The Sustainable Urbanist: Abbott vs. Public Transport

Visions of life under a Coalition government became clear this week, when leader Tony Abbott stated that the Commonwealth should not be in the business of funding urban rail projects.

”The Commonwealth government has a long history of funding roads,” Mr. Abbott said.

”We have no history of funding urban rail and I think it’s important that we stick to our knitting, and the Commonwealth’s knitting when it comes to funding infrastructure is roads.”

The remarks were in response to news that if re-elected the Labor government will partially fund the Melbourne Metro tunnel.

Transport scholar Paul Mees says that Abbott is out of touch with voters. Mees’s research finds a large commuter revival in capital cities since 1996.

“As the census figures show, Australians are voting with their feet for public transport, and Mr. Abbott needs to recognise this,” he said.

Mees believes Abbott’s loyalty to private transportation is very harmful, as it has the potential to distort decision-making.

This policy would essentially stop public transport projects in their tracks, as they are incredibly difficult to build without federal funding.

Mr. Abbott’s claim that the Commonwealth has no history of funding is false. As a hoard of projects such as QLD’s Moreton Bay Rail Link, Victoria’s Regional Rail Link, Perth City rail Link and the Brisbane and Adelaide electrification projects would not exist if they were not federally funded.

Abbott’s comments put him at odds with Victorian Coalition Premier Dennis Napthine.

The Metro Tunnel is the focal point of Napthine’s transport plan. The state government has requested a considerable proportion of the $9 billion price tag from the Commonwealth.

Abbott has pledged $1.5 billion for the east-west road link. He says it will begin within 18 months of a Coalition government taking office.

Greens MP Adam Brandt told The Age to fund urban projects – but not urban rail projects – is 19th century thinking.

”If Tony Abbott is elected, it will be a disaster for inner-city Melbourne,” he said. ”The suburbs that we love and that make Melbourne consistently one of the world’s most liveable cities will be turned into a rat’s nest of on and off ramps.”

Mees agrees the east-west link would cause serious damage. “It would act as a huge ‘off-ramp’ for eastern Freeway traffic, flooding the inner city with cars and trucks,” he said.

The transport expert also questions the value of the Melbourne Metro tunnel.

Mees is concerned the project will eat up all the funds and long overdue projects will be ignored.

Mees says the priority should be fixing the inefficient management practices and funding new lines, for example, to Tullamarine Airport.

Matt O’Leary

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