The Failure of Australasian Conservative Governments on Transport

20 09 2013

Excuse me this post. I am an Australian living in New Zealand (yes the opposite of the normal story. I’m part of the backwash.) But it’s worth keeping an eye on what is happening west of the Tasman as what is happening in New Zealand is happening in Australia too.

In what sounds awfully familiar, in most places in Australia public transport ridership is up, especially urban rail, as so too is urban cycling rates. Young people aren’t flocking to get their car licenses straight away and motoring passenger kilometres are down. Smart mayors in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are building cycle lanes and trying to build more, and the normal suspects; the automobile associations, the mainstream media (and radio shock-morons), and certain politicians are giving them a hard time about it. Sydney and Melbourne are soon to or already have hit peak rail capacity, but instead of adding rail capacity there are plans to spend more on motorways.

The full horror of what a Tony Abbott Prime Ministership means to Australia is finally dawning on them. Within the first two weeks he’s purged a few heads of government departments, made himself the Minister for Women to get back at all the feminists who called him a misogynist, abolished the Department of Climate Change, told the Clean Energy Fund to close down (where he is working his way down the wishlist of his puppetmasters at the IPA), withdrawn federal funding of the Tonsley line duplication in Adelaide, announced the support of the East-West Link freeway in Melbourne (and not the Melbourne Metro project), and announced WestConnex is going ahead in Sydney.  (A very good article on the Conversation is here : Abbott’s transport priorities drive Australia into the past )

Westconnex is to be 33km of freeway widening on the M4 and M5 corridors, and linking them together with road tunnels. Costing more than $10 billion dollars, it will allow many more cars in peak times to hit the CBD, as if Sydney didn’t have enough of them already. The whole project seems to be a sop to the private tollway operators and to the construction industry. It will lock future generations into being motorists instead of having public transport options.

And of course there are better ideas for Sydney.

Sydney Light Rail Orbital with Feeder Routes

Sydney Light Rail Orbital with Feeder Routes

These are interesting videos about WestConnex from a man named Gavin Gatenby from EcoTransit Sydney:

What is the wisdom of building more and more road infrastructure at enormous cost just to handle peak commuting times, especially in a time of falling demand (except for induced demand caused by the new roads themselves)?  Petrol prices are high and going up faster than inflation in the medium and long term. Wages are static, if not falling so less people are going to be able to afford to drive anyway. Where do all the extra cars going into the CBD actually go? How is locking in car dependency in anyway sustainable?

It seems in Sydney the real answers to congestion can be found by listening to active and public transport advocates and not those pushing PPP construction projects, skewing the only policy response to be building motorways. If Sydney has traffic problems caused by congestion on its motorways then hey, yeah, building more is the right answer.

keepdiggingSimilarly in the Wellington region the spending on the National Government’s Roads of National Significance project is going to be spending billions of dollars on road projects and is going to have all the same problems which is going to lock us into further auto-dependency, congestion and pollution. The net result of building all the Wellington Airport to Levin projects in the RoNS is going to be a massively congested and polluted core of Wellington all at a bargain cost of a couple of billions of dollars.


There are other answers. GenZero’s Fast Forward Wellington is a good starting point, as so too is the Greens Transport page.

Do we really need a 6 lane Cobham Drive? (Even with the Mt Vic tunnel duplication 6 lanes seems excessive)
Or Transmission Gully or the Kapiti Expressway? (Why not build a Pukerua Bay bypass, up the frequency on the rail line to 15 minutes or better, extend the train service to Otaki (and eventually Levin), build Raumati and Otaihanga stations and build a local road over the Waikanae river?).
Or the Peka-Peka to Otaki motorway? (why not just build an Otaki bypass?)
Or the Basin Flyover?

It seems that National in New Zealand (and the Liberal and National parties in Australia) are willing to spend billions of dollars locking us into one solution, which is not necessarily a solution that works, for a problem (congestion on the motorways in say 2030) that may not necessarily exist whilst ignoring practical and affordable improvements in active and public transport?  Why in Australasia are the conservatives just so bad at transport policy? Is it purely ideological? Do they equate public transport with bus driver and train driver unions? Do they think that riding in a train carriage and not a ministerial car is some evil form of socialism? Do they think riding a bike to work is some eco-terrorist hippy plot? Is it all about enriching their mates in the roads construction industries? Do they not care about air pollution? Why are they happy to piss billions away in building roads without doing proper economic and environmental studies, but fight tooth and nail for different rules to apply to PT projects? Why do they ignore benefit cost ratios for roads (which for some of the RoNS are even below 1.0), but insist on high BCRs for rail? Why do they ignore the high BCRs for projects like bikes on buses? Why do they act like clueless, middle-aged men who haven’t ridden bicycles or buses for 30 years?

It is time there was a moratorium on the RoNS and for an independent assessment on the cost and usefulness of each part of it. The next government in New Zealand in 2014 (and boy oh boy do I hope for a change of government) should scrap the RoNS as they stand, and only build the parts of the projects that stand up to scrutiny. The next government should also have a balanced transport policy, which should fund footpaths, and bike lanes, buses and light and heavy rail as appropriate, building only the minimum of roads that are actually needed, which in reality are very, very few. New Zealand has a chance of correcting it’s errant path in 2014. Scarily for Australians it has to wait until 2016. I hope that their new Prime Minister doesn’t do too much long term damage to its cities.

Whatever the answer to our future woes, voting for a conservative is always the wrong answer.




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