Monday Melbourne: L, October 2004
Russell Degnan

Fitzroy Gardens. March 2004

Melbourne Town 19th October, 2004 11:19:59   [#] [3 comments] 

Equity and the Automobile
Russell Degnan

Now the Federal election is over and Bracks isn't afraid of making a political scene (not that it helped), the Scoresby tollway is the big news. In a blatant piece of short-sighted political opportunism, the Liberal opposition has responded by saying they will remove the tolls if elected.

Road pricing is something that a political party ostensibly dedicated to free-market ideals should not be disagreeing with. Normally, the main argument put against them is one of equity. That is: poor people need to drive and charging them to do so will mean they cannot. A similar argument for equity is put up to defend the building of large parking garages in the CBD and inner suburbs: to allow people in outer suburbs access to services. However neither provides good outcomes in planning terms and neither is exempt from the inherent problems associated with socialist economic models.

As with any good, the subsidisation of roads causes an increase in usage beyond what people would be willing to use if they were paying the full costs. Often referred to as "induced demand". It is probably more accurate to describe the increase in use, not as an increase in travel demand, but as an increase in the distance people are willing to travel. Time is by far the most important element in travel, commutes tend to be between 30 minutes and an hour for everybody. Building a freeway merely increases the distance people can travel in that hour. The result though, is more cars, on the freeway, on local roads, and in the urban centres that should be for people.

The argument that roads are vital for our economic growth, or for people to live is irrelevant. If it is so important people will pay for it; if they aren't willing to pay for it how can you justify it? Parking garages - being a private good - are a slightly different matter. Their subsidy comes in the form of local roads and freeways that connect drivers to them. Take them away and the demand for parking would plummet, and the price of parking likewise. In other words, the people who really do need to drive and park are being charged more because of road subsidies.

But subsidised roads don't just aggravate the traffic problem (and hurt the public purse), they also cause greater inequality. In the under-serviced outer suburbs. The problems caused by car-centric traffic is not confined to the communities receiving cars although their's is more visible and dramatic. By pushing demand for services to the centre the local communities are further disadvantaged. Banks in small towns and the outer suburbs aren't closing for nothing. They lack customers because people shop at large malls in regional centres. Inequity is magnified because the under-serviced (poor) areas remain under-serviced. The poor are being partially paid to drive, at cost to themselves and the wider community.

There is also an implicit assumption that everyone must drive, and that everyone in the outer suburbs don't drive. It is not and never has been true. In fact, with an ageing population it may get less true, not more. Road subsidies are nothing more than a large wealth shift to car-owners. People forced to use public transport actually have to suffer a double blow, because the quality and quantity of services having to compete against the subsidised automobile declines.

Talk of integrated transport planning is nothing but hot air. People make choices based on time, cost and convenience, and they choose what is best. All the different methods of getting around compete with each other on that basis. Trying to achieve equity when none can exist is doing more damage than good. For once, I applaud the Bracks government for introducing tolls. I hope they put them on all our roads.

Sterner Matters 17th October, 2004 15:14:08   [#] [2 comments] 

Legibility and the Bus System
Russell Degnan

In times gone by I have been quite open in my belief that Buses Suck. There are many reasons, some can be fixed, some cannot.

Often cited reasons that can be fixed are that they are too infrequent, too slow, never go in a direct line, stop running too early in the evening, and don't connect with other forms of transport.

Reasons that cannot are mostly aesthetic. A bouncing bus, swinging into the gutter with the engine rumbling, has none of the appeal of a gliding tram. Neither before or after getting on the vehicle. But aesthetics doesn't rate nearly as well as time and convenience when people make transport decisions. A tram could not be justified on those grounds alone.

However, trams do have an enormous advantage over buses when it comes to the ease with which people can perceive the system, and how it is capable of taking them from one place to another. A story from yesterday should serve to demonstrate.

In front of my house runs the 402 bus. From Footscray to East Melbourne. Yesterday, when nearby, a lady asked me where to take the bus to Kensington. I was reasonably sure that the 402 would go there, and told her as much, but this was not sufficient for her for two reasons.

One, there was no sign of a nearby stop, nor the exact place that the bus route would follow. I could only say where it went within the area immediate to my residence, and I didn't know where the closest stop was.

Two, I didn't actually know if that bus goes through Kensington (it does). But there are many ways to Footscray and no guarantee that the bus would take any one in particular.

Neither of these problems occurs with a tram. In the first instance the lines in the vicinity give a clear signal that public transport is available and (at least initially) heads in the required direction. The stops are far more visible because of their size - regardless of their aesthetics - and there is a consistency with stop placement (near intersections) with the tram system that the buses lack.

In the second instance, being able to perceive lines further afield, and remember that there is a tram in that area gives a user much greater knowledge on unfamiliar trips. I know that there is a tram that runs up and down Burke Rd. even if I am not familiar with the timetable, or the start and end points of the line. I can only guess that there will be a bus up and down Middleborough Rd. (there sort of is) and I'd need to find a map before I left the house to see my options.

The ease with which a bus route can be laid is almost a product of its inactivity. In order to attract riders a system needs to be clear. No user wants the frustration of extensive route planning, and maps are hard to translate to the city-scape proper in a way that the visual cue of a set of tram-lines isn't.

We could do worse with the bus system than to paint route outlines on the road, with the bus numbers displayed on the road at the stops. It may also demonstrate how ludicrously over-complicated many of the current bus routes are, and encourage authorities to fix them.

Sterner Matters 14th October, 2004 01:35:56   [#] [3 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XLIX, October 2004
Russell Degnan

Victoria Street, looking West. Taken September 2004

Melbourne Town 12th October, 2004 11:25:09   [#] [1 comment] 

Election post-mortem
Russell Degnan

In the lead up to the election campaign Mark Latham was given the sort of run by the media that an opposition leader could only dream of. The Howard government looked (and is) tired and short on new ideas. What reforms they wanted to press were stalled in the Senate. Labor was setting the political agenda. All they had to do to win was convince the Australian public to vote for them.

And they didn't. In fact, it was a complete failure. A worse than dismal electoral result. Reform is back on the agenda; the Liberals now have the opportunity to reverse the last four years of defensive policy making and drive the agenda +.

It is said that positive campaigns work and negative campaigns don't. But anyone can highlight a weakness. You also need to show why it is your strength. If the campaign messages are anything to go by, it isn't clear that Labor even know John Howard's weakness:

  • Peter Costello will take over The biggest message and the least effective. If this is a negative for the government, how is it a positive for Labor?
  • John Howard will abolish Medicare Noone will believe this. Noone expects Howard to do anything differently to before. And Medicare still exists after eight years of Howard in power.
  • Howard is a liar People don't expect politicians to be truthful. As well as this plays out amongst their own supporters, it isn't a positive for Labor because most people think Latham is a liar as well

It has been suggested since then that Latham should have attacked Howard on the economy. But if you are naive enough to believe the government is responsible for the economy why would you believe Howard is wrecking it after 14 years of growth?

The big Liberal gains were in the outer suburbs. People who should relate to Latham and didn't.

To understand these places is to remember their age: 25-45. They barely remember the time before economic rationalisation, they see no problem with private education, health, etc., yet they are sensitive to environmental issues (like public transport), they see federal and state governments as both providing services and are willing to attack federal Labor for state problems, they have young families so education is important (especially private), they like lower taxes, don't remember having tarrifs, and are mortgaged to the hilt so interest rates matter.

The Liberals saw the last point and went with it. They are an age group that only remembers high interest rates because their parents suffered through them. They also remember Labor was in power. It may be an untruth, but it is an effective one.

Meanwhile, Labor shot themselves in the foot. Of the policies that got the most attention neither went down with this demographic. Medicare Gold will be remembered for helping people over 75. That is no good for people whose parents are only in their mid 60s. But private education may have been the real killer. A headline of "Labor takes money from private schools" doesn't play well in places where almost everybody wants their child to go private. Regardless of the actual policy, voters are rationally ignorant and plenty saw it as a rise in school fees. *

If Labor wants to win those seats they need to recognise the change in the political landscape that they personally wrought in the 1980s. They need to attack Howard's weaknesses instead of trying to play him at his own game. And they need to match those weaknesses against their strengths.

Howard did. Latham didn't.

+ With luck Howard meight even ignore all those spending promises he made. C'mon John, you lied about Iraq, why not $14 billion dollars?

* The guy who delivered a pizza to my house on Saturday night for instance

Sterner Matters 11th October, 2004 13:47:00   [#] [2 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: XLVIII, October 2004
Russell Degnan

Station Pier. Celebrating 150 years of service. Taken June 2003

Melbourne Town 4th October, 2004 19:05:57   [#] [0 comments] 

What me procrastinate?
Russell Degnan

Planning articles in the Age seem to come in big clumps, and this morning was one of those times.

Aaron has already mentioned that Knox City Council is lobbying for public transport in the dead zone beyond Glen Waverly station. Suzanne Carbone also wrote an article showing the difficulties you have to overcome to travel out to that area on an average day. Without doubt the current state of pt in that area is terrible. For several months a few years ago, I commuted to the business parks to the north and east of Monash University from the city, and it regularly took me upwards of an hour and a half from the city - the bus connections are a bit haphazard sometimes.

However, the vast majority of people don't commute to the city from this area. The focus should be on connecting people to the activity centres in that region (Knox City, Glen Waverly, Dandenong, Monash University) - which should be reinforced as places of business and shopping - and from those to other activity centres. There are an awful lot of people who never travel to the CBD and have no reason nore wish too. It is their amenity that is important.

Meanwhile, giant residential towers in the suburbs are being proposed under the cover of Melbourne 2030, and noone seems quite sure what they want, let alone what to do about it. The proposal in Mithcam is bizarre. 17 storeys is about 14 higher than any other building in the area; about ten higher than the sort of proposal you'd think about but be wary about; and about 12 higher than what could be adequately built that allows urban consolidation without affecting visual and other urban amenity.

Also interesting though, is the mention of a panel to help development of activity and transit centres, and to advise the minister. Watch this space on the panel I say; it sounds like the beginning of the end for strategic planning at the local council level. But more on that another day.

But why centralise planning at the State level when you can do it Federally? PIA president Marcus Spiller wants the next government to get involved in urban affairs, but for a rather strange reason:

"We have seen time and time again that states cannot go it alone in bringing about sustainable cities," he said. "The states are just too politically exposed to the NIMBY, or even BANANA, phenomenon."

Our planning system might well be too democratic for its own good, but expecting the Federal government to do a better job is naive at best. They may be less exposed to individual citizens complaints but they are much more exposed when it comes to political lobbying. We have enough roads already thanks very much.

Finally, the Station Pier has turned 150, and there is an exhibition on its history at the Immigration Museum (on Flinders St.). I can't speak for the exhibition, but the pier and the area around it is well worth a look.

Sterner Matters 2nd October, 2004 18:29:39   [#] [5 comments]