Last week, as part of my work on transport issues with (Greens) Senator Scott Ludlam, I conducted four public forums seeking community feedback on the State Government’s 20 year public transport plan for Perth (www.transport.wa.gov.au/ABOUT_P_PT_Plan2031.pdf).
On Thursday the final session was in Fremantle, with about 40 people participating. The key issues raised by participants were:
- better intergration with bicycles
- approaches to train stations be more pedestrian friendly
- prioritise rail over roads
- light rail rather than bus rapid transit for Fremantle region by 2020 (particularly to cope with Murdoch Activity Centre and Cockburn Coast)
The call for light rail over bus rapid transit is in sync with the work currently being undertaken by the City of Fremantle. At the forum, Mayor Brad Pettitt gave us an update on the outcomes of study commissioned by the Cities of Fremantle, Cockburn and Melville, and the subsuquent recommendations for a light rail link between Fremantle and the Cockburn Coast which are going to council this week (see page 52 of the agenda here).
The State Governments’ only planned upgrades for the Fremantle region is ‘Bus Rapid Transit’, which it says is already in opperation on parts of Hampton Road and South Street. These examples fall well short of the internationally recognised definition of BRT and I would argue that Fremantle deserves better than just lines painted on a road over the next 20 years (costing $2.9 billion). However, a window of opportunity has been left ajar. On page 22 of the draft report, in a tiny footnote that reads “** Some of these Bus Rapid Transit routes could be Light Rail in the long term, subject to further detailed master planning” so there may be an opportunity to change this yet!
Why light rail?
The so-called ‘sparks effect’ is well documented, showing that light rail will attract higher patronage than buses. It is also cleaner, more efficent and has higher capacity. Light rail can also be much more than just transport, it can be transformative. The permeneancy and upfront investment associated with light rail acts as an anchor for urban renewal. While there is a lot of talk about improvements to the East End entry of Fremantle – what about the southern end, around Rockingham and Hampton Roads? That area is also a prime opportunity for improvement and light rail could anchor it.
How can we pay for it?
I was at a seminar last week with Tim Crane, the economic consultant who successfully funded the Gold Coast light rail project. He rasied a number of factors that should be considered in the funding rationale for such majore infrastructure projects such as light rail including
- Avoided costs – eg: remove the need for road widening, less parking required, less road maintenance if there are less cars on the road, less fringe development and more infill removing the need for new roads and essential services to be installed.
- Developer contributions – developers set to benefit from the infratructure investment should contribute to the cost of it.
- Tax Incriment Finance – borrow against future rates revenue that will be paid upon completion of the project.
- Federal infrastructure funding through the National Urban Policy’s Funding Sustainable Communities initiative with funding for public transport projects that drive urban renewal.
Since 2007 I have been working with Senator Scott Ludlam on building a broad alliance of local governments, academics, industry representatives and environmentalists to campaign push for light rail in Perth. I am thrilled that the State Government has conceeded that light rail should be part of Perth’s public transport network. But it should not be limited to the inner city – between Subi and Curtin and the City and Mirrabooka. Stirling City Centre are geting light rail because they have been pushing for it. I believe that we have the right conditions for light rail here in Fremantle and we should push for it too!
The State Government released its draft twenty year plan for public transport in Perth in July and it’s open for comment until 14 October – have your say at www.transport.wa.gov.au.