What can Sydney teach us about airport rail lines?

Mode share (prepared by ACCC)

There is little doubt that Melbourne Airport needs action to improve land-side access for passengers arriving and departing from the airport.

Many observers argue the solution is a rail line from the CBD to the airport. I think there’s a much bigger picture they’re missing. They would be well advised to look at the Airport Monitoring Report 2009-10, just released by the ACCC (see chart).

It shows that only 39% of trips to Sydney Airport are made by private car (on-airport parking, rentals and kerbside drop-off), compared to 69% for Melbourne Airport. Since Sydney has a train and Melbourne doesn’t, it’s tempting to conclude that a train is the answer to Melbourne’s woes.

However the ACCC’s report says that more people travel to Melbourne Airport by public transport (14% – all by bus) than is the case for Sydney Airport (12% – train and bus).

A key difference between the two airports is that taxis (incl ‘mini buses’) are far more popular in Sydney, where they account for 49% of all airport trips. The comparable figure for Melbourne is just 17%.

Part of the reason for this difference is taxis are more competitive in Sydney against cars and against the train – Kingsford Smith is 8 km from the CBD and hence is relatively central.  In contrast, Melbourne is 22 km from the CBD so taxis are not as competitive with either buses or cars (other reasons for the difference include more tourists at Sydney, as well as higher parking charges).

As I discussed last week, Brisbane’s airport – like Melbourne’s – is also located a considerable distance from the city centre. It might be that the location of both airports on the edge of their respective metropolitan areas – well away from the centre of gravity of population in both cities – is a key reason for their high private car use (and low taxi use).

Yet distance can’t be the whole explanation. The Brisbane airport train only captures 5% of trips and all up, public transport carries 8% of airport journeys. That’s considerably less than either Sydney or train-free Melbourne.

Given the experience of Sydney and Brisbane, it cannot simply be assumed that constructing a rail line from the CBD to Melbourne Airport will inevitably lead to a significant increase in public transport use – at the expense of cars – over and above the already substantial mode share enjoyed by buses. Read the rest of this entry »


Is this the way we’ll live next?

Wivenhoe Dam, Qld, at 197% capacity, Jan 2011

The centre of the city of the future will be the airport, according to a book by John D Kasarda of the University of Carolina and journalist Greg Lindsay to be published next month.

They say in Aerotropolis (subtitled, to emphasise its inevitability, The Way We’ll Live Next), that “not so long ago, airports were built near cities, and roads connected the one to the other. This pattern—the city in the center, the airport on the periphery— shaped life in the twentieth century, from the central city to exurban sprawl”. But things, they say, have changed:

Today, the ubiquity of jet travel, round-the-clock workdays, overnight shipping, and global business networks has turned the pattern inside out. Soon the airport will be at the center and the city will be built around it, the better to keep workers, suppliers, executives, and goods in touch with the global market.

Soon the airport will be the centre of the city?!!! I am, to put it mildly, sceptical about this view of the future.

Yes, cities have almost always developed around transport infrastructure – first ports and rivers and more recently railheads and freeway nodes. Yes, local concentrations of economic activity have sprung up in various places to provide logistics services in close proximity to major airports, some of which are very large. And of course, as this preview of the book states, the share of high value freight carried by air is increasing at a much faster rate than trade generally.

Now if some marketer wants to start calling Melbourne airport and the surrounding area ‘Tullamarine Aerotropolis’ or something similar (‘Tullatropolis’?) that’s OK by me. It is after all one of the biggest concentrations of jobs in the suburbs of Melbourne and a fair number of those jobs are doubtless related in some way to aviation.

But arguing that the city of the future will “be built around the airport” is silly. Read the rest of this entry »


An animated map of Auckland’s public transport network

Last year I linked to an animation of Melbourne’s trains system developed by Flink Labs. This one (click on map) shows a day in the life of public transport in Auckland and was developed by Chris McDowell. He says:

The animation begins at 3am on a typical Monday morning. A pair of blue squiggles depict the Airport buses shuttling late night travellers between the Downtown Ferry Terminal and Auckland International. From 5am, a skeleton service of local buses begins making trips from the outer suburbs to the inner city and the first ferry departs for Waiheke Island. Over the next few hours the volume and frequency of vehicles steadily increases until we reach peak morning rush hour. By 8am the city’s major transportation corridors are clearly delineated by a stream of buses filled with commuters. After 9am the volume of vehicles drops a little and stays steady until the schools get out and the evening commute begins. The animation ends at midnight with just a few night buses moving passengers away from the central city. Read the rest of this entry »


What’s good (and bad) about greater diversity?

High-level city objectives in The Grattan Institute's 'The cities we need'

A standard objective these days in high-level city strategic plans is greater diversity. It’s mentioned, for example, in Melbourne 2030, in the Committee for Melbourne’s Beyond 5 Million and in The Grattan Institute’s The Cities We Need (see graphic).

The Grattan Institute says diversity is important because “many economists think that mixing of ethnicity, age, culture and education is important for a modern knowledge economy, in order to stimulate and disperse ideas”.

But according to Dr Andrew Leigh, it’s not necessarily all mother’s milk, at least in relation to ethnic diversity (which is what most discussion of diversity in Australia is about). In his new book on social capital, Disconnected (which I’ve discussed before), he points out that there is a negative correlation between trust and ethnic diversity:

Residents of multi-racial neighbourhoods are more likely to agree that ‘you can’t be too careful in dealing with most Australians’. In particular, neighbourhoods where many languages are spoken tend have lower levels of trust…

This accords with the findings of a succession of studies of ethnic diversity in the US and other countries. We will have to work harder, Dr Leigh suggests, if we are to make Australia both diverse and high trust.

Let me emphasise that Dr Leigh, who is the new ALP member for Fraser in the ACT and until the last election was a Professor of economics at ANU, is a supporter of immigration:

A spate of studies suggest that continued high levels of immigration will most likely bring a raft of economic and social benefits to Australia. But we should not gild the lily. Most likely, higher diversity will lead to lower levels of interpersonal trust…..the challenge for policymakers is how to maintain the current levels of  immigration while mitigating the impact on our social and political fabric.

But how do you mitigate that impact? Most city policy documents don’t even acknowledge that there might be potential downsides to ethnic diversity. Nor do they usually specify what the spatial dimension is, much less what specific policies ought to be pursued. Read the rest of this entry »


Is this one of the coolest things you’ve ever seen?

YES!!! This astounding video comes via The Atlantic. Coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

There’s more on Theo Jansen’s work here. He doesn’t seem to be an adherant of Charles Darwin, but his stuff is brilliant anyway.

H/T Nick Bastow


Does it pay to be the first-born if you’re a girl?

Revisiting Donald Appleyard's liveable streets project in San Francisco in the early 70s

I’m gob-smacked by the findings of this paper, The Demand for Sons. No, it doesn’t pay to be the first-born in the family if you’re a girl, at least not in the US. Preference for sons is not limited to China and India.

The paper is by Gordon Dahl and Enrico Moretti from the University of California and was published in 2008 in The Review of Economic Studies.

They find that “first-born girls and their siblings are more likely to live in families where income is lower, the poverty rate is higher, welfare participation is higher, home ownership is lower, and child support payments following a divorce are lower”.

The authors ask this question: do parents in the US have preferences regarding the gender of their children and, if so, does this have negative consequences for daughters versus sons? Read the rest of this entry »


Is this story a beat-up?

A great song that really is about public transport (click to play)

Kenneth Davidson reckons the Regional Rail Link (RRL) is a “wasteful infrastructure investment” that hopefully will be cancelled in its entirety as a result of the Federal Government’s flood reconstruction cutbacks.

He bases this argument largely on a review prepared for the Government in 2008 by consultant transport planner Edward Dotson, who formerly worked for Melbourne’s public transport authority from 1983 to 1991.

Mr Dotson was commissioned to review four of the recommendations of the East West Link Needs Assessment study undertaken by Sir Rod Eddington. One of those recommendations relates directly to the RRL, a planned new rail line from West Werribee via Tarneit to Southern Cross Station (a.k.a the Tarneit Link).

Referring to Mr Dotson’s report, Mr Davidson says “his report was scathing. He described (the Eddington report) as a ‘pre-feasibility study’ whereas what was required was a full study that included engineering analysis, service planning (including timetabling), costing and public consultation”.

He says Dotson also recommended the examination of alternatives to the RRL, including using the existing Bunbury Street tunnel and running a new set of tracks alongside the existing line to Werribee rather than a new route through Tarneit. He goes on:

The RRL proposal looked as if it was set up to fail in the first place. On the basis of what the transport expert Dotson said, the Eddington report was a pre-feasibility study that hadn’t done the engineering studies in sufficient detail to come with cost estimates in the first place.

I hadn’t heard of the Dotson report so I tracked it down and had a look – you can read it too, here (It would also be a good idea to have a look at the Eddington report, here). There’re three things that struck me about this report. Read the rest of this entry »