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 and, if powered by renewable energy, it will 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.
Immediate action must be taken to reverse Australia’s heavy reliance on private transport.. We need sustainable transport systems.
While much of the early development of transport systems under capitalism 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.
The power of capital means we now have transport systems that are profitable for corporations but inefficient for our community. 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.
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. 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.
The growth of cities has not been matched by expansions in their mass transit systems. The full environmental and economic benefits of public transport and rail freight can’t be achieved while these remain secondary systems.
Benefits will come when publicly owned and controlled transport systems form the heart of urban transit, intercity travel and freight haulage.
Workers and the poor, young and elderly people, and those with disabilities will be the immediate and the greatest beneficiaries of this change.
Public transport systems need to be the principal passenger transport networks in our cities. Only then will people be encouraged to abandon their cars, heavy and light rail will be renewed and extended, and greenhouse gases reduced.
The provision of mass urban public transport without imposing fares has a number of advantages including encouraging its use, and reducing greenhouse gases. It could be funded by a progressive income tax.
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.
The private operation of public transport has created government-guaranteed corporate profiteering.