The latest Australian Infrastructure Audit Report shows Australia’s transport infrastructure gaps are growing and threatening our productivity as a nation. The problem is particularly acute when it comes to public transport in our capital cities.

The connection between effective transport infrastructure, particularly public transport systems, and economic growth is well-recognised[1]. The world’s most productive cities are well-serviced by extensive and efficient public transport systems.

The latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index underscores this point. The index shows that countries with poorer infrastructure rankings are also less internationally competitive.

Australia is currently ranked 20th for infrastructure on the Competitiveness Index, behind other nations in our region – Hong Kong, Singapore (ranked 1 and 2 respectively), Japan (6th), Taiwan (11th) and South Korea (14th).

RETHINKING URBAN TRANSPORT FUNDING

Mounting pressure on urban transport infrastructure is predicted to become a significant drag on productivity as our capital cities expand and Australia’s population balloons to 30 million people by 2031[2].

It’s a thorny issue for governments. Growing social security and health costs mean there’s a diminishing pool of funds available for better transport infrastructure (see Intergenerational Report).

Public transport systems such as passenger rail and metros are also often constrained by higher upfront capital costs, lower returns and longer development and payback periods as compared to toll highways.

The OECD in its report Mobilising Private Investment in Sustainable Transport Infrastructure encourages the scaling up of private investment for more sustainable public transport systems. In particular it advocates passenger rail, metros, bus rapid transit systems, non-motorised transportation and electric vehicle charging infrastructure (rather than just giving priority to funding road transport projects).

Governments across Australia are looking for ways to slow the auto-based urban sprawl in cities. Future productivity gains will come from compact cities that integrate road systems with well connected public transport options.

NSW is moving ahead with the Sydney Metro project and Sydney Light Rail together with various road transport initiatives such as Westconnex and Northconnex. It is also planning for land value capture over rail corridors. (NSW Long Term Transport Plan; A Plan for Growing Sydney)

Unsolicited proposals have been considered and adopted by the NSW Government for various projects such as the Wynyard Station Transit Hall upgrades and the Herring Road Transport interchanges and the NorthConnex project.

Other potential innovative funding and traffic planning models for public transport include[3]:

  • congestion pricing and intelligent transport systems (including the use of corridor/area pricing; time dependent tolling, electronic road pricing, and parking guidance systems),
  • relocation of traffic using different modes by pricing, and
  • the Inverted Bid Model - a new procurement process to support investment in infrastructure by long-term equity investors such as Australian superannuation funds. 

It is an ongoing challenge to find new ideas and innovations for a better approach to urban transport systems. Singapore, an exemplar in integrated land use and transport planning, has now set up a Land Use Transport Innovation Fund.

Australia is hosting the G20 Infrastructure Hub. This gives us the opportunity to take a lead and demonstrate we can develop long term, sustainable urban transport strategies.