On Monday night, Engineers Australia held their annual Transport: year in review event at the Park Hyatt which included four panelists in front of a 100+ strong audience. Commentary was broad-based and thoroughly interesting if politics and city building piques your interest.
The panelists included The Age Transport reporter Adam Carey, Grattan Institute CEO John Daley, Member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for Plan Melbourne Professor John Stanley and CEO of the Committee for Melbourne Kate Roffey.
Each of the panelists provided a wide range of views starting with Adam Carey giving his perspective on the way Transport policy played out both at the start of the year and during the election campaign.
John Daley's focus on transparency and governance is best characterised when he lamented "We are in a world where there is no transparency in the way [transport] projects are selected". The audience liked John's quip when he labelled the elephant-in-the-room 'East-West-East link' project as well.
Kate Roffey focused on many issues but one which stuck out was the poignant reminder that in the not too distant future the new government will be dealing with the winding down of the automotive manufacturing sector. Kate Roffey also argued that many of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects such as the Pakenham/Cranbourne corridor project should be prioritised as it predominantly involved private capital and that it will go a long way to offsetting the impending job pain.
John Stanley brought a planning angle to the discussion and painted a picture when he highlighted the contrast in thinking at a State and Provincial level in Victoria and Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.
John Stanley - 'I asked Ontario and BC reps what major road projects are underway, they looked at me like I was from a different planet'— Urban Melbourne (@UrbanMelbourne) December 8, 2014
Similarly John Stanley opined that Melbourne should slow its growth on the fringe and the heavy lifting for transport projects over the longer term should focus on connecting new residential development in the middle ring, where most of the metropolitan area's jobs are located.
Post presentations, the Q&A session took on a more free-flowing discussion with many of the overarching themes revolving around:
Transport policy and projects did play a large role in media coverage during the year and in particular in the lead up to and during the election campaign as Kate Roffey pointed to in her opening remarks. Can voter's minds be further expanded to include land-use and how it affects them on top of the standard kitchen table policy areas of jobs, health and education?
I'd argue in no uncertain terms that the way we house ourselves and the way we transport ourselves - the fundamental way we use the land we inhabit - to and from school, work and leisure (remember: living isn't all about working!) should be the top issue with health and education playing a secondary yet complimentary role.
Transport for so many across Melbourne is about being forced into utilising private vehicles traveling to, from and within auto-centric suburbia which leaves these people at higher risk of vulnerability to external factors such as fuel price spikes. The lazy politicians in both the Liberal/Labor parties and in the road lobbies will bleat on about the need for a "balanced" approach to transport policy and expenditure but this just flies in the face of reality.
Sustainable and public transport use has increased in terms of mode share over recent years but continuing high population growth means that already over-used private transport is still growing and contributing to increasing congestion in the mode of transport that most Melburnians are locked in to. It's a vicious circle.
Perhaps when prosecuting the case for prioritising public transport over private transport investment - especially to the centre-right of the political spectrum as they appear to be struggling just that little bit more than the centre-left - the argument should be framed around some of the core Liberal values of individual choice and competition.
Individuals (and families) for the most part have limited choice in the way they spend their transport dollars and this lack of competition deprives the individual from pursuing the maximum amount of job and lifestyle opportunities compared to those living in competition-rich areas.
Is it not a quasi neo-liberal/conservative philosophy to maintain and ensure the individual (and family unit) has as much access to opportunities as possible for their own life pursuits?
Sitting in worsening traffic, bereft politicians talking of 'balancing transport priorities' and in reality applying expensive band-aid status quo solutions (more commuter Freeways) without attacking the core problem - that there's simply too many people required to use cars in the first place - is unproductive, lazy and likely to further fracture society by locking away opportunities.
Further reading: Lonely over Christmas: a snapshot of social isolation in the suburbs.
Lead image courtesy Norman Bear.