Well, it’s out. The final report of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Independent Public Inquiry into Sydney’s public transport, chaired by Mr Ron Christie, was published by the Herald earlier this week.
The report follows the release of the Preliminary Report in February which I discussed in a previous post. The final report covers the same broad themes as the earlier one and draws similar conclusions, but it also takes into account the submissions received in response to the preliminary report as well as public transport developments since its release.
In addition the Inquiry team, in which I participated, has refined the original report to sharpen its focus, in particular identifying 65 key recommendations. These are available as a stand-alone summary document from the Inquiry website, along with the full report.
Obviously I can’t summarise a document of over 520 pages in a single post (even the summary recommendation report is around 40 pages). I would however like to identify four key points that are emphasised in the final report.
The first is the fundamental importance of the nexus between public transport governance, planning and funding. We have been all too successful, as the report observes, at preparing transport plans for Sydney, but hopeless at funding or implementing them.
I used to say that if any of the six or seven public transport plans hatched in the past two decades or so had been implemented Sydney would be better off, but Sydney’s fragmented governance arrangements mean that as time goes on I’m not so sure. The lack of adequate public transport management has meant that these plans have increasingly become a patchwork of government project announcements, irrelevant to the city and community they were meant to serve (the CBD Metro debacle is an obvious example of this).
Mr Christie’s transmittal letter summarises the basis of this nexus, which informs the rest of the report:
The Inquiry believes that there is nothing more important or urgent than:
- Genuine reform of the way the planning and management of public transport takes place (“governance”)
- A long-term plan which is developed with real community input and has real certainty, backed by legislation, and
- Guaranteed, dedicated funding for implementing the plan.
Without all three of these legs of what the Inquiry calls the “Iron Triangle”, confidence in the way public transport is handled in Sydney will continue to erode.
The second point is the Inquiry’s comprehensive and innovative research into community attitudes to public transport, demonstrating not only a strong willingness to pay for public transport improvements but also establishing a set of parameters for the amount that the public are prepared to pay for these improvements. As Jarrett Walker (who also participated in the Inquiry) points out here, the Inquiry also succeeded in linking this package of potential funding increases to a systematic set of short-term and long-term improvements.
As Jarrett notes, any attempts to introduce these increases and taxes in a vacuum would be a political disaster, but carefully linking them to such a package of well-considered improvements would be much more attractive to the general public.
The third and related point which I think is well demonstrated in the final report is how much improvement can be made to Sydney’s public transport in the short term. The report does not shy away from identifying the major infrastructure projects which Sydney needs to implement and which have been so neglected for the past 30 or 40 years, but it also recognises that much can be done to improve public transport in the next five years before any of these major projects can be completed.
Many of these improvements, such as improving train frequencies and running times or establishing a “frequent network” of bus services are relatively straightforward and could be achieved with relatively modest funding levels. The importance of these proposals is demonstrated by the fact that they make up nearly half the report’s recommendations.
These recommendations are also instrumental in relation to the last point from the report that I want to highlight – the importance it places on developing Sydney’s public transport as a coherent, integrated network. This is not just an abstract objective – the Inquiry has given a lot of thought to how the various transport modes should be integrated through reforms of the fares and ticketing structure, improved service frequencies (which reduces waiting times at interchanges), improvements to interchanges themselves and, above all, a complete overhaul of transport governance arrangements.
I’ll return to other elements of the final report in future posts, but for now I would just like to thank the fellow members of the Inquiry team and in particular Ron Christie for his leadership and vision. As to “where to from here?” in relation to the report, I think the conclusion of his transmittal letter about what the public and transport stakeholders are seeking says it all:
They want a public transport plan which will meet their needs both now and in the future, a plan whose components can and will be implemented and a plan which they will be willing to pay for because it will happen and because it will meet their needs.
And they want our political leaders to listen, act and lead – and above all else, show some real foresight which transcends the electoral cycles.