Michael Bleby, 7 October 2015

The “liveability” of Australia’s cities carries an environmental price tag that is unsustainable and cannot be maintained as the population grows, without big changes to transport and planning policies.

Better public transport and road-pricing on private car use are some of the measures needed to prevent cost of urban congestion rising fourfold to $53.3 billion by 2031, a new report from the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) warns.

The population growth that will see the populations of Perth, Melbourne and Sydney double by 2050 requires policy development across a range of disciplines and interests, as the development of dysfunctional, unequal cities that will only be avoided by smarter planning. The report to be published on Wednesday lays bare the challenges of density and transport facing the federal government and Cities Minister Jamie Briggs.

It was not too late to avert disaster, the report says.

“Australia has no megacities yet and there is therefore an opportunity in the decade ahead to rethink the growth and development of our major conurbations (both cities and metropolitan areas), before the problems associated with urbanisation become critical”, the report says. “Incremental changes are important and some of these have already begun in Australia. Unfortunately change often takes place on a piecemeal basis.”

ECONOMIC HUBS

To develop more efficiently, planning around cities needs to reduce or avoid the need to travel, with employment and economic hubs less concentrated and closer to where people live, the report says.

Transport also needs to be more environmentally friendly, with less reliance on private cars. Half of the population relies on motorcars to access features such as sunshine and beaches. While the emissions impact of this continued rate of car use is unsustainably high, it is also a risk in terms of energy security, with imported liquid fuel and oil for transport accounting for more than 90 per cent of the country’s transport fuel demand, the report also says.

Road-use pricing that included all road users and combine fuel taxation with distance-based charges that varies by location and vehicle mass was also necessary, the report says.

“This makes it possible to allocate charges in a way more directly related to the impact on road infrastructure and to separate urban and rural road use,” it says.

Australia’s transport infrastructure deficit – the consequence of 40 years of under-investment – stood at $100 billion last year and will grow to $350 billion by 2025, said Bruce Godfrey, head of the working group that wrote the report.

Extracted in full from the Australian Financial Review.

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