Connecting communities

Local Government, Transport and the Environment

On 31st May, Friends of Banyule (FOB) held the second in its series of public events with the guest speaker on this occasion, current Banyule Mayor, Tom Melican.

Tom is well-versed in the topic of transport and the environment and how groups and residents can best connect and interact with governments at the local, state and federal levels to pursue better solutions for their communities.

Tom is convener of the Metropolitan Transport Forum (MTF), a coalition of metropolitan Councils and interested parties that explores and promotes more sustainable and integrated transport solutions for Melbourne and the region.

He puts the need for more sustainable transport into practice, commuting to work by bicycle to the city on a on a daily basis. He sees the need to provide people, particularly in developing growth corridors to the north and east with effective public transport infrastructure. He is critical of governments of all political persuasions for not maintaining sufficient spending on public transport for the past several decades, the need for catch up now being urgent. At current rates of population growth, the situation was unsustainable.

However, what concerns our Mayor, is that transport spending over recent years has been on freeways at the expense of more efficient and less polluting rail, bus, cycling, walking and public transport alternatives. Some of these such as Doncaster Rail, duplication of the Hurst Bridge Line etc could be built at lower cost. Connectivity between transport modes was also seen as key to providing a more integrated transport system overall.

The building of more freeways such as North East Link through public parkland (which is in his view is not sufficiently valued as a community well being environmental resource) as well as built up areas, would only succeed in splitting communities along the route in two and, adding more traffic to already crowded arterial roads including the Eastern Freeway. He noted that Vic roads in his view were allowing increasing traffic congestion on Rosanna Rd to get worse (eg; since widening Greensborough Highway and Yan Yean Rd, completion of East Link etc), effectively increasing pressure from residents to push for the freeway option (it was noted that as the likely operating date was potentially almost a decade away, congestion would worsen if VicRoads took no action on traffic management in the meantime).

He noted there were powerful lobby groups including Dept. of Transport VicRoads, RACV, road contractors, freight operators and other organisations which apply significant pressure on governments at all levels to continue building roads instead of public transport, the East West Link, road tunnel/freeway being a current example. At a cost of around $10b for the proposed road, a similar amount to the NE Link through Banyule (the next dots to join on VicRoads map), there were insufficient funds available. Infrastructure Australia the federal government's funding arm, having previously refused funding for either of these projects. This would make it more likely he said if they did proceed, they would be built above ground. It was also likely they would be tolled roads to provide a return to investors if built as Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). On a cost benefit basis, the figures did not add up in providing value for taxpayer dollars of infrastructure spending.

The cost of congestion including parking, should also be considered in any comparisons with public transport in infrastructure spending he noted, citing situations overseas including London where road pricing measures had reduced congestion and major metro rail and bus services provided efficient public transport, moving large numbers of people. Large volumes of passenger vehicles are the major causes of congestion. The freight & Logistics Council recognises this and advocates for public transport to reduce car numbers and overall congestion.

The Victorian Government he said does not have "Plan B", further expanding outer suburbs without sufficient infrastructure and missing out on federal funding. The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) does not have any   effective transport policy, leaving development to the State Government or lobby groups.

Local groups he said needed to the counter the powerful lobby organisations mentioned who dominate the print and electronic media. Residents and community groups needed to lobby governments at local and state levels as well as well the federal level, raising the profile of these issues in the media and acting collectively to ensure that their voice is heard.

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