The peak industry body, Tourism and Transport Forum Australia, got itself into hot water with the media last week. The Forum suggested in a new report, Meeting the funding challenges of public transport, that eligibility for concession fares should be drastically restricted.
The brouhaha was unfortunate because the Forum’s underlying contention – that public transport in Australia should be operated on a full cost-recovery basis – is worthy of closer examination. Closer examination, that is, provided we’re talking about recovering full costs from those who can afford it!
At present, fares only account for approximately 36% of public transport operating costs across Australia’s five largest cities according to the Forum’s consultant’s, LEK. They say the rest comes from Government subsidies and is low compared to an international average of 60%.
The challenge facing governments in Australia is simple enough. Public transport capacity has to increase enormously to deal with expected higher demand driven by issues like peak oil, climate change and unprecedented population growth. For example, patronage has already grown 5% p.a. over the past five years in Brisbane and Melbourne. Read the rest of this entry »
Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, Canadian-American architect Witold Rybczynski, has this interesting slide show at Slate titled Ordinary Places. He subtitles it “rediscovering the parking lot, the big-box store, the farmers market, the gas Station” and observes:
At first glance, the big-box store doesn’t foster sociability. The no-frills environment sends the message that “we are doing everything possible to keep our prices down,” and the assembly-line atmosphere encourages speed and efficiency.
Everyone is absorbed in the serious business of finding what they’re looking for, a task the long, identical aisles don’t make easy. This is the exact opposite of shopping-as-entertainment that characterizes most malls.
He’s not the only one to characterise big-box retailing this way, but why on earth would it really matter if a big-box store does or “doesn’t foster sociability”? Read the rest of this entry »
I’m currently reading a new book by writer and journalist Jenny Sinclair, When we think about Melbourne: the imagination of a city. This fascinating book sets out to discover what makes Melbourne unique and, according to the cover blurb, ultimately concludes that it’s all in our collective imagination.
I’m only a little way into the book but a comment she makes – just an aside really – caught my attention and sent me scurrying to the spreadsheet. She’s strolling through Victorian era parts of Melbourne when she’s:
reminded that there’s another (Melbourne), in which workers with affordable houses in Sunbury or Hoppers Crossing have no choice but to drive for hours every day to get to their jobs
This passage reminded me of Richard Florida’s recent claim that commutes in the US are so long they’re injurious to health. I made the point in this post that Florida’s methodology is flawed and time spent commuting in the US is actually relatively short.
But what about Melbourne – is Sinclair’s understanding that many Melburnites “drive for hours” to get to work correct? Read the rest of this entry »
VECCI’s recently released Infrastructure and Liveability policy paper, which is intended to influence public debate in the lead up to this year’s state election, argues that “road users should be treated equally. For example, all road users, including cyclists, should be licensed and vehicles registered”.
There are four key arguments commonly advanced against compulsory registration.
The first is that registration, as it is traditionally understood, is a charge for road damage, which rises exponentially with axle load. Since bicycles are extremely light compared to cars and trucks, the amount of damage they do is inconsequential.
The second is that fees for compulsory third party personal insurance are collected as part of the registration process. Again, bicycles are so light that the likelihood of cyclists seriously injuring other road users is very low (although they might injure themselves).
The third argument is that the scope for “incentivising” cyclists to obey the road rules via registration is limited. The main offence committed by motorists – speeding – doesn’t apply to most cyclists. They don’t avoid tolls because they’re not permitted on freeways and they don’t do a runner at petrol stations. Some might get picked up running red lights but not enough to justify the administrative cost of registration or the inconvenience of arming bicycles with legible number plates.
Finally, it is contended that cyclists impose very low, even zero, costs on the environment compared to motorised vehicles. Accordingly, they should be exempted from registration charges. Read the rest of this entry »
There are many misconceptions about the suburbs. A common one is that they are dormitories for workers who commute to the CBD. Another is that jobs in the suburbs are mostly low skill and low pay.
The reality is most economic activity in our capital cities takes place in the suburbs. In Melbourne, for example, 72% of jobs are more than 5 km from the CBD, 50% are more than 13 km away and 25% more than 22 km away.
Jobs have been moving away from the centre for a long time. The “centre of gravity” of jobs in Melbourne is now 7.9 km south east of the CBD, in the vicinity of Tooronga station, East Malvern. That’s up from 5.9 km in 1981. The “average” job is 15.6 km from the CBD (12.4 km in 1981).
This decentralised pattern holds for most industry sectors. More than 70% of jobs in the Community sector and more than 80% of jobs in the Retail, Wholesale and Manufacturing sectors are in the suburbs (defined as more than 5km from the CBD). Even in the Commercial Services sector, which is the inner city’s great strength, 49% of metropolitan jobs are in the suburbs.
Over 90% of Melburnites live in the suburbs and the great bulk work there too. Less than 10% of workers who live in outer suburbs like Casey, Cardinia, Dandenong, Knox, Maroondah, Mornington work in the centre (City of Melbourne). Even in older suburbs like Hobsons Bay, Brimbank, Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley, less than 25% of the workforce works in the centre. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a long history of rent-seeking in Australia over major projects. Business puts a lot of effort into lobbying government and the media to subsidise projects the private sector wouldn’t otherwise touch with a bargepole.
So when IPA (Infrastructure Partnerships Australia) – the nation’s peak infrastructure lobby group – releases a new study calling for land to be reserved for a High Speed Rail (HSR) service from Brisbane to Melbourne, I don’t immediately assume it’s an impartial assessment.
However that didn’t bother The Age, which ran the story as the lead on the front page of Saturday’s issue. The paper reports that AECOM, who prepared the study jointly with IPA, was involved in France’s TGV and Britain’s HS2 HSR projects.
The Chairman of IPA, Mark Birrell, is also on the board of Infrastructure Australia, the body established under legislation to advise the Federal Minister on infrastructure needs and priorities.
No, rather than assume the report is impartial, I thank the angel of small mercies that the only promise on the table from the Greens and Labor is for a $20 million feasibility study of HSR. There may be a thousand more welfare-enhancing ways that $20 million could be spent, but it will well and truly have earned its keep if it leads to the right decision on what could be a $40 – $80 billion investment in HSR.
I’m not going to reiterate the many and varied problems I see with HSR, since I’ve covered them before (see here, here, and here, ). What I do want to address however is the way the planned feasibility study will be conducted. Read the rest of this entry »
The Victorian Employer’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) released five policy papers on Monday aimed at guiding the pre-election decision-making of the major parties.
The paper on Infrastructure and Liveability is of particular interest to the Melbourne Urbanist. Apart from a short introduction emphasising the economic importance of infrastructure, it’s essentially a list of actions, some very specific, which looks like it was cobbled together by the proverbial committee.
It includes some current projects such as the planned Melbourne Metro, but there are some other ideas that are very interesting, to say the least. Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier in the week I argued that public policy needs to recognise that climate change and peak oil are the least compelling reasons for investing in public transport (Public transport: time for a new paradigm?). There are far more convincing reasons, I argued, such as providing universal mobility and an alternative in congested conditions.
One of my key points was that cars will almost certainly be the dominant mode for many decades to come. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that there are potential substitutes for oil and that travellers will not easily give up the advantages of on-demand mobility.
It will also take considerable time to move our cities to a more transit-friendly urban form and improving public transport to the point where it can “take over” from the car will be enormously expensive. Of course there are also alternative uses competing for investment and attention, like education and health.
I argued that we should therefore give high priority to making cars green i.e. work toward vehicles powered by renewable energy sources with low carbon and pollution. Some people say that even cars powered by zero carbon electricity will nevertheless have enormous negative impacts. Whether that’s right or not, we don’t realistically have a choice – at least in the medium term – because the transformation from car-dependent cities to transit-dependent cities will be long and arduous.
However it is true that green cars will still present serious challenges. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s been a massive shitstorm in the blogosphere since a left-leaning Melbourne lawyer, Legal Eagle, outed herself as a climate change skeptic on the SkeptiClawyer blog last week (Climate change, scepticism and elitism).
Legal Eagle also appeared on SBS’s Insight program a week ago when eminent climate change scientist, Stanford University’s Professor Stephen Schneider, was confronted with an audience of non-believers (sadly, Professor Schneider died a few weeks after the show was recorded).
Legal Eagle explained on her blog why she’s skeptical:
I am a lay person, not a scientist. I can’t make any effective judgments about the science behind Professor Schneider’s figures and projections.
I don’t have the scientific or the statistical capacity to judge the various accounts as to what is going to happen with our climate. I don’t know who is right or wrong about the ‘hockey stick graph‘ Read the rest of this entry »
One of the ever-present tensions in planning is the desire for accessibility on the one hand and the advantages of economies of scale on the other. This is an age-old debate about localised delivery versus centralised delivery.
Here’s an example from everyday life. For years, I took my son on Saturday mornings to play basketball in the “local” comp – local in this case meaning the North East sector of Melbourne. Every second Saturday he played a home game about 3 km away. On alternate Saturdays we travelled to away games, from Collingwood out to relatively “remote” places like Park Orchards, Templestowe and Eltham.
When my daughter started playing netball last year I encountered a very different model. There’s a single netball centre in Macleod with multiple indoor and outdoor courts serving the region. All games in her age competition are played at the centre each Saturday at the same time.
There are real advantages in the Macleod approach compared with the decentralised model that my son experienced. He sometimes had to play in sub standard venues and on more than one occasion there was no volunteer there to open up the court. Just navigating to some of the more far-flung venues seemed like a substantial achievement! Read the rest of this entry »
Much of the debate on transport in cities is too simplistic. All too frequently it’s reduced to a simple nostrum: “replace all car travel with public transport”. I think it’s more complex than that and, to use another cliché, requires a more nuanced approach.
Let me be clear from the outset that there are compelling reasons why we need to invest more in public transport – for example, to provide mobility for those without access to a car. Another reason is to provide an alternative to roads that are becoming increasingly congested.
But I’m not convinced that the reason most commonly advanced – to overcome the environmental disadvantages of cars – is all that persuasive. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »
In an excellent post, finance whiz Christopher Joye explains that all those foreign hedge funds who are actively shorting Australian bank shares are themselves taking a bath.
He deflates the claim of “US investment legend” Jeremy Grantham that Australia’s housing market is a time bomb with house prices 7.5 times family incomes. The hedge funds believe the housing bubble will burst and threaten the balance sheets of Australian banks.
Mr Joye, who is the MD of Rismark International, points out that the home price to disposable income ratio in Australia was actually only 4.6 in the June quarter 2010, a figure generally in line with the average since 2003. Read the rest of this entry »
Let me say from the outset that I’ve long been sceptical about some of the methods used by Richard Florida, celebrated author of The Rise of the Creative Class. And I’m not the only one – this review of his book by Edward Glaeser is written with a velvet glove but packs an iron fist.
So it’s not surprising I’m unimpressed by Commuting is very bad for you, written by Florida for last month’s issue of The Atlantic. He gets it completely wrong and provides a lesson in the dangers of only seeing what you want to see.
Florida seizes on a survey of 173,581 working Americans which he claims shows that those with longer commutes suffer higher levels of back pain, higher cholesterol and higher obesity. It also shows, he says, that commuting takes a toll on emotional health and happiness – those who commute more worry more, experience less enjoyment and feel less well-rested.
Commuting by car is so bad it’s up there with smoking:
“commuting is a health and psychological hazard, not to mention the carnage and wasted time on our over-clogged roads. It’s time to put commuting right beside smoking and obesity on the list of priorities for improving the health and well-being of Americans”.
The trouble is the data he cites doesn’t support these conclusions. A proper reading of the two tables from his article (I’ve reproduced them above) indicates there’s very little relationship between commute time and health. Read the rest of this entry »
I have a modest idea for making our major cities more liveable that I’d like to offer to the Premiers and Opposition Leaders of Victoria, NSW and Queensland in the run up to their forthcoming State elections.
The idea could be named something like the Better Neighbours Initiative or it could as easily be titled Considerate Cities or Liveable Cities or something of that ilk. The idea starts with the recognition that living in close proximity within cities imposes stresses on human relations and demands strong remedial action.
Some of the risks associated with cities, like disease, respond to investment in physical infrastructure. But some don’t – they require behavioural approaches.
The main objective is to limit the stress that inconsiderate behaviour, like noise from “hot” cars or audio amplifiers, imposes on residents and neighbours. I’ll focus on noise here, but the ambit of the liveable cities idea could extend to other problems such as taming the speed and behaviour of cars in local streets and activity centres. Read the rest of this entry »
It might seem counter-intuitive, but you can’t increase public transport’s share of travel significantly unless you simultaneously do something about cars. Yet this simple relationship is usually ignored by governments and lobbyists alike.
Back on 23 August I looked at the question of how our cities could grow larger but still be liveable. Public transport has a vital role in meeting this challenge, but the task is daunting. Notwithstanding current overcrowding on the train system, public transport’s share of all motorised travel is only around 11% in Melbourne and a little higher in Sydney.
The standard recipe for increasing transit’s share of travel is to offer a better product. This is popularly thought of as more trains and more light rail (only occasionally more buses).
It usually involves providing some combination of greater route coverage, higher frequencies, longer operating hours, faster speeds, better connections, more information and higher levels of comfort and security.
Improving quality seems a self-evident solution. After all, the area of the city with the best public transport offering – the CBD – is also the area where public transport scores best against the car. For example, 43% of all motorised work trips to the inner city in Melbourne are made by public transport and this study suggests the figure for the CBD is probably upwards of 65%.
This strategy works – but only up to a point. Consider, for example, the Melbourne inner city municipality of Yarra. It has a pretty high standard of train and tram services, yet 86% of all motorised weekday travel by residents of Yarra is still made by car (or 74% when walking and cycling are also included). Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a wonderful video of Melbourne in 1931, Melbourne Today, put up by Gillian over at Melbourne Curious. This inspired me to track its original source to the Screen Australia web site where there are literally hundreds of films on diverse aspects of Australian life dating from the end of the nineteenth century.
I went looking for films with a specifically Melbourne urban perspective and picked out these four:
Melbourne Today was made by F.W. Thring, renowned Melbourne film maker and father of Aussie film legend Frank Thring (who memorably appeared as Pontius Pilate in the 50s sword and sandals epic, Ben Hur). More over the leaf….. Read the rest of this entry »