With the publication of the preliminary report of the Sydney Transport Public Inquiry we have made light years of progress in just one week. For the first time we have a carefully tested plan, developed by experts with input from the entire community which maps out what needs to be done and in what sequence to put Sydney back on track as a truly liveable city. It is a breakthrough, first off all because it is an independent assessment and this entirely free of spin, secondly because it takes a whole of system perspective rather than handing out political favours to any one region and finally because it gets beyond the problem of the four year political cycle by realistically acknowledging that it is going to take 30 years of commitment to get it right.
It will become the benchmark against which plans and deeds of successive governments are evaluated.
I was particularly pleased to see it recommending a single independent authority to manage (but not necessarily operate) all public transport in Sydney. Transport for London (TfL) has worked well in London and it would work here. Integrated ticketing is a no-brainer, but what I thought was well argued was the need to redesign routes, frequencies, spans and journey times to support multi-part journeys which may include any or all of walking, cycling, taxi, different buses and different trains. For this to work frequencies on trunk routes would need to be at least 15 minutes so even without a timetable the average wait time would be 7.5 minutes.
For Mosman public transport for journeys into the City is reasonably competitive with the car for main part of the day. To get more people onto public transport, cross city journeys are going to have to be equally quick and convenient and reorganising the system with high frequencies on trunk and radial routes is the way to do this, particularly if there a good options for the first and last mile of the journey such as walking, cycling, community buses or taxis.
In his list of priorities Christie puts heavy rail investments (North West, South West and second harbour crossing and Epping to Parramatta) at the top. I agree with this. It then follows that the best way to connect the Northern Beaches with the rest of the city would be via a heavy rail link from Chatswood to Dee Why – this would provide access from the Northern Beaches to Chatswood, Macquarie Park, Parramatta and beyond without the need to go through the City.
Christie recommends that metros be put on hold until the heavy rail investment is complete. Despite my previous passion for a metro from the City to Dee Why I accept the argument. Provided sufficient road capacity is provided for buses from Dee Why to the City. Buses could provide a fast and efficient service with a number of advantages over a metro – for example development could be medium density spread out along the corridor rather than clumped at stations and buses can continue on to serve multiple areas with a less frequent service at the end of their trunk routes. Electric or Hydrogen buses would be emission free provided in both cases the original energy source was the sun.
I believe Christie should have given more attention to the need for complementary road developments. The ideal would be for public transport to be attractive enough for most private journeys, leaving road capacity for commercial vehicles, urban freight and for those for whom time is money. For the most part Sydney’s existing freeway network could carry this traffic. But in our area, for the foreseeable future, public transport is going to have to share limited road space with general traffic. To make public transport reliable and efficient, the buses must get priority access, and this means either less parking or less general traffic space to create bus or transit lanes. Any erosion of capacity for parking must be strenuously resisted; it would turn Military Rd into Parramatta Rd. But reallocating capacity from buses to general traffic would be a very hard ask politically.
Ironically the only way for the buses to get a clear run in the long term would be to divert general traffic into a new road. Given the high property values it would need to be a tunnel. It could start either at Roseville Bridge or the Spit and end up on the freeway. Until that day a combination of congestion charges, attractive alternative routes and attractive alternate modes are the only way to ensure Spit and Military Rd remains unclogged and those who most value getting a clear run can get one. Expansion of the population in the area should also be carefully managed until the road and rail links are in place.