A super solution to fix congestion on our roads
Are you sick of being stuck in Sydney traffic for hours? Are you annoyed about the near constant traffic chaos around Sydney airport? And do you ever wonder why there are so many cars driving through Sydney’s CBD?
Well, what you are seeing is a general failure of transport planning by successive governments over many decades. Not since Dr JJC Bradfield have we had a true transport visionary in Sydney. What we get is an endless procession of so-called transport experts who are increasingly just free market fundamentalists having this delusional view that the market will fix all transport and infrastructure problems.
The so-called market in this case are those big private sector companies that just want toll roads so they can simply milk motorists for decades with ever increasing tolls. It’s so easy for a private sector company to build a toll road that barely meets the existing transport needs to just rake in lots of easy money until the toll road can’t cope anymore. Then there’s inevitable call for a new toll road with a new income stream to milk motorists.
Now before the apologists for those private sector companies looking to build the toll roads to milk motorists get too excited, there’s no doubt that toll roads can play an important role in an integrated transport policy. But before toll roads can make a difference there are several challenges that need to be dealt with.
First, toll roads are very long term investments and private sector companies typically work on a short term frame. Sadly, large private sector companies have become as short sighted as governments.
We know that governments tend to look at projects in terms of the electoral cycle and CEOs of large private sector companies may be tempted to look at projects in terms of the length of their contract. CEOs always like to think about their performance bonuses and because these bonuses are largely tied to short term goals, long term projects don’t tend to excite CEOs.
So we get a lack of vision on toll roads and transport policy generally because governments and large private sector companies simply focus on the short term.
Second, how do we fund toll roads in an environment of limited funds following the GFC and where big private sector companies constantly want record profits from each investment? The obsession by free market fundamentalists with the self interested “need” to make ever increasing record profits is just not sustainable in relation to many businesses and especially major transport or infrastructure projects.
Revenues from privately funded transport and infrastructure projects are generally stable, but are generated over a longer term to reflect the longer life span of the transport or infrastructure asset created. As a result, they don’t fit too well into the paradigm of ever increasing yearly record profits demanded by the stock market and the free market fundamentalists who control institutional shareholders.
And, of course, those executives who run the institutional shareholders are also driven by performance bonuses that require them to make large, ever increasing record returns from their investments and so that’s what they expect from the listed companies in which they invest.
That’s why we need more investment from superannuation funds and foreign investors. Superannuation funds have large pools of money that can be usefully deployed for transport or infrastructure projects for the benefit of the community and economy generally. These funds are given considerable benefits by the Federal Government and these funds should be required to reciprocate.
Similarly, foreign investors could easily be required to invest in transport and infrastructure projects directly or through investment vehicles as a condition of being allowed to acquire Australian land or assets above a certain figure. After all, large Australian landholdings or capital assets need to be serviced by transport or infrastructure projects and foreign investors should directly contribute to their costs.
And before the free market fundamentalists think that such a requirement would be ‘unfair’ on foreign investors, we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that foreign investors always pay Australian taxes as deals can easily be structured to ensure that minimal, or no taxes are paid here.
Above all, we need the vision of Bradfield who gave us the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the underground city railway all those years ago. In fact, we need to go back to all those other ideas that Bradfield had nearly a century ago for the transport needs of Sydney. We need to look at further rail links in the northern and eastern suburbs of Sydney and if heavy rail is too expensive we need to look at light rail.
There are just too many buses in peak periods along Anzac Parade in the Eastern Suburbs; Parramatta Road in the Inner West, and Military Road on the lower North Shore. Light rail along these corridors would free up lots of buses to be redeployed to the outer suburbs that are currently poorly serviced.
It was a mistake to have destroyed Sydney’s tram network given that an efficient and modern tram or light rail network can be capable of carrying high volumes of passengers at lower overall costs over the life of the network. Yes, the upfront capital costs may be higher with trams or light rail, but they can move a lot of passengers with fewer tram drivers and can be much faster in the right conditions compared to buses which can become part of the traffic problem, particularly in high volume traffic areas.
We also need to keep traffic moving and should consider extending clearway hours not only during weekdays but also to weekends. With less public transport during weekends, the level of traffic increases as more people use their car. It’s amazing how a few parked cars can create chaos at some intersections across the city.
And we need to build motorways properly and not replicate the debacle we had with the building of the M5 East with just 2 lanes each way. What a lack of vision that was! We obviously need to do much better and finish the network of motorways including the M4 east and the F6 extension.
Finally we need to keep as much traffic as possible out of the Sydney CBD. We have a cross city tunnel that’s under-utilised with lots of traffic streaming through CBD streets to avoid paying the toll in the tunnel. So why don’t we reverse things and make the cross city tunnel free and charge cars and trucks a toll when they enter parts of the CBD. That way the traffic that doesn’t need to go into the city is taken out of the city without charge and the cars and trucks that clog up the CBD end up paying a toll for the privilege.
Now surely that’s a market-based solution that will excite the free market fundamentalists? Or do they just want to keep the toll on the cross city tunnel and also charge a toll for entering the CBD? Surely, the free market fundamentalists are not just about gouging money from the poor motorist at every opportunity?
Where are the worst traffic snarls in your city, and how do you think they can be fixed? We invite you to broaden this discussion beyond Sydney to include your part of Australia.
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