Monday, January 23, 2006

A city going nowhere fast: Sydney Morning Herald series on Sydney's transport requirements and deficiencies does good work in laying out the basics. Its a bit sad that a corporate media outlet has to do this rather than a government or university department. There isnt much new in the conclusions: public transport good, private cars bad. But its a broken politico-economic system which fails to acknowledge these realities, and its been broken for a long time. As the planet heats up and fossil fuels deplete, these issues and concerns must rise to the top of the agenda.

In an update, the Herald spells out problem in regard to political and public attitudes:

A big shift in public attitudes on at least two issues is required: public transport and taxation. The city is relying less on public transport and more on cars, and the best way to reverse this trend is with prices.

The report says motorists now get "heavy subsidies" for using the road. They are receiving what economists call an inappropriate price signal - that is, the true cost of the activity is not being felt by the user. The cost of using a car needs to reflect the full social and economic cost of driving. If this is done, public transport should gain a big price advantage over cars and therefore more people will be encouraged to use it. But embedded cultural expectations - especially the growing emphasis on comfort and convenience - count against public transport.

The centre's modelling suggests that in the future motorists will have to pay much, much more for the privilege of driving. Attitudes to taxation and government debt will have to shift. The report says the public has settled for a "trade-off": balanced books but worsening transport.

This trade-off will hurt us more unless we accept higher taxes, and/or more government debt to improve transport infrastructure. The Government's headache with the Cross City Tunnel shows charging more for car use will create political problems. Lifting other taxes, or public borrowing, to fund transport will also have a political cost. But as gridlock worsens, politicians may have no choice.

We don't necessarily have a lot of time - problems such as these have to be addressed as early as possible, ie starting from now.

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