Saturday, June 15, 2024

Time to act on transport plan: Infrastructure WA

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A senior member of the state’s infrastructure advisory body has called for a refresh of transport planning frameworks, in the hope of ending the politicisation of WA’s transit future.

Addressing the City of Stirling’s Net Zero Transit symposium in Scarborough this morning, Infrastructure WA deputy chief executive Owen Thomas said mid-tier transit was a key to easing growing congestion in Perth.

He pointed to a lengthy list of reports dating back as early as 1990, which pointed to the yet fulfilled need to deliver diversity in the state’s transport system.

Mr Thomas said the state’s reliance on heavy rail, buses and private vehicles needed to be balanced, and called for more action and less talk in planning future needs.

“If we really want to curb congestion, mitigate it and it not see some of the challenges that come with it, we’re best to start this journey now, rather than waiting for the problems to overtake,” he said.

“Cars are not the enemy – we’re not trying to say we need to do away with private vehicles. But high car dependence and our approach around car-based planning has really impeded our ability to achieve a more balanced system outcome.”  

Mr Thomas – who was previously executive director of infrastructure planning and land services at the Public Transport Authority – said IWA was pushing strongly for a state government refresh of the strategic transport planning frameworks.

He expressed frustration at the political nature of some transport policy decision making.

“A lot of work was done under the previous government on a holistic transport strategy, but a lot of that got parked when there was a change in government,” he said.

“We’ve got more of what I’d call a transport brochure now, setting the scene, but I think we see the need for that holistic strategy needing to be refreshed and out there.

“Hopefully it stops being a bit of a political football through election cycles.”

The Net Zero Transit symposium coincides with the federal government-funded trial of a trackless tram, which the City of Stirling hopes will one day run along a 7km stretch of Scarborough Beach Road from Glendalough train station to the coast.

The hydrogen-fuelled tram would follow a route defined by virtual markings on the road.

Mr Thomas said it was promising to see inner-city local governments take steps to raise the profile of mid-tier transit as a way of easing congestion, but said outer suburban sprawl remained a major hurdle.

Metronet planning in his previous role created a level of personal conflict, with rail designed to service growth areas that were helping to propagate the city’s sprawl.

“It was always about reconciling that it’s better that we have public transport out there, then not having it, but ultimately this is not the city footprint that we keep talking about,” Mr Thomas said.

The state’s Metronet stage one project incorporated planning for light rail in Perth in 2017, resulting in a submission to Infrastructure Australia which was then paused to focus on expanding the passenger rail network.

The Department of Transport and Metronet are currently investigating plans for a mid-tier transport network to complement existing infrastructure, including consideration of mid-tier possibilities through the north east rapid transit feasibility study and the Wanneroo Road urban corridor plan.  

Mr Thomas said mid-tier transit offered an opportunity to service major non-rail corridors, creating an alternate transport system connecting gaps in the existing heavy rail and bus transit system.

While mid-tier initiatives in early stages may be led by different levels of government, he called for decisionmakers to protect the Transperth brand in delivering new infrastructure.

Transperth is one of the best-known brands in the city – if you ask most people what the public transport system is called, they will say Transperth,” Mr Thomas said.

“We need to protect that, regardless of what might sit behind the scenes in terms of products or operations.”

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