THE % SHARE OF JOBS IN ONE KILOMETRE WIDE CIRCULAR BANDS RADIATING FROM MELBOURNE TOWN HALL
First there were ‘food deserts’, then ‘transit deserts’, now ABC TV News informs us Australian cities also have ‘job deserts’ in the suburbs, especially in newer, fringe areas (7:00 pm, 11 June 2019):
Newsreader: Matching where people work and where they live is a growing issue for state governments. New analysis has revealed outer urban areas of capital cities like Melbourne are effectively job deserts while the-city centres attract jobs like a magnet.
The narrative here is the jobs aren’t where people live; they’re in the city centre, not the suburbs, necessitating long commutes, especially from the newer fringe suburbs. The item goes on to imply governments should “regulate” the market so more employers locate in the suburbs, close to where workers live (see full transcript at end).
The idea that the workforce should be ‘balanced’ by jobs in every one of Melbourne’s 31 municipalities is popular among planners. It’s easy to see why the media like to point out where matching has failed. But it’s misinformed on a number of critical points.
First, jobs are more centralised than population in every city in the world. There’s nothing remarkable or insightful about that; it’s a commonplace. It’s been like this throughout history. This isn’t just “the market”; government agencies and non-profits behave the same way.
Employers, whether public or private, want to be near each other, to suppliers and to amenities. They also want to be located to maximise the number of customers and workers they can attract; that’s done by locating in the centre of a circle (a catchment), not on the edge.
Second, only a minority of Melbourne’s jobs are nevertheless in the CBD. As the exhibit shows, around a quarter of jobs are more than 22 km from the city centre; around half more than 13 km away; and around three-quarters more than 4 km away. Only 10% of metropolitan jobs are located in the Hoddle Grid; it looks like a lot more because they’re crammed in to tall buildings in just 2 sq. km.
The great bulk of jobs in Melbourne are in the suburbs, in part because some activities, like warehousing, need a lot of space. But it’s mainly because most jobs in a modern economy serve the local population directly e.g. in supermarkets, hairdressers, doctors, schools.
The number of jobs in fringe suburbs eventually increases as population grows and the boundary moves further out, although the local workforce might still exceed the number of jobs. Workers will in any event travel beyond the local area for a better job e.g. like those in the distant city-centre.
Third, the suburbs are adding more jobs than the city centre. While the rate of growth is higher in the city centre than in the suburbs, the latter has a lot more jobs. The City of Melbourne – the CBD and nearby areas – added 123,675 jobs over the ten years from 2006 to 2016. That’s a remarkable 42% increase over the period.
It’s a lot faster than the 30% growth in the rest of the Melbourne metro area over the same period. But because it has many more jobs, the area outside the City of Melbourne added a whopping 381,325 jobs. That’s three times as many new jobs as were created in the city centre.
Fourth, the average journey to work for outer suburban residents isn’t appreciably longer than that of more centrally located residents. It’s 40 minutes, one-way. That’s essentially the same as the average commute of residents of middle ring suburbs (39 minutes) and only a little longer than that of inner ring residents (36 minutes).
It’s not much different when just car commutes are considered. The 87% of outer suburban workers who commute by car average 36 minutes for the journey. Again, that’s only a little longer than the average for middle ring and inner ring workers who drive; they both average 32 minutes.
The really long work journeys from the outer suburbs are made by the 11% of residents who commute by public transport, mostly to the city centre. Their commute averages 78 minutes, considerably longer than that of middle ring and inner ring public transport commuters (64 and 48 minutes, respectively).
Fifth, governments at all levels have been conspicuously unsuccessful in increasing the number of jobs in fringe suburbs above the trend. They can stop jobs growth, as well as rebalance the distribution somewhat through zoning policy and provision of infrastructure, but attracting employers to fringe suburbs from the city centre on any sort of scale is extremely difficult.
That’s because employers who pay the stratospheric rents of the city centre and tolerate the associated high levels of congestion do so for compelling reasons; to be near other firms and activities, and to attract workers from across the metropolitan area. These are jobs worth commuting long distances because they pay well.
Even major suburban activity centres haven’t drawn employers away from the centre in large numbers. There’re only nine significant centres in Melbourne and they collectively account for just 5% of all jobs in the metropolitan area. With the exception of Frankston, they’re all in middle ring suburbs (and only one – Heidelberg – is north of the Yarra).
Sixth, government can’t force major employers to decentralise from the centre without risking reduced productivity or seeing them move to another city. It also face enormous obstacles in approaching it from the other direction i.e. increasing population in the job rich inner city and slowing it down in the outer suburbs.
It can however reduce obstacles to employers that do want to locate in the suburbs e.g. remove restrictive planning practices. It could also assess whether the cost of locating in the centre of Melbourne is artificially low relative to suburban locations.
The key action though is reducing commuting time by improving transport infrastructure, especially in some locations (e.g. Wyndham, in Melbourne’s west) where commutes are longer than the average for outer suburbs.
Newsreader: Matching where people work and where they live is a growing issue for state governments. New analysis has revealed outer urban areas of capital cities like Melbourne are effectively job deserts while the-city centres attract jobs like a magnet. And workers are literally paying the price for companies that set up in the CBD.
Reporter: At Wyndham, 32 kilometres south-west of Melbourne, the station car park is full by 7:30 in the morning. For most, work is a 45-minute commute away. How long each day do you commute?
Commuter: One and a half hour, (?).
Reporter: Between 2011 and 2016 Wyndham added 37,000 fewer jobs than residents. In Melbourne three huge areas effectively act as dormitory suburbs. Melbourne’s centre is magnetic: it added almost 35,000 more jobs than residents between 2011 and 2016. The city centres of other state capitals are sucking in workers at a similar rate.
David Chalke: The real problem is not people living out in the regional areas but it’s in the outer metropolitan areas, it’s the urban fringe, that’s where the jobs are needed
Dr Kate Shaw: The economic and social and environmental costs of people travelling large distances every day are huge.
Reporter: David Chalke says governments need to do more to spread jobs to where people live
David Chalke: Businesses tend to cluster together with other like businesses and the services that support them, and that means the CBD.
Reporter: That concentration exists in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. The pressure comes off Sydney in part thanks to Parramatta. The Census tells us there are almost one million workers in the centre of Melbourne and Sydney alone. Dr Shaw says businesses buying offices in the city essentially shift the cost of getting workers there to the workers themselves.
Dr Kate Shaw: So, we can talk about activity centres and twenty-minute cities and thirty-minute cities until the cows come home, if we don’t actually put in mechanisms to regulate and control market behaviour it’s not gonna happen.
Reporter: Governments are spending billions on infrastructure just to get people to work. But commuters are asking: why can’t the jobs come to them? Government attempts to decentralise jobs have had mixed results. Workers are urging them to keep trying.
If the Sydney of tomorrow sounds more like cities such as Paris and London than the Blade Runner dystopian vision often touted, that is because infrastructure makes positive evolution possible. I foresee a rapid-transport-led renaissance in the 21st century.
Mr Vivian tells us how he hopes Sydney will turn out in the future. He thinks it will have turned its back on the car by 2050 and embraced walkable neighbourhoods connected by rapid public transport.
If planned around infrastructure, 21st century Sydney will be a more humane city in which people – out of cars – live healthier, more connected lives. It will also be a quieter, less polluted city with more space for alternative transport, including walking and cycling, and autonomous and electric vehicles.
The idea that today’s Paris might be a model for the Sydney of 2050 is seductive. After all, Paris is one of the world’s most beautiful cities with outstanding public transport and very high levels of walking. It’s bound to be an appealing aspiration, but by itself it doesn’t take us very far.
Mr Vivian only tells us what he hopes Sydney will be in the future. He doesn’t tell us how realistic this future is, how we might get there, what the downsides are, what it will cost, what the risks are, what we’ll have to forego, or who’ll win and who’ll lose. It’s like a 20-year old expecting a comfortable and worry-free retirement, while remaining oblivious to the effort and sacrifices necessary to make it happen.
Is it a sensible way to look at how Sydney should develop over the next 30 years?
Consider the exhibit, which superimposes Paris’s Metro on Sydney’s rail network. The Metro has some extensions out to 10 km, but the bulk of it services the old area of Paris that tourists find so beguiling. That’s the area within the ring road (Boulevard Périphérique), roughly a radius of 6 km.
The Paris Metro has 15 lines and 303 stations within an area where Sydney has around 30 stations. The Paris metropolitan area is also served by the suburban RER system, which is similar to Sydney’s rail system. The RER has 257 stations, compared to Sydney’s 176.
Funding transport infrastructure on the scale of Paris looks like a monumental task given Sydney’s planned Metro West with possibly up to 12 stations is expected to cost circa $20 – 25 billion. Coincidentally, the Herald reported on the same day that while the NSW government is ramping up infrastructure spending, it’s facing falling stamp duty and GST revenue.
The density of the Metro makes sense because Paris is also one of the densest cities in the world. There are 2.4 million residents in central Paris. The buildings are uniformly composed of 5 – 7 storey buildings in small blocks, with ground floor businesses.
France is the world’s most visited country, so Paris also accommodates huge numbers of tourists in summer. Then there are the jobs in a metropolitan area that houses 11 million people, double the size of Sydney.
In comparison, Sydney has just 0.6 million residents within an equivalent area, mostly living in one and two storey buildings and scattered clumps of medium and high-rise. It’s a long way from the density that supports high levels of walking in Paris and warrants investment in one of the world’s ‘thickest’ metro systems.
Writers like to invoke the ideal of Paris because they know we find its look and feel irresistible; who wouldn’t want Sydney to look like and be like Paris? But what makes Paris “look like Paris” is unlikely to be emulated in Sydney or anywhere else.
What differentiates it from other cities, including other European cities with similar built form, derives largely from a set of stylistic building elements that comprise the visual minutiae of daily urban life. It’s those characteristic doors, balconies, windows with railings, street signs and lampposts (see Paris – what’s that certain something?).
Sydney in 2050 will likely be a denser place where walking and public transport have a much higher mode share than at present, but it won’t look or function much like Paris. It’s legacy of built form is different and demands its own solution; it’ll necessarily be different to Paris, probably very different.
We can learn lessons from cities like Paris, but we must be wary of the dangers in importing solutions that might work well elsewhere but are inappropriate to local circumstances.
Tallinn’s fare-free rapid public transport network
There was lots of public commentary last week on the ill-advised idea currently under consideration by Victoria’s Legislative Council of expanding Melbourne’s CBD free public transport zone. The consensus of critics is that it would exacerbate overcrowding of trams in the city centre, discourage walking, and provide no financial benefit to the great majority of commuters.
Overlooked in the argument was the parallel proposal to make public transport free for students and seniors. It would exempt 60% of the state’s population from paying fares, so it was no surprise the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sally Capp, was prompted to look at the bigger picture.
“Wouldn’t it be great”, she said on radio 3AW, “if our entire public transport system was free…”
Would it? As Cats et al observe, the research suggests that fare elasticity is strongly asymmetric:
Passenger demand decreases in response to an increase in price but the effect associated with a price reduction is insignificant.
Very few places in the world have zero public transport fares and the few that do are very small. However there’s one recent entrant to the ranks, Tallinn, which is comparatively large (population 434,000). This Estonian city introduced free public transport in 2013.
But according to a World Economic Forum news report, the results are less than impressive. A before-and-after study by Dutch and Swedish researchers found that while public transport use had increased by 14% after almost one year, 40% of the increase came at the expense of active transport i.e. mostly walking.
A one-off 14% increase in patronage over 12 months isn’t especially large. For example, it’s the same as the organic growth in passenger boardings on Sydney’s trains, buses and ferries over the two years to April 2019 (i.e. before NW Metro opened).
Or look at it another way; if the number of trips Melbourne residents make by public transport increased by 14% – drawn half-and-half from cars and active transport – public transport’s share of all weekday trips would rise from 9% to 10%, driving’s would fall from 73% to 72%, and walking/cycling from 19% to 18%.
Of course, Melbourne and Tallinn aren’t alike. Apart from the big difference in population, public transport’s mode share was 56% in Tallinn before the new policy, car’s share was 32%, and walking’s was 12%. That’s a far cry from Melbourne, where public transport accounts for only 9% of trips, cars for a whopping 73%, and active transport for 19%.
So perhaps the increase in patronage from doing away with fares might be smaller, or greater, in Melbourne. If the jump were as big as 30% (say), the mode share of public transport for weekday trips by residents would increase from 9% to 11%, cars would stay at 72%, and walking/cycling would decline from 19% to 17%.
Those numbers are hardly the sort of game-changing outcome that might justify a radical policy like foregoing all fare revenue. The probable cost to the state budget in Melbourne would be roughly $750 million annually after netting out collection and enforcement costs.
That’s a significant outlay. It would be enough to double the size of Melbourne’s tram fleet over 10 years by buying outright 500 new E-class triple carriage trams. It could service over $30 billion in government debt – enough to double the size of the tram network.
The modest pay-off relative to cost isn’t the only likely drawback from making public transport fare-free.
Fare-free travel might also make living further from the city centre a more attractive option. It would probably only provide a mild boost to outer suburban sprawl, but a much larger incentive for regional sprawl, given that fares for trips from regional centres are a significant outlay.
The equity effects of eliminating fares is complex. It would benefit low income groups and non-workers (these were the main beneficiaries in Tallinn), but it would also further subsidise city-centre workers, as well as students with good lifetime income prospects.
While a 14% increase in public transport trips would have a small effect on mode share, it would amount to an additional 160,000 trips per weekday in Melbourne. That’s more than double the daily patronage on the Hurstbridge and Mernda lines combined.
It would have a big impact in terms of crowding, with a high probability of downstream negative impacts on reliability and punctuality. It would necessitate significant additional capital and operating expenditure by government, with inevitable lags.
Any additional patronage might be thought of as desirable, but it’s not obvious that replacing walking, or incentivising existing public transport users to make additional trips, is warranted by such a high cost.
Rather than abolish fares, the counter argument is fare revenue would have a bigger impact on patronage if it were used to make public transport more useful, especially if it could attract travellers away from driving.
A sum of $750 million per year would likely generate more trips by existing users, as well as draw more travellers from cars, if it were spent on making public transport more attractive, for example by providing higher frequencies, greater reliability, and better connections.
Generating mode substitution is very hard in a city like Melbourne because cars are attractive in the sort of low density, dispersed setting that characterises the great bulk of Melbourne. That $750 million p.a. would have a much bigger impact if it were spent in part or whole on actions to make driving less competitive with public transport, for example by making cars slower or more costly to operate.
Road pricing, as recommended by Infrastructure Victoria, is one option. It would be far more difficult politically than spending (or foregoing) more money on public transport, but it’s a necessary condition for making serious inroads on the 73% of all trips (or 90% of motorised trips) Melbourne residents currently make by car.
Fare-free travel sounds appealing, but it probably wouldn’t generate growth in patronage, or more importantly mode shift, commensurate with the cost. The revenue would likely have a bigger impact if it were spent on making public transport better.
What Infrastructure Victoria thinks a “random” sample of Victorian travellers looks like (source: Infrastructure Victoria)
Earlier this year, Infrastructure Victoria set up a community panel to consider proposals for changing the way roads and public transport are paid for. The proposals cover a number of ideas, but the key one is imposing a price on the use of road space i.e. road/congestion pricing. As Infrastructure Victoria says in its report on the Community Panel:
In our 30-year Infrastructure Strategy released in 2016, we recommended the introduction of a comprehensive transport network pricing scheme within 5-15 years to help tackle congestion and create a fairer, more efficient and sustainable way of paying for transport in Victoria. We think this type of scheme where users pay different amounts based on how, when and where they travel could deliver profound social and economic benefits for Victoria.
What seems astonishing is that the Panel came out in support of the idea. They attached some caveats, but nothing that any sensible government courageous enough to implement road pricing wouldn’t do e.g. use the revenue to improve transport services, compensate those on low incomes.
It’s an amazing result because Premier Daniel Andrews is supremely confident Victorians hate the idea of road pricing. When Infrastructure Victoria nominated “introducing a comprehensive and fair transport network pricing regime to manage demands on the network” as one of three priority recommendations (out of a total of 137) in its 2016 30-year Infrastructure Strategy, the Premier immediately rejected it outright on the day the report was released to the public:
We’ve had a very consistent policy about not tolling existing roads. That remains our policy and that won’t be changing.
Community panels – or Citizen Juries as they’re sometimes called – are commonly used by all levels of government and by business to test things like budgets and new ideas. What’s especially interesting is they usually conclude, after much deliberation, that what the sponsoring organisation is proposing is generally the appropriate course of action.
Why are community panels apparently so rational, so reasonable, and so in tune with the thinking of the sponsoring organisation? More specifically, how can the support for road pricing offered by this particular Community Panel be explained? Is every politician who thinks road pricing is electoral poison actually wrong?
One possible reason is that notwithstanding Infrastructure Victoria’s claim that it’s a “broad, random sample of people”, the profile of its Community Panel is nothing like that of Victorian travellers.
It’s heavily overweight in professionals, in inner and middle suburban residents, and non-drivers. For example, public transport accounts for less than 10% of all passenger travel in Victoria, but 28% of Community Panel members. Unbelievably, motorcycle riders make up 26% of the Panel members even though they only account for around 1% of all travel in the State.
Both older and younger persons dominate. Notwithstanding their over-representation on the Panel, persons aged 65 to 74 years only make up 12% of all Victorians aged over 19 years. You wouldn’t think it from the exhibit, but one and a half times as many Victorian adults (18%) are aged 35 – 44 years!
This isn’t a representative panel. It looks like a self-selected group of probably very well-educated citizens who’re keenly interested in transport issues (it’s notable level of education isn’t shown). In fact they think a lot like me and doubtless like many who’re reading this; but they don’t look much like the great majority of Victorians who governments must convince of the merits of road pricing.
Yet even if they are representative, there’s a reason why these sorts of panels tend to agree with their sponsors; they’re an artificially rational environment. In this case, the 38 members spent a day actively considering, evaluating and analysing the idea of transport network pricing. But that’s not how voters usually approach the many issues that play out in the media and community; they might only catch a snippet on the TV news or on an election campaign advertisement.
Moreover, the Panel was provided with specialised information and, perhaps more influentially, professional analysis. Infrastructure Victoria even invited a number of experts to participate in the deliberations; you can see them in the small group discussions in the official video. Again, that sort of methodical, rational approach isn’t how most citizens arrive at their view on an issue that’s of little immediate interest to them.
And no matter how well intended the organisers might be, they control the information that’s provided to the participants. In this case, Infrastructure Victoria clearly has a strong apriori position on this issue; the scope for unintended bias is large. I doubt that the majority of invited experts reflected the dismissive line taken by the Premier.
Given the composition of the Panel, another factor might be that any participants with views that differed from those of the majority, or who were less confident in public debating and speaking, might’ve said nothing.
I think there’s an excellent case for implementing reforms to network pricing along the lines recommended by Infrastructure Victoria in its 2016 report. Most of what the Community Panel recommends is pretty good too. I just think exercises like this should be interpreted with care. Infrastructure Victoria should be wary about making claims like it did last week:
We asked 38 Victorians if they would accept a change in how they pay for roads and public transport. They said yes.
More generally, while Community Panels and Citizen Juries seem to produce good PR for sponsoring agencies, they rely on creating an artificially rational environment; that’s true even if the profile of members really is representative of a broader population. Their value as realistic indications of how the wider community goes about forming a view on an issue is questionable.
With the federal election only a week away, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten promised yesterday that if he wins on Saturday, he’ll contribute $10 billion toward the cost of the $50 billion suburban rail loop promised by Premier Daniel Andrews last year, also when an election was in the offing.
It’s an easy promise to make because it’s almost entirely phantom money. A Shorten government wouldn’t be called on to pay anything substantial until after the subsequent federal election in 2022. Even then, the promised $10 billion funding is spread over the 15-year period to 2036. In political terms that’s the never-never.
It’s not surprising that such an easy promise is also a grossly irresponsible one. There’s no business case to support this mammoth investment and no tick of approval from either Infrastructure Australia or Infrastructure Victoria. Mr Shorten and Mr Andrews are prepared to commit an unprecedented sum of public money on a project that’s completely unproven.
The proposed suburban rail loop would pass through the Labor-held seats of Isaacs, Hotham, Jagajaga, Cooper, Wills, Maribyrnong and Gellibrand, as well as through or near the boundaries of the Liberal-held electorates of Goldstein, Chisholm and Menzies. But Labor strategists believe the line is also a vote winner in other inner-city Liberal seats because it promises to ease congestion.
The two leaders aren’t deterred by the absence of evidence. They’ve fabricated figures to support their electoral objectives. The key one is the assertion that the 90 km loop will carry 146 million passengers per year in 2050 when it’s fully completed.
Is 146 million p.a. a credible claim? Consider that Melbourne’s entire electrified rail network, consisting of 16 lines and 220 stations, currently carries an average of 240 million passengers per year. That’s for a network that’s focussed on the giant job and activity concentration in the CBD, where high parking charges and traffic congestion make public transport very attractive compared to driving.
Assuming continuation of the trend in train patronage over the last 10 years, that would increase to around 305 million passengers annually by 2050 (though only 265 million p.a. if based on the trend over the last three years).
The claim of 146 million passengers p.a. is preposterous given the loop is a single suburban line, has only 15 stations, and wouldn’t pass through any activity centres that are even remotely as large or dense as the CBD. It’s a ludicrously big number that had to be invented to justify such a gigantic outlay.
Let me be clear that improving public transport, including orbital travel, is important, but the suburban rail loop is a solution that at this time is way too big and expensive relative to any reasonable estimation of likely demand. It should be on a plan as possibly required some time in the future, but it shouldn’t be a current political commitment.
There are more pressing and more plausible priorities for expenditure of scarce public dollars on this scale. They include upgrades to signalling, track duplications, extensions of electrification, additional rolling stock, and discrete projects like Melbourne Metro 2.
It would be possible to double the size of Melbourne’s tram fleet with 500 new triple-carriage e-class trams for circa $7.5 billion. The size of the existing tram network could be doubled to 500 km of double track, providing scope for more orbital routes, for around $30 billion.
The annual interest the two governments will pay on the $50 billion needed to build the loop would be enough to increase all off-peak train and tram frequencies to every ten minutes. If analysis showed it were a sensible idea, there’d also be enough to make all metropolitan public transport free.
It’s not just that there are other, higher priorities; the suburban loop is a limited way of improving orbital travel relative to its extraordinary cost. A single line with an average spacing of 6 km between stations can’t compete effectively with car travel in Melbourne’s low-density suburbs.
As I’ve noted before (Suburban rail loop – how can this mistake be prevented?), what’s really needed in Melbourne is a metropolitan-wide ‘grid’ of multiple radial and orbital lines that maximises the number of travellers who can access high-frequency public transport by foot.
It would be a more effective way of providing orbital routes across all of Melbourne than a single suburban rail line. It would cost less, deliver greater benefits sooner, and provide many more public transport users with improved accessibility.
But even a dense network of high-quality public transport services won’t deliver substantial mode shift in the suburbs unless it’s allied with measures to make driving less competitive. But Messrs Shorten and Andrews aren’t interested in implementing road pricing or reducing road capacity; their priorities are shamelessly political.
Mr Shorten wasn’t the only one to put politics ahead of good sense yesterday. Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised $4 billion to build the controversial East West Link, notwithstanding that the Andrews government steadfastly rejects this particular motorway.
Mr Morrison’s response was “so just let us get on and do it”, conveniently ignoring the fact that even if he were to win Saturday’s election, he wouldn’t be able to do anything about the East West Link in his next term. The $4 million is an empty promise because he’d face another election in 2022 before the Andrews’ government, whose current term goes to November 2022.
See the following links for previous articles with detailed analysis of the proposed Melbourne suburban rail loop:
Cars – the elephant in the room (image via Steemit)
Thank you, Bill Shorten. At last, a politician is acknowledging the elephant in the room (or, in this case, the city) – cars. Yes, cars.
Our political leaders have been selling us the line for years that building mega public transport projects will somehow solve all the problems of cities. It suits them because it means they can avoid policies like higher taxes and charges on driving that would make motorists deeply unhappy.
Our cities desperately need better public transport, but when cars account for 90% of travel in capital cities, it’s folly to ignore the pressing need to “tame” the excesses of the four-wheeled beast.
The transport component of Labor’s Climate Change Action Plan finally promises a serious attack on emissions from cars, principally by implementing stronger standards as well as a National Electric Vehicle Policy.
If elected later this year, the party promises to put in place a standard of 105g CO2/km for new light vehicles, although the start date isn’t specified. Labor also promises electric vehicles (EVs) will account for half of new vehicle sales by 2030, although how that will be achieved is pretty vague.
While it’s a step in the right direction, Labor’s Plan nevertheless highlights the lack of a coherent urban transport policy at either the state or federal level. It’ll help encourage more efficient and smaller vehicles, but all political parties still lack effective policies to address congestion and to make cars materially slower, quieter and less dangerous for vulnerable road users.
Labor’s EV policy reflects this narrow thinking. While EVs should, and I expect will, dominate sales at some stage in the future, there are some serious issues associated with an EV-dominant world that Labor’s policy ignores.
A key one is the likely increase in travel spurred by EVs. Their running costs are lower compared to vehicles powered by (heavily-taxed) petrol and diesel. While that helps make EVs attractive, it will inevitably encourage more driving, with consequent negative impacts on the amenity of streets, the safety of roads for pedestrians and cyclists, the viability of public transport, the level of traffic congestion, and the density of cities.
Another issue overlooked in the policy is the huge increase in generating capacity that will be required to meet the demand for electricity when EVs win substantial market share. Local solar is often portrayed as the likely source, but EVs are energy intensive and require a large PV array over and above that necessary for domestic or office uses. The increasing number of households living in multi-unit accommodation (e.g. 47% in Greater Sydney) presents another constraint on the potential of local solar.
Nor does Labor’s policy provide any response to the reduction in fuel excise revenue that would flow from widespread use of electricity instead of oil. Directly taxing the use of road space by vehicles seems the obvious alternative, but Labor’s policy is of course silent on this politically sensitive topic.
Maybe I’m expecting too much; after all, this policy is about politics not good government. It’s a marketing document. The lack of evidence and analysis is obvious in the unsupported claim that a Shorten government will lift EVs to 50% of new car sales by 2030. On the basis of what’s in the document, the kindest thing that can be said is it’s an ambitious target.
Current sales of new passenger cars in Australia are around 1,000,000 p.a. and the size of the nation’s total fleet of passenger cars is in the region of 14,500,000 (there’s another 3.2 million light commercial vehicles e.g. panel vans, utilities). Suppose on the basis of recent trends that by 2030 annual sales of cars increase to 1,200,000 and the size of the national car fleet increases to 17,200,000.
Given those assumptions, Labor is anticipating 600,000 EVs will be sold in Australia in 2030. That would require a truly phenomenal rate of growth given only around 2,500 EVs were sold in Australia last year. That’s average annual growth of around 75% p.a.; it’s faster than Moore’s Law!
It would be remarkable because the only direct incentive Labor is offering is a $20,000 deduction off the purchase price of company vehicles. There’re no direct incentives for private motorists. Moreover, it’s likely the 105g CO2/km standard won’t be phased in fully until 2025, as recommended by the Climate Change Authority.
EVs made up 31% of new car sales in Norway last year but they’re heavily subsidised by full or partial exemptions from import duties, road tax, sales tax, stamp duty, and company car tax. They also have access to free council parking, use of bus lanes and exemptions from road tolls.
Labor seems to be assuming that the saving from using electricity rather than heavily taxed petrol or diesel will be such a huge incentive that half of all buyers will switch to an EV in 2030. It claims the average driver could save “up to $2,300 from reduced fuel and maintenance costs”.
I expect that’s a cherry-picked figure, but it’s instructive that the higher running costs of SUVs haven’t stopped buyers increasingly preferring them over smaller cars. Labor’s promise gives EVs only a short time-frame in which to overcome the barriers of high prices, slow charging times, and the perception of limited range.
Some car companies are claiming a range in excess of 300 km and 30-minute charge times, but experience with manufacturers’ artificial fuel economy, emission and pollution tests suggests these assertions should be treated with caution.
Another issue is that any market drift toward smaller cars – as Labor’s 105g CO2 policy is designed to achieve – will reduce the advantage of EVs over conventional cars. There’s also the possibility that the price of petrol could fall significantly in real terms as oil producers belatedly seek to stall the global shift away from oil.
Nevertheless, if Labor’s promise is taken as face value, there might be around 1,500,000 EVs on the nation’s roads by the end of the next decade. Yet that’d only be around 9% of the national passenger vehicle fleet in 2030. Since cars account for around 10% of Australia’s GHG emissions, that would be a relatively modest pay-off in the context of the need for urgent action on climate change.
So, thank you Bill for recognising the need to take action to improve emissions from cars and for promoting the role of EVs. However, if you win next month’s election please have a serious look at what a shift to EVs really entails, including the potential downsides, and the actions government should take to expedite the transition. And while I know it’s politically difficult, please don’t overlook the other problems associated with cars, especially in our crowded cities.
The Morrison government wants to “Double-Up to Double-Down” on urban rail networks to increase urban rail capacity
This week’s federal budget will overflow with sweeteners, but nothing the politicians concoct promises to be as astonishing as the Nation-Building Network policy the electorally precarious Morrison government will announce tomorrow in the run-up to the 2019 election.
In a bid to redress the damage done to its public standing over the last six years by the extreme right, the government hopes to win back centre voters by focusing on the sort of big infrastructure projects it believes helped the incumbent Victorian and NSW governments win their recent state elections.
Thanks to strategic “leaks” by the Treasurer’s PR machine, it’s clear the government expects the centrepiece of its Nation-Building Network policy, a promise to build a national High-Speed Rail system over the next six years, will dominate the air waves for at least the rest of the week, perhaps all of the month.
The Treasurer claims it will utilise advanced maglev technology to achieve speeds of 500 km/h plus. It will run from Cairns to Perth along the coast, running via the state capitals as well as the most important regional centres i.e. Bowen, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Gosford, Batemans Bay and Aireys Inlet. Canberra is not on the main line; it is slated for a spur line at some time in the future.
Construction is to start next year, beginning with the section from Rockhampton to Gladstone, using a Sequential-Build-Fund-Design (SBFD) contract. It’s claimed the line will be fully built by 2025.
The government also anticipates a strong positive reaction to its Double-Up Double-Down initiative to increase the capacity of rail networks in capital cities. It will provide the states with funding on a matching 80/20 formula for the construction of a ‘second floor’ of rail tracks over existing lines.
While the main pitch will be on doubling rail capacity, the Treasurer claims that in some locations the ‘double-decking’ will provide space for other possible uses such as elevated motorways.
The budget will also demonstrate to voters that the Morrison government is committed to improving housing standards for the increasing proportion of the population, especially first-home buyers, who will necessarily live in apartments in the future.
The Families, Living, Action Program has been developed in response to demands from the design professions for higher housing standards. The Treasurer will stress that apartment living should not mean young Australians have to forego the benefits of traditional detached suburban housing that past generations enjoyed.
The program will provide buyers with a substantial grant (as high as $100,000!) for the purchase of a new multi-unit dwelling that meets minimum acceptable design standards.
Although the criteria haven’t been nailed down in detail yet, it’s expected that in order to qualify for the grants, apartments must have at least three bedrooms; minimum internal floor area of 150 sq m; minimum balcony area of 50 sq m; parking for two vehicles incorporating a ‘workshop’; and separate family, living and dining areas.
It’s also expected that all habitable rooms, including kitchen and bathrooms, must be oriented north and have opening windows on at least two walls to facilitate natural ventilation. Apartments that have party walls will not be eligible for Families, Living, Action Program grants; to provide acoustic privacy, the exterior walls of apartments must be separated from neighbouring units by a minimum one-metre airspace.
How the Morrison government plans to fund all the promises under its NBN policy if it’s re-elected isn’t clear. It’s also not evident it will be able to win the support of state governments for programs like DUDD and FLAP, which are essentially state responsibilities.
Most of all it’s not clear if these ideas make any economic or functional sense; what unforeseen (or ignored) consequences they’ll have; or if they’ll even work as promised. Then there’re all the other options, especially in taxation policy, that the government is ignoring. It’s even disappointing on it’s own “nation-building” terms; this could’ve been an opportunity to fund promising projects like the Automated Electric Rapid Inter Area Loop.
Of course, like almost every election promise these days, there’s no business plan or feasibility study either. Treating the public as fools is pretty much business as usual, even when it’s not 1 April.
Alignment and stations for east coast High Speed Rail preferred by Federal government’s 2013 study
A federal election is imminent, so of course east coast High Speed Rail (HSR) is back on the agenda. Last month the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese, said HSR from Brisbane to Melbourne would “be a real game changer – it is expensive, but nation-building requires vision.”
Whenever “nation building” gets trotted out you can be pretty sure the advocates of the subject proposal have given up on rationality and are relying on emotion to push their favourite project. The big question to my mind is why, in 2019, anyone who knows anything about transport and cities still takes this idea seriously. Why is this even a thing? Why are we still talking about east coast HSR in 2019?
Where’s ‘the problem’?
First, it’s not because there’s an obvious problem to be addressed. There’s already a regular public transport service operating on this route. It’s got adequate capacity and scope to scale up in line with demand. Importantly, it’s a competitive market with four major operators i.e. Qantas, Tiger, Jetstar and Virgin.
This isn’t like a new outer suburban growth area where there’s no rail access at all. HSR is about replacing one form of public transport with another. That’d be fine except for the fact it hinges on provision of a mammoth subsidy.
Second, it’s not because it only requires a modest outlay of a few billion dollars or so. Any discussion of east coast HSR must be in the context of the truly monumental level of public subsidy required to build it. The 2013 study undertaken by Labor and the Greens put the capital cost at $114 – $127 billion (that’s a ‘b’) and made it clear virtually all of that would have to come from the public purse.
But we know it’s near-certain the cost would be much higher, probably in the range $150 – $200 billion, because early scoping studies like this invariably grossly under-estimate the cost, largely due to optimism bias (see Why do the worst infrastructure projects get built?).
Second Sydney Airport
Third, it’s not because Sydney’s second airport isn’t going ahead. One of the key arguments for east coast HSR was that it might obviate or delay the need to build a costly second airport in Sydney. That’s no longer relevant. Construction of Nancy-Bird Walton Airport at Badgerys Creek started on September 2018, with completion scheduled for December 2026.
In fact, the new airport weakens the case for east coast HSR. According to the Labor/Greens HSR feasibility study, that’s because it would reduce a key driver of demand for HSR – delays and unpredictability of flight times at Kingsford Smith airport arising from air traffic congestion. The study found the new airport would lower the demand for HSR into and out of Sydney and therefore decrease the economic benefits.
Fourth, it’s not because it’s an efficient way of reducing emissions. After allowing for additional emissions from construction, operation and induced demand, east coast HSR would only yield net savings of 55 Mt CO2-e. That’s nice, but given the estimated cost of construction, it would be an extraordinarily expensive way of addressing climate change i.e. circa $2,000 per tonne of CO2-e avoided. At a more likely $150 billion for construction, the cost rises to $2,700 per tonne (see So high speed rail would increase carbon emissions?).
That scale of subsidy would have a much larger impact on emissions if it were instead used to fund renewable power generation. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance energy outlook estimates the cost of making 92% of generation in Australia from renewable sources by 2050 is $186 billion.
Fifth, it’s not because it would be more equitable. The great bulk of benefits from east coast HSR would come from faster trips between Sydney and Melbourne for business travellers. This group currently pays the full capital and operating cost of air travel; there’s no reason why it should receive such a titanic subsidy.
The speed need
Sixth, it’s not because east coast HSR would be significantly faster than flying. CBD business people are the key beneficiaries; they’d save 15 minutes door-to-door travelling from Melbourne CBD to Sydney CBD, compared to what’s currently a three-hour journey by air (although HSR would be slower from Sydney to Brisbane than air). Nice, but hardly worth a couple of generations worth of infrastructure subsidy.
Seventh, it’s not because it would encourage decentralisation and “grow the regions”. The feasibility study couldn’t find any net benefits from regional development. Heavily subsidised fares from somewhere like Shepparton to Melbourne (notwithstanding that air fares aren’t subsidised!) wouldn’t shift high-paying jobs from the capital cities to the regions. Rather, they’d just promote regional sprawl by creating remote dormitory suburbs for city centre workers.
Ninth, it’s not because it would be “transformative” or “nation building” as claimed by Ms Rice and Mr Albanese. How can that be the case when it will mostly do pretty much what planes already do i.e. move travellers between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne?
The fact that it’s slightly faster than flying doesn’t make it “transformative” or “nation building”. The only way it might be transformative is if it were to destroy the competitive airline services between Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne, leading to higher fares and/or fewer services, and perhaps ultimately an HSR monopoly.
Faster trains might well have a role in the future in connecting outer suburbs and major regional centres like Canberra and Newcastle to Sydney, but something like the 160 km/h Type D Trainset currently being tested for the New Airport Line in Beijing is likely to be a much better fit than the 300 km/h HSR touted by Mr Albanese and Ms Rice.
Public funding on this scale could be more usefully deployed in many other ways. For example, it could be used to improve over-loaded public transport systems in capital cities.
It says something truly awful about our political culture and the standard of public discourse, especially around cities and transport, that this foolishness still has legs. I don’t expect gunzels are going to lose their enthusiasm for east coast HSR, but it’s way past time politicians, academics and the commentariat got over this folly.
PROJECTED TRIPS ON MOTORISED MODES BY RESIDENTS ON A TYPICAL WEEKDAY IN 2050, SYDNEY METROPOLITAN AREA (source data: Transport for NSW)
I’ve previously noted that the share of residents’ travel captured by public transport in Australia’s capital cities has barely budged over the last 40 years (see Where to with transport in our capital cities?). Nor has it improved much in recent years; for example, cars’ share of motorised travel in Sydney was 86% in 2006-07 and 85% in 2016-17. In Melbourne, it went from 91% to 90% over the same ten-year period.
But what if public transport were to enjoy vigorous, sustained growth for an extended period, say from now until 2050? What impact would it have on mode share if it were to grow much faster than car use? Critically, what scale of infrastructure investment would be required to support the additional trips?
A possible scenario
The exhibit sets out a possible scenario for residents of the Sydney metropolitan area. I’ve used data on weekday trips by mode from the household travel survey run continuously by Transport for NSW since 1997 (trips is a more useful measure than kms of travel for this discussion because it impacts directly on infrastructure capacity).
I’ve created a scenario for the 31 years from 2017/18 to 2049/50. I’ve assumed:
Rail trips increase at a compound rate of 5% p.a., considerably higher than the rate of growth experienced over the last seven years (3.9% p.a. compound).
Bus trips increase by 1% p.a compound, similar to the growth rate over 2010/11 – 2017/18 (1.3% p.a. compound). The assumption recognises a large proportion of the growth in rail travellers will come at the expense of buses.
Car trips increase by 0.6% compound, significantly less than the 1.4% p.a. rate they grew at over the last seven years. This is considerably slower than projected population growth and is consistent with the evidence that car use is already close to ‘saturation’ levels.
Thus I assume public transport trips (rail + bus) are projected to grow at 3.7% p.a. compound to 2050, compared to 3% compound over the last seven years. This is a more ambitious assumption than it might at first appear, since population grew at a much higher rate over 2010/11 – 2017/18 (4.4% p.a. compound) than it’s projected to over the next 31 years (1.3% p.a. compound).
I don’t consider ferries because I don’t have comparable data. Their share of total trips is in any event small at present e.g. 0.3% of AM peak trips.
Growth in trips
Given these assumptions, total motorised trips by residents on a typical weekday increase by 8.3 million over the 31-year period to 2050. By mode:
Rail trips increase by 271%, from 1.2 million to 5.7 million.
Bus trips increase by 37%, from 1.0 million to 1.4 million.
Car trips increase by 37%, from 13.1 million to 15.8 million.
Change in mode share
The exhibit shows the resulting change in (motorised) mode share from 2017/18 to 2049/50
The share carried by car falls from 86% to 69%, although the number of car trips increases by 4.9 million.
The mode share of public transport (rail and bus) more than doubles, rising from 14% to 31%, with the number of weekday trips increasing by 3.4 million.
Implication: massive increase in rail capacity
Achieving a near-tripling in the number of Sydneysiders travelling by rail in 2050 would require an enormous commitment to new infrastructure. While I expect an increasing proportion of travel would be off-peak, the majority would still be in the AM and PM peaks. In order to handle the much larger peak loads, it would be necessary to build new lines as well as upgrade existing lines.
On top of that, the public transport system would likely still have to carry growing numbers of visitors to Sydney (since they’re not residents, visitors aren’t counted in the household survey). International and domestic visitors spent 110 million nights in Sydney in the year ending September 2018, up 27% over the last four years, adding significantly to the public transport task.
I’m not aware of any analysis of the specific infrastructure improvements required to handle growth on this scale, but we can reasonably assume they would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. While this level of investment would likely deliver benefits in excess of the costs, other opportunities for spending the money would necessarily be foregone (health and education are the big areas in the state budget).
Implication: focus on ‘taming’ cars
I think the most telling message from this exercise, though, is that even with strong assumptions about growth in public transport demand, the car still remains by far the dominant mode for travel by residents, accounting for over two-thirds of motorised trips (69%) in 2050. This does not suggest the end of the car is nigh.
The continuing ascendancy of the car underscores the critical importance of focusing on ways to ‘tame’ travel by private vehicle. Relying solely or primarily on building new rail infrastructure to reduce the environmental, amenity and congestion impacts of motoring is way too slow and simply nowhere near enough.
As I’ve noted before, concerted action is needed to make cars a lot cleaner, smaller, slower, safer, quieter and more considerate of other users of the city than has been the case to date. By itself, better public transport isn’t going to banish cars from Sydney’s roads (see Where to with transport in our capital cities?).
A car-taming scenario
Given the sheer scale of car use at present, the biggest gains would come from focusing directly on reducing the number of car trips.
For example, consider a second scenario where the growth in bus and rail travel over the 31-year period is as per scenario one, but a brace of policies is implemented that directly limits growth in car trips to zero.
This is a small difference – from the 0.6% p.a. compound assumed in the first scenario, to zero per annum – but it would nevertheless be very difficult politically. Possible actions include road pricing, higher parking charges and increased taxes on car ownership and operation.
This scenario reduces car trips in 2050 by 2.8 million each weekday compared to scenario one. If all of these “foregone” trips were replaced by rail, this small reduction would have a dramatic effect; car’s share of motorised trips would fall from 86% at present to 61% in 2050, while public transport’s would rise from 14% to 39%.
It’d require even more investment in infrastructure, of course, because instead of nearly tripling as in scenario one, rail trips would increase almost five-fold. On the other hand, there’d be savings from lower demand for additional road infrastructure.
Under a more ambitious scenario, public transport would (just) be the majority motorised mode (51%) by 2050 if car trips could be reduced at the rate of -0.5% p.a. compound over the period and were replaced by rail or bus. The number of rail trips in 2050 would be almost nine times higher than at present.
Change on this scale won’t happen just by building more rail infrastructure or providing more buses; the big pay-off will only come from reducing the competitiveness of motoring.
It should be noted that since car travel is currently under-priced, it’s likely some of these “forgone” car trips would be suppressed entirely rather than replaced by public transport. And given that the average length of car trips is short, some would be replaced by active transport i.e. walking and cycling. In other words, not all or perhaps even a majority, of the “foregone” car trips would be replaced by public transport.
Let me emphasise that these are scenarios, not predictions. They nevertheless indicate that cars will remain by far the dominant mode even with fairly bullish projections for public transport growth. The clear implication is that cars aren’t likely to go away; much more attention must be given to ‘taming’ them.
Curiously, the story doesn’t even try to answer the question; it’s mainly an anecdote about the writer’s encounter with an abusive motorist while cycling in inner city Melbourne. I suspect a sub-editor invented the headline to bait more readers and clickers.
And it is indeed an interesting question. However I don’t think the key issue is motorists “hating” cyclists. Of course a very small minority get enraged, but they’re the type of people who’d be dangerous to others in all sorts of contexts i.e. their “hatred” isn’t particular to cycling.
I think the more important question is: why do some (perhaps many) motorists see cyclists as lacking a legitimate right to use the roads? Most of these “non-believers” aren’t prone to abusing other road-users; there are many more of them than there are nasty “haters”. Their attitude is important because they’re likely to oppose initiatives that support cycling.
The ostensible reason is cyclists are slower than motorist and hold them up. But so do buses, trucks and caravans, yet they don’t seem to be regarded as illegitimate to anything like the extent cyclists are.
Here are some hypotheses (not in any order). Some motorists see cycling as:
an extension of walking and therefore feel cyclists shouldn’t be on busy roads. The existence of on-road cycling lanes, segregated paths and off-road trails probably reinforces this perception, as do cyclists who are seen to “flout” road rules.
the preserve of society’s winners i.e. an indulgence of well-educated, inner suburban elites, who now want to take over the roads. This view accords with some basic facts i.e. cycling is heavily concentrated in inner suburban, Greens-voting electorates.
a form of recreation, not a form of transport, and hence not important enough to be on roads. This is reinforced by the high visibility of lycra. A related perception is that cycling is an activity for children and hence it should be confined to footpaths, off-road trails, or quiet residential streets.
as contributing directly to traffic congestion, both because cyclists are slow and because bicycle lanes reduce road space.
invalid because cyclists aren’t licensed and bicycles aren’t registered.
a potential cause of personal and/or legal stress for the motorist. They’re fearful that what would probably otherwise be a routine “bingle” if it were a collision between vehicles might, if it’s a collision with a cyclist, result in serious legal ramifications for the driver and possibly severe personal stress e.g. PTSD.
I think these sorts of views are exacerbated by the widespread perception that traffic congestion, whatever the underlying causes might be, is rapidly deteriorating in cities. The growth of cycling on roads in Australian cities is also likely a contributing factor; it’s a relatively new phenomenon. There’s a weak tradition of cycling as a means of transport (as distinct from recreation) in Australian cities compared to many European and Asian cities.
How can motorists be encouraged to see cycling as a legitimate, perhaps even a more sensible, use of roads?
Governments could – and should – minimise conflict between cyclists and motorists by prioritising construction of segregated cycleways. They have a much higher benefit-cost ratio than conventional transport projects. The availability of reliable battery-powered bicycles and small electric Vespa-style scooters greatly expands the potential market for two-wheel travel (see Could powered two-wheelers be a game-changer for urban travel?).
Nevertheless, cyclists and motorists will share a lot of road space for decades yet. While there’s no short-term silver bullet, government action to reinforce the legitimacy of two-wheel travel on roads is likely to help. That should include regulations to make vehicles slower and to require drivers to cede priority to cyclists (and pedestrians).
The largest pay-off, though, would likely come from making driving less competitive and other modes therefore relatively more attractive. That might be done by pricing access to road space, but simply reducing the speed difference between motoring and cycling could have a big impact on motorist’s attitudes.