Moving People: Solutions for a growing Australia – Australian perspectives on sustainable transportation

When it comes to both old and new mobility, Australia offers an interesting case. Along with a group of countries that may seem surprisingly mixed at first glance, and which would include of course the perennial United States with the spacious Canada right in its footsteps, but which also a number of the Nordic countries and in particular Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland who have followed the toxic combination of personal wealth and ubiquitous cars to the extent in which it has in many ways locked them into an all-car no-choice system, the Australian mobility pattern is right up there with the “best” of them. But life moves on and in every one of these countries you will now find a growing number of individuals and groups who are questioning the old ways. Have a look at this sample of leading edge new mobility thinking in Australia. We find it both refreshing and instructive.

Moving People: Solutions for a growing Australia

* Note: the full 81 page report is available at

National land transport policy issues and directions

Australia’s current land transport systems are not sustainable in economic, environmental or social terms. To substantially improve the sustainability of Australia’s land transport systems, national land transport policy for at least the next decade needs to be framed around outcomes:

a. Congestion management: to manage congestion costs, improving economic competitiveness and quality of life in our cities;
b. Environmental improvement: to achieve substantial cuts in transport greenhouse gas emissions;
c. Social inclusion: to ensure adequate accessibility options are available for all Australians (and international visitors);
d. Health & safety: to make the transport system safe and encourage healthier transport choices; and,
e. Energy security: to increase our energy security by reducing our reliance on imported fossil fuels.

This report focuses primarily on the people elements of the land transport task.

The key Policy Objectives that are required to improve the sustainability of our transport systems are:

• Changing the modal balance for transport away from such a high dependence on motor vehicles;
• Improving the environmental performance of all transport modes but particularly of cars and trucks; and
• Ensuring that travel opportunities are available to all, irrespective of personal circumstances.

These three policy objectives can be translated into six major Program Directions:

i. Reducing the demand for travel
a. Land use planning (increased density, co-location)
b. Maximising opportunities for walking and cycling
ii. Achieving a shift to lower carbon transport modes
a. Cars to public transport, walking and cycling
b. Trucks to rail
iii. Improving vehicle utilisation
a. Higher car occupancy
b. More efficient freight movements
iv. Reducing vehicle emissions intensity
a. More efficient vehicles
b. Smaller passenger vehicles
c. Alternative fuels
d. Intelligent transport systems
e. Better driving practices
v. Increasing mobility opportunities
a. Provision of reasonable base public transport service levels
b. Using existing public transport opportunities (e.g. school and community buses) more effectively
vi. Creating a more sustainable freight network
a. Focus on freight movement to ports, hubs and to connect key manufacturing/distribution centres

A seven point national plan

These initiatives would be encouraged by the following National Land Transport Seven Point Plan.

1. Increased investment in public transport. (see Sections 2.7 and 4)
2. Freight capacity investment and efficiency improvements (see sections 3.2.3 and 3.2.7)
3. Road pricing reform, and reallocation of road space to prioritise low emission modes (see Section 3.2.3, 3.2.7 and 5.4)
4. Improved accessibility for all with the establishment of Regional Accessibility Planning Councils, behavioural change programs. (see Sections 3.2.1 and 3.2.5)
5. More compact, walking and cycling friendly urban settlements. (see Section 3.3)
6. Improved fuel efficiency. (see Section 3.2.4)
7. Improvements in transport research and information—implementation of a National Transport Research Program (see Section 5.2)

The public transport role

Australian public transport systems and services must play a larger role in future national land transport solutions, as a key means of improving the sustainability of these systems. Service improvements must be delivered in an efficient manner, to assure value for money to governments and the community.

Public transport system and service development should encompass:

• delivering improved customer service;
• investing in network extension and service
• enhancements; making better use of existing infrastructure;
• driving improved land use and transport planning; and,
• maximising value for money for Government.

The report outlines a range of ways in which Australian public transport services can be improved to enable the sector to enhance the sustainability of Australia’s land transport systems. It also identifies ways in which public transport service efficiency can be improved.

Following the lead now being provided by COAG, Federal and State funding support for the implementation of substantially improved public transport systems and services should be dependent upon both the existence of State integrated strategic planning systems, including land use and transport systems, and also upon the existence of programs that help to assure efficient service delivery is achieved. Benchmarking can help to provide this assurance and should be part of the assessment criteria for any funding request to the Federal Government to assist upgrade public transport systems/services.

The case for federal funding

The sustainability issues confronting Australia’s land transport systems are very significant and growing in magnitude. They affect all Australians. While the cities are the areas of greatest concern, regional and rural areas also confront many of the issues (e.g. the road toll, greenhouse gas emissions, social exclusion, economic competitiveness related to infrastructure provision and energy security). Because of the scale and geographical spread of these issues, national policy and program responses are required for effective solutions. This must, involve the Federal Government showing leadership and working in partnership with others. Some issues require a specific Federal policy and program response. The sheer scale of the financial requirement means that state-based budgets wil not be sufficient to equip Australia’s cities with adequate transport services.

The recently announced Federal provision of over $4 billion towards a number of transformational urban public transport initiatives under the Building Australia Fund, on recommendation from Infrastructure Australia, demonstrates that the Federal Government recognises the importance of transformational change. The December 2009 COAG Communique supports this acceptance.

Programming for outcomes

Federal government involvement in land transport must contribute to the resolution of a number of national issues that are severely impacted by land transport services/ system performance. The following national land transport program structure is proposed.

The chart indicates the alignment between the critical national land transport issues and the proposed outcome-based response programs. A program structured along these lines encourages an integrated, “modally-agnostic” approach to the pursuit of solutions to land transport problems, which is important for achieving transformational change—as distinct from an approach that is simply more of the same. Program elements in each area would need to include a wide range of measures for maximum effectiveness. This would include measures associated with (for example) infrastructure improvement, system regulation, and operations management, etc. A clear set of national key performance indicators should be developed and monitored, to measure progress against these critical policy goals.

Because of the long time period that will be required to implement many of the changes (especially those related to developing more compact urban land use patterns), long term funding commitments will be fundamental to the achievement of effective outcomes. Rolling five year Federal funding commitments, with provisions to guarantee minimum flows, will be vital to driving transformational change. These should support State/ Territory (and local government in some cases) five year plans.

The national interest issues discussed in this report require transformational change, not simply “more of the same”. The focus for Federal funding support should be on capital assistance to projects that lead transformational change and improve the national interest outcomes identified in this report. In some cases this assistance will be the majority of the funding required for a particular initiative. In others it will simply be top-up funding, to support private sector funding. The top-up could be in recognition of identified external benefits from the initiatives in question that the private sector is unable to capture as in some port projects.

The Federal Government should not involve itself in the operation of land transport systems that are currently State/Territory or local government responsibilities but should influence the development direction of those systems in ways that contribute to better outcomes when assessed against the national interest issues raised in this report. In providing funding support along such lines, the Federal Government needs to assure itself that outcomes represent social value for money and that funding recipients do not simply substitute Federal money for State/Territory/local government money. The use of performance benchmarking, a comprehensive planning approach and subsequent performance monitoring can protect against these risks.

An important consideration in structuring Federal financial support for land transport infrastructure is whether to adopt a formula-based approach to distribution of funding allocations (primarily to States and Territories) or to rely on a bid process, where bids are submitted in accordance with pre-specified criteria and allocations are made to those proposals which best meet the criteria, irrespective of geography. The latter approach characterises the Infrastructure Australia approach. The former is closer to the basis for current Federal allocations of land transport financial assistance (basically road funding). An argument for including at least an element of formula funding within a Federal financial assistance program for land transport is that to do otherwise would unfairly penalise a jurisdiction that has put in additional past effort at its own expense and currently has a smaller backlog than others, simply because of greater effort. It is proposed that a part of Federal land transport financial assistance should continue to be formula-based and part be based on transport-plan based project submissions.

Sustainable funding—road pricing reform

A reformed transport pricing regime should become the basis of a sustainable approach to national land transport policy.

A reformed road pricing system should cover all vehicle classes and all costs attributable to road use.

Possible options to structure such a charging system include:

1. a use-based charge to cover carbon costs (the current Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme curiously proposes offsetting the carbon price for cars by excise offsets for three years, a system that is at odds with the purpose of emissions trading);
2. a usage-based charge to cover the costs of road construction and maintenance attributable to lighter vehicles;
3. tonne kilometre charges for the additional road damage attributable to heavy vehicles;
4. a use-based charge to cover the external cost component of accident costs;
5. use-based charges to levy vehicles for air pollution costs; and,
6. a congestion pricing scheme to make users accountable for the congestion costs attributable to their road use, by time and location. Existing fuel excise and registration charges would be abolished and replaced by the above charges. There would need to be an Intergovernmental Agreement to implement such a system, because the incidence and scale of revenue flows would differ substantially from the current arrangements.


The national land transport policy framework outlined above, which focuses mainly on people movement, is based on:

• identification of the critical national land transport
• issues that require a national response for their resolution;
• formulation of a comprehensive, outcome-driven approach to national policy/program structure; implementation of a set of planning processes that feed the policy/program structure in an integrated manner;
• concentration of Federal land transport assistance funding in seven categories to promote outcome achievement.

The proposals should place Australia in a strong position to provide a world class 21st century land transport system.

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This report is a collaborative publication produced by the three leading groups representing the public transport industry in Australia (the Australasian Railway Association, the Bus Industry Confederation and the International Association of Public Transport–UITP).

It has been jointly authored by John Stanley (Adjunct Professor, Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies, University of Sydney) and Simon Barrett (Managing Director of L.E.K. Consulting, Australia).

The report is targeted at key policy makers in Commonwealth and State Territory Governments, with an interest in, or responsibility for, transport policy and related areas.

* For further information: Prof. John Stanley at

* Again: the full 81 page report is available at