Sunday, June 27, 2010

Creating road space without building roads

This unreliable article suggests that each passenger trip on the QR passenger network is subsidised in the order of $9 – probably double the average fare price. How this figure was determined is anyone’s guess, but the issues surrounding such apparently high subsidies are interesting.

While at first the $9/trip figure may seem high, it is important to acknowledge that the benefits of subsidising public transport do not go solely to the users. Each time a person uses the rail network they are not using the road network (either car or bus trips) - thus simultaneously improving traffic conditions for road users. What looks like a rail subsidy could easily be classified as a road subsidy. The reduction in road usage has a similar effect to increasing road capacity.

Most public transport systems around the world are subsidised from the public purse. If you subscribe to the belief that a degree of government support is warranted due to external benefits for road users, the two key questions to consider are:
1. How much of a subsidy is acceptable?
2. How can incentives be provided to improve the efficiency of the whole transport network?

Some guidance on the first question could be gained by looking at a cross-country comparison; however the second question is far more interesting.

We can see examples of the failure to consider multiple types of transport as a single efficient solution to urban (and regional) mobility. The profitability of the Airtrain has been completely undermined by subsidised expansion of competing road networks. Had the government instead heavily subsidised the Airtrain link itself (to make ticket prices an attractive alternative to taxis and car pickups), the demand for road space would have reduced as train use increased.

Further, the success of the rail network rests on the failure of its competition. We can never reach a situation where there is high public transport patronage while at the same time having cheap uncongested private automotive alternatives. These two networks are in competition and the direction of government assistance can tip the advantage either way it chooses.

The ignorance of this reality and the external benefits from new transport connections may be one reason that the traffic forecasting for Brisbane’s major road projects grossly overstated traffic demand.

Using this case study we can make a couple of pertinent observations:
1. New transport connections provide internal benefits to users, as well as benefits to users of competing transport connections
2. Subsidies to incentivise rail use can provide the net effect of increasing road capacity through road spending.

1 comment:

  1. The important thing to remember about transport and creating road space is; that currently with the boasting of 2,000 new people a week into SEQ we are putting on our roads at least 500 cars per week. (4 pax per family. Nothing here about two car families). Now we're also creating smaller food outlets, hole in the wall types making footpaths smaller by placing eating tables on footpaths. Before anyone gets high and mighty about alfresco dining we should look at footpaths and food sharing, with passersby sneezing and coughing all over everywhere and passing cars farting nothing but pollution all over everywhere (while diners sit at fart level beside the passing cars. More cars and less footpath space can mean one thing, fewer pedestrians (cyclists too) able to manoeuver comfortably through the areas.

    So on a tangent, why we're creating such an unhealthy environment allover is somewhat bewildering.

    What is required is wider footpaths (cyclists included) and fewer food outlets spewing on to our pedestrian access.

    With all the hype about getting people to walk roads rules haven't changed.

    My car gets driven around 1,500 kms a year and yet I still pay more for 6 cylinder registration than a four cylinder car that's driven 40,000 kms a year. What's with that??

    By increasing inner city public transport fares and reducing longer journey fares; ie One Price for all everyone gets a fair shot at getting where they're going.

    Airtrain is ridiculous; when two or more travel together for the most part. $15x2 to get to the city. If they live in Woolloongabba taxis are by far the way to go, door to door. Not their own private pickup rather a taxi who'll then go about picking up more people wanting to get around conveniently.

    Some of this a off the track however it's transport is a big thing. From the time we crawl, it's all about transport.