6 things you need to know about urban transport reform

As a long-term resident of Darwin, where you can drive from anywhere in the metropolitan area to just about anywhere else in not much more than 25 minutes (even in the peak hour such as it is), it always takes me a couple of days to get used to the traffic snarls of Sydney and Melbourne.  Sydney’s traffic especially is vastly worse than it was when I lived there over 30 years ago.  Moreover, public transport doesn’t help all that much unless you live fairly close to a train or tram line and you’re travelling to or from the CBD.  If you don’t or you’re not, then you don’t currently have any viable choice but to travel by private car.  You could use a taxi or Uber for really important or urgent journeys (or if money’s no object), but they don’t provide a viable primary mode of transport for most people because they’re just too expensive.

Sydney and Melbourne frequently figure in lists of the world’s most “livable” cities, but it’s a mystery to me how that could be so.  For me they’re nice places to visit but I can/could only live there if I could arrange my affairs so I don’t have to travel significant distances in the metropolitan area very often. Fortunately we stay in inner urban St Kilda when in Melbourne, where the tram connections to the city are good and we usually don’t need to go anywhere else much.

For Melburnians living further out from the city the transport picture is much more grim, especially if you live a kilometre or more from a train station and your daily commute or journey is to anywhere other than the CBD.  You probably face a daily commute of 1.5 hours or more each way.  Moreover, governments have done very little about this for decades as our two largest cities have grown inexorably towards a population of 5 million in each. Compare the much more comprehensive rail networks of world cities like London, Paris, New York, Tokyo or Hong Kong. Admittedly they’re each cities of more than 10 million, but they have invested in their rail networks as they have grown, while Sydney and Melbourne (and for that matter other Australian cities) have at least until very recently mostly embraced a half-baked and under-funded version of Los Angeles freeway-based private transport.

Tony Abbott as Prime Minister seemed to think that public transport was a creature of communism or the Devil (or possibly both).  With Turnbull as PM we’re at least beginning to see public transport taken a bit seriously, and both Victorian and NSW state governments also appear to be starting to take investment in rail seriously.  However it’s still fairly unco-ordinated and half-baked, and could be derailed in an instant with a change of government at either level.  Public transport policy is anything but bipartisan but it really needs to be because the investments are long-term and very large.  Is that possible in Australia’s evolved party system? How might it occur?

1.      “Densification” is good if well planned but “urban sprawl” isn’t necessarily bad

It may be that one of the reasons for government hesitancy to invest in public transport infrastructure is a half-baked notion that somehow urban “densification” will solve the problem or at least reduce it to manageable proportions.  Turnbull’s thought bubble about the 30 minute city (where nearly everyone lives within 30 minutes commute of their workplace) is part of this notion, although somewhat broader.  It encompasses renewed enthusiasm for public investment in heavy rail connections (possibly high speed ones) to bring outer suburbs and even some country towns within a 30 minute commute of the CBD.  It’s a worthy objective and a useful principle by which to prioritise transport infrastructure investment, but it only helps those who will be fairly close to a station and who are commuting to the CBD.  Unavoidably lots of people aren’t.

“Densification” of inner urban areas and precincts surrounding larger suburban commercial centres can help, because more people will live within 30 minutes of their workplace one way or another.  A recent correspondent to Darwin’s NT News suggested cynically that densification was just a scam to justify developers and their politician cronies maximising profit by cramming as much development as possible into the smallest available space. While that’s certainly a danger, good planning can avoid most of the downside and accommodate the undoubted desire of many urban professionals and members of the “creative class” to live in a densified urban village environment with all the facilities of the modern cosmopolitan city close at hand. Indeed that’s exactly the sort of place where Jen and I choose to live when in Melbourne.

But there are also lots of people (almost certainly a significant majority) whose revealed preferences indicate that they prefer to live in a house where they can have a dog and a garden and room for the kids to kick a footy in the backyard or the park round the corner.  Moreover, they’re willing to pay the price of a longer daily commute for those advantages, and mostly don’t care all that much if they’re not within walking distance of a trendy café and shopping precinct but instead have to drive to the nearest Westfield Shopping Town.

However, their willingness to pay the long commute price isn’t unlimited, and if they can’t get to work in an hour or so on average by public transport they will inevitably jump in the car and drive there instead, despite the cost and stress.  Hence the burgeoning traffic snarls in Sydney and Melbourne and misguided attempts to relieve the situation by getting developers to build new and expanded tollways at vast expense and disruption of existing communities.


2.     Freeway/tollway extensions or widening don’t help

By and large, additional investment in freeways and tollways doesn’t actually help.  It just moves the existing traffic jams a couple of kilometres further down the road, and speeds the average commute by three or four minutes for a few years, until enough additional cars have been attracted onto the roads to slow it back down again.

“Orbital” tollways like Melbourne’s Western Ring Road can help a bit, because they facilitate journeys to places other than the CBD, which are not facilitated by existing radial heavy and light rail networks.  However, like both heavy and light rail, they are very expensive and require extensive demolition of parts of existing en route communities.


3.     Radial heavy rail to/from city CBD is necessary but not sufficient and very expensive

As already noted, renewed investment in both heavy and light rail is certainly part of the solution. It’s good to see that the Turnbull government is apparently funding the Melbourne Metro and Sydney Metro rail projects as part of its Asset Recycling Initiative, after Abbott’s complete opposition to any federal government investment in rail.  It’s also good to see the NSW government investing in rebuilding part of its tram/light rail network that was dismantled in the 1960s in one of the most idiotic examples of short-sighted government vandalism Australia has seen.  It’s less pleasing to see that they’re needlessly chopping down lots of large beautiful trees around Moore Park as part of that project.


4.     Facilitating “orbital” travel/commuting (cf to and from CBD) is critical and tricky

However, all existing and mooted heavy and light rail projects are radial from the CBD. They do little to facilitate travel between suburban commercial centres unless they happen to be on the route to the CBD.  Even then the vast majority of travellers will need to change trains/trams or buses to get to their destination, leading to travel time much over an hour.  How can those journeys be facilitated in ways that allow people not to drive their own car?

Light rail/trams may be a useful part of the transport mix for this sort of journey, at least for trips between large suburban commercial centres.  Mostly even light rail is only viable for routes to the main CBD, and opponents of the current Canberra light rail project argue that it isn’t viable in such a small city even for trips to the CBD. Nevertheless in cities like Melbourne and Sydney there might well be enough potential patronage on routes between larger suburban commercial centres to make light rail a sensible investment.  What is needed in all these decisions is rigorous and apolitical cost/benefit analyses for all proposals by a body like the Infrastructure Commission.  Whether federal involvement in funding can reduce the state pork-barrelling and impose comparative cost/benefit analysis as the norm is questionable but worth a try at achieving a measure of bipartisanship over time.

Dedicated busways may be a better, more flexible and affordable choice for expediting “orbital” commutes, especially as electric buses and driverless technologies are developed and improved.  A dedicated busway can facilitate high speed travel between suburban centres, and then descend into the normal streets through the commercial centres themselves, saving a substantial part of the construction cost and community disruption that would otherwise occur.


5.     Funding public transport infrastructure – value-capture and congestion levies?

The big problem with all of these solutions is that they are costly. Governments are resistant to raising general taxes to pay for urban infrastructure, and public borrowing has somehow become anathema, although perhaps that is slowly changing

Maybe value-capture levies or taxes (which I discussed recently in the context of the Sydney-Melbourne Very Fast Train vision) could be part of the solution, especially in the context of “densification” rezoning strategies by governments.  If rezoning permits a developer to build a high rise development which yields a profit of (say) $10 million instead of just $5 million under the old zoning, the developer would be required to pay a value-capture/betterment levy of 20% of that increase in value over a period of 10 years from completion of construction ($100,000 per year).

Congestion levies are also a part of the solution, not only to raise funds to build transport infrastructure but to create “price signals” to deter unnecessary travel during peak periods.  A congestion levy of (say) 30% of the charge for travel on a tollway would be levied on vehicles travelling on any urban arterial road between (say) 6:00 and 9:00am and between 4:00 and 7:00pm.

Proceeds of both the value-capture and congestion levies would be hypothecated and required to be spent on either urban public transport or roads and other public facilities in “densified” areas.

However none of the above helps people who live a kilometre or more from a train or tram station, or whose commute/journey takes them to a place not well travelled enough to justify either light rail or a dedicated busway.  How can they be provided options that allow them to leave the family car at home?  If we can’t do that then road congestion will continue rising inexorably, albeit at a slower rate.


6.     Multiple hire/genuine ride share taxis/Uber are critically important

I bet you knew I was heading towards something to do with Uber!  When I first heard of Uber it was billed as an exciting new concept in “ride-sharing”.  That sounded exciting and potentially useful, but in fact both UberX and UberPremium are just variations on a standard single passenger taxis service albeit run via a sexy online booking/dispatch/rating app and algorithms and minus the large overhead of expensive government issued taxi plates conferring oligopoly rights over paid transport of private individuals.  Neither current Uber service delivers the sort of convenient and much lower cost “point to point” transport option that would be needed to lure a large proportion of commuters away from using their private car to get to work.

However two new Uber initiatives sound much more promising.  UberCOMMUTE delivers an app that allows ordinary motorists to engage in genuine ride-sharing with someone going in the same direction as their already intended journey, and to charge a modest fee for it (54 cents per mile at present).

And UberPOOL allows professional Uber drivers to multiple hire and Uber users to choose the multiple hire option and potentially achieve a journey for 50% of what it would otherwise cost.  Assuming an average UberX journey costs $20 (which is probably around the mark), an UberPOOL passenger could achieve a journey cost of $10 if the Uber algorithm can match them with another passenger travelling in the same direction from places where two pickups are feasible without adding too much to the journey time.  That brings the fare for Uber point-to-point travel down to a level not much more than public transport, at least for people whose journey requires them to change train/tram/bus to reach their destination, and to achieve it much quicker and without getting wet or frozen walking to and from the train/tram station.  And it would certainly be significantly less than the cost of commuting by private car, once you take into account tollway charges, fuel, maintenance and parking costs at a location within easy walking distance of the workplace.

Of course it won’t suit everyone, and both Uber drivers and ride-share passengers will need to develop coping strategies e.g. to drive away from a pickup if the passenger doesn’t emerge in (say) five minutes or less.  One UberPOOL driver also suggests that it is unwise to accept jobs from passengers with an Uber rating of less than 4.6/5, to minimise the incidence of rude, inconsiderate or smelly passengers who are likely to aggravate the other passenger and result in the driver getting a bad rating from both passengers for behaviour that isn’t his/her fault.  Given that Uber drivers themselves get delisted if their own rating falls below 4/5 it’s probably a prudent precaution.  It may well be that the mutual ratings system on which Uber is based will allow this initiative to work in a way that will give a significant number of passengers enough confidence and security to induce them to leave their own cars at home.

It’s also quite possible that the price reductions achieved by genuine ride-sharing aka multiple-hiring could generate enough additional business to allow Uber drivers to make enough money from each shift to amount to a reasonable living wage without their needing to work insanely long hours.

For both UberCOMMUTE and UberPOOL (and similar competitor systems that will undoubtedly emerge) to achieve their full potential, it will be necessary for agreements to be reached whereby the genuine Uber etc ride-sharing vehicles can routinely and automatically be given partial exemptions/discounts from both government congestion levies and private tollway charges by Transurban et al.  The Uber app would need to communicate seamlessly with government and Transurban computerised systems.  That would no doubt be complex at the outset but entirely achievable and very worthwhile. It’s the sort of IT coding that governments should fund in the public interest.

Finally, it just occurred to me that the mix of government and private reform strategies for urban transport discussed in this post are in some ways a good example of what Nicholas Gruen calls a “nested ecology of public and private goods”.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.
This entry was posted in Economics and public policy, Public and Private Goods. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to 6 things you need to know about urban transport reform

  1. Marks says:

    There’s a practical problem that needs to be sorted out before this is much more than a pipe dream.

    Two examples:

    The Sydney tram is looking to be one of the most expensive in the world per kM, and that’s after allowing for relative costs of living. On the basis of world parity pricing, that Sydney tram line should also have gone to Bondi and adjoining beaches.

    When an opportunity for inner urban densification happened in Melbourne in and around Docklands, all that happened was the construction of high rise dog-boxes many of which are unlivable.

    So, how can we build the infrastructure if it is so expensive, and how can we allow densification if the processes are so flawed that in our second largest city, prime areas were ruined by allowing totally useless development?

    Given the examples above (and costs proposed for the Canberra tram just as high…and did I hear mention of a certain Melbourne tunnel that was smaller in diameter and more expensive than your average Swiss Alp tunnel per kM), I would argue that the optimal public policy is to oppose spending money on such projects.

    Of course that produces the question of what do we do? But at the moment, it is arguable that doing nothing is better than the present attempts at infrastructure.

    Perhaps another Royal Commission (eye-roll)?

    • Marks says:

      Switzerland has just opened a 56 kM tunnel…cost AUD $14Bn. That is, in a high cost European country, they can build a major tunnel for $1Bn per kM.

      The Melbourne East West Link first stage tunnel 4.4kM…cost AUD $6Bn. On the same basis, the Swiss could build the East West tunnel for $1.1Bn.

      Says it all really. We are being legally robbed blind. Well in excess of even explanation of inflated wages deals.

      It’s not only the major projects. This incredible cost gouging of the tax payer is now rife through all levels of projects. These days, you don’t need to steal from the public. Just name your price for some infrastructure work, charge five or six times the reasonable price, and you get money for nothing. And it’s all legal.

      Until and unless these totally unreasonable costs for infrastructure construction are contained, it is not even worth debating. How do you do a cost benefit analysis when the costs are only related to what the Principal can be made to pay?

    • David Walker says:

      Marks, the cost of inner-urban infrastructure is indeed a reason for only building it when we know there’s a payoff.

      But I’m sitting in Docklands as I type this, and it’s not obvious to me that it’s an area “ruined by allowing totally useless development”. I’m not sure where the idea of Docklands as hell on Earth originated, but it isn’t resonating with me. A lot of the people who live and work here quite like it.

      On the issue of processes and cost comparisons between Melbourne and Switzerland, it’s worth remembering that for most urban road tunnels, a high proportion of the cost is at each end, where your simple hole in the ground interacts with a complex city that has to be built around in all sorts of complex and expensive ways. On top of all that, tunnels around the Yarra are not so much “holes bored through rock” as “pipes suspended in mud”.

  2. Colin says:

    No mention of bikes. Yet a 10 km ride (30 minutes) gives you access to 312 square kilometres of city, which is more than enough if it’s reasonably dense, which the inner-cities of Melbourne and Sydney are. Just.

    I’m not insisting that YOU ride a bike. The point is that you’ll benefit if others do. That’s because bikes have a vastly greater traffic capacity than cars, and because there’s a large unmet demand for safe, comfortable cycling infrastructure, a road system that prioritises bikes over cars will shift enough people from car users to bike users that the traffic conditions for both will be improved.

    As for people in the burbs where your 312 square kilometres is mostly nature strips, lawns, median strips, and the empty green-space “buffer zones” needed to keep the negative externalities of motor vehicles at a (slim) distance, well, there’s not much to be done. They’re in a landscape that was created by and for the car, and it worked while the city was small enough (like Darwin), but once the city gets big enough there’s no solution that works other than some mixture of densification, public transit, and bicycles.

    • Ken Parish says:

      Fair comment. I certainly should have mentioned bikes. Creating dedicated cycle paths within existing cities is much easier and cheaper than building tollways and either heavy or light rail. You seem to agree with me that the latter at least are essential. And as I also argue, I think dedicated busways are also a much under-appreciated option.

      But most importantly, some form of genuine “point to point” ride-sharing using taxis or Uber etc is essential. For the majority living in suburbs far from the CBD it’s really the only way they can realistically commute without resorting to their private family cars. Except for a tiny number of arguably insane fitness fanatics, commuting by bike to Dandenong (or other distant suburban commercial centres) from Melton or Broadmeadows from Mornington just isn’t a viable option. I don’t see any other feasible means of reducing road congestion significantly.

      • Moz of Yarramulla says:

        One thing the “city bike” programs have found/struggled with in other countries is their popularity with commuters. Jump off the train either at the central station or the edge of the CBD and use the hire bike to get to work. It saves time and is quite cheap. But it means there’s a rush of city bikes between locations during rush hour, and back at the end of the day.

        In Australia we prevent that by requiring helmets, making the whole city bike program an expensive joke.

        Much as “we” successfully prevented the heavy rail lines getting extended to Bondi and Manly all those years ago, and seem dead set on preventing anything so sensible being reintroduced now. But Sydney also has an extended heavy rail loop system with the Redfern-Cabramatta-Paramatta circuit and the half-way link between Bankstown and Lidcombe that comes and goes with the whims of planners (currently all trains stop at Lidcombe, shortly the Bankstown-Refern strip will be privatised and made part of the Chatswood to Epping link using incompatible trainsets). If the current system had instead been extended we’d have an effective ring loop of heavy rail, which would be really handy. Unfortunately, as you point out, that would require consistent planning across decades rather than electoral cycles.

  3. conrad says:

    Here’s a few random points:
    1) Congestion levies are very politically unpopular — people clearly prefer to sit in traffic all day and possibly spend more on fuel than the levy, except when they are finally habituated to them (London), in which case they like them. So you would need someone politically very tough to get it through.
    2) There’s a reason PT in HK is so good — it’s profitable, whereas PT has a subsidy of 80% in Aus.
    3) It’s easy to know when to build PT in HK, because they know when it will be profitable (they just use the density of people in an area and use PPPs and value capture to build it — which curiously works well there, unlike here). In Aus, you are basically picking the lucky for it, and then people still complain.
    4) Even value capture won’t work because of (2) — it isn’t just the cost of building the infrastructure, it is the cost of running it.
    5) It’s almost impossible to think of ways that are not ridiculously expensive to put public transport in Melbourne and Sydney. For example, there is a vast PT wasteland between where I work (Hawthorn) and where I need to go sometimes (Northcote) which is grid-locked at peak hour. But apart from buses that add to the problem there is no possible solution. So I think there is no answer to your point (4) for almost all of Melbourne and Sydney — even the higher density places are unlikely to be possible due to the great expense and they still don’t have the density to be profitable. This is just something people have to suffer with, as they do in all similar cities of the world.
    6) I agree with Colin — the reason more people don’t ride is because the roads are dangerous because there is essentially no investment in bike infrastructure, and drivers are dangerous here (even worse in Sydney) compared to many (most) places in the world. So you need more dedicated bicycle paths. Whilst this won’t take everyone as you note, even if it took, say, 20% of journeys, that would remove a lot of cars and help the worst public health concern in Australia (obesity/inactivity). It would also cost would diddleys compared to anything else (bicycle infrastructure is cheap). But there is little political pressure because many people are under the clearly false impression that their registration fees pay for all car related expenses and that bikes are using things for free.
    6.1) You could add the bike infrastructure by ripping up pares of nature strips (which are owned by the government), but no-one wants this because they want this for free.
    6.2) You could add the bike infrastructure by getting rid of on street parking, but people want theirs cars subsidized over everything else too.
    7) If people had to pay for the real cost of their cars, it could pay for more PT (or you could choose the inflection point for least amount of loss between car and PT losses).
    8) I agree that these liveability indexes are weird. They are basically geared at rich expats who have very large salaries. I split my time between Melbourne and Adelaide, and Adelaide is a vastly better place to live than Melbourne apart from the extent of cultural offerings (which there are still many of in Adealaide), and the main reason people move when you talk to them is the employment opportunities in Melbourne. People also do more stuff (leisure activities etc.) outside their homes in Adelaide simply because it is now such a PIA to do anything in Melbourne because of the traffic and expense (let alone Sydney).

  4. Moz of Yarramulla says:

    One issue with Uber’s ride-sharing is that it apparently defaults to “on”, leading to nasty surprises when people discover that “their” driver is picking up more people. Their routing is also still a work in progress, with some of the diversions being ridiculously long. It also means people can’t very their booked trip, not even a jot, without a whole lot of face to face negotiation (and the whole point of uber…) This is all hearsay, from reading reports on it because I don’t use Uber (or cars, as a rule).

    There’s also a densification taking place in Sydney ATM between Central and the airport that will, assuming the apartments can find tenants, push residential density to Hong Kong levels over a couple of square kilometres. There is, of course, no plan to provide public transport to those 50,000 or so new residents (they will probably need a new heavy rail tunnel or two, which the developers are strangely unwilling to pay for after the collapse of the private airport link). It’s almost as though the state government is betting on the apartments not being lived in.

    • Ken Parish says:

      Both of these problems (default to sharing “on” and long 2nd pickup diversion) should be fairly easy to fix by tweaking the coding. Using “nudge” default to share strategy seems like a good idea, as long as people are given a clear prompt allowing them to decide to change back to solo ride while booking.

      Avoiding excessively long diversions to the 2nd pickup point might be trickier because it would include factoring in likely traffic density as well as distance on the route from first to second pickup. Of course it’s also possible that the complaints you read come from people who unreasonably demand to have their cake and eat it too i.e. to get a ride for half price that is just as quick as the full price solo one. Perhaps “expectation management” screen reminders on booking about the necessary trade-off between speed and cheapness of fare might help. The fact is they’re still getting point to point (eg home to office) transport for not much more than the price of much slower and less convenient scheduled public transport.

  5. Mayan says:

    One of the reasons for the antipathy toward public transport might be that many public transport advocates take an anti-car position. Perhaps dialing back the anti-car zealotry would help sway opinion. Both have a place.

    • Moz of Yarramulla says:

      In my experience nothing is so hard to deal with as a loss of a special place in the world. That’s why some white men are so publicly hurt, it’s not that they are genuinely oppressed, just that they really feel the loss of privilege.

      I suspect that most of what sounds like anti-car zealotry to habitual motorists is actually the loss of extra privileges. I know that when my local council moved to enforce their “no parking on the footpath” rules there was an enormous outcry from aggrieved motorists. I suspect many felt quite genuinely persecuted and put upon by the parking fines that started appearing.

      Thing is, the council wasn’t setting out to persecute motorists, they were trying to prevent people being run over when they had to walk on the road because the footpaths were blocked. It’s hard to balance the need of rat-runners to travel at the speed limit on residential streets, the need of residents to park their cars, and the needs of people who walk (or use wheelchairs) to move around the neighbourhood. The council ended up deciding that forcing pedestrians, wheelchairs and prams onto the road was a worse idea than trying to persuade motorist to use the roads. Seems fair to me.

      • Mayan says:

        There’s certainly some of that. However, some of it comes from people who want to eradicate car use. There are ideologues on both sides.

        The inner suburbs have a relatively wide variety of transport options, but public and private. Those areas are also those which in recent decades have become the locations of choice for the relatively well off. The people who are in a position to develop, funnel public money toward, and implement transport policy tend to live in those areas.

        So, when people outside those areas see significant amounts of public money being used for public transport, they often have a point when they see it as a special deal for the inner city dwellers. People elsewhere pretty much have to drive. While they might not have much to do with the CBD these days, there is a perception that anti-car measures target them.

        There’s also another important point. While the CBDs are still important, and especially to those who live in or near them, their relative share of the economy is declining. Many, probably most, people now have no need to visit the CBD, and yet it is on that inner core that so much public money is spent.

        It’s important to consider the political optics, regardless of the plan.

        • Moz of Yarramulla says:

          Fair cop, I live in Sydney so my understanding of how transport is funded is biased towards what’s happening in Sydney and Melbourne. Which is, BTW, huge amounts of money being poured into a giant new road being built through the middle of those inner city suburbs full of transport planners. At the same time they’re privatising a rail line, converting it to be incompatible with the rest of the network, and promising the the money spent will be made back, with a tidy profit, from user charges and subsidies. Going on past history, it’ll be a great deal of taxpayer money and no small amount of “profit” for the private companies.

          Melbourne has the similar East-West link which is too depressing to go into.

          So yeah, where I live there’s no detectable “eradicate car use”, but a great deal of “pour money into cars at the expense of everything else”. I’m sure the opposite happens in other parts of Australia and it just never makes it into the media.

  6. Ken Parish says:

    Here’s a story that’s very relevant to the UBerPOOL genuine ride-sharing aspect of the primary post:

    Apple has injected $1 billion into Chinese ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing, further fuelling tech industry moves to amalgamate self-driving car systems, electric vehicles and ride sharing so that companies can sell rides in self-driving vehicles, generating revenue day and night.

    Apple boss Tim Cook said recently that investing in the leading Chinese ride sharing service could expand its presence in that “very, very important” market, and serve other ends as well.

    “We are making the investment for a number of strategic reasons, including a chance to learn more about certain segments of the China market, and we also see lots of opportunities for closer co-operation between the two companies. Of course, we believe it will deliver a strong return for our invested capital over time as well,” he said earlier this month.

    Analysts said Apple’s investment also could bolster relations with the Chinese government, and put a roadblock in the way of rivals Alphabet and Uber, among others, looking to profit from re-making the personal transportation market.

    When it proves feasible to deploy driverless ride-share vehicles it will certainly be possible to offer home-destination fares as cheap as today’s scheduled public transport. That would induce a significant proportion of commuters to abandon their private cars, resulting in a significant reduction in traffic density.

  7. derrida derider says:

    On the livability indexes, yes – they are directed at the filthy rich. IME Sydney is the extreme example of this – own a harbourside mansion at, say. Potts Point (hello, Mr Turnbull) with a yacht parked off it and it is indeed about the most livable and beautiful city in the world. For the peasants the place is a hellhole.

    And for Sydney, its not only the long history of incompetence and (being Sydney) corruption that’s the problem. The place has been run in the interests of the Eastern Suburbs A-listers for as long as I can remember. As we can see with the latest investments in light rail. Its not just a matter of plutocracy either – Mr Abbott’s Northern Beaches electorate is almost as wealthy but has many fewer movers and shakers, and far far poorer transport links. Strange.

  8. derrida derider says:

    On the livability indexes, yes – they are directed at the filthy rich. IME Sydney is the extreme example of this – own a harbourside mansion at, say. Potts Point (hello, Mr Turnbull) with a yacht parked off it and it is indeed about the most livable (and beautiful) city in the world. For the peasants on the other hand …

    And for Sydney, its not only the long history of incompetence and (being Sydney) corruption that’s the problem. The place has been run in the interests of the Eastern Suburbs A-listers for as long as I can remember. That’s not just a matter of plutocracy either – Mr Abbott’s Northern Beaches electorate is almost as wealthy but has many fewer movers and shakers, and far far poorer transport links. Strange.

  9. David Walker says:

    Hi Ken. There’s a heap of good stuff here, but for my money the most important point of all is your focus on the potential to run and develop the road system in much better ways. In urban transport, discussion of roads complies with Sutton’s Law – it’s where the travellers are. A list which features ideas like “radial heavy rail isn’t enough”, “charge for road congestion”, “orbital movement matters”, “do buses better” and “encourage genuine ride-sharing” is pretty rare in this space.

    That said, I’d take issue with one point. Freeway extensions and widening don’t remove congestion, but they’re not designed to do so, even if politicians sell them that way. They’re designed to get more people to where they want to be inside their individual travel-time budgets. Though it’s an oversimplification, in general the presence of more people on the road after some capacity increase is testament to their success in meeting that aim.

    The best reason not to increase freeway capacities right now may be that developments in car automation may allow us to fit a lot more cars and trucks and buses onto the same pieces of road in the next 10 years without another ounce of bitumen being poured. Though alternately, they could lower the cost of travel in a way that brings a lot more people onto the roads, in a version of the Jevons Paradox.

    Either way, my guess is that roads are where most of the big changes in urban transport are going to happen in the next 10 years.

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