Radical plan to halt growing commuter congestion chaos

AUSTRALIAN cities are seizing up and no amount of new roads and rail lines is going to stop the squeeze, according to a new report that advocates radical action to curb congestion.

In fact many of the new motorways and rail lines under construction may be in the wrong places or not needed altogether.

A report by think-tank the Grattan Institute has recommended time-of-day road charging be introduced in Sydney and Melbourne, rail fares increased during peak hours, and proposed multi-billion dollar train links to regional cities scrapped.

And how about homeowners being able to sell off the parking outside their house to motorists who really want it?

The recommendation comes as another piece of research, also out this week, took a step back and asked how our cities were faring against their global peers. Quick answer: not great.

Sydney's George Street heaving in the peak hour.
Sydney's George Street heaving in the peak hour.

AUSSIE CITIES FALLING BEHIND GLOBAL PEERS

Analysis by construction consultants Arcadis found most Australian cities were lagging behind the world's best when measured by economic output and quality of life.

And despite marketing itself as the clean and green capital of cool, Melbourne has fared particular badly in the global city ranking, chiefly due to falling behind on environmental factors.

Coming just two months after theEconomist knocked the city off the top spot of its most liveable index, it points to a Melbourne malaise.

Arcadis director Stephen Taylor said our cities were playing "catch up" with rivals overseas.

"The competition isn't with other Australian cities, it's with Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. We need to have more of global outlook to maintain our relevancy on world stage," Mr Taylor said.

The Arcadis index judged global cities on three sustainability pillars - people, planet and profit. London came out on top, followed by Stockholm, Edinburgh and Singapore.

No Australian city made it into the top 30. Sydney was at 33, Canberra 34, Brisbane 44 and Melbourne all the way down at 56 languishing between Honolulu and Budapest.

Mr Taylor said Australia was in the messy middle: "Australian cities have not yet seen all the benefits in social and built infrastructure flow through because these things have a long burn time."

 

Australian cities ranking on Arcadis sustainability rankings. Sydney did best at position 33 with Melbourne at 56. Picture: Arcadis.
Australian cities ranking on Arcadis sustainability rankings. Sydney did best at position 33 with Melbourne at 56. Picture: Arcadis.

Sydney beat out local competition because of its sheer wealth, its tourism, the high levels of urban green space and the strength of its universities.

But Mr Taylor had a warning: "The days of Sydney relying on its beauty is numbered and the city now needs to trade on its substance."

Sydney's house prices were a particular black mark, turning away talented workers.

Canberra's high wages, business transparency and pleasant surroundings bumped it up the list. A lack of access to public transport in some parts of Brisbane dragged it down.

A black spot for both Brisbane and Melbourne was limited availability of free Wi-Fi, not a good look as the digital economy dawns.

Melbourne’s per capital emissions and lack of green space is dragging the city down.
Melbourne’s per capital emissions and lack of green space is dragging the city down.

MELBOURNE MALAISE

Melbourne may have three Greens MPs in the state's lower house but its environmental credentials are poor, said Mr Taylor.

"Melbourne comes really low in the planet pillar due to high exposure to natural disasters (like bushfires) but also its carbon emissions per capita are particularly high and that it has less green space," he said.

It also has more people chasing each and every job.

Mr Taylor recommended Victoria's capital shouldn't look to Sydney but rather to Singapore.

"Singapore scores highly across all the sectors, it has high employment, a smart population and its governance is less complex than ours," he said.

Mr Taylor added, however, that as projects such as the Melbourne Metro opened so the city could be expected to rise up the ranking. Problem is, Sydney's Metro is due to open first and so will boost the New South Wales city.

The opening of Melbourne's new Metro Tunnel, not for many years yet, could boost the city’s ranking.
The opening of Melbourne's new Metro Tunnel, not for many years yet, could boost the city’s ranking.

INFRASTRUCTURE EXCESS

Looking ahead at how to solve many of these issues, the Grattan Institute's 2018 Orange Bookdrilled down on the states' progress on factors including economic development, housing, health and transport.

Many Australian cities are in the middle of an infrastructure boom - think Sydney's WestConnex motorway, new trams for the Gold Coast, Canberra, Newcastle and the Melbourne Metro.

They may look good, but the report said much new infrastructure is just ill-thought through transport trinkets.

"Over a decade, construction work on new transport projects for the public sector cost more than $180 billion. But much of this money was not well spent," it said.

"We should be sceptical of 'congestion-busting' election pledges. Over the past 15 years, Australian governments spent $28 billion more on transport infrastructure than they told taxpayers they would.

"Building new infrastructure is far from the only way to cope with population growth. The general stability of commute times highlights that people are not hapless victims of population growth, depending for their wellbeing on governments building the next freeway or rail extension."

Above: Sydney’s West Connex in St Peters under construction. The Grattan Institute has questioned whether big infrastructure projects are really worth it. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett.
Above: Sydney’s West Connex in St Peters under construction. The Grattan Institute has questioned whether big infrastructure projects are really worth it. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett.

PEAK HOUR CHARGING, SELLING PARKING SPACES

Instead, we should be making better use of our existing roads, the institute pleads. Sydney and Melbourne should look at time-of-day congestion charging.

"If drivers were confronted with the delay they impose on others in the form of a financial charge, some would (travel) at a different time or by a different method," it said.

"Without any meaningful price on congestion, Sydney and Melbourne residents have been encouraged to live in more distant, lower-density locations."

 

Australians are increasingly flocking to the cities so the infrastructure spending should be there, says the Grattan Institute. Picture: The Grattan Institute.
Australians are increasingly flocking to the cities so the infrastructure spending should be there, says the Grattan Institute. Picture: The Grattan Institute.

There could also be a more marked difference between peak and off peak rail fares. Currently in Sydney it costs little more $1 more to travel before 9am than after.

While homeowners with a legal right to the parking space outside their house should be able to sell it, according to the institute.

"Governments and councils should codify who owns what parking rights, and allow people who value the rights most highly to own them," it said.

BANISH FAST RAIL LINKS

There have been growing calls to make commuting from regional cities quicker to help less well off workers.

But the Grattan report said new rail lines to satellite cities were a waste of cash as that's not where most people lived.

"Since Federation, state and federal governments have tried to lure people, trade and business away from capital cities. It has mostly been an expensive policy failure," it said.

In fact the opposite has occurred with more people heading for the inner cities.

Victoria has spent $3.6 billion on improving its regional rail services and now it wants to spend a bunch more making the journeys faster. But the enormous numbers now travelling on routes from Melbourne towards Geelong would suggest there is an appetite to commute into the city from further out.

Nonetheless, the institute has said planning rules should be loosened to allow more medium density housing in older 'burbs of Melbourne and Sydney.

Yes, Melbourne's doing badly in terms of sustainability and Vienna has stolen its liveability crown, but CommSec's latest State of the States report judged Victoria to be the most economically productive state for the second quarter running. So that's one out of three.

Melburnians can ponder that as they sit in their peak hour traffic jams.


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