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Big road projects don’t really save time or boost productivity

The New South Wales and Victorian governments have recently released business cases for their pet motorway projects, WestConnex in Sydney and East-West Link in Melbourne. But will these projects, costing…

Building more motorways creates more traffic and more sprawl. Flickr/Twang Photography

The New South Wales and Victorian governments have recently released business cases for their pet motorway projects, WestConnex in Sydney and East-West Link in Melbourne. But will these projects, costing a combined A$20 billion (with A$3 billion being donated by the federal government), really generate the economic benefits promised?

Take WestConnex, for example. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell claims that this A$11.5 billion motorway will “inject A$20 billion into the economy”. But Infrastructure Australia has poured fresh doubt on such claims, describing big-ticket road promises as electioneering with “only limited regard” for the underlying financial issues.

A glance at the WestConnex business case reveals that some A$18 billion of the claimed economic benefit is merely the value of expected “travel time savings” and “travel time reliability”. This is basically the amount of money that a team of economists (paid by the NSW government) has decided motorists would hypothetically be willing to pay for shorter and more reliable travel times. The actual calculations and underlying assumptions have not been made public.

But, except in the case of freight and business travel, there is unlikely to be any reduction in average travel times; and even if there were, this would not result in any real income or cost-savings for the economy.

For more than a century the average time humans spend travelling each day has been a constant 60-80 minutes. Whenever we’ve been provided with faster transport options, we’ve simply opted to live further from work and travel longer distances, but keep our daily travel times the same.

This is why no previous motorway project, in Sydney, Melbourne, or any other city in the world, has ever succeeded in reducing average daily travel times. Rather, they have resulted in longer average travel distances, more traffic, more sprawl and therefore increased transportation costs. There is no reason to believe that WestConnex or East-West Link will be any different.

Economic injection?

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that these motorways will reduce average personal travel times. Will this then result in billions of dollars being “injected into the economy”?

Well, no. Basic utility theory suggests that most of the time we save we would spend on other non-productive activities, such as watching TV or checking Facebook. This will not result in any money flowing into the economy, let alone A$18 billion. On the contrary, individual motorists will be financially worse off because of the new tolls - as much as A$20 a day for users of WestConnex.

And how confident can we be that the economists have correctly valued our willingness to pay for these “travel time savings”? They got it wrong with Sydney’s Cross City Tunnel, calculating that 70,000 drivers a day would be willing to pay the A$4.90 toll to save time driving across the Sydney CBD. The actual number turned out to be only 40,000.

Furthermore, increasing the speed of the road network will encourage more people and freight to switch from rail to road. We will end up with more traffic, congestion and toxic exhaust fumes, and calls to build yet more costly motorways through our neighbourhoods to “fix the congestion”, ad infinitum.

These motorway projects may provide some short-term economic stimulus in the form of construction jobs and bonuses for consultants and bankers, but then so could building a A$20 billion giant white elephant on top of Parliament House. However, this short-term economic stimulus will be far outweighed by the long-term economic burden of increased sprawl and car-dependency in an age of increasing petrol prices. Sydney and Melbourne already spend about 13% of GDP on transport, while the average European or Asian city spends only between 5% and 8%.

Much of the funding for WestConnex will come from the privatisation of Port Botany. But selling revenue-generating public assets to invest in infrastructure only makes sense if the economic or social return on that infrastructure outweighs the forgone future revenue from the privatised assets. The NSW government is essentially depriving future taxpayers of revenue from Port Botany, and imposing more tolls on Sydney motorists, simply to make it possible for more of us to move further away from work and suffer longer and more expensive commutes. We will keep our average daily travel times the same, just as we always have done.

There are cheaper, more effective and more sustainable ways of giving us better and more equitable access to jobs and services, and more pleasant daily commutes. The A$20 billion being squandered on WestConnex and East-West Link could instead be used to create jobs in growth areas, build affordable family homes near existing employment centres, and construct new rail lines and busways. Such strategies would help to build and enhance local communities.

Urban motorways only ever succeed in destroying and severing them.

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101 Comments sorted by

  1. Jason Murphy

    journalist

    The way economists add up monetary and non-monetary "benefits" of a project, and then present them as the total impact, without subtracting the costs, is a scandal. And I say that as an economist.
    Great article.
    I think the big impact of these roads is not the time-savings a year or even ten-years hence. It's the city-shaping impact that can last - easily - hundreds of years. I've written a bit about it here: http://thomasthethinkengine.com/2014/01/23/china-series-part-4-city-shaping/

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  2. Felix MacNeill

    Environmental Manager

    How many times will we allow ourselves to get sucked into this most basic of fallacies?

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  3. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    Eventually, I think most of the wealth of Australia will have to be spent making cities such as Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne liveable and fit for human habitation.

    For every 10,000 more people in those cities, another coal mine will have to be built in rural Australia.

    I thought a picture in the “Short Form Business Case” for the East-West Link quite telling.

    http://www.linkingmelbourne.vic.gov.au/pages/pdfs/east-west-link-stage-one--short-form-business-case.pdf

    It shows a 4 lane road going in that is jammed with traffic and backed up for miles, but the 4 lane road going out has few cars on it.

    So there appears to be a problem with traffic only at certain times of the day, which means that there will be delays to trucking only at certain times of the day.

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    1. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Melbourne just got voted most livable city for the 3rd year in a row I am not sure what you are talking about

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    2. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Shand

      “Liveable” compared to what?

      I thought this interesting.

      http://ecogeneration.com.au/news/future_melbourne_-_making_melbourne_sustainable/002058/

      Melbourne wants to become the most “sustainable” city in the world by 2020.

      There is no such thing as sustainable, unless we put back into the natural environment what we took out.

      Which never happens with a city of course.

      But to reach their hype of “sustainable”, they want to change from “unsustainable transport modes such as cars to public transport, bicycles and walking”.

      That is after spending huge amounts on motorways that will encourage more motorised traffic.

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    3. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale it wasn't my claim that Melbourne is the most livable city, I suggest you do a google search and make complaints to those that did.

      As for sustainability, I think you are only 100% right about the need for more investment in transport infrastructure such as bike lanes, walking paths and public transport.

      It is a difficult task and I am glad that the majority of people seem to understand that there is a hard road ahead of us

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    4. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Shand

      No, all that about bike tracks, walking and public transport comes from the “Future Melbourne Planning Committee”.

      https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/ABOUTCOUNCIL/PLANSANDPUBLICATIONS/Pages/FutureMelbourne.aspx

      My personal opinion is that Melbourne should have an immediate halt to population growth, with the longer term aim of reducing the current population to at least one quarter of the current size, and any unsustainable and uneconomic parts of the city should be bulldozed down, and re-vegetated back into bushland.

      Although much more likely to be sustainable, my opinion or plan would be somewhat controversial or unpopular I suppose.

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    5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Well both Liberal and Labor are in favour of high population growth via natural increase and (legal) migration.

      The current level is about 1.8% increase per year, which if it stays at this rate, means that Melbourne will double in population in only 39 years!

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    6. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I know a few things about roads, and I do believe they fall under the umbrella of “construction” and “real estate sales”.

      There is not much rationality for endless construction, except to sell more real estate.

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    7. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I think that's a great idea dale, turning some of the outter suburbs back to bushland, I would also like to see decentralised food production, so that if you have a suburb of say 50,000 people....there should be enough space to grow food to feed them near by, maybe not ALL their food but at least some of it.

      I think what you suggest would solve a number of problems including reducing the urban heat island effect.

      These ideas would probably get more support than you think, the big hurdle would…

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    8. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Shand

      The population increase of Melbourne is mainly because of immigration.

      My personal believe is that immigrants are being brought in to keep up demand for housing, as population growth and building houses supports the building and real estate industries.

      It is a good ploy.

      The public pays for the extra infrastructure needed because of immigration and population increase, while builders and real estate agents reap the profits.

      However, doubling the population of Melbourne will likely double the environmental impact of Melbourne.

      It is totally unlikely (like 1000% unlikely) Melbourne will ever be sustainable, and plans for roof top gardens and bike ways are just feel good exercises or camouflage to hide the real damage that is occurring because of population increase.

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    9. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      You might be right about immigration however I tend to shy away from comments about what is and isn't possible in the future

      Also I try not to be to nihilistic (I think I spelt that wrong) but you know, if we are all doomed and there is no hope then why do anything, why build bike lanes, why fix roads, why keep electricity going, etc

      Also, lets not let the perfect be the enemy of the good

      Instead of taking an attack stance on this topic, let us take a productive stance on this topic because…

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    10. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Michael, I think most of our population increase is due to non-refugee migration, and then secondly by natural increase (which many government policies encourage). I think that organised refugee intake is third, and boat arrivals a long way fourth.

      Thanks for providing a moving example of how evil it is for politicians to lobby for (and sometimes get) that no government money can go to an aid organisation that 'promotes' birth control.

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    11. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Shand

      The population increase in Sydney and Melbourne is because of immigration.

      It is a planned or orchestrated increase in population through immigration, and nothing to do with education etc.

      "it is the growth in net overseas migration (NOM) that has been the main driver of population growth over the last few years. In the three years to December 2009, NOM made up almost two-thirds (64%) of population growth."

      http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10Jun+2010

      However…

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    12. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      How easy it is to complain, again, lets try to be constructive and talk about solutions rather than just cry about it

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    13. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Possible solutions to fund the already overpopulated Melbourne would include:

      Tollways everywhere on roads.

      High taxes on food or anything that comes from the natural environment, to fund programs to help replenish that environment.

      Immediate halt to land clearing to build new suburbs, and new buildings must go vertical instead.

      Generally, a circle is drawn around Melbourne, and the residents within that circle pay directly for everything.

      So if Melbourne residents want more population growth, then those residents pay for it, and those residents alone.

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    14. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I think some of those are good ideas but others are terrible and will actually work against you.

      Please go look at what countries have low birth rates and see what they are doing - turns out when people are under pressure to get by they have more children not less

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    15. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Shand

      I think you are still mistaken that Australia’s population growth is because of natural births.

      Only 1/3 of population growth in Australia is because of natural births, and 2/3 is because of immigration.

      See ABS data

      http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/4102.0Main+Features10Jun+2010

      About 50% of immigrants never leave Sydney or Melbourne, and the big question is why do those cities need to grow?

      To build more roads in those cities?

      Partly I would think, as building more roads is a part of selling more real estate.

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    16. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Last year consumer spending increased by 1.8%.

      Last year the population increased by 1.8%.

      So population growth is needed so that businesses can have easy growth, politicians can talk about this growth as if we are all better off, but as the figures above show, last year we all, on average, spent just the same as the year before, so the people didnt' get any benefit from this growth.

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    17. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      All that consumer spending didn’t improve our balance of trade, as so much of what was purchased was imported, leaving Australia with a balance of trade deficit.

      http://www.tradingeconomics.com/australia/balance-of-trade

      Also expect many people from various other countries (eg NZ and Ireland) to be employed building these new roads in Melbourne and Sydney, and the money spent on wages will not necessarily stay in Australia.

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    18. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Talking about the balance of trade, the increase in imports also has a significant impact on our carbon emissions.

      Whilst Australia talks of a 5% reduction in carbon emissions, the decline in manufacturing here and the increase in imports means that we have exported about 20% of our carbon footprint.

      So a decline in 5% is really about an increase of 15% with us blaming China etc for the carbon emissions used to make our goods.

      (Note that a 5% reduction is actually a 43% increase when you look at domestic emissions only and exclude land clearing. So adding the change in footprint means that Labor were heading for about a 63% increase whilst fooling most of its voters that this was a 5% decrease.)

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    19. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale you are either replying to the wrong Michael or just talking poo again, I am not disputing your claims about where population growth comes from as I do not see that as overly important to the general discussion of what we do about it

      Infact you will notice that for the sake of argument I agreed with you and treated it as a given that what you said was true because it makes little difference to how we solve the problem

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    20. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Shand

      I have no idea of what Dale was talking about because this Michael also said that the biggest increase in population was due to non-refugee migration.

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  4. Damian Hayden

    IT Professional

    $200,000,000,000

    You could build a million homes with a $200,000 budget.

    I bet a million people moving out of Sydney and Melbourne would help make housing more affordable, and reduce traffic congestion.

    I realize it's a lot more complicated then that, with infrastructure, jobs, education, and all other industries needing to be taken into account. My point though is the government sees a problem, and tries to apply a band-aid patch, instead of trying to address the cause of the problem…

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Damian Hayden

      " These big road projects won't make it more affordable to live in the city. It might mean a few people move further out of the city where it's cheaper, and still be able to commute to work in a reasonable time, but I expect this will be a small percentage. "
      I think you might also find that many people who live further out of the city already find that travel times are a killer.
      Take a visit to somewhere 50 or 60 km. out, stay overnight and then get in your car the next morning to drive back in to the city and you will find out what I mean.
      I agree it would be far better to have many more satellite style cities developed, a bit like Geelong and Ballarat for Melbourne and then have them grow to a million or so but as you say it is not so simple and a horse taken to water does not always drink.

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  5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

    The media in Melbourne is now making it very clear that it is a waste of money.

    Not that it is a waste of money building the tunnel - that possibility is now hardly mentioned.

    Rather, it is a waste of money due to the (over) policing at the demonstrations against the tunnel. Action is needed - we need to do something to stop these demonstrations and stop the waste of public money.

    Not only is the 'bad behaviour' and the 'waste of money' front page of the Murdoch newspaper here, but I think that an Age editorial has come out in favour of the tunnel (please correct me if I'm wrong). Even with the ABC TV news the story now about the demonstrations and the cost of policing this.

    Though this should not be the case, the debate of whether or not Melbourne should have its tunnel is pretty much over.

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    1. Henry Verberne

      Former IT Professional

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      The Age HAS come out in favour of the tunnel but it has also urged the Napthine government to fund much needed public transport infrastructure. Straddling both camps I guess.

      Napthine seems determined to bulldoze this proposal through with very little public scrutiny and a refusal to release the business case under the pretext of "commercial in confidence".

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    2. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Henry Verberne

      One problem with all these projects is that each business case is looked at one its own without comparing it with the business cases for other ways of spending the money.

      So even if you are going to spend billions on roads the tunnels are very likely to not be the best way to spend the money.

      We get the same problem with public transport in Melbourne, with both Liberal and Labor locked into the idea of a big new rail tunnel. Neither party has considered whether or not there are cheaper ways…

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    3. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      The Age lost it's way a long time ago, the turning point for me was when the governments budget came out and they had a family on the front who had 1,500,000 worth of assets, including the family home and the investment properties

      The family of 3 were with 1,500,000 of assets were described as battlers, the everyday man, struggling to see what the governments budget would do to help them

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    4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Michael Shand

      Unfortunately the very well-off who have overextended themselves are the battler/working family that both Liberal and Labor have been trying to bribe election after election.

      Before the Age went so far to the right, the thing that shocked me was when I realised just how systematic their bias against the Greens was. I would love to give examples, but its too off-topic for this thread.

      Actually, no it isn't. Look at what they publish about transportation.

      The political stories will present…

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    5. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      I think you summed it up pretty well, and Lenore at the guardian is very impressive, I wasn't aware she was previously at the age but everything I have read from her is striking

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  6. Rodney Forrest

    logged in via Facebook

    Good piece, however i strongly suggest you read a little deeper in the WestConnex Business Case and you can back solve the VOT calculation. The assumptions are all contained. You just need to apply NSW Treasury guidelines of the DR at 7% and 30 year TH.

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    1. Chris Standen

      PhD candidate in Transport Policy & Planning at University of Sydney

      In reply to Rodney Forrest

      Thanks Rodney, but the way value of time is calculated doesn't really matter, since we know these projects don't result in any reduction in average personal travel times. I.e.,
      Social benefit = hours of travel time saved * value of time
      Social benefit = 0 x $value of time
      Social benefit = $0
      So it doesn't matter whether your value of time is $50/hr or $1000/hr, the social benefit is still $0.

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  7. Andrew Kewley
    Andrew Kewley is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Student

    Spending the same amount of money, on say, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure would be a revolution, not only with economic benefits, but the first steps to weaning ourselves off oil consumption/high carbon emissions too.

    But whenever I bring up this idea in public people think I'm crazy. (Yet it is proven in the Netherlands).

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Andrew Kewley

      Near me they spent a fortune to build an extra lane on the SE freeway.

      This extra lane is only needed during the two hour peak, and the new lane carries about 1,800 vehicles during this two hour peak.

      Running beside this freeway is the Glen Waverley train line. Adding just three extra trains during the two hour peak would carry about 1,800 people. I'm sure it would have been much cheaper to add the extra trains than build the extra freeway lanes.

      By the train and freeway is also the Gardiner’s…

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    2. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      " And as anyone who has driven along the freeway during peak times will confirm,"
      It's all about where the traffic is coming from, further out or joining closer in and anyone who uses freeways knows how early they ought to leave and many do which just broadens the peak though it is also the early bird gets the freer run too.
      Cycling is great in fine weather.

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    3. Damian Hayden

      IT Professional

      In reply to Andrew Kewley

      I don't think you're crazy. I just think your idea is the complete opposite of brilliant :-)

      WestConnex is a 33km motorway project. How many people do you know that cycle over 25km to work every morning?

      Your occupation is listed as being a student. I don't mean to offend you as I was a student for many years too, but as a student, it's likely that you start later than most working professionals, leave earlier, and attend less than 5 days a week. Your situation is not typical of most people…

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    4. Damian Hayden

      IT Professional

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      A few issues I see with your calculations.

      You compared 1800 'vehicles' to 1800 train passengers. 1800 vehicles can hold more than 1800 people, but 1800 bicycles or train seats = 1800 people.

      Vehicles includes trucks, buses, motorbikes, utes, and other vehicles that people need to do their job, and our entire economy relies on. You need to factor more than just people into your assumptions.

      The extra lane is not 'only' needed during the peak period. That extra lane will make traffic move faster at all other times of the day, and probably make the road safer as well by spreading traffic across more lanes.

      More importantly you are forgetting that the extra lane will be useful in the future. The exact problem we are debating here is that traffic grows faster than we are building the infrastructure to support it, yet you are basically saying "but we don't really need it now, let's wait till we do"...

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    5. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Damian Hayden

      Not everyone will cycle, and almost no-one who drives will drive on the new motorway.

      But I'll wager that spending a billion on sensible cyclist infrastructure - commuting paths, roads modified to make cycling safer etc, would do far more overall to ease traffic congestion than building this one very expensive motorway.

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    6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Damian Hayden

      During peak hours most vehicles are only carrying one person.

      And the details of the numbers of people is irrelevant to the main point I'm making because the cost of the trains or bike paths is very significantly lower than the cost of the freeway upgrade.

      The benefits of adding more trains or a bike path will also have a long term benefit in the future.

      You are basically saying lets continue to build expensive roads while ignoring more cost effective options like improved public transport and cycling facilities.

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    7. Damian Hayden

      IT Professional

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Look I'll agree with you on trains and public transport spending, but bicycle tracks are a total lost cause.

      A bicycle lane will never compete with a motorway lane that can accommodate 1800+ vehicles in two hours.

      The effect of your billion dollar cycling network will just be a drop in the ocean.

      I also think you are drastically over-simplifying the needs of commuters, assuming everyone can just hop on a bike and ride to work.

      Think of a CBD companies with over 50 employees, and try…

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    8. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Damian Hayden

      Damien, we are not proposing that everyone get on a bike.

      But I'm saying that if the same money was spent on cycling facilities then way more than 1,800 people would use it ever day.

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    9. Iain Cummings

      Civil Engineer

      In reply to Damian Hayden

      Damian, I'm an engineer. I've built roads, railways, airports and bikeways. I've driven to work & I've ridden to work. Like you I currently live on the Gold Coast. You are right that it's difficult getting people to ride to work. I think the main reasons are that driving is too easy, drivers scare too many average bicycle riders off the roads and people are lazy. It's the attitudes of most people that need changing so they don't believe what you do.
      I'm sorry but you are wrong that bike lanes can't…

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    10. Damian Hayden

      IT Professional

      In reply to Iain Cummings

      MWH, you're numbers are consistently way off. More than 1800 per day? You said it was 1800 in 2 hour peak. Can you also find the cost of that extra-lane, as you later referred to spending $1 billion on bike lanes instead.

      I drove to work, paying attention for cyclists today. I drove from 7:40am to 8:10am. I passed ONE single cyclist, and there is a bicycle path the entire way! I could review my car cam if you really want, but I'd say I saw at least 300+ cars on the commute.

      Remember we are…

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    11. Andrew Kewley
      Andrew Kewley is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Student

      In reply to Damian Hayden

      Short term yes, people will need electric bikes to comfortably travel those sorts of distances.

      Long term, we will re-think the way workplaces are situated so that people don't have long commutes - and those commutes are long in peak traffic regardless of your mode of transportation.

      Increased focus on bicycles could be a stimulus for that re-think.

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    12. Chris Standen

      PhD candidate in Transport Policy & Planning at University of Sydney

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Not sure about building bike paths adjacent to freeways where users will be exposed to toxic/smelly exhaust emissions, vehicle noise and high temperatures (due to heat island effect), and where all they'll see for km after km is asphalt & concrete.
      Only a small % of people will ever commute long distances by bike. And there is already a train line along this particular corridor.

      What about instead prioritising cycling investment for connecting employment centres & train stations with surrounding residential areas (say within a 10km radius), and providing bike parking at stations? This is how northern European cities have managed to achieve cycling mode shares ranging up to 50%.

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    13. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Chris Standen

      You don't know Melbourne, but the freeway I'm talking about has a creek with greenery along most of it, and there is already a bike path.

      But it is the type designed to have blind corners to make it scenic and so it is both slow and dangerous. Despite its unsuitability for commuting it is heavily used.

      The aim of the original research which counted the number of cars which used the extra lane was to point out that if the extra lane was sensible to do, then spending the money to improve the cycling along this route would be very much more beneficial and sensible.

      But it's not either or, and I strongly support improving cycling routes to train stations, having secure bike parking there, and thus minimising car travel.

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    14. Chris Standen

      PhD candidate in Transport Policy & Planning at University of Sydney

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Yes, many studies have shown that the benefit-cost ratio for cycling infrastructure far outweighs that for urban motorways, especially if you include the benefits accruing from increased physical activity (reduced healthcare costs, improved productivity etc).

      But to maximise the benefit the infrastructure needs to appeal to large numbers of people, not just the small % that will cycle long distances.

      I have ridden along Gardiners's Creek Trail and, despite the design issues you mention, it…

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    15. Iain Cummings

      Civil Engineer

      In reply to Damian Hayden

      Didn't see this one earlier so sorry for the late reply. The information on St Kilda Rd was on the Bike Victoria website somewhere. It was very clear & easy to see it was correct. The cars get stuck in traffic but the bikes have a free run & each bike takes up less space. Also take a look at the average traffic speeds for places like Melbourne, Sydney & even brisbane. The average car speeds are less than 20kmh in many areas.

      Where do you drive? Cyclists are about 1% of traffic here but it varies…

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  8. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    It is often mentioned which ought to go first, the cart or the horse and in this case it could be said they go hand in hand, urban sprawl and motorways though we have had urban sprawl developing well before freeways or motorways, they just being the result of developments in transport engineering and creating what we could term as super highways.
    It'll not be surprising that whatever figures presented now will be rather rubbery and that costs can blow out for it is afterall only people attempting…

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  9. Michael Shand
    Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Software Tester

    Absolutely Brilliant article

    I've said it before but you only need to play sim city for a day to figure these things out

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  10. David Rennie

    IT Consultant

    Improving living conditions in the cities will require both macro projects like WestConnex, and micro projects looking at improving traffic flow at individual intersections. It will involve the development of traffic hubs with high density development around them and modifications to street layouts to limit access to suburbs to local traffic. One way of improving traffic flow is the removal of intersections, expressways are an extreme example.
    The fact that average traveling times have not…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to David Rennie

      Building more and more roads has never worked in a major city to improve the living conditions of that city.

      That's why so many cities, including in the US, now look to other solutions.

      It's only Australia which is still living in the 1950's in its pro-car and pro-road building excesses. Meanwhile, certainly in Melbourne, our rail system after decades of neglect requires billions of dollars to bring it up to scratch. Neither major party in Victoria is even considering this, and whichever major party wins this year's state election the East-West tunnel mega-project will go ahead.

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    2. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      When you refer to Australia living in the 1950s MWH, you would seem to then ignore the fact that Australia will always have catchup to do with infrastructure, solely because of population densities if nothing else.
      I recall a NSW government announcement just a few years back that the SHB had just finally been fully paid for!
      I wonder what you really expect for city/suburban rail services when anyone really knows that with a central hub and urban areas radiating out, you can only ever have so many…

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Greg North

      Greg, thanks for an example of 1950's thinking.

      As I've already said here, the Victorian Auditor General wrote a report saying that our train system needed billions to bring it up to scratch due to many decades of lack of maintenance and not upgrading it to modern standards.

      You also provide a good example of 'PT won't solve all our problems so let's not worry about it' whilst ignoring not only that cars won't solve all our problems, but that one huge expensive tunnel in Melbourne will only make a difference in one small part of Melbourne and so for most of us will make no difference to our travel at all.

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    4. Chris Standen

      PhD candidate in Transport Policy & Planning at University of Sydney

      In reply to David Rennie

      David, that is exactly my point, the only "benefit" of these costly motorways is that they enable more people to move to a 1/4 acre block in the suburbs and still be able to drive to work in a reasonable time. But in a city of 4 million+ people, there can never be enough road space for everyone who would like to, to be able to drive 25km+ to work each day in free flowing traffic (and to park at each end). One third of Sydney & Melbourne are already covered in asphalt.

      We can never build enough…

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    5. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      You seem to be embedded in the 50S yourself MWH for I have not said to not worry or ignore anything and be it PT projects such as the UG loop or new roads infrastructure, it all requires $$$ and for roads, future projects will nor doubt have a considerable portion paid for by tolls and bypasses usually benefit through traffic rather than local users within the small part where they reside.
      Melbourne PT has always been something of a drain on the state treasury, railways at least and with greater numbers that may have improved whereas historically, if fares were put up to have the systems paying for themselves and to help fund upgrades whatever they could be, patronage would usually drop off even if it was not with fare evaders.

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    6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Greg North

      A fairly old and now out of date view, ie from the 1950's, is that rail is "a drain on the state treasury" whilst roads are an 'investment' which provide an economic return.

      And yes this does all require dollars - so when for example The Age editorial supports both the Melbourne East-West tunnel (contracts to build it to be signed before the state election) and the rail tunnel (funding is now only for planning) they are in effect saying build the road tunnel and let's dismiss the arguments that spending the money on rail would be a better investment by saying we support the rail tunnel even though we can't do both in the medium term.

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    7. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Chris Standen

      Chris, re the benefit you speak of, I have already posted about what goes first, horse or cart and how many people on their 1/4 acre or larger blocks will still have lengthy travel times even using motorways and peak periods become longer and longer.
      If I had the misfortune to be living/working in a capital city, I would certainly be raising the prospect of having flexible work hours.
      As for the families subject to exhaust and traffic noise pollution, perhaps for the exhaust gases they could be…

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    8. David Rennie

      IT Consultant

      In reply to Chris Standen

      Chris,
      You are dismissing the value of the ability to move to a quarter acre block. THe person who chooses to move to a quarter acre block further from the city trades their 'saved time' for 'a better life style'. This isn't a measure than can be incorporated into GDP, unless we accept the Nepalese concept of Gross National Happiness. The expressway gives people more options. It reduces congestion in the inner city and provides a better life style for those in the inner city, provided we…

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    9. Chris Standen

      PhD candidate in Transport Policy & Planning at University of Sydney

      In reply to David Rennie

      It would be possible to put a $ value on giving more people the option to move to distant suburbs. Economists can put a $ value on just about anything, even a human life. But the question is, do we really want more sprawl, and do we want to pay $20,000,000,000+ for it?

      And we know from experience that expressways do not remove traffic from suburban and inner city streets. In fact the opposite is true. A new expressway will induce large amounts of additional traffic, which will then use suburban/city streets to get between the expressway and origins/destinations.

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  11. David Arthur

    resistance gnome

    Hey if they get the cars off these new roads, we could use them for cycleways.
    a) fast movement
    b) safe
    c) non-polluting
    d) save Medicare heaps.
    e) could use solar PV panels to shade/shelter these great new cycleways.

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  12. Ash Parajuli

    Regional and Town Planning student at School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management at The University of Queensland

    You could spend the $20 billion on PT infrastructure projects and that would keep contractors, construction companies and consultants employed just as they would be for road infrastructure projects. I don't understand why the general consensus amongst politicians (except for the Greens and a few others) that road projects deliver big economic outcomes and PT does not?

    Not to mention, the long term benefits of PT infrastructure versus road projects both environmentally and economically speaking.

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Ash Parajuli

      One word Ash - Flexibility.
      Have you seen a train able to make a turn at a T intersection?

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    2. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Greg North

      Come on Greg, that's a silly question, trains do not operate on roads

      Being able to do a turn at a T intersection has nothing to do with anything and implicit in your comment is that trains cannot turn corners, which of course they can

      You might notice cars never turn on a T, they take a round spherical turn, trains do not turn on a T either, they also take a round spherical turn

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    3. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Michael Shand

      " Come on Greg, that's a silly question, trains do not operate on roads
      Exactly Michael, though not the silly claim for trains not operating on roads underlines what I say with Flexibility.
      You will never have PT infrastructure able to get people door to door as motor vehicles can and that is why people will use the latter for many trips in preference to PT.

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    4. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Greg North

      And you will never have a society where every person can drive a car to where they want to go and it would be next to impossible to build a system which could handle this much traffic.

      But as Greg illustrates, the trains can't do everything argument enables us to dismiss investing in public transport whilst the failings of just relying on cars is ignored.

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    5. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      You are always going to have a mixture of transports MWH and it does not mean that one form is ignored over another but that the needs of different forms will continually be assessed and spending prioritised.
      For instance the Melbourne Loop is a great service because of offering different locations within the city instead of using both train and tram and will have great passenger use.
      As suburbs expand outwards from the city centre, the distance to a railway line becomes greater for most people even if they are between two radials and finding an easement for additional rail lines is not going to be as easy as adding an extra lane to an existing motorway which already has an easement or as with the east/west connection and other links, doing some tunnelling.
      Meanwhile, you will always have the returns to be assessed re use.

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    6. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Greg North

      Greg - you are highly skilled at making the wrongs of the status quo seem reasonable.

      Of course we will always need a mixture of transport means.

      But the facts are that for decades both Liberal and Labor have spent on roads and public transport is in such poor state that the Victorian Auditor General reported that it would take billions to fix things up.

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    7. Damian Hayden

      IT Professional

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      "And you will never have a society where every person can drive a car to where they want to go and it would be next to impossible to build a system which could handle this much traffic."

      This is 1950's thinking ;-)

      Vertical car parks + Google Car + Smarter traffic networks
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autostadt
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_traffic_light

      Drive to work, get out, car goes off and parks several blocks away. They…

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    8. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Damian Hayden

      With our current 1.8% growth rate, Melbourne will double in size in 39 years and be 4 times as big in 78.

      The extreme weather we are seeing now due to climate change is nothing compared to what we have coming. Similarly the traffic problems we have now are nothing compared with what is in store if we keep the car is god mentality of the 1950's.

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Alan Luchetti

      One problem with congestion pricing is that there needs to be an alternative - a nice carrot as well as a big stick.

      In Melbourne the peak period trains are overcrowded and not pleasant. In off peak times the timetable isn't much different from before 1950. If you miss an evening train then you might have to wait 29 minutes or even longer for the next train, in which time I could have driven home or cycled 75% of the distance.

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    2. Michael Shand
      Michael Shand is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Software Tester

      In reply to Alan Luchetti

      Pricing people out of a market is fine as long as their is an alternative otherwise you are punishing those who are struggling the most and can't afford to travel at peak time.

      ie. A man or women from a poor family trying to get to work must leave earlier and leave later whilst the rich do not need to think about it at all

      so it advantages the rich and spits in the eye of the poor - it disadvantages the already disadvantaged

      I find a good definition of a bad person is someone who is mean to people who need help and without providing alternative transport solution for those who cannot afford congestion pricing - this seems to fit the description

      lets not be bad people

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  13. Noel McFarlane

    Cycling advocate

    A great article. I scratch my head wondering where this particular motorway idea originated. Wasn’t it the Port and all the container traffic? Needing to move it somehow out from the Port into the country.
    If we had a stable population we’d have a different discussion. We’d be focused on how we want to live. Perhaps related to our ever-growing population, Australia is more infected with the “growth religion” than say Europe or Japan. It is our collective failure to discuss the need to stop growing…

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    1. Lynda Newnam

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Noel McFarlane

      "...except in the case of freight ..." It's a very important EXCEPT and applies to both Port Botany and Sydney Airport (handling 50% by value of national airfreight). The State Government achieved a higher than expected sale price for Port Botany because it added a potential competitor, Port Kembla, and promised WestConnex. The 'need' for WestConnex was apparent when the previous NSW government ignored the recommendations of its own Commission of Inquiry (2004-5) and opted for a significant expansion of the Port Botany footprint. There were better long-term options such as Port Newcastle serving the NW of Sydney, the Hunter and Northern NSW, Port Kembla serving the SW, Illawarra and Southern NSW and an expansion of Parkes and other regional centres along the long promised Inland Rail.

      When the approval was given for the Port Botany expansion the story was positioned on page 9 of the Sydney Morning Herald.

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  14. Marcus Wigan

    Hon. Prof Fellow MSSI, Emeritus Professor of Transport (Edinburgh Napier), Adjunct Professor Insititute of Social Inquiry ICT (Swinburne), Visiting Professor of Civil Engineering(Imperial) at University of Melbourne

    There are several ways in which to engage in this provocative article. One that I will take is to examine the governance aspects of this huge investment in Melbourne in particular. The East West tollway is an outcome of the Eddington report some years ago, which specifically claimed to have 'examined the 90 or so other projects that might have affected the reccommendations'. However, when engaging the consultants after their large presentation, it emerged that this had simply not been done - certainly…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Marcus Wigan

      I think a major problem in Australia is we pretty much have a two party system where both parties see it in their interests to promote big projects without full and open public scrutiny of the business cases.

      The idea is that when we get sick of one party we vote in the other, so last election one of the reasons the Liberals won is that some seats changed because of dissatisfaction with the train service. Of course the Liberals have continued as Labor did - very little gets better and what improves is negated by further overcrowding, etc.

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    2. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Marcus Wigan

      Well said Marcus.

      There are also clearly other parties involved in decision-making and advice to decision-makers, whose main focus is on building roads - its what they know how to do.

      As with the East-West, as per your comments, incorrect, incomplete or misleading stratemenst and data are supplied - even in various cases, to state upper house enquiries.

      Then populist/political influences impact even further on decision making.

      In some cases, it seems clear that local/state politicians, supported by other interests, fight hard to get funding for road infrastructure before rail, because rail and intermodal services would disprove the need for the new/expanded roads including town by-passes.

      All-in-all, its a disgraceful way to waste tens of billions of the nations public funds, at the expense of better transport alternatives, and other vital infrastructure and services for hospitals, health, education etc.

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  15. peter mackenzie

    Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

    Chris, I have heard/read politicians speak about WestConnex aka WasteConnex.

    They clearly talk of the road taking cars into the CBD and freight to Port Botany.

    Just as clearly that is the opposite to what their stated policy and rhetoric has been for year

    "We need to encourage more people out of their cars and get more freight onto trains. A greater investment in rail will not only be crucial to tackling urban congestion, but also to reducing carbon emissions and lifting Australia's export…

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  16. David Clancy

    Lecturer, Biomedical Science

    2 words. Western Ring Road.

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  17. Steve Hindle

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    As major infrastructure projects are designed around long term time frames of many decades, it will become increasingly important to consider the possibility of revolutionary changes in technology. Over the past five years there has been some serious developments towards driver-less car technology with Nissan aiming for public release in 2020 and Google aiming for 2017. Nearly all the major auto makers now have research divisions developing driver-less technology.
    But it would be a mistake to see…

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    1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Another reason why car traffic might not just follow business as usual - the price of petrol.

      Australia has, I think, the third lowest petrol prices in the OECD.

      What would happen if one day a government decides to, or is forced to by international pressure, not only increase our petrol prices up to OECD norm, but to add a substantial carbon tax as well?

      So the new tunnels might go from being congested and slow moving (most new inner city roads are quickly filled) to not being used as much as predicted.

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    2. Damian Hayden

      IT Professional

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gasoline_and_diesel_usage_and_pricing

      In 2012, average tax on unleaded in OECD countries was A$ 0.95 per litre, for Australians it was only A$ 0.54. So you have a point there.

      What would be the result in doubling the petrol tax though.

      Rural and non-congested areas would pay the same high tax. Is that fair if the goal is to curb congestion in CBD areas?

      Who will benefit from doubling the tax? The rich will still get to drive to work (more comfortably) and…

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    3. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      Writer (ex telecommunications engineer)

      In reply to Damian Hayden

      The main reason that petrol is likely to be taxed is to put a price on the emissions.

      Not politically likely in the short term, but, to me, a certainty in the long term.

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    4. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

      If driver-less car technology develops as some experts predict, it is likely to substantially favour smaller electric vehicles. The majority of car journeys carry only one person and cost becomes the overriding consideration when hiring a taxi to go from A to B, unlike buying a car when many other factors can become more important.

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    5. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Steve, the concern I have for driverless cars is that do not seem yet to have considered the complexity of vehicle-vehicle/pedestrian/cyclist interactions in road-use.

      I tested that with some "geek" friends whose response was that the reaction of a driverless car would be faster than human drivers.

      That seems good, but is over-simplified and perhaps simplistic. Tthe complexity of driving is that it is as much about anctipation, and about response to many variables, not just rapidity of reactions…

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    6. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      Peter you are correct in that computers will have great difficulty in matching the intuition that people have in many situations. That said, there will be many situations where computers outperform people. They never lose concentration or patience and wont drink drive or speed. With the questions you have raised a driverless car would slow and move to the left just as a person would, although an experienced person would probably have better judgement on how far to move.
      There will be some interesting debates on road safety if this technology progresses. For example if the entire USA car fleet was controlled by driverless technology and this technology killed 1 person every 30 mins, would this be considered a success considering that 1 person is killed every 16 mins at present?

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    7. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Thanks Steve

      Good points.

      In reverse order, the example situation would be even more complex in that it may well be that the overall group of people killed in driverless crashes may not the exactly the same as by people driven vehicles crashes.

      In regard to my examples the problem would be knowing whether to drive of the road at all, or stick there until the last second, and whether a driverless vehicle can really make those judgements.
      In case #B of mine, the bus actually did stay until…

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    8. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      There can be situations where drivers suddenly finds themselves with no options but to hit someone, such as a child running out from a road barrier and head on vehicles approaching. It is a moral dilemma that has no good options, only the best option. In situations like this driverless cars can only be programmed to always try to take the best option, but it may take years of fine tuning algorithms before they surpass the split second judgements people can make in unusual situations.
      On the other hand the development of vehicle to vehicle communications could make driverless vehicles more capable of avoiding free-way pileups than people are.
      This is the website for a guy who now consults for the Google car project. I think his early essays were way ahead of their time and many of the predictions seem to be becoming reality.
      http://ideas.4brad.com/topic/robocars

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    9. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Thanks again Steve.

      I should have added that one of my main concerns comes from the mix of driverless and driven vehicles if we do convert to driverless. If it all happened overnight so to speak and next day all vehicles were driverless, it would be a very different situation than what will probable be a slow transition.

      As you point out, there will be a mix of plusses and minuses for driverless versus driven cars.

      While you mention, the moral dilemma of some of the evasion choices, ther's potential for very complex legal issues and litigation ahead.

      I'll have a look at the link you have added with great interest.

      I don't pretend to have all the answers, not even all the questions around this important issue, but I do know we should be having the deabtes now, and appreciate your comments. Cheers

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    10. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      A couple of extra thoughts Steve.

      What happens if we have driver over-ride of the driverless vehicles? Will they have emergency over-ride and will that make it better or worse when the driver-less system is going to react a certain way in one of those complex situations, and the driver decides to over-ride, believing they can affect a better outcome?

      Many Australians will still want to drive their vehicles and would react very strongly to being forced to have auto-drive put on their cars…

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    11. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Steve, if you happen to look at these comments again.
      Thanks for the reference to Brad's site -especially re "Robocars"
      Very interesting and helpful for me in trying to understand all the benefits and the implications.

      Cheers again

      Peter Mack

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    12. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to peter mackenzie

      Peter, I am glad you found the site interesting. Many people find the concept too far fetched to take seriously and and those that do often don't appreciate the deeper implications.
      I must admit to being an optimist on this subject, as in the past game changing technology has often caught us by surprise. It is the convergence of different technologies that often hit us from left field. The one that I am watching is Google+Uber+Tesla.
      There is a lot of discussion on the problems you have outlined above. Here is another website that is constantly collecting the latest developments.
      Cheers Steve.
      https://www.facebook.com/driverlesscarhq

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    13. peter mackenzie

      Transport Development and Road Safety Researcher

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Hi Steve

      Thanks, I really appreciate the links. The implications for changes from the concept becoming reality, are really quite incredible.

      Over decades, there have been numerous concepts developed for various aspects and approaches to transport, but when people talk about "game changers", Brad's "Robocars" really stands out.

      At the moment, much of land transport planning in Australia, is still using thinking from back min the 60s.

      If the future is going to be Brad's Robocars, then for starters road infrastructure provision needs to be completely rethought,

      Over decades

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