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Transport failure 'spectacular'

RMIT Academic Paul Mees.

RMIT Academic Paul Mees. Photo: James Davies

Canberra has been branded a "spectacular failure in transport policy" by a Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology academic. The ACT government has done too much road building and not enough to encourage the city's commuters onto buses, bikes or walking paths, according to a report by the institute's Paul Mees.

His report contains other surprising conclusions: Canberra has lost the mantle of the nations's most car-dependent capital city to Adelaide, and Sydney now leads Australia in sustainable commuting.

The ACT government conceded on Monday that the RMIT's conclusions were "concerning" and that more needed to be done to change Canberra's transport mix.

Dr Mees, known for his hardline views on public transport in the nation's cities, and his colleague, Lucy Groenhart, also suggested that sexism could be to blame for cycling's primacy over walking in Australia's transport planning.

In their study, Transport Policy at the Crossroads: Travel to work in Australian capital cities 1976-2011, the two researchers have given each capital city a score on its performance in sustainable commuting for the past 35 years, with their latest figures based on the 2011 census.

They concluded that Canberra had gone backward since the 1980s and was the only capital city to register a decline in public transport use, from 7.8 per cent of journeys to 7.7.

"Public transport mode share actually declined slightly compared with 2006: Canberra was the only one of the seven capital cities to register a decline," the report reads. "Walking rates stayed at the 2006 level, while cycling increased only modestly.

"Canberra is nowhere near meeting any of its sustainable transport targets: indeed, in public transport, the city is headed in the opposite direction to the target." While the authors concede that progress was made between 2001 and 2006 in getting Canberrans out of their cars, the report is scathing of subsequent government policy making. "The 2004 commitment to sustainable transport mode share increase was purely rhetorical, and was not backed by any substantive actions," they wrote.

"Instead, the ACT government has done the opposite to its stated intentions, with a substantial program of road building and expansion, including building the Gungahlin Drive Extension as a freeway (and) widening Parkes Way along Lake Burley Griffin."

Nor are the academics impressed with the ACT's most ambitious public transport commitment, the promised Gungahlin-Civic light rail link, saying it did "not change the fundamentally flawed nature of planning a public transport system that offers a real choice to only a minority of the population.

''Rather, it confirms that Canberra's light rail scheme runs the risk of replicating the poor performance of some US light rail systems and Sydney's single line.

''Canberra needs to replace its current transport policies with an approach based on the experience of cities where public transport has succeeded, not where it has failed."

Minister for Territory and Municipal Services Shane Rattenbury agreed that the territory had to improve. "That census data shows we're heading in the wrong direction and we clearly have to do much better … Car driving rates are declining across the rest of Australia and ours are climbing, so we're clearly not getting it right."

Mr Rattenbury said the key to enticing passengers onto buses was to make services better.

96 comments

  • Can we now please have the weekend buses that were supposed to be restored (after a failed re-jig) several years ago. My bro in law is a bus driver and says the govt spin on 'not enough weekend warriors' is crap - they have had them ready and willing for years.
    I suggest the media talk to the drivers to get the real story.

    Commenter
    Mardi
    Location
    Tuggers (Canberra)
    Date and time
    January 15, 2013, 7:33AM
    • The mistake in Canberra is more understandable than the giant errors in Sydney where public transport infrastructure is mainly that built in the 1920s.There was a dedicated bus lane on the M2 for awhile which demonstrated that anyone could go to the CBD in under 30 minutes along that line. Similar bus lanes should operate in all directions. Instead, it was easier for the politicians to give away access to the private freeway developers. This proved totally inefficient. However, the present government has failed to learn the lessons and approved expansion of inner urban freeways which will continue to fail.

      Commenter
      Good Logic
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 12:49PM
  • And what has it cost the ACT tax payer for this report that anyone and everyone in the ACT already knows is nothing short of a disgrace.

    Commenter
    Nitro Gangster
    Location
    ACT
    Date and time
    January 15, 2013, 7:41AM
    • Academic, ha ha, isn't Andrew Leigh an academic, that says it all.

      Commenter
      OLD DOG
      Location
      ACT
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 8:25AM
    • Did you read the article? Whilst I agree 100% with what RMIT found (see my previous comment), the article suggests that this is an RMIT-commissioned study of all capital cities. It doesn't look as though the ACT Government commissioned, or paid for the report.

      Some people are just too desperate to mindlessly bag the government that they look beyond the warranted criticisms to make false criticisms.

      Commenter
      AndyG123
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 9:46AM
    • AndyG123, yes I read it and at the end someone pays and AndyG123 that is yourself, myself and the masses.
      And I don't mindlessly bag the government, I intentionaly bag the government and I will continue to bag the government as long as they continue to treat me as a second class blue collar citizen.,

      Commenter
      Nitro Gangster
      Location
      ACT
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 10:28AM
  • You don't need an academic to know that our transport system sucks. All you need to do is try and get from Gungahlin or Belconnen to the Inner South or Woden in the morning. Where's the planning? After the GDE debacle, it still isn't wide enough. Parkes Way has been a parkway for months, and won't be complete in the near future. So what do the powers that be do? They start work on the other route from Gungahlin to the south, via Majura Road. Who plans this? By February, Gungahlin-Kingston is going to be a 1 hour+ drive in peak hour.

    Meanwhile, ACTION are blatantly taking advantage of this - they're raising bus fares, and they're fleecing new MyWay users before they can even use the bus. All for the privilege of having to stand for 2-3 overcrowded bus rides which, even with bus lanes, still take longer than driving!

    And on top of all of that - we're told that it'll take up to 4 years before work even begins on the new cycling network.

    An academic has no more credibility than the poor sod whose trying to drop kids at school get to work in the morning, and the lack of planning is scandalous. The CT should be following up how this was allowed to happen. Yes, we all want the infrastructure yesterday - but that's not to say that it should all be built ASAP. I'm investigating a jet-pack for when the school year begins...

    Commenter
    AndyG123
    Date and time
    January 15, 2013, 7:42AM
    • Totally agree. As with other basic service systems (health, education, etc.), Govt should be looking at successful models from other relevant cities. I've had to rule out getting a job in Woden simply because of the lack of frequent interchange-to-interchange services supported by appropriately located park-and-ride areas. As it is, the so-called 'espresso' buses wander around Belconnen for 20 minutes before they get on Barry Dr or the Parkway for the rest of their journey. (And, incidentally, how safe is it to have buses designed for urban street barrelling down the Parkway at 100kph with no seat belts?)

      Commenter
      Karina
      Location
      Belconnen
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 10:46AM
    • The poor sod struggling to get the kids to school knows that his/her part of the system is in a mess and probably knows from friends about one or two other parts. The further it gets from home, the more an individual's perception is based on anecdote and whinge.

      A report like this reviews the overall transport system of all the capital cities, not just Canberra, nor just part of Canberra, on the basis of reliable statistical data.

      It is not a particularly heavyweight document -- it runs to about 40 pages -- and Noel Towell's article touches only a fraction of the contents. But it is comprehensive within the terms of its brief.

      You don't want to encourage people around here to practice laughing like Nelson in The Simpsons! He knows a lot about academics, too.

      Commenter
      peter1
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 1:04PM
    • You generally don't need to be an academic to know that something is going wrong, however it is generally academia that tells us WHY something is going wrong. Without that it's a touch hard to fix things.

      Commenter
      Surak
      Location
      Kir'Shara
      Date and time
      January 15, 2013, 1:35PM

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