More doubts over ACT light rail pork

ScreenHunter_06 Jun. 06 09.33

By Leith van Onselen

The gloss continues to come off the ACT light rail project, with the Canberra Times reporting that the Tuggeranong Council, located deep in the city’s south, has voted to oppose the light rail line connecting Gungahlin in the north and Civic, because it does not believe that residents located far away from the project should be levied to pay for it.

Meanwhile, the Liberal opposition has raised more doubts about the rail line’s viability, producing Census data showing that too few Canberrans live within walking distance of the proposed passenger stops to make the rail service viable:

Analysis of 2011 census data shows 7 per cent of Canberra’s population, or 27,084 residents, live within 800 metres of the tram-stop locations being considered by the agency delivering stage one of the network.

Currently 3 per cent, or 12,635 residents, live within 400 metres of the 15 proposed stops.

Transport planners commonly use 400 metres as the distance passengers are prepared to walk to a tram or bus stop, with the figure doubled to 800 metres for trains…

[Opposition transport spokesman Alistair Coe] said travel times to the city by tram would not be fast enough to draw passengers away from existing ACTION bus services.

It is important to remind readers that ACT Light Rail Project only came to fruition because Labor lacked the numbers to form government and needed to gain support from the Greens sole MLA, Shane Rattenbury, who held the balance of power. And the $600 million-plus, 12 kilometre rail link from Gungahlin to Civic was the price paid to gain the Greens’ support.

As argued relentlessly, the light rail project is a textbook case of infrastructure pork barreling, and is exactly the kind of project that Australia does not need if is to alleviate its infrastructure deficit and raise overall productivity and living standards.

The fact is, Canberra lacks the density to make light rail viable from either an economic or social perspective. The city is highly decentralised, with its small population spread-out around six primary centres: Civic (the tiny CBD), the Parliamentary Triangle, Belconnen, Woden, Tuggeranong, and Gungahlin (where the rail line is proposed to travel to).

Canberra is also serviced by the nation’s best road system. Accordingly, the overwhelming majority of Canberrans drive their cars to/from work. Yet, for those that require it, Canberra’s bus system (Action) operates well given the capital’s geography and demography.

Given these inconvenient truths, the Tuggeranong Council is right to oppose the project. Why should the overwhelming majority of residents located outside of the rail corridor be compelled to pay levies to support the project. Surely, using taxpayer funds to extend and improve bus services across the entire city would be a far more efficient and equitable use of funds, rather than focusing on one costly project that benefits only a tiny minority of the population and is likely to be grossly underutilised?

Again, this is precisely the type of politically motivated vanity infrastructure project that Australia doesn’t need.

[email protected]

www.twitter.com/Leithvo

Unconventional Economist

Comments

  1. Could not agree more.

    Having regard to:

    1. The practices of the ACT govt Lands Department of gouging buyers relentlessly on the price of new blocks of land and drip feeding new supply to assist the process

    2. The obsessive control freak system of land use restrictions that prevent organic development that reflects the living preferences of humans (as against planner bots).

    The likelihood of sufficient density along major transport routes to warrant eventually upgrading express bus services with higher capacity options is extremely low.

    A potentially great city strangled by know-alls, gougers and control freaks.

    The best cities involve setting some basic structural plans and standards and then let the daily requirements of human life shape and fill out the details.

  2. notsofastMEMBER

    “The fact is, Canberra lacks the density to make light rail viable from either an economic or social perspective. ”

    It does at the moment. But what about the future?

    I think the light rail network proposed for Canberra, which I understand this line is the first leg, can only be justified if Canberra is going to become a city of close to a million people. Then we need to ask ourselves where are the jobs going to come from in Canberra to support a city of this many people?

    For myself I can’t see the number of jobs being created in Canberra to justify this multi billion dollar light rail network investment and particularly so given many government jobs are being targeted at relocation to other regional areas.

    Build it and they will come doesn’t really work for me. If the developers want the light rail, to help sell their apartments, then let them pay for it.

  3. If Canberrans, through their government, want this thing, then let them have it and let them pay for it. It’s nobody else’s problem. If they don’t want it, then they can elect a different government.

    “Why should the overwhelming majority of residents located outside of the rail corridor be compelled to pay levies to support the project.”

    Same reason that Queensland residents located outside Brisbane pay for things that benefit only people in Brisbane. Because the democratically elected state government decided so.

    • notsofastMEMBER

      “If Canberrans, through their government, want this thing, then let them have it and let them pay for it.”

      I tend to agree, but also think some checks and balances are needed. I think leaving infrastructure decisions up to a body of “experts” would be a big mistake open to even more abuse, more corruption and more bad decisions than one that is largely based on the political process.