JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Light rail could trigger big shift from cars to public transport


Tom McIlroy

Bureau of Statistics data from March 2012 showed 7.4 per cent of ACT residents used public transport to get to work or study.

Bureau of Statistics data from March 2012 showed 7.4 per cent of ACT residents used public transport to get to work or study.

The introduction of light rail as part of an integrated public transport network in Canberra could lead to a doubling of the number of commuters who leave their cars at home.

Australian National University climate change and land use expert Will Steffen told Tuesday's light rail deliberative forum that cities including Perth and Portland, Oregon had reaped health and environmental benefits from better public transport options as more people moved to rail and trams. 

He said as many as 100 cities in the US were adopting light rail to improve public transport and land use, and Canberra would probably have the same increase in patronage as the full tram network was developed. 

Bureau of Statistics data from March 2012 showed 7.4 per cent of ACT residents used public transport to get to work or study. 

"There is a much bigger mode shift from car transport to public when you go from a bus system to a tram or light rail system," Professor Steffen said.  

"I don't see why Canberra would be any different from other cities. I think as the network develops you will see more people use it – that's obvious but you can't build a whole network overnight." 

More than 40 business and community leaders gathered for the forum on Tuesday, organised by the ACT government agency charged with developing light rail in Canberra. 

Professor Steffen backed the planned 13-stop line from the city to Gungahlin as a wise choice for the network's first stage, due to its potential to remove cars from the road and decrease congestion through effective traffic management. 

"You would expect to see mode shift pretty quickly from people who travel in for work or study, like in the public service or at ANU." 

Looking towards further development, the former Department of Climate Change science adviser and climate commissioner said trams that could travel about 100km/h could be used to link ACT town centres. 

Lines in the rural communities surrounding the Danish capital Copenhagen could serve as a guide for an expanded network, Professor Steffen said. 

"You can get big systems, with the same vehicle or train acting as a tram in denser areas like down Northbourne Avenue with more stops and travelling at 50 or 60km/h. 

"When it goes out on a longer stretch, it could go much faster." 

He said the existing ACTION bus network needed to be effectively integrated with light rail, due to become operational by 2019 or 2020 after three years of construction. 

"One of the problems with buses is they sometimes weave around. That's good for providing a sort of social service for people who don't have cars. 

"People who have to go to work need direct and rapid services and then they don't have parking problems in the city." 

University of Canberra urban planning authority Barbara Norman told the meeting light rail could bring health and environmental benefits to the capital. 

She called for a community facility such as a town hall to be built at the Gungahlin end of the light rail line to encourage patronage and engagement. 

Professor Norman said maintaining Canberra's approach of integrating social and public housing through the "salt and pepper" system was essential to the city's future, and called for better use of community facilities such as gardens and bike paths. 


  • Another day and another shot fired in the Light Rail fiasco.

    Let me throw this one in. The majority of towns cited are built on a grid pattern, based on Roman design and propagated through Colonial rule. The allow trams to work because tram transport follows horse/pedestrian routes easily.

    Canberra is a modern city built for cars; it is not a grid but it is long and thin. Remember it was once supposed to be five separate city centres rotating around Civic/Parliamentary Triangle before it got transformed into dormitory suburbs.

    Any new Major Capital Works should be put on hold until current works are finished around the Territory and an assessment of population numbers post-Federal cuts and transport needs is done in the new infrastructure. We have neither the money nor the project management skills to bring this White Elephant in on time or on budget.

    Or call an Election now and Vox Pop it properly.

    Outraged o'P
    Date and time
    July 23, 2014, 7:12AM
    • The ACT light rail project might seem expensive now to some people but Canberran's will look back with pride in 20 years time and see this project as great value for money.

      The question here should not be - Can we afford to build it ? but -
      Can we afford not to build it ?

      If this important transport project were to be delayed and built in 10 years time it would probably cost 3 times as much !

      The liberal party public transport haters commenting here should inform your readers of the wastage by the Victorian liberal government.

      If you want to see real wastage in a transport project have a look at the proposed East-West toll road in Melbourne.

      This fiasco is an 18km toll road in its entirety and will cost Victorians $18 billion.


      Napthine and the conservative government are refusing to release the cost-benefit analysis for this project because it would not stand up to any honest financial scrutiny.

      This E-W toll road is the greatest financial scam ever perpetrated on the Victorian taxpayer.

      Rail Fan
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 11:07AM
    • "allow trams to work because tram transport follows horse/pedestrian routes easily.." what in earth are you yammering about now..? Our Y axis city is ideal for light rail corridors. Even with the environmental, social and economic benefits of this project laid out in front of you, you still cant see past your upturned nose. Canberra is an educated city, which is why we voted for this project.

      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 11:08AM
    • Our Y axis corridors to not service our population zones. If you have ever studied architectural history you would be less historonic and more strategic. If you want to understand why all the towns surrounding Canberra are the same shape - look at the design of the British Army cantonment in India. That shape mean you can run a circular transport solution. A single Y axis design is wasteful and does not draw from available population centres. This is because we were designed in the age of the automobile. I am happy for you to waste your money but I do not want a poorly planned White Elephant now or into the future.

      Outraged o'P
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 11:27AM
    • Outraged o'P, Perth was mentioned as a city but doesn't have trams. The discussion was about public transport as a whole. In the case of Perth you will find he is refering to the rail system which over the past 25 years has been revitalised and massivly expanded. Whilts Perth does have a grid design in the CBD, outside of that it is far from a grid.

      I could also give you the names of dozens of other cities that are not built on a grid design where light rail and trams work. Lets start. Nottingham (now going through an expansion). Strasburg. Paris. Vienna. Prague. Geneva.

      Though you are right, the traditional town centre construction of Canberra means it will be hard for light rail to work, EXCEPT of course Gungahlin which wasn't built to that model. Gungahlin has this road called Flemmington which from the outset was designed as a high desnsity transport corridor. It then connects to Northborne Ave, which too has a resonalbly high density too, with scope for more.

      So light rail will work to Gungahlin, elsewhere maybe not so much of a chance.

      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 11:38AM
    • Jack - all good points and well made. Except that the cities you cite all radiant off a Medieval footprint that you will find is usually oval in shape and folds around the old city walls. Even Nottingham's post-War suburbs follow that central circle of the old city.

      Canberra is different. Canberra's urban design is unique. Light Rail is not the solution and a 12 km (at best) linear route to assuage the Greens is far from a reasoned and rationale response.

      Outraged o'P
      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 11:54AM
  • Not in a month of Sunday's.
    The ""experts"" are at again,
    Expert = redundant drip under pressure.

    Date and time
    July 23, 2014, 7:36AM
    • Shame we can't afford it. On ya Labour, lets rack up some more debt!

      Date and time
      July 23, 2014, 8:17AM
      • Can we afford NOT to develop a better public transport network?

        Date and time
        July 23, 2014, 9:29AM
      • You won't have enough APS left in Canberra to warrant it!

        Every ratepayer is getting slugged with a hike already, how much do you think we can afford when everything is going up in cost?

        You've only got to take a look at the Action buses, how poorly managed they are, not to mention running around with 1 maybe 2 people at times.
        Canberra just does not have the population to warrant this, pretty obvious given the funding would need come from debt.

        Date and time
        July 23, 2014, 9:55AM

    More comments

    Comments are now closed

    HuffPost Australia

    Follow Us

    Featured advertisers

    Special offers

    Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo