Sydney needs an integrated transport plan under the authority of a single Minister co-ordinating all modes of transport (including roads), with a guaranteed budget, legislated commitment and prioritised timetable.
Governments have tried to address congestion by building more roads, but research and experience shows that more roads are not the answer. Without investment in light rail, heavy rail, cycling and walking, Sydney will grind to a halt.
Almost 15 million trips are made by vehicles in Sydney each day, with the NSW government forecasting a 42 per cent increase over the next 10 years. There are 95,000 trips by private vehicles into the city centre and more than 6000 bus movements in the CBD on a typical weekday.
There isn’t enough road space to accommodate the predicted growth. Business as usual is not an option, for either our economy or our environment.
Congestion costs Sydney $4.6 billion a year, which is forecast to rise to $8 billion in 2015. The costs include travel time, unreliability, higher vehicle and fuel costs, and air pollution. Road transport contributes an estimated nine per cent of greenhouse gas in Sydney.
We need cheap and reliable public transport options that free up limited road space for people who need to drive, particularly commercial and delivery vehicles.
In central Sydney, the urgent priority is extended light rail to move workers, shoppers and visitors around the city centre—with effective interchange and ticket pricing that doesn’t penalise people changing between different forms of transport.
The CBD has too many buses and they become less reliable as more are crammed in. One light rail vehicle can replace three buses. It’s greener, quieter, faster, more reliable and more accessible than buses.
By replacing buses with light rail, George Street can be transformed into an inviting public transport, bike riding and pedestrian boulevard, with new opportunities for cafés and retail that reanimate and benefit the whole of our city.
I welcome commitment to CBD light rail from the major parties, and Coalition support for light rail to Taylor Square, Moore Park and the University of NSW. These routes form the foundation for an inner city network that should quickly extend to meet the needs of Green Square.
While public transport is a State Government responsibility, the City of Sydney is delivering sustainable alternatives through expanded car share access, supporting electric and bio-gas vehicles, and building infrastructure to make walking and bike riding safe and convenient.
For pedestrians, we are widening footpath, providing lower speed limits in high pedestrian zones, reducing waiting times at crossings, and planting street trees and gardens.
Like major cities across the globe, we are giving people the option of riding a bike on short trips by constructing a 200 kilometres bike network, including 55 kilometres of separated cycleways.
Cycling is not for everyone, but we need to make it safe for those who want the option. Although the network is not complete, people are responding. Last year saw a 20 increase, with bike riding doubling and in some areas nearly tripling where the City has provided dedicated bike paths.
That’s not surprising. Every year for the decade, bikes outsold cars in Australia, with over 1.3 million sold in 2010 (compared to one million cars). Each year over the last decade, the number of cyclists also grew by about 10 per cent.
I’ve put the case to the Federal Government for funds to create an inner-city regional bicycle network, covering the inner 15 local government areas. Research commissioned by the City shows that such a network would deliver an economic benefit of at least $506 million or close to $4 for every dollar spent, over a 30 year span.
For the future, the network will cut vehicle congestion, reduce public transport overcrowding, improve health and reduce obesity levels, and decrease pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Sydney’s neglected transport system impacts on our economy and undermines our city’s liveability and sustainability. A sustainable network will deliver more and healthier choices: walking, cycling, buses, light rail, train, taxi and car share—not just endless congestion.