Hell on wheels
Herald-Sun, 2 June 2008
TRAFFIC jams, crowded trains, tortoise-like trams and the escalating cost of petrol are part of the daily grind for Melbourne commuters.
Time spent commuting means less time at home with the family. And with petrol tipped to hit $2 a litre by Christmas, the increasing amount of money spent on fuel is biting deep in family budgets.
Families are now paying for the lack of vision shown by past governments.
We have built big sprawling cities around freeways. We put all our eggs into one basket -- the family car.
Governments are now being forced to play catch-up to lessen our reliance on private vehicles and to provide people with other options for getting around their cities and towns.
Labor's working families are looking for answers. And after talking a big game, both Kevin Rudd and John Brumby are under pressure to deliver.
The recent federal Budget offered hope, with some big financial commitments for big projects.
Treasurer Wayne Swan allocated $20 billion to a new infrastructure fund, and $75 million for planning works on a series of key urban projects around the country.
The big test will come when this huge pot of money is divvied up, and we see how much is destined for fixing the transport problems of Australian cities.
The Federal Government's message on urban congestion lost some of its shine when Mr Swan squibbed on the issue of the generous fringe benefits tax for company cars.
This tax concession encourages employees to drive to work and burn more fossil fuel rather than catch public transport, ride, or car-pool.
A number of groups, including the Tourism and Transport Forum and the Australian Conservation Foundation, have been calling for the abolition of this tax incentive.
Recently, the powerful Productivity Commission, not exactly known for hard-line green policy positions, also added its voice to the chorus.
Meanwhile, Melbourne commuters desperately need short-term solutions to help them get around an increasingly congested city.
In an effort to keep both private vehicles and public transport moving, Premier John Brumby has extended clearway hours on key arterial roads.
Urban congestion is having a major effect on the efficiency of the tram network, so freeing up more road space will have a positive impact on tram travel times.
In response, local vested interests and political opportunists have formed a noisy, unholy alliance to keep road space reserved for car parking.
At the same time, the usual anti-development suspects have come out strongly against Sir Rod Eddington's recommendations for new road and rail tunnels to improve transport access to the booming western suburbs.
Mr Brumby has not yet committed to these badly needed projects, preferring to send the recommendation back out for more community consultation.
With vocal interest groups pushing their own agendas on all of these issues, the risk is Mr Rudd will retreat on urban transport infrastructure and tax reform, and Mr Brumby will buckle on clearways and the Eddington report.
Frustrated commuters should not let this happen. They need to stand up and be counted if they want to see better roads and better public transport.
They must let Kevin Rudd and John Brumby know that an angry commuter is an angry voter.
Stewart Prins, National Manager, Transport, Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF)