I thank Dr Bourke for moving this motion today. Public transport is clearly a key priority for the Barr Labor government. The benefits of public transport are well known and range from environmental and financial benefits to social and health benefits.
I think we all know that encouraging more people to use public transport where possible is a good thing because in Canberra it is only too clear that we have a high dependency on cars. This is particularly true in my local region of Gungahlin.
Dependence on private transport in the city to Gungahlin corridor sits at just under 90 per cent. It is undeniable that Canberra is a great place for cars. We have a great road network that connects the city, and we spend tens of millions—in some years hundreds of millions—of dollars maintaining and improving it every year. However, our car dependency is now becoming an issue due to ever-increasing congestion, health, productivity and environmental impacts. Some of the most common complaints I get as an MLA are about road congestion.
That is why I am such a proud supporter of capital metro light rail, stage 1, which will travel from the city to Gungahlin. Some of the main objectives of light rail are: starting to provide a convenient alternative to the car; and encouraging people to get more active and to use public transport. This just makes sense, and I am constantly surprised that people seem to think it is not a realistic option for Canberra. Indeed the light rail corridor is fast becoming one of the most densely populated corridors of Canberra, and it is a prime location for a light rail line.
Gungahlin itself has a rapidly growing population, growing from just over 300 people to over 50,000 in the past 25 years. But the daily commute is getting longer and longer and we just cannot keep building more roads, buying more buses and building more depots. This is not sustainable in the long term.
Light rail will both take cars off the road and reroute buses, reallocating 1.2 million annual bus kilometres across our city. This means that buses can be better managed in areas that need them most. I think we will see massive flow-on effects across our network once light rail is operating. Indeed you needed only to experience the traffic congestion created in different areas of our city during the closure of the Acton tunnel last week to get a feel for the flow-on effects traffic changes can have—sometimes in areas of the city you never thought would be impacted. That is why the transport Canberra plan released this week by Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, and Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Transport Reform, Shane Rattenbury, is so important.
It really reboots our community conversation about public transport and the future we envisage for our city, a future that is more sustainable, convenient, connected and coordinated when it comes to how we move about our sprawling city. Most of all it is about creating a connected transport system that puts people first. The “one ticket, one network” approach is fundamental to this plan, and will be a key component of a system that incorporates both buses and light rail. And people overwhelmingly tell us how much they like ACTION bus services, in particular how much they like the drivers, who are friendly, helpful and professional on our roads.
I have had many constituents give me such positive feedback about our bus drivers, with some wanting to see a “bus driver of the year” award implemented. The benefits of an integrated public transport system for our community are substantial because it supports social inclusion, drives economic development, maintains livability and reduces congestion.
Having transport Canberra as the umbrella organisation will ensure ACTION and capital metro are working as one to deliver the best outcomes across a connected network. I also join with Dr Bourke and the Chief Minister in welcoming the consultation draft of the light rail network plan to identify potential light rail corridors, released on Monday by planning minister Mick Gentleman.
This consultation plan has already kick-started the conversation about where light rail should be extended to following the rollout of stage 1. I encourage people to take up this opportunity to have a say on the future proposed corridors of light rail, and have a say on the long-term strategy and vision for Canberra’s light rail network. This is an opportunity for people and interest groups to make the case for the next stage of light rail.
The government should be commended and supported on this long-term approach to planning our future public transport network, and I would hope that those opposite would agree that seeking the community’s views and planning for our city’s public transport future are good things. Too often we lament the difficulties of forward planning in our short-term political cycle, so leadership now on this issue should be welcome. Public consultation for the light rail network plan is open until 11 December 2015.
It is also clear to me every time I visit local businesses and speak to residents in Gungahlin and around the stage 1 route that people are making investments today and buying property, both residential and commercial, in anticipation of light rail being built nearby. It is driving investment and has provided a positive reason to buy property, particularly around Harrison, Franklin and the Gungahlin town centre.
A recent article on Domain.com.au said: Capital Metro’s first proposed route will take its passengers from the CBD to Gungahlin. The route will make the daily commute a breeze for residents of the northern suburbs, and for Gungahlin property owners it’s also good news. Independent Property Group Gungahlin agent Andrew Potts is quoted as saying: One of the main things that we’re seeing in Franklin and Harrison is the importance of access to the city and having that direct route. He said that light rail is on the mind of just about everyone buying within close proximity to the city to Gungahlin route.
Delmar, a boutique townhouse development on the light rail route in Franklin, has seen very strong sales. “The light rail has definitely been mentioned by the vast majority of buyers,” said Mr Potts. In the same article, Domain Group senior economist Andrew Wilson said local public transport improvements increase the demand for properties in the area. He said: It’s always a positive to improve local infrastructure.
All these initiatives always put a premium on demand. Public servant Marko Savic, who purchased a townhouse in the Glasshouse development, said he believes the light rail, which is expected to run straight past the front of his development, will add value to his investment. He said: I actually work in Civic and the parking is … difficult, hard to find and quite expensive. If this light rail were to come in it would really make my life so much easier.
It is clear that people are already planning for light rail. It is already boosting productivity, investment and economic activity in our city. I also welcome the debate this week about the potential to extend light rail to Russell, as well as the parliamentary triangle.
As Minister Gentleman said, the parliamentary triangle is a high priority corridor, holding 60 per cent of all ACT jobs. At the same time light rail in the parliamentary triangle would also support the travel of more than five million visitors annually to national and local institutions. This is an opportunity that we should look to progress, and one we could possibly partner with the federal government on.
I believe we can put a good case to new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has been at pains to say that one of the key issues—perhaps the only issue—that differentiates him from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is his commitment to rail. I note the federal government has already seized on the success of the Gold Coast light rail project to showcase its support of light rail, committing $95 million to stage 2 of that project.
Just as Gold Coast light rail is vital for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Canberra light rail will be vital to the future of Australia’s capital city and its institutions, which get better and better every year.
I also point out that we have already secured $60 million in funding from the commonwealth as an outcome of asset recycling for the light rail project. Clearly, the tide is turning and the Canberra Liberals are being left behind when it comes to investing in public transport, particularly light rail, across Australia.
It is clear that there is a future for light rail in Canberra, along with buses, cycling, walking, private vehicles, taxis and ride sharing arrangements. With so many options, it is important to have one agency that will ensure buses and light rail are integrated with one another and with other forms of transport. It will also encourage more innovative approaches to driving, parking and traffic management. In the years ahead, when light rail starts operating, transport Canberra will ensure efficient integration by delivering a single ticketing, timetabling and fare system across all of Canberra’s public transport options.
In the long term this will make Canberra an even more sustainable, modern, prosperous and livable city. I am sure commuters across our city will look forward to this new way of getting around our city in the years to come. I am proud to support this motion and thank Dr Bourke again for moving it today.