As we have now moved into the 2020s, it is worth reflecting on a few of the strategic trends that have happened with transport.
This is not an exhaustive list. AITPM members are encouraged to suggest other issues or comment on those covered here. In future newsletters we will look at some of these trends in more detail.
Big Spend on Big projects
Calls for a congestion charge
There has been an increase in the number and strength of calls for a road-user charge. It is now a very strong current in the transport debate.
Most planners and academics with an interest in transport, see the establishment of a road-user charge as an essential policy direction. If people are charged more directly and more specifically for the nature of their trip (e.g. route taken; time of day), then this will lead to demand management opportunities.
This policy initiative is also supported by some government employees and organisations such as the Grattan Institute and Transurban.
The National Party in NZ wants to repeal the Auckland Regional Fuel Tax and start a congestion charge instead.
Potential demand management
A way of getting tax revenue that is declining because of electric cars not paying a fuel tax.
Australian politicians hate it
Proving that a road-user charge is technically a good idea does not mean that it is acceptable to the public
Calling it a “Congestion Charge” or worse still, a “Congestion Tax” is fatal to getting political support.
Things we need to do
Produce schemes that clearly show that it is not a tax grab
Demonstrate how the revenue raised would be allocated to widespread transport improvements (including alternatives to driving)
Show how people can adapt and save money
Highlight why the existing system is not good for individuals
Rail is not the only public transport
For many years, academics such as Prof David Hensher from Sydney University, have been trying to bring some rational debate into the relative role of railed public transport and road based public transport such as buses.
Buses have a “poor cousin” image while the passion for trains has been promoted with a fundamentalist zeal.
Recently the advent of the trackless tram has highlighted other options and has helped push towards an approach of first identifying needs and only then looking at the mode.
Buses already carry a significant part of the public transport load (in Sydney buses carry more passenger trips than the rail system without even counting trips to the rail network).
Railed systems might be able to carry more passengers in one corridor but the expense in building them could be allocated to several road based public transport corridors in different areas, thus servicing the diversity of trips and carrying at least as many people.
Capacity is as much about priority as it is about the type of wheels on the mode vehicles. One light rail line is said to be able to carry up to 20,000 people and hour. The best result in Melbourne is on the line to St Kilda which managers to carry 6,000 per hour.
By the time the next light rail is built in Sydney (The Carlingford to Parramatta line) assuming it is done on time (2023), the technology for running autonomous buses in a corridor with immense flexibility will be thoroughly developed.
Large freight and small parcel deliveries
It has been a regular feature of conferences and other presentations in the last decade, to talk about the increase in freight, usually referencing the movement of large freight items such as containers. A four-fold increase in container traffic, especially near the ports, has been suggested within the medium term.
Parcel deliveries have become much more than just replacing the weekly shopping trip with one delivery to your door. Shopping is producing more and more trips with fewer items.
Road congestion and parking issues will increase.
The inclusion of food deliveries is heightening the problem. AITPM member Alan Finlay walks past a local café regularly and now there is a long queue of Uber type delivery people waiting to deliver very small packages such as a coffee and muffin.
As an aside, the takeaway coffee cup must be wrapped in plastic to avoid spilling, adding to the amount of packaging waste.
Amazon appears to be offering cheap deliveries as one way to capture a wider share of many consumable products.
The Paris Mayor has suggested charge Amazon for each deliver: A road-user charge?
The working conditions of delivery drivers are typically very poor and have created road safety issues, especially for pedestrians.
The use and capacity of our footpaths is under increasing pressure.
Government ministries and structures
Town planning, urban design and population growth are trending as major issues.
There are some reflections in the formal ministries in government for example:
The federal government now has a Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure
The NSW government now has a Minister for Planning and Public Spaces
Both NSW and Victorian have merged the traditional silo departments, roads, rail, safety etc into one transport organisation.
The concern about the deskilling of government departments with professional experience in transport planning and management, appears to become more intense.
Governments are focusing more on direct, short term cost recovery rather than broad community benefits.
There is much talk about how technologies will improve things but there appears to be little in the way of identifying the unintended consequences of new technology.
We might be getting better at project managing and marketing new projects, but we appear to be increasingly focusing on “solutions” that meet public relations.
Issues of maintaining the system (line marking, signposting, signal operation etc) are not getting enough resources to pre-empt problems; the trend is reacting to them when something becomes obviously wrong.