Are Public Transport and Bicycles the Future for Capital Cities?

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In 2012, approximately 7 in 10 people (71%) aged 18 years and over travelled to work or full time study primarily by passenger vehicle, similar to 2009 (72%). This could have been either as a passenger or a driver. Only 16% of Australians used public transport, while 4% walked and 2% cycled. (ABS)  

A message to our governments, if you want people to use their cars less, you need to improve the public transport network and pricing thereof.  In addition, the online interaction could be improved so potential users could look at a map and have a real chance of knowing what their fare is going to be.  At present, trying to determine which zone you’re in, in Brisbane is almost the equivalent of throwing a dart. 

Brisbane City Council Transport Zones

Brisbane City Council Transport Zones

So how do fares compare across the country?

A one way, 20km trip (5 zones) in Brisbane during peak hour will cost $5.84 if you have a (Adult) Gocard, if you don’t, you’re going to need $8.50 for a paper ticket which is a ridiculous amount. That is almost $60 a week in after tax dollars that is far from encouraging people to hop on a bus. If a couple decide to both use public transport, you’re already over $6,000 a year.  That is a lot of money and not a lot of incentive to ditch the family car.

Another item of food for thought for the Gocard.  If you keep it constantly topped up, just how much money actually sits in the Gocard account as a loan from the public for services as yet unrendered?

A 21km trip (2 Zones) from Maddington to the Perth CBD is a cash price of $4.20, but if you have a Smartrider card it is $3.57 which equates to a 15% discount.  However there is also a 25% discount on the cash fare if your smart rider is set up with an auto debit to your bank account.  This reduces the fare to a more miserly $3.15. At this rate you are going to spend $1,638 or as a couple $3,276 per annum.  This starts to look a lot more reasonable, affordable and inviting for the public.

A 22km trip in Adelaide from Golden Grove to the Adelaide CBD is a flat $3.29.  Interestingly in Adelaide, there are only two zones.  Those that live within 3-4km of the city pay $1.78 each way.  If you live outside of these near city locations, then everyone else pays the $3.29 a somewhat simple and less convoluted system.  It is also reasonably affordable and not that dissimilar to Perth.

In Sydney, if you live 20km from the cbd, you are very competitively priced with public transport being $3.68 per trip if you buy a weekly pass.  Assuming you have a reliable service, the benefits of public transport will outweigh hopping in a car and driving.

In Melbourne, a similar situation exists to that of Adelaide.  The near city suburbs gain a discount and the balance pay the one full fare.  In this instance, Melbourne commuters pay $4.29 each way daily if purchased in a weekly trip if you live outside of the inner ring suburbs.

The simpler and more affordable we can make public transport, the greater likelihood of reaching economies of scale that can produce the most cost effective outcome.  If you want to encourage use, price it accordingly.  As the population continues to grow and planning patterns change, so must our thoughts around people movement.

Urban consolidation does not necessarily correlate with less car usage, but does with shorter trips. Still a positive environmental outcome.  Clearly one of the opportunities lies in cycling given that Bike sales regularly out sell car sales.  Again, bike tracks need to be specific routes, not a strip of bitumen separated from cars by a white line.  The challenge of undoing half a century of car dependency means that a total rethink of our movement within cities is going to require a total review of our basic transport infrastructure.

Given that Brisbane is in the process of finalising the new Draft City Plan, the below table was taken from our May Newsletter regarding infill development.  

Source: Queensland Government, South East Queensland Regional Plan 

Source: Queensland Government, South East Queensland Regional Plan 

What this table demonstrates is that the densities surrounding Brisbane are forecast to increase significantly, a genuine opportunity to make cycling a greater percentage of vehicle trips.  However the infrastructure issues cannot be solely left with the councils.  Private enterprise needs to get on board with office buildings providing undercover and secure bike storage, as well as shower and change rooms.  Whilst many of the new buildings have embraced this, retrofitting older buildings may prove more problematic.

Freelance consultant Ian Schneider also raises the other very real, though difficult to measure, economic benefit.  The more people who are cycling have the greater capacity to improve the general fitness and wellbeing of the community.  The savings in long term health expenditure could very well fund a number of cycle/pedestrian only tracks.  Where these have been implemented in capital cities, they have demonstrated a typically high level of use.  One of the biggest issues is separating the cars from the bikes.

Adelaide have done this successfully through a number of streets that carry high volumes of vehicular traffic.  The argument also cuts both ways.  Many motorists continue to be frustrated by bikes on the roads, particularly during periods of peak hour as it does have genuine consequences for traffic flow. 

An example of a bike lane in Adelaide.

An example of a bike lane in Adelaide.

There is no denying that Australians have a love affair with their cars.  However you can’t refute that to date, planning in any large way has offered only piecemeal solutions.  It is our public and private planners that can create the most genuine form of hope in this area.  It does require a multidisciplinary approach and a commitment that comes from our civic and state leaders to change entrenched, long term behaviour.  However, without all parties involved and committed to providing real alternatives to cars through improved and affordable public transport as well as opportunities for cyclists to commute safely to their destination, the reality is that very little will change.  Increased densities in and around our cities, unless managed properly, will only further serve to increase traffic congestion and reduce amenity for everyone unless we grab the bull by the horns now.

-Matthew Gross


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