The Future is in Transit

This month I want to talk about Transit Cities and how that concept can apply to the future of Fremantle and surrounds.  This was stimulated by reading in the Fremantle Herald that Cockburn’s Mayor, Logan Howlett wants the Fremantle CAT to run south to the Cockburn Coast, and the even more recent Fremantle Council’s adoption of a Transport Corridor Position Paper.

The Hepburn Stephenson Plan 1955 was Perth’s first transport blueprint.  In hindsight it’s easy to criticise it for creating Perth as a car oriented city, however it should be remembered it was based on world-class standards of the day.  Since then WA Labor introduced Network City and later the current Government Directions 2031, both attempting to transform Perth into a Transit City.  A basic feature of Transit Cities is the ability of their populace and visitors to get around without relying on cars whilst not be obliged to use the CBD as a hub for any journeyRather than emulating a wheel a Transit City should follow the form of spider web with strong cross-connectivity.

The challenges of transforming from Car City to Transit City cannot be underestimated.  Transit options have to compete with the car on speed, convenience, and cost.  The best way to do this is using a hierarchy of services.  At one end the aforementioned CAT (Central Area Transit) bus, based on moving people around the city centre quickly, easily and cheaply with a network of stops serviced by high frequency free busses.  It does not follow that extending the CAT further south will spread its success along the coast because its very strength of frequent stops becomes an Achilles heel on longer routes.

To get people using public transport from the rapidly developing Cockburn Coast to their regional centre of Fremantle ought be via a rail-based system, because it will bring passengers quickly to their destination.  This part of the hierarchy relies on convenience, speed and predictability to succeed, thus necessitates moderately spaced stations with rapid speeds between them.  The obvious choice is to employ the currently underutilised existing rail infrastructure.  The State Government preference for using the existing bus lane on Hampton Road does not pass any of the tests of convenience, speed and predictability particularly well and thus is doomed to failure.  Predictability is crucial, not only the predictability of service for travelers, but also predictability for investment into the future.  Rail sends a strong message it is there for the long term, unlike bus lanes that can come and go.  Such predictability fosters Value Capture, which needs to be recognised for the force it is in securing investment capital for the area adjacent to the rail infrastructure and in funding that infrastructure.  The new $1.2 billion Gold Coast light rail due to be opened next year relies heavily on Value Capture funding.  Furthermore, the greatest inhibitors to reintroducing transit infrastructure into urban areas are problems of integration with existing infrastructure such as buildings, roads, parks etc.  The undeveloped nature of the Cockburn Coast offers a unique opportunity to base new urban form around transit infrastructure.

The third tier of transit relies on long distance high-speed economic services.  In this regard Perth can be proud of the Mandurah Rail line, the limited number of stops provides the speed needed to out-perform travel by car, this combined with low ticket prices and central station locations gives it the trifecta of speed and convenience at the right cost.

I am a strong believer in good transit being key to the future vibrancy and resilience of the Perth metropolitan area.  That transit infrastructure must be planned now; as that is the skeleton the city will develop around.  The State Government’s Public Transport for Perth 2031 plan is woefully lacking in terms of vision or funding and thus a recipe for more of the same, more roads, more congestion and the same urban sprawl.

Published in Fremantle herald 6-10-12

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