Over the last couple of weeks, traffic congestion in Hobart has sparked a community debate about the causes, and generated lots of ideas on how to solve it. And that’s a good thing – it often takes a crisis to provoke change. But we need to make the most of this opportunity and make long-term sustainable solutions that address the underlying problems in our transport system.
The reason for congestion is fairly simple - too many cars on the road at peak times. Wikipedia defines congestion as..."a condition on road networks that occurs as use increases, and is characterized by slower speeds, longer trip times, and increased vehicular queueing.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that car registrations in Tasmania grew by nearly 10% between 2010 and 2015. That’s about 40,000 extra cars on the road in this state. Of all states and territories in 2015, Tasmania had the highest number of vehicles per capita, with 875 for every 1000 people!
In Hobart there simply isn't the road space to accommodate the growing numbers of cars on our roads, particularly at the peak times, on the way to and home from work.
These graphs tell a damning story about how the provision of public transport in Hobart has not been a priority. When public transport does not meet the demands from the community, understandably, we drive - and car numbers increase.
Hobart (where buses are the only urban public transport system) is the only Australian capital city where public transport travel has decreased between 1977 and 2010:
In 2010, the average usage of public transport across all Australian capital cities was approximately 11 percent. Hobart was the lowest, at 3.6 percent:
And even though we only have buses, and not ferries or trains like other cities, the annual growth rate of our bus use is still less than all other capital cities:
This week Tasmania's Transport Minister announced that he was taking action, but unveiled an action plan limited to measures like tweaking road signal timing and finding space for private cars. These measures may be useful in the short-term but his statement gives no indication he will tackle the root cause of congestion - too many private vehicles with sole drivers on the roads at the same time.
The challenge will not be met by simply providing space for more and more cars. Our task is to encourage and incentivise more people to travel to work on buses, feet and bikes in the short-term...and also on ferries and light rail in the longer term.
Here are some quick measures that we can introduce in Hobart to reduce congestion and have a more sustainable transport system in the longer term.
>>> Bus & Transit Lanes - provide an incentive for car sharing and public transport at peak times by introducing a lane for buses, motorbikes, and cars with two or more people on the Southern Outlet and the Tasman Bridge. This could be rolled out quickly and will demonstrate to people the clear time advantage of using public transport or having more passengers per car.
>>> Identify and support basic park-and-ride facilities in the southern, eastern and northern suburbs. This will allow people to park outside the city and catch a fast bus travelling in a dedicated bus lane for the final part of their journey.
>>> Congestion increases during school and university terms - studies in other Australian states suggest that children being driven to school account for about 17% of all trips during the morning peak period between 8.30 and 9 am. A much bigger investment in Walk/Bike/Bus to school programs can really make a difference. Perhaps the state and local governments could all chip in to boost capacity in this area. A study of more than 800 schools in the USA found that Safe Routes to School programs resulted in an average 31% increase in walking and bicycling to school.
>>> Assist major Hobart city employers to create Workplace Travel Plans - these are becoming more common in cities with congestion issues. Travel Plans can include promotion and incentives for walking, cycling, using public transport and car-sharing. They also cover reducing the need to travel by encouraging the use of video-conferencing and working from home.
We need to increase Metro bus services and introduce new public transport infrastructure in Hobart, such as light rail to the northern suburbs and the use of ferries on the Derwent River. Investing in public transport is smarter than building extra roads because it’s the best and cheapest solution for dealing with peak congestion, and it’s really helpful for household budgets.
The solutions to congestion are not rocket science, but they do need the effort of all levels of government, and also all of us!
and in other news...
Congratulations to my friend Jen Brown, who has just been announced as the Greens'
candidate for the House of Reps seat of Denison in this year's
federal election. As a talented athlete, nurse, public health consultant, law student, and climate change campaigner, she
works hard on the issues that
matter. Please like her facebook page and support her campaign!
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