Policies: Shifting the traffic

Whilst the private motor vehicle has a continuing role in passenger transport, our economy and our built environment is unsustainable under current conditions where only 16% of journeys to work in Melbourne are made by public transport.

It is being increasingly recognised that major road construction has been proceeding in Australia with little or no economic, social or environmental justification and that as a result the road network is used increasingly ineffectively. This roll out of additional road capacity exhibits the unfortunate characteristics of “path dependency,” where things continue to be done in the same way notwithstanding significant changes in circumstances that render the approach outdated. The seriousness of the situation is amplified as these large expenditures on roads have also drawn funds away from new and much needed initiatives in public transport.

It is also now better understood that both passenger transport and much of the freight task can be more effectively undertaken through greater provision of rail services. To ensure appropriate allocation of funds for future transport projects and services they should in future proceed on a disciplined priority basis determined by relative merit.

Cars – here to stay

Increasing numbers of people in areas well served by public transport are able to live without a car, or with fewer cars in their household – this is to be welcomed, and improvements in public transport and other sustainable modes will accelerate this trend, to the benefit of everyone – those who drive and those who don’t.

The private passenger provides mobility and convenience where roads are uncongested. However, many of the trips now made by car (such as long trips to or from Melbourne’s CBD, or other common destinations) can be better catered for by public transport. This is because public transport, unlike cars, is highly space-efficient and exhibits increasing returns to scale as the numbers of people use it.

Reasons not to build freeways

From a public transport perspective, freeways and tollways are bad because they encourage people to abandon public transport and other sustainable means of transport in favour of motor cars; the subsequent loss of patronage leads to declining service, which further discourages passengers. Eventually the only people left on public transport are those who have no choice; public transport has become the “mode of last resort”. And it is then very expensive to provide for the few that use it.

Motorways have their own problems, however, quite apart from concerns over public transport. In particular, motorways make existing traffic problems worse by encouraging more traffic onto the road network. Increased traffic brings with it increased pollution, noise, congestion and trauma, which spills over into the arterial road network (since motorways are no more capable than railways of linking all trip origins with all destinations).

Each year in Victoria around 150 people are killed in road crashes, and it is estimated that in some Australian cities, more people die from the effects of air pollution, in part resulting from car use.

Finally, road projects are a drain on the public purse. The costs of building and maintaining roads and treating crash victims far exceed the revenue collected from road users in registration, insurance and petrol levies. Comparable public transport initiatives have lower up-front and ongoing costs when done properly.

Traffic calming

Traffic calming means improving the quality of the environment by slowing down motor vehicles and giving more priority to walking, cycling and public transport. Streets are made safer and more enjoyable. Traffic calming is based around the principle of maximising mobility within a liveable city created by reducing the undesirable side effects of mobility.

Once a first-class public transport system is in place, it becomes acceptable for the community to constrain car use to reduce danger, pollution and congestion. However, in order to achieve the full benefits of traffic calming it is necessary to apply the principles to all roads within an area, including arterial roads. It is ultimately counterproductive to suppose that car use can be constrained in one place by increasing it in another, as has been the case so far in Melbourne, where too many transport practitioners have believed that outer-suburban motorway traffic never ventures onto congested inner-city roads.

Parking restraint

Restrictions on the availability of car parking is an important technique for enhancing greater use of sustainable transport modes, including public transport, and benefiting the community and the environment through reduced road congestion. Parking limitations in the central city and other activity centres need to be strictly maintained and enforced to ensure that the road network is not overloaded.

Urban form

Better land use planning should complement and support public transport by ensuring that major employment and activity centres are built around higher-capacity public transport nodes. This needs to be complemented by judicious controls on the provision of parking both for residents and visitors. This will further reduce the need for people to use their cars for personal travel.

PTUA policies

Reviewed: September 2015