Transport infrastructure investment needed to decrease congestion

Investment in transport infrastructure is cutting congestion in Australia’s major cities, but in Sydney and Melbourne there is still more to do, highlights research from Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA) and Uber.

IPA and Uber have used anonymised ride share data from Uber up to the final quarter of 2019 to measure peak travel times in Australia’s four largest cities and have found that as major transport projects come online, travel times are being brought under control.

Despite all cities seeing population growth, congestion has largely plateaued, with travel reliability maintained. IPA chief executive Adrian Dwyer put this down to the opening of new transport links.

“With the insights of Uber’s data, we can see that before COVID-19 hit, ambitious levels of investment in infrastructure and real-time travel information were starting to bear fruit.”

To maintain or reduce congestion levels, further investment in rail and public transport infrastructure will be needed, the IPA found. In Brisbane, commuters from the outer ring suffered most, but were better off compared to their counterparts in other cities.

As Brisbane continues to grow, rail projects will be key to keeping the city moving.

“The major pipeline of new projects like the Cross River Rail and Brisbane Metro are likely to further improve travel times when they open in the coming years,” said Dwyer.

In Perth, where commuters spent the least amount of time in traffic, recent increases confirm the need for major rail projects such as the Metronet works program. General manager of Uber Australia and New Zealand Dom Taylor said that investment needed to continue in public transport.

“We want to work with cities to ensure we have the infrastructure and policies in place to tackle congestion. These include continuing to invest in public transport and road infrastructure, promoting shared modes and technology, and managing network demand to alleviate congestion.”

Sydney and Melbourne commuters, particularly those travelling from the fringes of the city did not benefit from a plateau or lowering of travel times, and in fact saw an increase in time spent in traffic. This reaffirmed the need for major rail projects, said Dwyer.

“Sydney Metro, WestConnex, and other major transport upgrades will help release the valve on Sydney’s congestions when they open in the coming years.”

Similarly in Melbourne, where peak travel delays and reliability worsened, major projects are hoped to alleviate this congestion.

“The good news is the major pipeline of new projects like the Metro Tunnel, the North East Link, and the West Gate Tunnel are all likely to further improve travel times when they open in the coming years,” said Dwyer.

The fight for passenger rail in Hobart

A community-based action group is advocating for a passenger rail solution in Hobart, where the only public transport option is the bus.

A decommissioned heavy rail corridor in Hobart’s northern suburbs has been the focus of a community-based campaign lobbying for the instalment of a passenger rail service since 2010.

Formerly a freight rail line, the corridor was decommissioned in 2014 after the last freight train passed through Hobart.

“Since then the heavy rail track has remained idle,” founder and former president of the Hobart Northern Suburbs Rail Action Group Inc (HNSRAG), Ben Johnston, told Rail Express.

The HNSRAG wants the decommissioned railway tracks to be utilised for passenger rail services rather than being converted into a bus way.

“It would be a tragedy to remove the rails from the railway, it would be a very backward step in my opinion,” Johnston said.

“Keeping rails on the corridor has strategic advantages for future freight if becomes necessary again, and you keep a lot more options open than if you convert it into a busway.

“We’ve got the corridor, and polling shows 80 per cent community support, with Hobart now the third or fourth most congested capital city.”

The Australian Automobile Association’s Road Congestion in Australia report found, in 2018, the Glenorchy to Hobart CBD route, specifically, was increasing in travel time by 0.5 minutes.

When the Hobart City Deal, signed in February 2019, allocated $25 million to delivering a transport solution on the Northern Suburbs Transit Corridor, the state government undertook a study to determine the best mode for the corridor, be it a train, a bus or a trackless tram. The study will be published later in 2020 the year.

While support has been voiced for a passenger rail corridor by all three of Tasmania’s state political parties at numerous elections since 2010, some in HNSRAG are not optimistic that the City Deal will result in a passenger rail service but rather that converting the corridor to a busway is now a likely option.

Ian Addison, a committee member of HNSRAG, suspects that there is support in influential circles for a “trackless tram” solution, which he says is essentially a guided bus.

“I’m very supportive of investment in buses but not of converting a rare and valuable rail corridor to a busway,” Addison said.

“Unfortunately, as it currently stands, it seems very unlikely that rail will be the mode of choice for activating Hobart’s rail corridor as a passenger transit route. Up till about a year ago there appeared to be good momentum building for a passenger rail service with quite a high public support as well as the main councils within Greater Hobart.

“However, the trackless tram is being promoted by its advocates as a replacement for light rail in future. I have concerns that a rail-based option, well-tailored to the particular circumstances on this corridor, will not be given appropriate consideration.”

Hobart’s public transport network is currently served by bus services travelling lengthy routes to the widely spread-out suburbs. Alongside the low service frequency, Hobart has some of the lowest public transport patronage in Australia.

Melbourne’s transport vision unveiled

The City of Melbourne has released its draft Transport Strategy 2030 in anticipation of the population growth which will see the number of people using the city’s public transport every day rise from the current 900,000 to 4 million by 2036.

The draft details the city’s transport vision, which includes embracing the future with smart and micro mobility trials, making public transport services to the city safe, accessible, direct and frequent, and ensuring that Melbourne’s train stations are “international gateways to [the] city”.

Deloitte Access Economics estimates the economic benefits of the Transport Strategy actions will be $870 million over 10 years.

One of the main priorities named in the document is the “urgent need” to take 50,000 cars off CBD roads every day, which it intends to do with an overhaul of the city grid using the Spanish city of Barcelona as a model.

“Barcelona has a uniform street grid similar to Melbourne’s Hoddle Grid,” according to the document.

Melbourne will look to Barcelona’s ‘superblocks’ as a model, wherein streets that form a three-by-three group of nine city blocks are redesigned to prioritise people over cars.”

The streets around the perimeter of each superblock are designated for cars and public transport, and speed limits are reduced to 10km/h.

“Vehicle through-movement is not allowed. In areas where, previously, almost 75 per cent of all space was allocated to cars, 75 per cent is now given to pedestrians.”

NSW trials smart solution for congestion issues

Transport for NSW is currently running trials intended to minimise station congestion and improve on-time train operation.

The Responsive Passenger Information (RPI) Project utilises Sydney Trains CCTV systems and WIFI technology to support data aggregation at Town Hall Station.

The RPI Project trials are being conducted in collaboration with Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), Sydney Trains and the University of Technology Sydney.

According to UTS, the RPI system “optimises network performance by leveraging existing digital technologies to inform and influence user behaviour.”

It does this by offering a communications feedback loop, in real-time, between public transport users and operators, enabling the behaviour of each to influence the behaviour of the other.

The long-term vision of the project is to enable passengers to make informed decisions about their commute so they can avoid adding to the peak travel crowding.

The data aggregation stage will finish on 30 November 2019.