Welcome to Future Transport Tasmania

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>.

Find our articles below, starting with the most recent ones first:

Monday, March 25, 2013

Combating the Naysayers

We noticed this letter as a response to our article in the Sunday Tasmanian of a week or so ago (March 17th).  This is from our usual pro-car anti-public transport naysayer.  So as to avoid giving him further undeserved attention we will simply refer to him as Mr Car.  Mr Car's letter is in italics.  Our response to each paragraph of his letter is below it.  Feel free to use some of our arguments in a letter to the newspaper. We don't think Mr Car deserves any more attention, so we won't be writing any letter in response to this one.

Toby Rowallan perpetuates the fallacy that spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on a northern suburbs light-rail system, at the expense of hospitals, schools and other deserving infrastructure, would relieve traffic congestion on the Brooker.

Firstly Mr Car, you've clearly not read either the article or the Northern Suburbs Light Rail Business Case properly.  Constructing the line to Claremont with electric overhead vehicles was costed at just $92 million.  If we compared this to the Brooker Highway upgrades at over $215 million, for less than 3km and only three intersections upgraded, I wonder what hospitals and schools would Mr Car like to close for that?  Secondly we made the suggestion that this need not be taken from the State Budget, but land could be offered to developers and the money from those sales be used to pay the capital cost.  We’re also highlighting that the railway will affect much more than simply congestion, which Mr Car seems to have ignored.

He talks about the need to move people as if the good citizens of the northern suburbs are cattle to be moved from farms to stockyards, or packages to be transported as freight.

No, we didn't.  We talked about the need to move thousands of people into and out of Macquarie Point on a daily basis.  Unfortunately the Mercury added 'The Northern Suburbs' to that sentence which confused the context. Nonetheless it is a big step to refer to people as cattle or packages. How desperate is Mr Car getting? The need for Macquarie Point and the Northern Suburbs Railway is there because that’s what people will want.  How are that many people going to move in and out of the area with just cars or shuttle buses?

Except in special circumstances requiring special vehicles – patients transported by ambulance to hospitals, prisoners in prison vans moved from courts to jail, or military personnel assigned on defence duties – people in democratic societies are free to travel where and when they like and by whatever mode of travel they choose, subject to budget and institutional constraints.

Here the constraints that Mr Car is happy to have, is that those who cannot drive, those who cannot afford to drive, are forgotten.  Hobart’s problem is precisely that people cannot choose.  Odd that he wants to refer to our democracy when we have more political choices than available transport choices!  The people who are transport disadvantaged, who have poor access to transport of any kind, are the people that really need the Northern Suburbs Railway, as per MONA founder David Walsh’s remarks quoted in our article.  Mr Car does not seem to be interested in this demographic.

Rail provides access only to destinations close to stations at times determined by restricted timetables and therefore lacks the flexibility of personal travel modes to access destinations throughout the urban area at times that will suit the traveller.

Mr Car forgets or ignores the fact that a rail service will have linked bus services.  He ignores or forgets that with a 12-15 min interval between services, the flexibility and accessibility of rail is far higher than the majority of bus services in Hobart.  The only bus service that is more frequent is on Main Road, and it is of course by far the most heavily utilised.  A bit of a clue there, Mr Car.

The costs of motor car use – congestion, road trauma and pollution – can, and inevitably will, be managed by congestion charging as recommended in the Henry tax review, by safety improvements and by the transition to electric vehicles.

Will they now? This is perhaps Mr Car’s most extraordinary claim.  It would be a very brave politician to recommend congestion charging in Hobart.  It would be an even braver one to do so without providing an alternative transport choice at the same time.  Very few recommendations contained within the Henry tax review have been implemented.  This one is perhaps the least likely to affect Hobart.  Safety improvements continue with new car types but this is irrelevant.  Motor vehicle crashes will also continue as long as people drive cars.  Mr Car also seems to have a great deal of faith in the apparently imminent arrival of electric vehicles.  I hope he will tell us just which car manufacturers will be doing this, and why everyone in Tasmania will be able to afford to replace their current vehicle/s.  Clearly the arrival of electric cars is not nearly as imminent as Mr Car might wish.

Car use in developed countries is reaching saturation levels due to the obvious fact that you can’t drive more than one car at any one time.

Really? No Mr Car, it’s due to population growth and the failure of governments to respond to increasing demand for public transport. And yet despite these failures car use has also peaked in many major cities in the developed world, whilst public transport use continues to grow.

Meanwhile car use and low density suburban development is increasing at rapid rates in countries throughout the developing world.

This is not surprising as cheap cars come onto the market in India and China.  However it is irrelevant to Hobart’s situation and provides no justification for ignoring our opportunity to provide additional transport choice.  After all many of these countries already have better public transport systems than we do!

Toby Rowallan’s vision of high-density cities dependent on government-controlled public transport is a throwback to the grim industrial days of the 19th century.

It is the vision of Future Transport Tasmania, not any one individual.  But again Mr Car hasn't read what we've said.  We’re talking about higher density, not some sort of early industrial-age nightmare.  We're talking about changing land use in the inner suburbs.  We're not talking about Soviet or Chinese-style enormous high-rise apartment blocks!  Mr Car should check his history as well - many public transport systems were constructed in the 20th century.  We also can’t understand why Mr Car is so afraid of government control.  After all it is the government that builds his roads, hospitals and schools.  It is the government that owns Metro and TasRail, and Forestry Tasmania.

With all of his comments Mr Car fails to address how we are going to fund unrestrained growth in car use.  Highways are far more expensive than the road lobby will admit.  He fails to address the issues of accessibility.  He has previously suggested small minivans be used for those who cannot drive.  A suggestion that sounds a lot like taxis!  He fails to address why the car manufacturers have not started building his electrics cars.  He fails to address how unrestrained suburban sprawl can be afforded.  He claims public transport is 19th century – if so why are there over 50 light rail, tram or commuter rail projects approved or under construction around the world?  Why have over 140 such systems been constructed worldwide in the last 25 years?  Why are Sydney, Canberra, Gold Coast and Perth all planning or constructing new light rail networks?  Why are other centres in Australia agitating for the same, such as Sunshine Coast and Bendigo?  The answer is that they are not doing it on a whim.  It is because rail is the most efficient form of land transport.  Commuter rail services offer high frequency and reliability.  They are far more accessible for people with a disability or parents with a pram.  They enable people who cannot afford to drive, or are too young to drive, to get access to employment, sporting and social events.  They enable older people who are unable to drive, to gain access to their family, other social engagements and health services.  People on commuter or light rail services can continue to enjoy other activities, such as reading, using a phone or personal computer, or listening to music.  Some of those activities are much harder on a bus that is lurching around corners and coming to a rapid unexpected stop.

Mr Car has previously said that no city in the English speaking world the size of Hobart has a similar size rail service.  This is a neat cop-out avoiding mention of dozens of European cities, including Bern, Lausanne and Geneva in Switzerland, Takoaka in Japan, many in Germany including Magdeburg, Rostock and Heidelberg, several in France including Le Havre, Mulhouse, Grenoble and Montpelier.  There are more in Austria including at Graz, Salzburg and InnsbruckTrondheim in Norway, which has a population of 168,000, also has an 8.8km tramline. There are many many more, all around the same size as Hobart or smaller, all with a rail service of some description, either trams, light rail or a heavy rail service.  We have a list of over 90 such cities.  Each of these cities is different in one way or another to Hobart and each other.  There are varying densities and the lines cover varying proportions of those populations.  To claim that a rail service would not be appropriate in Hobart’s largest population area is simply bizarre.
Finally, the strangest thing in all of this;
As recently as 2004 Mr Car wrote a letter advocating a light rail on the Northern Suburbs.  He seems to have forgotten why he once did this.  You can see it on our Facebook group if you would like to join;

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Transforming Hobart
Why we need the Hobart Northern Suburbs Railway
Some would have us believe that cars, cars and more cars are Hobart’s only possible future transport solution.  We have been told that Hobart is too small, cannot afford it and no one will use any new public transport services.  We are told that Hobart is different and we cannot change just because other cities are.  However the evidence for these claims is weak.  Future Transport Tasmania believes differently.  We believe that Hobart deserves better, and that its citizens deserve new alternatives. 

So what would happen if we don’t change?  If the Hobart to Northern Suburbs Railway project does not go ahead, the impact of no additional public transport services, combined with continued growth in car use, will have several serious effects.  Firstly the unplanned suburban sprawl will keep spreading.  Congestion will continue to worsen on Hobart’s key arterial roads.  Money will then have to be spent on those roads, in particular the Brooker Highway which is already the most congested.  These upgrades will only encourage greater car use, and may only move the congestion elsewhere. Infrastructure for housing becomes more expensive the further out you go.  We would achieve nothing in terms of reducing carbon emissions; in fact we will increase them.  We would perpetuate Tasmania’s transport dependence on oil, and our vulnerability to oil price rises and potential shortages.  Councils will struggle to afford to build more suburban roads, water pipes and associated infrastructure.  It is clear that something has to change.

Hobart is definitely large enough to justify a commuter rail service. The density of Hobart’s suburbs is no different to most suburbs in Australia.  The overall size of Hobart merely means that the service will be on a much smaller scale than that of mainland cities.  However unlike other cities in Australia that are planning or building a new light rail system (Gold Coast, Canberra, Perth, Sydney); Hobart has a distinct advantage in that there is an existing railway line, along a corridor that travels through the largest suburban area.  Every other project in Australia has to spend large amounts of money to build their new networks.  Hobart does not.  Yes the track requires an upgrade, we need basic station facilities and of course new trains.  The type of trains could be light rail vehicles (trams but on their own right-of-way), or larger railcars, similar to those being built for Wellington, NZ.  They could be diesel railcars, electric with overhead wires or even battery powered.  Either way, the overall cost is incredibly low compared to almost every other project around the world (for example, the Gold Coast Light Rail approx: $1 billion).  The running costs may sound high at $5 million per annum but this has been calculated as a worst case scenario.  Nor does this annual cost take into account any revenue that would reduce it.

We believe that the redevelopment at Macquarie Point is crucial to the use of the Northern Suburbs Railway.  In order for it to be a success, the redevelopment at the old rail yards site must attract thousands of people living, studying, working in and visiting the area.  Therefore in order to move a few thousand people in and out of the new area on a daily basis, it is abundantly clear that having only car access would be a recipe for disaster.

In a number of State Government strategies and plans there is a stated desire expressed to reduce private car use.  There is a very good reason for this.  Nearly 75% of transport users in Greater Hobart take the car (source: Greater Hobart Household Travel Survey 2008-09).  Just 4% use public transport.  The lack of good alternatives is perpetuating the social disadvantage for those who cannot afford to live close to the city, and those who cannot drive for reasons of age or physical limitations.  David Walsh said it best; that ‘access to that community’s services is a right’, not a privilege, and that these people ‘are rights-denied’.  It is these people who are forgotten when claims are made regarding the flexibility of cars.

Instead of spending more than $200 million on the Brooker Highway, we could instead begin the transformation of Hobart.  We need to look not at where the city is now, but where we want the city to be.  Do we want a noisy car-filled city?  Or do we want attractive places where people want to go and spend time?  The Hobart Northern Suburbs Railway is simply the vital catalyst for this change. Some people ask where the developers are. The answer is that they are waiting for this project to go ahead, and with that certainty, they can act.  Industrial areas can be rezoned to high density residential and commercial plots.  One property developer contacted us specifically to ask about the progress of the Light Rail Business Case, because they wanted their project to benefit from access to the rail service.  Government and councils could offer land as an incentive for developers and help pay for the construction.

We need the Northern Suburbs railway for many reasons; to improve social disadvantage and accessibility; to encourage inner suburban development and growth; to reduce carbon emissions and oil dependence; and to avoid spending our limited funds on expensive highway upgrades.
This Northern Suburbs Railway is the only project which can achieve all of these things.

Contacting Future Transport Tasmania

For further information:
Toby Rowallan (secretary) 0418 997 069

Mailing address:
Future Transport Tasmania
Bathurst St. Post Office
PO Box 4515
Hobart 7000