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continue to be done in the same way notwithstanding significant changes in circumstances that render the approach outdated.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).