Transport: Business as usual strategy needs rebalancing with community input

Train platform

Infrastructure Victoria has restated a “business as usual” approach to transport in its draft 30 year strategy, and should take the opportunity to reflect more views from outside a cloistered Collins Street bureaucracy, the Public Transport Users Association said today.

“Infrastructure Victoria has the potential to be a great independent advisor to the State of Victoria,” said PTUA President Dr Tony Morton, “but to do so it really has to get beyond relying on the usual bureaucratic sources. The Victorian community isn’t looking for new words to express the transport policy priorities of 20, 30 or 50 years ago, yet people will look at parts of this draft strategy and see just that. People want new thinking that reflects the 21st-century world we live in – not just speculation about driverless cars, but something that reflects the body of evidence we now have on what works and what doesn’t work in transport, and in supporting people to live healthy and prosperous lives.”

According to the PTUA, promising signs are evident in the draft strategy’s support for widespread bus network improvements, better walking and cycling facilities, rail extensions to growth areas in Clyde and Torquay, high-capacity rail signalling, better management of the road network, on-road public transport priority and improvements to regional rail and coach services. These initiatives were supported by the earlier citizen jury process.

Road pricing is seen as a high priority, and was also backed by the citizen juries. The PTUA urged a cautious approach. “We could well see more vehicles running on electricity than on petrol in the foreseeable future, yet governments rely on $10 billion in petrol tax revenue each year to maintain the roads,” said Dr Morton. “We’re not sure there’s any one right answer, but it’s good that Infrastructure Victoria is kicking off the conversation now while we’ve got the time to debate and plan how we replace this revenue in future.”

Yet in justifying its recommendation for a long list of new motorways such as the North East Link and the Outer Ring Road, the strategy struggles to present a coherent view, Dr Morton said. “On the one hand it’s clearly stated that Victoria can’t build its way out of congestion, yet only two paragraphs later is a claim that new roads generate substantial travel time savings.”

“It’s a plain fact that new roads don’t cut congestion, don’t save time, and don’t get private cars out of the way of freight. This is as clear-cut as evidence gets,” said Dr Morton. “Take the M25 orbital freeway in London: it was built to reduce congestion and became Europe’s biggest car park instead. People dread driving on it but have to because the alternatives are so poor. The North East Link and Outer Ring Road are our own M25, draining funds from more efficient ways of moving people and goods, and will give us the same result.”

“Ultimately as all the urban planners tell us, the kind of transport infrastructure you recommend building should reflect the kind of city you want to live in,” Dr Morton said. “Infrastructure Victoria may acknowledge the trend toward lower car use and the community’s mandate for improved public and active transport, yet the emphasis on road projects and the scarcity of new rail projects favours a car-dependent future. Again, an all-too-familiar bias creeps in when the strategy uses flawed modelling to reject rail projects on cost grounds, while supporting equally costly road projects based on travel time savings that are never seen in practice.”

The PTUA however commended the draft strategy for declining to recommend the East West Link. “We know some will see this in the list and wrongly claim the strategy supports it,” he said. “And indeed, having excluded Doncaster and Rowville rail out of hand, there are all the more reasons on the evidence to have struck this one off as well. The rest of the world gave up on inner-city motorways years ago, but it seems Infrastructure Victoria is taking a ‘wait and see’ approach. What we do fail to see is how the government can possibly ‘protect the corridor’ as suggested without destroying land values and undermining the protection of Royal Park.”

Infrastructure Victoria will undertake further consultation to finalise the 30 year strategy. Dr Morton said the PTUA would continue to push for this and future strategies to be supported by a beefed-up citizen jury process.

“This could be a really valuable exercise for Victoria, but what’s lacking at the moment is broad, considered community input backed up by independent expertise,” he said. “Infrastructure Victoria has made a promising start with its use of citizen juries, but so far they’ve been too limited in time and in access to a broad range of perspectives and evidence. It now has the opportunity to put in place a superior process, one that can give us the robust, forward-looking infrastructure strategy Victoria needs.”