Asian experience shows we need to put PT investment in the fast lane

Feb 28, 2019 – Australia’s most populous cities should be actively discouraging private car use and investing heavily in mass transit systems, according to a new report from peak transport infrastructure body, Roads Australia.

The report finds that Australian cities are a generation behind the likes of Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore in providing integrated transport solutions, and that ‘urgent and exponential’ spending on public transport is required if we’re to have any hope of keeping pace with expected population growth over the coming decades.

The Cities for the Future Report captures learnings from an RA-led study visit by public and private sector leaders to Japan, Korea and Singapore at the end of last year.

The delegation looked at how major Asian national and city governments are developing transport networks to cope with population growth, liveability, changing demographics and the introduction of autonomous vehicles.

The report finds that public transport thinking, investment and culture is embedded in these cities – and has been for generations – in sharp contrast to the car-centric culture in Australia.

Other major findings and recommendations include:

• Transport agendas in Asia are underpinned by high-level, national government and industry collaboration – something that is fundamentally lacking in Australia’s state-centric approach.
• Our state and city governments should implement integrated charging and demand management systems across the total commuter journey.
• A co-ordinated, cross-jurisdiction approach to autonomous vehicle trials, regulatory reform, network control technologies and mapping systems is critical if we’re to see a successful and early roll-out of driverless vehicles by 2025.
• Australia must adopt an ‘open access’ approach to the sharing of transport network data – including data captured by private players – as well as integrated charging and demand management systems across the total commuter journey.
• In the future, hydrogen is likely to be the fuel technology of choice for road vehicle fleets, particularly buses and trucks. Australia has a massive opportunity to get on-board as a hydrogen producer.

Roads Australia President, David Stuart-Watt, said mass transit was king in the cities visited by the delegation, and looking ahead would continue to do the heavy lifting as their respective populations swelled.

“Our regional neighbours have been focussed on building world class mass public transit systems since post-World War Two,” Mr Stuart-Watt said.

“As a result, they today boast modern, strongly interconnected grid networks with high frequency, fast, affordable and reliable services.

“What’s more, these networks are being continually upgraded and rapidly expanded.

“Public transport’s share of overall journeys is 51 per cent in Tokyo, 59 per cent in Singapore and 66 per cent in Seoul, compared to 27 per cent in Sydney and just 18 per cent in Melbourne and Brisbane.

“Conversely, private vehicle trips account for just 12 per cent of all journeys in Tokyo, 23 per cent in Seoul and 29 per cent in Singapore, compared to 64 per cent in Sydney, 74 per cent in Melbourne and 77 per cent in Brisbane.”

Mr Stuart-Watt said unlike their Australian counterparts, the Asian cities visited by the delegation were characterised by traditionally high urban densities.

“Our Australian cities have developed outwards rather than inwards and upwards, and off a far smaller population base,” he said.

“Consequently, our investment and focus has largely been on radial, suburban-to-city transport infrastructure and solutions.

“This is changing. In recent years, state governments have stepped up their planning and investment in public transport infrastructure and systems. But we’re behind the eight ball and there is no quick, easy fix.

“As we head towards populations of eight million in Sydney and Melbourne by the middle of this century, the lack of inter-connectivity of our present transport systems will have an increasingly negative impact on both economic development and our quality of life.”

Mr Stuart-Watt said despite the findings in support of increased spending on mass transit, recent government investments in new urban road projects were not misdirected.

“This isn’t an ‘either/or’ question,’ he said.

“The transition to mass transit is, realistically, a generational change. In the meantime, projects like Sydney’s WestConnex and Melbourne’s North East Link are urgently needed to cope with current modal demand.

“In the future, our road networks will be used even more efficiently and effectively to accommodate autonomous vehicles, shared services and Bus Rapid Transit, as well as the all-important ‘last mile’ journeys to our front doors.

“The reality is we will need both road and rail – working closely together – to manage our future transport task.”

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