The West Australian government announced this week that it is abandoning it’s light rail plans for Perth and instead pursuing buses because they are cheaper.
But is it true that buses deliver as much as light rail? That is an interesting transport question.
Is designing transport just about moving people, or it is about what kind of city we want?
The West Australian transport minister was potentially visiting Las Vegas to see their bus system with a view to adopting it here in Perth.
There are lots of places you could visit to get a better idea on this than Las Vegas.Las Vegas is a sprawling city with one main industry.
There are no urban villages in Las Vegas: It’s designed around getting in and out of gaming and casino centres. It comes as no surprise to me, in a city that doesn’t have a very good developmental record, that it went for the quick and dirty option that cheats the city of growth opportunity.
Las Vegas is a transient place, which lacks ambience. The way a city is designed also determines the types of jobs that it creates. There are no knowledge economy or technology jobs in Las Vegas. Successful economically diverse cities put the transport in place to facilitate certain kinds of economic activity.
Perth needs to be looking at vibrant and economically diverse cities and understand how they designed their transport systems to facilitate that.
The real question around transport is: What offers better developmental bang for buck? Not which is the cheapest way to move people around.
Pursuing buses in lieu of light rail shows a lack of understanding about how transport choices shape a city and its economic activity. It’s not just about bang for buck as a people moving exercise. Light rail, critically and distinctly, facilitates development around it -density and urban village centres. Buses can never do that.
Perth needs knowledge economy jobs and rail is the golden goose for the knowledge economy. Peter Newman wrote about how we can use the private sector to help fund the light rail in Perth. Cities that have the technology, services and university educated jobs, have higher density, and you cant get those densities without rail mass transit.
If busways are pursued, once the bus lanes are put down they will become traffic arteries not walkable neighbourhoods. People want urban village centres.
Buses don’t facilitate land development, in fact they hamper it, because routes can easily change, and development therefore is reluctant catalyse around it.
Light rail shows a commitment to a city growing, putting in place a more permanent public transport, it allows land use planning to really be optimised.
There are also many economic and financial benefits for the government in developing light rail, in the form of additional council rates and stamp duty from land development. Light rail pushes up land values and allows for more dense built form, and so a windfall economic gain for government. Financial analysis shows that these benefits far outweigh the costs.
If the government has $1.2bn to spend it would be far better off spending $1.2bn on light rail and involve the private sector in building, owning and operating it using innovative funding mechanisms such as tax-increment financing.
Vision and leadership are needed here or we will sink capital into buses only to have to spend the money on light rail later and cost the taxpayer more in the long run. Not just financially, but in the kind of city we are left with.
« Australia and competitive cities