By Brendan Lyon
Sydney is Australia’s economic engine room. It accounts for nearly a quarter of gross national product, worth more than $281 billion to the national economy each year. It also houses one in every four Australians – while western Sydney houses one in 10 – and its population is still growing.
It is no secret that Sydney’s mobility and functionality is under serious pressure. A regrettable lack of integrated, joined up, long-term planning and a disappointing recent history of variable, changing investment priorities has left New South Wales facing serious urban and freight network congestion.
New South Wales’ commitment to deliver a considered, integrated and long-term transport blueprint was a positive development, but it was scrapped (along with the CBD Metro), in favour of a much more modest capital works program released earlier in February.
It is clear that this program is insufficient to meet Sydney’s needs. A common feature of the transport debate has been to point to a particular mode as a ‘silver bullet’ solution. But the complexity and scale of the transport task in Sydney means that there is no single solution; Sydney must instead look at how road and rail transport can better interface as part of a single, complex and integrated transport network.
The rail network continues to be plagued by poor performance, operational shortfalls and a lack of investment in new and enhanced connections to serve major growth corridors and link existing rail lines.
Faster rail connections between regional centres and Sydney need to be part of the long-term transport mix. But it is suburban rail which requires the most urgent attention. The Government has recently announced the procurement of a southwest rail link, but the northwest link, while announced, is not anticipated to commence construction before 2017 and will not be operable until after 2025 on current time frames.
Many existing rail corridors already operate well above capacity in peak. A fundamental overhaul of the network’s operation, coupled with significant, sustained investment in new rolling stock and infrastructure are urgent priorities.
In spite of the very regrettable axing of the CBD Metro project, metro rail must form part of Sydney’s future transport mix.
The development of a metro system would deliver a new, decentralised mass transit network predicated on customer service, frequency and passenger needs; rather than on limited network capacity and legacy system weaknesses.
While light rail has a role to play, it is important to remember that last century’s trams did not share Sydney’s limited road space with the number of motor vehicles present today. Light rail’s application and role outside of the inner city is limited.
For the most part, Sydney’s bus network functions relatively efficiently and
effectively. Nevertheless, major stumbling blocks remain, partially through the lag time in bus procurement and the inability of manufacturers to meet demand.
Another key consideration is the lack of effective bus priority measures on roads. Buses also require access to the road estate, adding to congestion in peak periods.
Sydney’s ferry network is grossly underutilised and the network has a critical future role to play in servicing the harbour suburbs. The harbour has significant spare capacity for new services and routes, as well as major service quality improvements.
Done well, franchising public transport services could drive service quality and operational improvements. Global and domestic experience has shown the potential to drive better services, at better value for money to both taxpayers and commuters, through a competitive services market. MORE>>
Brendan Lyon is the executive director of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia.
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