Federal Politics


On your bike - or a similar device

To suggest that Canberra's cycling network is under-used, and likely to remain so without significant changes, would be regarded as heresy in certain quarters, particularly among the planners (and governments) responsible for their spread in the first place. This has not deterred Vivian Straw, however. The ACT president of the Planning Institute of Australia claimed this week that existing policies to get commuters out of their cars and onto Canberra's off-road cycle network had failed because only ''certain people'' are prepared to ''cycle 20 kilometres and then shower and change for work''. Planners would be more usefully employed widening existing off-road cycleways and enhancing on-road cycle lanes (particularly by physically separating them from traffic and pedestrians) to allow the increased use of what he terms ''personal mobility devices'' - vehicles such as Segways, foldaway electric bicycles and electric scooters.

The evidence Mr Straw has used as the basis for his claims of under-use is clear. There is some evidence of traffic flow measurement on the marked cycle lanes fringing Canberra's arterial roads, but few such efforts have been detected on the network of cycle paths. Nonetheless, Mr Straw is unequivocal in his view that Canberra's cycling network ''has the lowest participation rate'' of any capital city, and that because this is a diffuse city cycling to work will only ever have marginal appeal.

If one accepts this view, and it is by no means verifiable, then it would certainly make sense to try to attract non-bike-riding commuters onto paths and laneways now used exclusively by cyclists . Regulating the use of two-wheeled, battery-powered devices like Segways and electric scooters on public thoroughfares would not be straightforward (as a recent episode involving a Segway rental company operating on Lake Burley Griffin demonstrated). Providing the regulations governing their use were not too onerous or restrictive, the popularity of such devices would almost certainly rise. Providing dedicated and protected lanes on roadways would have a similar effect.

The practical drawbacks, such that they are, would not be significant. Cyclists and pedestrians might not welcome the intrusion of personal mobility devices in their domains, but widening and improving existing paths would take care of most complaints. Widening and separating on-road cycle lanes would be more problematic, and expensive. In comparison to the costs of providing roads for motorists, the outlay would be relatively small.

Many motorists are reflexively opposed to any measures that have the effect of increasing travel time, and this hostility may be more difficult to overcome. However, given the determination of the Gallagher government to reduce the city's carbon footprint, Mr Straw's suggestions are worthy of consideration.

Post man's knock

It's probably a safe bet to say that Ahmed Fahour won't make the Christmas card lists of many of his Australia Post employees after the corporation's recent decision to slash staff Christmas bonuses.


Mr Fahour, who is Australia Post's chief executive, last year rewarded his staff with a $500 bonus after the corporation turned a handy $241 million profit. This week, staff were told that their 2012 Christmas bonus would be cut to $100, and that it would be in the form of voucher redeemable at Australia Post stores. Full-time employees will also receive 100 stamps with a face value of $60.

Mr Fahour received $2.77 million in salary last year, and a bonus of $874,000 (cash of course), making him the highest paid government employee in the nation. Indeed, his salary eclipsed those earned by the chief executives of Deutsche Post and Britain's Royal Mail, even though Australia Post is a far smaller commercial entity. Australia Post has defended its decision to cut bonuses, arguing that ''the outlook for the business remains challenging''.

Unions, however, are having none it, and have branded Mr Fahour a Christmas Grinch. One, it has to be said, with eerie parallels to John Clunies Ross, former lord and master of the Cocos Islands who liked to pay his workers with plastic tokens redeemable only at the company store.

The likelihood that Mr Fahour may be shamed into reconsidering his decision seems remote. He is, after all, a former boss of the National Australia Bank. This is one campaign where postal employees and their union reps may have to accept that they are licked.