Sunday, July 15, 2007

Public Transport Losses Accelerate In Sydney

In spite of more than a decade of the State Government forcing high-density into Sydney communities on the pretext that people would use public transport instead of cars, Wendell Cox finds that the share of travel by public transport is not only dropping but this decline is accelerating. He discusses the reasons for this.

By Wendell Cox

For years, the New South Wales government has been hectoring residents to get out of their cars and get into public transport. For a variety of reasons, it just has not happened.

A review of data made available by the New South Wales Department of Planning shows not only that public transport’s share of travel is declining in Sydney, but that its decline is accelerating.

From 1999 to 2004, public transport’s share of person kilometers dropped from 16.0% to 14.9%, a minus 1.5% annual rate. Between 1991 and 1998, the annual rate of loss was less, at 1.3 percent.

Why is it that Sydneysiders do not use public transport more? The fundamental reasons are often lost in the public forum, but are clearly outlined in Department of Planning documents. The Department of Planning asked people why they use their cars.

Twelve answers were possible, of which eight related to the advantages of the car in completing door to door trips more quickly. Getting the most votes was the faster travel time of the car, followed closely by service being unavailable. Other reasons were no waiting time, the ability to travel when one likes, that the car arrives closer to the destination and that the car is either needed for work or for other trips. None of the reasons can be classified as demonstrating love for the car, though perhaps “more comfortable” comes close.

The third most popular reason for car use was “problems with public transport.” Indeed, the Sydney public transport system is obtaining an unenviable record for service reliability. This is astounding, considering the billions of dollars that Sydney area residents have poured into the system through their fares and taxes.

Public transport is losing market share in Sydney because it is not a substitute for the car. The car is faster and makes it possible for people to do more with their scarce time. Public transport is fine for getting people to work in the central business district, but cannot hope to compete for most trips to the 85 percent of jobs that are in Chatswood, Parramatta, Norwest or the rest of the area.

University of Paris research has shown that the productivity of an urban area improves as the number of jobs that can be reached in a specified time (such as 30 minutes) increases. Given the slower travel times of public transport (in Sydney and virtually all western world urban areas), a call for people to give up their cars for public transport is a call for reduced productivity and all that it entails (such as greater poverty).

Sydney’s failure to improve its public transport market share should give pause with respect to over-zealous plans to extend the expensive rail system. Recently, the United States federal government certified an analysis indicating that the construction of a new rail system in Seattle would produce so much in greenhouse gas emissions that it would take 45 years for the projected reduced automobile use to make up for it. Even that is unlikely, however, since public transport ridership forecasts are routinely high. It may take 100 years, 200 years or perhaps never.

Sydney would be better off with urban transport policies based upon reality instead of ideology.

Data at:

1 comment:

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