by Phil Kajewski, Managing Director, Infrastructure (Australia Pacific), Arcadis

It is time we move away from roads as a key infrastructure focus – we need to look to embrace balanced mobility oriented public transport.

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Australians have long had a love affair with their cars. They’re a status symbol; and they’re the primary means of getting to work for nearly two-thirds of the population. Indeed, as our former Prime Minister Tony Abbott once said, “The humblest person is king in his own car”.

As a result, governments have prioritised roads over public transport initiatives – a tendency that has served us well enough. Until now.

Two-thirds of Australia’s 24 million residents are currently living in capital cities; and the country’s overall population is expected to grow to 46 million by the year 2047. We will desperately need to manage the flow of up to an additional 14 million residents through our capital cities in just 30 years – not to mention tourist populations.

In addition to our rising population, younger Australians have a changing attitude to motoring. Recent research suggests that for millennials, the car is less a symbol of status and pride and more a symbol of adult responsibility – and that gadgets and mobile phones have replaced the car as the new status symbol.

With growing populations and changing attitudes, governments drastically need to change the way they think about how we move between locations. The reality is, unless something changes soon, Australia is at the risk of having a transport network that is ill-equipped to cope with the needs of the future population.

Infrastructure Australia’s priority list features the management of urban congestion at the very top. While this is a valid key priority, the current methods outlined can – and should – go further. Out of four high priority projects, three are road projects. Logically, we are aware roadways can only achieve so much and do not offer a viable long-term solution if developed in isolation.

To establish a new transport legacy that is focused on meeting future needs through best-in-class public transport, the infrastructure industry should seek to seize the opportunity immediately.

We need to move from a heritage of highways and freeways as the sole answer for our cities towards intelligent mass transit, with a view to not just playing catch up with global counterparts, but establishing proper leading practices and a second “golden era” of rail for Australia’s capital cities. We are slowly starting to see the beginning of this with the Metro Rail systems – but we clearly still have a long way to go.

While we are currently seeing an investment in Metro Rail from New South Wales and Victoria, the specific projects – on completion – will help us catch up with other nations rather than get ahead. At this point, our population growth outpaces other developed nations, meaning that establishing an “as good” transport network is not nearly “good” enough.

As outlined in Infrastructure Australia’s Plan, there is the reassurance that stronger investment in rail is on the agenda. The missing key to achieving the proposed reform is further commitment from the public sector and State and Territory leaders.

Roads alone will not be able to manage the projected population growth. The insufficient consideration of our public transport network now will mean residents in the future will suffer. It is now the industry’s turn, together with the public sector, to lead the development of a long-term, sustainable solution for Australia.

A holistic, considered transit network that allows for radial transport, improved commutes and access to facilities with an appropriate mix of road and rail will ultimately improve the quality of life for residents. With the right resources allocated to the research and planning of a balanced system, we can achieve a sustainable transport system, with greatly improved outcomes for the Australian population.

It has never been more important to get the transport infrastructure mix right. The time is now.

This partner content is brought to you by Infrastructure Australia. For more information, visit https://infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/.

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