Proposed amendment to the Public Transport Policy

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Note to delegates: this is an Amended version incorporating some of Helen Said's amendments. Helen has indicated that she supports this version.

Moved: Jonathan Strauss — Cairns/At Large

Seconded: Helen Said — Melbourne

Sustainable transport policy

1. Sustainable transport: an opportunity to change to world

Transport is a key feature of our society. How people move around and goods are transported shapes our urban environments and affects our impact on the globe. It also conditions who we can know, what we can do and how we experience the world.

Given the wealth we can produce, people's mobility to meet others, engage in suitable work and learn about the world, and their access to a reasonable variety of goods and services, are now rights. Providing transport without creating greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, or other pollutants, is a necessity.

An extensive and efficient transport system can be created. If powered by renewable energy, it will also be sustainable. Moreover, comprehensive city-wide and national networks achieve the best economies of scope and scale. In particular, rail beats road because, although its construction costs are high, it moves people and freight much more cheaply if well-utilised: therefore, it is less expensive over the transport system's life-cycle.

This potential is not being realised. Transport today is environmentally destructive and often inefficient. The road network is extensive, but its use is fragmented because this is dominated by privately-owned and driven cars. The production of our transport networks, its vehicles, and their power or fuel is also parcelled out among a number of corporations. These benefit from a continuing commitment to fossil fuel powered transport, which maintains the value of their existing investments, and from the higher expenditure on transport, which gives them greater scope for making profits. Capital also benefits from working people not seeing the success of a collective and cooperative, compared with the individual and atomised, solution to a social issue.

Socialist Alliance believes immediate action must be taken to reverse the heavy reliance on private transport in Australia. We call for a 'supply-based' buildout of comprehensive public transport networks. The 'demand-based' approach to determining public transport provision, where individuals are supposed to express their demand to consume it before it exists. As well, since this decision will have been made by the public, the public should be the beneficiaries, to the exclusion of corporate ownership and profit.

Our community should create sustainable transport systems which meets the needs of our planet and its people. Social mobilisation to change national, state and local government transport policy will be central to achieving this.

2. Private transport produces corporate riches, not a sustainable solution

Under capitalism, transport systems have sometimes represented an opportunity for individual capitalists and corporations to gain profits through providing infrastructure, vehicles, or services, as well as opportunities for the wealthy to reside away from urban squalor and to visit exotic locations. But the systems have also provided more general benefits for capital, through access to raw materials, to workers to be employed in business districts and industrial zones, and to markets for goods and for services such as mass entertainment and tourism, as well as being a means to conduct military operations.

Satisfaction of these more general interests of capital required transport provision beyond the higher volume, and thus more profitable, routes in which individual capitals would be willing to invest. There is also a tendency towards 'natural monopoly' in many transport routes (at least according to the type of system, such as road or rail, one or another of which has had lower production costs at different times): the capitalist who controlled each transport route would seek to exploit that monopoly against all the other capitalists.

Thus, while much of the early development of transport systems under capitalism (on land, through canals and interurban rail) was in private hands, the capitalist state came to play the major part in transport provision, in particular, by running railways and other urban mass transit systems, funding road networks and licensing, if not owning, airlines and airports. By the middle of last century, only road freight and manufacturing passenger vehicles remained as major arenas of private capitalist production in land transport.

Capitalism, however, is capitalism. In it, the goal of companies to make profits rules. In the latter half of the 20th century, corporations, which in land transport were principally the automobile manufacturers and trucking and road construction companies, either directly bought up and limited or closed down competing transport networks (as in the case of the Los Angeles streetcars), or were the main influence on government transport policies (as in the case of the closure of tram networks in many Australian capital cities). Cars built for mass consumption in urban transport, and intercity highways, squeezed out other transport systems in advanced capitalist countries. Moreover, with the rise of neo-liberalism from the 1970s, the residual state-owned networks became subject to corporatisation and fire-sale privatisations, backed by state subsidies and lax safety and planning regulation to provide profitability to the corporations that took them over.

The power of capital means we now have transport systems that are profitable for corporations but inefficient for our community. This problem is not expressed in capitalist markets because many of the costs of privately-owned systems, including those incurred by its consumers, are not imposed on the companies which control our transport networks.

This is not limited to the cost-shifting involved in government subsidies for fossil fuel use and road construction and maintenance. 'External' costs to transport operations include, in road transport, for example: much of the land used; the unpaid time spent driving cars, which impacts more heavily on outer suburban and regional dwellers; the inequities and social isolation facing those without cars; the health services required because of traffic accidents and sedentary lifestyles,  and pollution (air, noise and water, including greenhouse gas emissions which are increasing by a third every fifteen years, in particular from road freight haulage). The costs of road congestion and traffic accidents have each been estimated to run into the tens of billions of dollars each year. One estimate of the environmental costs of private car transport is more than $2 billion a year. The overall cost of car travel per passenger-km is nearly twice as high as rail travel. Meanwhile, rail freight uses two-thirds less fuel than road freight per tonne of goods carried and has more than three times the environmental efficiency of road haulage.

3. Car dependence — a recipe for workers' poverty and social stagnation

The burden of the inadequate provision of public transport is not spread evenly. Regional centres, especially those further away from the metropolitan cities, are invariably poorly serviced. As well, where workers and the poor reside are the areas which are especially disadvantaged. Lack of access to public transport especially impacts on people with disability and older people who are unable to drive, as well as those too young to drive. As car ownership is lower amongst women, newly arrived migrants and poorer people, lack of suitable public transport plays a major role in reinforcing all forms of social inequality.

In the major cities, outer-suburban and other locations that contain low socio-economic status populations tend to have higher levels of car dependence and relatively poor provision of public transport. Public transport particularly fails in terms of: routes that link suburbs with each other, rather than the city centre, the numbers of services, which are far below system capacities; little integration between modes, particularly between rail and bus networks; and the use of local buses as feeders to the higher capacity rail systems. The residents are more reliant on private cars than more affluent, inner-city residents. Therefore, they are more vulnerable to petrol price increases, including from greenhouse gas emission tax or trading schemes. The lack of public transport in areas such as western Sydney has also been found to be a serious impediment to finding a job.

The poor provision of public transport in Australia is not the failure of any particular government. All governments, for many years, have failed to maintain and develop of our public transport systems.

In the first decades of last century, many people walked or cycled to work, trains and trams provided a radial network in the larger cities and railways reached even smaller country towns, providing freight services in particular. A long-haul rail network was largely completed by rail lines between Perth and the eastern seaboard, and as far north Cairns and Alice Springs.

Subsequently, however, freeways have been built in all the bigger cities and highways have been continuously upgraded. Public transport infrastructure and services have languished.

The faster inter-city train services developed elsewhere have not been introduced here. Many country lines and freight depots have been closed. Little effort has been made to add to the capacity for rail freight within the growing cities.

The growth of our cities has also not been matched by expansions in their mass transit systems. These systems have been reduced to a residual status, principally providing commuter services to city centres, which serves only to prevent even more severe traffic congestion. This process has taken two forms.

Beyond the inner suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, the population has increased dramatically, but rail network coverage has not. Many specific expansion proposals have been delayed again and again. General plans to increase the spread, capacity and reliability of the rail networks, such as the 2001 Christie report to the NSW government, have been shelved. Queensland governments have not even bothered, planning busways oriented to meeting city centre commuter needs instead. Meanwhile, the frequency of services has typically fallen, and journey times have often increased, in the last two decades.

Less frequently, but particularly where there has been strong campaigning for public transport and especially rail services, there has been or are proposals for significant expansions of public transport networks. In Perth, after one of the three existing rail lines was closed at the end of 1970s, the closed line was reopened, the rail network was electrified, two lines and other extensions were built, and bus routes and timetables were more closely synchronised with the train services. The number of trips by train has increased fifteenfold; even so, trips by public transport are still less than 10 per cent of all travel. The bus transit system proposed for Cairns is anticipated to lift the proportion of passenger trips that are by public transport fourfold, but again still only to 10 per cent, primarily in travel to and from the city centre. In such examples, the character of the city's transport is not transformed: cars still rule.

The full environmental and economic benefits of public transport and rail freight can't be achieved while these remain secondary systems. Instead, these benefits will come when publicly owned and controlled transport systems form the heart of urban transit, intercity travel and freight haulage. At the same time, workers and the poor, in particular people with disability, young people and elderly people, will be the immediate and the greatest beneficiaries of this change.

4. Strategic planning

Socialist Alliance proposes a sustainable transport strategic plan which will:

Be prepared through extensive community consultation. Residents, workers and people with disability of a given area will be presented with the relevant elements of the plan for their amendment and approval before implementation. The plan's implementation will then be subject to ongoing community scrutiny and approval.

Have as its primary aim the provision and continual improvement of public transport options. Provision of private road transport generally will be only a secondary consideration. No more motorways will be built.

Provide comprehensive public transport networks.

Upgrade rail freight depots and loading systems

Provide railway stations, light rail and bus stops, ferry wharfs and interchanges with adequate seating, shelter, bicycle storage and facilities and modifications that ensure people with disability can independently access all forms of public transport.

Improve service provision to passengers and users of freight services and administration of the public transport system generally.

Integrate taxis and taxi cooperatives into the public transport system and enhance response times and service levels of accessible maxi taxis.

Orient development plans to existing rail services or require they incorporate extensions to the rail network. Industrial zones and mines will have rail spurs and freight depots. New rail lines will be built to service population growth areas as the basis for requiring all new urban development to provide adequate public transport, and cycleways and walking paths.

Create local townships for mines workforces. Mines must not rely on fly-in-fly-out staffing. Mining companies will have the responsibility to build these townships, including initially providing them with a high quality of infrastructure and equipment for services, but will not be allowed to control residence in them or the provision of services to them.

5. Freight transport

Socialist Alliance will develop the rail freight network by:

Improving rail line quality to increase speeds.

Electrifying freight rail, using renewable energy.

Building freight rail links, and spur lines to larger industrial sites and to mines.

Re-opening closed rural rail lines and freight depots.

Rather than have trucks driven long distances, using roll-on/roll-off rail to carry trucks loaded from dispersed or smaller producers (farms and manufacturers) to the delivery area for distribution to factories and shops. Truck driver cooperatives or publicly-owned trucking operations to provide driving to loading and from unloading points on the rail network.

Road haulage will be discouraged:

Unauthorised heavy vehicle access to local roads will be stopped.

Business will pay the full cost for road transport by introducing electronic tolling for heavy freight vehicles on all major roads.

Long-distance truck-drivers will be retrained at full-pay, for ecologically sustainable work, as demand for road-haulage declines. The cost of this to be paid by a special levy on freight companies.

As the coal industry closes down due to the turn to renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, coal train lines will become available for freight and/or passenger services.

Biofuel, produced from agricultural and food industry waste, will be used in shipping.

6. Rural, regional and interurban and interstate travel

Socialist Alliance will:

Build a Very Fast Train network for the area from Adelaide to Cairns to the level where it will replace most domestic major city air travel, which is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and other air and noise pollution. Research into aviation biofuels will be encouraged

Upgrade the interstate and country rail network and vehicles to allow trains to travel more quickly. More frequent services, including the use of 'dual-mode' (tram-train) rail vehicles to extend coverage. Bus services to complete the public transport network's coverage of all regional and rural communities.

End the unfair transport costs for island and remote communities. Ferries for passengers and light vehicles, in particular to and from Tasmania, and air transport should be fully funded.

7. Solving the urban public transport crisis

Public transport in our cities has suffered from more than 50 years of neglect. As a result, the existing public transport fails to meet most passenger needs. It is not available throughout each city, at all the times it's needed, or fast enough.

People buy cars and, having acquired such major household assets, use them. Road traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from transport then grows exponentially, while public transport use has spiralled downwards. Although rail networks, especially, heavy rail, are the more popular and potentially most economically effective mode of public transport, the lower volume of public transport use then justifies government proposals for light rail instead of heavy rail, or bus services instead of rail services, or bus services being amalgamated, re-routed and eliminated.

Socialist Alliance proposes instead that public transport systems will be the principal passenger transport networks in our cities. Its commitment is to provide comprehensive services, all day, everywhere, that are fast, frequent, adequately staffed and independently accessible.

With that, households can reduce the number of cars they own: people might even abandon car ownership altogether.

With comprehensive public transport services, the proportion of trips by public transport should increase dramatically. For example, at least 60 per cent of powered passenger trips in the large capital cities and 40 per cent in other capitals and large regional cities should be by public transport. This proportion of public transport use will involve higher utilisation rates for all public transport modes. Heavy and light rail systems can be renewed, extended or built in all larger cities as the basis for comprehensive networks, while other regional centres should also have comprehensive public transport networks based on buses. The precise mix of modes used must take into account existing systems, including train lines in the large regional cities, which might make use of dual-mode rail in addition to existing heavy rail.

Thus, Socialist Alliance, as a crucial measure to reduce Australian greenhouse gas emissions and as an urgent priority to reverse the growth of social and economic inequality, will immediately implement a massive public sector program to provide the public transport infrastructure and services that are needed. Such spending must be socially accountable to residents and workers. To ensure that public transport guarantees equality and access, the input of elderly passengers and people with disability will also be sought. (see section 4. Strategic Planning, above).

Socialist Alliance will ensure that the government spending on public transport carries out:

Within 10 years, a complete overhaul of existing suburban and intra-urban passenger rail networks, including track capacity (line amplification), rolling stock and stations, in order to meet current and expected demand.

Within 15 years, the renewal, extension or creation of rail networks so that these become the basis for comprehensive public transport systems in all cities that over the next 30 years will reach a population of more than 150,000.

The provision of 'metro' rail or light rail to replace buses on high-density suburban routes (such as in central Sydney) in the large capital cities, as an adjunct to heavy rail services.

Bus services to complete the public transport networks by providing short trips, connecting, for example, transport hubs, residential areas and shopping centres. Bus and train timetables must be properly synchronised.

A massive increase in service frequency, so that services arrive at a minimum every 10 minutes, and on major routes at peak times every 2-5 minutes throughout the day and evening. Services also to continue through the night on at least the major routes.

Massive recruitment to fully staff the public transport network, in order to ensure safe, comfortable and efficient services: staff at every railway station, and a guard or conductor on every train and tram with two or more carriages. End government attacks on public transport workers jobs, wage and working conditions.

8. No user-pays for urban public transport

The provision of urban public transport without imposing payment for its use through fares has a number of advantages. For example, using the service is more convenient, the cost of collecting and policing the payment of fares is eliminated, and no time is wasted by drivers on buses collecting fares. Moreover, while the main driver for increased public transport use will be the provision of comprehensive public transport services, free public transport in the context of a commitment to expand public transport will encourage as many people as possible to use public transport. This has been shown by, for example, the introduction of free public transport in the Belgian city of Hasselt from 1996. After all, network planning means the decision has been made to provide the public transport services: there is no reason to ration and reduce public transport use by charging for it.

Of course, while households would save money through using increasingly comprehensive public transport systems free of charge, the public expenditure to provide the services (less the savings from reduced air pollution, road congestion and road construction, and the withdrawal of tax concessions for company cars and other fossil fuel subsidies) must be funded. Once comprehensive public transport systems are in place, funding the public transport system through progressive income taxation (with rebates for the residents of rural and remote locations not covered) would certainly be justified, because the service would be universally available and in general use. Throughout the period of expansion of public transport systems, funding from general revenue will be supplemented by levying developers who will be advantaged by new or improved opportunities around public transport hubs.

Socialist Alliance advocates:

Free passenger rides and carriage of bicycles on urban public transport. All public transport staff whose job has been ticket selling will be redeployed to passenger assistance functions, with no loss in pay or conditions.

Ending all tax concessions for company and company-purchased cars.

Special levies on developers and business property owners who gain access to commercially profitable sites close to railway stations and bus interchanges.

9. Public transport - not for profit

Public transport is a public service. Whether it allows workers to get to and from work, people to travel to shops, hospitals, to see family/friends or for recreation, or the cheap and efficient movement of goods, its provision is a social obligation.  Communities' access to adequate public transport will also tend to reduce the use of private cars, road freight and domestic air travel and, therefore, emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

The Socialist Alliance believes that the public sector, backed by governmental power, must seek to provide the most modern, low-carbon impacting and far-reaching public transport possible. Privately-run public transport has proven to be a dismal failure: private bus routes invariably operate at minimal service levels; in Melbourne the government subsidy to the privatised tram network has been greater than what it ever was to the network when it was part of the public sector; in Britain the decline in rail safety has cost lives. Private operation of public transport has created government-guaranteed corporate profiteering. Public transport must not be run for profit, but in the interest of commuters and residents, to minimise ecological impact and maximise service delivery and equality of access.

In the face of the neo-liberal capitalism, which privatises publicly-owned community assets and imposes market regulation in order to extend the arena for profit-making, major advances in public service provision such as Socialist Alliance has proposed here will only be achieved by large, sustained and determined public campaigns. To date in Australia, however, our experience of campaigns for sustainable transport is more limited:

Opposition to new freeways and major roads or, at the level of neighbourhoods, campaigns for traffic calming;

Bicycle advocacy;

Opposition to the closure of rail lines (for example, the Upfield line in Melbourne, and in Newcastle) or their conversion to light rail or bus routes, including by people with disability;

Successful campaigns by people with disability for accessible trams and buses, accessible tram stops and emergency ramps at railway stations.

Opposition to the re-routing, amalgamation and closure of bus stops and bus routes by residents in Melbourne's northern suburbs.

Research and lobbying for gradual improvements, the leading examples of which are by the Public Transport Users Association in Melbourne, and its recent combination with unions and social welfare groups in the Rapid and Affordable Transport Alliance.

Official union involvement has been fairly intermittent, even from those with members in public transport, except in relation to job losses: in particular, the union movement has divided over privatisations carried out by ALP governments.

More broadly conceived public transport campaigns, such as in Perth and in Cairns have been only partly successful and have proved difficult to sustain.

Socialist Alliance will help set up a national campaign for comprehensive public transport, which builds on the progressive elements of past campaigning and seeks to resource and support actions at the local level. Socialist Alliance proposes the campaign should advocate the following as the basis for a not-for-profit public sector comprehensive public transport system:

Nationalise all privatised tollways and the abolition of their tolls.

End public-private partnerships in transport services.

Stop the privatisation of suburban and outer suburban bus routes. Public ownership of bus companies should be the norm.

Re-nationalisation of all privatised public transport, including bus routes and airlines, and rail freight.  The vested interests in making profits through providing transport services are inimical to achieving effective sustainable transport solutions for our communities: the corporations involved and their backers in government and elsewhere are a social power that working people must be overcome.

Reverse the “corporatisation” of state-run public transport authorities.

Public transport to be run by boards elected at a regional level from among public transport workers, commuters and residents including people with disability and elderly residents. The boards will have the power to approve or reject all management and planning decisions. Members of such boards to be accountable and recallable by their constituencies at any time.


The Socialist Alliance transport policy incorporates its members understanding, developed through their involvement in public transport activism in Melbourne, NSW and Cairns, in preparing articles in support of public transport for Green Left Weekly, and other research.


Rapid and Affordable Transport Alliance (RATA)

Paul Mees, Transport for Suburbia: Beyond the Automobile Age, 2010 [summary by Jacob Curtis]

Chris Harris, Roads, Railways and Regimes: Why some societies are able to organise suburban public transport -- and why others can't, October 2007

Garry Glazebrook, Thirty Year Public Transport Plan for Sydney [2006??]

Jago Dodson and Neil Sipe, Oil Vulnerability in the Australian City, 2005

Jago Dodson and Neil Sipe, The New Landscape of Oil and Mortgage Vulnerability in Australian Cities, 2008