Time running out to fix transport, Federal government warned

Australia’s transport system is totally unprepared for the looming challenges of climate change, rising oil prices and urban congestion, a national coalition of transport groups warned today. In making the warning, the groups urged the federal government to fund the long-overdue expansion of urban and regional rail networks.

“The transport sector is one of the largest and fastest growing sources of carbon emissions,” said Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) President Daniel Bowen. “Greenhouse pollution from cars, trucks and planes is growing so fast that the government’s target of an overall 60% cut in emissions by 2050 will be impossible to achieve.”

The warnings are contained in a pre-budget submission[1] to the federal government from public transport user and advocacy groups from each mainland state and the ACT. The submission points to dramatically accelerating climate change, chronic traffic congestion in our major cities, and growing waistlines and oil imports resulting from car dependence.

“Despite pouring billions into major road projects that encourage more and more traffic, the federal government has failed to invest in sustainable alternatives that cut congestion and vulnerability to rising oil prices,” said Mr Bowen. “The Rudd government won a mandate to fight climate change and offer an escape from rising oil prices. Investing in urban and regional rail networks would cut through congestion, cut transport emissions, cut oil imports and cut household petrol bills.”

“The USA may now be the only developed country not to sign Kyoto, but Australia is the only developed country without national public transport investment,” noted Mr Bowen.

The submission’s key recommendations include:

  • expanding and upgrading urban and regional rail networks, such as:
    – new lines to Doncaster and Rowville,
    – extensions to Mernda and Baxter,
    – electrification to Melton and Sunbury, and
    – returning train services to Mildura city centre;
  • implementing priority programs for trams and buses to reduce delays for passengers and make better use of bus and tram fleets; and
  • reforming Fringe Benefits Tax laws that currently encourage extra driving, congestion and vehicle emissions.

The warnings come as yet another senior oil industry figure warns that within a decade “easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand” [2]. Figures from Geoscience Australia point to increasing reliance on oil imports from unstable regions such as the Middle East as domestic supplies are further depleted. “The cost of getting goods to market will become prohibitive for many communities unless a high quality, nationally integrated rail network is put in place,” warned Mr Bowen. “The federal government is best-placed to lead this investment.”

The submission also urged the federal government to adopt world’s best practice in regulating biofuels. “When done well, biomass can be a useful part of the energy mix, especially in rural areas close to the feedstock. When done badly, biofuels lead to deforestation, displacement of vulnerable communities and force up grocery prices. Australia’s biofuel policies should ensure only best-practice production methods are used and rule out fuels from unsustainable sources such as cleared rainforest,” concluded Mr Bowen.

[1] PTUA Federal pre-budget submission

[2] Two Energy Futures

Contact the PTUA