Opinion Pieces: Infrastructure NSW may have finally got it right

Opinion Pieces: since 2007, Prof. David Hensher has written an opinion column in the Australasian Bus and Coach magazine, where he monthly discusses a lot of different transport-related hot topics. In this section we are revisiting these columns.

November 2012

We are used to a continuing stream of government reports on transport futures, visions, plans etc. Although many often have little to inspire, I believe that the ‘First Things First” State Infrastructure Strategy 2012-2032, may be one of the best of all documents released over recent years.

Let me explain why I have made this comment. I will focus on Sydney, although I recognize the contribution of commitment to the whole of NSW. First it is a realistic representation of where Sydney stands today in terms of the critical transport challenges, both passenger and freight. It also recognizes that much needs to be done to continue to ensure that car travel is tamed, since it is unlikely that any form of public transport investment (certainly over the 20 year vision horizon), will be able to make a big difference to the congestion on the road network. Cleverly, it recognizes the pinch points in the road network which can make a huge difference to relieving pressure on the road network (and which have benefit-cost ratios that any public transport project would ‘froth at the mouth for’).

This may well be the first strategic document that substantively recognizes the important role of the bus system, given that more people currently use bus than rail, and that this is likely to continue given the diverse nature of origins and destinations, and the inability (forever in my view) of rail to be able to be funded to have the same impact (and I include the limited benefits of a single corridor rail project such as the North West Rail Project which appears to have escalating costs currently quoted as between $11bn and $15bn). The proposal to have a bus rapid transit system across the harbour bridge and into tunnels (which in part already exist) was an idea I promoted quite some time ago and it is pleasing that the consultants picked it up and showed its merits. Indeed many of the good ideas in the report were set out in my ‘Food for Thought’ pieces over the last three years (so is someone listening to me? Maybe!). Robert Gibbons has also promoted these bus-based strategiis over a number of years, such as T-Ways and M routes, detailed in two reports he authored titled «Towards a Transport Vision for Sydney» (NRMA Clean Air) and «Economies and Efficiencies in Urban Transport» (CCG).

The vexed issue of road pricing reform continues and the report recognizes this as well as the challenges ahead. It also says that we need wholesale reform of all charging sources and not just the idea of an add on congestion charge. Whoopee – I have been saying this for years, and in the next ‘Food for Thought’ piece I will set out a ‘solution’ to show how this can be introduced immediately and which will make State Governments no worse off financially, while making most motorists better off. We have to attack the hip pocket first and then demonstrate that we can have reduced congestion with lower motoring costs. So stay tuned. The report by Infrastructure NSW may not have engaged my Institute (indeed we were never invited to contribute – apparently we do not have a brand that is marketable, unlike the big consultants!); however the big names have listened and advised well.

Food for thought

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