1 May 2024

New analysis finds light rail Stage 1 boosted public transport use and economic development along line

| Ian Bushnell
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The Gungahlin Light Rail terminal

The Gungahlin light rail terminus. The report found multiple benefits for Gungahlin and the suburbs along the corridor to the city. Photo: Region.

Light rail Stage 1 has brought benefits to the Gungahlin-City corridor far beyond its public transport role, according to a new five-year analysis of the project from Transport Canberra.

Transport Minister Chris Steel said the report’s findings back the ACT Government’s decision to extend light rail to Woden and plan for future stages to other areas of Canberra.

The report will provide plenty of election-year ammunition for the government to use against the Canberra Liberals’ plans to abandon light rail after Stage 2A to Commonwealth Park and opt for an expanded electric bus fleet to meet Canberra’s public transport needs.

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While the analysis found that light rail had increased public transport use and reduced congestion along the corridor, particularly on Northbourne Avenue, it also highlights the boost in construction, housing and business activity.

There have been 16.5 million passenger trips since the start of operations in 2019 and light rail now accounts for a fifth of all public transport patronage in Canberra.

In the first quarter of 2024, weekday average boardings were almost 14,000, and 7500 on weekends.

Almost all (99.98%) of services run on time and road-count data at high-use areas along the corridor reveal a significant fall in motor vehicle travel, including an 18 per cent reduction at the Northbourne Avenue and Macarthur Avenue intersection compared with 2016.

The analysis found that 43 per cent of passengers had never previously used the bus network, which the report says shows the power of light rail in attracting people to public transport.

The report says that increased interoperability between buses and light rail will further support growth across the wider public transport network with the upcoming roll-out of the new ticketing system, MyWay+.

It found that the project had been a catalyst for land releases and sales along the corridor and a spur for urban renewal and much-needed new housing.

Since 2016, $2.3 billion in construction has been given development approval or is currently under consideration in suburbs directly adjacent to light rail, and 6100 new dwellings have been built along the corridor.

This has also attracted new residents to the corridor, which has experienced a higher annual average population increase (4%) than the rest of the ACT (2.5%).

What light rail on Adelaide Avenue will look like. The government says the benefits enjoyed on Stage 1 can be replicated on Stages 2A and 2B to Woden and future lines. Image: ACT Government.

The analysis found that light rail had also boosted land values along the corridor.

The overall increase in the unimproved land value of blocks between 2011 and 2023 for non-unit residential more than doubled (113%, 25 percentage points higher than the average value across the ACT).

For residential units, it was 78 per cent, 10 percentage points higher than the average value across the ACT, and for commercial units, it was 49 per cent, 15 percentage points higher.

The analysis found that businesses had also made the light corridor home.

ABS data for the period 2020-22 show that the average net annual change in the number of businesses in the light rail corridor exceeded that for the rest of the ACT (8.6% compared to 6.5%).

The corridor also accounted for 23.9 per cent of the growth in employing businesses, with a net change of 1011 employing businesses between 2019 and 2022.

The analysis found business growth increased by 26.4 per cent in Gungahlin suburbs along the corridor from 2018 to 2022 and by 19.7 per cent in the city suburbs along the corridor over the same period.

In Gungahlin, there was a 31 per cent increase in the number of businesses from 2019 to June 2022 (592 to 773), although the report acknowledges that land releases and population growth also played a role.

Mr Steel said the report showed that Canberrans clearly preferred light rail, with more and more people choosing to live along the alignment.

“Our first mass-transit system, through the delivery of Stage 1 of light rail, represented a vision for Canberra as a connected, sustainable and vibrant city,” he said.

“The evidence outlined in this report realises that vision and supports our decision to deliver future stages of the project.”

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Mr Steel said more areas of Canberra could look forward to the benefits revealed by the analysis with the construction and operation of future stages.

The City to Woden corridor would create a north-south public transport spine for Canberra that would continue to expand over the coming years, connecting Canberra’s key employment, residential and commercial hubs.

Mr Steel said there was a clear appetite from both business and the community to deliver a project that would provide thousands of local jobs, support the construction of more homes, remove congestion from roads and encourage more people to take public transport.

“We will continue to invest in this important city-shaping infrastructure that will benefit Canberrans for generations to come,” he said.

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So the taxpayers across the entire state paid for infrastructure that a fraction of us have access to and that put lots of money in the pockets of investors and developers. While the rest of us got the “bonus” of worse bus connections.
How about making the investors, developers and users cover the largest part of the cost?

Clear evidence that if we provide GOOD public transport, people will flock to it – a great time-saver and money-saver for Canberrans. And great news FOR OUR KIDS who will live in a planet less disrupted by Climate Change

Transport Canberra reviewed its reason for being and found out it was fantastic!! Who would’ve thought………

We investigated our own project and found that it was great!!!

Who would ever have seen that coming? Now open your datasets for independent review and analysis… but I bet you they won’t be interested in doing that.

Patrick Keogh7:34 am 02 May 24

When the anti-infrastructure brigade moans I just picture them arguing against building the Sydney Harbour Bridge or the Opera House or the Parthenon in Athens or the London Underground …

HiddenDragon6:45 pm 01 May 24

More preaching to the choir from a government which dwells within a self-made echo chamber.

Any federal officials who might see this “analysis” as a cogent reason (or even a plausible pretext) for supporting a substantial further federal contribution to Canberra light rail deserve to be replaced by AI sooner rather than later.

After reading the report, it’s clear that it is not analysis but government propaganda. The report is full of assertions with no attempt to separate out confounding factors that mean cause and effect cannot be shown.

No wonder those paid to write this did not announce their authorship. It would reduce their credibility to anyone wanting real research and analysis done.

I’ve read through the report and it leaves a lot to be desired. Why can’t we get a proper benefits realisation that doesn’t ignore some of the challenging aspects of the project and looks a little deeper into the data than Allhomes market trends for Property Value analysis or their often quoted Light Rail passenger surveys which contains some very skewed analysis.

Chris Steel continues to do his best Scotty from marketing impressions with another report written more by publicists than frank and fearless analysts.
Don’t measure what the ACT Government might not want to hear.

The report has even given green traffic light outcomes on measures that haven’t met the initial projection from the stage 1 cost benefit. This analysis is equivalent to a student marking themselves on a test they designed for themself.

I challenge the Government to release the business case and costings of the Woden extension and how they intend to fund it.

underwhelmed3:07 pm 01 May 24

This article is the typical rubbish that you expect from this government. The increase in property prices has more to do with the fact that Andrew Barr has been showering the Inner North with money like it is going out of fashion and the relocation of all his “undesirable” government housing neighbors than the construction of the tram. If the tram was the catalyst for all the construction along the Northbourne corridor, and not the fact that vacant land was being sold for development, then what has been the catalyst for all the high-rises going up in the other town centers? I would be guessing there has been more development in the Belconnen town center over the same period of time. Regarding the drop in car usage, it has more to do with people working from home than more people actually catching public transport.

Of course it has. What else would you expect from this gumment wasting our money and providing high level non specific rubbish during an election year.

GrumpyGrandpa1:49 pm 01 May 24

Despite the cherry-picked statistics that Minister Steele has come up with, as a Tuggeranong resident, my question is will LR get me into the City quicker than a bus?

Because the travel time via LR, has been forecast to be slower than a bus, (and may require additional changes of services at Woden), I’m concerned that this isolates Tuggeranong.

Everyone knows that in property, location is paramount. With additional commute times, what happens to our property values in Tuggeranong?

You’ve got to laugh at what is simply a piece of taxpayer funded political propaganda to sell light rail, conveniently just before an election. No doubt it will work as intended for those unable to look beyond the headlines.

Reading the report, there is very little professional assessment of the actual benefits of light rail, they’ve just determined low bar performance metrics and then attributed every (deemed) beneficial change along the corridor to light rail.

There’s no attempt to assess the causative impact of light rail on the metrics or look at baseline numbers, apparently correlation equals causation but only when it suits. With the sale of public housing blocks and other land releases not dependent on light rail, what would have the baseline numbers be without light rail or with another transport solution along the route?

To take just one example (there’s plenty more) to show how weak the report is, the first performance metric is “Public Transport Usage”.

The benefits have been assessed as “on track”, despite the light rail patronage numbers being significantly lower than those used in the business case to justify the project. Bus usage across Canberra is also lower and worse again since the 2019 network changes. The report then excuses this failure to achieve the projected patronage numbers as irrelevant because of the impacts of COVID19 changing travel patterns.

So the claimed benefits haven’t actually been realised but we’re going to give ourselves a green tick anyway.

It’s particularly bad when they then attribute higher than expected population growth along the corridor to light rail despite it also being higher than projected across the entirety of Canberra. But wait, shouldn’t those extra people mean the patronage should be even higher than you projected then?

Apparently it’s OK to claim credit for variables outside of the government’s control but only when they are positive.

…and the fact that the “crappy old buildings” were allowed to be run down by the same government and, when they were demolished because they were now “crappy and old”, nobody wanted to buy the sites that were created…!

Nothing this report says can be taken on face value. The consultants were selected, directed and paid for by the ACT Government, so in no way can it be considered independent and authoritative. With a view to future government work by the consultants, there is a high likelihood that the government was provided with the answer it wanted.

On first glance it has fails to separate out the external effects that impact the conclusions – eg land values were going up everywhere or that the additional road congestion and trip times combined with reduced parking combined to force people towards the trams. This makes many of the promoted conclusions unreliable at best.

I’d be cautious about attributing all of the construction, housing and business activity along the tram corridor to it. The real question should be how much has happened that wasn’t going to happen regardless of the tram being there. Some of it, perhaps much of it, would have happened for other reasons, such as natural growth in the ACT population, the availability for redevelopment of some pretty crappy old buildings, the desirability of, and demand for, housing in some of those suburbs which has always been there, etc.

Yes, the key word being the “counterfactual”. I haven’t read the report to know if or not that’s been considered. Funnily enough, I also spent some years as a transport systems consultant.

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