Accelerated transport infrastructure renewal and expansion has emerged as the major long-term thrust of the Baird Government’s New South Wales Budget 2016, with a $10.5 billion splash on public transport soaking up more than half of the $20.2 billion headline figure for overall recurrent and capital funding for transport infrastructure including roads.
The record spend comes as state transport planners seize what infrastructure experts describe as a once in a lifetime opportunity to build-in forward capacity to cope with strong population growth in Sydney and the regions and move away from reactive projects previously centred around car-based commuters.
The showpiece of the package is $2.7 billion for the new Sydney Metro rapid transit automated railway that will create a second major rail network linking Sydney’s North and West, and the city’s via the CBD, including a new underground crossing that traverses Sydney Harbour.
The total projected cost for that project alone is $12 billion over the coming four years.
“Underpinning our massive infrastructure investment are the funds to continue to grow services on existing public transport networks and ensure they are maintained to high standards,” said NSW transport Minister Andrew Constance.
“The Budget includes $1.3 billion for Sydney Metro Northwest, which is set to open in the first half of 2019. Around $1.4 billion has been allocated for the second stage, Sydney Metro City & Southwest.”
[quote]A further $1 billion has been earmarked for new suburban trains on the existing rail network, a renewal that’s over and above the $3.9 billion previously allocated to replace the current ageing fleet of electric intercity trains.[/quote]
Exact numbers on how many new suburban trains will come, however the Budget Papers reveal the “procurement process” will start in 2016 with the new trains adding extra capacity to support rising numbers of commuters.
Light Rail expansion stays on track
The resurgence of light rail in NSW has also continued to forge ahead, with $64 million “to continue planning and preparatory work for Parramatta Light Rail” and $142 million for Newcastle’s Light Rail, while the delivery of the Sydney CBD and South East Light Rail scored $71 billion.
Business groups and property developers are especially keen on the Parramatta Light Rail because of the potential of the project to trigger urban renewal and redevelopment and create public transport corridors across the West rather than just to and from the city.
One driver for the anticipated building boom – which is expected to amount to tens of thousands of dwellings – is a new special levy based on floor space ratios that will be applied to new builds to help fund the new light rail line.
Making a B-Line for Buses
While there were no surprises on the bus funding front thanks to the pre-announcement of spending – particularly the reintroduction of double decker buses onto main route services – the creation of the ‘B-Line’ high frequency fast bus service to Sydney’s Northern Beaches has continued in earnest, attracting $210 million for “continued planning and infrastructure”.
Intended to bolster bus frequency by an extra 480 servicers a week at a maximum interval of just 10 minutes, the new service will launch in 2017 and feature architecturally designed bus stops, dedicated commuter parking for bus travellers and real time information at stops.
Also in the Budget mix is a further $108 million for 218 new busses “to replace older buses and expand private and public fleets across NSW.”
New Ferries Floated
Having already privatised the operation of Sydney Ferries, funding has finally flowed for an inner harbour fleet renewal for Sydney’s most picturesque more of public transit that was once the target of criticism that it provided little more than a boutique service for Sydney’s richest residents – those living near or on the waterfront.
[quote]The Budget has allocated $30 million for 6 new inner harbour ferries, a relative bargain considering recreational boats with a tenth of the passenger capacity can easily tip the $5 million mark. The first arrives at the end of 2016.[/quote]
The Parramatta River also gets four new riverboats at a price tag of $8 million for those prepared to swap some extra time getting to work for water views and fresh air on their daily commute.
The huge and controversial casino and office development of Barangaroo also get funding for its own wharf in the Budget, with $17 million allocated for the build but no mention of whether the facility is intended to act as a western CBD water transport hub for commuter coming from the North Shore or other stops to the Southwest.
Regulation Uber alles
Letting ride share and point-to-point transport platforms like Uber legitimately enter the market in NSW hasn’t come cheap, even if commuters ultimately benefit.
[quote]Having changed legislation to allow for the introduction and regulation of point-to-point competitors, including the creation of a new watchdog, the compensation bill for axing the taxi industry’s licensed monopoly has come in at $250 million.[/quote]
The bail out and transition package comprises of $142 million over three years for taxi licensees “facing hardship as a result of industry changes”, $98 million for payments to taxi licence holders who purchased plates before July 2015 and “up to $10 million over three years for a buy-back scheme for perpetual hire car licence owners.”
Assistance to vulnerable and disabled passengers who can’t catch public transport is also up there, with $16 million a year to help allocated to ensure “wheelchair accessible taxis continue to be available for those in the community who crucially rely on them.”
Community transport and home and community care services for people unable drive or catch public transport score $84 million.
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