Making sustainable transport a reality

The Don't Mess With the West rally on February 16. Photo: Peter Boyle

It is increasingly clear that we need more public transport to reduce air-polluting travel and provide much-needed sustainable jobs.

But state governments are captive to the road industry. The result is poor planning, expanding and expensive road tolls and more carbon pollution.

The following is the Socialist Alliance’s Sustainable Transport policy — an example of what an alternative transport plan could look like.


Providing transport without creating greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, or other pollutants, is a necessity. An extensive and efficient transport system can be created and, if powered by renewable energy, will be sustainable.

Moreover, comprehensive city-wide and national networks achieve the best economies of scope and scale. In particular, rail beats road because, although its construction costs are high, it moves people and freight much more cheaply if well-utilised: therefore, it is less expensive over the transport system’s life-cycle.

But this potential is not being realised.

Transport today is environmentally destructive and often inefficient. The road network is extensive, but its use is fragmented because it is dominated by privately-owned and driven cars.

The production of our transport networks, its vehicles, and their power or fuel is also parcelled out among a number of corporations. These benefit from a continuing commitment to fossil-fuel-powered transport, which maintains the value of their existing investments, and from the higher expenditure on transport, which gives them greater scope for making profits.

Immediate action must be taken to reverse Australia’s heavy reliance on private transport. We need sustainable transport systems.

While much of the early development of transport systems under capitalism was in private hands, the capitalist state came to play the major part in transport provision, in particular, by running railways and other urban mass transit systems, funding road networks and licensing, if not owning, airlines and airports.

The power of capital means we now have transport systems that are profitable for corporations but inefficient for our community. The overall cost of car travel per passenger/kilometre is nearly twice as high as rail travel.

Meanwhile, rail freight uses two-thirds less fuel than road freight per tonne of goods carried and has more than three times the environmental efficiency of road haulage.

The burden of the inadequate provision of public transport is not spread evenly. Regional centres, especially those further away from the metropolitan cities, are invariably poorly serviced.

In the major cities, outer-suburban and other locations that contain low socio-economic status populations tend to have higher levels of car dependence and relatively poor provision of public transport.

Public transport particularly fails in terms of: routes that link suburbs with each other, rather than the city centre; the numbers of services, which are far below system capacities; little integration between modes, particularly between rail and bus networks; and the use of local buses as feeders to the higher capacity rail systems. Residents of low socio-economic, outer suburbs are more reliant on private cars than more affluent, inner-city residents.

The growth of cities has not been matched by expansions in mass transit systems. The full environmental and economic benefits of public transport and rail freight cannot be achieved while these remain secondary systems.

Benefits will come when publicly owned and controlled transport systems form the heart of urban transit, intercity travel and freight haulage.

Workers and the poor, young and elderly people, and those with disabilities will be the immediate and the greatest beneficiaries of this change.

Public transport systems need to be the principal passenger transport networks in our cities. Only then will people be encouraged to abandon their cars, heavy and light rail renewed and extended, and greenhouse gases reduced.

The provision of mass urban public transport without imposing fares has a number of advantages including encouraging its use and reducing greenhouse gases. It could be funded by a progressive income tax.

Public transport is a public service. Whether it allows workers to get to and from work, people to travel to shops, hospitals, to see family/friends or for recreation, or the cheap and efficient movement of goods, its provision is a social obligation.

The private operation of public transport has created government-guaranteed corporate profiteering.

The Socialist Alliance campaigns for:

• Extensive community consultation on the provision of and the continual improvement of public transport options.

• No more motorways/tollways.

• Upgrading of rail freight depots and loading systems.

• Ensuring railway stations, light rail and bus stops, ferry wharves and interchanges have adequate seating, shelter, bicycle storage and facilities and modifications.

• Integrating taxis and taxi cooperatives into the public transport system.

• Orienting development plans to existing rail services or require they incorporate extensions to the rail network. Build new rail lines to service population growth areas as the basis for requiring all new urban development to provide adequate public transport, and cycleways and walking paths.

• Improving rail line quality to increase speeds.

• Electrifying freight rail using renewable energy.

• Building freight rail links and spur lines to larger industrial sites and mines.

• Re-opening closed rural rail lines and freight depots.

• Business to pay the full cost for road transport by introducing electronic tolling for heavy freight vehicles on all major roads.

• Long-distance truck drivers to be retrained at full-pay, as demand for road-haulage declines (funded by a special levy on freight companies).

• A Very Fast Train network along the eastern seaboard — Adelaide to Cairns.

• Encourage research into aviation biofuels.

• Upgrade the interstate and country rail network and vehicles to allow trains to travel more quickly.

• End the unfair transport costs for island and remote communities. The provision of metro or light rail to replace buses on high-density suburban routes.

• Bus services to complete the public transport networks by providing short connecting trips. Bus and train timetables must be properly synchronised.

• A huge increase in service frequency and for services on major routes to continue through the night.

• The recruitment of more public transport workers to ensure safe, comfortable and efficient services.

• Free passenger rides and carriage of bicycles on urban public transport.

• Ending all tax concessions for company and company-purchased cars.

• Special levies on developers and business property owners who gain access to commercially profitable sites close to railway stations and bus interchanges.

• The nationalisation of all privatised tollways (and the abolition of their tolls) and privatised public transport including bus routes and airlines.

• An end to public-private partnerships in transport services.

• Stop the privatisation of suburban and outer suburban bus routes. Public ownership of bus companies should be the norm.

• Reverse the “corporatisation” of state-run public transport authorities.

• Public transport to be run by boards elected at a regional level from among public transport workers, commuters and residents.

[The Socialist Alliance is running candidates in the March 23 NSW election and the upcoming federal elections. For more information visit]

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