Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Public Transport Greenhouse Emissions Similar to Cars

Contrary to the repeated claims of high-density advocates that public transport travel is environmentally far superior to travel in cars, it has now been found that this is not the case. Greenhouse gas emission data posted by Demographia shows that the average petrol car in Australia in 2006 emitted 188 grams CO2 equivalent per passenger km and the figure for the more efficient cars now is as little as 60 grams.

These figures should be compared with the average bus in Australia which emits 155 grams CO2 equivalent per passenger km and with the 105 grams for travelling by rail in Sydney.

The emission figures of the Toyota Prius and the Peugeot hybrid diesel cars are indications that even the surprisingly small advantage of public transport could soon be eroded away by technology.

The reality that public transport use is not significantly more environmentally sustainable is of huge importance for planning policies. For the past two decades the NSW State Government has been implementing a policy of forcing high-density into communities. The principal foundation of these policies has been the allegation that people living in high-density will be able to travel more sustainably by public transport instead of by car. We now know this is not so.

The rationale for the despotic policies that have destroyed home ownership and grossly overloaded existing infrastructure is baseless.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Car use keeps rising despite urban consolidation

Densification arising has not reduced automobile use in Australian urban areas, despite the claims and expectations of urban consolidation policy ("smart growth") proponents. Urban consolidation policies have been adopted in virtually all of Australia's large urban areas. Their principal focus has been to force new development away from the urban fringe, while densifying already developed areas. Urban consolidation theory holds that densification will lead to reduced automobile use.

However, data in an Australian Bureau of Statistics series beginning in 1999 shows that automobile use continues to increase in Australia's capital cities.

Among the five largest capital cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide), per capital automobile use rose 11 percent between 1999 and 2006. The smallest increase was in Melbourne, at 5 percent. The largest increase was in Perth, at 26 percent.

Among the three smaller capital cities (Hobart, Darwin and Canberra), automobile use increased approximately 10 percent per capita between 1999 and 2006. The smallest increase was in Canberra, at 1 percent, while the largest was in Darwin, at 33 percent.

This is not to suggest that urban consolidation policy has had no impact in Australia's cities. Housing affordability has been virtually destroyed, as house prices have risen 70 percent relative to household incomes in just 10 years. For example:

In Perth, the purchase and financing cost of the median price house has risen more than $500,000 in since 1996 (inflation adjusted). By comparison, in Austin, Texas, an urban area of similar size and with somewhat higher demand as Perth, there has been a reduction in the purchase and financing cost of the median priced house over the same period. Generally, land use policies in the Austin area are responsive to demand rather than prescribed by the planning visions that have turned into such nightmares in Australia (see Demographia Third Annual International Housing Affordability Survey).

Data from: Survey of Motor Vehicle Use, Australia, 12 months ended 31 October 2006

Wendell Cox

Saturday, October 06, 2007

"Demand" argument nullifies rationale for urban consolidation

Less than 0.3 percent of Australia's land area is in development. In the upside-down world of politics, it should come Less than 0.3 percent of Australia's land area is in urban development. In the upside-down world of politics, it as no surprise that public policy virtually bans urban development in the other 99.7 percent. Every large urban area has adopted "urban consolidation" policies ("smart growth" or "compact city" policies) to fight the dreaded demon, "urban sprawl," which, of course, is nothing more than the spreading out of urban areas to accommodate new population and maximize economic opportunity. The reality, however, is that urban consolidation is combating the middle-income quality of life, as housing prices have predictably exploded relative to incomes as a result of the land rationing. Any competent economist would have predicted this. No economist was asked.

The urban planning community is in denial, putting forth the view that their land rationing policies have not driven up prices. Perhaps the most invoked refuge is the view that people don't want to live on the fringe, where development is banned and that they prefer to live in the cores of urban areas. Everyone has abandoned the fringe and they are all bidding for properties in places like Sydney's eastern suburbs, driving up prices. This is both disingenuous and absurd.

Before the planners managed to seduce governments into destructive urban consolidation, Australians, like Germans, French, Canadians, Americans, Japanese and Swedes were moving to the urban fringe, where housing was affordable. Then came the development bans and the perpetrators tell us that Australians are somehow different — that young families with children would much rather live in rental units without gardens and have their children play on balconies (actually the research, ignored by the planners, says the opposite).

Indeed, if the market is no longer interested in less expensive housing (and home ownership) on the urban fringe then there is no need for urban consolidation policy. Eliminate the urban growth nooses and see what happens. If we are to believe the planners, the hundreds of thousands of renting and forming households will stay put in the core… perhaps two or three will take advantage of the cheaper housing on the fringe. This is the absurdity. The planning community, which has often been more inclined to act on personal impressions, while ignoring the data, hasn't anything to support this view but a statistically insignificant sample of opinions exchanged at their inbred conferences.

There are, however, signs of hope that some states may begin to release more land for develop and release the Great Australian Dream from captivity. The governments of Queensland, which is already receiving huge migration from overly regulated (even by Australian standards) New South Wales and South Australia, with its near zero population growth. Much more is needed, but it is a start.

Wendell Cox