible.
Public transport must not be run for profit, but in the interest of commuters and residents.
In order to keep public transport public, Socialist Alliance advocates the following:
In order to encourage as many people as possible to make the switch from private car transport to public transport, Socialist Alliance believes that a three-month trial of free public transport should be conducted across all urban, regional and rural areas. If the trial confirms a significant increase in public transport patronage, it should be made permanent.
In 1996, the Belgian city of Hasselt made public transport free. Between 1996 and 2006, usage of public transport increased by as much as 1300%. It is likely that such a step would have similar results in Australian cities.
Public transport in most Australian cities is already heavily subsidised. In 2008/09 alone, the NSW public transport system absorbed grants totalling $4.2 billion, according to the NSW department of transport.
The June 10 2009 Sydney Morning Herald reported on findings in a report commissioned NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART). It showed that for every train journey taken, the broader community saves $6 in lower air pollution and less road congestion. When the alternative of commuters taking their cars is factored into the equation, the real social saving goes up to $15.80 for each train trip.
The average subsidy paid for such trips is $4.20. Each train trip represents a big social saving.
In Sydney, making public transport free would cost the state government about $1 billion a year.
When compared to the massive social and environmental savings from increasing public transport use and decreasing private car use, this spending is more than justified.
The extra costs of proving free public transport should be paid by those who would benefit most — employers. Socialist Alliance supports a payroll tax on all employers of over 10 employees and a special levy on developers ho benefit from development near transport hubs.
Socialist Alliance advocates: