Public transport options ignored in NSW

June 8, 1994

By Peta Bembrick and Rosemary Evans

SYDNEY — Why, in a city with unacceptable pollution problems, are we pumping still more pollutants into the air through an inefficient and irresponsible transport system? In Sydney 90% of commuters travel by car. Car travel is subsidised $1 per km by the Road Transport Authority (RTA) — more for heavy trucks.

Road transport accounts for 21% of Australia's CO2 emission. Smog from car exhausts has contributed to a 98% increase in children's severe asthma attacks in the past 11 years. If built, the new roads proposed by RTA will cause a decline in air quality by 36% and an increase in fuel consumption and greenhouse gases by 23% by 2011. Traffic congestion will increase by 600% and accident costs by 6%.

"Public transport should be the safe, easy and environmentally sound alternative, and has the potential to be so. The community knows it but the government can not see it", Bob Macillits from the Coalition for Urban Transport Sanity told Green Left.

Australian cities once had one of the best public transport networks in the world. An integrated system of light and heavy rail served cities such as Sydney. During the 1950s, this was reversed as freeway building programs were implemented, following a worldwide trend which originated in the USA. Many light rail systems were dismantled. In south-west Sydney, trams did not run after 1957.

Each car passenger took up 30 times more road space than the tram passenger that he or she replaced. By the 1970s, about 30% of all trips were by public transport. Today, less than 10% of journeys are by public transport.

The decrease in the number of people using public transport is a direct response to the planning of state government authorities and local governments. In North Sydney in the 1970s, the area available for car parks was restricted. As a result, 75% of people travel by public transport to North Sydney. In Parramatta, where the urban sprawl was allowed to continue, only 25% of people travel by public transport.

The RTA continues the push for more highways, with the trend being towards tollways. Among the RTA's major proposals for added transport routes are the M2, M5, M6, the Cooks River Freeway and the Eastern Distributor. For many of these, there are light rail alternatives.

All of the proposed highways would destroy houses and parklands in their construction.

The M6 would run through Sutherland Shire, linking Sydney with Wollongong. 120 homes are to be demolished for its construction, as well as the north-west edge of the Royal National Park and sections of reserves such as Scarborough Park.

The M5 would destroy the only remaining mangrove stands in the Cooks River catchment as well as other parklands. The Airport RailLink proposal is a public transport alternative. It would link the East Hills line with the Illawarra line, the airport and the central industrial area before rejoining the main line at Redfern.

Other alternatives to planned freeways include the Metrolink Rail Proposal. It promises to carry 20,000 passengers an hour between North Sydney, Epping and Parramatta. The RTA, however, prefers the proposed M2.

Other options, such as increased bicycle transport, have largely been ignored. 70% of people in Sydney live within seven minutes' cycling of a station. In Tokyo, 40% of people cycle to a station, but in Sydney, only 1% do so. Making roads more bicycle-friendly could improve this to 7-8%. Secure storage of bicycles is also needed to make this a more viable option.

The government could consider imposing a levy on businesses profiting from new public transport systems. Another source of funding for public transport could be revenue from sources such as a percentage of the RTA's 3X3 levy, parking fines and tolls on motorways. At present, while the RTA has its own source of funds (the 3X3 levy) for construction and planning, the State Rail Authority, with no such funds, cannot make plans to expand.

"The government needs to recognise the need for an efficient and regular public transport service, less urban sprawl, a shift away from car dependency, reduced energy use and protection of remaining bushland and heritage areas", Bob Macillits said. "A responsible government must address these issues."

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