How important are the regions for HSR?

HSR - passenger loadings 2036 (from High Speed Rail Study - Phase One Report)

The exhibit above is one of the ‘money’ graphs from the High Speed Rail study – Phase One report released on Thursday by the Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese. In my last post, I concentrated on doing a broad but quick response to the report and questioned the wisdom of spending mega dollars on a project that doesn’t reduce either travel times or the cost of travel.

Now I want to start exploring some issues the report raises. One of those is that, up to this point, the focus of the HSR discussion has largely been around travel between major cities, especially Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne, with some residual claims for regional development (see Categories in the side pane for previous posts on HSR).

The Phase One report however shows regional trips are a very large component of the travel forecast on the complete Brisbane to Melbourne HSR network in 2036. In fact regional travellers – those who are journeying between regional areas and one of the major cities – comprise an extraordinary 75% of forecast demand in 2036 (see exhibit). These are the sorts of trips that are almost all currently made by car. A significant proportion are also “induced” trips – in the absence of HSR and the greater accessibility it provides, they wouldn’t otherwise be made.

Only a small proportion of regional trips are for business purposes. The vast majority – 85% – are for private or leisure purposes i.e. to visit friends or relatives, holidays, entertainment, sport, shopping, education, personal or health-related purposes. The study assumes leisure passengers will pay a lower fare than business travellers (who are concentrated on the inter-city services, e.g. Sydney-Melbourne, where they account for 50% of passengers).

Regional trips are also shorter on average (they comprise half of all HSR passenger kilometres), so the contribution of regional travellers to total revenue is much lower than their 75% share of patronage. Even so, as with airlines at present, their contribution is vital.

There are a number of issues raised by the high level of forecast regional patronage. One is that leisure travellers are sensitive to the cost of travel. The study assumes HSR fares are pitched a little lower than air fares, but if this assumption proves optimistic the demand for HSR could be much lower. Unfortunately there’s no estimate provided for regional travellers, but for inter-city travel the study says a 10% increase in fares will reduce patronage by 10%, and vice versa.

In estimating demand, the study compares the cost of travel by HSR between the regions and the major cities against the car, but doesn’t allow for the usefulness of having a car when travelling within the big smoke. HSR will certainly suit people going (say) from Seymour to the MCG – they can drive to their nearest HSR station (they’ll be about 100 km apart in the regions), disembark at Southern Cross and take a local train/tram combination to get to the G. If however they’re not going to the city centre – perhaps they’re attending a wedding, a party or staying overnight with one of the 90% of the population who lives more than 5 km from the CBD – they might prefer the convenience of having a car for travel within Melbourne.

The car will be a more attractive option the closer regional residents live to the city, although anyone familiar with Canberra will know of the large numbers of young people who commonly drive to Sydney on weekends. Another thing to note is car occupancy for leisure travel is much higher than it is for commuting (where solo driving predominates). Two people travelling (say) to Sydney from Gosford for a concert would pay $26 each per one-way trip on HSR i.e. a combined total of $104 to get to and from Central station. Once the novelty of HSR has subsided, driving could be a more attractive alternative for many.

The big issue to my mind though is just why we as a society would want to spend so much money to improve the leisure travel options of regional populations living along Australia’s east coast. Doubtless they deserve it and would appreciate it, but they already have pretty reasonable travel choices. Last time I drove the Hume Highway from Sydney to Melbourne (about five years ago) it was divided carriageway practically all the way. Large centres like Wagga Wagga and Albury-Wodonga have pretty good air connections to Sydney and Melbourne. There’s already (an admittedly slowish) train service connecting Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Read the rest of this entry »

Are there multiple ‘Melbournes’?

Where residents of Brimbank travel to (%)

The stereotype of people travelling long distances in Australian cities is wrong but persistent. The reality is that most trips are relatively close to home.

For example, the accompanying chart and map show that 52% of all weekday trips (all purposes, all modes) by residents of the middle suburban municipality of Brimbank in Melbourne’s west are made within the municipality. Further, 79% of trips are made either within Brimbank or to contiguous municipalities.

In fact more than 90% of trips by Brimbank residents can be accounted for if just one more destination – the city centre – is added to the list above.

This pattern also holds for the other parts of Melbourne.

More than 80% of trips by residents of Monash, Cardinia and Casey, for example, are likewise made within their home municipality or to neighbouring ones.

While another 8% of trips by Monash residents are to the city centre, the corresponding figure is less for far-flung municipalities – just 4% for Casey and less than 1% for Cardinia (see more charts below).

It thus makes sense to think of a city like Melbourne as a number of regions rather than as a very big, singular entity. In terms of what people physically do within the urban area, there are multiple ‘Melbournes’.

Each little ‘Melbourne’ or region is centred on a home LGA and has a limited ‘home range’. The median weekday trip distance (all purposes, all modes) for residents of Cardinia is 3.7 km. Monash is 4.9 km and Brimbank is 6.3 km.

For the great bulk of residents, metropolitan Melbourne is more of a construct – an idea – than something that has a real presence in their day-to-day lives. With the exception of the city centre, few people venture much beyond their own region.

This limited ‘home range’ is a product of many forces. In the case of the inner city municipalities – Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip – the predominance of professional jobs and social attractions in the city centre is an obvious and powerful factor. The median weekday trip distance for residents of Yarra is 2.8 km.

For the great bulk of the population who live in the suburbs, the factors explaining this limited geography would include the suburbanisation of jobs (more than 80% of jobs in metropolitan Melbourne are outside the CBD), slower travel speeds on roads due to increasing traffic and the desire to live close to family and friends.

It’s natural therefore to emphasise the importance of regions and devise typologies like The Age uses in its real estate pages e.g. inner east, outer east. But that assumes a community of interest at the regional level. And it assumes it can be defined within fixed boundaries. Read the rest of this entry »

Why does Canberra have more social capital?

Newly elected Labor member for the seat of Fraser in the ACT, Andrew Leigh, argues that Canberra has the highest level of social capital of any of Australia’s capital cities.

The former ANU economist contends that social capital – essentially the level of trust and reciprocity within communities – has declined in Australia. He points to declines in active membership of associations, in religious participation, and in membership of political parties and unions.

We even have fewer close friends now than in the 80s – we’ve two fewer friends who could keep a confidence and we’ve lost half a friend who’d help us through a hard time.

Andrew concludes that there are several plausible explanations for this decline, including people working longer hours, the feminisation of the workforce and greater ethnic diversity. In addition, more time spent watching television, using a computer and commuting means less time spent face-to-face with others.

Most of these changes also have benefits, so he cautions against trying to return to the past. We need new and innovative ways to build social capital. He argues that the place to look for how we might increase social capital is Canberra. This is where it gets really interesting. Read the rest of this entry »