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We are here to lobby for better public transport and rail infrastructure in Tasmania. We aim to find solutions to allow all Tasmanians to have environmentally responsible and affordable commuting options to get around our state and towns. A more detailed mission statement can be found in the left column or <here>.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Responses: James Sugden

Thank you for your email regarding Tasmania's public transport and rail services. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you but I took some time to answer as this is an area in which I am particularly passionate and I too believe that Tasmania is now far too dependent on road transport and has been funding roads to the neglect of mass transit and other modes of transport. So let me answer your questions as follows:

1.   Rail freight is a significant issue for Tasmania because our infrastructure is appalling in comparison to the rest of the western world. One example of our poor rail infrastructure is the Ryndaston Tunnel. It was my understanding that due to the age of the engines and the design of the tunnel, Pacific National were restricted on the length of their trains because the ventilation in the tunnel was such that the engines would choke and stall before they could climb the hill and get out the other end of the tunnel. Additionally the track alignment and condition is so poor it takes the best part of a day to get from Hobart to Burnie. When I learnt of these issues, I was absolutely appalled and it made me realise why there was so little rail freight in the State.

I believe that rail in our State has no future unless we invest significantly in our infrastructure so that we can increase train velocities and reduce maintenance costs so that we can compete with road transport. Until then, trucks will continue to dominate the roads.

2.   In reference to the infrastructure (rail and below) yes. I think we need to learn from the past. Look at what happened with Pacific National, they bought the rail, reduced expenditure on maintenance to maximise profits until the rail network became unviable due to its dilapidated state. Once that occurred, they presented us with an ultimatum. Either we repaired the infrastructure for them or they would pull out. This is an impossible situation and they had the Tasmanian Government over the barrel. We either bailed them out or lost our rail network. So we bought them out.

I do not want this to happen again, we must maintain control of our rail so that we do not get held to ransom again.

3.   Yes. The railway line to Hobart provides us a corridor through the northern suburbs of Hobart that we can use for rail or other possible transport solutions. Many growing cities need to look to alternative transport options and must spend millions of dollars just to determine a new corridor in an already built environment, they would be extremely grateful to posses the corridor we do in Hobart.

The Northern Suburbs Light Rail is one way of using this new corridor and I find it difficult to believe that it would not be economically viable given that the track is already there. I read the business case report submitted to DIER by ACIL Tasman on the light rail and I believe there non quantifiable benefits detailed in the report significantly increase the feasibility of the project. The conclusions of the report only considered economic benefits of the rail and only briefly touched on the environmental and social benefits giving them no quantifiable economic value. The railway corridor in to Hobart should be retained because I think we will find a good use for it to solve our mass transit woes in Hobart.

4.   I believe mass transit in Tasmania is underutilised because we have never really sat down and seriously considered it. I used to live in Brighton and it took an hour and a half to get to town by bus and half an hour by car, no wonder people drive. My priority for public transport would be to determine a way of providing it that was actually more convenient to the user than a private vehicle.

I would do several things:

·         Engage an expert on mass transit to help us develop a mass transit plan on a state and local level and then implement recommendations
·         Change our urban planning techniques so that development of our cities is planned around our mass transit rather than the other way around
·         Improve the public transport infrastructure so that we can reduce congestion and road maintenance.
·         In Hobart I think some ideas need to be studied for feasibility including, ferry's, light rail and an improved bus network.

5.   I think I have answered this earlier. I don't believe the ACIL Tasman report went in to the intangible benefits well enough. I find it difficult to believe that the benefit from a NSLRS would not warrant the cost of running it. We need to look at the business case again. I think if the bus service were examined in the same way we would find that it is unfeasible as well.

6.   I know of the cable car up Mount Wellington, a funicular railway up Mount Wellington, high speed ferries on the Derwent, there was talk of restoring trams to North Hobart, and more recently the mono rail from Sydney. In determining where my support would lie, it is on the basis of the ability of the proposal to improve our access to public transport, its speed and efficiency. Cost benefit is the best way to evaluate these things in terms of public funding and I think the most benefit in terms of cost at this stage of all these proposals is the light rail to the northern suburbs.

This doesn't mean I would rule out all the other projects and I would encourage a private developer who was interested in any of these options as well. With any proposal I would give it due scrutiny and determine if it was in Hobart's best interest.

7.   This is an interesting question. I have often wondered why people use public transport so little here in Tasmania. I think people don't really like buses or the systems we have in place to use them. The best way I believe we can improve patronage is through the planning techniques outlined in my previous answers. We need to start making our transport hubs in to retail and park hubs. They need to be focussed on accommodating people rather than the buses. In Hobart for instance, I would look at ways of changing the layout so that we increased the pedestrian areas and incorporated more trees and shelters along with shops. I would try to use a model similar to that of Mexico City or Curitiba as they have been successful.

Also, I think we really need to look at going to light rail. People prefer trains and this needs more investigation.

8.   Yes. I think we need to make it a priority to reduce our reliance on private vehicles and this would help.

9.   Absolutely. This is something I am very passionate about. I believe the government has not taken cyclist's seriously yet. The lanes in Hobart for instance go nowhere and are still very dangerous to use. We need to separate bikes from traffic and pedestrians as much as possible and commit to it. Bicycles are just SO good, they have no pollution AND they improve health. We are crazy not to be using them more.

10.   I really think we have to address our planning, that is the key. Until we begin to plan our suburbs and cities around public transport, we will remain stuck in our current situation.

Planning also needs to incorporate inter agency communication and collaboration. For instance, buses use roads and service public from residential housing to commercial and industrial zones. Governance of these things is preformed in Tasmania by DIER for roads, Metro for buses in Hobart, and Councils/State Government for the planning of our cities. These agencies need to be communicating with each other to come up with good plans that provide for good access to public transport.

I advocate for collaboration of agencies and better inter agency communication for these reasons and also to identify opportunities that are so often missed to upgrade infrastructure during the course of a related project from a different agency.

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