Saturday, May 31, 2008

Trains versus cars, only WA is really doing it right!

Compared to the basket case that is "Railcorp, we are" etc etc, finally somewhere in Australia is showing to can be done.
Now why cant the bunch of self interested loosers in charge of NSW do it thusly?

Western Australia has a lot to teach the nation about learning to live with rising petrol prices. But its FuelWatch - or should that be FuelBotch - scheme to be launched federally, is the least of it. Some Perthites apparently like FuelWatch - though I have yet to meet one prepared to drive out of their way to save a couple of cents a litre.
At the very time political leaders should be bold, preparing us for the high fuel and energy bills that climate-change policies necessitate, and finding ways to shield the poor, Kevin Rudd toys with lowering the GST on the excise on petrol, and adopts a scheme from WA of dubious merit.
The pity is WA has much better ideas to offer the nation. It has done more to tackle an entrenched car culture than any other state. Its hyperactive and hyperbright Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Alannah MacTiernan, has not just talked about getting people out of their cars, improving public transport and building railways. She's done it.
While Bob Carr and Morris Iemma have announced, then abandoned, a series of public transport strategies over 11 years, and delivered instead tollways and tunnels, crushing traffic congestion, and diminished train services, MacTiernan has almost doubled the size of the Perth railway network in seven years. Her crowning glory is the 72-kilometre Perth-Mandurah rail link through Australia's fastest-growing urban region, that opened in December. She launched the project and six years later rode the first train.
Under her watch, Perth has also got an extension and spurs to the northern suburban rail line that was built in the 1990s by the previous state Labor government; a series of gleaming new stations, including one in the city that makes our Town Hall station seem even worse; an integrated ticket system, still a pipedream in Sydney; and an enviable $80 million investment in a bicycle path network.
Perth also has free city buses, paid through a levy on parking spaces. And its TravelSmart scheme is now franchised around Australia and overseas to help people reduce their car use. (Part of it involves personal phone calls to new residents in a suburb to see if they want to participate in the scheme; if they do, they get appropriate information about public transport options and timetables). That scheme alone has led to annual reductions of 30 million car trips, and seven million more hours of cycling or walking.
If ever there was a car-dependent city, it was Perth. I should know. I grew up there, a non-driver right until I left in my 20s. My most miserable memories are of waiting endlessly at suburban Perth bus stops. Buses were a bit like Godot. The (Charles) Court Liberal government was so dismissive of public transport, it shut down the train line that ran from Perth to Fremantle in the late 1970s. When I left Perth to live in Manhattan, I thought I had landed in heaven: a city of non-drivers who walked or used the brilliant underground subway system.
The challenge MacTiernan faced, given Perth's car culture and its mindset, could hardly have been greater. Just about the only thing she is not responsible for in WA is FuelWatch. Her planning and infrastructure roles, which she has held since 2001, have put her at the centre of WA's boom, and she was determined to make a difference.
Back in 1995, she came to the realisation that demand for oil would inevitably outstrip supply. (It was a book called The Decline Of The Age Of Oil by West Australian Brian Fleay that convinced her long before most of us had heard about "peak oil"). Climate change as well as the need to combat Perth's sprawl stiffened her resolve to provide the city and suburbs with first-class public transport. "Practically and financially it's unsustainable to rely on fossil fuel," she said.
Like a prophet in her own land, MacTiernan has gone through hell. The West Australian, the city's only daily newspaper, and the local ABC, were virulent critics of the Perth-Mandurah train line, aided and abetted by a coterie of Tory engineers and militant unionists. Nothing was off-limits to the critics, including MacTiernan's hairstyle. From China, where she was celebrating on Thursday the delivery of the first iron-ore shipment from Andrew Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group, she likened herself to a "soldier at the Somme; you go over the hill, dodge the bullets, regroup and fight another day". Now Perthites love the train, and MacTiernan said that on taking the inaugural trip two days before Christmas, she felt she "had done something right".
It is possible FuelWatch is useful at the margins in providing consumers with information. But it's inconsequential compared with weaning people off petrol, reconfiguring our cities, and supporting the less advantaged in outer suburbia. MacTiernan got it - Perth is on the way; Carr and Iemma missed the boat; Brendan Nelson doesn't get it. And Rudd has crumbled. Urban planning, public transport and cultural change are critical, not knocking a cent or two off the petrol price.

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