Australia will only keep pace with population growth if it follows the example of Asia’s largest cities and favours mass transit systems over private car use, according to peak transport infrastructure body, Roads Australia (RA).
RA’s Cities of the Future report finds that Australian cities are a generation behind the likes of Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore in providing integrated transport solutions.
RA argues that “urgent and exponential” spending on public transport is required if Australia is to have any hope of keeping pace with expected population growth over the coming decades.
The report captures learnings from an RA-led study visit by public and private sector leaders to Japan, Korea and Singapore at the end of 2018.
The delegation looked at how major Asian national and city governments are developing transport networks to cope with population growth, liveability, changing demographics and the introduction of autonomous vehicles.
“Our regional neighbours have been focussed on building world class mass public transit systems since post-World War Two,” Mr Stuart-Watt said.
“As a result, they today boast modern, strongly interconnected grid networks with high frequency, fast, affordable and reliable services.
“What’s more, these networks are being continually upgraded and rapidly expanded.”
RA’s report found that public transport thinking, investment and culture is embedded in these cities – and has been for generations – in sharp contrast to the car-centric culture in Australia.
Transport agendas in Asia are underpinned by high-level, national government and industry collaboration which the report says is fundamentally lacking in Australia’s state-centric approach.
The report recommends that state and city governments implement integrated charging and demand management systems across the total commuter journey.
It argues that a co-ordinated, cross-jurisdiction approach to autonomous vehicle trials, regulatory reform, network control technologies and mapping systems is critical if Australia is to see a successful and early roll-out of driverless vehicles by 2025.
According to RA, Australia must adopt an ‘open access’ approach to the sharing of transport network data – including data captured by private players.
On a positive note, the report identifies a significant opportunity for Australia to get on-board as a hydrogen producer, as hydrogen is likely to be the fuel technology of choice for road vehicle fleets, particularly buses and trucks.
Roads Australia President, David Stuart-Watt, said mass transit was king in the cities visited by the delegation, and looking ahead would continue to do the heavy lifting as their respective populations swelled.
“Public transport’s share of overall journeys is 51 per cent in Tokyo, 59 per cent in Singapore and 66 per cent in Seoul, compared to 27 per cent in Sydney and just 18 per cent in Melbourne and Brisbane,” Mr Stuart-Watt said.
“Conversely, private vehicle trips account for just 12 per cent of all journeys in Tokyo, 23 per cent in Seoul and 29 per cent in Singapore, compared to 64 per cent in Sydney, 74 per cent in Melbourne and 77 per cent in Brisbane.”
Mr Stuart-Watt said unlike their Australian counterparts, the Asian cities visited by the delegation were characterised by traditionally high urban densities.
“Our Australian cities have developed outwards rather than inwards and upwards, and off a far smaller population base. Consequently, our investment and focus has largely been on radial, suburban-to-city transport infrastructure and solutions.
“This is changing. In recent years, state governments have stepped up their planning and investment in public transport infrastructure and systems. But we’re behind the eight ball and there is no quick, easy fix.”
Mr Stuart-Watt said that as Sydney and Melbourne head towards populations of eight million by the middle of the century, the lack of inter-connectivity of present transport systems will have an increasingly negative impact on both economic development and Australians’ quality of life.
Despite the findings in support of increased spending on mass transit, Mr Stuart-Watt recent government investments in new urban road projects were not misdirected.
“This isn’t an ‘either/or’ question. The transition to mass transit is, realistically, a generational change,” he said.
In the meantime, projects like Sydney’s WestConnex and Melbourne’s North East Link are urgently needed to cope with current modal demand.
“In the future, our road networks will be used even more efficiently and effectively to accommodate autonomous vehicles, shared services and Bus Rapid Transit, as well as the all-important ‘last mile’ journeys to our front doors,” Mr Stuart-Watt said.
“The reality is we will need both road and rail – working closely together – to manage our future transport task.”