John Menadue. Cars are killing our cities.

At almost every election, we are being wooed with stories of more freeways to accommodated more and more cars. It is self-defeating. In our public infrastructure we waste more money on roads than on anything else. As I have argued in my re-post below, there are a whole range of policy issues that we must address to curb the growing volume of cars and the damage that they are doing to our cities.  We refuse to embrace it, but we will be forced to consider congestion taxes to limit road use.

In the current NSW state election, the Liberal Party is proposing as a centrepiece of its policy, a WestConnex Stage 3 development, a toll road in western Sydney. The NSW government claims that this toll road will carry 120,000 each day by 2031. Unfortunately, Australia has a history of over-predicting the usage of toll roads. As Michiel Bliemer in The Conversation … see following link … points out that ‘The patronage of the Sydney cross-city tunnel was estimated to be almost 90,000 cars per day by June 2006. The actual number of cars using this tunnel was only 34,000 per day. Toll revenues were therefore much lower than predicted, leading to a bankruptcy after 16 months. Similar over optimistic predictions were made for the Lane Cove tunnel in Sydney and for Brisbane’s Clem7 tunnel and the Airport Link, which also had financial problems’.

Governments and road builders have a direct interest in over-stating the value of toll roads and investment in roads. See link to Michiel Bliemer’s article in The Conversation below.

http://theconversation.com/why-fewer-drivers-are-likely-to-use-westconnex-than-predicted-38286

Re-post from 20/11/2013.

Congestion and pollution are killing our cities. The automobile is so convenient for all of us that we put aside the enormous problems that the automobile is creating. This is not just a problem for the industrialised and wealthy western countries. It is a problem for developing countries as they upgrade from bicycles to motor cycles and then to cars.

A constant message that we all generally endorse is that public transport, particularly trains in various forms, are the answer. But it is likely to be only a partial answer. Cities like London and Paris have excellent metros or underground public transport systems, but road congestion is still horrific and it is getting worse.

Some hard-headed political decisions will have to be made about automobile congestion and that will involve decisions to curb the use of cars in our cities. This will not please the very powerful motoring lobby. It won’t please Tony Abbott who wants to build more roads as a major plank in upgrading infra-structure.

One inevitable decision would be severely restrict any more new freeways… Such an approach would have to be accompanied by a congestion tax with the revenue hypothecated to public transport. With a congestion tax system the higher the level of congestion the higher the rate of tax. It would provide a clear incentive/penalty for motorists not to travel at peak times.

I just cannot see our cities surviving without congestion taxes to limit the number of cars. With such congestion taxes, we will all be forced to make decisions whether our use of the car/van is worth it, whether for private or business purposes.

We will also need to address other options to reduce the number of cars on the road including increased sales taxes, registration fees and the fuel excise. In almost every respect these imposts are much lower in Australia. In Denmark the sales tax on motor vehicles is 143%, in Finland 53%, the Netherlands 48% and Sweden 30%.  In Australia it is 10%

One feature of most European cities is that their cars are much smaller than ours. That reduces both congestion and pollution. To take a local example, a Toyota Hilux 4×4 emits on average 4.6 tonnes of CO2 each year compared with a Toyota Corolla of 2.3 tonnes of CO2 each year. These larger cars not only pollute more and congest our roads, but also dominate parking facilities.

We can’t keep putting off the debate about limiting the growth of cars in our cities. They are making city life more and more difficult and unsustainable. Public transport is only part of the solution. We have to limit cars on the road. Only in quite exceptional reasons should any more freeways be built. It is a vicious circle with more freeways encouraging more car use and really only shifting the bottlenecks.

We need to break free from our own addiction to the car and the power of the vested interests in the motor lobby.

We need to limit cars on the roads at peak times as well as building public metro systems. Paris and London show us that we need to do both

When the Mayor of London directly tackled the gridlock on London’s roads many years ago he gained wide support.

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John Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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