Australia is being let down by poor public transport infrastructure

I have spent the last month travelling around Europe, visiting 12 different cities and the thing this has taught me is that Australia’s public transport is not up to scratch.  The question must be asked why do Governments continue to build more an more roads (usually toll roads these days) instead of providing real public transport solutions?

In most cities there is a wide range of public transport including overland trains (similar to our train systems), metro trains (regular underground services), trams, buses and in some instances trolley buses.  The question I ask myself is why has Australia largely shunned the tram and totally neglected the metro rail system.  An underground rail system which runs regularly (say every five minutes) and is high speed has real potential to move passengers and to remove cars from the road.  I’m no environmentalist but I do think it’s important to remove traffic from the roads and to move a greater number of people (especially as our cities continue to grow) without adding to the traffic gridlock and with consideration to our environmental impact.

In all cities I have seen that the regular tram service which again runs every 5 to 10 minutes are usually full, moving many citizens.  Both trams and underground trains are efficient ways to move around these cities and it is also comforting to know (especially if you have to get to a meeting I’d imagine) that if you miss one you only have to wait another five minutes.  Compare this with Australia, you miss your bus or train you have to wait a further half an hour, if you want to make that meeting you are going to have to drive or get a cab.

The transport systems are also very well integrated in these European cities, something which in Australia in most instances they are not.  You arrive at the overland or international train station, there is usually a tram stop out the front and an underground train station below many times there will also be bus staitions.  You then get out of the metro station and there is a tram station out the front.  In an environment such as this why would you contemplate driving into the city centres when it’s all so easy, plus you don’t have to pay for parking?

This is not to say there still isn’t traffic problems, in Munich I saw some terrible gridlock but at least you have the option not to get caught up in this.

I think of my own example in Brisbane, it currently takes me 10 to 15 minutes to get to work each day however I pay a $2.90 toll each way.  If I were to not use this toll bridge I would probably add 30 to 45 minutes on to my trip each day.  If I were to catch public transport I would probably add around 45 minutes to an hour.  However, if I had the option to get quickly to the city and then efficiently to Eagle Farm which took say 30 minutes and cost much less than the $5.80 I pay each day to get to and from work of course I would do it and this is not considering the cost of petrol I would save also.

I realise that Government’s use toll roads to create significant revenue and they rely on revenue from vehicle registration however, I seriously doubt many would get rid of their vehicles if quality public transport was introduced (they would use them a lot less) and they could make significant revenue from the filling up of this quality public transport.

I think that the approach by Governments has to be fewer roads and a significant improvement in public transport amenity.  I must give kudos to the Queensland Government because their Busways are an excellent means of moving to and from the city efficiently.  In saying this, these systems shouldn’t be being built now when our roads are at capacity, they should have been built years ago in anticipation of how our population was going to grow and how stretched our roads would become.  I am sure the same applies in Brisbane as it does across most major cities in Australia.

Cameron Kusher

About Tim Lawless

Tim heads up the RP Data research and analytics team, analysing real estate markets, demographics and economic trends across Australia

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5 Responses to Australia is being let down by poor public transport infrastructure

  1. Paul Hynter October 24, 2009 at 8:28 pm #

    Your observations about european transport systems are so very true. The big differentiator though is distance. European cities are so much denser than ours (which are a sprawl). Add to that our small population and taxation base, and it starts to make sense why things are the way they are here. (I’m not defending it, just saying it makes sense).

    That said, Gee I too would love the convenience of the european transit systems here in Australia.

    Now if RP Data could actually do something about it, I’d even subscribe for life.


  2. Paul Sawtell October 26, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

    The solutions you advocate represent 19th century “solutions” to 21st C. problems and are clearly the wrong way to go. Cars provide individuals with the freedom and flexibility to choose precisely from where and to where they wish to travel and when and afford the ability to vary destination and travel goals. They provide carrying capacity for items that are an impediment to public transport travel. While somewhat modernised, trams trains and buses differ little in their capacity to provide those freedoms than did the earlier versions in the latter years of the 19th century. Your advocacy of them reflects the failure of many planners who rely on dictating to the public how they will be behave in all aspects of their life, to come to grips with the real problem and the real solution. That is to provide a public transport sytem that delivers all the travel flexibility and freedom of the private car, while limiting its impact on our lives.

  3. Veronica Morgan October 27, 2009 at 8:22 pm #

    I think most people who have travelled in Europe or parts of Asia such as Singapore, Hong Kong or Japan have noted the stark contrast between their public transport infrastucture and our own. But the fact is that we have a significantly smaller population who predominantly want to have their own block of land – hence urban sprawl.

    I am a buyers’ agent in Sydney and like to focus my clients’ attention on the transport options that currently exist, not those promised and remaining undelivered by successions of governments.

    A recent article on the subject by Fairfax journalist Lisa Carty prompted me to add her comments to my blog:

  4. Marty October 30, 2009 at 8:23 am #

    I have migrated from Germany few years ago. I was always wondering how has developed the public transport system and what city planners are doing to fix. First they develop new estates without developing the infrastructure or providing for adequate public transport or later they put easements on your properties to widen the roads. Also, I travel against the traffic to work in the morning/afternoon using toll roads and wonder every day how people can cope getting stuck in traffic twice a day 5 day’s of the week. If there would alternative and affordable transport solutions, I’m sure that many of those using the car to get to work would take that option. Of course public transport can not replace your car to do your shopping, visiting friends or weekend get aways but due to population growth the cities housing will get more dense, larger blocks will be subdivided and/or more villas/houses will be replaced by apartments and there is limited space to widen roads the respective government body should do right thing be their citizens sooner rather than later.

  5. Steve November 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Easy answer.
    Australians love cars.
    Providing car based infrastructure wins votes.
    Taking away that infrastructure or pushing Australian voters toward alternatives is seen as an attack on their car driving rights and is political suicide.
    The way forward in all Australian cities is to remove access via personal vehicles (or penalise it) and to replace this access via alternative means (public transport etc) at highly discounted prices. I look out my window currently and see 6 lanes, all clogged by cars and every so often a bus with no passengers in it (or very few).

    One day, maybe a poliitician will actually get the idea that providing motor vehicle infrastructure is not a solution to congestion, but is instead the cause.

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