Plans for Light Rail in Canberra have caused heated debate among our Rioters. A recent poll asking Are you in favour of Light Rail for Canberra? resulted in 48% voting No, 38% Yes, 11% Not Right Now and 6% On the Fence.
We asked former Chief Minister, Kate Carnell and Ex MLA, John Hargreaves ‘Do you think the benefit to cost ratio measures up for Light Rail in Canberra?’ and this is what they had to say…
Trying to make public transport usable and affordable has been an ongoing problem for all ACT governments. Action buses has been reformed , upgraded , downgraded more times than I have had hot breakfasts – but it still operates at a significant loss and the sight of almost empty buses is a normal in Canberra. A number of Governments have also looked for other options – light rail being the most common possible ‘solution’. My government looked at a form of light rail when I was Chief Minister. Our rhetoric was a bit similar to that of the current government. It would be good for the environment, in courage innovation, would take Canberra to a new and exciting stage of its development – sound familiar?
The problem was we couldn’t make the business case work. Why? Because of the Canberra plan. We all know, Canberra is spread out with very few areas of medium or high population density. It is the BushCapital with lots of green spaces and buffer areas and very little high rise residential accommodation . And what do you need to make light rail cost effective – medium to high density nodes of population that can be linked to places where these people work.
I am not talking about a few high rise buildings , I am talking enough to house the thousands of people needed to make a mass transit system sustainable. It is also important to remember that these high rise buildings must be within walking distance of a light rail stop. If people have to drive to the stop and park , it will often be quicker to drive to work so the price differential between the light rail and parking in Civic will have to be huge. This will mean there will be pressure to keep fares low which will add to the viability problems of the system.
Canberra has grown since I was Chief Minister, but most of the growth has been in low density new suburbs, with the possible exception of Kingston and Civic. This means it is hard to see that a light rail is any more cost effective or affordable than it was 15 years ago.
There is a lot of white noise going on about the light rail proposal and it seems as though the usual NIMBYs have come out in force. In this case though they are saying NOW In My Back Yard!
So if Belco and Tuggers people can’t have it, no one can. So… they blame the cost so that they are not outed as light rail deniers.
The tram is half empty if people continue to bag it, to continue to be selfish, to continue to conjure up excuses for not embracing it, to continue to have no vision for the city.
The tram is half full, if people understand that it is the start of something great for the city, something responsible for environmental sustainability, something really attractive for our now mature City.
Remember when people bagged out the Arboretum? A $20 million tree zoo, if I recall. Now everyone loves it. Remember the bagging the Gungahlin Drive Extension got? Now everyone loves it.
Remember the dam? Now everyone loves it.
So, how about we get positive, people! Take ownership in innovation, in vision and in courage. This light rail will be fantastic for the city, and for Belco, Tuggers, Molonglo and Woden, over time. Don’t give me all those NIMBY reasons why not, don’t give me alternative things to spend the money on, show me how we are looking to the future not backwards.
This project is not a competition with buses; it is a complementary rapid transport system. It can only enhance Canberra in the eyes of visitors and provide responsible commuting to the workplace.
I live in Tuggers and can’t wait for it to come down South. But as all roads lead to Rome, they start somewhere and that somewhere is the City to Gungahlin route.
Don’t be like that old Irish joke, “Paddy was asked which way to Dublin, replying “well, if I was to be going to Dublin, I surely wouldn’t be starting from here!”