If I lived in Mernda I’d be pretty unhappy that the Brumby Government (here and here) is only going to give me a bus service rather than extend the Epping rail line beyond the new station at South Morang.
Sure, it’s Bus Rapid Transit with its own dedicated 7.5 km busway (here and here). And buses will be coordinated with arrivals and departures when trains start operating from the new South Morang station.
But it means I would have to change mode at South Morang. That will inevitably lose me some minutes. Moreover, a bus is simply not as comfortable as a train.
This seems like a politically fraught decision. The President of the Victorian Planning Institute says it’s bad planning and that buses are a “dinky service”. The President of the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) says buses are “not as good as a train and are certainly not what residents are looking for”.
However I don’t live in Mernda. And I pay taxes, so I’m quite interested in public money being spent efficiently and equitably. I also understand that there are many demands on available funds, not just from other transport projects but from other portfolios like education, health and housing.
So when I stand back and take a look at this initiative I can see some positives. In fact I think this is the right decision. It’s how governments should be approaching this sort of issue. These are my reasons: Read the rest of this entry »
Everyone knows that Australians build the largest new houses in the world. According to the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, real expenditure on each new dwelling is now 60% higher than it was 15 years ago.
Just why we need 85 m2 per person, on average, in our new suburban houses is an interesting question, especially given that the average household size in Australia has fallen.
As with most things, it’s the coincidence of a number of factors that provide the most plausible explanation, but in my view the key reason is that Australians increasingly see the purchase of a dwelling as an investment decision.
There was a time when buying a house was solely about consumption – i.e. shelter – but now it’s received wisdom that houses inexorably increase in price. They provide growing equity to borrow against in the future and capital to draw against if the unthinkable should happen.
Recent history has convinced home buyers that residential property is a good, even spectacular, investment. This reflects factors such as its tax-sheltered status, restrictions on supply, low interest rates and Federal and State home buyer assistance schemes.
From the perspective of many home buyers, a bigger house not only provides more consumption value but is seen as a sound long-term investment decision. Unlike a car, which depreciates in value, buyers assume every dollar spent on a house ultimately increases in value. A bigger house might even appreciate in value faster than a smaller house. Read the rest of this entry »
A common argument is that households who settle on the fringe because housing is more affordable end up worse off because of higher transport costs. They are forced to buy a second or third car and they use more petrol because they have to travel further.
Of course there’s an assumption here – that ordinary families actually could find a suitable dwelling, at an affordable price, in an area where transport costs are significantly lower than they would be on the fringe.
Consider the municipalities of Casey and Cardinia, which together comprise the largest Growth Area in Melbourne. At around 45 km and 55 km respectively from the CBD they are also the most distant fringe growth areas.
The median price of an established house and garden in Casey (Narre Warren) is $350,000. Now compare that with the City of Monash, which stretches between 13 km and 24 km from the CBD. The median price for a house in this municipality is $780,000 (although in Clayton it’s $618,000).
A more likely alternative for a settler in Monash who’s primary concern is affordability would be a unit. However the median price for a unit is $464,000 ($401,000 in Clayton).
Thus the Growth Area has a considerable advantage in price and size – it’s much cheaper and offers a three to four bedroom house with a garden compared to a two bedroom unit. Clearly a Monash location would need to offer a considerable saving in transport costs to offset Casey/Cardinia’s advantages. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m not aware of anyone who disagrees seriously with the contention that car travel is underpriced. The consequence of this inefficiency is we drive more than we otherwise would and more than is socially optimal.
The idea of road pricing is that drivers should pay the real costs they impose on others through traffic congestion, pollution, noise and carbon emissions.
There’s also another force at play here which exacerbates the problem of excessive driving. There are some costs that drivers actually do pay – standing costs like depreciation, insurance and registration – that are “disconnected” from the perceived cost of travel.
A person deciding whether or not to drive somewhere will tend to take account of the cost of their time plus petrol, but they usually don’t perceive the standing costs. This under-estimation promotes more driving.
There have been various experiments with road pricing, such as the well known Singapore and London central city cordons (giving rise to amusing interpretations such as this one by Boris Johnson). However this is a technologically outdated approach – transponders and/or GIS technology mean it is now feasible to charge motorists in relation both to distance and traffic conditions i.e by location and time.
A driver who paid a price for a litre of petrol that included both external and standing costs would have a strong incentive to drive less. A gauge on the dash showing the total cost ticking over with every kilometre would provide an even more powerful nudge to think long and hard about the wisdom of driving.
Road pricing can be thought of in simple terms as a two-part per kilometre tariff that recovers both external costs and those standing costs that can be disaggregated. One part is a charge reflecting the general cost of using the roads. The other is a variable price reflecting specific costs like congestion in peak periods.
There are potentially some important benefits for the wider community from road pricing: Read the rest of this entry »
In my last post about the Green’s election manifesto, a Public transport plan for Melbourne’s east, I indicated I would take a closer look at the two new rail lines the party is proposing to finance – a line to Rowville and a line to Doncaster – with its nonexistent $6 billion.
I discussed the shortcomings of the Rowville line a few months ago when the Liberals also came out in favour of it (is there a winnable seat in the vicinity perhaps?), so here I’ll just concern myself with the proposed Doncaster line.
The Greens say a line is needed because Manningham is the only municipality in Melbourne without either a train line or a tram line. And they say a rail line was promised before – plans were drawn up in 1969 but never acted on.
I’m not impressed by this logic. Do we spend billions of dollars on infrastructure because some area is “entitled” to a track even if it’s not the best solution? Should we get the 1969 freeway plan because it’s a “broken” promise too?
I’d be more impressed if the Greens had provided some justification, but they haven’t. There’s no attempt to measure expected patronage and no indication of the possible economic benefits compared to other potential investments. Nor is there any indication of the annual operating cost and the ongoing subsidy that the line would require.
The proposal is that the line would run from the CBD via a tunnel under Carlton and Fitzroy to Victoria Park station on the Hurstbridge-Epping line. It would then run along the median of the Eastern Freeway (which was designed from the outset to take a rail line) until 1.5 km east of Bulleen Rd. At that point it would run underground to a new station at Doncaster.
There are some very serious questions that need to be asked about this proposal. Read the rest of this entry »
Peter Garrett copped a lot of flak over the Rudd Government’s Home Insulation Program earlier this year.
There was widespread rorting and mismanagement, four workers died installing insulation and, up to 18 October 2010, almost 200 house fires have been linked to the program.
Did the program achieve anything positive?
According to this report, Tony O’Dwyer from the National Institute of Economic and Industry Research (NIEIR) reckons the scheme saved 1 to 1.5 petajoules of energy (gas) in Victoria this winter.
That’s even better than it looks because the ‘low hanging fruit’ had very likely already been picked in Victoria, given that around 87% of homes in the state were insulated when the program started. Nevertheless, the thermal efficiency of nearly 300,000 more homes across the state was improved under the program.
Now ace blogger Possum Comitatus has been burning the midnight oil to analyse the numbers. He concludes that the fire risk associated with home insulation is much safer now than it was before Peter Garrett introduced the Home Insulation Program.
Prior to this initiative, the industry did 65,000 installations per year and experienced 85 fires per year. However under the program, there were over 1.2 million installs per year and 197 fires. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been thinking for some time that I should set down what I see as the key high-level actions that need to be taken to ensure Melbourne can remain liveable well into the future. Given that the State election is about six weeks away, this seems like a good time.
I’m only going to look at the supply side. I’ll leave the topic of demand for another day. For the moment, I’ll assume that Melbourne really will grow to 7 million around 2050.
The actions I propose are not confined to the predominantly physical measures we’re used to seeing in traditional strategic plans like Melbourne 2030 and Melbourne @ 5 Million. Cities can’t be managed effectively without taking a holistic view – that’s because many of the apparent “planning” problems have deeper causes.
I start with the same overall goals as plans like Melbourne 2030 espouse – greater environment sustainability, equity and economic efficiency – but the route I propose for getting there is very different and, I think, much more likely to work.
I’m more concerned here with getting the policy right than I am with short-term political feasibility, so I don’t expect either side is going to pick up these ideas and run with them in the election. That’ll take time.
So, the key high-level actions I propose are: Read the rest of this entry »
I noted yesterday that Melbourne @ 5 Million envisages just over half of all new dwellings constructed between now and 2030 – about 16,000 per year – will be located within the built-up area. The rest will be built in the fringe Growth Areas.
This is a significant reduction compared to the 69% share Melbourne 2030 envisaged would be built within established areas over 2001 to 2030.
But I think home buyers’ preference for the outer suburbs is also commonly exaggerated. I expect many fringe settlers would prefer a location closer to the centre if only the market could deliver a better space/price compromise.
I think one of the reasons they can’t find that compromise could be the Government’s policy of prioritising redevelopment to strategic locations, like activity centres and along main transport routes. Read the rest of this entry »
The Victorian Government set a target in its 2002 strategic plan, Melbourne 2030, that only 31% of new dwellings constructed between 2001 and 2030 would be located on outer suburban greenfield sites.
In fact, it envisaged that by 2030, the proportion would have fallen to just 22%.
This ambitious target reflected the conviction at the time that continued outward growth was unsustainable. The firm view was that a much higher proportion of growth would need to be accommodated within the existing built-up area.
The subsequent update released in 2008, Melbourne @ 5 Million, significantly downgraded the target.
Melbourne @ 5 Million “anticipated” that 47% of all new dwellings constructed over the next 20 years would be located in the fringe Growth Areas.
The new target simply reflected what the market was actually doing. There would be little danger now of getting caught out by a politically ambitious “stretch target”.
The most recent edition of the Government’s Residential Land Bulletin (March Qtr, 2010) indicates how prescient the authors of Melbourne @ 5 Million were. It shows that exactly 47% of dwelling approvals in the preceding twelve months were located in the Growth Areas.
But if you think we need less development in the outer suburbs and more in the inner and middle ring suburbs, it gets worse. Read the rest of this entry »
The car industry has proposed a revamp of the Gillard Government’s “cash for clunkers” program. They say it will reduce the cost from $400 million to $200 million while still meeting the Government’s target of saving one million tonnes of CO2.
The nub of the proposal is that the rebate on new cars should be increased from $2,000 to $5,000 but targeted strictly at ultra efficient cars like the hybrid Toyota Prius and a number of very small diesel and petrol cars that offer similar levels of efficiency.
This would address a perceived failing of the Gillard Government proposal, which provides the rebate to medium and large cars, including some variants of the new Commodore and Falcon.
Whereas the Government’s proposal would cost a ridiculous $400/tonne of CO2 saved, the industry proposal costs a merely expensive $200 per tonne.
The industry scheme seems like an advance on the original poorly thought-through idea. “Cash for clunkers” was evidently hatched at short notice and released in the heat of the election campaign.
But the modified approach still has drawbacks. It rewards, at taxpayer expense, buyers who would’ve bought ultra-small cars anyway. It’s also likely to increase the price of cheap, old cars and make life a bit harder for drivers confined to this end of the second hand market (although as it only takes 50,000 clunkers off the road it won’t have as big an impact as the Gillard scheme, which eliminates 200,000). And it doesn’t provide an incentive to make all those other small, medium and large cars that most buyers will continue to buy any more efficient. Read the rest of this entry »
A new US study has found that there is a significant association between public transport use and reductions in Body Mass Index over time.
The researchers did an initial “before” telephone survey of residents living within one mile of a proposed new light rail line in Charlotte NC. They followed up with an “after” telephone survey 6-8 months after the new line opened.
There are some major methodological limitations with the study. Respondents self-reported their weight. The initial sample of 839 fell to 498 respondents in the follow-up phase. Only 26 respondents used the new line to commute on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, I have no difficulty with the proposition that those who choose to commute by transit are likely to be thinner than those who choose to drive to work. After all, transit requires the expenditure of more calories on walking and standing than driving does.
But in my view, the key issue is to what extent better health outcomes – and in this context specifically weight reduction – should shape transport policy. In order to look at that issue it is essential to understand what’s driving the “obesity epidemic” in Australia. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve concluded before that the most plausible scenario in the forseeable future is that cars will continue to be used for the majority of trips in Australian cities. Increasingly, these cars will tend to be powered by clean energy sources and will be slower and more civilised than today’s vehicles.
I expect growth in public transport and cycling will be much faster but the absolute number of cars will very probably still increase. It is therefore inevitable that there will be continuing pressure for new freeways.
So is there any sort of case for freeways or should all new infrastructure funding be reserved exclusively for public transport, as proposed by the Independent Inquiry into Sydney’s long-term transport needs?
The key criticisms of freeways, most of which are pretty familiar by now, are that they:
- generate more car travel and higher speeds, which in turn produces more emissions and pollution and consumes more oil
- promote a sprawled, car-dependent urban form – the higher speeds provided by freeways mean people tend to live further away from activities
- undermine the viability of public transport where they compete directly
- impact on neighbouring uses – the amenity of adjoining land uses is diminished by noise and pollution
- crowd out investment in transit – governments prioritise funding to roads and investment in public transport is neglected
- sever social linkages and networks when they’re superimposed on existing communities
- cannot deliver very large numbers of people to concentrated locations, like CBDs, without becoming congested relatively quickly
In fairness, it should be acknowledged that efforts have been made to ameliorate some of these issues. Much of the investment in freeways over the last twenty years has been by the private sector. Governments have built sound barriers along new and existing freeways and the almost mandatory use of tunnels in built up areas means severance is no longer the issue it once was. Read the rest of this entry »
The Age published details on Monday of what it says is a leaked Vicroads “plan for hundreds of kilometres of new freeways”.
The “plan” is actually just a map showing how Melbourne’s road network might look in 2040. Vicroads isn’t conceding that it prepared the map but it isn’t denying it either. Most of the projects are already shown on the Melway or are well known – only the outer, outer ring road and two Geelong roads seem genuinely new.
There is a heap of negative comment on The Age site. The most interesting comment however is a quote in The Age from an RACV spokesperson who says the map represents the sort of ”truly long-term thinking” needed if the city’s road system is to cope with predictions that Melbourne’s population will grow to 7 million by 2049.
I have no issue with the need to think about road transport well into the future. As I’ve pointed out before, even the most optimistic long term public transport plans envisage that the majority of travel will still be by car. While the car’s mode share is likely to decline, the absolute level of car travel – in green cars – is nevertheless highly like to increase.
But I beg to differ with an RACV spokesperson who is quoted as saying that this road plan constitutes “truly long term thinking” about the road system. I don’t see how the efficiency, sustainability and capacity of the road system as depicted in this wish-list can be assessed without having information on a host of other variables that will affect the use of road space in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
The issue of how to deal with excess demand is a common one in cities, whether it’s concerts, road congestion or the (until recently unfamiliar) problem of public transport congestion.
As I went through the stressful process of buying tickets for the Big Day Out for my son (successfully as it turns out), I got wondering if ‘first-in, first served’ is really the ideal way to go about selling tickets for such a high-demand event. The organisers appear to think it isn’t.
They made a decision on Friday, apparently on the fly, to hold back 3,000 tickets for the Melbourne event. These will now be made available via a randomly drawn online ballot conducted once a week for ten weeks. Prices will be the same as they were for the original sale.
The organisers quite clearly could charge more than $164 per ticket (including booking fee), so why don’t they? It could be that they’re simply not very good at estimating people’s willingness to pay for a particular set of bands, or perhaps it’s such a black art that they’re not prepared to take too many risks. Or it might be that they’re in it for the long haul and don’t want to alienate concert-goers from returning in future years – they might want to protect the “brand”. Read the rest of this entry »
Monash University’s Professor Graham Currie is quoted in The Australian (6 October) as arguing that employer subsidies for staff car parking should be removed:
When buildings go up in cities, the parking component is about 37 per cent of the total cost. Is that cost passed on to the people who use it or borne by society as a whole? I can tell you it’s the latter because most car commuters don’t pay their own parking; their employers do. The costs of this ‘free parking’ flows through into the price of goods and services, so we are all in effect subsidising the car owners who drive into the city. Traffic congestion in Australian cities is unlikely to diminish because so many car commuters don’t pay their own parking bills
The Victorian Employer’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) has hit out at Professor Currie, arguing that many employers offer subsidised parking as a way to woo workers to city jobs where it is otherwise inconvenient or untimely to use another transport method, like the train or bus:
The way to lessen inner city congestion is not to restrict choice but to increase it – making it more attractive to travel on trains, trams, buses or to walk/ride. Ultimately employers should retain the freedom to offer whatever incentive it deems it requires to lure the best calibre of workers to its business.
I don’t buy VECCI’s line about not restricting choice, but I agree entirely that employers and their staff should generally be free to negotiate whatever lawful remuneration packages they want. However I think it’s an entirely different matter if those packages are underwritten by tax payer subsidised car use. Read the rest of this entry »
The credibility of the six new suburban ‘supercentres’ announced by the Victorian Government in October 2008 has been undermined by a recent Government report on land supply.
The Government announced in October 2008 that it was upgrading six existing suburban Principal Activity Centres (PAC) to Central Activities District (CAD) status. The CADs are a new top-level category of centre intended to provide “significant CBD-type jobs and services” in the suburbs.
Described as “mini CBDs” by The Age and envisaged to have a mix of business, residential and civic uses, the six designated CADs are Broadmeadows, Box Hill, Dandenong, Footscray, Frankston and Ringwood.
I’ve previously pointed out there’s little evidence that any “science” was applied to the selection of the CADs. It seems the Government picked six centres under the existing Transit Cities Program and designated them as CADs.
They do not appear to be natural centres of commerce or industry. Only one of the six CADs (Box Hill) ranks among the nine largest suburban centres in terms of job numbers.
Now the 2009 Annual Report on the Urban Development Program issued earlier this year by the planning department shows that the CADs aren’t the preferred location of residents or developers, either. The accompanying graph indicates the number of dwellings recently built, under construction, or planned, in major suburban activity centres. Read the rest of this entry »
Australian suburbs are commonly thought of as low density, single-use dormitories offering residents spacious lots, detached houses, quiet streets and a good measure of “leafy” amenity. Since it is assumed residents commute to the city centre, the suburbs are unsullied by the noise and grind of daily commerce.
It’s also commonly implied that the suburbs are homogeneous, alienating and unauthentic. As Graeme Davison says, suburbanites have variously been accused of conformity, philistinism, apathy and wowserism.
But it seems this stereotype is outdated. Housing densities are rising in the suburbs, whether through large developments like this 13 storey, 520 unit development on a redundant government site at Coburg in Melbourne (10 km from the CBD), or via numerous dual occupancy and small-scale infill town house developments in middle ring suburbs and the older parts of outer suburbs. Read the rest of this entry »
Review: When we think about Melbourne: the imagination of a city, Jenny Sinclair, Affirm Press, 2010, Melbourne
One of the observations made by Jenny Sinclair in When we think about Melbourne really strikes a chord with me – just how different the city is when you see it from the saddle of a bicycle. In this extract, she’s just cycled up the middle of St Georges Rd to Reservoir:
Perched on my bike on the track that runs through the park opposite these fine houses, I look down across Preston, Glenroy and to the city, and think: ‘it’s all downhill from here’. When I get home, I felt my sense of the world had expanded a little. Moments like this, of unexpected connection and revelation – I call them ‘surprised by joy’ moments after Wordsworth’s poem – come when we immerse ourselves, when we walk and ride; they are why we should get out of our cars for ourselves, not ‘just’ for the environment or for exercise
Cycling through the city is one of those pleasures that other less-fortunate souls haven’t experienced. Seeing the arse-end of factories from inner city bike trails, the undulating topography, the small exchanges of street life, or the great complexity and detail of inner suburban streetscapes that otherwise might seem regular and monotonous, is to be privy to a hidden world. Read the rest of this entry »