Building a transport network to support Sydney’s surging population

Speech to the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Convention

Topic: How effective does TTF believe that the current infrastructure spend on metros, trams, buses and trains will be in meeting Sydney’s public transport needs as the city’s population grows from 5 million to 6 million?

Introduction

Thank you Glen (Dawe) for that kind introduction.

And thank you for the kind invitation to be with you this evening and to be asked to once again address this gathering.

What great timing for me to be here to speak to you this evening just a couple of weeks after the annual TTF & UITPANZ Australian Transport Summit.

Each year we gather together some of the leading players in the transport industry to discuss the big issues shaping the sector.

This year our theme was innovation and technological disruption and its impact on public transport.

I certainly came away from the day excited about the future of public transport and I feel that Sydney is positioning itself as, if not a global leader of the public transport revolution underway, definitely as the leader in Australia.

We should expect no less from Australia’s global city.

It’s just in the nick of time too because we do face an immense challenge in our cities.

That challenge is the rapidly growing cost of congestion in Sydney – estimated to be nearly $12.6 billion by 2030 – double what it is today.

A growing city is a sign of success but we know through the daily experience of travelling around Sydney that a side-effect of a growing city is slower roads and overcrowded trains, buses, ferries and trams.

This is the challenge we need to meet head on with not just extra capacity in more buses, trains, new railway lines and motorways but innovation and technology that allows us to maximise the benefit of the billions of dollars we’ve already invested in our existing transport infrastructure.

We had so many false starts with the development of our electronic ticketing system – does anyone remember the ill-fated T-Card?

In fact, one of my TTF colleagues who was a journalist in the late 90s recounts when the then Transport Minister Carl Scully came to him with a story of “the electronic card that was going to revolutionise Sydney” and it was going to be ready in time for the Olympics!

The “Best Olympics Ever!” came and went and we still didn’t have an electronic ticketing system in Sydney. It did seem through the “naughties” that Sydney would not get its act together and that we’d be stuck with the 20th century paper tickets system indefinitely.

Fast forward 16 years later from the 2000 Olympics and we’ve finally completed the transition to Opal with the end of paper tickets finally phased out earlier this year.

Where Sydney was the follower on electronic ticketing, behind Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, now we are seeing Sydney surge ahead to establish itself as the leader in the innovation and its applications to public transport.

We’ve got open loop ticketing being trialled next year on the Sydney transport network – “open loop” is the techno-babble way of saying you can use your credit card to tap on and off rather than a dedicated transport card.

This is the next logical step after Opal to empowering people to use public transport by removing one of the key conscious decision making barriers to public transport – do I have a ticket? Do I need to top up? Do I need to queue?

The answer to these questions will soon be no if you have any form of money card in your wallet.

Now that every business seems to have a loyalty card being able to get rid of transport cards will be a godsend to our bulging wallets.

The roll out of this technology is most advanced in London, where it has about a 30 per cent penetration.

But you’d certainly expect that in Australia where contactless payments has been very popular and we have a culture of rapid technological uptake that we will quickly match and exceed the experience in London.

What is also a step-change is the brand new attitude from Government towards open data.

Instead of jealously guarding all that valuable information on train, bus, ferry and tram services from transport users, the NSW Government is making it publicly available to app developers.

Just in the last month, we’ve seen the latest application of that new approach with Opal data being used to show how full approaching buses are. This is now being rolled out through transport apps to provide value-add to these services.

As they say in the classics, knowledge is power.

Empowering travellers with what is going on with their buses and trains makes public transport more accessible and more trustworthy.

Half of the frustration of public transport in the past has been not knowing the reason why the bus hasn’t shown up or why it didn’t stop to pick you up.

Now we can access this information in real-time and respond accordingly by making alternative arrangements or delaying travel which, I believe, helps take some of the uncertainty of public transport and makes it a more competitive offering with the personal car.

The other exciting technological revolution is the rapid emergence of autonomous vehicles.

And that is not just limited to cars but trains and buses will be increasingly autonomous as we move forward.

Sydney will have its first autonomous trains by 2019 with the first stage of the Sydney Metro North West is opened and that will then expand to the South West to the Bankstown Line.

Perth is currently trialling autonomous electric shuttle buses – an Australian first.

And Uber, Tesla and Google are hard at work on the roll out of autonomous cars on the road which has the potential to provide more efficient transport management of the road network and maximise the use of the assets through less down-time and through the sharing economy – getting more bums on seats per vehicle rather than a collection of single drivers.

The challenge for transport planners is how to manage the community response to this rapidly changing world of transport technology.

We know that Australians are reasonably happy to embrace technology that makes payment for services easier but how will they response to driverless technology?

We will no doubt find out soon enough because it’s coming at us like a runaway freight train.

That’s the future, now let’s talk about the present state of public transport.

The state of public transport – Is public transport getting better in Sydney?

Let’s face it, Sydneysiders love to criticise things.

One of our favour targets is the daily commute and public transport.

Twitter – which has become the online complaints department for everything– is awash with every delayed bus and every train cancellation.

It even has a clever hashtag – #cityfail – a pun on the now defunct CityRail that lives on under the rebranded Sydney Trains.

But under the torrent of Twitter negativity is a story of a steadily improving public transport experience in Sydney.

Anyone who knows me, knows I love a good survey.

Ahead of our Australian Transport Summit last month, we commissioned a short survey on public transport nationwide.

The breakdown of results for NSW I thought are particularly interesting.

We asked 300 people in NSW how they would rate public transport in their city.

A surprising 52 per cent said it was either good or very good.

30 per cent said it was average.

But only 13 per cent said it was bad or very bad. So much for Twitter!

We asked if people thought public transport has improved over the past five years.

48 per cent said it had improved.

35 per cent said it had stayed the same.

Only 7 per cent said it was worse.

Another question that I think is particularly of interest to transport planners is the fare box return. Are travellers willing to pay higher fares for better services?

From our survey results, I believe the public can be persuaded.

Again these are figures specific to NSW.

42 per cent said they were willing to pay higher fares for better public transport services.

30 per cent wanted to pay less.

But, and I believe this is where the potential is, 28 per cent said they were unsure.

With nearly one in three people unsure about what they are willing to pay for public transport, there is an opportunity for the NSW Government to continue to demonstrate value for money with improved services, new infrastructure and the adoption of innovative solutions that give people more control over their travel.

Sydneysiders are pragmatic enough to recognise that we don’t get world-class public transport for nothing, we’ve all got to chip in.

We do need to move towards a more financially sustainable public transport system especially if we want to see it expanded with new light rail and metro routes and brand new trains, buses, ferries and trams to meet the demands of our growing city.

Sydney has never been short of transport projects.

Since the days of John Bradfield, transport planners have drawn lines on maps of Sydney, usually train lines, and very few of these projects have come to fruition.

And we don’t even need to go back to the 1920s or 1930s. Let’s just go back less than 20 years.

Does anyone remember the Carr Government’s integrated transport plan for Sydney?

It was called Action for Transport 2010. It released in 1998 ahead of the 1999 State Election?

The plan listed eight rail projects all to be completed or commenced by 2010.

The first one is the Airport Line, but that would have already been under construction and paid for by private finance.

Bondi Beach Railway to open by 2002. The plan even says it was already under construction or under development!

Parramatta Rail Link to Epping and Chatswood by 2006. We got half the link at twice the price in 2009.

Hornsby to Newcastle High Speed Rail – stage one to Warnervale by 2007, Stage 2 to Newcastle to start by 2010!

North West Rail Link Epping to Castle Hill by 2010. We’ll finally have this rail line as a driverless metro route in 2019.

Sutherland to Wollongong High Speed Rail by 2010.

Hurstville to Strathfield railway – start in 2010, finish in 2014.

And last the Liverpool Y Link start in 2010. We are still waiting for a 850 metre length of rail to allow trains to run north from the East Hills line to the South Line.

So basically, one and a half of these projects have been delivered and opened in the past 20 years.

Two and a half if you want to be generous and throw in the South West Rail Link that wasn’t on the list.

It’s really no wonder that Sydneysiders are sceptical about public transport promises.

Our city might be a completely different place if these projects had been delivered on time and on budget as promised.

Instead we find ourselves only now starting to sprint away from the starting line long after the pistol has been fired.

Planning for Sydney’s growth

I must commend the current NSW Government on their commitment to get moving on expanding our public transport network.

After a decade of ‘will we or won’t we’ transport projects, the North West Rail Link, now rebranded Sydney Metro North West, has finished tunnelling and construction of the train stations is underway.

And the CBD and Eastern Suburbs Light Rail is under construction with the first tracks laid in Kensington last month.

A great project that will improve transport access through the main street of the CBD and link key precincts such as the University of NSW, the health precinct and the sports and entertainment precinct at Moore Park.

On the immediate horizon is the expansion of the Metro across the Harbour with new stations in the CBD and Waterloo and the conversion of the Bankstown Line to the Sydney Metro South West.

The development of a Western Sydney Light Rail network with the first stage between Parramatta/Westmead and Strathfield via Olympic Park is an exciting development for the burgeoning suburbs in Sydney’s west.

But the question must be asked are we moving fast enough and will this be enough to support the growth of our city over the coming decades?

The NSW Government’s $20 billion infrastructure plan supported by the asset-recycling of the state’s electricity assets is a welcome kick-start.

Freeing up capital in ‘lazy assets” and investing it in new transport infrastructure is the common sense approach to helping meet our infrastructure backlog but it’s probably not going to be enough on its own.

With metro rail projects costing $10 billion or more a piece, a $20 billion infrastructure fund doesn’t get you as far as you might think.
We must see greater transport investment in Western Sydney and the current project line up doesn’t’ quiet deliver on that goal.

Only last week, the NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance stated that capacity on the Western Line – the main rail corridor between the Sydney CBD, Parramatta and Penrith – will be exhausted in 15 years.

According to projections, trains will be full by the time they reach Parramatta from the outer western suburbs of Sydney.

By 2036, there will be a 300,000 jobs deficit in Western Sydney and nearly half a million people – mostly professionals travelling long distances – will be forced to leave Western Sydney each day to get to work.

The Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek is the great white hope to make a lasting dent in this jobs deficit.

If we get the Airport right and we can attract thousands of new smart jobs to the surrounding employment precinct that will dramatically change the dynamic of lifestyles in the greater west.

But, and there is always a but, a new airport in Western Sydney only adds to the list of transport projects we need.

The key to the success of the Airport will be the connectivity to Parramatta and the Sydney CBD – and that means fast rail.

So no matter which way you look at it, we need a major piece of new rail infrastructure to the west.

The Federal and NSW Governments are expected to be releasing a rail options study in coming weeks for linking in the airport.

And the NSW Government is updating the long-term transport plan for release next year.

So all this will inevitable come down to money. Where will it be coming from?

Clearly we need greater funding involvement from the Federal Government.

TTF has been very pleased to see that we’ve now have a Federal Government that can say the words ‘public transport’ without choking on its cornflakes.

But there is a long way to go between talking about public transport and actually funding public transport.

The economic case for this investment, even in a time of debt and deficit, has been made repeatedly by economic experts, think tanks and the like.

The most powerful voice has been Former RBA Governor Glen Stevens who has called for the Government to invest in economy-expanding infrastructure at a time of record low interest rates and cheap money.

That sounds like a no brainer and yet our politicians are trapping themselves in their “household budget” view of economics – debt bad, surplus good.

The national interest in calling out for the turbo-charging of infrastructure investment and it is time for the Federal Government to answer the call.

By no means, do we expect Government to shoulder the entire burden of funding infrastructure.

The private sector and its financial capital must be utilised. As I’ve already described, asset-recycling has been an indirect way of tapping into private capital.

We need to see more contestability of existing public transport services to make them more efficient and free up capital to reinvest in services.

This is an approach that Infrastructure Australia CEO Phil Davies said they were advocating for in his opening address at our Australian Transport Summit last month.

The private sector has a proven track record across Australia and internationally for the good management and efficient operation of public transport.

One of TTF’s most recent research pieces with our partner L.E.K Consulting was a report into the benefits of private sector involvement in the franchising of bus services.

Our analysis argues that there is the potential for $1 billion in savings over five years through the franchising of Australia’s remaining public-operated bus networks.

Sydney Buses is one of the biggest publicly-operated bus networks and one with the most potential for savings. Which we calculate to be about half of that $1 billion in savings on its own.

Half a billion dollars that can be reinvested into more buses or elsewhere in the public transport network is not something to be sneezed at.

Sydney Ferries has already been taken down the franchise route with positive results according to the NSW Auditor-General and bus services are the next logical candidate.

And the Sydney Metro will be the first rail line in the city to be managed by a private operator which will be able to show the travelling public that the private sector can deliver a reliable and superior service for their tax dollars.

And finally, value capture is the latest buzz term when it comes to transport infrastructure.

This is one to watch whether we are able to use the increase in land-value and development around new public transport to effectively fund that infrastructure.

The Western Sydney Light Rail is shaping up as the likely test case with the potential development of Camelia from industrial to a new residential and commercial precinct and continuing development at Sydney Olympic Park.

Value capture is a term that gets thrown around as a possible solution but no one is quite sure how to make it work in practice and get community buy in for the concept especially when developers are not the most beloved of people in Sydney.

Conclusion

As one of our leaders might say, there has never been a more exciting time to be in public transport.

We are experiencing a renaissance in public transport that is being spearheaded by new technology and innovation that is opening up what has been a black box for many people.

There are some great new projects currently under construction and many more on the drawing board.

The challenge we must meet is time. We’ve squandered so much of it over the past two decades and I’m not sure we are making up for it fast enough.

We will need some bold thinking, a willingness to engage the private sector in new funding methods to make it all happen.

I believe we are on the right track.

The people of Sydney will start to see momentum building as the metro and the light rail come online and then the next stages start construction.

Let’s hope we can meet the challenge of our growing city.

Thank you.